by AbbY Bardi
I admit it: in the words of a recent letter from a disgruntled reader, I am a left-wing zealot.
Ten years ago when I started writing for the Voice, I had no interest in politics whatsoever. At that time, I wrote about small, harmless sins such as "Bad Hair," and if someone were to talk to me about the workings of Congress, I yawned and prayed for her to finish. I regarded the Washington Post as a magazine called "Style" with a boring front section attached to it, and I read the headlines only when I had finished the important articles like book reviews and celebrity gossip.
Some time in the '90s, though, I couldn't help noticing something odd: although Bill Clinton had high approval ratings and our economy had never been better--you may remember that there were "Help Wanted" signs in every store back then--a group of people called Republicans seemed inexplicably not to like him.
From the day Clinton took office, it was apparent to me that he was up against a well-funded cadre of people who didn't care that for the most part, things in America seemed to be going pretty well. They wanted to bring him down by any means necessary for reasons that seemed, even to me, who wasn't paying much attention, purely ideological. 1
By the time this culminated in the Lewinsky scandal, politics had gotten my attention. Here's what happened next:
During Al Gore's campaign, I couldn't help noticing the role the news media was playing in representing him as a stiff, pretentious dweeb, despite the fact that people who knew him told me he was a warm, charming man with a great sense of humor. When I watched him debate George W. Bush, I thought Gore's performance was far superior to Bush's, but the pundits focused on Gore's flaws, ignored Bush's, and declared Bush the winner.
Then the 2000 election occurred. When we look back on it now, it's clear that Gore actually won that election--not only the popular vote, but the vote in Florida, i.e., the electoral vote, as the recount later demonstrated. For some reason, the final results of this recount were buried on back pages, but it's a matter of public record that if the counting had not been stopped by the Supreme Court, Gore would have been president. Call me petty, but this bothered me.
The next thing Bush did that I had a problem with seems innocuous enough: he said things that sounded inarticulate, uninformed, and often, just plain dumb. 2 I am an English teacher, and when someone mangles the English language, or worse, acts as leader to the most powerful country in the world without seeming to have a firm grasp of history, economics, global affairs, or much of anything else, I mind. I mind a lot.
But when the events of September 11, 2001, took place, I decided to lay off Bush for a while. I removed the poem "Make the Pie Higher" (composed entirely of idiotic remarks Bush has made 3 ) from my office door and stopped saying unkind things about him. In the days following 9/11, even I had to admit that Bush seemed calm.
It was only later that I saw the seven-minute footage of him reading My Pet Goat while the WTC towers were being hit and began to think that his reaction stemmed from dissociation with reality.
Unfortunately, Bush then did something that horrified me: he decided to go to war with Iraq. He countermanded the UN and the weapons inspection program, bullied our spineless Congress into authorizing the war, ignored our long-time allies, and hornswoggled the American people by suggesting that Iraq posed a threat to us and that Saddam had links to Al-Qaeda.
At the time, though I was still opposed to "pre-emptive" war, I was willing to concede that maybe Bush knew something about weapons of mass destruction that I didn't, but it didn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that the essentially secular Saddam was probably not in cahoots with radical Islamic fundamentalists, and that there was no evidence that Iraq had anything to do with 9/11, although a frighteningly high percentage of the American people believed otherwise.
At this point, the role of the media in furthering Bush's agenda became apparent. 4 Instead of asking hard questions about evidence of weapons of mass destruction or questioning Bush's statements about Iraq, the media, even the "liberal" New York Times, basically clammed up. (The Times and others have since apologized for this.)
The media did not publicize the lack of connection between Saddam or Al-Qaeda, nor did anyone seem interested in the fact that some of Bush's advisors, such as the Project for the New American Century (PNAC), had publicly advocated making war on Iraq well before 9/11, which strongly suggests that the war had nothing to do with fighting terrorism. 5
Somewhere between 9/11 and today, as I sit here fulminating, I became interested in politics--I'd even say obsessed. Now, I spend hours each day reading a variety of newspapers and websites, and not just "liberal" ones, and recently, God help me, I even started watching CSPAN.
And somewhere along the line, because of what has happened, because I have been paying attention, it's true that I became what I guess you can fairly term a "left-wing zealot."
I'm sorry about this--it's not what I wanted. But it's what happened because I looked around me and I thought long and hard about it, and here's what seemed apparent: our country is temporarily being governed by a bunch of cruel and cynical men (and Condi) whose goal is to enrich corporations, and they will do anything to achieve this goal. They will flatten whole cities (Fallujah), practice torture (Abu Ghraib), lock people up without trial (Guantanamo), abrogate our civil liberties (the Patriot Act), exploit 9/11 (the war in Iraq, the Republican Convention), wage war based on "faulty intelligence" (the famous yellow-cake uranium claim), steal elections (Florida 2000; Ohio and who-knows-where-else 2004), create safe havens for the drug trade in puppet states (Afghanistan), and enrich their own cronies (Halliburton, Bechtel, et al.).
I am appalled by this. Just appalled.
At the present time, Bush views his fairly narrow lead over Kerry and his record-low approval rating as a "mandate" with which he can disembowel social services, allow corporations to foul our environment, abrogate our rights, and ignore his critics. Weeks after the tsunami disaster, Bush is spending $40 million on his inauguration. A January 12, 2005, article in a small Aberdeen, Maryland, newspaper asks for the following: "The Selective Service System is looking for men and women to serve as members of local boards that are currently in a standby mode." 6
You do the math.
I am just one small person, and I write for a newspaper, and I am very angry. Anger is not "hate"--I don't hate Republicans, or even George Bush. I don't hate you, beloved disgruntled reader. I am just really, really upset--about the war, about the souring economy and what its consequences might be, about the threats to civil liberties, education, freedom of speech--and in these dark times, I feel compelled to speak in the only way I can.
Is this left-wing? I guess so. Is it zealotry? Yes.
But I find it impossible to write about ordinary life when every day, people in Iraq--our troops and uncounted numbers of innocent civilians--are being killed in an unwinnable war that seems to me like the logical consequence of the right wing's control of the media and its dominant discourses.
So I feel that I need to take a stand. Because as George W. Bush himself has said, "If you don't stand for anything, you don't stand for anything." 7
1 For an interesting account of this, read Joe Conason and Gene Lyons' The Hunting of the President --or see the movie!
2 For examples, let me refer you to www.bushisms.com, or the many fine books on the subject.
4 For an excellent analysis of rightwing domination of the media, see Robert Parry's "It's the Media, Stupid!" www.consortiumnews.com/2005/010505.html
5 The PNAC even wrote a position paper stating that it would be helpful to have some kind of precipitating crisis in order to rally the public in favor of such a war--although it's no longer there, I read it on their website just after 9/11.