Despair and Hope in the Body Politic

Rather than rant at length about the daily Bush&Co. outrage or scandal — they come so fast, it’s hard to keep up — let’s take a step back for some longer-range perspective.

The Dance of the Tarantulas

Why do we use the term “reactionaries” to describe so much of the political Right? Because so often all they seem capable of doing is “reacting” to events, often with a close-minded heavy hand of violence and repression.

In our current situation, it’s the old Bush “vision thing” again — that is, the lack thereof. Poppy didn’t have “the vision thing,” and Sunnyboy doesn’t have it either. Bereft of a vision, all they’re left with is stomping down on opponents and hanging on to power, by any means necessary.

Entering the world of vision, doing something different, requires some imagination, cleverness, knowledge of political jiu-jitsu. You see your enemy approaching, you divert him, engage him in other areas, distract him, build up alliances against him, etc. etc. But in Bush country, you simply take your club and smash him over the skull. Doesn’t matter that behaving in such a lunkish manner may come back to bite you later, when the victims regroup or when their friends decide to attack you by using horrendous guerrilla tactics. You feel great, believing that you’ve “won.” You’ve crushed the little bastards.

And that’s why the U.S. (and Israel) will never see peace. If you act like a bully, you enrage others. If you seek war, you get war back. Besides, it’s easier to do the dance of denial.

You need the enemy to do what you do; they need you to do what they do. You lock yourselves in that grotesque dance of the tarantulas and stumble around the floor, not having to use your imagination. It’s easier this way. Each diseased soul feeds the other. Were you to alter your policies, suddenly you would have to use brain power, things get real complex, it’s difficult.

No, those weak in areas outside power and destructiveness prefer this clunky dance. It’s comforting in a way. The simple, black-and-white, fundamentalist divisions provide comfort, act as a container that holds you. (In addition to Bush, think Sharon, think Arafat, think bin Laden.)

And, most importantly, it postpones the day of reckoning, so each can continue to do what they want to do while the world is distracted by meaningless rhetoric and things that look like initiatives. And so the dance of death and destruction continues. That’s why the extreme Right needs the extreme Left, why Bush needs bin Laden, why Sharon needs Hamas, and vice versas all the way around.

Why are Sharon and Bush&Co. proposing a three-year delay to Palestinian statehood, for example? Because in the interim, while they pretend to move toward that goal, not much energy really has to be expended figuring out a road to peace, and the real goals — smashing Saddam by the U.S., further decimation and repression of the Palestinians by Sharon — can move forward, unimpeded. Why inside the U.S. are environmental regulations weakened and more “studies” authorized? Because greed operates only in terms of short-term bottom lines; you can worry about tomorrow tomorrow.

Global warming, for instance? Deny it exists and, if the pressure gets too great, appoint a panel of scientists to examine it to death. You’ve bought a couple of years during which oil&car manufacturing interests can fatten their bottom line — and your campaign coffers.

But wait! The scientists’ committee comes back with a stinging report that global warming is real and here’s what needs to be done quickly to help alleviate the problem. If you’re Bush, you denounce the report as coming from “the bureaucracy” — great, little Rightwing buzzword, ignoring the fact that it’s YOUR committee, YOUR “bureaucracy” — and simply ignore the findings. Instead of beginning to move toward reduction of fossil-fuel burning, and improved mileage standards on motor vehicles, you delay by saying there’s a new technology that will bear fruit in a decade or so. Delay, make money; delay, make money. React, delay, no need for the “vision thing.”

In foreign policy, it’s a dance of mirrors. You know that guy looking at you with his fist raised — that’s YOU, looking angrily at him. You don’t know how to deal with those who are not like you. Ergo, deal with what you know, yourself, in the guise of The Other. Whatever he does, you do, even worse. If he ratchets it up, you ratchet even higher. React. React. Reaction. Reactionary. No need to get complex, visionary. That would be too scary. Outside the container.

[ In the Middle East, the Bush Administration’s head is locked in only one position: forward to Baghdad. Bush&Co. permitted Israel to destroy the Palestinian infrastructure, which gives the U.S. a free-and-clear path to continue its run-up to smashing Saddam Hussein. Doesn’t matter that by postponing a just Israel/Palestinian settlement, the war that will come there will be grotesquely violent, and even put U.S. oil interests at risk. Bush&Co. have donned their costumes, and their blinders, as they move toward the dance floor. They’ll worry about the rest tomorrow.

[ To tamp down the fires of war and destruction and terrorism emenating from the Middle East would require (as Secretary of State Powell seems to understand) diplomatic energy of massive proportions, altering of U.S. policy in the region, creative problem-solving, and so on. But the U.S. leadership, astride the world like a Colussus, feels it doesn’t have to do anything but threaten and bluster and then stomp those who persist in questioning its neo-imperialist policies. Once there was another bullyboy in the global schoolyard, but now there is no one. Out of the way, or risk our wrath. ]

Those seeking to grow in counseling know that the first weeks are spent in denunciation of those who have mistreated them: parents, bosses, lovers, clergymen, et al. Only later can one begin an honest look into the mirror, and see where one’s own actions might also have played a role in self-development. At that point, growth begins, based on honesty, increased self-esteem, a firmer grasp on reality.

Imagine if the United States were to face its own shadow matter, recognize where it behaves badly, alter policies accordingly, think beyond the immediate bottom-line. In so many areas of the world, peoples would think better of the U.S., the extreme fringe groups would be marginalized, hopelessness for the downtrodden would turn to hope, young people could visualize futures (and thus fewer young suicide-bombers and terrorist rebels), more peoples around the world would have more income, more markets for U.S. goods would become available, etc. etc.

But, as is obvious, to get there, our leadership structure would have to change drastically. Bush&Co. and their ilk would have to go. Men and women of vision, of larger possibilities, would have to come to the fore. It’s happened before, it will happen again.

A Mile Wide and Inches Deep

There are stirrings, there are glimmers, there is a bit more hope. The Teflon seems to be wearing away quickly on the Bush Administration.

There’s not a Movement yet. There’s not a groundswell of opposition yet. But you can begin to feel more and more cracks in the Bush&Co. facade. More maintream news stories contain just a hint of journalistic objectivity, which is to say incredulity at the Administration’s spinning of the facts. A few more Democrats, and others, seem willing to raise questions and objections to Bush&Co. policy. Al Gore has come out swinging, Jim Jeffords is throwing a few haymakers, Democratic presidential hopefuls are speaking out forcefully, Tom Daschle (that Titan of Timidity) locates his spine on occasion, even Bill Buckley’s National Review published a roundhouse-right / libertarian attack on Bush’s evisceration of the Constitution’s due-process guarantees.

True, by and large, these are not frontal attacks on Bush’s “war on terrorism” — Democrats are maintaining a detached silence, not wanting to risk losing their very good chance of picking up seats in the November election — but they ARE more oppositional and they ARE building a kind of slow momentum.

Bush’s high approval ratings are a mile wide and mere inches deep, and more of the citizenry seems daily to sense this. Part of that public assessment derives from observing the thorough-going incompetency of the Administration in everything from economic policy to foreign affairs. It’s like King Midas in reverse; in virtually every area of concern, Bush&Co. seem to be bumbling and stumbling, exhibiting uncertainty and, at times, even chaos within the Administration itself. Ari Fleisher is in such a constant spin mode that you expect his head will do a Linda Blair-180 at any moment.

In short, the post-9/11 honeymoon is over. In those early days after the WTC/Pentagon attacks, Bush could, and did, get whatever he wanted. The nation was willing, both out of fear and gratitude, to grant him a wide measure of latitude in running the country, even when it didn’t make rational sense. Want a tax cut (mostly for the wealthy) extended ten years out, even though we have no idea what the economy will look like in a decade? Got it. Want to shred the Constitution as we gear up for a war against terrorists? No problem.

But, slowly, the realities of what it’s going to cost average folks — in terms of economic slowdown, real income, environmental degradation, loss of their civil liberties, the cutting of popular programs, the dipping into Social Security and Medicare funds to help pay for the “war on terrorism,” etc. — is beginning to hit home.

The public could maybe accept Enron as a one-off catastrophe. But then came Arthur Andersen, and the disgusting saga of cooked books by auditors in league with crooked executives and boards of directors. And, over the past few weeks and months, one giant company after another is revealing itself to be engaged in similar financial crimes — and, hold your hats, there are a lot more to come. And the ones left holding the bag are individual investors and employees and pension-fund holders — in short, ordinary people who get hurt real bad, unlike the guys at the top who cash in big time and may get off with just paying some fines.

Suddenly, the culture of greed — applauded by the Reagan Administration and now by Bush&Co. — smells a bit rank. It’s the culture that gives over everything to big polluters and big corporations (the same ones that just happen to be the biggest supporters of Bush&Co. — quelle surprise!). And, lo and behold, what have we here: Army Secretary White (who was an executive at Enron, closely tied to the scandal) misbehaving in office, Dick Cheney at the heart of several of the biggest scandals (Enron, Halliburton), and Mr. Bush himself, self-smeared by his behavior in the Harken Oil insider-trading of the early-’90s.

Now, children, listen up: Mr. Bush says he wants those corporate CEOs to pay a heavy price, maybe even go to jail, for their misdeeds. Do you think that politically-popular position will include or exclude White, Cheney and Bush from any investigations or indictments? How smart you are: you got the answer on the first try.

Yes, the public will support Mr. Bush “in times of war” (though, of course, the Congress has not declared the country to be in a State of War), but even here there are cracks in the facade of full backing: Bush&Co. knew months in advance of 9/11 that a major terrorist attack was coming from Al-Qaida and did nothing — and more than 3000 Americans died! That revelation has kinda shook up lots of folks and made them think twice about an Administration that has made the “war on terrorism” its major aim and claim to fame. Then there’s the hunt for Osama bin Laden — remember him? Can’t seem to locate the guy. Probably for the best, as the FBI and CIA might well lose him somewhere between Karachi and Kansas City.

In sum, the disenchantment with Bush&Co. is growing. Even the coming next-phase terrorist attacks might not save their behind, as so much of the present “war on terrorism” has been largely botched. No “vision thing,” you see, to reduce the threats, only react, react. The coming attack on Iraq, which you can bet will happen before the November elections, may give the GOP a boost, but it may not be enough. The U.S. electorate, if the early polls are accurate, is starting to get the message: Not much will change at the top unless the bottom begins to voice its discontent.

And so the chances for the Democrat party to take the House and keep the Senate, thus putting sand in the Bush&Co. gears, are improving. More and more of those hoping and wishing for a Bush&Co. stumble are starting to contribute money and energy to help defeat GOP candidates in state after state. In some cases, they’re having to hold their noses while supporting the Democrat candidate, but these new activists know what has to be done to break the Bush&Co. stranglehold on the political agenda, what is required to bring the country back closer to a rational center and away from the self-defeating extremes.

In short, there is hope in the midst of despair. Let us keep that momentum building — so that the next dance’s partners will not have to be hairy spiders toxic to America’s body politic. #

Bernard Weiner, Ph.D., has taught politics and international relations at Western Washington University and San Diego State University; a poet and playwright, he was the San Francisco Chronicle’s theater critic for nearly 20 years.


BERNARD WEINER, Ph.D., is co-editor of The Crisis Papers, has taught at various universities, and was a writer/editor with the San Francisco Chronicle for nearly 20 years.