For Things That Never Were - America 2003
By Michael Arvey
"Over the years, an understanding of what America really
stands for is going to count far more than missiles, aircraft
carriers, and supersonic bombers." - Robert F. Kennedy
A November again, 2003 - a chill laces the air, brief snow
flurries punctuate diminished days, leaves crab over one another
as wind sweeps them down the streets, and the moon is a puff
of smoke adrift in the sky. Across the nation, soup kitchens
overflow, and the homeless haunt the streets along with the
leaves. In Iraq, U.S. soldiers, most of them in their early
twenties, get picked off one by one by Iraqi resistance fighters.
Excuse me, insurgents.
November 24, 1963. I'm huddled with tens of thousands of
other mourners thronged along Pennsylvania Ave in Washington,
D.C. A horse-drawn carriage rolls John F. John F. Kennedy's
flag-draped casket toward the U.S. Capitol Rotunda where he
will lay in state, prior to his burial service in Arlington
National Cemetery. It is colder than we all know; we are miserable,
and look to family and strangers for solace. We are united
in our great, national, silent wail of grief. The bullets,
at least, accomplished that. Whence, if ever, a unity in joy
of community, sans pain? Jackie walks behind the casket with
the brothers. She dons a black veil, walks toward a veiled
future. Was it really only 40 years ago?
November 2003. A man who claims God speaks to him occupies
the White House. Not that God doesn't whisper quietly to men
and women in moments of stillness, but George W. Bush's claims
are plain phony. False in one thing, false in everything.
He and the coterie of officials who encircle him appear to
be public waiters serving up buffets of deception. His rhetoric
declares love and concern for America. He's not a skillful
liar - I don't believe a word he says. His tone, his physical
rigidity, belie convincement. He represents the dark side
of America that exists solely for its narcissistic self.
June 3, 1968. I am flushed - I have just shook the hand
of Robert F. Kennedy at a local mall in Stockton, California
- a stump speech before he heads down to Los Angeles. Heads
down toward a veiled future. He is charming, dashing, glowing,
his eyes are blue as robin's eggs - if I were a woman I could
fall for him. He is shorter than I imagined. Now I can't remember
what he said, only the mood, the expansive spirit of the moment
- tall as the moon.
June 4, 1968. The moon has fallen, as well as the sky. "Bobby"
has just been shot at the Ambassador Hotel in L.A. after having
won the California primary. Surrealism has just dreamt its
macabre masterpiece. I think now of Langston Hughes's poem,
"A Dream Deferred." A nightmare incurred. Odd, this month
is the fortieth anniversary of JFK's death, yet it is RFK
my mind broods over.
November, 2003. George W. Bush sat out the Vietnam war in
the Texas Air Guard, and for much of that time he was AWOL.
Not long ago he snookered the nation by playing a pilot in
a Navy flight suit and landing on the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln
to declare, "Mission Accomplished." Mission: Oil and geopolitical
control of the Middle East. As president, his policies are
those of corporatism and militarism run amok with greed and
fascistic overtones, and of bowing to the comfortable, the
upper crust. Our president, right or wrong? At least one thing
from the 60s hasn't changed - whether Vietnam or Iraq, the
poorest members of our society are the ones who do the invading,
killing and dying.
1968. RFK speaks on the subject of poverty and violence:
"There is another kind of of violence, slower but just as
deadly destructive as the shot or the bomb in the night. This
is the violence of institutions: indifference and inaction
and slow decay...This is the slow destruction of a child by
hunger, and schools without books and homes without heat in
2002. A General Accounting Office report faults the Bush
administration for diverting funds for programs serving poor
children. God has blessed America with yet another guns-over-butter
president, who oversees America's poaching law of capital
accumulation in the Middle East.
May 19, 1968. RFK says in a press release, "If we cannot
feed the children of our nation, there is very little we will
be able to succeed in doing to live up to the principles which
our founders set out nearly two hundred years ago."
November 3, 2003. Three million workers have lost their
jobs since January 2001. According to a report by Julian Borger
in The Guardian, in 2002, "1.7 million Americans slipped below
the poverty line, bringing the total to 34.6 million." And,
"The U.S. has the worst child poverty rate and the worst life
expectancy of all the industrialized countries, and the plight
of the poor is worsening."
Furthermore, he points out that 31 million Americans are
"food insecure" - and are experiencing serious hunger. Apparently
it's noble and patriotic to invade other countries to snatch
their resources and secure U.S strategic military interests,
but it's not noble or patriotic for the government to help
the homeland. Instead, we are saddled with faith-based charities,
which have no money. Patriotism is reserved for killing and
stealing, as long as democratic appearances and illusions
The president in his State of the Union address unveiled
a part of his vision for the future: "Our goal is clear: We
must have an economy that grows fast enough to employ every
man and woman who seeks a job." He means a minimum wage job,
since manufacturers have fled the country and other businesses
are outsourcing. Meanwhile, rampant illegal immigration occurs,
taking up the few labor jobs left that U.S. citizens can't
now fall back on even if they wanted. Unemployment is 6.1%.
Bush's main goal was always clear - tax breaks for the already
well-cologned. This is a man beholden not to the principles
of law and democracy, or to the American public, but to the
forces of corporatism and privatization.
I live in a vortex of time where persons on the political
right act like terrorist hopefuls, saying they would like
to kill liberals and Democratic presidential contenders. And
this is a sivilized country, as Mark Twain might say?
June, 1966. RFK writes in a speech, "The essential humanity
of men can be protected and preserved only where government
must answer - not just to the wealthy, not just to those of
a particular religion, or a particular race, but to all its
1968. Asked how he would want to be remembered, RFK said,
"I hope it will be because I made some contribution...to those
who are less well off." He had joked, "I'm the only candidate
who has ever united business, labor, liberals and southerners,
party bosses and intellectuals. They're all against me."
October 2001. According to George Bush, "Oppressed people
of Afghanistan will know the generosity of America." By eating
cluster bombs, depleted uranium, and vacuous rhetoric. Which
America does Bush stand for - the one that rains bombs across
the globe, or the one committed to moral idealism and its
application? Vera et falsa.
November, 2003. President George W. Bush sees wrong and tries
to worsen it; sees suffering and tries to privatize it; sees
war and tries to extend it. From my standpoint, America feels
vastly impoverished, its hope and dreams not just deferred,
but lost on the wings of an ill-wind that blows out of Bush's
Washington. The mood is brutal, overwhelmed by negative reality.
The bright Quixotism of Robert F. Kennedy has long since evaporated
and recycled as cynicism, which is what I suspect certain
elements in the government hoped for.
Granted, the Kennedys were elites with their particular shortcomings,
but they distinguished themselves by caring for the nation
as a whole. I can't help but think that this one-dimensional
character ensconced in the White House is only there to grab
power and treasures for those that, as Molly Ivins might say,
brung him there, and whose only luminescence is what gleams
off from his dress shoes. As the looting of the national Treasury
whisks forward, so, too, the looting of Iraq.
This is a president who has united nearly the entire planet
against the U.S. Conversely, the country itself is a study
in angered polarization, each side grinding against the other.
What oracle, what oracle, will unveil the future?
It's another gloomy November.
His Own, RFK. vanden Heuvel, William J., and Gwirtsman,
Milton. 1970. Doubleday & Co.
Make Gentle the Life of this World. Kennedy, Maxwell Taylor.
1998. Harcourt Brace & Co.
"Long Queue at drive-in soup kitchens," Borger, Julian. The
Guardian. November 3, 2003.
The Lies of George W. Bush. Corn, David. 2003. Crown Publishers.