America is better for Tony Kushner. A self-described "God-believing Jew and a historical materialist socialist humanist agnostic," Kushner--a member of The Nation's editorial board--is a playful partisan, whose sense of humor and a generous, joyful and truthful voice fills his work, including his Pulitzer prize-winning epic play, Angels in America, which premieres this Sunday on HBO.
And The Nation is better for Kushner's contributions over the years, including his award-winning 1994 essay A Socialism of the Skin, his rabble-rousing commencement address to Vassar's 2002 class, A Word to Graduates: Organize! and a scene from his forthcoming play about Laura Bush reading Dostoevsky to dead Iraqi children. (Click here to read past Nation articles from Kushner.)
What has always moved me about Kushner is his sense of humanity and humility. "I am a person of the left," he said in a recent New York Times profile. "But I am uncertain about a great many things; what to do next; where change is coming from; what is the meaning of being left in a world like this?"
And although his writing often describes the outrages of our time ("There is not enough anger for everything that makes me angry," he once said, quoting novelist Sarah Schulman), Kushner retains his joyful and incendiary spirit--refusing to get preachy or earnest. "I believe that the playwright should be a kind of public intellectual, even if only a crackpot intellectual." Kushner once wrote. "Someone who asks her or his thoughts to get up before crowds, on platforms, and entertain, challenge, instruct, annoy, provoke, appall. I'm amused and horrified when I realize that, on occasion, I've been taken seriously. But, of course being taken seriously is my ambition, semi-secretly-and-very-ambivalently held. I enjoy the tension between responsibility and frivolity; it's where my best work comes from."
That abiding belief in personal responsibility (Or, as he puts it, "when you don't act, you act") may explain Kushner's extraordinary outpouring of work in these last years--from poems, criticism, personal essays, political investigations, public addresses, opera librettos, song lyrics and a children's book.
In the last two months alone, he has published two books, with a third on the way: Brundibar, a picture book filled with melodramatic menace and comedy and real-world politial overtones (with illustrations by Maurice Sendak), Wrestling With Zion, an anthology of progressive Jewish-American responses to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (with his friend the Village Voice writer Alisa Solomon), and Save Your Democratic Citizen Soul!: Rants, Screeds and Other Public Utterances for Midnight in the Republic, a collection of essays due "out before the next election" Kushner promises.
His new play, Caroline or Change, a semi-autobiographical musical about growing up in Lake Charles, Louisiana, has just opened at the Public Theater in New York City to widespread praise. And while working on Brundibar, he wrote the text for The Art of Maurice Sendak, a book-length essay that the award-winning children's book author considers the best appreciation of his work ever written. And check out this slew of other forthcoming collaborations and projects:
*Only We Who Guard The Mystery Shall Be Unhappy. (The Laura Bush play, in which the First Lady reads the Grand Inquisitor chapter of Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov to the ghosts of dead Iraqi children.)
*The Intelligent Homosexual's Guide to Socialism and Capitalism, with a Key to the Scriptures, to open at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles in 2005.
*A play about Marx and the Jewish Question.
*An adaptation of The Golem.
*Working as an adviser on HBO's version of his play Homebody/Kabul.
*An original screenplay about Eugene O'Neill.
It's hard to feel too bad about the possibilities of the human spirit with Kushner around.
George W. Bush's Thanksgving Day campaign stop in Baghdad said everything that needed to be said about the success of the US occupation of Iraq. The president, who likes to refer to the invasion of Iraq as a mission of liberation, traveled in secret, arrived unannounced and with plane lights dimmed, remained closeted at the heavily guarded Baghdad International Airport for 150 minutes and then hightailed it out of the country before the Iraqi people knew their liberator was among them.
It was hardly a triumphal visit. Yet, the Bush political team could count on the cheerleading squads that have taken over the so-called "news departments" of the nation's television networks to hail the tarmac tap in Baghdad as "dramatic," "courageous" and "historic." "What the president did today was show he was willing to put himself in harm's way, like the troops," chirped CNN commentator Douglas Brinkley, whose enthusiasm was echoed on every Thanksgiving night news report. ABC's World New Tonight devoted the better part of 15 minutes to breathless reporting on the trek, closing off with an apparently serious recreation of the President's not-exactly-harrowing transit from his ranch in Crawford to the airport in Waco, Texas.
For realistic reporting on the President's tour of a completely secure airport hangar in Baghdad, Americans were again forced to turn to foreign news sources. Beyond the borders of the United States, practioners of a craft called journalism treated the trip with the respect it was due. While US commentators babbled on about how the President had erased the embarrassing image of himself bundled into a flightsuit for that "Mission Accomplished" photo op in May, international reporters sought out honest assessments, such as that of Mahmoud Othman, a member Iraq's governing council. "(Bush's) visit cannot be considered as a visit to Iraq," Othman told Britain's Guardian newspaper. "It was really a visit to an American military base in the country to boost the morale of the troops." Another member of the governing council told the Guardian that the "excessive secrecy" surrounding the presidential trip could end up strengthening the image not of the US but of the insurgents opposing the US occupation. "They will be able to boast that they forced the most powerful man in the world to come in through the back door," the governing council member explained.
London's Independent newspaper referred to the Baghdad visit as a "lightning public relations strike on Baghdad" designed to provide the president "with powerful television imagery with which to launch his reelection campaign next year." In a report headlined, "The Turkey Has Landed," The Independent explained to British readers that the trip was organized "to secure valuable prime-time television coverage on Thanksgiving Day, featuring pictures of a determined president rallying his troops after a grim month in which 70 lives have been lost."
Perhaps anticipating the worshipful reporting of the US media, the Times of London simply characterized the trip as "one of the most audacious publicity coups in White House history."
If anything, the British press was generous. Beirut's Al-Mustaqbal newspaper bluntly announced, "Bush's secret visit to Baghdad opens the presidential election season." In Paris, the newspaper Liberation described the Thanksgiving Day jaunt as an "electoral raid on Baghdad" arranged because "Bush knows that Iraq could become the Achilles heel of his (reelection) campaign." Italy's La Republica characterized the President's two-and-a-half hours in Baghdad as "obviously an electoral blitz, a Hollywood style stunt of the kind we will see again and again throughout the (2004) campaign."
Madrid's El Mundo, a conservative newspaper that is frequently friendly to US policies, dismissed the presidential juggernaut as "a publicity stunt which will not solve the problem of Iraq." Barcelona's Vanguardia newspaper was even rougher, declaring that, "George W. Bush does not attend the funerals of soldiers killed in Iraq, but has dinner in Baghdad with those who dream of coming home alive."
In fairness, however, it should be noted that at least one foreign media outlet has commented favorably on Bush's travels. The only Arab journalists allowed to witness Bush's banquest in Baghdad were from the Al-Iraqiya television station. Their report was every bit as enthusiastic as the coverage that appeared on US television. It should, perhaps, be noted that Al-Iraqiya is funded by the Pentagon as part of the Iraqi Media Network (IMM), a television and radio initiative set up to provide positive news about the occupation and the US-led Civilian Provisional Authority (CPA).
Of course, as Don North, who quit his post as a trainer and adviser at Al-Iraqiya, noted, "IMM has become an irrelevant mouthpiece for CPA propaganda, managed news and mediocre foreign programs."
That's a troubling assessment of Pentagon-financed media in Iraq. What's even more troubling is that, considering the irrelevant, managed and mediocre coverage of the President's trip to Baghdad that aired on CNN, Fox, ABC and other networks, it is clear that the assessment applies as well to US media.
Isn't it interesting that a few small percentage points here and there--third-quarter GDP showed an annual growth rate of 8.2 percent and monthly unemployment dropped from 6.1 percent to 6 percent--produces such euphoria about the country's economic upturn?
Before trumpeting this "boom," the Bush Administration and its crony pundits should pay attention to the real state of the economy--where nine million people are out of work, wages and salaries are stagnant or down, health care costs have increased to staggering double digit rates, retirement savings have been ravaged by the stock market crash, school budgets are taking severe hits, tuitions at public universities are http://www.csmonitor.com/2003/0811/p01s03-ussc.html ">soaring and personal bankruptcies are at an all-time high.
Headlines like "Bloom is on the Economy," (The New York Times, 11/8) or "Tough Times Over?" (Washington Post, 11/9) seem foolish, even mean-spirited, when families, communities and whole states are struggling to survive. Consider that in Bush's home state of Texas, according to the Houston Chronicle, 54,000 children have been dropped from the federal-state health insurance program due to budget cuts. Texas, and other states, are also cutting back on subsidies for healthcare, further increasing the number of people with no coverage--now conservatively estimated at 43 million, with their numbers rapidly increasing. And paying for health insurance is becoming a problem for more than just people living on low or fixed-incomes, with many hospitals and neighborhood clinics saying that middle-class people are now joining the poor in seeking their care.
There are more Americans living in poverty now than there were in 1965. Over thirteen million of them are children. (The US has the worst child poverty rate of all the world's industrialized countries.) Last year alone, another 1.7 million Americans slipped below the poverty line, bringing the total to 34.6 million, one in eight of the population, and up from 31.6 million in 2000. (See "Economic Fault Lines in America's States," AFL-CIO report).
And as Trudy Lieberman reported in our pages, the ranks of the hungry are also increasing. About 31 million are now considered to be "food insecure" (they literally do not know where their next meal is coming from.) Hunger is an epidemic in Ohio where, since Bush won there in the 2000 election, the state has lost one in six manufacturing jobs. And two million of the state's 11 million people used food charities last year, an increase of more than 18 percent from 2001. ("Long Queue at Drive-In Soup Kitchen," The Guardian, Julian Borger, November 3)
Economic realities on Main Street, not Wall Street haven't stopped the White House from trumpeting "mission accomplished" when it comes to our supposed economic recovery. Nor has it stopped the Administration's hucksters at the Heritage Foundation from using faulty numbers to "prove" that the Administration's tax cuts are working.
But, according to the White House Council of Economic Advisors, the passage of the most recent round of tax cuts should have led to an economy that produces 306,000 jobs each month. That means that even in the last two months of purportedly "strong economic growth," which produced about 125,000 jobs per month, the economy has produced around 180,000 fewer jobs than the White House promised. And just to keep pace with population growth, the economy would need to produce 140,000 jobs each month.The real "bottom line," taking into account the 3.4 percent gain in population since March 2001, shows that the economy is 6.9 million jobs short of where it would be if payroll levels had remained steady. And, according to Treasury Secretary John Snow's own projection, Bush will end his term with the worst jobs record since Herbert Hoover in the Great Depression.
"The economic policies of the Bush Administration," economist Jeff Madrick , observes, "have been about as crude and destructive a cocktail of stimulants--lavish income and estate tax cuts for upper-income Americans, elimination of taxes on dividends, stepped-up military and homeland security spending--as we have ever seen. The result is short-term growth and long-term damage...the administration's policies will weaken the economy over time, fall particularly harshly on its working middle and low-income citizens, and fail to prepare the nation for a century of far more intense global competition."
"The test of our progress," President Franklin Roosevelt said some sixty-six years ago, "is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; It is whether we provide enough for those who have too little." But does this current President care that there are tens of millions in this country, many of them children, who have too little? And, if Bush does care, is it conceivable that he believes the best way to feed, clothe, educate and care for them is through tax-cuts whose main purpose is to add to the abundance of the super-rich? We may no longer be the country that Roosevelt saw as one-third "ill-housed, ill-clad, ill-nourished," but, this Thanksgiving in America, we are perilously close.
The National Rifle Association recently targeted hundreds of organizations and individuals for having the temerity to have "lent their names and notoriety" to the "anti-gun cause." The NRA has compiled these names on a 19-page blacklist being made available to its membership.
Who's on the list? Sure enough, there's the notorious Oprah Winfrey, Jerry Seinfeld, Sean Connery, Julia Roberts, Bruce Springsteen, Mel Brooks and Jimmy Carter. Also Russell Simmons, Missy Elliot, Shania Twain and Dustin Hoffman. The NAACP, NOW, the United Methodist Church, the AARP and the American Jewish Congress are also all featured on this modern-day enemies list.
The anti-gun group Stop The NRA thought that more than just NRA members should see the list. So, they've created a website dedicated to exposing this campaign and are encouraging concerned citizens to sign up for what reasonable Americans should consider an honor roll.
Each year in the US, we lose roughly 28,000 people to gun violence. And, as the Violence Policy Center has documented, Al Qaeda terrorist training manuals note the ease with which one can obtain firearms in the United States--like the .50-caliber rifles that can with precision blow a nine-inch hole in a concrete wall from 100 yards.
Yet, the NRA, emboldened by the strong support it enjoys from the Bush Administration, is currently trying to bully Congress into granting the Association two coveted favors that would also be a blessing for terrorists in our midst: an end to the ban on military-style rapid-fire assault weapons and iron-clad legal protections for gun manufacturers and weapons dealers from virtually all civil lawsuits.
The Stop the NRA campaign has a set of suggestions for helping defeat the NRA's assault on American society: Sign a petition, donate funds to help support anti-NRA advertising nationwide, join with like-minded activists in local groups, lobby your elected reps, watch a special web film and find out much more about a fierce political struggle being waged with potentially dramatic consequences for American citizens.
Want to see some thuggish Republican fear-mongering? Check out the GOP's first ad for the 2004 election, which starts running Sunday in Iowa. It accuses Democratic presidential candidates of "attacking the president for attacking the terrorists" and urges viewers to call Congress to "tell them to support the President's policy of preemptive self-defense."
But the Democratic candidates are attacking Bush's preemptive war against Iraq precisely because it had nothing to do with the war on terror. It's now clear--even to most supporters of the war--that Iraq posed no imminent threat to the United States and that Bush and his cronies misled the nation into a war of choice not necessity.
And, if you look at what's happening around the world today, including the recent bombings in Turkey, can any reasonable person argue that "preemptive self defense" has made the world more secure? Instead, it seems easier with each passing day to conclude, tragically, that this Adminstration's disastrous policies have undermined our security and our image in the world and failed to make America--or the world--safer, more secure, more prosperous or more democratic.
If there's any good news in all of this it's that the GOP's decision to run this ad unusually early in the election season signals how worried Republican strategists are about the impact of Iraq on Bush's reelection chances. Growing doubts about the rationale, timing and, of course, the results of the war have led to what few would have predicted last March: Bush's identification with the invasion and occupation of Iraq is now a net negative for his reelection prospects.
As Ruy Teixeira points out in his valuable "Public Opinion Watch," with Bush's key poll ratings on his handling of the war heading South, "a Democratic candidate in 2004 would be foolish not to engage Bush in a sharp debate about America's role in the world and safeguarding our national security." Bush's policy of preemptive war has failed. It now must be ended along with his Administration's preemptive war on truth, civil liberties and the US Constitution.
Uncovered, a new documentary film co-sponsored by Move.On.org and the Center for American Progress and directed by Robert Greenwald, offers far more proof, if any was still necessary, that the Bush Administration's extremism is severely compromising America's national security interests. Featuring never-before-seen interviews with over 20 national security experts--including former Ambassador Joe Wilson; ex CIA chief Stansfield Turner; weapons inspector David Albright; CIA operative Robert Baer, National Security anti-terrorism expert Rand Beers and The Nation's own David Corn--Uncovered exposes the lies, misstatements and distorted intellligence that served as reasons to fight an unnecessary "preemptive" war. The film is a compelling call to action in 2004 and must-see viewing for all citizens who care about changing the direction of our security policy, and our country's leadership. Click here for info on screenings and DVD sales.
Republicans and conservatives say the darnest things.
First, Ann Coulter. Don't think I am obsessing over here just because this is my second mention of her in two weeks. (Click here to see the first.) I don't recall having written about her madness before these latest strikes. But it was hard to resist returning to the subject after reading an account of a lecture she delivered to the impressionable minds of Northwestern University. She took the predictable potshots at liberals. And then she proclaimed that the war on terror is a "religious war." She explained, in a way:
"This is a religious war, not against Islam but for Christianity, for a Christian nation. When this nation was founded, there was nothing like it. Our founders said there is a God and we are all equal before God. The ideal of equality and tolerance is like nothing that has ever existed in the world before. That, too, is a Christian value. The concept of equality, especially when it comes to gender equality, was not invented by Gloria Steinem. It was invented by Jesus Christ. As long as people look long enough, they will always come to Christianity."
Are equality and tolerance historical Christian values? (Note she does not bother to use the more PR-friendly and inclusive phrase "Judeo-Christian values.") Ask the victims of the Inquisition or the Crusades. America's Christian founders may have preached equality, but they hardly practiced it. See slavery. Did the "ideal of equality and tolerance" only appear with the birth of the United States? Check out the preceding Age of Enlightenment. (Locke celebrated a state of nature in which people were happy, tolerant, free and equal.) And Jesus invented feminism? Then why did the "Christian nation" of the United States deny women the right to vote? Why has the Catholic Church refused to ordain female priests? Why do certain fundamentalist Christians insist that women submit to their husbands?
And where currently is this tolerance that Coulter speaks of? Her Christian supremacist comrades--such as Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell--blast away at Islam and other religions. General William Boykin, a top Pentagon official, derided Islam while giving talks before evangelical Christians. And when George W. Bush last week commented that Christians and Muslims worship the same God, fundamentalist Christians howled in protest. The Reverend Ted Haggard, president of the National Association of Evangelicals and a frequent visitor to the White House, said, ""The Christian God encourages freedom, love, forgiveness, prosperity and health. The Muslim god appears to value the opposite. The personalities of each god are evident in the cultures, civilizations and dispositions of the peoples that serve them." How's that for tolerance?
Robertson has even accused Episcopalians, Presbyterians and Methodists of representing "the spirit of the Antichrist" and repeatedly called Hinduism "devil worship." And Coulter showed little tolerance when she wrote of anti-American Muslims in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, "We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity."
Plenty of Christian leaders, of course, are tolerant and equality-minded. Some support a gay bishop. (And some of my best friends are Christians!) But the history of Christianity shows that this religion has created a big tent that can accommodate mass-murdering bigots and courageous freedom-loving champions of equality. It is foolish, ahistorical, and wrong for Coulter to assert that Christianity equals equality and tolerance. After all, is she a fan of liberation theology?
One should not get too exercised about Coulter's uninformed view of history. But her remarks represent the fervent desire of Christian supremacists to transform the war against al Qaeda into a titanic religious battle. Thank God most mainstream churches--including the one based in Rome--do not see it that way. Perhaps they have learned from the past.
Now, we turn to the GOP. Rather than theologize the war, the Republican National Party and its chairman Ed Gillespie have politicized it. There's nothing wrong with that. Bush's conduct of the war on terrorism and his actions in Iraq should be electoral issues. He should run on his record, and there would be nothing unfair about GOPers telling voters to vote Republican if they're satisfied with developments in Iraq and encouraged by Bush's handling of the terrorist threat. But that's not what the Republicans are doing. In its latest--and much-noticed--television ad, the Republican Party claims, "Some are now attacking the President for attacking the terrorists....Some call for us to retreat, putting our national security in the hands of others."
That's not true. Bush has not generally been criticized for going after the terrorists who attacked the United States. The critics have argued that the war on Iraq did not target al Qaeda. That's why ret. General Anthony Zinni, ret. General Wesley Clark, ret. General John Shalikashvili, Senator Bob Graham and other non-peace-movement types opposed it. Even now, as Bush and his aides claim the war on Iraq is the central front in the war on terrorism, his chief military commanders there say that U.S. troops are primarily fighting Ba'athist remnants, not al Qaeda terrorists and other jihadists who might have slipped into Iraq. And the major Bush opponents--such as the leading Democratic presidential candidates--do not call for "retreat" or to place U.S. national security "in the hands of others." They have urged that the United States partner up with other nations to deal with the mess in Iraq.
Gillespie and Coulter are just making things up--the past, the present, whatever. I wonder, if they were able to clear drafts of their ads and speeches with the world's most famous carpenter's son, what would Jesus do?
DON'T FORGET ABOUT DAVID CORN'S NEW BOOK, The Lies of George W. Bush: Mastering the Politics of Deception (Crown Publishers). A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER! The Library Journal says, "Corn chronicles to devastating effect the lies, falsehoods, and misrepresentations....Corn has painstakingly unearthed a bill of particulars against the president that is as damaging as it is thorough." For more information and a sample, check out the book's official website: www.bushlies.com.
The weblog below was originally posted on November 2. We received some powerful responses, which convinced us to re-post the article, a look at why people frequently vote against their own material interests, along with a sampling of reader mail. Click here to read three letters--from Texas, Florida and California.
Why do people consistently vote against their self-interest? Consider Alabama, where low-income people, who hardly benefit from tax cuts that jeopardize government services, recently voted down a referendum that tried to shift the burden from overtaxed working people to under-taxed business interests.
Alabama's citizens, as a New York Times editorial comment pointed out, voted "for fewer social services, less education, and a shoddier legal system--to become, that is, more like a third-world nation." Through a decision made by its own residents, Alabama is now entrenched at the bottom of the national rankings in government services.
The national landscape isn't much brighter. Is there some plausible explanation for why Americans support spending more on government programs like education and healthcare, express disappointment that the gap between rich and poor has widened, but then give their support to Bush's tax cuts, which disproportionately benefit the super-rich?
Princeton political scientist Larry Bartels' recent report, Homer Gets a Tax Cut: Inequality and Public Policy in the American Mind, offers some answers. As he points out, there is "a good deal of ignorance and uncertainty about the workings of the tax system" and a failure to connect tax cuts to rising inequality, the future tax burden or the availability of public services. The report also reveals how people are bamboozled by political spin and poor factual information offered up by our infotainment-ized media. (For more on the report, see Alan Krueger's Economic Scene," New York Times Business section, October 15).
I think that one reason why people vote against their self-interest is distrust of government. Alabama's low taxes and limited services are, in fact, legacies of this distrust-- fed equally by big business, fake-populists like the late Governor George Wallace and, now, a growing Republican majority.
Indeed, in interviews around the state on the eve of the referendum, voter disgust toward state government was palpable, with most people saying they did not trust legislators to spend taxpayers' money. These fears are fanned by rightwing think tanks like the Heritage Foundation, which have worked assiduously to denigrate government. As anti-government ideologues like Grover Norquist see it, lowering taxes and downsizing government are the way to destroy the social safety net. (Norquist, after all, promotes the idea that government should be shrunk to a size where it can be drowned in a bathtub.) Then there are the consequences of signals people receive from politicians who have made an art of lowering expectations of what government can do even faster than they disappoint them.
Progressives have to take into account the historic libertarian, even anti-government, impulses of most Americans, and accept the role of market forces in many social solutions, but we must also challenge the widespread belief that because government has sometimes performed poorly in recent years, it cannot perform at all.
What's heartening is that even after decades of rightwing government bashing, a progressive domestic agenda is in fact quite popular with voters, as we know from polls and surveys. The problem is that Democrats have not coherently or consistently articulated that agenda, while the Republicans have hammered away with a disciplined message about the phony dangers of "big government." (Matt Miller effectively skewers this message in his valuable new book The Two Percent Solution:Fixing America's Problems in Ways that Liberals and Conservatives Can Love.) And a Murdochized, conglomeratized media too often peddles spin --not factual information that might contribute to citizens acting in their self-interest.
Progressives could begin by articulating a coherent, alternative vision of the purpose and meaning of government. Opposition to the tax cuts is all very good, but for what purpose, to do what?
Let's invoke President Lincoln's injunction that government exists to do what individuals cannot do for themselves. Let's challenge the view that we, as a society, cannot do things together and put forward new and compelling ideas about the role of government and how it can improve our lives. Let's reclaim the ability to articulate why government is a social good, that investments in schools, infrastructure, health care and social services are worth making and that everyone should pay their fair share. And to the wealthy who aren't paying their fair share--ask yourself if you aren't better off being prosperous and paying taxes than going down in the first-class cabins of a sinking ship.
I read with interest Katrina vanden Heuvel's weblog in which she laments the recent decision by Alabama voters to vote down a referendum that would shift taxes from the "folks" to under-taxed business interests. I'm from the south, so I'd like to offer an explanation for this oddity.
Two reasons why this happens:
1) Ignorance. You mention this, and it's just a sad fact. So many people really do not know what the hell is going on. Noam Chomsky said it best in one of his interviews that the powerful simply want the mass of folk to stay dumb and complacent. As long as we watch our sports and soap operas, and eagerly follow the J Lo/Ben romance, they are satisfied that we will not cause too many problems by asking questions and actually being concerned. As long as most of us are mindless consumers everything is a-okay. And lest we forget, Alabama isn't reknowned for its educational system.
2) Who actually votes? I'd be willing to bet that most of the voters in this Alabama referendum could care less about most government services. They are the well-off, the affluent, the very business owners who do not want increased taxes on their business interests. A key point: it's the average folks (those outside of the power bases) that distrust and remain wary of politicians, and sadly, so many of these folks never vote. The rich and powerful slap backs and work deals with the pols. They keep them in their pockets. As long as people have their National Enquirer, cable TV, and porn, that's probably the way it will stay. Think about how things are going now: if you criticize the Bush Administration, especially on the War on Terror, you are damn-near branded a traitor, unpatriotic, and not worthy to be critical of our national policies. Believe me, I'm a soldier in the US Army.
James O. Hacker, El Paso, Texas
I am a white male born and bred in Leon County, Florida, eighteen miles from the Georgia line. I don't drive a pick-up truck with a gun rack in the back and I have never shown the Confederate flag but I wear a Seminole baseball hat, hoop and holler every fall for the FSU football team and would defend to the death the red clay foothills of the Appalachians that form this corner of what is known as the "South."
I just read "Alabama on my Mind" by Katrina vanden Heuvel in the November 10 edition of Editor's Cut. I do not have a direct answer for why people in Alabama voted against what vanden Heuvel considers their best interest but I hope to offer a clue as to why vanden Heuvel and others of her political persuasion remain perplexed by the voting ways of southerners, westerners, hunters and other residents of "red" America (Bush country).
After Howard Dean's recent reiteration of his aspiration to bring under the Democrat's tent the guys who drive pick-up trucks with confederate flags in the back windows, I heard vanden Heuvel on MSNBC's "Hardball."
She described the confederate flag with the same terminology as Mr. Dean as he tried to recover from what he called a clumsy attempt to appeal to voters. "The confederate flag is a loathsome symbol," she said.
Now, ain't that a sure fire cure for clumsiness?
This choice of words reveals a misunderstanding of white men in the South and of people in general, a misunderstanding that speaks volumes about why Democrats, the party of the people, have performed so abysmally since Nixon first adopted the Southern Strategy, in leading and maintaining the prominence in Presidential politics of Republicans, the party of the rich.
I do not dispute that the flag is justifiably rejected by many African-Americans whose ancestors suffered terribly under it and who encounter daily the legacy of slavery in their lives today. They stand on proven ground when they advocate that the Confederate flag not be flown over their state capitols. Nor will I argue that those who show the flag do not have tendencies, or worse, toward racism.
But southern white men do not normally put that flag in the back of their truck to recruit Ku Klux Klan members, advocate racist policies or proclaim that they are white supremacists.
They show the Confederate flag to make the statement "I am a man." "Look at me," they demand. "Look at my pick-up truck, my gun-rack, my flag that symbolizes as few symbols can: DEFIANCE."
"The South will rise again," they say. "And the federal government will never, ever be able to extinguish its spirit, a sprit worthy of honor because it is associated with being a god-fearing man who protects his wife, takes care of his children and makes sacrifices for the good of his family."
Conversely, that flag in the back window says of the truck owner you can tax my property, my income, charge me fees to hunt and drive my truck, educate me and mine poorly, deny me good jobs, regulate me to death, and demean me every which way but it will not work. Because you cannot rob me of my manhood."
That flag says something else, too. It says, "whenever a politician (or a pundit on television advocating for a group of politicians) tells me that my manhood is "loathsome", you can bet your bottom dollar, he'll never get my vote. NEVER, NEVER, NEVER."
Unfortunately for Democrats, George W. Bush and most of the Republicans have an intuitive grasp for what those who wave the Confederate flag intend to communicate.
And like it or not - no matter vanden Heuvel's intellectual or emotional take or Howard Dean's instinctive appeal compromised by offensive apology - their intuition will continue to attract votes.
Barring failed Bush economic policies or handling of Iraq to propel a Democrat into the Presidency, the office will remain an elusive goal for Democrats if they cannot read the obvious central message of a flag from a war that ended more than a century ago and refrain from labeling as loathsome its messenger.
Ain't it the truth?
Trent Malone, Tallahassee, FL
In "Alabama on my Mind" Katrina vanden Heuvel addresses the seeming paradox that many (mostly) poor white Southerners are voting for Republican candidates at a time when they are experiencing rising inequality and a loss of social services.
Although I think part of the explanation is ignorance of the tax codes and a basic distrust of government, I think the general trend towards voting Republican in the South is entirely consistent with rationality. The majority in the South want no gun control, are strongly in favor of the death penalty, extremely opposed to abortion, and want a "tough guy" foreign policy instead of a multilateral approach. And they are willing to trade a little inequality in order to vote for people who they know won't waffle on these issues.
We on the left must not be tricked into believing most of those people are somehow dumb and confused- they know what they want and the Republicans give it to them. Until Democrats realize this they are going to be wasting a lot of time and effort trying to figure out why people are voting Republican instead of putting forth an alternative platform that can captivate the rest of the country.
Jason Scorse, Monterey, California
As Sarah Anderson explains in a Nation web report, the outcome of the Miami trade talks represents a major failure for the Bush Administration. After nine years of insisting that all thirty-four countries must sign on to a comprehensive agreement or else be denied critical market access, the US team conceded to pressure from Brazil and other nations and significantly hollowed out the FTAA in order to get a deal done.
Meanwhile, activists have been doing their best to build a movement for social change, which hasn't been easy in Miami. Thousands of uniformed officers, drawn from a total of forty different law enforcement agencies, aggressively intimidated activists throughout the week. On Thursday, the police refused access to downtown Miami to nearly ninety buses carrying retirees who were there to participate in the permitted march and rally.
For the first three days leading up to the summit, as Anderson reports, the dozens of teach-ins held throughout downtown Miami were regularly surrounded by cops on boats, bikes and horses, which (no joke) sport their own riot helmets with plexiglass face-shields. And on Thursday, police in riot gear fired rubber bullets and canisters of chemical spray at thousands of peaceful demonstrators gathered in the shadow of downtown skyscrapers.
By the end of the week, medics for the direct action protesters reported more than 100 injuries from tear gas and rubber bullets fired by the police while law enforcement agencies reported at least 141 arrests.
FTAA Protesters Describe Police State Tactics by Maya Bell, The Orlando Sentinel, November 21.
Democracy Now! Special Report: Mayhem in Miami, November 21
Police Gas Miami Trade Protestors by Michael Christie, Reuters, November 20
Protesters Tell A Different Tale of Free Trade by John Thor-Dahlburg, Los Angeles Times, November 20
Trade Talks Harmful to Health by Gustavo Gonzalez, Inter-American Press Service, November 20
FTAA/Miami: Consider the EU by Sarah Anderson, South Florida Sun-Sentinel, November 19
Click here to sign the Free Press petition to stop the FTAA. The petition will be delivered to Congress and US Trade Representatives.
In recognition of the tenth anniversary of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), The National Association of Manufacturers, Public Citizen and The Nation will host a debate with participants from Canada, Mexico and the US on the results of NAFTA and the future of trade in the hemisphere.
Taking place in the heart of downtown Miami, just blocks from the FTAA Ministerial meetings and on the heels of what's expected to be a large anti-FTAA march with associated actions that day, the debate will feature some of the foremost critics and proponents of the NAFTA/FTAA agenda directly debating the very nature of globalization.
A Debate on Ten Years of NAFTA
Thursday, November 20
8:00-9:30pmFirst United Methodist Church400 Biscayne Blvd., Miami, Florida(Four blocks from the Inter-Continental Hotel/Hyatt)
Lori Wallach, Director, Global Trade Watch (US)
Naomi Klein, Nation columnist, author (Canada)
Alberto Arroyo, RMALC (Mexico)
Frank Vargo, President, NAM (US)
Peter Clark, Canadian trade consultant (Canada)
Luis de la Calle, former NAFTA negotiator (Mexico)
Moderated by Jane Bussey,International trade reporter, The Miami Herald
FREE Admission. Please arrive early.(Spanish translation provided.)
Presented by Public Citizen and the National Association of Manufacturers and co-sponsored by The Nation magazine.