Implication for the Long Run: Developments Last Week

John Turner


Monday: President Clinton's interview with Chris Wallace is drawing quite a bit of notice. Fox News has gone balmy over it. There's a theory in some quarters that Mr. Clinton by showing passion has reduced his stature. But, that's probably the opposite of the truth. For too long, Bill Clinton has pretended to feel no anger against those who have persistently worked to smear him. But there comes a time to call disgusting behavior what it is. To lie down before it cannot do anyone any good. The right-wing's viciousness towards the Clintons has been and continues to be inexcusable. Mr. Clinton's decision to hit back at it is not only understandable, it's heartening. Those who are defending Wallace by saying he was just behaving as a reporter should need to remember that he has chosen to sign on with Fox News, which always puts propaganda ahead of the truth. Nobody forced him to go to work for Fox, and it's naive to think that can escape responsibility for serving a network that skews every story it presents. He's reeling in the rewards of being part of the Fox system so he ought to expect the hostility that comes with them. If Mr. Clinton's outburst shows Democrats it's permissible to react strongly against right-wing distortion it will have served a fine purpose. Someone needs to teach the leading Democrats that their timidity in the face of disgusting attacks is exactly the reason they have lost the confidence of much of the country.


Tuesday: If you listen to Republican advocates for Mr. Bush's system of military tribunals you'll find that they generally speak of courts for trying terrorists. Evidently, they never think of the implications of their statement. Their mindset holds them back from recognizing what they say. The primary purpose of a trial in a legitimate court is to determine the truth. Men and women who have been accused of something, on the basis of suggestive evidence, are examined to see if they actually performed the forbidden action. But, if a court has been set up specifically for the trial of "terrorists" then those thrown into it have been deprived, from the beginning, of the fundamental rights that are supposed to be available to any defendant. Their very presence in a court for terrorists predisposes their guilt. Under those circumstances, why have a trial at all? Phony speech has become a hallmark of our political system, and we have never seen it displayed more blatantly than in the proclamations of those who have used fear to ram through this undermining of our judicial system.

Wednesday: The current scapegoat in Washington is Donald Rumsfeld. If President Bush had just fired him then everything would be going all right in Iraq. It's fouled up there because of Rumsfeld's stubbornness and deficient planning. This can be called the dopey child's analysis of politics. A bad man hasn't done what he was supposed to do and as a consequence a fine and noble system has been betrayed. Scapegoating is an ancient political flimflam. Just get rid of two or three bad apples and then we'll be back on the right path. It's theory silly beyond belief and yet it continues to function.  Few in Washington who can command attention have the courage to say things are hideous in Iraq because we sent an army there and killed tens of thousands of people for no good reason at all. And by "we" I mean our entire political system including the people who were fatuous enough to vote for a man like George Bush and the members of Congress who were so craven as to give him approval for the slaughter when the reasons he gave for it were clearly false. Compared to the vast numbers responsible for this horror, Donald Rumsfeld is insignificant.

Thursday: The fundamental Republican campaign tactic for Congressional races is to link some apple pie and mom issue with a scam and then denounce anyone who opposes the joint bill as being against mom and apple pie. We have a disgusting Senatorial campaign in Vermont now blatantly following that plan. Rich Tarrant, a wealthy former businessman, has spent more money on television commercials than any other candidate in America trying to tear down his opponent Bernie Sanders  -- and this overweening amount has been devoted solely to a small state. Tarrant is attempting to convince the voters that Sanders supports attacks on children. The overall tactic of course appeals only to ill-informed people, and in that it also mimics Republican campaign strategy. Republican politicians believe with a fervency which puts their so-called godly faith in the shade that if they can capture the votes of the ignorant they can always have a majority.  It's not going to work in Vermont, but since Tarrant has hired non-Vermonters to design his campaign they may not know that. Or, what's more likely, they don't care, because they still make lots of money turning out the sleazy commercials. The serious question for the nation is whether a party can continue to dominate by cheap appeals to the emotions of people who can't be bothered to know anything. How the nation answers that question will pretty well determine its political fate.

Friday: Browsing in my local Walden bookshop, I stopped at the political shelf and thumbed through a number of books by right-wing spokesmen. Most of them contained denunciations of the press for being biased. Several volumes mentioned the report that only 7% of the Washington press corps voted for Bush in the 2004 election. This was presented as a disgraceful condition. But I found none of the authors reflecting on why members of the press voted against Bush. Is the simple fact of opposing him supposed to be, in itself, reprehensible? Might it be that the press votes against Bush in greater percentages than the general public does because the press is better informed than the public? Might it be that knowledge of what's going on causes most people to think that Bush is bad for the nation? There is, after all, only one sensible reason for supporting Bush and that is a desire to have the nation ruled by a militaristic plutocracy. If you think you will be better off under the control of rich people who are convinced that their riches can best be maintained by projecting fear of U.S. military force all round the world, then you should vote for Bush or someone like him.  There probably are about ten percent of the American people who think that. Anyone not in that ten percent who votes for Bush is a dupe. Most journalists are not part of that group, and so for them to vote against Bush reflects not bias but simple good sense



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Harvard Square Commentary, October 2, 2006