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Song For Things That Never Were - America 2003
November 14, 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 the winter."


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 are maintained.

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 people."

1968. Asked how he would want to be remembered, RFK said, "I hope it will be because I made some 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.

On 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.

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