Thursday, August 12, 2004
WHERE ARE WE NOW?
After the torture scandal broke, I was left in a state of numbed dismay. I didn’t think I could write anything about it. Maybe I still can’t. More words thrown at Bush and his gang of hooligans seems almost like a bad joke. Like throwing gobs of sand at a cement wall fifty feet high by twenty feet thick. Looking around, I see lots of people scribbling, typing away, till their eyes are bloodshot and their hands fall off. I see them lined up behind each other for as far the eye can see, as one after another scoops up yet another pitiful handful of sand and hurls it at this bulwark that—let’s face it—We, the People—created, out of our indifference, our neglect, lack of guts, after years and years caving in to mediocrity in our choices of leaders, settling for second best (or worst), “the lesser of two evils,” till that became the norm, and finally the elections themselves degenerated into mere exercises in sham theatre, in which it was no longer possible to go to the polls to vote for real change, but only to vote for the same, the same, and more of the same, no matter which candidate we picked, no matter what party he represented.
Which, of course, once again, is precisely the predicament we are now in with Candidate Kerry.
And none of it, probably, would have happened if We, the People, hadn’t sat back on our haunches and allowed our government, our democracy, to be systematically taken over from within and flayed alive by all the special interests, the corporations, the greedy rich and powerful, who seemingly can never get their hands on enough dough and who literally end up hijacking their own employees, fleecing them of their life savings, till finally, their companies implode into bankruptcy and oblivion.
Money has undermined the very works of our government, like termites eating away at the joists and sub flooring, till the whole joint seems virtually on the brink of collapsing in on itself. In fact, it has already collapsed. It is no longer upright. It no longer functions. Decisions are made behind closed doors in the middle of the night, out of sight of We, the People, and the press. It is government of, by, and for, the Corporations. And why do I still bother to group “The Press” with “We, the People,” since they hardly represent us anymore, since so much of the press seems to think of its roll as cheerleaders for “Them—the Government.”?
John Kerry, with his millionaire wife, is the logical outgrowth of this wreckage, another sad reminder of our failings as a people; someone who is just as beholden to the corporate interests as any of the fat cats on the other side, to such a degree, that he is barely recognizable as the man he once was—the warrior who had the guts to renounce a needless war; who is now so weak that Bush and his cohorts can dare stand around and tell whoppers about Kerry’s esteemed war record, confident their opponent will not fight back, even though there is irrefutable evidence that Bush never spent one hour in Vietnam, and was, in fact, AWOL from his service in the National Guard. Yes, I understand, and agree with, Kerry’s decision not to get down into mud-slinging with G.W. But on this point, it seems to me that not answering these ludicrous charges that can’t possibly stick with a counter-charge that can, is tantamount to standing there with your arms slack while the other guy bloodies your face.
On the other hand, what a sad commentary it is that the biggest plank in Kerry’s platform is not health care or education or arms control or campaign finance reform, or reining in corporate greed, but it is his war record which he feels obliged to constantly trumpet, and it seems he can hardly go anywhere without his entourage of fellow swift-boat vets to vouch for his manliness. Thus, with Bush campaigning as the “War President,” the whole affair has sunk to nothing more than a contest to determine which candidate has the most machismo: who is the meanest s.o.b. on the block? Both men, I suspect, will wink at each other across the thin divide that separates them as they parry and thrust in mock swordplay to a so-called election in November, and, as usual, society’s ills will go begging.
The war will go on, regardless of who wins. And, as usual, the people will be the losers, both here and in Iraq, where fresh young Americans will go on being killed or maimed needlessly, as well as civilians on the other side—men, women and children. Guantanamo will be in place. I wouldn’t be surprised if torture is still on the menu—somewhere, tucked safely out of the sight of pesky digital cameras; after all, it is commonplace throughout our prison system right here at home, and hardly anyone troubles themselves about that.
And let’s not forget the ever-expanding list of people outraged at our arrogance, determined more than ever to inflict greater horrors on our own shores, perhaps unimaginable. No longer a question of if it will happen, but simply where and when. And once more, the great boondoggle of Missile Defense will be revealed in all its colossal impotency.
And yet, in the face of all this—dare I say it without laughing at my own words?—John Kerry, is still our best hope. Even with his flimsy, murky platform, with his questionable moral stands on the issues of NAFTA and pre-emptive war, he is still a thousand times better than the goons who are in charge.
Again, words fail to convey what has happened here, what has come to pass with our fragile democracy.
It is up to the people to realize it, for it appears that not even Congress has the spine to uphold our laws. Watching John Ashcroft refuse to answer questions and refuse to hand over documents relating to torture to the recent Senate Judiciary Committee, was just one of so many awful moments in recent memory. But let it stand for the rest. Let his smile say it all. Yes, he sat there smiling as he did it. And, yes, the good members, Senators Joseph Biden, Richard Durbin, Patrick Leahy and others, showed, I suppose, the proper level of umbrage, if not quite outrage; they huffed and harrumphed, they fluttered their tail feathers and shifted uncomfortably in their chairs. And when it was all said and done, the Attorney General walked out of there, as he apparently knew he would.
At that moment, I couldn’t help but think back to an earlier Senate Investigating Committee, the one that looked into the Watergate crimes, headed by the great and fearless Senator Sam Ervin. Sam Ervin, whose eyebrows would jump and his jowls tremble instinctively when lies were being told, who liberally quoted Biblical scripture and Shakespeare as he peered out over dark horned-rimmed glasses at his nervous witnesses. Sam Ervin, who said of the Watergate scandal, that its perpetrators showed “the same mentality as the Gestapo.” And I thought, what would Sam do, now? What would be his response to the present level of arrogance put on open display by Bush and his cohorts? What would he have made of Ashcroft’s smile? I wonder if he wouldn’t have ordered him to “Wipe that smirk off your face!” I have no doubt, the documents in question would have been surrendered, or there would have been hell to pay.
Sadly, the days of Ervin are long gone. The halls of our Congress echo like a hollow shell, bereft of giants. The recent Senate Committee answered Ashcroft with bluster and threats. And still he defied. In that moment, it was not the Congress—not We, the People—who had the power.
And that's where we are, now.
What would Sam Ervin say about Ashcroft? We need only look at what he did say about another attorney general, John Mitchell, and a White House aide, John Ehrlichman; referring to their roles in the Watergate scandal, Sam said this: “I don’t think either one of them would have recognized the Bill of Rights if they met it on the street in broad daylight under a cloudless sky.”