Democratic Underground

The Unspoken Tragedy
September 29, 2001
by William Rivers Pitt

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"Never trust thine enemy: for like as iron rusteth, so is his wickedness. Though he humble himself and go crouching, yet take good heed and beware of him, and thou shalt be unto him as if thou hadst wiped a looking-glass, and thou shalt know that his rust hath not been altogether wiped away." - Apocrypha: Ecclesiasticus 12:10–11

Recently in Boston, noted historian Howard Zinn implored a hall packed with peace activists to remember, "Governments lie. Governments lie all the time, because if they tell the truth, they won't be in power for very long."

Those of us who have stood in defiant opposition to the man who took over the White House by foul means last January, know this truth all too well. Before September 11th, there were many who did the best they could to keep track, catalogue and challenge all the lies that flowed from the Oval Office.

On some days, we felt like Sisyphus. We would roll that rock up the hill and show it to everyone, and the damned thing would roll right back down over us.

It seemed, in those days, that we had the Bush administration on the run. The budget was a catastrophe, the tax cut was dragging our economy into that ditch laying alongside the information superhighway, and a legion of Democratic Senators had just finished spending August practicing their rhetorical broadsides in the bathroom mirror. The recently deceased entities once known as Social Security and Medicare were about to be laid at Bush's feet.

There were even rumors that Al Gore was going to emerge and do an "I Told You So" tapdance all over George's head.

Republican Congresspeople were running for political cover at such an accelerated rate that they became mere blurs. Bush's energy plan was facing a brutal savaging in the Senate, because a number of environmentally-minded members from the ranks of the GOP knew in their hearts that what Bush was peddling amounted to nothing more than actual, literal poison.

Bush's faith-based initiative promised to fare equally poorly, and his Vice President was looking forward to subpoenas from the General Accounting Office because he refused to divulge the width and breadth of the plum that had been secretly offered to the giants of the energy industry.

In the murky distance, almost too amazing to be believed, lay the results of the independent review of Florida votes that had been undertaken by a number of newspapers. No one could guess what it would reveal, but a hint was delivered to the American public on Monday, September 10th. Newsweek Magazine ran several articles that all but accused Bush of being a total fraud.

They did not reveal the results of that review, but one can read between the lines of their published stories and see the news probably wasn't so good for Bush. They were getting out ahead of what looked to be a long series of very bad days for the man from Crawford.

Then…infamy. In the unanimous words of the media industry and those in political office, everything changed.

It became a pressing moral imperative to get in line behind Bush and declare absolute solidarity with fellow citizens and with the Government. I, myself, professed this viewpoint widely. The reversal was jarring, but in those first terrifying days it seemed necessary beyond measure.

Because, you see, everything had changed.

In the days since the attack I have tried with all my might to hold on to that feeling of unity with Bush, because I felt I owed it to my fellow citizens, to the office of the Presidency, and to the nation itself. A voice inside me hissed that it would be treasonously unpatriotic to do otherwise.

In the end, the truce flag was raised virtually everywhere. Eloquent cries of anguish and loss were voiced from voices usually engaged in partisan snarls. We mourned in bleakest sorrow those who died, praised the men and women who worked to save them, and laid aside our political differences in the name of the common good. The rising tide that had threatened the Bush administration broke and receded, and what had been a swelling, powerful Movement shattered in disarray. It was over.

The spark of outrage, the tiny voice inside that wailed whenever Bush's face or voice entered our consciousness, never entirely faded, however. We listened to him and his minions with ears well-trained in detecting duplicity. Soon enough, even in the depths of this awful crisis, we heard it again.

It became clear that any voices raised in opposition to anything Bush said were to be regarded as treasonous. Simply put, that meant all of us. Never again, under any circumstances, could we question the man at the top.

Those in the media who dared to speak their minds were stomped like roaches. A reporter from Nebraska was fired for stating in the public prints that Bush hid like a coward on September 11th. Popular television personality Bill Maher was subjected to a withering assault and the loss of advertising revenue for suggesting that launching cruise missiles from 1,000 miles away was not the bravest moment in American military history.

Once upon a time, words like these were well-protected by our Constitutional right to free speech. It appeared that the dark prophesy uttered by the media was indeed true: everything had changed.

Powerful men like John Ashcroft, who inspired the deepest mistrust in us, demanded an enormous latitude with our civil liberties. We knew him of old, and shuddered at the thought of such a man wielding so much power over our very freedom. Once upon a time, the powers he was asking for were beyond comprehension. But, again, everything had changed.

As a leader, Bush himself showed demonstrable and dangerous flaws. He appeared helpless to do anything other than refer to the crisis as a struggle between good and evil, as a Crusade. The very word inflamed virtually the entire Muslim world, and rightfully so.

He described our attackers as being opposed to our freedoms, assisting in the broadening of an already endemic case of national amnesia and ignorance regarding the very history that tragically helped to drive those wretched madmen to act as they did.

Before September 11th, those of us who actively opposed George W. Bush did so because were offended by the very idea that an election could be so conspicuously stolen out from under the American people. We opposed him because we feared that a man capable of such a nefarious act was capable of virtually anything. If votes no longer count in America, then freedom itself stood in peril.

All of our nightmares appear to be coming true. Our freedom to speak as we wish is under assault. In the media's rush to beat the battle drum, our national discourse has narrowed even further than what had been before. This is no small feat.

There is one calamity that has not yet dared be uttered aloud. This unspoken tragedy is the elephant in the room, obvious to all but commented upon by none. Simply put, George W. Bush is the wrong man for the job, and cannot be trusted with the freedom and security of the United States of America. There is a small comfort to be taken from this. It is perhaps the only fact of our American life that has not changed at all.

Bush currently enjoys an approval rating of 90%, if the polls are to be believed. This says nothing about the man himself. A ham sandwich would earn astronomical approval ratings in a crisis such as this. That number is not a comment on his leadership abilities, but is a testament to the loyalty of the American people. He does not deserve it, nor has he, nor will he ever.

This is tragic because I would be willing to surrender some of the freedoms he is demanding if a person worthy of trust stood in his stead. This is tragic because the very fact that he is our leader in this crisis compounds our fears and paranoia, a cruel twist of the knife. This is tragic because all the sad and sorry truths about him and his administration have been swept away, leaving him as innocent and blameless as the day he was born. He does not deserve such a clean slate, nor has he, nor will he ever.

Once upon a time, those of us who stood in opposition to his plans rightfully believed we were doing our patriotic duty. The time has come again to raise our battle standards and our voices in dissent. This unspoken tragedy can not go unchallenged.

We will be called traitors, to be sure. It will be said that we aid the terrorists, that we believe America deserved to be attacked, that we insult the memories of the dead by refusing to get in line. These are lies.

There is no underestimating the threat we currently live under, and it is clear that measures need to be taken to ensure our safety and security. Likewise, those who brought these horrors to our shores must be brought to justice. This, too, is a moral imperative. We know these things as well as anyone.

Nothing in this changes the facts at hand. America is under assault on two fronts. On one side are the terrorists, a new enemy difficult to track or thwart. On the other side are Bush and his people, who threaten our lives and freedoms in equal measure.

Once upon a time, we believed we could remove him, corner him, strip him of his ability to do our nation harm. We are stuck now with this man from Crawford, a fact which must be swallowed in the face of all we know about the election of 2000. In place of our former agenda, a new course must be forged.

We must remember that dissent is our birthright. We must remind ourselves that the threat Bush posed to the health and welfare of our country before September 11th pales in comparison to what he is capable of now. His agenda is not our agenda, his way is not our way, and his idea of freedom is one we do not share. Again, here is proof that not everything has changed.

We must once again gather our collective strength and raise our voices against him if he comes within shouting distance of damaging our country. We must not be afraid to speak. We must again mount the watchtowers and go where angels, and too many of our elected representatives, fear to tread.

If it was important on September 10th, it is crucial today. We are still patriots, lovers of America, and we still have work to do.

Stout hearts. The battle has only just begun.