The world is in tumult, but here in the heart of Empire the level of creative political energy runs flat along the bottom of the graph. As Iraq disintegrates amid frightful slaughter, US generals propose to bring to life the mad plan they ascribed to Saddam Hussein, to dig a defensive ditch round Baghdad, one of the larger cities on the planet. In Afghanistan the Taliban are once again on the rise. Amid these vivid implosions of the "war on terror," the US antiwar movement is near dead.
Here in the homeland, the mightiest names of the auto-industrial age have their backs to the wall. Tens of thousands of men and women face grim times as Ford and GM shutter plant after plant. Yet the pulse of organized labor amid this devastation is feeble. From the environmental movement there is an even fainter heartbeat, even as an actual conspiracy–official concealment of the toxic toll on New Yorkers from the 9/11 attack–finally comes to light. There’s no convincing energy plan beyond posturing about ANWR; no protest at the giveaways of public lands.
Less than two months from the midterm elections, the Democrats cower from confrontation with a widely hated President. When Bush tries to annul America’s always frail commitment to the Geneva Conventions on torture, Joe Biden complacently announces that the Democrats are happy to sit this one out and let Republican Senators McCain, Warner and Graham mount a counterattack. This is the way to rally millions of antiwar voters in November? Bush’s present bounce in the polls shows the bankruptcy of Democratic strategy, as supervised by Rahm Emanuel.
Outrage burns in many an American breast, but there’s scant outlet for it in the political arena. A friend of mine took his family to the annual Puyallup Fair near Tacoma, Washington. There was a CNN booth, in which a mini "Democracy Wall," an 8-by-4-foot sheet of butcher paper, was available for people to scrawl their sentiments in felt-tip. Fast as the CNN staffers changed the paper, scores more hastened forward to scribble their views, almost all of them harsh in language toward both CNN and the President. Families photographed each other in postures vulgarly disrespectful to the life-size cutout of Wolf Blitzer. When an older man–he turned out to be the retired commander of a nuclear submarine–rebuked the crowd and called for loyalty to Bush, the mood turned ugly, and for reasons of his personal safety he was advised to leave. "And yet," said my friend, the anthropologist David Price, "try getting these people to an antiwar rally."
It’s as dismal a political landscape as I can remember in thirty years. Yet some discover a silver lining. They find it in the 9/11 conspiracy cult, which I discussed here a couple of weeks ago. A politically sophisticated leftist in Washington, DC, wrote to thank me for my attack, but added, "To me the most interesting thing (in the US) is how many people are willing to believe that Bush either masterminded it [the 9/11 attacks] or knew in advance and let it happen. If that number or anything close to that is true, that’s a huge base of people that are more than deeply cynical about their elected officials. That would be the real news story that the media is missing, and it’s a big one."