HARVARD SQUARE COMMENTARY

May 7, 2007
From Liberty Street

Revelations and Frustration

John Turner


Greg Palast, author of The Best Democracy Money Can Buy and Armed Madhouse: From Baghdad to New Orleans -- Sordid Secrets and Strange Tales of a White House Gone Wild came to Montpelier last Friday night to speak at the Unitarian Church. So, I went down to hear him.

It was a good talk and I learned some details about Republican shenanigans I hadn't fully understood before. But the event also reminded me -- yet once again -- of why the left wing in America can't spread the truth about corporate culture and militarism. The liberal left usually knows more of what's going on in the country than other people do. Their prescriptions for government are -- for the most part -- more sensible and decent than the Republican Party's are. But when a leftist group assembles, its members simply can't imagine how they appear to the majority of people in America.

Dare I say it bluntly? They look and sound like loons to most people. And for that reason the truth they command is regularly discounted. This is a perception Karl Rove depends on with perfect confidence and chortles about incessantly.

We can say, with a fair degree of accuracy, that the Republican leadership cares more about money and power than they do about the well-being of their fellow citizens. But I'm afraid we also have to say that the left wing -- without being fully conscious of it -- cares more about their own posturing than they do about good government. Maybe this is simply a fact of political organization which nobody can change but it's a discouraging truth all the same.
What is it about them that causes the average American, when he sees them en masse to regard them as being nuts? It's hard to say because it's no single thing. You wouldn't think that just because their clothes are rumpled, baggy, fuzzy and give the impression of having been worn for at least a month that they would be automatically disbelieved. You wouldn't think that because they can't sit still, and twist and squirm incessantly, that would cause people to ignore their message. You wouldn't think their propensity to giggle uncontrollably whenever the president's or the vice president's name is mentioned would necessarily blunt their truth. None of those actions by itself is sufficient, but all of them together coupled with what I can call only a wild earnestness, manages to have the effect. And, it's too bad. I like these people, And, to a certain degree, I admire them. But I can't see them, by themselves, as a force sufficient to energize American democracy. Perhaps shock troops are fated to come across as bizarre to the sedate.

Greg Palast played to them shamelessly and in doing so reduced the power of his message. He's a good reporter who has dug out many of the dirty details of the Bush administration. But he likes the sarcastic sally more than he does complete sentences -- at one point I counted ten starts before he came to a sequence that deserved a period -- and he's generally ready to fragment a coherent criticism with a clever barb that leaps into his head in the midst of his tale.

He laid out in fair detail the tactics -- most of them definitely illegal -- the Republicans use to keep minority groups from having their votes counted, and if that wasn't enough to convince beyond a doubt that the final tally in Ohio in 2004 was illegitimate, it came pretty close. He also had a strong argument about the outcome in New Mexico, where 88% of the "spoiled" ballots occurred in minority districts.

He pointed out how Timmy Griffin the new U.S. Attorney in Arkansas was Rove's chief lieutenant in managing the 2004 election.
He had many provocative things to say about why the people who were forced out of New Orleans after the flood have not come back. It's not because most of them don't want to.

He told who has written the oil plan for the new Iraqi government and how it was produced in Houston.

He explained how, after he took photographs of some FEMA trailers eighty miles outside New Orleans, Homeland Security tried to arrest him but failed because they couldn't find him, even though he was appearing on TV during most of the search.

He revealed that scientists at LSU, knowing before the fall of 2005 that a disastrous flood was in the offing, prepared a detailed evacuation plan which was rejected by the federal authorities in favor of a plan, worked up by a hack contractor, which was completely ineffectual.

And perhaps most powerfully, he noted that many conditions which have significant and disastrous effects on the health and safety of large numbers of citizens seem never to be reported on by what's called the mainstream media.

These are all matters the average American citizen needs to know about in order to cast a rational vote. But even now, as the country turns against the Bushites, most people don't know how bad it has been, and those who do know continue, mostly, to preach to the choir. I'm sure they would like to preach elsewhere. But, somehow, the congregation doesn't gather, and that remains the great American problem.


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