Winning is the Only Thing that Matters Anymore; Reflections on the Real State of the Union
By Warren Pease
In the former Soviet Union, it was axiomatic that in any group comprising three or more strangers, at least one was almost guaranteed to be a KGB or GRU snitch. So people spoke glowingly about the latest five-year plan, or extolled the brilliance of the Politburo, or reveled in the latest Ukrainian crop yield. Never was heard a discouraging word because people understood completely that any deviation from the party line could mean the Lubyanka that night, then the Gulag for the next 20 years.
Fast forward to Stalingrad West. There are no official policies posted in corporate cafeterias or in public gathering places, no formalized codes of behavior, no overt forms of coercion. But everyone seems to know the score. Everybody understands implicitly that criticizing Bush Inc. can carry career-threatening consequences. In many places, it may also get you a broken nose or a brick through the window.
George W. Bush's America is unrecognizable as the same country in which he usurped power just over one year ago. And despite the mechanisms for social control now rigidly in place, there's no denying the record.
Instead of peace, the United States is embroiled in a war that can never end against an enemy that can never be eradicated. Instead of prosperity, the country is mired in a deepening recession, with deflation and a 1929-style crash a distinct possibility.
Nearly three million jobs have evaporated since the attacks of Sept. 11, although that was just the coup de gras. The recession actually began back in March 2001, according to the enclaves of economists who make these kinds of official determinations, when American consumers began to believe the White House warnings of economic gloom and stopped buying durable goods.
The surplus has been squandered and huge deficits are back. What's left of the safety net, along with the squalid remains of the social contract, is being shredded to pay for military expansionism. Air Force jets routinely patrol the skies over our cities looking, I suppose, for mad bombers piloting stolen crop dusters. The intrusive goon squads that pretend to provide airport security have made commercial air travel, never the best of experiences, intolerable.
Nearly every day brings another "credible but unspecified terrorist threat," usually about the time some Enron revelation seems ready to penetrate the national stupor. Every night the newsreaders tell us of jobs lost or bankruptcies filed or companies going under. Violent crime is increasing and gun sales are way up. Body counts are back, although this time they're Afghan civilian bodies and the numbers are generally recognized as understated lies.
Meanwhile, Bush Inc.'s assaults on civil liberties, the environment, women, gays, the non-white majority, organized labor, the poor, the middle-class, Social Security and Medicare, consumer protections, international treaties, and all things progressive roll on unimpeded by red ink and shielded from scrutiny by the questionable war on terrorism.
All this and the entire country seems determined to see, hear and speak no evil about the way Bush is doing his job. He gets an unprecedented 80+ percent approval rating in poll after poll.
Just Blame Clinton. . .
Unfortunately, I think it's true that the majority of the American people can't get enough of Bush the Younger, and I just don't buy all the talk about fixed polls and inflated numbers. Maybe his approval rating isn't 82 percent -- maybe it's only 62 percent. So what? That's still at least 50 points higher than it would be in a society with a functional public educational system and open access to unbiased reporting.
Nope. I'm afraid it's true. Americans everywhere are in a constant state of Bush-lust. They love his demeanor, they love his homespun syntax, they love his demure wife, they love his charming daughters, they love his goofy old dad and matronly though distinguished mom. They just plain love the guy and they know he's doing everything he can to rescue America from the horrible indignities and excesses of the Clinton era.
I know all this because Chatty Cathy, the totally cool CNN news babe, tells me so every 15 minutes of every hour of every day. She also tells me that, according to the latest CNN poll, there are still 3,852 Americans who remain unconvinced that George W. Bush is channeling Churchill, FDR, Lincoln and Walt Disney -- all at once.
Among these 3,852 pariahs, Studly Ken, the totally cool CNN news hunk, tells me that 53 percent of them have used marijuana, 33 percent have used hard drugs, 21 percent would kill members of their own family for drugs, 14 percent have killed members of their own family for drugs, and 3 percent have killed their entire families and their pets for drugs. The remaining 47 percent who don't admit to using marijuana or hard drugs are all hopeless alcoholics who pick their noses in public and use mass transit.
So much for the credibility of the opposition.
Playing For Keeps
I'm not much of an alarmist by nature but sometimes, if you're not really worried, it's because you're not paying close enough attention. After watching my country go completely to hell over the past year, I now think a complete repudiation of all things Republican is the only thing that matters -- starting by winning both houses of Congress in 2002 and then taking back the White House in 2004.
So I think it's time the Democrats started playing for keeps and used any means available to achieve the objective. I don't care about gentility. I don't want to hear about fair play. I don't think an "A" in deportment matters very much when you're being held for six months with no charges and no bail.
I want clever, devious people coming at Republicans from all sides. I want no aspect of their public or private lives unexamined, and every hint of scandal exposed. And if there's no scandal to be found, take another page from the GOP playbook and invent something.
So I want pictures of George and a coed in the back seat of a car, preferably with his hands around her throat. I want pictures of Cotton Mather Ashcroft fellating a senate page. I want pictures of Vice President D'Fibrillator selling nuclear secrets to the Pakistanis. I don't care if they're real or not. Put them together in Larry Flynt's photo labs, put them out on the Web, and let the goddamn GOP play defense for a change.
Despite interlocking corporate loyalties, many in the press corpse will pick this stuff up. As someone noted wisely, they're whores first and conservatives second. They'll always roll for a buck.
I also think it's about time Democrats invited an international body of observers to this country to oversee the November elections. Aside from the sheer maliciousness and great PR value of such a move, a UN delegation may be the only way to prevent another Florida. It's not like we're dealing with honorable people here.
Nor, it seems, are we dealing with the best and the brightest. Just this past week, George Bush has all but declared war on Iran, Iraq and North Korea, further isolating the US from the world community and drawing nearly universal condemnation for his recklessness.
He has taken a promotional trip to the dreaded "heartland" to suck up to the culture warriors and declare that a fetus is now to be known as an "unborn child," setting the tone for the next assault on Roe v. Wade.
He has proposed some amorphous but vaguely disturbing federally funded cadre called the "America Corps," which is either a revitalized Vista/Job Corps/CETA conglomeration or a new chapter of the Hitler Youth.
He has made noises about tightening security along the Canadian border while his cohorts in Congress are angling to reintroduce the draft. Given the northern exodus during the Vietnam era, it's hard to see these two events as unrelated. It's likely that tightened border security is more about keeping Americans in than it is about keeping "terrorists" out.
He has declared that the era of good feeling -- and feeling good -- is officially over and that it's now time to return the nation to the stern grind of "personal responsibility" -- a time-worn GOP code phrase that actually means, "Don't even think about federal money paying for that abortion, darlin'. If you had kept your knees together and accepted Jesus as your personal savior, this never would have happened."
Republicans and the rich, though, get to keep their knees apart it seems. Proving beyond a doubt that the GOP lacks any sense of irony, Bush Inc. has just appointed former soft-core porn star and aging beaver shot queen Bo Derek to the governing board of the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. After a desperate search to find somebody in Hollywood besides "Ahhnold" delusional enough to support Republicans, Bo was apparently the best available. Plus, she needed the gig.
All this and Enron, too, with a malodorous whiff of Talibangate hanging in the air. And still the vast majority of Americans can't seem to get enough of him. But if he's not completely discredited, his policies repudiated and his administration defanged very quickly, I doubt the country can survive much longer as a democratic republic. Bush Inc. seems to view the Constitution merely as a disposable impediment to the GOP's twin corporatist and fundamentalist agendas.
And if this version of America prevails, there's really no use staying around to watch the results. That's why November 5, 2002 is D-Day and that's why, this time, the ends do in fact justify the means. Anything less than a Democratic sweep and it's Torquemada and the Jesuits. If that seems like an overstatement, just ask the guys in the dog kennels at Guantanamo.
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