Politics Summed Up for Dumbbells
December 20, 2002
By Bernard Weiner, The
This past year has been such a tumultuous, confusing one.
I needed help in trying to make sense of it all. So back I
went again to that publishing franchise for easy-to-understand
assistance for dumbbells like me.
Q. During the campaign and in the first months after he
was installed in office, Bush promised that he would not be
one of those nasty, hard-edged right-winger types but instead
would be a "compassionate conservative" and, in international
policy, "humble," acting in concert with our friends and allies
to maintain the peace. What the hell happened?
A. You mean you haven't figured it out by now. Watch my lips:
politicians lie. Bush's handlers knew the country wouldn't
accept their bedrock rightwing program, so their true intents
were concealed behind slogans that said nothing but conveyed
an unthreatening, comfy aura. Once in power, the gloves came
off. The same pattern was followed in foreign policy.
Q. Wait a minute. There's that little matter of the 9/11
attacks and the 3000 Americans who died. You can't blame that
on Bush and his handlers.
A. Let's see how Bush&Co. might have interpreted the realities.
Their first nine months in power in 2001 were not marked by
much success, and Bush appeared, to put it gently, a bit over
his head. They were bogged down in Congress trying to get
their HardRight agenda through, they were bumbling around
in foreign policy.
Then Jeffords' defection gave the Senate to the Democrats,
making it even more difficult to govern. Something drastic
had to be done. They looked back at the first Bush Administration
and saw that the President had 91% approval ratings during
the Persian Gulf War; they looked at the world and saw that
the U.S. was the only Superpower and that Clinton had evidenced
no overall vision for how to approach that golden opportunity.
The truth was staring them in the face: they needed a war.
But not just a traditional one, where you defeat the opposing
nation and go back to normality -- they remembered well that
after the Persian Gulf War was over, President Bush's popularity
ratings began to slide precipitously. Only a permanent war
would give them the time-cushion and the social support they
needed for enacting their agenda.
Q. You ARE going to get to 2002, aren't you?
A. Hang in there. To fully understand how we got to here,
one must always take a look back at there.
In the Spring and Summer of 2001, the highest echelons of
the Bush Administration were receiving intelligence from all
over the world that the terrorist leader Osama bin Laden --
a former U.S. protege in Afghanistan, trained to fight the
Russian invaders in the early-'80s -- was about to launch
attacks inside the U.S., probably by air and aimed at icon
targets. Bush&Co. were about to receive the gift of a "moral
cover" for their true ambitions. And so, as the attack time-period
neared, they chose to do nothing, and then, after the 3000
deaths, manipulated Americans' fears and outrage into the
lauching pad for their programs: authoritarian tactics at
home, a reach for empire abroad. (We talked about this once
before, you know; see "The Bush 9/11 Scandal for Dummies.")
This past annum, 2002, was their go-for-it year, and 2003
-- with the Republicans in control of the Congress, the courts,
the White House and most of the conglomerate-owned media,
and with the Democrats still in disarray, searching for a
new leader -- will be their consolidate-power-and destroy-your-enemies
year. They're thinking long-range: exercising total control
for at least another decade or two.
Q. That is so conspiratorial, I don't want to believe
it. No American government would be that Machiavellian, so
A. Better get used to it. These guys play for keeps. They
may even believe they are carrying out their programs for
benign, patriotic reasons -- to protect American interests
(which tends to mean mostly U.S. corporate interests), to
defend the homeland, etc. -- but, even if that were true,
their actions will do just the opposite. In the short run,
those policies will probably succeed -- lots of corporate
folks will make a lot of money, the U.S. will bomb the hell
out of Iraq, have effective control of the oil fields, and
scare other leaders who might want to oppose the U.S. -- but
in the long run, the world will figure out how to screw up
U.S. plans and operations, the terrorists will gain more adherents
and will carry out more devastating attacks inside America,
the fast-disappearing liberties inside the U.S. (and the huge
financial and moral costs of maintaining imperial control
abroad) will provoke massive resistance, etc. 2002 was just
Q. What does "fast-disappearing liberties" mean? What
happened in 2002 along those lines? I know about the USA PATRIOT
and Homeland Security Acts -- but those are aimed at finding
terrorists. I want my government to find terrorists. I want
to feel protected.
A. Finding terrorists is a noble aim; there ARE bad guys
out there planning more attacks. But I'm reminded of the U.S.
officer during the Vietnam War who said they "had to destroy
the village in order to save it." In order to "save" the U.S.
population from terrorists, Bush&Co. are quite willing to
"destroy" the very freedoms and civil liberties that are the
bedrock of American society, that make us the envy of all
democracies around the world -- and that, not incidentally,
threaten Bush&Co.'s hold on power. The laws you mention were
written in advance and then rushed through Congress; to oppose
them, especially in the 2002 election year, was to risk being
called "unpatriotic" or "soft on terrorism." Which means that
as long as the "permanent war on terror" goes on, Bush&Co.
believe they have patriotic cover for whatever they want to
do, and that the opposition will be hamstrung.
Those laws you mention permit, indeed establish, police-state
tactics. Consider: Attorney/client confidentiality no longer
exists; citizens no longer have the right to privacy; government
agents can conduct "black-bag" operations inside your home;
they can tap your phones, and enter your computer and check
out what you're saying and thinking; they can find out what
you buy and what books you take out of the library -- and
all of this can be done without your even being aware of the
intrusions, and devoid of judicial or congressional oversight.
Q. Wait a minute. Get those terrorists anyway you can.
I haven't done anything wrong, I don't have anything to hide,
so I don't care if they snoop around.
A. The laws are so broadly written that if an angry neighbor
or a disgruntled fellow-worker tells the feds your loyalty
may be in question, you get a file opened on you. Agents start
asking your neighbors and colleagues questions implying traitorous
behavior. Your computer is seized. Maybe you lose your job.
Maybe your friends begin to shun you. Maybe you're declared
a suspected "enemy combatant" and whisked off to an undisclosed
military site; there, you have no access to a lawyer, or even
to tell people where you are. You could be there for years,
or until "victory" is declared in the permanent war, which
will be the 12th of Never.
Q. You're just making this up. I remember Ashcroft and
Bush promising before those acts were passed that American
citizens need not worry, since those laws would apply only
to foreign terrorist suspects.
A. Guess again, my friend. Already, in 2002, several American
citizens were "disappeared" into the American gulag. It could
happen to you, to people you know, at any time Bush&Co. feel
like it. The laws are in place, and the courts, which would
determine the constitutionality of those laws, are packed
with ideological supporters of the Bush Administration.
Q. And you're suggesting that because the population didn't
rise up in 2002 to protest that shredding of Constitutional
guarantees of due process, that 2003 will see the Bush Administration
going after domestic political "enemies" and locking them
A. You got it on the first try. Look, there's a war about
to begin -- probably sometime in the next two months -- and
those who are effective in opposing that war, and those being
too vocal and effective in opposing Ashcroft's police-state
tactics, must be dealt with, lest the foundational base of
power be weakened.
Would-be strong Democratic candidates against Bush will be
trashed and smeared early. Anti-war leaders will continue
to be harrassed and kept off commercial airplanes -- this
began to happen in 2002 -- and the peace movement will be
compromised by violence initiated by undercover agents inside
the organizations. If the online progressive websites start
reaching beyond their relatively tiny constituencies and actually
start organizing folks for effective action, they will be
closed down. More "enemies of the state" will find themselves
in the American gulag. In short, 2002 is going to look like
a cakewalk for liberals and progressives, compared to what
is about to come down -- all in the name of ensuring "patriotic
support for the war effort" and "homeland security."
Q. But I keep reading about cracks beginning to appear
in the Bush Administration, revealing them to be vulnerable.
There's hope there, right?
A. True, there are a few fissures beginning to appear.
Internationally, the Bush Administration continues to alienate
its allies, and, when it launches its war against Iraq, will
stir up an enormous hornet's nest abroad. (In the Middle East,
that, plus abandoning the Palestinians to the tender mercies
of Ariel Sharon, is like pouring gasoline on a simmering fire.)
Threatening to drop nuclear weapons on anyone it deems worthy
of that treat is another policy not designed to win the U.S.
Domestically, Gore dropping out opens the way for new ideas
and new faces; the internal debate will lead to more pointed
attacks on Bush&Co., and when the Dems finally settle on a
new candidate, there may be unity on how to go after Bush&Co.
more aggressively and effectively. Additionally, there still
are the outstanding Bush Administration scandals that could
pop up and bite them. Plus the 9/11 victims' families are
hanging tough for a real investigation of what led up to the
attacks. The forces of opposition to Bush&Co.'s domestic and
international politices are starting to coalesce -- and even
some GOP moderates and traditional, anti-big-government conservatives
are starting to complain about the police-state excesses.
The covert racism underlying the GOP's Southern strategy became
evident when Lott couldn't control his mouth. And so on.
But the HardRightists -- who began working decades ago to
assume control -- aren't going to give up power easily. It's
going to take a major effort to dislodge them. As led by Rove
and Cheney and Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz, these guys are clever
and ruthless, a deadly combination. The saving grace is their
sense of themselves as invulnerable and their over-reaching
greed and hunger for power while they're in control. In short,
their arrogance and rapaciousness may lead to bad mistakes.
So work, work, work, organize, organize, organize, get ready
to pounce. 2002 was just the run-up; the real game starts
Bernard Weiner is co-editor of The
Crisis Papers, where this article first appeared; a Ph.D.
in government and international relations, he has taught at
Western Washington State, San Francisco State and San Diego
State Universities, and was with the San Francisco Chronicle
for nearly 20 years.