Two Worlds Colliding... and the State of the Union Speech
Revolution #33, February 5, 2006, posted at revcom.us
As George Bush prepared to enter the Capitol to deliver his State of the Union address, his path was cleared by a crew of ghouls. Torturers, liars, worshippers of corporate greed, and—all of them—mass murderers. There was Michael Chertoff—commander of "homeland security," the man responsible for sending the U.S. military into New Orleans with "shoot to kill" orders after abandoning the poor and Black people of the region to flooding. There was new Supremacist Court Justice Samuel Alito, itching to radically shift the balance of the Court, with rights people consider basic—including the right to abortion—hanging by a thread.
There was Condi Rice, fresh from a tour of Europe defending secret CIA torture chambers, and lining up support for U.S. aggression against Iran. There was Alberto Gonzales, the Torturer-General, whose outstanding contribution to legal scholarship is his declaration that prohibitions against torture in the Geneva Convention are "quaint." There was Dick Cheney, last seen twisting arms in the Senate to oppose John McCain's already toothless "anti-torture" amendment because it would "tie the President's hands." And finally, the commander-in-chief himself, who would use the first half of his speech in a fascist rant justifying global empire and domination with repeated incantations of "9/11."
On the other side of the equation, there are billions of people who are victims of everything the Bush regime concentrates. And for a brief moment, that world intruded into the Capitol itself. Just before Bush demanded America line up to support the troops, and before he made a big show on camera of parading a family who's son died in Iraq, Capitol police demonstrated the essence of the freedom and democracy that Bush claims his war is about defending at home. Police handcuffed anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan, whose son was killed in Iraq, dragged her from her seat in the Capitol—and arrested her for wearing a t-shirt that listed the number of U.S. troops killed in Iraq. News reports say that before entering the Capitol (as an invited guest of a congresswoman), Sheehan was part of a group who faced the executive mansion and repeatedly shouted, "You're evicted! Get out of our house!"
In the buildup to the State of the Union address, important figures in literature, the arts, and public life stepped forward to endorse and speak up for the call to politically drown out the speech, and demand that Bush Step Down! Georgetown University students who turned their backs on Gonzales when he spoke at their school called for students to protest during the speech. Gore Vidal concluded a wonderfully nasty critique of Bush (President Jonah) with a call to his readers to join demonstrations during the speech, and the demonstration in DC on February 4. Howard Zinn and actor Ed Begley Jr. made statements encouraging people to drown out Bush's lies, and public figures like Congressman John Conyers, Brig. General Janis Karpinski (retired), Gloria Steinem, actor Mark Ruffalo, Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney, Congressman Bobby Rush, and actor Sean Penn added their signatures to the World Can't Wait Call. (Links to these statements and others are at worldcantwait.org).
And in dozens of cities around the country, thousands of people responded to the call from World Can't Wait to "bring the noise," politically drown out the State of the Union speech, and mobilize to protest Saturday, February 4 at the White House (see photo spread on protests in the centerfold of this issue).
An Unrepentant Rant for Empire
Bush spoke at a time when a large section of society is furious with him—furious about his lies, his war, his spying, his torturing, his responsibility for vast suffering and death after Katrina. Beyond that, a significant section of even those who supported him, or still support him, are very uneasy about the situation in Iraq.
In post-speech spin, a CNN analyst said the speech was aimed at changing the minds of people who think it was a "mistake" to send troops into Iraq—to speak to American people who didn't believe war would be this difficult. That it would cost the U.S. $250 billion, or that 2,242 U.S. troops would die (and still counting). Or that nearly three years after invading Iraq, the U.S. would have 138,000 troops under fire, facing fierce resistance.
An important element of Bush's speech was to rally the wavering, and mobilize the converted behind the war. He declared:
"On September 11, 2001, we found that problems originating in a failed and oppressive state seven thousand miles away could bring murder and destruction to our country. Dictatorships shelter terrorists, feed resentment and radicalism, and seek weapons of mass destruction. Democracies replace resentment with hope, respect the rights of their citizens and their neighbors, and join the fight against terror. Every step toward freedom in the world makes our country safer, and so we will act boldly in freedom's cause."
Every word of this was a lie. Let's look at the "hope" that Bush's democracies have brought to the region. In Afghanistan, in most of the countryside life for women is unchanged from Taliban days, and heroin production is back as the country's principal functioning economic activity. And the foundational elements of U.S.-imposed democracy in Iraq are the torture chambers of Abu Ghraib, and massive U.S. bombing from the air—an almost completely covered-up war crime.
The "freedom" Bush is bringing to the Middle East is the freedom for U.S. imperialism to dominate the region, to lock out rival powers, to control the world's oil spigot, and to more effectively and ruthlessly exploit the people and resources of that region. How else can you explain Bush upholding Saudi Arabia, one of the most ruthlessly repressive regimes on earth, with no rights at all for women, and Egypt, with its torture chambers full of dissidents, as models of positive reform? Meanwhile Iran is currently in the bulls-eye of Bush's endless war on the world. Not because of the state of its democracy, but because the Islamic fundamentalist regime there is an impediment to U.S. domination of the region.
Lying and Spying
In his speech, Bush was never more belligerent than when he upheld his illegal domestic spying program. He kept the program secret because he knew it was illegal. There are laws that allow for very invasive surveillance on people in the U.S. Special secret (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act—FISA) courts rubber-stamp almost every request by the government to break into people's homes secretly. The Patriot Act authorizes the government to snoop into what you read, what websites you visit, and even your medical records. It's illegal, for example, for a librarian to even let you know that the government is examining your reading list.
None of this was enough for Bush. He secretly told the National Security Agency—a highly secret agency with massive eavesdropping technology—to spy on people without any supervision from any court, and without issuing any kind of warrant.
This is both a massive operation to snoop into the thinking, reading, and conversations of people in this country, and a tearing up of the rule of law.
Back in the USA—Suffering and Repression
In many ways, Bush's case is: Your American way of life cannot survive without me doing all this shit around the world, and spying on and locking you up without a trial if you complain. So shut up and put up with it.
OK, what about that great American way of life? Let's deconstruct Bush's speech on what he has in mind for the homeland—aside from spying on everyone. Bush spent the last half of his speech running a laundry list of vicious attacks on a very wide spectrum of people in this country. All dressed up as "compassionate" concern.
Speaking of New Orleans, Bush called for justice and equality(!) But without taking responsibility for knowing that the levees would give way and flood much of the city. Without taking responsibility for sending in troops to "shoot to kill" folks trying to survive and get food and water for others. Without taking responsibility for stranding tens of thousands—for letting white racist police shoot over the heads of people trying to flee the city. Without taking responsibility for his right-wing, white racist "soulmate" William Bennet saying you could stop crime by aborting all Black babies. Or the congressman who said we couldn't wipe out public housing in New Orleans, but god did it for us! And without taking responsibility for shipping the Black people of New Orleans to motels and shelters far from their homes, and abandoning them there while he plans to rebuild the city with far fewer Black people.
There was another racist and genocidal element to Bush's speech disguised as compassion. There is a sharp divide among African American churches in the U.S., with some church leaders signing onto Bush's agenda using "traditional values" (prejudice against gays and lesbians) as a justification, while others are fighting for tolerance and inclusion (see "Black Church Summit Takes Stand Against Anti-Gay Discrimination," and "Religious Voice Against Christian Fascism, Reflections on Pacific School of Religion's Response to the Religious Right," by Dr. Hubert Locke in Revolution #32). When Bush says he plans to be "working closely with African-American churches and faith-based groups, to deliver rapid HIV tests to millions,'' this most certainly means embedding a hateful fundamentalist religious and political program into whatever little assistance for AIDS patients actually gets funded. And, through that, building up a political and financial infrastructure of churches in the Black community who are enmeshed in the whole fascist program.
Of immigrants, Bush said, "this economy could not function without them." And then he called for ''an immigration system that upholds our laws, reflects our values, and serves the interests of our economy. Our nation needs orderly and secure borders. To meet this goal, we must have stronger immigration enforcement and border protection. And we must have a rational, humane guest worker program that rejects amnesty...allows temporary jobs for people who seek them legally...and reduces smuggling and crime at the border."
There is nothing "humane" about laws that criminalize survival, or force people into the shadows while being worked for less than minimum wage. What is "humane" about bringing people here, working them to death, preventing their families from joining them, and shipping them home when they are used up? Or marginalizing their language and culture? And stronger "border protection" means militarizing the border with troops and walls, leading to more deaths by dehydration in remote desert crossing points among those driven to El Norte by the workings of global imperialism.
Hardly anyone in this country was spared from Bush's "compassionate" cruel domestic agenda:
- With millions of elderly and poor Americans seeing their limited access to medical care and expensive medicines being stripped away, Bush called for tax changes to further privatize health care—changes that will accelerate the situation where health care is increasingly available only to those who can pay vast sums for their own insurance.
- Bush's lecture about America's addiction to oil can only be taken in the spirit of a drug dealer decrying his clients' addiction to drugs. When the L.A. Times did a little fact-checking on Bush's promises, Severin Borenstein, an energy economist at the University of California, Berkeley, said, "the funding increase for clean energy research is shockingly small." And one element of Bush's idea of "alternative energy" strategy is more off-shore oil exploration.
- Bush even somehow had the gall to try to divert people's anger over what he referred to as "unethical conduct by public officials" (or, as most people would say, taking bribes) into an attack on "activist courts that try to redefine marriage"! In other words, he somehow spun widespread exposure of blatant corruption in his regime into a gratuitous gay-bashing attack on the right of lesbians and gays to marry. Another bit of fascist demagoguery that didn't seem to provoke much notice or outrage in the mainstream media.
The Spin and the Aftershocks
Bush's speech was both draconian and Hitler-like. The Hitler part was even more striking if you watched it on TV—as the Republicans (and some Democrats) repeatedly rose to their feet, zombie-like, in waves, to roar approval of the most blatant lies, demagogic calls to arms, and vicious threats.
It's a sobering testimony to what time it is that a fascist rant like this gets spun by the mainstream, including liberal mainstream media, as a reasonable, toned down speech.
The New York Times wrote: "President Bush offered the nation a modest menu of energy, health and education proposals and warned against the false comfort of isolationism." And called his tone, "more tempered and less partisan than a year ago."
And the Democratic "response" was so lame, so accepting of Bush's terms, and so boring that no more needs to be said about that.
All this highlights the really historic importance of those heroes who are stepping forward, from all walks of life, to say NO to Bush, and to demand he step down and take his program with him. Many people have taken that stand from many perspectives. Our Party's views on what's wrong with the system and what needs to replace it are spoken to briefly in the RCP Statement read at protests on Jan 31, and can be found elsewhere in this issue and at revcom.us.
At the same time, it is crucial right now that people who grasp the dimensions of what is up—who see how this speech represents a declaration of determination by Bush to pursue his fascist agenda—to intensify their own efforts to bring forward a movement that is actually committed to and able to politically mobilize millions in a counter-dynamic to drive out this regime. That movement can be a vehicle that tens and then hundreds of thousands and more can jump onto, and establish a societal pole, around which millions more can rally.
The people of the world are counting on us.
Straight Talk on the "War on Terror"
Here's a critical truth that can't be finessed: There is no "War on Terror." There is a war for empire. The plans for U.S. war on Iraq were drawn up long before 9/11, and were pulled off the shelf and put into effect using 9/11 as the excuse. That's why all the reasons Bush gave for going to war with Iraq—the weapons of mass destruction, the nuclear weapons program, the ties to al-Qaeda" were lies. Because the real reason for the war is to pre-empt the emergence of any rivals to U.S. domination of that region (and the world).
That is what this war in Iraq, and the threats against Iran, are about. And this is true even though there are forces who pose real obstacles to that agenda, who apparently were associated with 9/11 and who have an agenda of their own that is no good.
Nor is there—fundamentally—a war to "bring democracy to the Middle East." Strategists around Bush do believe that democratic forms like elections can facilitate more stable, more reliable U.S.-client regimes in the region. But (a) that restructuring of Middle East regimes is to facilitate U.S. domination and exploitation,and (b) imperialism can live quite well with regimes with no democratic pretenses at all.
Look at a country that for quite some time has been listed as a key ally in the "war on terror," Uzbekistan. Craig Murray, the former British ambassador to that country, told the Bush Crimes Commission that 60 percent of the people in that country are slaves, paid seven cents a day for twelve-hour days in the cotton fields. That "there is no freedom of assembly. There's no freedom of religion. There's no freedom of speech. There's absolutely no free media. There's no opposition allowed. One in eight people are employed by the police or secret police, formally employed by the secret police to keep an eye on their neighbors." A UN investigation concluded that torture—including people being raped with broken bottles—was widespread and systemic, and that those subjected to this torture are forced to sign confessions that they are allied with al- Qaeda and Osama bin Laden. (See "Tribunal Indicts Bush"—Revolution #32 at revcom.us) Did you hear about this in the State of the Union Address? No. Uzbekistan was considered a "model regime" in the region—at least until the U.S. recently was denied access to a key military air base there.
And the "war on terror" is not about "making America safer." The torture chambers of Uzbekistan, of Iraq, of Afghanistan, of Egypt, of Saudi Arabia ... are not about "finding Osama bin Laden." They are about bringing down mass terror on the angry people of those countries. And the more this brutality and torture is perceived as an expression of the will of the American people —the more it feeds and creates a bizarre synergy with reactionary religious fundamentalist trends in that region.
Want to understand why you heard such a shameless, pathetic "response" to the State of the Union speech by Virginia Democratic Governor Tim Kaine? His starting point is that "Our commitment to winning the war on terrorism compels us to ask this question: Are the president's policies the best way to win this war?"
You can't buy into the logic of the "war on terror," and really, uncompromisingly, oppose the crimes of Bush regime.
If you fall into the orientation of trying to make the Democrats be what they are not, and never will be, you will end up becoming more like what the Democrats actually are.
Bob Avakian, Chairman, Revolutionary Communist Party, USA