When viewing Israel’s purposeful bombing of Lebanese infrastructure and killing of civilians in a planned genocide, one wonders how the children of the Holocaust could engage in the same racism and genocide which was perpetrated on them sixty years ago. Since Israel was founded after the war, Israel developed a victim stance. They have instilled it into their citizens and brainwashed their children with this belief and have also instilled this belief on the international community. While the Holocaust was indeed barbarous and both Israelis and the world needed to be aware of the barbarism, this survival strategy has turned Israel into a country which believes it now has to be totally racist, has to believe that it is threatened by ‘enemies’ and has the right to attack their neighbours and to commit atrocities and war crimes. They have made their neighbours into enemies and the Zionists have used this belief to further their hidden agenda, invasion, occupation and annexation of their neighboring countries.
The USA didn’t have enemies in the Middle East for many years, even after the formation of Israel. The British were the ones who had imperial ambitions in the Middle East and were supporting the development of Israel as a nation by annexing land from Palestine. These ambitions and support of Israel’s annexation of Arab lands hastened the fall of the British Empire. Israel started courting the USA, the emerging super power.
Gradually Israelis in the USA formed, then strengthened their lobbies and positions in the federal government with AIPAC, using their victim stance to silence any politicians who dared to question their developing power in the federal government and the Neo-Con movement with visions of a global American Empire, reinforced with military force. This plan, as outlined in NPAC, was developed and many of the authors of this strategy paper were Israeli-Americans. This plan included invasion of Iraq and other mid-east nations in order to secure their source of oil.... The attack on the World Trade Centre allowed the Israelis and American Neo-Cons to put their NPAC plans into action. The Israeli bombardment of Lebanon is the next step, to be followed by invasion in Iran and Syria, ad infinitum.
Israel, through AIPAC, is dictating U.S. policy and Congress.... Democrats are supporting this because Israel has effectively brainwashed the USA into believing that if they dare to speak out, they would be labeled anti-Semitic and lose the Jewish vote. Unfortunately the rest of the world is supporting the atrocities in Gaza and Lebanon for the same reason, the fear of being called anti-Semitic and losing the Jewish vote in their countries. When some of the international community call for immediate ceasefire in Lebanon, aghast at the atrocities and purposeful genocide, they end up backing down and allowing further atrocities to occur. This is also occurring in Israel itself, where those Israelis who try to speak out against the atrocities are silenced. This strategy was also used effectively in the USA for two years after the 9/11 attack, where those who tried to speak out were called anti-American.
When Bush demanded that nations either be ‘with us or against us’ Australian PM John Howard began spouting the White House propaganda verbatim, including trying to silence Australians who spoke out against the Iraq invasion by calling them anti-American. Soon he will be calling those who speak out against the Israeli invasion in Lebanon and Gaza ‘anti-Semitic.’ Yet, it is important that Australians speak out....
If the USA and Israel stopped trying to invade and annex other nations and instead helped those nations to develop, anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism would abate instead of increase, as would terrorism. Unfortunately, the Bush administration won’t accept that, since the Republicans want American and world attention to be diverted from the Bush administration’s record of waste, fraud, abuse and corruption.
It is imperative
that the international community and its citizens speak loudly and clearly
to stop this disaster in the making.
Dear Mr. Milbank:
Your still timely article, "Seldom-Discussed Elephant Moves Into Public's View,"
from last year, noted that a group -- you called them "wingnuts" -- offered a
$1,000 reward to any reporter who got the President to answer a specific
question about the Downing Street memo.
As you note, the President (who didn't really answer the question) responded; "My
conversations with the Prime Minister was, how can we do this peacefully."
But what did the "this" refer to? Disarmament --
the stated purpose of the war? Or the removal of Hussein -- the implied purpose
during the election campaign?
Much of the media didn't seem to have a problem with the Administration's
ambiguity on this. Why?
The main question raised above
has still not been examined:
Whatever the "this," was that the President referred to as our goal, what was
the plan to achieve it, in the President's words, "peacefully"?
Also, why did that plan fail?
These questions were all also largely ignored by the
Because the administration intended all along to go into Iraq, and so
["needed"?] to be unclear about it? If that is the answer, what does this have
to do with the role of the media, and the issues raised above?
Especially given that; a) this was potentially the most important policy choice
of the administration; b) it was the defining issue of the election, and, most
importantly, c) the Administration ran its campaign for
reelection based upon the theme of trust, candor, and forthrightness (as the
President himself put it almost every day, "at least you know that I mean what I
say") -- and upon the theme that their opponent, in marked contrast,
Why is this still extremely relevant today? It is not because of the Bush
campaign's characterizations of both Bush and Kerry during that same election,
but the media's role regarding these
characterizations, relative to the facts, and the reasons why.
In 'October of '02, in a speech from Cincinnati, Ohio, the President told the
nation that if the [Iraq] resolution was approved, we would use military action,
"only if it proves necessary," and, that "approving this
resolution does not mean that military action is either imminent or unavoidable."
That view had changed by March of '03, when the administration not only began
military action, but then ran a campaign accusing their opponent of flip
flopping on the issue by disagreeing with the timing and planning of it.
Much of the media also went along with this characterization, as well.
But how was this possible? If military action was not
imminent and unavoidable in October of '02, when we thought Iraq had WMD's and
we expected the backing and authority of the United Nations, how was it
nevertheless so imminent and unavoidable in March of '03 that Kerry was a "flip
flopper" to still have believed the same thing?
wasn't more unavoidable. It was less
unavoidable. But not only was this never really addressed, again, much of
the media also parroted these Bush campaign characterizations of Kerry.
Obviously, Kerry wasn't a flip flopper -- unless Kerry specifically knew that
the "vote for me because at least you know that I mean what I say"President, on
this most critical of issues, did not mean what he said. And unless Kerry voted
for the resolution to remove Hussein from power, carte blanche, and not to rid
Iraq of WMD's.
But did he? Why would he have? The President himself repeatedly told the nation
that the "war" was about WMD's.
But more importantly, here is what Kerry stated in his speech to the Senate in
support of the resolution authorizing the use of force; "in
order to force inspections, you need the [legitimate] threat of force."
He also stated; "Let me be clear, the vote I will give
to the President is for one reason and one reason only: To disarm Iraq of
weapons of mass destruction, if we cannot accomplish that objective through new,
tough weapons inspections in joint concert with our allies."
Consider the following critical facts, all grossly underreported:
(1) As of the vote on the resolution, there had been no
viable weapons inspections in Iraq for several years. (2) Largely because of
this, our assumptions about Iraq WMD's were made in the absence of sufficient
data (most if not all of the intelligence reports regarding the state of Iraq's
WMD's repeatedly emphasized this central point -- I know this because I read
them). (3) After the resolution vote, inspectors went back into Iraq. (4) By
mid March of '03 they had discovered that our assumptions may have been
incorrect; (5) they reported that they were finding scant evidence to support
them; and, (6) they called for more time before acting.
Why were these facts almost never addressed, despite
their relevance to a topic that dominated the election coverage?
This issue of flip flopping on Iraq dominated 2004, so this bears repeating here
one more time; Kerry, before the full Senate, just before the resolution vote;
"Let me be clear, the vote I will give the President is for one reason and for
one reason only, to disarm Iraq of WMD's if we cannot accomplish that" through
Subsequently, those same weapons inspections suggested that Iraq may not have
had WMD, and thus to wait before engaging. (It's a message that three out of the
four remaining permanent members of the security council heard, so it wasn't
that garbled. And again, even if it was, and even if much of the country was
unaware of these things at the time, Congress and the
Administration do not get their intelligence data from the news.)
Yet, according to the illogical logic of his opponents, playing upon the ease,
in a largely sound bite world, with which the issue could be misconstrued, Kerry
"flip flopped." The same opponents, ironically, who again, ran their campaign
on the platform of "at least you know we mean what we say."
Yet the media, far from correcting this fallacy,
assisted in it.
In your piece, "My Bias for Mainstream News" (March 20, '05) you even point out
(ironically, yet very tellingly), that your newspaper was
cited by the Republican National Committee for supporting this very same
characterization of Kerry regarding his initial "support" for military
action in Iraq.
Why did much of the mainstream media, and your newspaper in particular -- a
newspaper that much of the country likes to believe is "liberally biased"--
support such a misleading, and election changing mischaracterization?
Could the answer be found in the question itself? That is, could it be that the
misperception that your newspaper (rather than the facts themselves) is biased
against the far right, has affected the way that it presents and analyzes
Real balance, as opposed to perceived balance, are two very different things.
In order to "support" a central right wing republican contention, and therefore,
to at least appear "balanced," to the [currently dominate with the party] right
wing of the republican party, in this instance, you had to ignore the facts.
While you might argue (and I would wholeheartedly disagree) that this is the
case only "in this instance," it is the one instance that you chose to highlight
in your sweeping editorial arguing in support of the
objectivity of mainstream news.
It was also an instance which dominated election coverage,
and changed the course of our nation's history.
Public perception on consistency and wishy-washiness changed the outcome of the
election. There were dozens of separate election altering factors. Yet
while many democrats may like to believe or argue otherwise (but they got a lot
of things wrong in 2004, didn't they), this perception of Kerry had more to do
with losing half of the middle core of voters than many of the other issues put
together. The election was about trust, and the voters did not trust or like
Kerry because of his perceived wishy-washiness, many times more than the
This perception largely emanated from the almost always
dominant Iraq issue. Yet the most critical, basic points necessary to make an
informed evaluation were routinely omitted from the analysis, leaving the
grossly skewed, and voters, extremely misinformed.
I suggest that the mainstream media has been affected by a highly orchestrated,
persistent, creative and often rhetorically brilliant campaign against it by the
right wing of the republican party -- who truly believe that it is the
media's coverage, rather than the facts, that are [sometimes biased] against
them. So affected, that, without a strong democratic
message to counteract this, it joined in the defining campaign
mischaracterizations of Kerry as a flip flopper (on Iraq, on gay marriage, on No
child Left Behind, on the Patriot Act, on what type of orange juice he had for
breakfast the other morning).
The larger problem, however, goes far beyond the election coverage....
Former NSA Director Odom Dissects Iraq Blunders
by Michael Hammerschleg
Former National Security Agency Director Lt. General William Odom dissected the strategic folly of the Iraq
invasion and Bush Administration policies
in a major policy speech at Brown University
for the Watson Institute- Americas Strategic Paralysis . "The Iraq War may turn out to be the
greatest strategic disaster in American history.
In a mere 18 months we went from unprecedented
levels of support after 9-11..to being one
of the most hated countries
Turkey used to
be one of strongest pro-US regimes, now were
so unpopular, theres a movie playing there-
Metal Storm, about a war between US and Turkey. In addition
to producing faulty intel and ties to Al
Qaida, Bush made preposterous claim that
toppling Saddam would open the way for liberal
democracy in a very short time... Misunderstanding
the character of American power, he dismissed
the allies as a nuisance and failed to get
the UN Security Councils sanction
We must reinforce international law, not
reject and ridicule it.
Odom, now a Yale professor and Hudson Institute
senior fellow, was director of the sprawling
NSA (which monitors all communications) from
1985-88 under Reagan, and previously was
Zbigniew Brzezinskis assistant under Carter.
His latest 2004 book is Americas Inadvertent Empire.
Even if the invasion had gone well, Odom
says it wouldnt have mattered: The invasion
wasnt in our interests, it was in Irans interest, Al Qaidas interest. Seeing America invade must have made Iranian
leaders ecstatic. Irans hostility to Saddam was hard to exaggerate..
Iraq is now open to Al Qaida, which it never
was before- its easier for terrorists to
kill Americans there than in the US.. Neither our leaders or the mainstream media
recognize the perversity of key US policies
now begetting outcomes they were designed
3 years later the US is bogged
down in Iraq, pretending a Constitution has
been put in place, while the civil war rages,
Iran meddles, and Al Qaida swells its ranks
with new recruits.. We have lost our capacity to lead and are
in a state of crisis- diplomatic and military.
Odom believes in an immediate phased withdrawal.
There isnt anything we can do by staying
there longer that will make this come out
better. Every day we stay in, it gets worse
and the price gets higher.
He decried the sophomoric and silly titled
war on terrorism. Terrorism cannot be defeated
because its not an enemy, its a tactic.
A war against Al Qaida is sensible and supportable,
but a war against a tactic is ludicrous and
a propaganda ploy to swindle others
into supporting ones own terrorism ... and
encourages prejudices against Muslims everywhere.
What if we said, Catholic Christian IRA
The hypocrisy is deeper than this. By any
measure the US has long used terrorism. In
78-79 the Senate was trying to pass a law
against international terrorism- in every
version they produced, the lawyers said the
US would be in violation.
The fixation on spreading democracy was wrongheaded.
Holding elections is easy, creating stable
constitutional orders is difficult. Only
8-9 of 50 new democracies created since the
40s have a constitutional system. Voting
only ratifies the constitutional deal that
has been agreed to by elites- people or groups
with enough power- that is guns and money,
to violate the rules with impunity
does not cause a breakthrough
will win out and take them off the path to
a liberal breakthrough .. Spreading illiberal
democracy without Constitutionalism is a
very bad idea, if we care about civil liberties.
We are getting that lesson again in Hamas.
Odom called for a great reduction in US
oil consumption and pilloried our energy
policy of no energy policy. As long as large
sums of money roll into the coffers of a
few Middle East states, a lot of it will
leak into the hands of radical political
activists. A $2-3 a gallon tax could fund
massive R+D programs for alternative fuels
and generate a strong demand for greater
Getting serious about nuclear
power could also lessen our oil dependency.
No government that believes radical terrorist
groups in Middle East are serious threat
to us would do any less on energy policy.
Withdrawing our troops from Europe and NE
Asia was also dangerous, he said. Large
US land forces in Europe and East Asia have
been important in keeping the peace among
allowing businessmen to lower
and account for unparalleled
economic growth. President Clinton reduced the Army by about
half, but Bushs deployments in Iraq and
Afghanistan will leave the US unprepared
to meet any other significant military contingency
leaving only one brigade in Germany and
one in Italy, and eroding troop levels in
Korea and Japan. Rumsfelds plans threaten to hollow out
NATO, ensuring the failure of military transformations
of its new members.
The adult crowd was wowed by the extraordinary
density of strategic wisdom and expertise
in the hour lecture and Q+A. Asked about
the current NSA spying controversy, Odom
said, Well he just invited you to invite
me to commit a felony. 18 US Code798 says
to disclose anything about how signal intelligence
is done is a felony. Oh come on, Bill, joshed a professor to
a round of laughter. After 9-11 Congress
was willing to do anything. Its inconceivable
to me that they would not have cooperated
to find a legal way to do this (warrantless
Most radically, Odom sees the US obsession
with non-proliferation of nukes as damaging.
It dictated the invasion of Iraq, and now
inspires calls for invading Iran. At the
same time we ignore Israeli nukes, we embrace
Pakistan and India, in spite of their nukes.
This policy is not only perverse, but downright
absurd. We will have more proliferation and
we better get used to it.
A reporters question about the benefits of an attack on Iranian
nuclear facilities provoked a fervent response.
I think we could have a rapprochement with
Iran. You do that and you put it off for
another 20 years. You want to be at war with
all the Muslims forever? Regarding a nuclear
terrorist attack on a US city, Its gonna
be bad. But they wont kill us with one nuke.
We can track a nuke back to the country where
it came from (at least the fissile material,
if there is a recorded elemental signature).
These people know that! If we deterred the
Soviet Union, think we cant deter these
pipsqueaks? Were talking ourselves into
hysteria. Now we have the incentives so structured
that we cause proliferation.. If we bomb,
good God man, that tells everyone in the
world, get a nuke. We wont bomb you if you have a nuke.
He agreed that a catastrophic 10 year civil
war like Lebanon was a pretty realistic
view. Iran has told the Shiites, dont fight,
do what the Americans tell you- the electoral
process will put you in power, meanwhile
were arming you and building up your militias.
The Sunni insurgency is trying to provoke
the civil war while were still there so
theyre not left to face these militias after
weve leave. The Kurds will get as much
autonomy as they can and back out of the
system. An independent Kurdistan is likely,
but the two factions of Peshmerga might fight.
Al Qaida cant operate up there, so that
will be a stable little island. But Kurdish
independence wont please Iran, Syria, or
Turkey- a NATO ally.
The victory of the numerically dominant Shiites
(4 to 1) isnt assured. Odds look better
for the Shiites right now. But the organizational
capacity of the Baathists remain sufficient
to be a serious contender. How much confidence
and capability are these Iranian trained
Shiite militias developing? They could fragment
among themselves. The clerics may or may
not be good organizers of the troops and
police. The Baathist Party was modeled after
the Soviet system- their ability to implement
and impose and compel is pretty impressive.
Syria is a pretty stable regime; Iraq was
a stable regime. The civil war could spread
the Shiite-Sunni conflict among Arabs in
Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, maybe Bahrain.
Iraq will have some sort of dictatorship- either a highly disciplined party or military
organization. We just dont have fragmented
societies with such deep sectarian and ethnic
divisions that are also nice stable liberal
systems. Look at Canada with just two ethnic
groups, that teeters occasionally. Where
is Saddam when you need him?
On escaping Iraq: Once it became obvious
I was getting out, I would go to Saudi Arabia,
Kuwait, Syria, Turkey, and Iran and say,
I invite you to this meeting to handle stabilization
issues as I get out. I would have a secret
chamber with Iran and say, You hate the
Taliban, we hate the Taliban; you want to
sell oil, we need to buy oil; your alliance
with Russia is very unnatural; if you want
to discuss the West Bank- Ill talk about
it but wont give anything away.
Oh, and by the way, Im taking the nuclear
issue off the table. You want nukes, have them. You live in a bad neighborhood. Theres
no single diplomatic move that would so revolutionize
our position up there.
In North Korea Odom anticipates a collapse.
That regime is very much like the Soviet
regime, they do not transform, they degenerate.
When the leadership loses capacity or will
to blood or terrorize the population, it
collapses. He sees a sudden reunification
of the Koreas, followed by tensions with
ancient overseer Japan. Those 2 countries
dont like each other.
The Koreans say, The Americans are crazy.-
just look at the public opinion polls and
attitude of the South Korean government.
Kim Jong Il knows just what to do to get
the US to spin up in the air 3 times and
bribe him on the way down. I see us on autopilot
on a self-destructive path. Chinas slowly
replacing us. Theyre becoming the peacemaker- theyre the ones
who use their hegemony to settle things constructively.
Odom sees ominous parallels with Vietnam.
How did we get in the (Vietnam) war? Phony
intelligence over the Tonkin Gulf affair.
Once we got in, it was not legitimate to
go back and talk about strategic purpose,
we were only allowed to talk about how we
were doing- the tactics. We would not go
back and ask whether this was in our interests. I see the pattern so clearly here. We have Iraqization- if they stand up, well
stand down. Training troops is not the problem.
Political consolidation, not military consolidation,
is the issue. Unless troops know to whom
they should be loyal, theyll fight some
days, not others (and maybe against the wrong
If they (military power) get ahead of political
consolidation, we know what happens then-
a military coup.
This was imminently foreseeable by my poly
sci colleagues who did not stand up and speak
out loudly enough at the absurdity of spreading
democracy when were really talking about
Constitutionalism. Creating Constitutions-
we dont know how to do that! (at least not
for 220 years) We are essentially paralyzed
and cant do much in the world cause we are
bogged down in Iraq.
The declinists wake us up, so that we avoid decline; but
the endists urge us to celebrate as we drift towards
disaster. Those who urged us to invade Iraq
are endists; Im a declinist
. but only to
revive my strategic optimism. --posted April 23, 2006
Michael Hammerschlag's commentary and articles
(HAMMERNEWS.com) have appeared in Seattle Times, Providence. Journal, Columbia
Journalism Review, Hawaii Advertiser, Capital
Times, MediaChannel; and Moscow News, Tribune, Times, and
Guardian. He spent 2 years in Russia from 1991-94,
while the Empire collapsed and multiple wars
raged in the Islamic southern republics.
What to Do When the Emperor Has No Clothes
by Garrison Keillor
These are troubling times for all of us who love this country, as surely we all do, even the satirists. You may poke fun at your mother, but if she is belittled by others it burns your bacon. A blowhard French journalist writes a book about America that is full of arrogant stupidity, and you want to let the air out of him and mail him home flat. And then you read the paper and realize the country is led by a man who isn't paying attention, and you hope that somebody will poke him. Or put a sign on his desk that says, "Try much harder."
Do we need to impeach him to bring some focus to this man's life? The Feb. 27 issue of The New Yorker carries an article by Jane Mayer about a loyal conservative Republican and U.S. Navy lawyer, Albert Mora, and his resistance to the torture of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. From within the Pentagon bureaucracy, he did battle against Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and John Yoo, who then was at the Justice Department, and shadowy figures taking orders from Vice President Dick "Gunner" Cheney, arguing America had ratified the Geneva Convention that forbids cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment of prisoners, and so it has the force of law. They seemed to be arguing that President Bush has the right to order prisoners to be tortured.
One such prisoner, Mohamed al-Qahtani, was held naked in isolation under bright lights for months, threatened by dogs, subjected to unbearable noise volumes and otherwise abused, so that he begged to be allowed to kill himself. When the Senate approved the Torture Convention in 1994, it defined torture as an act "specifically intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering."
Is the law a law or is it a piece of toast?
Wiretap surveillance of Americans without a warrant? Great. Go for it. How about turning over American ports to a country more closely tied to Sept. 11, 2001, than Saddam Hussein was? Fine by me. No problem. And what about the war in Iraq? Hey, you're doing a heck of a job. No need to tweak a thing. And your blue button-down shirt--it's you.
But torture is something else. Most people agree with this, and in a democracy that puts the torturers in a delicate position. They must make sure to destroy their e-mails and have subordinates who will take the fall. Because it is impossible to keep torture secret. It goes against the American grain and it eats at the conscience of even the most disciplined, and in the end the truth will come out. It is coming out now.
Our adventure in Iraq, at a cost of billions, has brought that country to the verge of civil war while earning us more enemies than ever before. And tax money earmarked for security is being dumped into pork-barrel projects anywhere somebody wants their own SWAT team. Detonation of a nuclear bomb within our borders--pick any big city--is a real possibility, as much so now as five years ago. Meanwhile, many Democrats have conceded the very subject of security and positioned themselves as Guardians of Our Forests and Benefactors of Waifs and Owls, neglecting the most basic job of government, which is to defend this country. The peaceful lagoon that is the White House is designed for the comfort of a vulnerable man. Perfectly understandable, but not what is needed now. The U.S. Constitution provides a simple, ultimate way to hold him to account for war crimes and the failure to attend to the country's defense. Impeach him and let the Senate hear the evidence. --posted March 3, 2006
Garrison Keillor is an author and the radio host of "A Prairie Home Companion."
© 2006 Chicago Tribune
Hillary Clinton vs. John Wayne:
Metaphors and Icons in a Divided Nation
© Charles D. Hayes
If youve ever watched a western
or a war movie staring John Wayne and felt a touch of pride in being
an American, then you are aware of the power of icons. And if youve
ever heard a deafening clap of thunder and felt the force of a
lightning bolt striking so close by that you feared for your life,
then you can appreciate the enormous amount of energy that is
dissipated in an electrical storm. Indeed, its because lightning
carries both positive and negative properties that the lightning rod
serves as an effective metaphor in the context of public opinion.
As an icon, John Wayne is hard to
surpass when it comes to the patriarchal aspirations of mainstream
America. And as a lightning rod, Hillary Clinton may represent the
mother of all metaphors when it comes to illuminating societal angst.
Icons are distinctive because they negate the need to think; they are
used politically to stir feelings. Metaphors, on the other hand, help
us to learn; they are tools of language used for the sake of
comparison. I think its safe to say that currently most people relate
to Hillary Clinton as a lightning rod and to John Wayne as an icon,
but I hope my granddaughter lives to see the day when most people can
distinguish between icons, metaphors, and reality.
One of the biggest breakthroughs
in my own learning I attribute to comprehending the significance of
metaphor. Notice that in saying biggest breakthrough Ive made the
assumption that big is good. Our ability to communicate
derives from metaphor and analogy. In general up is
thought to be better than down, warm better than
cold, we associate seeing with
understanding and most of us in the Western world perceive of life as
a journey of some sort. Our ability to understand
anything and everything rests on a labyrinth of muddled metaphors that
we have internalized without noticing that we have done so. In short,
a metaphor is primarily a way to make sense of one thing from having
Icons fill in the gaps of our
respective worldviews by causing us to relate or react in a certain
way when we encounter them. The trouble with icons is that for many
people they become more important than what they are
supposed to represent. For example, national flags have a way of
trumping ideas. The trouble with metaphors is that sometimes we take
them too seriously. A metaphor becomes an icon when
people care deeply about it; when it is a reflection of the meaning
they find in the world. But one nations sacred signs and symbols are
often just adjectives for their neighboring countries.
A lightning rod as a metaphor has
the capacity to gather public indifference into an electrically
supercharged storm of contempt, while the appearance of an icon
invites awe and respect. Hence, for many mainstream Americans, images
of John Wayne bring forth feelings of patriotism, but when they see
Hillary Clinton, they hear thunder. Why?
Its my observation that nothing
reveals the negative properties of societal angst better than the
unstable and antagonistic expanse between intellectualism and
anti-intellectualism. The fuel that feeds public anxiety and misplaced
hatred and bigotry is something Ive come to regard as mainstream
indifferencea psychological wasteland where thoughtless people are
bound together by a yoke of stupidity thats wholly accepted as plain
old common sense. The social realm is anti-intellectual to the bone,
feeding upon a disdain for eloquence in literature, the arts, and all
serious endeavors that require cerebral verve. Such thinking
frequently manifests as seething hatred, complete with public
demonstrations of contempt for others, when actually, a lack of
curiosity is the real culprit. This is what I call mainstream
indifference, and I submit that indifference of this kind is a
byproduct of egoisma form of narcissism so extreme as to drive from
conscious reality everything but self-centered actions that leave
little room for focusing on anything else.
Furthermore, upon closer
inspection, this frame of mind can be seen to contain an
unacknowledged undercurrent of self-loathing. Its a kind of disdain
for oneself for ones own laziness. The person knows at some deep
level that the indifference and laziness are contemptible but
nevertheless makes no effort to change.
Here we come face-to-face with the
great unspoken denial of American culturean inconsistency so glaring,
so blatant and so ubiquitous that for the most part it goes unnoticed.
Im referring to a tacit contempt for the compassionate ethos of
Christianity that pervades our culture. What most Americans have been
raised to admire (brotherly love and meekness notwithstanding) are
bold acts of violence that are decisively un-Christian. Values dont
just fall out of the sky. We dont find them in books, and we arent
given them by others. We learn to value by valuingspecifically by
acknowledging what we admire. When we admire something in the company
of others, we are bound together by the experience.
The ethos of the rugged
individualist, who shoots first and slugs the others cheek instead of
turning his own, is antithetical to the teaching of Christianity. Yet
this is the kind of person who becomes lionized among the populace.
This contradiction turns out not to be much of a worry, however, since
an apparent hallmark of Christianity is to preach one thing but do
another. As weve all seen in everyday practice, loving ones
neighbor actually means loving only those who follow the same beliefs
and hold the same values as ones own. Indeed, what is forgiveness if
not a method for getting closer to what a person really wants and
truly values without guilt for ones own indiscretions?
It should come as no surprise that
nothing reveals American values better than American cinema,
especially westerns. In his erudite book, Cowboy Metaphysics,
Peter A. French shows in vivid detail how the western genre is made up
of factions split apart by opposing worldviews and by radically
different ideas about death. Recall those muttering but scarcely
audible mobs of people in the typical western, the townsfolk who are
helpless to act in the face of oppression, but who are dependent upon
the silent hard-hearted stranger who, without blinking, will leave
their oppressor face-down in the mud, chest full of lead, and the air
filled with gun smoke.
Of the passivity of the
townspeople French writes, You can be exceptional and flawed and
therefore doomed, or you can be average and weak and scrape by. Those
are the only options. The homesteaders and the independent miners (and
in some Westerns, the townspeople) are chorus. This gets us to an
even deeper reason for the self-contempt Ive mentioned, and its not
flattering: the muttering crowd of townspeople, those who are
obviously too submissive to do the un-Christian deed that needs to be
done, dont really count. These folks arent heroesthey dont get
speaking partsand its hard to be proud of yourself if youre
considered one of them. But when you rally around the hero, identify
with him and shun and ridicule those who appear to hold different
values, a self can be redeemed, if only marginally, and indifference
will see you through until a challenge arises or a lightning rod is
brought to bear.
The chorus is large. Millions of
people in America are neither gunfighters nor heroes. Moreover, many
do nothing, whatsoever, that might be considered a citizens duty.
They dont vote; they know nothing of history, nothing of politics,
nothing about the nuts and bolts issues their country faces, and yet
they believe they know everything there is to know about Hillary. And
so it goes for all of those who do not read newspapers, magazines or
books, those who do not seek out an in-depth study of anything, ever,
but who know with religious certainty the righteousness of their own
indignation over matters about which, for all practical purposes, they
know absolutely nothing. People hate Hillary Clinton but dont really
know why. They just hate her. She represents something they dont
understand and cant articulatenot only that, but they are often
proud of the fact that they cant explain it.
They cant explain their reaction
because its a reflexa very old one. Many of our frontier
traditions in America derive from herding cultures of previous
centuries. In depicting the Old West, our filmmakers have glorified
these conventions as larger than life, and mainstream Americans have
internalized them, resulting in something just short of a red-state
sensibility. Sheep herdsmen during Biblical times had a lot in common
with cowboys: lose your herd and your honor is lost along with your
livestock. Moreover, in periods of social unrest, herdsman societies
were win-lose cultures, where status was everything. The use of
violence to protect ones sense of honor has carried over to become
the driving force in the western movie genre.
Western movies typically pit a
feminine, East Coast, Christian worldview against the quiet and stoic
stranger whos willing to risk everything, even eternal nonexistence,
often for the want of nothing more than a little self-respect, or in
other words, honor. In his last movie, The Shootist,
John Wayne explains the code of the West to his co-star Ron Howard: I
wont be wronged, I wont be insulted, I wont be laid a hand on. I
dont do these things to other people; I require the same from them.
This succinct characterization sums up the unspoken premise of honor
in nearly all western moviesits the archetype for the Hollywood
version of macho. Perhaps because I grew up with this mental picture
of honor myself I still find it suitable for a civil society.
Unfortunately, in modern society,
treating other people with respect is not where the macho ethos stops.
A simplified but exaggerated form of todays paternalistic and
testosterone-driven ethos fuels the swagger that George W. Bush adopts
when he spouts, Bring it on. The same unconscious impetus prompts
him to walk with hands extended from the side, as if he imagines
himself a gunfighter. And its the same attitude that induced him to
try to appoint a buffoon like Bernard Kerik as head of Homeland
Security in 2004.
Deeper still in the psyche of
those charmed by the philosophy portrayed on the silver screen is the
notion that action or a fast gun nearly
always triumphs over the better argument. Intellect and
articulation are to be shunned; worse, they are feminine virtues.
Those perceived as being too good with words are not to be trusted.
And thus its not surprising that so many American males hate Bill
Clinton for no better reason than he has a remarkable ability to sound
as if he knows what hes taking about. Even though George W. Bush can
barely speak above a kindergarten level in a public forum, his
supporters see him not as a man of words, but as a man of action. It
is indeed ironic that Bill Clinton was one of the most articulate
presidents in American history, and many people hate him for it.
George W. Bush is one of the most inarticulate
presidents in history, and yet he is forgiven this indiscretion
because a mans man is perceived to exist behind his simple facade.
Bush acted after 9/11, even if it meant attacking a country that was
not involved. His supporters can forgive this mistake more easily than
if he had not acted at all. The townspeople often forgive the heroic
stranger for a few moments of recklessness; its just the way of the
Now you might be thinking, Wait a
minute. We arent herding anything these days, and cowboys are long
gone except for the drug-store type. Youre right. Even
westerns are out of style. But westerns carry a powerful legacy about
men being men and staying that way. The culture of the quiet man of
few words comes through loud and clear to the present day. For
example, one of the high points of the Harrison Ford movie
Witness occurs when Ford, who plays a cop in hiding, disguises
himself as an Amish farmer. When some local punks make fun of a group
of Amish men for their willingness to turn the other cheek, Ford
thrashes them, breaking the nose of one of the culprits. The
satisfaction felt by the audience is palpable, and we are made to
think that even the Amish are secretly happy these punks got what was
coming to them.
My thesis may seem like a gross
oversimplification, but a befuddled internalization of an ancient
flock protection ethos, combined with a patriarchal, religious
fundamentalism and Hollywoods American West underlies what most of
the men with pickups, gun racks, and Confederate flags attached to
their antennas define as what it means to be a man. Its a significant
part of what paints the states they live in red.
Dont get me wrong. I liked John
Wayne and most of the movies that he starred in. But long ago my quest
for objective knowledge made me painfully aware that, by and large, we
celebrate a West that never was. I was more than a little disappointed
to learn that John Wayne hated horses, and that he avoided active
service during World War II to advance his film career. But the truth
is that anyone who makes a serious effort to learn more about the
world cannot help but be amazed that nothing upon close examination is
as it appears, and there is no better example than the fantasy of the
American West as depicted in movies. Growing up in Texas in the 1940s
and 50s, I knew the propensity for violence where I lived was very
different from that in other parts of the country. It was easy to see.
Those loud, gesture-rich arguments frequently depicted in media, and
considered routine by residents of large northeastern cities, would
result in immediate fisticuffs in the South, no doubt about it. There
was no shouting or finger pointing in Texas, unless of course you were
prepared to fight to back it up.
Regardless of the rhetoric about
what Hillary is supposedly up to, she is likewise perceived as a
threat to the patriarchal family. She is the archetypal Easterner; she
speaks in complete sentences and is married to someone who speaks so
well it makes him slick. If we translate the Easterner
values from the 1950s westerns into todays terms, we encounter
individuals who try their best to find the better argument, people who
give the notion of brotherly love something more than lip service,
people who are unafraid of criticizing their own government, people
who in fact believe that it is their civic duty to hold their leaders
feet to the fire. In other words, I am describing the metaphorical
nemesis of the rugged individualist in western cinema: liberals. And
this is why so many men, and some women, bristle simply at the mention
of Hillarys name. They know essentially nothing about her, and yet
they believe that she is a threat to everything they care about. Among
herdsmen, and in patriarchal societies in general, men
are owners of the flock or the herd and all that goes with it, women
and children included. This stuff comes right out of the Bible. Its
what George Lakoff characterizes as the strict father morality in
his book Moral Politics.
The family in red-state America is
a metaphor for male dominance; thats what they think God intended.
So, if you still have some doubts about my lighting rod metaphor,
spend some time paying particular attention to the language used to
describe Hillary Clinton by those who hate her passionately. Notice
that the words they use to frame their arguments presuppose a
protectiveness of their flock culture by speaking directly about a
strict father morality and that they abhor a feminine point of view
regardless of the subject. Even in matters where a woman would be
thought virtuous, such as preserving a marriage despite infidelity,
Hillary was ridiculed for standing by her man. The lesson for those of
us who disagree with the strict father view of morality is that to
engage conservatives in debate using their language to frame the issue
is as futile as throwing stones at stones.
If Hillary Clinton were president
of the United States, I dont profess to know what kind of leader she
would be. But I dont think she would lie to us to get us into a war
so that her legacy would have the potential to remind us of John
Wayne. I dont think she would turn over the welfare of American
workers to big business. I dont think she would consider it business
as usual that more that 45 million Americans are without health
insurance. Moreover, I think she would go full steam ahead for
stem-cell research. I dont think she would support laws that make it
impossible for the average citizen to seek legal redress in the
courts. I dont think she would undermine social security under the
guise of reform. I dont think she would champion the idea of
democracy while presiding over one of the most undemocratic
administrations in American history. Nor would she opt for being the
most secretive administration since World War II. I dont think she
would implement a foreign policy that would cause America to be seen
as a self-absorbed bully. I dont think she would go along with
undoing years of environmental protection, giving the petrochemical
industry license to do as it wishes. I dont think she would deny the
scientific evidence for global warming. I dont think she would let
the oil industry write the rules for our energy policy. I dont think
she would argue that Intelligent Design should be taught alongside
evolution. I dont think she would confuse the boundaries of church
and state. And I dont think that millions of people would cringe with
embarrassment every time she spoke in public. I dont think her
impromptu remarks to the press would incite a jihad, as was the case
when Bush spoke of a crusade. And finally, if Hillary is elected
president, millions of people will continue to hate her, they will
still wince when they hear her name, but, unlike the case of President
Bush, I dont think a significant number of her detractors or
supporters around the world will really and truly believe, at a gut
level, that she is egregiously incompetent.
All of this speculation reflects
my own wishful thinking, of course. But the truth of the matter is
that for any woman to be elected president of the United States, she
will have to be seen by a significant portion of the population as
more decisive than thoughtful and more hawkish on all matters of
defense than most men are, just to be seen as remotely qualified. She
will have to be viewed as an iron-skirted Margaret Thatcher before
most red-state people will consider her to be a viable candidate. All
you have to do to verify this for yourself is to watch Geena Davis in
Commander in Chief and witness the great lengths the
shows writers go to in making this point clear.
Respect, honor, toughness, and a
willingness to act decisively are very important aspects of
leadership. But when an immature and adolescent worldview results in a
ready, fire, aim, war policy for the sake of appearing presidential in
the eyes of a constituency of indifferent townspeople inspired by
Hollywood heroics, it amounts to a slap in the face of reason and a
stain on American history.
I dont believe that maturity as a
nation is possible until such time as it is commonplace for average
citizens to achieve a level of objective thought that enables them to
deconstruct the metaphors and icons that shape the everyday reality of
popular culture. Metaphors and icons are wonderful tools of
expression, but if we cant see through them, then it is more accurate
to say that instead of having ideas, our ideas have us. Being a
prisoner to an ideology makes us vulnerable to anyone and everyone
with a political agenda who know full well which lightning rods will
get our attention and which icons will cause us to stop thinking. --posted Feb. 18, 2006
The views expressed are the writer's own and do not necessarily reflect those of Bush Watch.