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Bad Moon Rising
“I see a bad moon a-risin’/I see trouble on the way
I see earthquakes and lightning/I see a bad time today
Well don’t go ‘round tonight/for it’s bound to take your life
there’s a bad moon on the rise”
--Credence Clearwater Revival
So what’s a thinking American to do? Metaphors from Alice in Wonderland don’t even cut it any more. Bizarro World is too comical, and “Beam me up, Scotty..” too hopeful. At least the good men and women of the Enterprise had somewhere to beam to. Alas, in the current pundit-, oil-, and money-swamp that is the US, there seems truly to be no escape.
The “election” season continues relentlessly. Horse racers can flock, as they have been doing at the rate of a quarter million a day, to
electoral-vote.com, a site
that posts the latest state polls on an electoral map. It’s the only such analysis that makes any “sense,” if such vocabulary is still valid in the current environment. The overall popular vote doesn’t mean a damn, as Al Gore and Sam Tilden will attest. The only polls that might foretell an outcome are ones that mirror the hand-me-down, winner-take-all charade that passes for democracy in America’s sorry selection process. And since state-by-state polls are historically of questionable reliability, tea leaves might be a better bet.
And so it goes. The worst administration in US history is poised to avoid the drubbing any real popular democracy would hand it, while the dust swirls and the press pack pounces on tit-for-tat allegations about America’s last great imperial failure. Perhaps the obsession with Vietnam might
bode well, if only there were any substance to it, or even if anyone pretended any lessons learned might be brought to bear on the current imperial failure. Maybe the minutiae of the current slaughter in Iraq will be central to some corporate-funded bloodletting called an election a generation hence. For now, though, the candidates’ war-obsession lies strictly in the past. The 500-pound gorilla called Iraq, now sitting at center stage, barely even registers on the political “issues” top ten.
The American political elites just can’t seem get their mind around a crisis of these proportions. It’s almost as if the unspoken horror unfolding in Iraq is so beyond the pale that gentlemen prefer to fight about smaller things, as a tenant might insist on wearing his Sunday best when the sherrif comes to evict. But come he will, and the US empire will be left naked and homeless in its worst humiliation yet. It is a frightening and sobering reality that Americans are almost completely clueless as to how isolated we are. If it’s not on TV, of course, then it doesn’t exist, regardless of what the rest of the world sees. This dangerous self-delusion is partnered with another: that ridding the top echelons of government of the proto-fascist junta now in power will somehow unswirl the chocolate from the milk.
The whole world has watched the collusion of the “opposition” over the past few years. There is little sympathy left for a party that tries to spin its own spinelessness into a role as the Bush regime’s first victim rather than its most willing collaborator—kind of like Austria after the Anschluss. The left would deeply like to believe that Kerry can continue on his current course, with a wink and a nod, and then somehow govern from a mandate on which he never campaigned. The more likely outcome, of course, is that he will lose. While the Vietnam Syndrome derisively mocks wimpish lefties afraid of losing an imperial war, the Dukakis Syndrome has become the Democrats’ knock on candidates who don’t fight back.
As is virtually always true in mainstream political analysis, the derision misses its mark. Dukakis’ sin was not that he didn’t match Lee Atwater mudsling for mudsling. This mis-analysis is what brings us to the current political bankruptcy, in the eerie shadow world of ribbons that aren’t medals and precociously kerning typewriters. In the macho version, Kerry is fighting back, goading his opponent to “bring it on.” Ask John McCain and the South Carolina Republicans how easy it is to go up against George Bush’s Sleaze Machine. In the historically unedited version, Kerry is falling into the same trap as Dukakis. It’s not about being a war hero or having your picture taken in a tank. After the disaster of the Reagan years, Dukakis and his party failed to oppose the essence of Reaganism, and tried to substitute “good jobs at good wages” for a real program to roll back the ravages of two terms of the Great Communicator.
Now, with the current regime on the ropes in virtually every field of endeavor, Kerry is like a boxer with nothing to grab ahold of. It’s hard to hold Bush accountable for the international crime of an illegal war you supported, especially when you insist on continuing to defend one of the worst ideas in human history. As far as Bush’s domestic agenda, the waters are again deliberately muddied when they needn’t be. Whoever is president sits atop an exploding prison population of over two million, a mind-boggling rate of incarceration and one of the world’s highest. Bush didn’t jail them all. Trade policy has impoverished workers and fattened corporate pockets in a murderous race to the bottom spurred on by both parties. And the bipartisan addiction to war that drains every available penny from any other priority…must I go on?
And there appears to be a bright future in jailing troublemakers. The Republican National Committee’s rehearsal with “Guantanomo on the Hudson,” where the RNC apparently leased a contaminated Pier 57 which was subsequently used by the NYPD as a holding pen, bodes ill for the rest of us. If they can create enough felons, they can steal the vote from all of us, not just incarcerated black men. As American apartheid mutates and assumes new forms, those who refuse to recognize it risk becoming its victims as surely as those bystanders caught up in the orange netting by New York’s Finest.
It is a necessary skill, and one foreign to most Americans, to know when you are being caught up. Quagmire and quicksand compete with the newer orange netting for metaphors about being caught up, but none quite captures the disaster that is Iraq. Sidney Blumenthal recently shot down the other favorite analogy, Vietnam, in a compelling piece arguing that the US faces a situation far graver than Vietnam. Ron Jacobs urges the movement to oppose war, not just Bush. Justin Hugler, Patrick Cockburn, Robert Fiske—real reports are out there, if one cares to look—keep warning of the ongoing nightmare that is the Iraq war and occupation.
Amid all this hopelessness, I gingerly offer an analysis which, while not quite tongue-in-cheek, may be double edged at best. It’s the best I can do before Scotty beams me up. Antiwar writers from Cockburn to Jensen and Jacobs and others describe an antiwar movement in disarray, and they are certainly on point. But it helps to reassess some of the successes we have wrested from The Beast that is Empire. Jacobs points out that it would be foolish to think that any movement could “force Washington’s hand into pulling out of Iraq and Afghanistan before Inauguration Day, 2005.” But stopping the war outright was an equally daunting task. Instead of moping, we should be taking credit for the alienation and isolation that put the US in its current corner.
Without the massive global mobilization, Turkey might have been coerced into hosting a northern front. Sure, it didn’t stop Aznar and Berlusconi. But Aznar is now history, and the general upswell that fueled the movement might also be credited for sweeping out Vajpayee and keeping Chavez in power. Most of all, our greatest accomplishment may have been the unmasking of The Beast. Painted into a corner, there was no fig leaf of international “cooperation” that could be used to justify the latest imperial conquest. The US is not “winning” in Iraq, as Bush claims, but losing badly by almost any measure. Another slow, ignominious defeat might be just the kick the Empire needs to knock some sense into it.
And best of all, the genie cannot be pushed back into the bottle. No neoliberal charade, no “progressive internationalist” bullshit, can convince the world that they have not seen what they have seen. Big Brother may indeed have pushed his luck, and the freedom to say that 2+2=4 may yet emerge. No matter who wins, the death rattle of US Empire may be sounding.
Ultimately, of course, the American people will have to decide—or be forced to decide—against empire. And that does jolt one back to reality if nothing else does. The chaos and ambivalence of the American mind might best be encapsulated by a glance around Times Square, just a stone’s throw (figuratively, Mr. Bloombergy—don’t arrest me!) from where the Asses of Evil held their recent powwow. Many protesters were buoyed by the sight of the “Cost of the Iraq War” ticking away the billions on a huge billboard sponsored by the Center for American Progress.
But of course, huge billboards don’t count for much in Times Square. This one, in particular, was sandwiched in between a much larger shot of Sean “Puffy” Combs, using his faux-Black Power salute to sell his Sean Jean clothing line, and a huge shot of Kimora Lee Simmons hawking the Naked Diva’s own Baby Phat sneakers. Baby Phat may Define Diva, as the billboard says, but damn, naked sells. Hey, P. Diddy I can ignore, but an ass that big distracts even the most hardened antiwarrior. Around the corner, B2K traded the phenomenal dancing of You Got Served for a Southpole billboard touting some combination of the words authentic, urban and genuine I can no longer remember. Below them, a mortgage company had pimped the powdered-wig owners of the ancestors of the dancers above. Washington, Jefferson and crew illustrated American Mortgage’s point: “Our forefathers didn’t come here to rent—ask any Indian.” Okay, so I added the last part, but how do you not? The rest is real, the steamy, confused detritus of US, Times Square Capitalism. Is there any escape? Scotty….Scotty? Where are you?
© 2004 Daniel Patrick Welch. Reprint permission granted with credit and link to
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Writer, singer, linguist and activist Daniel Patrick Welch lives and writes in Salem, Massachusetts, with his wife, Julia
Nambalirwa-Lugudde. Together they run The
Greenhouse School. Some of his articles have been broadcast on radio, and translations are available in up to 20 languages. Links to the website are appreciated at danielpwelch.com.