John M. Phelan
Framing Terror



Critical Praise


Framing Terror

Short Takes






Printer friendly version


Liberals Versus Conservatives and Other Conceits

The tired liberal/conservative dichotomy, so readily handy for mainstream media chatter, has finally collapsed. It can no longer serve as if it were a clear or even marginally coherent divider of national politics.

It strikes me that the real dichotomy is rarely faced because it is so unsubtle and stark. It is the divide between those in charge, the powerful, along with those who curry their favor at all costs with total disregard for every other value, as opposed to just about everybody else who seeks any number of different values in concert or in isolation, from protecting the environment to family values to national security to scientific research to technical innovation to fiscal reform to single payer national health insurance to... the list is literally identical to every decent value you can think of in the political arena.

Of course if you are really on the side of the rich and powerful, you cannot say that in a democracy which is in its essence based on majority rule while the rich and powerful are by definition the minority. So you come up with any number of values as pretexts for the core unchanging policy of making the strong stronger.

So cutting funds for schools and teachers is leaving no child behind; restricting veteran access to medical care and other benefits is supporting our troops; abolishing the Office of Technology Assessment is planning for the future, saving our forests is opening them up to unlimited logging, protecting America is promoting bloated Pentagon procurement boondoggles from the Osprey to Missile Defense, securing the Homeland is exempting polluters and failed security companies from law suits, accountability, and public scrutiny while stripping whistle-blowers of such protection from retaliation as they were left with after 9/11. Bringing democracy to Iraq is destroying its infrastructure, indiscriminately crushing all varieties of opposition, putting its resources and labor force up for international auction open only to military aggressors within the coalition "of the willing," and blatantly favoring large corporate donors to the Bush machine.

Another way of looking at this great division is to see the USG as USA, Inc. The elected leaders and their appointed department heads are at the service of the stockholders exclusively. The stockholders are those who have invested in the parties, campaigns, charities, causes, and very persons of the reigning politicians. The American people, represented by the electorate, are not seen as citizens (a meaningless category of civil society utterly alien to this universe of discourse) but as consumers of profitable products, no matter if needed or even reliable; as workers without safety nets making them cheap and pliable, or as soldiers used to service private interests at the risk of life and limb. Each category is expertly manipulated by advertising and labor relations in its many developed forms, cynically invoking sentimental nationalism ("patriotism") while leaning heavily on the resentment lever and never letting up on the fear factor.

The great engine that supports this is the American media system, always beholden to the economic powers of major advertisers and now mostly owned by those powers; now no longer rented for corporate relations purposes, but wholly dedicated full time and full court to those interests. The few bold balanced critics and their outlets are seen as both impertinent and poor investments. Thus the chattering classes hailed Saddam's capture not only as the culminating triumph of the Iraq adventure, but the fulfillment of its entire purpose, in keeping with the ramshackled ad hoc justifying rhetoric of Bush's neocon Brain Trust. Further, the capture was seen primarily not as good for the Iraqis, but as great for the coming electoral chances of, you guessed it, the reigning CEO government. The Grand Lie of Imminent Threat is still being corporately framed as a glitch in the Research Department. Predictably, the unfunny farce in Fallujah was nailed to "Saddam holdouts" even as Proconsul Bremer's team at first handed over the pacification of Fallujah to a former Baathist General with a reputation for stern treatment of Shiites. They don't get the joke.

Still another way of looking at this dichotomy is as the triumph of the Confederacy, which lost the Civil War, but has slowly and patiently undermined the party and country of Lincoln so that the Plantation Ideal of few masters and many serfs has been successfully transplanted to 21st Century postmodern postindustrial society. One can see Tom DeLay, Trent Lott, Phil Graham, Newt Gingrich and company standing under a vast oak tree, sipping mint julips with the shade of Jefferson Davis, each of them decked out in full-dress Southern Colonel grey and yellow, complete with tin Chickenhawk medals. In this world, the minimum wage is the cause of unemployment and low to non-existent taxes on capital (as opposed to payrolls) are fountains of general prosperity. Higher wages for policemen and mechanics bring the scourge of inflation, while multi-million dollar bonuses for absentee managers are the bulwark of quality motivation. Compliantly, the mainstream corporate media pass these insultingly transparent deceits along to the public as the wisdom of experts and "independent" think tanks.

Perform this mental experiment. Try to think of any law or policy promoted by the Republican Party or "conservatives" that in any way progressively distributed wealth or weakened major corporate power over labor and markets since 1980. Take your time. Now try to think of any social program they proposed that was not in fact a subsidy or protection for the private sectors of insurance, Big Pharma and the like at the expense of the alleged beneficiaries, the at risk and the ill.

Not without envy, a distressingly large number of Democrats are trying to become as much as possible like the Republicans in this regard and those few who actually try to get back to Democratic basics are patronized as out of the mainstream. Are the latter "liberals" for thus acting? Are their well-bankrolled detractors "conservative"?

If more and more Americans do not wake up to this looting of our country so as to reverse it through elections and consequent truly reform legislation, later down the road mobs will simply become enraged and this two thousand year-old fragile vessel of painstakingly culminated civil society of human rights will become a dim memory, a mere blip in the history of the human condition.

President Bush, in one of his unending jeremiads against the father of all evil, (which continue long after his capture) noted that Saddam constructed palaces while the children of Iraq suffered in miserable schools. Try driving from Belair to Watts, Greenwich to the Bronx, Winnetka to the South Side. Bush also said, in Florida of all places, hectoring Castro in absentia, "Let all Cubans vote in a fair election!"

One week after the public disclosure 0f disturbing pictures of US Army reservists torturing Iraqi prisoners in the same place where Saddam had tortured them, the President actually justified the war in Iraq by telling Michigan voters that "the torture chambers of Saddam are closed." While making his embarrassing apology on Arab television, he said that Iraqis are "tired of foreigners invading their country and destabilizing it." He was presumably yet astonishingly not referring to the US occupation force, but to the insurgents who cheered when a former Saddam General took over Fallujah with Iraqi army veterans from willing, even eager, beleagured US Marines.

How does one characterize such a mentality? Not liberal, surely; but hardly conservative, either.

If Saturday Night Live put on a skit in which a mock Bush said these things, Sinclair Broadcasting and Disney, to name but two of many beneficiaries of Bush corporate welfare, would surely block its airing, had they the control.

Such not untypical rhetoric from our leadership is beneath satirical invention, barely rising to the farcical level of burlesque.



Back to the top of this page : Back to Framing Terror : Printer friendly version