Tarantula Tango: Despair and Hope in the Body Politic
July 12, 2002
By Bernard Weiner
Rather than rant at length about the daily Bush&Co. outrage
or scandal -- they come so fast, it's hard to keep up -- let's
take a step back for some longer-range perspective.
The Dance of the Tarantulas
Why do we use the term "reactionaries" to describe so much
of the political Right? Because so often all they seem capable
of doing is "reacting" to events, often with a close-minded
heavy hand of violence and repression.
In our current situation, it's the old Bush "vision thing"
again -- that is, the lack thereof. Poppy didn't have "the
vision thing," and Sunnyboy doesn't have it either. Bereft
of a vision, all they're left with is stomping down on opponents
and hanging on to power, by any means necessary.
Entering the world of vision, doing something different,
requires some imagination, cleverness, knowledge of political
jiu-jitsu. You see your enemy approaching, you divert him,
engage him in other areas, distract him, build up alliances
against him, etc. etc. But in Bush country, you simply take
your club and smash him over the skull. Doesn't matter that
behaving in such a lunkish manner may come back to bite you
later, when the victims regroup or when their friends decide
to attack you by using horrendous guerrilla tactics. You feel
great, believing that you've "won." You've crushed the little
And that's why the U.S. (and Israel) will never see peace.
If you act like a bully, you enrage others. If you seek war,
you get war back. Besides, it's easier to do the dance of
You need the enemy to do what you do; they need you to do
what they do. You lock yourselves in that grotesque dance
of the tarantulas and stumble around the floor, not having
to use your imagination. It's easier this way. Each diseased
soul feeds the other. Were you to alter your policies, suddenly
you would have to use brain power, things get real complex,
No, those weak in areas outside power and destructiveness
prefer this clunky dance. It's comforting in a way. The simple,
black-and-white, fundamentalist divisions provide comfort,
act as a container that holds you. (In addition to Bush, think
Sharon, think Arafat, think bin Laden.)
And, most importantly, it postpones the day of reckoning,
so each can continue to do what they want to do while the
world is distracted by meaningless rhetoric and things that
look like initiatives. And so the dance of death and destruction
continues. That's why the extreme Right needs the extreme
Left, why Bush needs bin Laden, why Sharon needs Hamas, and
vice versas all the way around.
Why are Sharon and Bush&Co. proposing a three-year delay
to Palestinian statehood, for example? Because in the interim,
while they pretend to move toward that goal, not much energy
really has to be expended figuring out a road to peace, and
the real goals -- smashing Saddam by the U.S., further decimation
and repression of the Palestinians by Sharon -- can move forward,
unimpeded. Why inside the U.S. are environmental regulations
weakened and more "studies" authorized? Because greed operates
only in terms of short-term bottom lines; you can worry about
Global warming, for instance? Deny it exists and, if the
pressure gets too great, appoint a panel of scientists to
examine it to death. You've bought a couple of years during
which oil&car manufacturing interests can fatten their bottom
line -- and your campaign coffers.
But wait! The scientists' committee comes back with a stinging
report that global warming is real and here's what needs to
be done quickly to help alleviate the problem. If you're Bush,
you denounce the report as coming from "the bureaucracy" --
great, little Rightwing buzzword, ignoring the fact that it's
YOUR committee, YOUR "bureaucracy" -- and simply ignore the
findings. Instead of beginning to move toward reduction of
fossil-fuel burning, and improved mileage standards on motor
vehicles, you delay by saying there's a new technology that
will bear fruit in a decade or so. Delay, make money; delay,
make money. React, delay, no need for the "vision thing."
In foreign policy, it's a dance of mirrors. You know that
guy looking at you with his fist raised -- that's YOU, looking
angrily at him. You don't know how to deal with those who
are not like you. Ergo, deal with what you know, yourself,
in the guise of The Other. Whatever he does, you do, even
worse. If he ratchets it up, you ratchet even higher. React.
React. Reaction. Reactionary. No need to get complex, visionary.
That would be too scary. Outside the container.
In the Middle East, the Bush Administration's head is locked
in only one position: forward to Baghdad. Bush&Co. permitted
Israel to destroy the Palestinian infrastructure, which gives
the U.S. a free-and-clear path to continue its run-up to smashing
Saddam Hussein. Doesn't matter that by postponing a just Israel/Palestinian
settlement, the war that will come there will be grotesquely
violent, and even put U.S. oil interests at risk. Bush&Co.
have donned their costumes, and their blinders, as they move
toward the dance floor. They'll worry about the rest tomorrow.
To tamp down the fires of war and destruction and terrorism
emenating from the Middle East would require (as Secretary
of State Powell seems to understand) diplomatic energy of
massive proportions, altering of U.S. policy in the region,
creative problem-solving, and so on. But the U.S. leadership,
astride the world like a Colussus, feels it doesn't have to
do anything but threaten and bluster and then stomp those
who persist in questioning its neo-imperialist policies. Once
there was another bullyboy in the global schoolyard, but now
there is no one. Out of the way, or risk our wrath.
Those seeking to grow in counseling know that the first weeks
are spent in denunciation of those who have mistreated them:
parents, bosses, lovers, clergymen, et al. Only later can
one begin an honest look into the mirror, and see where one's
own actions might also have played a role in self-development.
At that point, growth begins, based on honesty, increased
self-esteem, a firmer grasp on reality.
Imagine if the United States were to face its own shadow
matter, recognize where it behaves badly, alter policies accordingly,
think beyond the immediate bottom-line. In so many areas of
the world, peoples would think better of the U.S., the extreme
fringe groups would be marginalized, hopelessness for the
downtrodden would turn to hope, young people could visualize
futures (and thus fewer young suicide-bombers and terrorist
rebels), more peoples around the world would have more income,
more markets for U.S. goods would become available, etc. etc.
But, as is obvious, to get there, our leadership structure
would have to change drastically. Bush&Co. and their ilk would
have to go. Men and women of vision, of larger possibilities,
would have to come to the fore. It's happened before, it will
A Mile Wide and Inches Deep
There are stirrings, there are glimmers, there is a bit more
hope. The Teflon seems to be wearing away quickly on the Bush
There's not a Movement yet. There's not a groundswell of
opposition yet. But you can begin to feel more and more cracks
in the Bush&Co. facade. More maintream news stories contain
just a hint of journalistic objectivity, which is to say incredulity
at the Administration's spinning of the facts. A few more
Democrats, and others, seem willing to raise questions and
objections to Bush&Co. policy. Al Gore has come out swinging,
Jim Jeffords is throwing a few haymakers, Democratic presidential
hopefuls are speaking out forcefully, Tom Daschle (that Titan
of Timidity) locates his spine on occasion, even Bill Buckley's
National Review published a roundhouse-right/libertarian attack
on Bush's evisceration of the Constitution's due-process guarantees.
True, by and large, these are not frontal attacks on Bush's
"war on terrorism" -- Democrats are maintaining a detached
silence, not wanting to risk losing their very good chance
of picking up seats in the November election -- but they ARE
more oppositional and they ARE building a kind of slow momentum.
Bush's high approval ratings are a mile wide and mere inches
deep, and more of the citizenry seems daily to sense this.
Part of that public assessment derives from observing the
thorough-going incompetency of the Administration in everything
from economic policy to foreign affairs. It's like King Midas
in reverse; in virtually every area of concern, Bush&Co. seem
to be bumbling and stumbling, exhibiting uncertainty and,
at times, even chaos within the Administration itself. Ari
Fleisher is in such a constant spin mode that you expect his
head will do a Linda Blair-180 at any moment.
In short, the post-9/11 honeymoon is over. In those early
days after the WTC/Pentagon attacks, Bush could, and did,
get whatever he wanted. The nation was willing, both out of
fear and gratitude, to grant him a wide measure of latitude
in running the country, even when it didn't make rational
sense. Want a tax cut (mostly for the wealthy) extended ten
years out, even though we have no idea what the economy will
look like in a decade? Got it. Want to shred the Constitution
as we gear up for a war against terrorists? No problem.
But, slowly, the realities of what it's going to cost average
folks -- in terms of economic slowdown, real income, environmental
degradation, loss of their civil liberties, the cutting of
popular programs, the dipping into Social Security and Medicare
funds to help pay for the "war on terrorism," etc. -- is beginning
to hit home.
The public could maybe accept Enron as a one-off catastrophe.
But then came Arthur Andersen, and the disgusting saga of
cooked books by auditors in league with crooked executives
and boards of directors. And, over the past few weeks and
months, one giant company after another is revealing itself
to be engaged in similar financial crimes -- and, hold your
hats, there are a lot more to come. And the ones left holding
the bag are individual investors and employees and pension-fund
holders -- in short, ordinary people who get hurt real bad,
unlike the guys at the top who cash in big time and may get
off with just paying some fines.
Suddenly, the culture of greed -- applauded by the Reagan
Administration and now by Bush&Co. -- smells a bit rank. It's
the culture that gives over everything to big polluters and
big corporations (the same ones that just happen to be the
biggest supporters of Bush&Co. -- quelle surprise!). And,
lo and behold, what have we here: Army Secretary White (who
was an executive at Enron, closely tied to the scandal) misbehaving
in office, Dick Cheney at the heart of several of the biggest
scandals (Enron, Halliburton), and Mr. Bush himself, self-smeared
by his behavior in the Harken Oil insider-trading of the early-'90s.
Now, children, listen up: Mr. Bush says he wants those corporate
CEOs to pay a heavy price, maybe even go to jail, for their
misdeeds. Do you think that politically-popular position will
include or exclude White, Cheney and Bush from any investigations
or indictments? How smart you are: you got the answer on the
Yes, the public will support Mr. Bush "in times of war" (though,
of course, the Congress has not declared the country to be
in a State of War), but even here there are cracks in the
facade of full backing: Bush&Co. knew months in advance of
9/11 that a major terrorist attack was coming from Al-Qaida
and did nothing -- and more than 3000 Americans died! That
revelation has kinda shook up lots of folks and made them
think twice about an Administration that has made the "war
on terrorism" its major aim and claim to fame. Then there's
the hunt for Osama bin Laden -- remember him? Can't seem to
locate the guy. Probably for the best, as the FBI and CIA
might well lose him somewhere between Karachi and Kansas City.
In sum, the disenchantment with Bush&Co. is growing. Even
the coming next-phase terrorist attacks might not save their
behind, as so much of the present "war on terrorism" has been
largely botched. No "vision thing," you see, to reduce the
threats, only react, react. The coming attack on Iraq, which
you can bet will happen before the November elections, may
give the GOP a boost, but it may not be enough. The U.S. electorate,
if the early polls are accurate, is starting to get the message:
Not much will change at the top unless the bottom begins to
voice its discontent.
And so the chances for the Democrat party to take the House
and keep the Senate, thus putting sand in the Bush&Co. gears,
are improving. More and more of those hoping and wishing for
a Bush&Co. stumble are starting to contribute money and energy
to help defeat GOP candidates in state after state. In some
cases, they're having to hold their noses while supporting
the Democrat candidate, but these new activists know what
has to be done to break the Bush&Co. stranglehold on the political
agenda, what is required to bring the country back closer
to a rational center and away from the self-defeating extremes.
In short, there is hope in the midst of despair. Let us keep
that momentum building -- so that the next dance's partners
will not have to be hairy spiders toxic to America's body
Bernard Weiner, Ph.D., has taught politics and international
relations at Western Washington University and San Diego State
University; a poet and playwright, he was the San Francisco
Chronicle's theater critic for nearly 20 years.