past week I've been writing a series of essays for Open Source Politics on Why America Is Screwed Up. Most of these essays borrow heavily from stuff already
written on The Mahablog so I didn't post them here, but this last one is mostly new, so here it is. This is a second draft
of what should run in OSP on Monday or Tuesday. I welcome questions, suggestions, and corrections.
this series I’ve harped on the connections between the Great American Psyche and politics. Part I discusses our common masculinity memes and electability. Part II argues that George Bush’s unresolved Oedipal conflicts are driving his policies.
Part III and Part IV explore the way Republicans make use of mythos and imagery to personify the unheroic Bush as a hero (so far, successfully).
We liberals can talk about policy and present
data to support our ideas until we turn purple. Conservatives wave a flag, or a Bible, and win elections. Right-wingers make
a mockery of democracy and pass laws that weaken, not strengthen, our nation, yet voters cannot see it. What is it in our
collective unconscious that makes We, the People so screwed up?
Dearest. George Lakoff writes that conservative and progressive worldviews can
be compared to “strict father” families and “nurturing parent” families. While the “nurturing parent” state values empathy,
responsibility, and freedom, the conservative “strict father” state thinks citizens must be protected and controlled. The
“strict father” state sees the world as a hard and dangerous place. It values success, and believes those who are not successful
are not properly disciplined (or moral, or hard working) and must not be coddled. Pursuit of self-interest is moral, and worldly
success is an indicator of moral strength.
This means (among other things) favoring
those who control corporate wealth and power (those seen as the best people) over those who are victims (those seen as morally
weak). It means removing government regulations, which get in the way of those who are disciplined. Nature is seen as a resource
to be exploited. One-way communication translates into government secrecy. The highest moral value is to preserve and extend
the domain of strict morality itself, which translates into bringing the values of strict father morality into every aspect
of life, both public and private, domestic and foreign. [George Lakoff, "Framing the Dems," The American Prospect
vol. 14 no. 8, September 1, 2003 ]
It seems to me that conservative
“values” are a throwback to feudalism. The feudal nobility believed they had a God-given entitlement to wealth and privilege
and a right to exploit common people. Today’s corporate lords see themselves as entitled to wealth and the protection of government
without the obligation of paying taxes, and they think government exists to provide them with cheap labor.
important to understand that the corporate lords don’t think they are doing anything wrong. Most of them are not so
much hypocrites as unconscious. In the neo-feudalistic view, wealth confers grace, and the blessed few are entitled by grace
to more wealth any way they can get it. People who are poor; people who face long-term unemployment because their jobs moved
to India; must not be as virtuous and as deserving as those who are rich. If the “serfs” suffer, it’s God’s will.
yes, but what’s even more frightening is the extent to which the “serfs” have bought into this rubbish. Working class Americans
continue to vote for politicians who are on the side of the feudal lords, not the workers. We saw this in last month’s elections,
particularly in the South. White working class people in particular deliver themselves “into the hands of Republican leaders
who malign the federal government and are closely allied with giant corporations,” writes Sam Parry in Consortium News.
of Fear.This is not new. I’ve observed
my whole life how Americans can be frightened into stampeding off cliffs. Fear of Communism gave birth to McCarthyism, the
House Un-American Activities Committee, and the War in Vietnam. Today the Republicans are using fears of terrorism, foreigners,
ethnic minorities, and various aspects of sexuality to keep the serfs in line.
Consider also the Religious Right. In her magnificent
book The Battle for God: A History of Fundamentalism, Karen Armstrong demonstrates that fundamentalism arose in response to modernity, especially to scientific rationalism.
"Fear is at the heart of fundamentalism,” she writes. “The fear of losing yourself." This is true of Islamic fundamentalists
like Osama bin Laden as well as our homegrown types. Liberals cherish tolerance, democracy, pluralism, and civil liberties;
fundamentalists fear these values as weapons of (their) annihilation.
…It is important to recognize that these theologies and ideologies are rooted in fear. The desire to define doctrines,
erect barriers, establish borders, and segregate the faithful in a sacred enclave where the law is stringently observed springs
from that terror of extinction which has made all fundamentalists, at once time or another, believe that the secularists were
about to wipe them out. The modern world, which seems so exciting to a liberal, seems Godless, drained of meaning and even
satanic to a fundamentalist. [Armstrong, The Battle for God (Ballantine, 2000), p. 368]
that existential fear is at the heart of most “isms.” And although there’s no objective measure of angst that I know of, the
world may seem scarier to We, the People,than it used to, and not just because
of terrorism. Collectively, our props are falling away. Compared to fifty years ago (as far back as I can remember), communities
are fragmented, families are scattered, jobs are ephemeral. Across rural and small town America, communities that were once
homogenous are becoming multiracial and multiethnic. “Givens” about God and Man and Sex and other big issues are being openly
Dreams. Although the world must seem to be shifting beneath their feet, many people
are so out of touch with themselves they may not be fully aware of their fear or capable of understanding what they are afraid
of. We in America have grown a culture that discourages introspection. As Sam Keen wrote in Fire in the Belly
(which is right up there with Iron John as an excellent piece of early male movement lit),
Men, in our culture, have
carried a special burden of unconsciousness, of ignorance of the self. The unexamined life has been worth quite a lot in economic
terms. It has enabled us to increase the gross national product yearly. It may not be necessary to be a compulsive extrovert
to be financially successful, but it helps. Especially for men, ours is an outer-directed culture that rewards us for remaining
strangers to ourselves, unacquainted with feeling, intuition, or the subtleties of sensation and dreams. [Sam Keen, Fire
in the Belly (Bantam, 1991), p. 65]
with this passage is that it leaves out women. But Keen corrects this mistake in later a paragraph:
The difference between
the sexes is being eroded as both sexes become defined by work. … Economic man, the creature who defines itself within the
horizons of work and consumption, is not man in any full sense of the word, but a being who has been neutralized, degendered,
rendered subservient to the laws of the market. The danger of economics is not that it turns women into men but that it destroys
the fullness of both manhood and womanhood. [Keen, ibid.]
today, the Economy defines us. It tells us who we are and gives us a place in society. We work and consume, therefore we Are.
But such an identity gives us no context to understand or even acknowledge the un-ease gnawing inside us. So, we look outside
ourselves for solace. We work harder and buy more stuff. We medicate ourselves with alcohol and other diversions. Even American-style
religion is outer-directed, fixated on a God who is Out There instead of the Buddha who is In Here. And we allow propagandists
to tell us that what we really fear are terrorists, or atheists, or liberals, or some other shadowy thing Out There, and our
salvation lies in God and guns and George W. Bush.
in our fear, we give more and more power to the corporate monsters eating our souls.
back America. The challenge for liberals is to break through the fear and denial
and communicate our vision of America to all American citizens. And that won’t be easy, since the corporations own the media.
Most of the “pundits” of the news media are just as lost and unconscious as the rest of America, and some are out-and-out
corporate whores. I can offer only a few suggestions.
We need to understand what "our vision" is. And I'm not talking about policy. What is America? Where
do we want to go as a nation? How do we see our place in the world? What is the proper relationship between government and
Defeat George W. Bush and as many Neocons as possible in the 2004 election. The Bush Administration
is like an open, bleeding wound. America won’t begin to heal until the wound is closed and bandaged.
The new Democratic administration must continue to investigate and make public the corruption of the
Bush Administration. At least the Bushies must be brought to public disgrace, as Nixon was.
Please don’t come to New York City during the Republican National Convention next year hoping to start
a riot. We won’t win hearts and minds by being obnoxious and alarming.
Although policy details are important, Democratic leaders need to speak in ways that touch our hearts
and quiet our fears. Franklin Delano Roosevelt comes to mind.
And it never hurts to get to know yourself and whatever is lurking
in your own subconscious. Meditation, introspection, psychotherapy — whatever it takes. We can’t wake up others if we’re not
One thing I love about winter is not going out into snow. There's something about
watching snow fall from indoors that makes home seem more homey.
I don't know anything about Richard Morrison other than he's planning to run against
Tom DeLay in Congress. That's good enough. Click here if you want to help him with his campaign.
Today's Outrage.Joe Conason writes that the U.S. State Department insists Wesley Clark's testimony at the genocide trial of Slobodan Milosevic be closed
to the press. "In the absence of any convincing explanation, this appears to be a matter not only of harmful judicial meddling
and unwarranted censorship, but a gross abuse of diplomatic authority for domestic political advantage as well."
You'll love this. Eighty members of Congress have co-sponsored a
bill to remove the profile of Franklin Delano Roosevelt from the dime and replace it with the face of Ronald Reagan. The bill
was introduced by Rep. Mark Souder, R-Ind.
"It is particularly fitting to honor the Freedom President on this particular piece
of coinage because, as has been pointed out, President Reagan was wounded under the left arm by a bullet that had ricocheted
and flattened to the size of a dime," Souder wrote to colleagues in the House of Representatives.
Sure, that makes sense. Not.
"FDR believed the federal government should spend your dimes. Ronald Reagan believed
the people should spend their own dimes. I think it's clear that the dimes in your pocket should bear Ronald Reagan's image,"
co-sponsor Rep. Elton Gallegly, R-Calif., said, according to the Los Angeles Daily News. ["Congressmen Want Reagan's Face on Dime," World Net Daily, December 3, 2003]
The fact is, of course, that FDR became President because in 1932, after
four years of the Great Depression, too many people didn't have dimes to spend (or other forms of currency, either). This
was in large part the fault of the economic policies of the two prior Republican administrations.
Republicans are still pissed at FDR about the New Deal. FDR did not throw large
amounts of federal money at wealthy people and Big Business in hopes that some small part of it would trickle down to
ordinary folks in the form of jobs. Instead, he bypassed the rich and directly applied federal money to put people
to work. The effects of his policies put money in people's pockets and actually saved some from starvation.
For example, click here to find out what the New Deal did for people in one small town in Alabama.
On the other hand, if you want to see the final economic results of the Reagan
years, go to your video store and rent Michael Moore's film "Roger and Me."
As for Reagan being the "freedom president," who was it that guided the ship of state
through World War II and helped save the whole world from the Nazis? And exactly what did Reagan to for "freedom" beside deliver
some good speeches (mostly written by Peggy Noonan)?
So keep FDR on the dime, I say. Dimes jingle in purses and pockets of ordinary
working people. They pile up on top of dressers and night stands. They help fill up kids' piggy banks. Good
ol' ordinary dimes are a part of everyday American economic life and therefore are a fitting tribute to the great Franklin
If the Republicans want to see Reagan's face on a coin, mint up a special commemorative
Reagan gold coin that investors will buy and hoard in vaults. Such a coin would be a fitting tribute to Reaganomics.
America remains an intensely religious nation and, if anything, the
trend since the late 1980s has been toward stronger religious belief. Eight-in-ten Americans (81%) say that prayer is an important
part of their daily lives, and just as many believe there will be a Judgment Day when people will be called before God to
answer for their sins. Even more people (87%) agree with the statement "I never doubt the existence of God."
The implication is that people who don't go along with these
dogmas are not religious, which is of course nonsense. People who believe in Judgment Day and God and whatever might be called
"conservative monotheists," but all sorts of religions and religious people don't subscribe to those doctrines.
The Pew report continues:
Religious commitment has increased substantially among self-identified
conservatives (81% agree with all three statements on faith and belief, compared with 73% in 1987-88). Liberals, on the other
hand, have become somewhat less religiously oriented. Just over half of self-identified liberals (54%) agree with all three
religious statements, down from 59% fifteen years ago.
In other words, Pew has decided that
conservative monotheism is the One True and Only Religion. There are devoutly religious liberal and progressive monotheists
who don't believe in a literal Judgment Day. According to Pew, however, these people are not devoutly religious liberal people,
but actually less religious than conservative monotheists who do believe in a literal Judgment Day (and, unremarkably,
are political conservatives as well).
In other words, Pew has discovered that conservatives are conservatives and liberals
are not conservatives.
It may astonish the Pew people to know that there
is a whole cosmos of beautiful religions that are not based on monotheism at all -- Buddhism, Taoism, Hinduism, Paganism,
etc. These are minority groups, to be sure. But there are Buddhist monasteries and Dharma centers all over the United States,
and men and women who have shaved their heads and taken the robes and monastic vows, and not one of those people believes
in Judgment Day. Or God. Some of them (i.e., Zennies) don't say prayers. Yet religion is their lives.
(Note to self: Create bumper sticker that says, "I'm Buddhist, and I Vote.")
While attitudes toward prayer and faith have remained very
stable over that period, the number expressing strong agreement has increased slightly over the past decade-and-a-half. Today,
51% completely agree that prayer is important in their lives, up from 41% in 1987. And the percentage who completely agree
that they never doubt God's existence has risen from 60% to 69% over the same period.
This may or may not reveal an increase in true religious devotion.
Given the current oppressive social climate, I postulate that larger numbers of people are too intimidated to admit they don't
say their prayers or that they have doubts about God.
As a rule, Democrats are more respectful of the variety of religious traditions
and keep their own religiosity private. But conservatives wear Jesus on their sleeves and equate public declarations of religiosity
with devotion. Steven Thomma of Knight-Ridder newspapers writes,
President Bush is a churchgoing Christian who often mixes theology with
public policies ranging from the war on terrorism to a ban on a specific type of late-term abortion. By contrast, most leading
Democratic candidates for president keep their campaigns secular, seldom mentioning God, religion or attending church, except
for the occasional well-publicized visit to an African-American church.
The most notable exception among top-tier candidates is Sen. Joseph Lieberman
of Connecticut, a Jew who frequently invokes God, casts policy issues in moral terms and refuses to campaign on the Sabbath.
The Rev. Al Sharpton is religious too, of course, but polls show he's favored
by fewer than 1 percent of likely Democratic voters in New Hampshire, the first primary state.
FYI: Abraham Lincoln
didn't attend church regularly, either.
Lincoln never joined a church nor ever made a clear profession
of standard Christian beliefs. While he read the Bible in the White House, he was not in the habit of saying grace before
meals. Lincoln's friend Jesse Fell noted that the president "seldom communicated to anyone his views" on religion, and he
went on to suggest that those views were not orthodox: "on the innate depravity of man, the character and office of the great
head of the Church, the Atonement, the infallibility of the written revelation, the performance of miracles, the nature and
design of . . . future rewards and punishments . . . and many other subjects, he held opinions utterly at variance with what
are usually taught in the church." It is probable that Lincoln was turned against organized Christianity by his experiences
as a young man in New Salem, Illinois, where excessive emotion and bitter sectarian quarrels marked yearly camp meetings and
the ministry of traveling preachers. Yet although Lincoln was not a church member, he did ponder the eternal significance
of his own circumstances, a personal life marked by tragedy (the early death of two sons) and difficulty (the occasional mental
instability of his wife). And he took to heart the carnage of war over which he presided. [Mark A. Noll, "The Ambiguous Religion of President Abraham Lincoln," A History of Christianity in the United States and
Canada (William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1992)]
Any value system that says George W. Bush is a better Christian than Abraham Lincoln is just, well, way ****ed
up. There's no other way to put it.
Yet another Bush scorecard from Cowboy Kahlil. A series of pointed commentaries on the Turkey's flight to Baghdad can be found on WTF Is It Now??? And Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo says, "On the homefront, the president is shaping his political campaign around the notion that we shouldn't show weakness
and we can't cut and run. Meanwhile, it's clear to pretty much everyone in Iraq that we're doing both."
Somewhere in Shrink Heaven, Sigmund Freud is looking down at the White
House and saying, "I told you so."
Yesterday I wrote, "George W. Bush's entire presidency is little
more than an acting-out of his own unresolved Oedipal conflicts." Even if his desires to defeat his father and win his mother are subconscious to
him, they are painfully obvious to many others.
First red flag --Bush's administration consists of people who used
to work for his Old Man. Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Condi Rice, Colin Powell, etc. etc. -- all came out of the Bush I Administration.
Isn't it remarkable that the son, eight years and a generation apart, had developed so few working relationships with competent,
capable people on his own, but had to borrow his Dad's old staff?
Second red flag -- Bush I's biggest mistake as president, according to
conservatives, was to raise taxes (after the "read my lips" pledge not to). And the son is monomaniacally
bent on cutting taxes.
Third red flag -- the Iraq War, for several reasons. The neocons
were obsessed with Bush I's "mistake" of not taking out Saddam Hussein after the Gulf War. "Armchair
Freudians believe that in going to Baghdad and toppling Saddam, George II was playing Oedipal tennis with George I," wrote
Michael Kinsley. "If so, junior has lost. The elder Bush's most notorious decision as president looks better every day."
But at the same time, the build-up to the Gulf War, when President Bush
I pulled together a real international coalition to oppose Saddam Hussein, is praised as a major diplomatic accomplishment
to this day. The Bush II Administration's contemptuousness toward diplomacy points to a son wanting to show up his father
The Oedipal struggle of the Bushes -- a father who was an ambassador
to the U.N. and an envoy to China, a globe-trotting vice president and an internationalist president, and a son who was a
Texas governor with little knowledge of the world -- was bound to be aggravated by an invasion of Iraq not sanctioned by the
Armchair Analysis. According to the Joseph
Campbell/Robert Bly hypotheses mentioned in yesterday's Mahablog, in our culture boys grow up lacking contact with men, even their own fathers.
Therefore, they are uninitiated into true manhood and tend to remain stuck in a prolonged adolescence. Clinical psychologist
Alvin Walker speculates that, at a critical point in his emotional development, young George was cut off from both mother
As the first-born child, he spent much of his early childhood in an essentially
single parent home since his father was frequently away on extended business trips. To exacerbate matters even more, he had
a younger sister who died of leukemia just two months shy of her fourth birthday when "Shrub" was just seven years old. The
sister's illness probably took up much of the mother's time, energy, and emotional focus making her less available to her
other children. I also suspect that his mother may have been reactively depressed during this arduous and traumatic period
making her even less emotionally available during a crucially important, developmental period of "Shrub" Bush's life. [Alvin Wyman Walker, Ph.D., " 'Shrub' Bush's Pathological Focus on Saddam Hussein," The Black Commentator, February
Walker goes on to explain why this is significant:
Lack of parental availability typically leads to lack
of parent-child attunement. And lack of parent-child attunement often makes for deficient empathic ability and a relative
inability to identify with others. Frequently, such youngsters become rule busters or rule breakers as adults in the
psychopathic sense. Clinicians who have studied attachment have noted the similarities between the behavioral manifestations
of insecure attachment and disruptive behavior disorders. Antisocial behavior is seen, in part, as a covert communication
to an unresponsive, emotionally distant parental figure. Perhaps this perspective illuminates, in part, the dynamic of "Shrub"
Bush's unilateralism, his disavowal of treaties, and his seeming proclivity to violate international law with impunity. It
is as if he thinks rules do not apply to him. [Ibid.]
So, little George got a double-whammy of mis-parenting. He's not only an
emotionally immature weenie; he's a cold-hearted emotionally immature weenie. Myriam Miedzian saw a streak of cruelty in George Bush linking his childhood game of blowing up frogs with firecrackers to his callousness
toward executions. (Including making fun of the condemned Karla Faye Tucker.) "Mr. Bush's much-vaunted religious conversion
seems to have done little to encourage Christian mercy," Miedzian wrote.
I shall never forget former Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, who played a major role in one of our greatest foreign
policy mistakes -- the Vietnam War -- speaking regretfully of errors he and others made during the Cold War. In a 1988 interview,
he told me that "the necessity of looking at your actions through the eyes of your opponent -- that is absolutely fundamental,
and we don't do that." [Myriam Miedzian, "Growing Up Is Hard to Do," The Baltimore Sun, September 12, 2000]
Miedzian wrote this in 2000, back when going to war was unthinkable
except on Saturday Night Live skits. But it amounts of a prophecy of how the Bushies would misjudge an invasion of
Iraq -- they are incapable of seeing their actions through the eyes of others. (They saw themselves as glorious liberators;
therefore, the Iraqis would see them as glorious liberators. Wouldn't they?)
Voice of God? Bush says that God wanted him to be President.
As anyone who's dabbled in mysticism knows, such "heavenly" messages are
usually from one's own subconscious. Only the very wise and the brutally introspective can tell the difference, and Bush
is neither. And given that Bush is remarkably insensitive to the needs of citizens, as well as unconcerned about
protecting America and its resources for the future, one wonders why he wanted to be President. He doesn't want to serve
the country or the people. Clearly, he became President for the glory of the thing, and to show up his old man. And we're
stuck with him for at least another year.
From time to time, the Old Man sends out signals that he is displeased with his son.
Most recently, the 2003 George Bush Award for Excellence in Public Service went to Iraq War and Dubya opponent Senator Edward
Kennedy. But if the son has noticed these slights, it has not registered publicly. According to the Boston Globe,
Bush the younger has
...embarked upon a policy designed to counter, or even to wipe out, his father's entire political
legacy. The father lived his life in the service of moderate and intelligent internationalism. His manners were always meticulously
courteous, as he wooed even critics overseas to see the American position. He was even-handed in the Middle East and thus
brought the area to the verge of peace for the first time in history; he was capable of using force but preferred to do it
supported by coalitions of friendly states, thus cementing international cooperation.
The son seems to have made posturing against his father's accomplishments and beliefs his life's work. [Link]
The greatest test of Bush's Oedipal urges will come with the 2004 election. Many
have said he was deeply angry about his father's loss to Bill Clinton in 1992. If he wins re-election he finally will have
utterly defeated his father. And you know he will stop at nothing to do that.
"To announce that there must be no criticism of the
president, or that we are to stand by the president, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is
morally treasonable to the American public." --Theodore Roosevelt, 1918
The War Prayer
I come from the Throne -- bearing
a message from Almighty God!... He has heard the prayer of His servant, your shepherd, & will grant it if such shall be
your desire after I His messenger shall have explained to you its import -- that is to say its full import. For it is like
unto many of the prayers of men in that it asks for more than he who utters it is aware of -- except he pause & think.
"God's servant & yours has prayed his prayer. Has
he paused & taken thought? Is it one prayer? No, it is two -- one uttered, the other not. Both have reached the ear of
Him who heareth all supplications, the spoken & the unspoken....
"You have heard your servant's prayer -- the uttered
part of it. I am commissioned of God to put into words the other part of it -- that part which the pastor -- and also you
in your hearts -- fervently prayed, silently. And ignorantly & unthinkingly? God grant that it was so! You heard these
words: 'Grant us the victory, O Lord our God!' That is sufficient. The whole of the uttered prayer is completed into
those pregnant words.
"Upon the listening spirit of God the Father fell also
the unspoken part of the prayer. He commandeth me to put it into words. Listen!
"O Lord our Father, our young patriots, idols of our
hearts, go forth to battle -- be Thou near them! With them -- in spirit -- we also go forth from the sweet peace of our beloved
firesides to smite the foe.
"O Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody
shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown
the thunder of the guns with the wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire;
help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with their
little children to wander unfriended through wastes of their desolated land in rags & hunger & thirst, sport of the
sun-flames of summer & the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring Thee for the refuge of
the grave & denied it -- for our sakes, who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter
pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, water their way with their tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded
feet! We ask of one who is the Spirit of love & who is the ever-faithful refuge & friend of all that are sore beset,
& seek His aid with humble & contrite hearts. Grant our prayer, O Lord & Thine shall be the praise & honor
& glory now & ever, Amen."
(After a pause.) "Ye have prayed it; if ye still desire
it, speak! -- the messenger of the Most High waits."
· · · · · ·
It was believed, afterward, that the man was a lunatic,
because there was no sense in what he said.