The two brothers who scaled the face of Big Ben in London with a banner reading Time for Truth sent the right message on the anniversary of the beginning of the US-led war on Iraq and just days b
If the Bush administration had gone after Osama bin Laden with anything akin to the energy it is expending to discredit Richard Clarke, the story of America's response to terrorism might have been dramatically different. That, of course, is the point that Clarke, the former White House counterterrorism adviser, makes when he says that Bush and his aides "ignored" the terrorist threats before September 11, 2001, and, even more significantly, when he suggests that the administration diverted attention from the real war on terrorism with an unnecessary war on Iraq.
Those are powerful charges, and Clarke has made them convincingly in his testimony before the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks on the United States, in various media appearances over the past few days, and in his book, Against All Enemies. Predictably, the White House spin machine has been churning out increasingly-visceral attacks on Clarke, a self-described Republican who still praises Bush's father as a masterful leader. Amid the tit-for-tat that has developed, however, Clarke has already prevailed. No matter what the Bush administration throws at the man who served in four White Houses, Clarke has already trumped his attackers.
Clarke did so by opening his testimony before the commission on Wednesday not with a bold pronouncement about the failings of the administration, but with an apology: "I welcome these hearings because of the opportunity that they provide to the American people to better understand why the tragedy of 9/11 happened and what we must do to prevent a reoccurrence. I also welcome the hearings because it is finally a forum where I can apologize to the loved ones of the victims of 9/11," he began. "To them who are here in the room, to those who are watching on television, your government failed you, those entrusted with protecting you failed you and I failed you. We tried hard, but that doesn't matter because we failed. And for that failure, I would ask -- once all the facts are out -- for your understanding and for your forgiveness."
Conservatives used to have all the fun. Many years ago, right-wingers managed to use one-liners and political spoofs to skewer liberals as out of touch with mainstream American values. A good example was Ronald Reagan, who once defined a hippy as "a fellow who dresses like Tarzan, has hair like Jane, and smells like Cheetah." In 1965, William F. Buckley, Jr., the founder of National Review, actually interviewed himself at the National Press Club about why he was running for Mayor of New York. ("To breed a little fear in the political nabobs who believe they can fool all the people all the time," Buckley said.)
Those days, thank God, are finally dead. Currently, progressives are busily bridging the humor-and satire-gaps that once separated liberals from Rush Limbaugh and his countless imitators. Comedy, one of the biggest weapons in the progressive arsenal, is once again (remember Mort Sahl, Lenny Bruce, Second City) being used to effectively get the liberal message out in fresh, irreverent ways.
According to a January Pew Research Center survey, 20 percent of those under 30 receive their political news from places like Saturday Night Live and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Since late-night comedy, more often than not, skewers the right, the young are hearing a brief against President George W. Bush, and watching these shows not-too-subtly support causes like gay rights, reproductive freedom, alternative energy sources and Internet privacy. Bill Maher, star of HBO's Real Time, for example, lambasts Bush for refusing to send troops to Haiti "unless they start doing something there that is really dangerous, like letting gays marry."
Most promising is that Maher, Al Franken and others like Michael Moore and the Texas populist Jim Hightower are using humor to expose conservatives for what they truly are--mean-spirited, hyperbolic, and hypocritical. (Remember how in Bowling for Columbine, Moore lampooned NRA gun nuts at a pro-gun speech by Charlton Heston in Denver, the NRA's president, just 10 days after the Columbine shootings.)
And the level of liberal comedy activity is rising quickly. On March 31, Air America, a progressive radio network, will launch a new 24-hour radio program in three cities, including New York, with hosts ranging from comedian Al Franken ("The O'Franken Factor") and Janeane Garafola to rap artist Chuck D., Nation author Laura Flandersand former Daily Show writer and co-creator Lizz Winstead.
Will Air America have the appeal to go toe-to-toe in the ratings war with the right's radio heavyweights? The moment seems right, what with an election that has galvanized progressives in ways not seen for decades and with an audience that is terribly under-served.
Meanwhile, the Daily Show's Stewart consistently skewers President Bush for misleading Americans about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and the 2000 election debacle--"Indecision 2000." Columnist Molly Ivins --Texas's La Pasionaria of intellect and humor--describes Bush as a "shrub" and "another li'l upper-class white boy out trying to prove he's tough." Franken, in his brilliant anti-conservative primer Lies And the Lying Liars Who Tell Them, exposes Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity and Ann Coulter as bullies and frauds.
And, on the grassroots front, a slew of activist groups--two good examples are the Radical Cheerleaders and Billionaires for Bush--are using humor and savvy political messages to bring progressive values to the media's attention. Finally, on the off-Broadway stage at New York's Public Theater, an antiwar satire, written and directed by Academy-award winning actor Tim Robbins, is drawing big crowds nightly for its skewering of White House war planners.
The beauty of all this liberal satire is that progressives, armed with a new bully pulpit, make conservatives seem musty, mean and out of touch. Meantime, Franken & Co. are flat-out funny, deftly promoting progressive values in populist language that seems targeted to win hearts and minds. Let the Franken reign begin!
Last Friday, the Bush Administration was busy pumping up hopes that the war on terrorism was about to yield a victory: the capture along the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan of the reputed No. 2 man in Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda network. As it turned out, Dr Ayman Al-Zawahri was probably not among the militants holed up in the heavily fortified compounds that were assaulted by Pakistani troops and their US advisors.
But, by most measures, the prospective capture of what Administration aides described as "a high-value target" was treated as a very big deal by the Bush White House. At the same time, Administration aides were busy trying to hold together the coalition of the sort-of willing that was cobbled together to support the invasion of Iraq. With Spain's new prime minister declaring the occupation "a disaster" and threatening to withdraw that country's troops from Iraq, and with Poland's president telling European reporters that his country was "misled" about the nature of the threat posed by Iraq, the Administration has its hands full. And, of course, top administration aides were already scrambling to counter charges by Richard Clarke, the former White House counterterrorism aide, whose new book reveals that prior to 9/11 the Bush team ignored "repeated warnings" about the threat posed by Al Qaeda.
Surely, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, a key player on all the fronts that were in play, had a very long list of responsibilities. No time for diversions on Friday, right? Wrong.
Local media is reporting that hundreds of thousands of antiwar protesters poured into streets around the globe on Saturday's one-year anniversary of the invasion of Iraq to demand the withdrawal of US-led troops.
From Sydney to Tokyo, Madrid, London, New York and San Francisco, protesters condemned US Iraqi policy and the Bush Administration's doctrine of pre-emption. Journalists estimated that at least a million people streamed through Rome, in the biggest single protest. In London, two activists evaded security to climb the historic Big Ben clock tower at the Houses of Parliament, unfurling a banner reading "Time for Truth," as approximately 25,000 demonstrators streamed through central London, many carrying "Wanted" posters bearing the faces of Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, his main war ally. In Germany, several thousand people took part in demonstrations in about 70 cities and towns across the country. Some 3,000 people turned out in Sydney, chanting "end the occupation, troops out" and carrying an effigy of Australian Prime Minister John Howard, a staunch war supporter. About 10,000 protesters marched in Athens, Greece, and an estimated 120,000 took part in peace protests across Japan.
Read Nation editor Katrina vanden Heuvel's report from Moscow's antiwar march; Samuel Lowenberg's dispatch from Madrid's rally and Maria Margaronis's Letter from London.You can also check the United for Peace website for updates on continuing antiwar activism in the US, including this Wednesday's "National Iraq Call-in Day."
Uncle Sam hovered over the small crowd of 200 protesters gathered in Moscow today to mark the first anniversary of the US invasion of Iraq. The papier mache puppet--with dollar signs for eyes, a red white and blue top hat and cigar stuffed in his mouth--was held tightly by two young women wearing bandanas and Che buttons as a gaggle of photographers snapped away.
The demo--organized by an eclectic alliance of groups, including the Russian Communist Party youth offshoot, the Radical Socialist Party, Trotskyists, anarchists, Punk Rockers Against Putin, and the Globalization Institute--was one of many taking place across Russia. The marchers--most in their early twenties--were there to protest all forms of occupation and several of the speakers roused the crowd, despite a primitive sound system, by drawing a link between the US occupation of Iraq, Russia's occupation of Chechnya and Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. For many of these groups, the war in Chechnya is a cancer on their country's soul and without ending that war, they do not believe democracy in Russia is possible.
There were even chants of "Intifada, Intifada." Many called for "Vova"--as Vladimir Putin is nicknamed--to step down. "Down with this War President," the crowd chanted. Many spoke hopefully of the Socialist party's victory in Spain. "Let us take an example from the Spanish people and oust this war government." "Che unites, Putin divides," one protester said. Other placards at the demo said: "No war for Oil!" and "Capitalism Kills, Death to Capitalism!" The only English language sign read simply: "No War!"
Most of the kids out protesting were born during the perestroika years and have come to their leftism out of choice not necessity. ("We know our Marx far better than the older generation, which was forced to read him in school," one young woman told me.) When it came to style, the crowd looked like it would have at home at any protest march in the West: bandanas covered mouths, black ski masks were in vogue (as much to protect against Moscow's subzero temperatures as a political statement), Eminem t-shirts and Che buttons were worn and protest flags were flown. The few babushkas present--elderly Russian women who told me they hadn't received their pensions for months--were handing out Communist party pamphlets.
As the rally wound down, there was a roar from the last speaker--"Let us stomp out imperialist aggression!" Several protesters then gathered around Uncle Sam and began to tear apart the papier mache puppet. A young guy wearing an Arnold Schwarznegger/Terminator shirt began to stomp on Uncle Sam's top hat. "Let us march to the US Embassy," someone shouted through the megaphone. "Yankee, Go Home," chanted a half dozen people. The last speaker then thanked the militia for their help in ensuring that the rally proceeded in an orderly way.
Correction:Thanks to Dr. Ross Worthington, who alerted me to a mistake in my recent weblog looking at how the idea of single-payer healthcare was catching on among businessmen and members of the medical profession. I should have wrote that "sixty-four percent of Massachusetts doctors recently endorsed a national single-payer system," rather than sixty-four percent of doctors nationally. Click here to read the full article.
Barack Obama's victory in the hard-fought Democratic primary for an open US Senate seat from Illinois has instantaneously made him a political star. CNN analysts were calling the civil rights lawyer-turned-legislator "the man to watch in Illinois" and "the country's hottest Senate candidate." The New York Times and The Washington Post are weighing in with glowing reports. US Senator Jon Corzine, the chair of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is ecstatic about having a smart, articulate and politically-savvy candidate who looks to be well positioned to pick up the seat of retiring Republican Senator Peter Fitzgerald. Democratic National Committee chair Terry McAuliffe was even more ecstatic about the prospect that Obama, the child of Kenyan and American parents, would give the party a fresh young African-American leader to feature at its national convention in Boston.
For backers of Howard Dean's failed presidential campaign, however, the Obama win offers something else: a bittersweet reminder of what might have been. There was a great deal about the Obama campaign that mirrored the most interesting and impressive aspects of the Dean candidacy. Obama made early and effective use of the internet and drew supporters together using Meet Ups. He built an enthusiastic network of supporters that included college students, suburban liberals and veteran progressive activists in Chicago. Like Dean, Obama was an early and outspoken critic of the Bush administration's scheming to invade Iraq, he criticized the Patriot Act and he promised to "act like a Democrat" if elected. While most of organized labor endorsed another, "safer" candidate, Obama secured the support of the Service Employees International Union, a growing union that frequently flexes its political muscles in Democratic primaries and that also backed Dean. U.S. Representatives Jesse Jackson Jr. and Jan Schakowsky, both Dean backers, campaigned hard for Obama.
So what went right for Obama, who on Tuesday won a landslide victory over a field of better-financed and at least initially better-known Democratic contenders? How did he fight his way from the back of the pack to the front of a multi-candidate field and then, unlike Dean, stay there through election day? While it is important to be remember that national and state campaigns are dramatically different, it is fair to say that Obama did three things that Dean didn't:
This essay, from the August 28, 1920, issue of The Nation, is a special selection from The Nation Digital Archive. If you want to read everything The Nation has ever published on Haiti, click here for information on how to acquire individual access to the Archive--an electronic database of every Nation article since 1865.