Significance for the Long Run: Developments Last Week
Here's a headline for you: "Raid Was Tipping Point for an Angry Congress." And here's a statement to go along with it: "It's unbelievable what they went along with until now -- a strikingly supine reaction to the most aggressive executive in modern America, The willingness to defer to Bush, the Pentagon, Justice Department, you name it, is breathtaking. When it serves the interest of the majority party, fine. When it doesn't, they suddenly discover the Constitution." The former is from the Washington Post for May 28th. The latter from Thomas E. Mann, a scholar at the Brookings Institution. To say that the stance of Congress towards the Bush administration has been unbelievable is not very credible, since the legislative branch has been caving in for five years. But if Mr. Mann had called it craven and cowardly, he would have been on the mark. The disgusting feature, of course, is that Congress has done almost nothing to protect American citizens against executive tyranny but now that legislators are targeted, they become suddenly righteous. What else could they have expected? Have they never paid a moment's attention to history? Every school child should know that power unrestricted becomes abusive. But that seems too profound a lesson for our elected representatives. We can hope the electorate will teach them something in November but whether the people are finally beginning to awake to what has been happening remains to be seen.
In Baghdad the United States is building the biggest embassy in the world. It is slated to cost $592 million. When completed, it will have 619 apartments. No Iraqis are allowed to work on the project. It is being constructed by imported laborers. It is the only project on this scale going forward in the country. Whether you can believe it is consistent with a free, independent and sovereign Iraq depends on how big your gullet is. Americans may be creating for themselves a new definition: people who can swallow anything. An institution of this size and scope is not designed to carry out diplomatic relations. It is designed to rule. Ongoing control of Iraq has been the motive of the the U.S. government since the invasion was launched in March of 2003. And that motive has not changed. Yet, the American citizenry have not been asked whether they want to rule Iraq. Rather, they have been told no such idea is contemplated. A competent Senate would demand to know why such an American imperium is being constructed on the banks of the Tigris. But a competent Senate is what we do not have
Pat Robertson says he can leg press 2,000 pounds because he drinks an age defying protein shake. Mr. Robertson is 76 years old. The weight he says he can leg press is beyond the recognized world record. This is American hucksterism in the grand tradition and that it comes from a so-called "religious" spokesman is not a surprise. The pronouncements of people like Mr. Robertson about Christianity fall into the same category as their assertions about weight lifting. They have constructed a mode of rhetoric, which they call Christianity, and made it into an argument so divorced from the teachings of Jesus that it is little more than unexplained magic. And yet it continues to be treated by the media as something deeply inspiring and therefore not to be investigated. Chris Matthews of Hardball, for example, last week sponsored yet one more discussion of George Bush's faith and how it powerfully guides his political actions. Yet neither Mr. Matthews nor any of his guests ventured to say what this faith is. If it is affecting the destiny of the nation, as so many say it is, you would think somebody would want to uncover its nature. Yet it hangs out there, like miraculous ability to lift weights, as a power to be respected but not to be known.
I very much support the English poet and essayist John Dryden in his judgment that "obsolete words may be laudably revived when either they are more sounding, or more significant than those in practice." At the moment, we have not a word in practice that adequately describes people who draw attention to themselves for their supposed Christian devotion but who support few Christian values. I don't know how many of them there are in the country now but certainly they make much noise and they have been, recently, a malodorous canker on our political life. With slight modifications one of the first entries in Johnson's dictionary might be applied to them -- an "abbey-lubber," which Johnson defined as "a slothful loiterer in a religious house, under pretense of retirement and austerity." Though our modern-day abbey-lubbers don't usually live in monasteries, they are commonly intellectual loiterers in religious institutions. They contribute nothing to religious understanding because they consistently claim there is no advancement in that respect to be made. According to them, we already know everything we need to know, and as a consequence we can retire from the religious quest and dwell austerely in our assurance. There is scarcely any teaching more at odds with a genuinely devout life. Journalists have noted the political thrust of these people -- towards militarism, vicious penal laws, warfare and killing -- but little has been said about their religious influence which is surely to narcotize the religious sensibility . They need to be called what they are and abbey-lubber isn't a bad word for them.
Here's how it works in Bush economics: if a guy who made a million dollars last year makes a million and a half this year and if four hundred people who made less than fifty thousand all see their buying power decline by a thousand dollars then the economy is doing well and all Americans ought to rejoice, including the four hundred. In fact, the president seems irritated that the average American can't understand that. According to Paul Krugman in today's New York Times, the main job of the new secretary of the Treasury will be to explain it to them. If he fails, he'll be tossed aside as former economic advisors have been. The notion that the economic well-being of the nation resides in the most wealthy five percent is so firmly fixed in the minds of Bush and his advisors they lack the ability to imagine a different perspective. What's good for them and their friends is good for the nation because in their own minds they are the nation . Our political problem is not their thinking but the acceptance of their thinking by about half the electorate under the delusion that they too will shortly join the five percent. As long as the people go along with the idea that the most wealthy five percent do in fact define the nation the goal of a decent economic life for everyone will continue to wither.
The recent vigorous remarks from Nuri Kamal al-Maliki about the way U.S. troops treat Iraqi civilians are interesting. Whether they mean anything remains to be seen. Obviously, if he's going to be able to govern, Maliki, has to convince his fellow citizens that he's an independent official and not a puppet of the United States. And, it's hard to see how he can do that. It's even harder to believe the United States would let him be independent. Events on the ground show us pretty clearly that the U.S. government intends to have a controlling presence in Iraq indefinitely. If an Iraqi prime minister began to question the U.S. occupation in a serious way he might well be putting his life in danger.And he probably doesn't have the force to protect himself if the United States decided to be indifferent -- or worse -- to his safety. He's not in an enviable position and it would be fascinating to find out exactly what's in his mind. That's a revelation unlikely to come anytime soon. The U.S. will doubtless throw him some bones. Whether they will provide him with sufficient sustenance only time will tell.
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