Unfiltered takes on politics, ideas and culture from Nation editors and contributors.
So, now, the Bush Administration has given an official name to the war on terrorism. "Long War." Who knows if this term will stick? Last August, Bush reached for his dictionary and decided that GWOT ("The Global War on Terror") should become the "Global Struggle against violent extremism." That term lasted all of two days. This "long war" sounds a like lot like endless war to me. And that got me thinking about the ramifications, the consequences for our freedoms and liberties. After all, there have been other periods in American history when illegal spying has been committed, habeas corpus has been suspended, innocent civilians have been imprisoned, torture condoned, unprecedented secrecy invoked in the name of national security, and when the President has broken the law. But have they ever all happened at the same time? I don't think so. And if they have, they've never come with the promise that this song will remain for the rest of our natural lives. And, most important, other chapters of excess and overreach in our history have been followed by a period of regret, and then reform. But if this administration claims that we are engaged in a war without end (aka "long war"), does that also mean the war on our fundamental rights and liberties knows no end? I say we combat the idea that this is a "long war," (aka: endless war), or even a war at all. Let's come up with a definition that is a true and accurate one for the times we are living in. I welcome submissions.
The antidote to President Bush's vapid and unrealistic repetition of increasingly dangerous delusions about everything from the continued occupation of Iraq to warrantless wiretapping to race-to-the-bottom trade policies did not come in the official Democratic response to the State of the Union address delivered by newly elected Governor Tim Kaine. (I teased blogger Ezra Klein about making fun of Kaine's looks, but I have to admit that I was slightly hypnotized by the Virginia governor's manic eyebrows and lullaby-like delivery. Ezra, good having that drink earlier this week to sort out our differences (few) and agreements (many)--substantive, aesthetic.)
I guess I now think the Dem leadership would have been better off tapping Montana's Governor Brian Schweitzer if it wanted a "can-do-let's-work-together-solutions-oriented" governor.
The real alternative State of the Union address was delivered earlier on SOTU day by California Representatives Lynn Woolsey, Barbara Lee and other members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) who gathered at an event organized by the caucus, The Nation and the Institute for Policy Studies to outline an ambitious agenda. It included a speedy withdrawal of troops from Iraq, universal health care, public financing of campaigns, earned amnesty for illegal immigrants, fair tax policies that actually create jobs and meet the needs of working Americans and the poor, debt relief for countries struggling with poverty or disease, and a real plan to end our addiction to oil.
The bluntness of the CPC members was refreshing. (It's worth remembering that if Dems retake the House, ten members of the Caucus would become chairs of committees. Think about Rep. John Conyers heading Judiciary.) Representative Jim McDermott, a Seattle Democrat, countered the president's empty promises on health care, as well as the only slightly more palatable proposals of Congressional Democratic leaders, by declaring that the "only" answer to a burgeoning crisis is universal health care. Pete Stark, ranking Democrat on the House Ways and Means Health Subcommittee, called for Medicare for All. California Democrat Maxine Waters was equally assertive when she dismissed Republican and Democratic proposals for ethics reforms by asserting that nothing will change in Washington until special-interest money is squeezed out of politics by developing a system for publicly-financed elections. This was the kind of talk that Americans needed to hear and, as they prepare for a 2006 campaign in which control of both houses of Congress is up for grabs, we hope that Democratic strategists were listening to a CPC message that is far more likely to resonate with voters than the too-cautious approach adopted by Democrats in the dismal 2002 and 2004 campaigns. To listen to that transcript, go to the Institute for Policy Studies
President Bush may have tried to claim a little bit of the legacy of Coretta Scott King with a warm and generous reference to her passing at the opening of his State of the Union address this week, but it should be remembered that Mrs. King was a foe of this president and a frequent critic of his abuses of power.
On the eve of the invasion of Iraq in 2003, Mrs. King celebrated the anniversary of birth of her late husband, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., by recalling that the slain civil rights leader had been outspoken in his opposition to unnecessary and unwise wars.
"We commemorate Martin Luther King Jr. as a great champion of peace who warned us that war was a poor chisel for carving out a peaceful tomorrow. We must pursue peaceful ends through peaceful means. Martin said, 'True peace is not just the absence of tension, it is the presence of justice,'" Mrs. King told a crowd that had gathered at Atlanta's Ebenezer Baptist Church. She continued, "May his challenge and his example guide and inspire us to seek peaceful alternatives to a war with Iraq and military conflict in the Middle East."
Mrs. King continued to speak out against the Bush administration's policy of preemptive warmaking during the last years of her life, and she always made it clear that she disagreed passionately with this president.
When Bush showed up to lay a wreath at Rev. King's grave in January, 2004, Mrs. King was polite but pointed in her remarks. Before greeting Bush, she told another event at Ebenezer Baptist that she sided with opponents of the war, and she lamented the fact that, "Those people are not in charge of making the policies of their nations."
"If they were," she added, "I think we would have more peace and more justice."
There will be many celebrations of Coretta Scott King's brave and inspiring life, as well as her rich legacy of activism.
But none will be so appropriate as those that recall her absolute opposition to this president's illegal and immoral warmaking.
I've been following the controversy over editorial cartoons published in Denmark's Jyllands-Posten newspaper that show the Prophet Mohammed with a bomb under his headdress, saying that paradise was running out of virgins for all the suicide bombers, and holding a sword with his eyes blacked out. Since Islam forbids any visual depiction of Mohammed, and since these cartoons basically argue that terrorism is inherent to Islam, Muslims across Europe have taken offense, some countries have boycotted Danish goods and a few are up in arms--literally.
Armed gunmen surrounded the EU office in Gaza, and in Pakistan a crowd burned Danish and French flags as they shouted "Death to Denmark." (And while these violent demonstrations were tiny, of course, this isn't going to help dispel the images so many in the West hold of angry, teeming, violent Muslim masses.) And now the managing editor of France Soir, who republished the cartoons to demonstrate solidarity and freedom of expression, has been fired.
It's complicated, but I'm strongly in favor of supporting those who publish even right-wing, offensive cartoons, poor judgment or no. Editorial freedom, including satire, is a deeply prized and hard-won right that we shouldn't be intimidated into giving up. It's a slippery slope. Just as we can't allow Christian fundamentalists to prevent satirizing the church in American papers, or the Bush Administration from prohibiting protest, nor should we allow fundamentalists of any kind to rewrite the world in their image. Secular papers have the right, and the duty, to live by secular rules.
From the first item of National Review's "The Week" section, 2/13/06:
In Osama's latest tape, he touts an obscure left-wing American book and borrows lines from Michael Moore. We're beginning to think that when we find him, he'll be carrying a Nation tote bag.
Yep, there's no accounting for taste. But when Private Jonah Goldberg enlists for combat and finally nabs Osama, inside that stylish tote bag he'll also find this inspirational quote by none other than National Review patriarch William F. Buckley: "Senator Kerry said, on Sept. 20 , that knowing what we know now, we'd have done better not to have invaded [Iraq]. I think he's right."
President Bush's repeated jabs at isolationism in his State of the Union Address may have also been directed at the Buckleyites. "As a boy," writes The New Republic, "Buckley named his first sailboat Sweet Isolation."
The left-liberal blogosphere has been in hyper-drive critiquing Bush's SOTU address since last night. As I'm teaching a class on US empire, I couldn't resist having my students read it. One of our questions: the particular distortions and factual errors of Bush's address aside (see the Institute for Public Accuracy's fisking), how different was his imperial rhetoric from Presidential speeches of yore?
Bush's talk began and ended with references to America's "historic long-term goal," its "destiny" to "seek the end of tyranny in our world." In doing so, Bush followed the long historical arc that begins with Jefferson's memorable characterization of the United States as "an empire for liberty." I won't subject you all to my lecture, but merely point out that President Clinton likewise linked U.S. hegemony with our "timeless" mission to spread freedom in his first inaugural address.
A hard question the left has yet to take up fully is: What came before and what comes after this particularly noxious imperial presidency? As JoAnn Wypijewski points out in her brilliant article for Harper's on torture and the Abu Ghraib trials, so many left-liberals romanticize the U.S. pre-Bush. I think the kicker to her piece is particularly powerful:
We are moved by arguments to assign responsibility up the chain of command; to reaffirm the Geneva Conventions and the Law of Land Warfare; to establish clear rules in Congress limiting the CIA, foreclosing "black" operations, stipulating the rights and treatment of prisoners; to shut down Guantanamo and the global gulag; to drive Bush and Cheney and their cohort from office; in other words, to set America right again, on course as it was after the Vietnam War, a chastened empire still wielding a fearsome arsenal but with liberal intentions. We have not yet learned to pull up the orchard, to forsake the poisoned ground.
Coretta Scott King, the widow of slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., who has died at the age of 78, should be remembered for many brave and selfless deeds. Chief among those deeds, to be sure, was her steady opposition to capital punishment. The widow of one of America's most famous murder victims gave voice across four decades to the most credible argument with regard to the death penalty.
"As one whose husband and mother-in-law have died the victims of murder and assassination, I stand firmly and unequivocally opposed to the death penalty for those convicted of capital offenses," she said. "An evil deed is not redeemed by an evil deed of retaliation. Justice is never advanced in the taking of a human life. Morality is never upheld by a legalized murder."
Check out the spirited dispatch about the last days of the Sundance Film Festival in today's New York Times.
I think our electoral system might take a lesson from how the Festival handled two new documentaries on presidential elections. "An Unreasonable Man," about Ralph Nader, and "An Inconvenient Truth,"which features Al Gore "delivering an alarming presentation on global warming," were both entered. Fortunately, as the Times correspondent observes: "The Gore film was in a different category, so the Nader film, which was in competition, could not steal votes from it."
I'm surprised the shrews at the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation haven't come out with a press release denouncing the Screen Actors Guild as anti-gay since at last night's SAG Awards the great gay hope Brokeback Mountain was shut out in all four categories in which it was nominated. Rarely has a film been burdened with such undue political significance. The gay media elite have been beating the drums since the film was in pre-production. The Human Rights Campaign took brown-nosing to new lows when it bestowed an "Equality Award" on Jake Gyllenhaal and Ang Lee for changing "the cultural fabric of our country." Larry King staged a truly idiotic debate between Chad Allen and right-wing radio bimbo Janet Parshall over the merits of Brokeback and, of course, gay marriage. Yes folks, in the Year of the Gays, the little dude from Our House is the only openly gay actor CNN could dredge out of West Hollywood.
Perhaps the only one to demur from commenting on Brokeback is our own cowboy-in-chief who told a Kansas State University audience that he hasn't seen the movie, but he's heard about it and would be "glad to talk about ranching." Maybe Laura will drag him to it one day, but I'm not sure it would do much to change Bush's mind.
I saw the movie at the recommendation of smart, onetime Nation film critic B. Ruby Rich who called it the "most important" American film in years in the London Guardian. While I normally trust Ruby's judgment, what was she thinking on this one? The film is far too pretty, too hygienic, too trite and slender to have the kind of cultural or political impact that's being demanded of it. Sure there's a powerful moment or two, but the whole thing reminded me of a Merchant Ivory chick flick -- so much impossible love, so many precious costumes. In the end, it scarcely seemed to matter that the tortured lovers were both men. Perhaps that's the point: to disappear the particularities of gay sexuality into the Western landscape. But as I looked over at the row of 40-something women weeping next to me, it seemed unlikely that they'd get up tomorrow and urge a filibuster of Alito or campaign against Defense of Marriage Amendments.
As for the gay cinephile in me, I'm not above paying $10.25 to see two cute, straight boys make out. But next time, there's got to be a lot more exposure.