Looking the Other Way

big picture stuff

Be sure to read Harold Bloom’s essay in The Guardian — “Reflections on an Evening Land.” Although in places it reminds me why I didn’t major in English lit, the essay makes vital points —

At the age of 75, I wonder if the Democratic party ever again will hold the presidency or control the Congress in my lifetime. I am not sanguine, because our rulers have demonstrated their prowess in Florida (twice) and in Ohio at shaping voting procedures, and they control the Supreme Court. The economist-journalist Paul Krugman recently observed that the Republicans dare not allow themselves to lose either Congress or the White House, because subsequent investigations could disclose dark matters indeed. Krugman did not specify, but among the profiteers of our Iraq crusade are big oil (House of Bush/House of Saud), Halliburton (the vice-president), Bechtel (a nest of mighty Republicans) and so forth.

All of this is extraordinarily blatant, yet the American people seem benumbed, unable to read, think, or remember, and thus fit subjects for a president who shares their limitations.

This made me think of yesterday’s Risen-Lichtblau article in the New York Times:

Some officials familiar with it say they consider warrantless eavesdropping inside the United States to be unlawful and possibly unconstitutional, amounting to an improper search. One government official involved in the operation said he privately complained to a Congressional official about his doubts about the legality of the program. But nothing came of his inquiry. “People just looked the other way because they didn’t want to know what was going on,” he said.

That’s pretty much our situation in a nutshell. We look the other way. We don’t want to know what’s going on.

This past week news media made a Big Bleeping Deal out of the fact that President Bush uttered the words “As President, I’m responsible for the decision to go into Iraq,” as if this marked some new era of presidential candor. But look at the context — the paragraph in which the fleeting moment of candor appeared —

When we made the decision to go into Iraq, many intelligence agencies around the world judged that Saddam possessed weapons of mass destruction. This judgment was shared by the intelligence agencies of governments who did not support my decision to remove Saddam. And it is true that much of the intelligence turned out to be wrong. As President, I’m responsible for the decision to go into Iraq — and I’m also responsible for fixing what went wrong by reforming our intelligence capabilities. And we’re doing just that. At the same time, we must remember that an investigation after the war by chief weapons inspector Charles Duelfer found that Saddam was using the U.N. oil-for-food program to influence countries and companies in an effort to undermine sanctions, with the intent of restarting his weapons programs once the sanctions collapsed and the world looked the other way. Given Saddam’s history and the lessons of September the 11th, my decision to remove Saddam Hussein was the right decision. Saddam was a threat — and the American people and the world is better off because he is no longer in power. (Applause.) We are in Iraq today because our goal has always been more than the removal of a brutal dictator; it is to leave a free and democratic Iraq in its place.

— he’s still not admitting to a mistake. He’s still claiming he did the right thing. And he’s still pretending the world at large agreed with his decision, when it most definitely did not.

The fact that Bush could have (somehow) obtained a second term, even after it was obvious he had taken us into a costly and unnecessary war that could easily have been avoided, is an obscenity. It’s obscene that so many people in the media and in politics continue to cover his ass and treat him with respect. And it’s obscene that Americans accept him as president. I sincerely believe that earlier generations would have stormed the White House bearing buckets of hot tar and bags of feathers, never mind sit quietly by and watch him be inaugurated for another term.

Earlier Americans would have been outraged. Today’s Americans sit placidly and watch as their betrayal is televised.

And, constitutionally speaking, it is not the President’s responsibility to decide to invade another country. That’s Congress’s responsibility. But who reads the Constitution any more? That’s so, like, pre-9/11.

“What has happened to the American imagination if we have become a parody of the Roman empire?” Bloom asks. I think he’s giving us too much credit; we’re too prudish to parody the Roman empire. I think we’ve become only a parody of ourselves, which is far more pathetic. Just cruise around the Right Blogosphere and notice the imagery — fierce bald eagles, the Liberty Bell, minutemen — and then look at the opinions presented: The president was right to authorize wiretaps of citizens in secret. If you aren’t doing anything illegal you should have nothing to worry about.

How is it that a rich, spoiled, pampered frat boy with an affected Texas accent, who never worked a day in his life and used family connections to avoid service in Vietnam, became the heir to Andy Jackson? If that’s not parody, I don’t know what is.

Although we might yet go the way of the Romans. Historians tell us that as Rome fell, the Romans themselves scarcely noticed it was happening. Even as the barbarians were literally at the gates, individual Romans went ahead with their personal business with no concern that their way of life was about to end. They didn’t see it coming. And they didn’t see it because of end of Rome was unthinkable. Today the true believers in American exceptionalism cling to the idea that the virtues of our American republic are so unassailable as to justify any depravity done in America’s name. The notion that America could be in the wrong, much less fall from grace as The Land of the Free, is unthinkable.

Beware of what is unthinkable. Just because something is outside your imagination doesn’t mean it isn’t there.

The exceptionalists are in power, and those of us who see the fall coming are dismissed as “looney lefties.” I sometimes feel as if I’m watching a train wreck that I’m powerless to stop.

“Even as Bush extolled his Iraq adventure, his regime daily fuses more tightly together elements of oligarchy, plutocracy, and theocracy,” Bloom writes. Today in the New York Times, Scott Shane writes that “A single, fiercely debated legal principle lies behind nearly every major initiative in the Bush administration’s war on terror, scholars say: the sweeping assertion of the powers of the presidency.” Does that make Bush our Julius Caesar? Ol’ Julius would be insulted, I believe.

Of course, in Caesar’s case, the Senate eventually took matters into their own hands and, um, deposed him. With extreme prejudice. I wouldn’t look to our current lot in Congress to be quite so principled. The question is, is it too late for a strong and unified opposition to Bush to arise? Is it too late for Congress to take back its proper authoritiy and demote the Emperor back to being a republican (small R) president? If not (even better) a citizen?

Also commenting on the Bloom essay, Stirling Newberry writes “I do not believe there is an American decline that is inevitable.” However,

I believe that catastrophe is inevitable, that is we will not change direction until checks bounce and people can’t get gasoline. But we are nearer to that than people know. I saw my first gas lines in America in 30 years recently, the shadow of shortage is held at bay by European recession and the strategic reserve. The rich and powerful are pumping oil as fast as they can, because they feel the noose tightening around them. They can feel that if there is an economic tumble now, then who knows where the rebellions will lead.

America has been very foolish indeed, and it has suffered in its arts and letters as it has suffered politically – for the same reason. We are corrupt, and everything is about being attached to the revenue stream. Being attached to the stream of money is the only sign of success we care about, because it is the only one that matters. Read any composer biography, it will be a list of “who cut the check” and how many checks have been cut. As if composers were whores, known for who they serviced.

This reality is passing, because of the many problems of a prostitute society, a certain emptiness that comes with the first light of day is among them. People who could be successful in the world of fighting to get to the teat have given up on it. Yes, I can understand those much older than I being disappointed, there was so much more possible than seems to have occured. It was that very fear of disaster which kept the older generation on the straight and narrow. It was the loss of that fear that allowed the Republicans to raid the savings accounts and produce a generation of fat falsity.

Yet “The whole modern world is running out of value,” Stirling continues, and there is no reason we can’t make a course correction and adjust to new realities.

Perhaps the Democratic Party is not yet ready to take power, but this weakness is a paradoxical strength: when a leader comes who is capable of taking the White House, and governing the nation, with a following to match his vision – the rest of the party will fall into rank and file, because there will be no other alternative. Parties, as Wilson reminded us in his first inaugural, are instruments of the greater purpose of the nation.

So it will be now, when America has finally lost hope in false promises, and finally reaches the moment where the river of oil and corruption can no longer provide enough affluence for enough Americans, we will change, and move in a new direction.

Personally, I think we’re tottering on the edge. Fall one way, and we’ll become a corrupt and bloated plutocracy of exploitation, limited opportunity, and abased civil liberties. Fall the other way, and maybe we’ll no longer be the World’s Only Superpower, or the Richest Sumbitches on the Planet, but we’ll still have the Constitution and civil liberties, and (eventually) our self-respect. Certainly we’re leaning toward the former, but I don’t think the latter is yet lost to us.

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17 Comments

17 Comments

  1. merciless  •  Dec 17, 2005 @12:18 pm

    I’m gonna ruin my reputation as president of the glass-half-empty society, but I don’t think it’s quite as bad as all that. Not quite.

    When poor Terri Schiavo was made a puppet by the right, the people said clearly, “No. That is wrong.” And they had to stop.

    Now the preznit says, “I’ll do anything I want in the name of the war on terra, and you can’t do anything about it.” If (big if) the folks realize that means tapping THEIR phones, or their families’, or their neighbors’, they might begin to realize that the other people really aren’t others. They’re us.

    Sterling’s arguments are compelling, and I agree with him that economic and environmental crisis lay not too far down the road (flu pandemic, anyone?). But then we’ll need the constitution, and leadership, more than ever.

    I won’t give up on America just yet. The preznit’s poll numbers tell me that I’m not the only one.

  2. c u at the gulag  •  Dec 17, 2005 @1:23 pm

    This is a pivotal moment in our history. Bush is playing a game of consitutional brinksmanship. In his speach this morning he threw down the gauntlet.
    I’m watching to see what the press and other mediums do with this. Maybe they can, for once, forget the “Happy Holiday’s” fluff and lost blondes and report what is going on. If they keep at it they may light a fire under Congress’ butt.
    We also have a job to do. We need to write to members of the House and Senate and tell them we don’t want a King.
    Incurious George needs to be impeached. Now, before it’s too late (if it isn’t already)!
    Wake up sheeple!

  3. joanr16  •  Dec 17, 2005 @1:29 pm

    Bloom’s essay just confirms my suspicion that he’s a bloated gasbag. If he were a competent professor, he could’ve spared the world David Duchovny’s acting career.

    (Which reminds me how anti-government paranoia was so fashionable in the Clinton years. We do so love to play-act at being a democracy.)

    But I digress. The Chimp isn’t comparable to Caesar; he’s Henry V: dissolute nogoodnik heir becomes king and wages war purely out of greed. Except, the French are winning at Agincourt.

  4. Swami  •  Dec 17, 2005 @2:58 pm

    In Bush’s statement above he starts out with,”when we made the decision to go into Iraq,” and two lines later he claims he made the decision to go into Iraq. It seems like he’s exercising a presidential prerogative in pre-emptive excuse making. And it also seems like Cheney isn’t the only Dick in the White House.

  5. emel  •  Dec 17, 2005 @3:18 pm

    Bush=dumbass
    Americans=numbass

    We need to get off the couch and quit sucking the glass teat.

  6. alyosha  •  Dec 17, 2005 @5:31 pm

    This is one of your finer pieces Maha, or it least it very eloquently touches one of my nerves.

    Sterling has it right, we are heading into catastrophe, for the reasons he and others you cite have given. It would be one thing if the economy would remain as it is, however ill-distributed its fruits are among the population, but given the massive debts we’ve deliberately run up and the lack of investment in our own country, and the sheeplike attitudes among the press and the citizenry (they prefer to call themselves “consumers”), the bills are going to come due.

    This is nothing more than age-old aristocracy asserting its right to rule. It laid low for a few generations, while the citizenry forgot about this threat. And then, armed with the most sophisticated PR techniques ever, they took over.

    The rich don’t care that the country is going bankrupt. Their wealth is fungible and can be transferred around the planet as needed. They themselves can travel to any safe haven. They’re in control, and can feed any meme they need into the population, who’ll readily believe it, as Harold Bloom has noted.

    There are psychological reasons why the public is numbed and looks the other way. The powers that be understand them, encourage them, and take advantage of them, in much the way that farmers manage their herd.

  7. anonymous  •  Dec 17, 2005 @7:46 pm

    Guess I should be grateful that I can still shop at walmart, eat at applebee’s, buy hardware at home depot, and use staple’s “easy button.”

    Who ever know that when the founding fathers talked about rights, liberty and persuit of happiness, they were refering to our “freedom” to choose to support corporations that would prop up a puppet to take the meaningful freedoms away.

    Those ol’ white men were geniuses…

  8. erinyes  •  Dec 17, 2005 @8:17 pm

    I saw an interview with Jack Welch, the ex G.E. CEO.He claimed the economy is blazing, gives Bush the credit. This is interesting. Wages have stagnated, every thing necessary in our modernage, from health care to groceries have gone through the roof, speaking of roofs, here in storm ravaged Florida, the price of shingles and competent roofers has more than doubled, even though the guys pounding the nails are Mexicans and are not making squat.Simply put, nothing is making sense
    Chris Matthews said last night on Hardball, that if Bush pulls of bring peace and democracy to the middle east, he deserves to up on Mt. Rushmore. In my humble opinion, Bush should be up there right now, in his bvd’s.
    The truth is becomming obvious: the military-industrial complex Ike warned about is here, and the state Orwell warned about is knocking on the door.
    To revisit the comment about not having anything to worry about if you are not doing anything wrong, I’m sure many victims of the inquisition thought that, and Sammi Al Arian’s family might weigh in on the comment also.

  9. alyosha  •  Dec 17, 2005 @8:36 pm

    Welch is a Republican, through and through. I used to work for him. He stuns me by his complete lack of empathy of how the other half lives. Neutron Jack, indeed.

  10. Gotham Image  •  Dec 17, 2005 @8:37 pm

    Maha – Before I forget, stop by my blog = you may laugh at a real parody of a parody, especially Hitchens tutoring Bush a bit.

    Thanks for bringing that Bloom piece to our attention – will have to examine it more closely – Some parts we disagree, but it’s hard to challange him on some things because of his vast erudition. On the other hand, he also plays the part, in his own mind, of Falstaff the wise and there’s some showmanship.

    I’ll have to look at more posts.

  11. A. Citizen  •  Dec 17, 2005 @11:22 pm

    It’s truly amazing every blog I go to the same chorus of despair….they are destroying America….there’s nothing we can do….Yadda, fukin’ yadda…

    Did anybody notice what Senator Feinstein said about BushFascist’s NSA illegality….

    She said, “I was astounded….”

    She also said Bush’s actions were unacceptable. Senator Feingold is on the attack. Republican Senator Sununu voted against cloture on the Patriot Act….

    The battle is not over. It’s barely begun and all you whiners need to get off yer ass and make yourself heard by the politicians currently in power, by the LSM, by your neighbors.

    Being a good citizen is hard work.

    Are you up to it?

  12. maha  •  Dec 18, 2005 @7:03 am

    It’s barely begun and all you whiners need to get off yer ass and make yourself heard by the politicians currently in power, by the LSM, by your neighbors.

    That’s pretty much all I do any more. What have YOU been doing? And where do YOU get off calling the commenters on this blog “whiners”?

  13. erinyes  •  Dec 18, 2005 @7:45 am

    Well, Mr. A. Citizen, according to my congressman, who I’m sure is quite tired of my letters, Bush is a bold and decisive leader & doing an excellent job of keeping us safe from terrorists and promoting a glowing economy.If you have any suggestions regarding how to rock the boat without getting a free trip to Gitmo club waterboarding, please share.More peolple than I had realized months ago are fed up with Bush and his party, are VERY afraid to say so publically, but will say so in private or quietly.So why is there no massive move to remove him from office? The MSM now states his approval rating is somewhere between 38 and 40 %, If MY boss told me my approval rating was that bad, I’d resign or get some kind of assistance real fast before my ass got fired.
    I realize politicians like Pelosi, Feingold, Hagle, Waxman, Murtha, Byrd, Conyers, and others are now standing up, but it sure took many of them an awful long time to do so.It’s about time…..
    How many members of the administration have resigned in the recent past to “spend more time with their family”….
    What a crock of excrement! If “we” are locked in deadly battle with “Islamofasicsm”, the ones resigning in a time of war are deserting their posts to “spend time with their families”? we certainly don’t afford our soldiers that option, they must “stay the course”.Some animals are more equal than others.
    Like I said in an earlier post, none of this is making sense, and Florida swampland is now a desired commodity.(Wanna buy a bridge?)
    I suppose it’s all in how you look at things….
    Is it ” Therapist” or ” The Rapist”?
    Some special event will have to occur to wake the masses up, something like a major economic meltdown, extreme gas prices, significant rise in interest rates, or a draft.(or an attack on Iran)

  14. JJ History  •  Dec 18, 2005 @9:41 am

    Let’s make this simple… Folks, it’s time to dump the tea in the harbor, again!

  15. Swami  •  Dec 18, 2005 @12:38 pm

    My voice is he only power I have. If expressing that power is percieved as whining than so be it. I believe that every syllable uttered thru type counts toward the shifting of power whether by a bold statement of truth or a whine. Bush is robbing America of it values and we should all be compelled to speak out in any form.

    Thanks be to the blogosphere..an immense tool in the preservation of liberty

  16. alyosha  •  Dec 18, 2005 @3:30 pm

    The other thing Swami, is that we find out through so called “whining” like this that we’re not alone. And we pick up different views and approaches to these problems, and we hash them out. To me this is a 21st century approach to people gathering on porches or in the saloon to hash things out. And then we act.

  17. Steve from Canukistan  •  Dec 18, 2005 @7:35 pm

    Excellent post Maha! Reminds me of Germany’s historical record from the ‘30’s documenting Hitler’s rise to power. People of my generation that followed the war have been very smug that such revulsion could never happen on their watch. But it does appear that we are repeating some of the same mistakes. I am an optimist but the past 5 years make me fearful of what the history of the 21st century will record and if it will be any better than the 20th in the blood-letting department.