A shortened version of this presentation was delivered at the Community United Church of Christ at a meeting sponsored by the Anti-war Anti-Racism Effort (AWARE) in Champaign, Illinois on September 26, 2006
Here we are, ten thousands miles away, fighting for the so-called freedom of the Vietnamese when we have not put our own house in order
- Martin Luther King, Jr., 1968
THE REPAIR OF BEOKEN SOCIETIES BEGINS AT HOME
The topic I want to flesh out tonight around this theme that “the repair of broken societies begins at home” is less than original both in my own writing and more generally on the intellectual and political culture of the American left going back to the 19th century. I did a piece with the exact same title for Dissident Voice (DV) in July of 2003. I wrote a similar article for the same journal in June that same year. The title of that article was “Failed States at Home and Abroad.”
Both essays had pretty much the same argument that Noam Chomsky would make in the last chapter of his 2006 book Failed States. My thesis was that Americans looking around for a failed, broken, badly governed and authoritarian sociopolitical order to fix and turn into a democratic success need search no further than their own county. They could start by taking an honest look in the national mirror.
The first DV article was sparked by an elite policy document I happened to read in May of 2003. The document was issued by the prestigious Council on Foreign Relations on the eve of the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Bearing the interesting title “Iraq: the Day After,” this text contained a fascinating comment from a leading policy thinker named James Dobbins. At the time Dobbins was Director of the Rand Corporation’s Center for International Security and Defense Policy. He was a former special U.S. envoy during U.S. interventions in Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, Kosovo, and Afghanistan.
“The partisan debate,” Dobbins proclaimed, “is over. Administrations of both [U.S. political] parties are clearly prepared to use American military force to repair broken societies.” Broken societies, Dobbins explained, give rise to terrorism and to events like the jetliner attacks of September 11th, 2001 It is in our national interest, Dobbins argued, to find and fix “broken societies” around the world in places like Afghanistan, Iraq, and Sudan.
The second DV article – the one with “failed states” in the title – was sparked by an article in the New York Times in June of 2003 – June 9th to be exact. The story, written by Times reporter Elizabeth Becker, noted that a bipartisan federal “Commission on Weak States and U.S. National Security” had issued a report recommending that the U.S. do more to “improve societies” that are being badly governed by “failed states.” “Failed states,” the report argued, are “breeding grounds for terrorists” of the sort who perpetrated 9/11. By Becker’s account, following the report, “failed states” are “those that generally cannot provide security for their citizens or their territory, and that are corrupt and illegitimate in the eyes of their civilians.”
As we know, our policy and opinion leaders have a very good idea of where the “broken societies” and “failed states” of the world would do best to look for a positive role model. The world’s miserable failures should look of course to the United States, the purported epitome and agent of what that the Pentagon’s calls “the single sustainable model of national development.”
As Bill Clinton’s Secretary of States Madeline Albright once proclaimed, the United States “stands taller and sees farther” than all other nations. And as U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson (R-Texas) explained in a 2002 speech supporting the granting of unlimited war powers to George W. Bush, the U.S. is “The Beacon to the World of the Way Life Should Be.” We are the “City on a Hill,” as John Winthrop put it; we are “the watchtower on the walls of freedom,” in the words of John F. Kennedy. We are “the greatest nation in the world,” as our politicians feels compelled to say over and over again. God has blessed and continues to bless America. So look to us when you want to know hoot to fix your state and society.
A BROKEN SOCIETY AT HOME
Or maybe not. I find it remarkable to hear the U.S. so cavalierly, routinely, and narcissistically described as the ultimate model and agent of democratic Success when it has become the most grotesquely unequal and wealth-top-heavy society in the industrialized world, the world’s unchallenged incarceration leader and the only industrialized state NOT to make access to basic health care a core birthright. The nation that “stands taller and sees farther” than others has become something of an openly acknowledged corporate plutocracy, a dollar democracy where politics, policy, information, culture, behavior and the structure of daily life are routinely, transparently and relentlessly dominated by the selfish desires of the investor class.
Here were some basic facts of life in “The Beacon to the World of the Way Life Should Be,” from the time right before the planes hit the towers and when the U.S. had just come off the longest continuous economic expansion in its history:
* The richest ten percent owned more than 70 of the nation’s wealth and the richest 1 percent of families owned more than 40 percent of that wealth.
* 11 million U.S. households were “food insecure,” recurrently short of enough to eat and 23 million Americans relied on Second Harvest food banks to get by
* Forty-two million Americans lacked health insurance
* Americans had the longest working hours in the industrialized world, having outpaced the exhausted Japanese during the 1980s – something which helped make informed, active, and sustained civic engagement next to impossible for untold millions of ex-citizens in “the world’s greatest democracy”.
* Overwork was a factor in the nation’s astonishing 60 percent divorce rate.
* Nine corporations owned more than half all media (both print and electronic), exercising a measure of concentrated private influence over public information, imagery and consciousness that was without precedent in world history.
* Black families’ median net worth was one tenth of white families’ media net worth – ten black cents on the white dollar.
* There were 29,000 gun-related deaths in the U.S. each year. Fifty-eight percent were suicides and 38 percent were homicides.
* The U.S. had the highest death row population in the world and the nation that proclaimed itself the homeland and headquarters of world freedom housed 5 percent of the world’s people but 25 percent of its prisoners,
* On any given day, 30 percent of African-American adults were “under correctional supervision” – either in prison or jail or on probation or parole.
* One in five black American males possessed a prison record; one in three possessed a felony record, and the sitting president of the United States owed his presidency among other things to the lifetime electoral disenfranchisement of predominantly black ex-felons in Florida.
* Less than 1 percent of the population accounted for 80 percent of all campaign contributions. The winners of the campaign finance fundraising contest won 92 percent of the elections for the U.S. house and 88 percent of the Senate races.
* Americans were so excited about their world-leading “democracy” that they exhibited the lowest voter turnout in the “democratic” world.
When 9/11 happened and then when the war on Iraq was initiated, I was sitting in an urban “civil rights” and social policy research office in the middle of Chicago’s South Side ghetto putting together 2000 census and a whole bunch of other data that encouraged me to develop a skeptical perspective on our claims of unmatched national greatness. I was regularly reviewing a seemingly endless series of data sets reflecting the incredible price that people pay for empire and inequality at the bottom of the nation’s interrelated class and race structures.
One of the many terrible findings that stuck with me was the discovery that Illinois placed 20,000 more black males in prison than it did in its public 4-year undergraduate college programs. Another one I couldn’t shake was more than a quarter of the children lived in “deep poverty” – at less than half the federal poverty level – in 15 of the city’s 77 officially designated Community Areas in 1999. All but one of these 15 neighborhoods was located in predominantly black stretches of Chicago’s South and West Sides.
There were six very predominantly black neighborhoods where more than 40 percent of the children were deeply poor and one (Riverdale) where more than half the children lived in deep poverty. This was before the onset of recession in 2001, which pushed the number of black children living in deep poverty in the United States over one million? Talk about a “broken society!”
In a recent issue of the New Yorker there’s an interesting article by David Remnick about Bill Clinton’s career as an ex-president. At some point in the article, Reminick quotes Bill Gates and Clinton talking about how they hope to bring African children the “same opportunities available to kids in the United States.” It’s a noble objective but I want to ask them: the same opportunities as WHICH AMERICAN KIDS, Mr. President and Mr. CEO? The ones in Lake Forest Illinois, where median household income is $120,000 and the “public schools” spend more than $20,000 per kid per year or the ones in the South Side neighborhood of Riverdale, where median household income is $13,000, where the official unemployment rate is 35 percent and where the “public” schools spend $6 to 7,000 per year on the children.
To quote Jonathan Kozol: “These are extraordinary inequalities within a metropolitan community that still lays claim to certain vestiges of the humanitarian ideals associated with the age of civil rights and the unforgotten dreams of Dr. Martin Luther King.”
LOOKING FOR A FAILED STATE?
You want to see a failed state, unwilling and/or unable to protect and provide security for its citizens and territory? You don’t have to go to Sudan or Iraq. Look at the Bush administration’s failure to act in basic sorts of ways on numerous indications that the 9/11 attacks were coming.
Look at the federal government’s failure to act on all but a few of its own handpicked 9/11 Commission’s basic recommendations on preventing future predictable attacks even as it engages in an incredibly provocative and nakedly imperialist war on the Middle East.
It fails to act even as it has long pursued a global-corporate neoliberal agenda that encourages state failure by undermining the positive social and democratic functions of government and thereby helps drive Arab and other Muslims into fundamentalist organizations that recruit untold thousands of future terrorists.
I’m guessing that many of you here saw the weekend’ news reports detailing the findings of a classified national U.S. intelligence report which confirms what we’ve known for some time – that “the American invasion and occupation of Iraq has helped spawn a new generation of Islamic radicalism and that the overall terrorist threat has grown since the September 11 attacks” thanks in large measure to the deeply inciting state-terrorist war on Iraq.
We should add the U.S.-sponsored Israel attack on Lebanon to the list of the factors that are inciting the Arab and Muslim populations and worsening the terror threat. People eager to discover state failure could look at the federal government’s failure to maintain levees and protect wetlands prior to Katrina.
They can examine the state’s miserable and humiliating response to that hurricane’s aftermath – a reflection not of government incompetence per se but the ruling neoliberalism’s hostility to all government functions save war-making, the repression of dissent and other measures designed to make the investor class wealthier.
We can investigate the government’s failure to act against the looming catastrophe of global warming that appears to have been part of the Katrina story.
Pretty much all the terrible social terrible indicators I mentioned above have gotten worse since 9/11 and the onset of an overdue recession that started the previous year. Child poverty and deep community poverty are both back on the rise. Black household net worth has fallen to 7 cents on the white dollar.
According to the Current Population and American Community Surveys, the black poverty rate in Chicago has gone from 29 percent in 2000 to 33 percent in 2004; it’s back to the worst levels of the late Reagan era. As the New York Times reported a few weeks back, the top fifth of income recipients now gets more than half of the nation’s income. That’s never happened before as far as we know from Labor Department data to date.
The U.S. poverty rate has gone up for five years in a row. That’s never happened as long as the federal government has collected national poverty statistics. The top 1 percent now owns more than half the nation’s wealth – a positively Gilded Age statistic. The bottom 20 percent has seen its paycheck fall by 20 percent in the last five years even as Fortune 500 CEO salaries increased by more than 50 percent to an average of more than $8 millions per year. It would be a gross understatement, a misstatement actually, to say that the U.S. government has merely failed to act in response to deepening domestic poverty and inequality.
More than merely failing to move against homeland disparities, it has actively exacerbated homeland disparities through a deadly mix of Empire and Inequality. It has combined huge tax cuts for the already super-wealthy few with massive increases in military spending to pay for an illegal and unnecessary occupation that has killed more than a 100,000 Iraqi civilians.Beneath solemn claims of reverence for the victims of 9/11, the in-power hard right has seized on that great crime as a welcome opportunity.
Nine-eleven was for them a salutary occasion to deepen the concentration of wealth and power, to further the repression of dissent at home and to tighten their grip on super-strategic Middle Eastern oil supplies while funneling billions of taxpayer dollars to leading so-called “defense” corporations like Boeing, Raytheon and the rest.One of the strangest parts of all this and it speaks volumes about the real White House agenda is to see the Bush administration advancing tax cuts for the rich while at the same obsessively proclaiming that we are in a life or death war to save civilization as we know it.
When the government needs to fight such a war, like some would argue was the case during World War II, it doesn’t cut taxes on those who possess the greatest amount of wealth to help to pay for it.
Right here in the U.S., we are witnessing an especially perverse form of state failure and related plutocratic success on a truly remarkable scale.
THE MYTH OF THE POWERLESS STATE
It’s very important, I think, that we not confuse this homeland state failure with what I call the myth of the powerless state. The corporate-neoliberal ideology that has ruled America since at least the early 1980s is commonly described by critics as anti-government. There’s some real deception there. The reality is more complex. Conventional ideological wisdom to the contrary, the public sector today retains the resources and wherewithal to carry out certain key objectives favored by the rich and powerful.
Its cup runs over when it comes to serving the needs of wealth, racial disparity, corporate (top-down) globalization, and empire. Its poverty and powerlessness come into play when we are talking about health, education, welfare, rehabilitation, social uplift, community development and ecological sustainability for the many and especially when we are talking about services for the disproportionately nonwhite poor.
Increasingly stripped of lost social and democratic functions government is inadequate and cash-poor only when it comes to meeting the needs of the nonaffluent majority and especially of the disproportionately black, .urban, concentrated, and demonized poor. Its relationship to the non-affluent and especially the black poor is increasing weighted towards policing and repressive functions, which have expanded dramatically in ways that are more than just coincidentally related to the assault on social supports and programs.
To use the suggestive terminology of the late left sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, the dominant homeland ideologies of neoliberalism and neoconservatism starve the “left” hand of the state and feed “the right hand of the state.” It’s the social, nurturing, egalitarian, democratic, and peaceful parts of the public sector that need to be starved, not the regressive, disciplinary, repressive, militaristic, and authoritarian parts of government.
THE TWILIGHT OF DEMOCRACY?
One of the scariest parts of all this is that this drift from the left to the right of the state is actually opposed by the majority of American citizens. In poll after poll, public survey researchers report that Americans prefer spending on health, education, and social welfare and rehabilitation and training and ecological protection over war and militarism and incarceration and corporate welfare and surveillance and weaponry and environmental rape.
The most chilling thing about recent American history to me is that none of this seems to matter in terms of policy. Noam Chomsky has been talking lately about the nation’s democracy deficit, a hidden corollary of its fiscal deficit.
We have a radical disconnect between public opinion and public policy that is starting to lead many serious investigators to wonder if the American experiment with democracy is now finally and completely exhausted.
Right now, in this election season, we see Bush saying that we are fighting in Iraq in the name of an ideology which says that government must “reflect the will of the people.” Then he says there will be no troop reductions this year and there will be no timetable for the withdrawal of troops from Iraq. He and Rumsfeld and Cheney run around denouncing supposed elite liberal war opponents for advocating the deadly appeasement of “Islamofascist” terrorism. And during all of this leading national polls report say that 61 percent of Americans want troops reduced this year, that 60 percent oppose the war, and that 57 percent want a timetable for withdrawal.
The species is in dire straits indeed if this is what we get from world’s “single sustainable model of national development.”
“YOUR NATIONAL GREATNESS AND SWELLING VANITY”
Pointing out the contradiction between ugly domestic realities and the idealistic discourse and proclaimed noble and democratic goals of the nation and its foreign policy is an old activity on the American left. “Who are you,” we and other Americans have long told our power elite and its many defenders, “to speak of defending and/or embodying and/or exporting democracy and freedom when you are beneficiaries and/or agents of monumental inequality, repression, and oppression right here at home, in the supposed homeland and headquarters of liberty, justice, and compassionate human concern?”
This goes back a long way. I think of Frederick Douglass’s marvelous speech, titled “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?.” Douglass’s famous address was delivered four years after the United States had claimed to bring democracy to Southwestern North America by militarily annexing present day California, Utah, Arizona, Nevada, and New Mexico.
The Mexican Cession, as it was called in the U.S., led among other things to the reintroduction of slavery into the Southwest, where the ownership of humans had been outlawed by the Mexican government. With that as a background, listen to some of the exceptional prose that the escaped slave and leading abolitionist Frederick Douglass read aloud on July Fourth, 1852, five years before the United States Supreme court would rule that Dred Scott blacks possessed no human rights whatsoever by virtue of their race:
“What to the American slave is your Fourth of July?. A day that reveals to him the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty an unholy alliance; your national greatness and swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants brass-fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are to him mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety and hypocrisy – a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages.”
“Go where you may, search where you will, roam through all the monarchies and despotisms of the Old World, travel through South America, search out every abuse [Douglass said], and when you have found the last, lay your facts by the side of the everyday practices of this nation, and you will say with me, that, for revolting barbarity and shameless hypocrisy, American reigns without a rival.”
“You hurl your anathemas at the crowned headed tyrants Russia and Austria [Douglass said]?.you invite to your shores fugitives of oppression from abroad?.you shed tears over fallen Hungary and make the sad story of here wrongs the theme of your poets, statesmen, and orators?you are all on fire at the mention of liberty for France or Ireland?.you can bare your bosom to the storm of British artillery to throw off a three-penny tax on tea?.and yet [Douglass intoned] you maintain a system as barbarous and dreadful as ever stained the character of a nation [and] you are as cold as an iceberg to the thought of liberty for the enslaved of America.”
I think also of some of the letters black soldiers wrote to black U.S. newspapers during the Spanish-American War, when the U.S, seized control of the Philippines and Cuba, with President McCKinley claiming that the U.S. would “educate the Filipinos, and uplift and civilize and Christianize them and by God’s grace do the very best we could by them.”
In one of the aforementioned letters, reproduced in Howard Zinn’s “People’s History of the United States,” the chaplain of a black regiment asked, “is America any better than Spain? Has she not subjects in her very midst who are murdered daily without a trial of judge or jury? Has she not subjects in her own borders whose children are half-fed half-clothed because their father’s skin is black?.?”
In the period when this letter appeared, numerous progressives, laborites, and socialists like Jacob Riis, Algie Simons, Jack London and Upton Sinclair observed that immigrant slums were filling with masses of desperately poor and super-exploited proletarians. United States government was widely known to be under the iron heel of an authoritarian corporate plutocracy that owned not only the means of production and distribution but also the lion’s share of the politicians and policymakers.
There was more than enough social uplift an democracy promotion required at home, these and other writers and activists noted.
I think of Randolph Bourne’s comment during World War One. “Hearts that had felt only ugly contempt for democratic strivings at home,” Bourne bitterly observed, now “beat in tune for the struggle for freedom abroad.”
I think of the connection that the 1960s New Left made between “war machines” built for supposed “democracy” defense and promotion abroad and “ghetto scenes” reflecting race and class oppression and democratic deficits at home.
And I think of Martin Luther King’s comment in 1968. “Here we are,” King noted five days before his assassination, “ten thousands miles away, fighting for the so-called freedom of the Vietnamese when we have not put our own house in order. We force young black men and young white men to fight and kill in brutal solidarity. Yet when they come back home they can’t hardly live on the same block together.”
BEYOND THE CHARGE OF HYPOCRISY
Now, our critique of Empire doesn’t and shouldn’t stop with just noting the domestic hypocrisy behind our leaders’ global and imperial claims. It never has. Like American progressives of the past, I’d like to mention six other and related problems with our imperial foreign policy.First, the Empire Project not only mocks it also deepens inequality and repression at home. While the benefits of empire tend to go primarily to the wealthy few in the elite investor class, the costs tends to be spread across the entire society and to fall with special high impact on the working and lower classes, who suffer most from enlistment and from the diversion of public dollars from domestic social health to projects of global dominance.
It was darkly amusing last April to hear the American arch-terrorist and National Intelligence chief John Negroponte and other administration officials denounce Venezuela and Iran for — get this — diverting money from domestic expenditures to aggressive foreign policy goals. The United States has spent $318 billion on the incredibly aggressive and richly provocative and illegal occupation of Iraq even as millions of Americans have sunk deeper into poverty and hopelessness.
As the National Priorities Project reports, the taxpayer money spent by the United States on the war on Iraq between March 2003 and August 2006 would have paid for the providing of health insurance to 72 million Americans. It would have paid for the hiring of 5.5 million school teachers or the granting of 61 million university scholarships or the hiring of 5 millions port container safety inspectors.
Illinois’ share of the war’s costs would paid for the construction of 133,000 affordable housing units or the building of more than 1600 new elementary schools in the state or the provision of health insurance to more than 2 million people. For five years now, people who highlight and criticize these “perverted national priorities” (as King called them) have been painted out as dangerously divisive and unpatriotic trouble-makers, objective allies of the evil terrorists and their war on freedom.
Specific wars aside, its worth that the federal government pays 29 dollars on so-called defense for every four dollars it spends on education, for every six dollars it spends in income security, for 3 dollars it spends on nutrition, and for every three cents it spends on job training. That so-called defense budget pays for an astonishing apparatus of what Pentagon insiders call “forward global force projection” that involves the maintenance of over military bases on foreign soil and which outspend the military budget of the rest of the world.
Much of the opulent “defense” budget amounts to a spectacular public subsidy to powerful high-tech corporations like Boeing and Raytheon, who have enjoyed unusually high and distinctively high rates of return ever since the beginning of the beginning of the so called war on terror. “A nation that spend more on militarism than on programs of social uplift,” Martin Luther King said in 1967, “is approaching spiritual death.”
Second, war and militarism function as a method to distract ordinary working people from thinking and acting in collective ways about their shared interests and their need to fight together against the homeland plutocracy.
Third, war and empire have always provided pretexts for the repression of domestic dissent. They continue to create opportunities for concentrated power to portray social justice and democracy activists as objective allies of “the enemy.”
Fourth, it is inherently absurd to claim or think that democracy can be exported from one state to another through the barrel of a gun. Democratic change has to emerge from within.
Fifth, U.S. policymakers generally speak disingenuously when they say they want meaningful democracy and freedom in the other nations they are attacking, occupying or otherwise seeking to control.
“Democracy” promotion is cover talk for their deeper hidden agenda, which is to enforce foreign state insertion within a broader U.S. dominated world system wherein their primary role is to serve American economic and political power.
As Chomsky has been saying for some time now, the notion that the U.S. policy makers of either party want to see true national self determination and democracy in oil-rich Iraq is a just a pure fairly tale. U.S. policymakers are not about to physically abandon Iraq unless they are just absolutely forced to leave.
Iraq and the Middle East’s strategic oil reserves are just to great for that and America’s declining economic position in the world system is too weak to expect policymakers of either dominant business part to just say “okay, go ahead and cut whatever deals you want with that oil.” Sixth, our foreign policy, both “soft”/economic and “hard”/military is profoundly damaging to foreign peoples and states. It is more damaging to them than it is to even poor Americans in all likelihood, which brings me to a point I want to make on the false Republican dichotomy of “Stay the Course” versus “Cut and Run” in Iraq.
THE FALSE DICHOOTOMY OF “STAY THE COURSE” VERSUS “CUT AND RUN”
It will not do morally speaking simply to take a sort of left-wing America First approach. It is insufficient in my opinion just to advocate that stop attacking others and pour the money saved from militarism into domestic social programs. We have to move resources from the militaristic and plutocratic right hand of the state to the social and democratic left hand of the state in our foreign policy as well as in our domestic policy.
We should reject the false, all-or-nothing framing of the choices in Iraq as either “stay the course” or “cut and run.” We should replace that black and white duality with a more responsible tensions between (1) “attack, dominate and destroy” versus (2) “acknowledge, heal, and repair.” We need to reject number 1 and embrace number 2.
We will have to pay significant reparations overseas geared to the reconstruction of developing and other states we have viciously assaulted for decades. While we should leave militarily, something that would damp down the insurgency and perhaps force Iraqis to co-exist peacefully, we do have a moral obligation to be a major part of the solution through a change in the emphasis of our policy from repressive force to reparations and uplift.
We have been badly damaging Iraqi society for a very long time, including of course the deadly sanctions period. We don’t need to cut and run. We need to heal and repair. We need to contribute to solutions over there in other ways than just leaving.
Some of this material can get depressing so I want to conclude by noting some positive and hopeful developments. There are some encouraging signs at home. We’ve known for some time from serious opinion surveys that when asked the majority of American people support a number of policy choices that fit the progressive perspective against Empire and Inequality.
A Chicago Council of Foreign Relations survey two years ago found that Americans ranked support for education, health care, welfare and Social Security far above so-called defense spending when it comes to preferred government expenditure.
Nearly three fourths thought the U.S. should remove its troops from Iraq if that’s what the majority of Iraqis want (and by the way we know from British intelligence that 83 percent of Iraqis wanted that in 2005).
Seventy three percent of Americans thought the U.S. needed to work more closely with other countries to effectively combat terrorism. Nearly nine in ten supported working through the United Nations and international law. The percentage who thought the U.S. should put more emphasis on diplomacy was twice the percentage that thought we should put more on military approaches. Less than 1 in 5 supported Bush’s preemptive war doctrine.
A majority supported general compliance with the rulings of the World Court. Three fourths supported giving the International court the right to try American military and civilian officials for war crimes and 71 percent supported the Kyoto accord on global warming.
Domestically, large majorities think that corporations have too much power in the U.S. They support various measures to level the political playing field, including significant campaign finance reform. They prefer treatment and rehabilitation over mass incarceration, environmental protection, school-funding equity and a whole list of decent, socially and ecologically healthy and balanced policies and programs.
By the fall of last year, half of the population said the war on Iraq was NOT morally justified whereas 75 percent had said it was justified in March 2003.
According to a New York Times/CBS poll this month, we now have for the first time a majority of the population rejecting the administration’s efforts to link the war on Iraq with the war on terror.According to a CNN poll in August, 60 percent of the population opposes the war on Iraq. Sixty one percent believe that some troops should be removed before the end of the year and 57 percent want a timetable for full withdrawal.
We now have a big majority of the population saying the country would be better off if the current war party in power was removed from office. The Bushcons have been unable to shake the image of failure hung on them by Iraq and Katrina even with a mild economic expansion and the surprising lack of a major terror attack on U.S. since 9/11. The defeat of the Republicans in upcoming mid-term Congressional elections and if that happens it could open the door to some very serious investigations and proceedings against the Cheney-Rove cabal.
An antiwar electoral rebellion in Connecticut has put forward a Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate who might be a millionaire but who feels compelled to make connections between the cost of the war on Iraq and the under-funding of schools and social programs in the U.S.
This is all good news. The population is beginning to wake up from the big Orwellian post-9/11 nightmare. It’s starting to shake off the heavily propagated hatred of government per se and to see that the particular ruling right-wing version of what passes for governance is the problem, not government per se.
Whether it will translate into anything meaningful and progressive in the realm of politics and policy remains to be seen. It is one thing to throw some of the hard right bums out of office; it’s another altogether to compel some new officeholders to receive and act on progressive ideals. And as we all know the Democratic Party is far from being a progressive change agent. Its leaders share many of the same basic neoliberal assumptions, not to mention funding sources,that the Republicans hold so dear.
We need to be honest about the difference between opinion and action. It’s one thing to privately express one’s disapproval of the current policies and regime at a dinner party or over the phone talking to a pollster. It is another and altogether more significant thing to act publicly and collectively to punish the vicious actors who exploited 9/11 for unsavory purposes and then to build the sort of democratic and participatory society and polity where such vile actors could never come back into power,
The administration and the current proto-fascistic and hyper-plutocratuic party in power know all abut these differences. That’s how it can put Bush up there the last few weeks to say that America is in Iraq to advance an ideology of democracy whereby “government responds to the will of the people” while conducting a foreign and also a domestic policy that directly confounds the actual will of the American people. It can do that because it doubts that the American people are willing and/or able to act effectively on their beliefs in a politically meaningful way.
It is counting on corporate media and other cultural and ideological authorities to combine with the chaos and overwork and atomization of overextended American daily life to keep people weak, anemic, alienated and divided. It is counting also on the power of private money and negative campaigning and gerrymandered, winner-take-all election procedures and possibly biased election machines. It is counting on the Democratic Party to keep functioning as a frightened and confused and divided and elite-dominated opposition party only in name. And of course, it is counting on what it thinks is its ace in the hole — sheer unmitigated FEAR – to keep us all in line and putting our hopes and dreams for democracy and justice on permanent hold.
Whether we can and will break through these and other great barriers to democracy and overcome the great disconnect between American popular desires and American imperial policy is one of the great questions of the 21st century. Given the United States’ remarkable power in the world, it is a matter of no small significance for the entire species. As Noam Chomsky noted in 1969, “the level of culture that can be achieved in the United States is a life-and-death matter for great masses of suffering humanity.”
Paul Street is a writer and independent social policy research in Iowa City, IA. His first book is Empire and Inequality: America and the World Since 9/11 (Boulder, CO: Paradigm, 2004). His next book is Racial Oppression in the Global Metropolis: A Living Black Chicago History (forthcoming in 2007)