This entry was originally published in Dissident Voice.
All you have to do is listen.
Usually, the two factions of the U.S. Business Party try to separate themselves through their rhetoric. When it comes to the important issues (you know, the ones that determine who, here and abroad—but mainly abroad—live and die), they both make the exact same decisions; but, as patriotic Americans, as diehard (fill in the blank with your Business Party faction of choice), it’s our duty to judge our leaders not by what they do, but by what they say!
Thing is, sometimes (often) there isn’t a difference in what these two sides say. None at all. So what are we supposed to do? When our Manichean masters are in perfect accord, how do we know which side is right?!
Anytime this happens, it should be an immediate red flag (and, no, not the good kind). Instead, in politics, it becomes a green light. “Debate” doubles over into a self-aggrandizing circle-jerk. Bilateral support becomes unilateral support becomes tradition, policy. The Status Quo fattens itself on the refuse of intellectual uniformity.
One of two approaches is taken:
1. The issue in question is tossed to the side. This normalizes the problem; it turns it from a problem into a non-problem—an issue into a non-issue. It lets you know that there is no room for thinking, let alone even debate, outside of these particular political boundaries, lest you become a social pariah. You question the bipartisan consensus? You’re a “radical,” an “extremist”; you’ve been brainwashed.
2. The Business Party hones in fastidiously on one microscopic part of the issue. This, like option A, takes most of the room for actual discussion off of the table; it leaves an exiguous space for impassioned, always logically fallacious, “debate” (read: mudslinging). As Chomsky puts it, “The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum.”
So, what we’re supposed to do is accept the bipartisan consensus as an incontestable, self-evident, God-given (emphasis on God-given) truth. It’s not that both sides are right. It’s that the agreement isn’t an agreement. You don’t “agree” on reality—it’s reality! Debate outside of these boundaries becomes more than just marginal; it doesn’t exist. We don’t just forget that there exists an entire spectrum outside of the Business Party’s limits; we know it’s not there.
Imagining otherwise? That’s lunacy. Radicalism. Worst of all, utopianism.
(Besides, there are more important issues to discuss. Like whether it should be the State or the Market who decide what kind of gas mileage new luxury sports cars should have.)
Wednesday, 24 April, we saw a prime example of all of this. At the Boston funeral for MIT police officer Sean A. Collier, whom the Tsarnaev brothers killed on 18 April, Vice President Biden (poorly, like ususal) delivered a speech that smelled oddly, oddly familiar…
Familiar because President Bush gave the exact same speech on 20 September 2001. “They hate us for our freedom.” Remember? EXACT same speech.
(As for the smell, I’ll give you a clue: it’s bovine in nature…)
There are few problems you can solve, things you can accomplish, in life simply by listening. Recognizing that there is no significant difference between the Democratic and Republican Parties is one of them. You don’t have to do research; you don’t have to learn history; you don’t even have to think critically. All you have to do is listen, listen to what’s actually being said.
Let us listen to Biden’s speech then, shall we. And let us listen to Bush’s speech. All we have to do, after all, is listen to what is being said. Listen, and we will see that both march in utter unison to the same bigoted beat, the same jingoist jig.
After listening, after recognizing; after doing a little research (just a little), learning a tad history (just a tad), thinking critically a bit (just a bit); we will soon see that virtually everything that both say is a lie, that their words and ideas are nothing more than a contemporary rehashing of century-old Euro-American colonialism…
“Why? Why? WHY?” wailed Biden, the shameless supplication framing his entire speech. Bush chose the more direct “Why do they hate us?” but their answers were exactly the same.
“They do it to instill fear,” proclaimed the Democrat, “to have us, in the name of our safety and security, jettison what we value most and the world most values about us: Our open society, our system of justice that guarantees freedom, the access of all Americans to opportunity, the free flow of information and people across this country, our transparency. That’s their target.”
*Ding* We have a winner. They hate us because of our “open society,” our “system of justice that guarantees freedom.” The Republican? “They hate our freedoms: our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other.” Terrorists hate freedom. Duuuh. It’s so obvious, Bush employs “enemies of freedom” as synonymous with “terrorists.”
(As for the rest of Biden’s claims about what the “terrorists” hate, that our “justice” system only “guarantees freedom” to middle-class-and-above white people; or that “opportunity” is hardly available for the one-in-every-five (and on the rise) children currently in poverty; or that Obama’s might be one of the least transparent administrations in history; or that Obama’s administration has deported immigrants at record levels (up to twice as many as did Bush); none of that matters.)
Fortunately for us (and I mean, c’mon, who else matters?), the second-in-command assures us we have nothing to worry about. “They can never defeat us. They can never overthrow us. They can never occupy us.” The imperialist rhetoric has soaked into his very being. They can never occupy us. We are the ones that do the occupying.
Bush assured us the same. “Whether we bring our enemies to justice or bring justice to our enemies, justice will be done.” We are the ones that do the overthrowing; we are the ones that “bring justice.” And, as Bush insists, “[w]e will direct every resource at our command—every means of diplomacy, every tool of intelligence, every instrument of law enforcement, every financial influence, and every necessary weapon of war” in order to do so.
Here Bush makes a statement that Biden doesn’t echo. The Head-of-State, in 2001, foreshadowed the military conflict we’ve been knee-deep in for over a decade. “Americans should not expect one battle, but a lengthy campaign unlike any other we have ever seen.”
“A lengthy campaign unlike any other we have ever seen?” That doesn’t sound very appealing to me… But I guess it’s okay, ‘cus, as they both insist, we’re “called to defend freedom,” and freedom is expensive!
“Unlike any other we have ever seen”? That’s a dreadfully over-arching statement. There have been some pretty lengthy campaigns in history. But, then again, as both leaders demonstrate in their speeches, that history nonsense is not something they care much for.
Biden beseeches the aether, in earnest, “Why this terrorist phenomenon at the beginning of the 21 century?” Apparently “this terrorist phenomenon,” this whole “terrorism” thing, is new in human history, going back only a decade. Native American genocide; scorched earth campaigns in the Philippine-American war; the annexation of half of Mexico; the bombing of Nagasaki, Hiroshima, and Dresden; the My Lai Massacre; the use of Agent Orange on Vietnamese civilians; the use of white phosphorous of Iraqi civilians (before 2003); the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia—none of this was “terrorism.” The myopia is astounding. But the innocence in his voice, his incessant interrogative cries, the childlike sincerity, bring us to tears. Why do they hate us, Mommy? Why can’t they just be nice?
In his stab at botching history, the former President ululates “Americans have known wars, but for the past 136 years they have been wars on foreign soil, except for one Sunday in 1941. Americans have known the casualties of war, but not at the center of a great city on a peaceful morning.” The Homestead Massacre, the Ludlow Massacre, the bombing of Blair Mountain, Japanese-American internment camps, on and on—never heard of those! War crimes don’t happen on our soil, God forbid. “Casualties of war,” those are other countries’ problems. We’re just “defending freedom.”
While both individuals demonstrate their sheer dearth of historical knowledge, the speeches themselves are drenched in classic colonialist rhetoric. Biden calls the Tsarnaevs “perverted” multiple times, echoing Bush’s discussion of the “fringe movement that perverts the peaceful teachings of Islam.” That both imperialists choose this term should not be surprising. It goes back hundreds of years to European colonialists, who commonly spoke of “non-Western peoples as given over to unrestrained promiscuity and debilitating sexual excess,” as David Spurr writes in his excellent book The Rhetoric of Empire.
The dabbling in colonialist language stops not there, nonetheless. As Biden repeats his new favorite word, he proclaims “that’s the message that is heard in every corner and cave. Those craven, misguided, perverted apostles of a decent and honorable faith are hiding.”
You can’t make this stuff up. Cave? CAVE? Are you kidding me? He continues confidently in the vein of colonialist “look-how-backward-they-are-
Really, we shouldn’t be surprised. Bush used “cave” in the same sense in several of his speeches. On 13 March 2002 he asked “Who knows if [bin Laden is] hiding in some cave or not.” In his 2002 State of the Union Address he spoke of “every enemy of the United States … on mountaintops and in caves.” (And all of this is even worse when we factor in Laura Bush’s insistence in 2010 that her husband now has a “Man Cave.”)
Bush doesn’t shirk such an interpretation. He gleefully insists “This is civilization’s fight. This is the fight of all who believe in progress and pluralism, tolerance and freedom. … The civilized world is rallying to America’s side.” In Bush’s eyes, in Biden’s eyes, in the colonialist’s eyes, we, the “civilized” ones are at war with the “barbarians.”
And here comes the most egregious, insidious point of all. In their speeches, both leaders concur, without a doubt in their minds, that “terrorism” is about Islamic fundamentalism (funny while both speakers emphasize God’s blessing over the U.S.). It doesn’t matter that Robert Pape, the world’s foremost specialist on suicide-bombings, the person who created “the first complete database of every suicide-terrorist attack around the world from 1980 to early 2004,” insists that “EVERY major suicide-terrorist campaign—over 95 percent of all the incidents—has had” a “clear strategic objective: to compel modern democracies to withdraw military forces from the territory”—“modern democracies” meaning occupying imperialists. (Note this realization even comes printed in the far-right The American Conservative.)
But those silly “facts” don’t matter. It doesn’t matter that terrorist attacks are NOT about Islam. Bush insists. Our president insists. “The terrorists’ directive commands them to kill Christians and Jews, to kill all Americans.”
Biden speaks of “two twisted, perverted, cowardly, knock-off jihadis here in Boston,” while in the constitutionally illegal pre-Miranda “Rights” interrogation (we can’t discount the possibility of torture being involved too) of Dzhokhar Tsarneav, he bluntly said that they attacked because of the U.S. occupations of AFGHANISTAN and IRAQ, NOT because of Islam (something you, of course, don’t see reported AT ALL in the mainstream, corporate media).
Ignore this noise. Plug your ears; keep huffing and puffing away—with bipartisan support: The attack was about Islam. The unsubstantiated presupposition becomes a moral truism. Of course it’s related to Islam. I mean, why else would “they” attack “us”?! (Note too the always powerful “us” and “them” strategy—’cus the Tsarnaevs aren’t part of “us”; I mean, it’s not like they’ve lived here most of their lives or something…)
Turning to address the audience, the enormous and incredibly diverse MIT community, Biden declares, “You challenge orthodoxy as they try to impose it.” How does everyone in the audience stand steadfastly against such obstinate orthodoxy? Why, merely by being American (or even just being in America, of course). But, the Tsarnaevs, they’re not American anymore. They’ve forfeited their Americanness.
These ignorant tools of, propagators of, empire just keep reiterating, have the temerity to persistently ask why “they” attacked us, even after “they” gave you the reason! Imperialism. Occupation. War. Destruction. Genocide.
But these are answers the White House doesn’t want to hear… So, make up your own answer. Sweep the real one under the rug and yell “jihadi” a lot until it sticks…
Ignoring this is ignoring REALITY—reality that virtually everyone else in the world sees bright and clearly, while we continue to shoot ourselves in the foot, again, again, again, again… all while slowly raising the gun higher and higher.
But, fret not! Remember, things are simpler then you think. The world is in black and white. “Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists,” Bush insists, those who “plot evil and destruction” (note the use of the word “evil,” a rhetorical strategy he undoubtedly learned from Saturday-morning cartoons). There are two sides, and two sides alone. Don’t pick the wrong one…
The phrase “two sides of the same coin” is in many ways a useful analogy in the discussion of bipartisan politics, yet it is necessarily limited in certain regards. For one, when there are two sides to a coin, one must flip said coin to see the other side. In the case of bipartisan politics, however, no flipping is required.
Politics in this country, red or blue, is not two-faced; it is one-faced, and that face is an imperialist, bourgeois one. The gradient between mainstream political ideologies long ago butchered, and then promptly devoured, itself. Today, neither flipping, nor turning, nor even reorienting, is required to get to the proverbial “other side,” for that other side is merely proverbial; nothing more, and nothing less.
All that is required is that one legitimately listen—that one forget, if only temporarily, about the propaganda, ubiquitous and unremitting, fixating on the minute distinctions in the different brands of pomade the parties prefer to rub on their glabrous skulls.
Biden (Obama) and Bush, the Democratic and Republican Parties, are two putrid imperialist peas in the same old colonialist pea pod.
And, after simply listening, all we have to do is make sure Americans are eating their damn vegetables.