Bush: Still Popular a Year Later?

Don't Believe It

by Alexander Cockburn

September 11, 2002

 

 

They still refer to George Bush's popularity. I don't think so. The dwindling number of folk who tell the pollsters they think he's doing a good job are probably worried they'll get investigated by Ashcroft if they don't. Imagine you're back in the Soviet Union in 1941, right after Hitler's attack. "Good morning, Tovaritsch. It's the People's Mass Observation Bureau. In your frank estimation, comrade, is the General Secretary doing (a) a wonderful job, (b) a good job (c) only so-so?" Just my point. This isn't the Soviet Union, but people are wary.

 

For your average citizen it's been a disillusioning year, starting with the commander in chief fleeing down a missile silo in Nebraska. The guardians of the 401Ks turned out to be scoundrels; the guardians of our spiritual morals, the bishops and the parish priests, were exposed as child molesters; the guardians of our safety, the security agencies, turned out to be either useless.

 

Disasters usually bring out the worst in authority and the best in ordinary people. Andrew Greeley put it really well in his column this week in the Chicago Sun Times.

 

"On Sept. 11 last year, up to 1 million people were evacuated from Lower Manhattan by water . . . It was an American Dunkirk, like the epic rescue of the British army at Dunkirk in 1940 by an armada of similar craft.

 

"Yet you most likely never saw this astonishing event, reported last month by Professor Kathleen Tierney at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association, on television and never read about it in the print media. It would have made for spectacular TV imagery; yet, as an example of calm and sensible and spontaneous action, it did not fit the media image of panic . . .

 

"Tierney, director of the Disaster Research Center at the University of Delaware, argued that the reaction of people at the World Trade Center was what one might have expected from the research literature of the last 50 years on behavior in disaster situations. 'Social bonds remained intact and the sense of responsibility to others--family members, friends, fellow workers, neighbors and even total strangers remains strong . . .. People sought information from one another, made inquiries and spoke with loved ones via cell phones, engaged in collective decision-making and helped one another to safety. When the towers were evacuated, the evacuation was carried out in a calm and orderly manner.' Note that most of the positive social behavior that saved so many lives was not organized by any formal agency, much less by any command-and-control mechanism. People saved themselves. Other people converged from all over the city to help.

 

"As Tierney says, 'The response to the Sept. 11 tragedy was so effective precisely because it was not centrally directed and controlled. Instead it was flexible, adaptive and focused on handling problems as they emerged.'...Says Tierney: 'When Sept. 11 demonstrated the enormous resilience in our civil society, why is disaster response now being characterized in militaristic terms?'

 

"Perhaps because those who are determined to control everything don't understand that even in military situations, it's the second lieutenants and the sergeants who win battles, as, for example, in the Omaha Beach chaos at Normandy. The media got the story all wrong because the panic paradigm is still pervasive and because no one in the media had read the disaster-research literature. They thus reinforced the propensity of those running the country not to trust the good sense and social concern of ordinary folk. Rather, they want to control everything with such ditsy ideas as the proposed Homeland Security Department."

 

The Most Dangerous Man in Washington

 

AT 2.40 PM, September 11, 2001, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was commanding his aides to get "best info fast. Judge whether good enough hit S.H."-- meaning Saddam Hussein --"at same time. Not only UBL" -- the initials used to identify Osama bin Laden. "Go massive." Notes taken by these aides quote him as saying. "Sweep it all up. Things related and not." We can thank David Martin of CBS for getting hold of these notes and disclosing them last Wednesday.

 

This was our Donald, thinking fast as he paced about the National Military Command Center, seeking to turn the attack into a rationale for all sort of unrelated revenges and settlings of accounts. For Rumsfeld, as for his boss, as for so many, it was a turning point in his career as a cabinet member in the Bush II presidency. The year had not been a happy one for this veteran of the Nixon and Ford eras, the man who gave Dick Cheney his start in the upper tiers. Rumsfeld speedily became the target of Pentagon leaks about his abject failure to take control of the vast Pentagon pork barrel, last best trough in the US economy.

 

In the wake of the attacks Rumsfeld swiftly learned to revel in his role as America's top exponent of bully-boy bluster. And he's kept it up, running rings around Colin Powell, whose pals are now leaking stories that Powell may throw in the towel at the end of Bush's present term.

 

Small wonder. Rumsfeld has humiliated Powell, reaching a peak in effrontery when, a few weeks ago, he contradicted decades-worth of formal US foreign policy and declared that Israel had every right and every reason to occupy the West Bank and have settlements there.

 

The specter of military government here in the US lurks eternally in the imagination of fearful constitutionalists, right or left. There's a lot more reason for these fears today, particularly after the Patriot Act shot through Congress.

 

Today the FBI can spy on political and religious meetings even when there's no suspicion that a crime has been committed. Dissidents can get labelled "domestic terrorists" and be the target of every form of snooping.

 

The PATRIOT Act allows "black bag" searches for every sort of record that might shed light on suspects, including the books they get out of a library. Computers and personal papers can be confiscated and not returned even if an indictment is never lodged against the suspect. Such secret searches can take place even in cases unrelated to terrorism.

 

The Justice Department argued in two federal cases that the president has the power to indefinitely detain without any charges any person, including any U.S. citizen, designated as an "enemy combatant." Furthermore the administration argues that the president's conduct of the war on terrorism can't be challenged and that civilian courts have no authority over the detentions.

 

The Justice Department argues that people designated "enemy combatants," can be put behind bars, held incommunicado and denied counsel. If the detainee does get a lawyer, their conversations can be bugged.

 

In such manner we are saying goodbye to the First, Fourth and Sixth Amendments.

 

Back to Rumsfeld. The Defense Secretary is currently trying to get the Pentagon greater authority to carry out covert ops. He also wants Congress to agree to have a new undersecretary of defense, responsible for all intelligence matters.

 

Now blend these proposals in with the erosions of the Posse Comitatus Act, which forbids the US military to have any role in domestic law enforcement. Shake the blender vigorously and you have the Rumsfeld cocktail, with an Ashcroft cherry. A defense under-secretary may soon be able to target YOU, (or the antiwar couple in the apartment next door), bug your phone and computer, burglarize the place, grab you, stick you in prison and let you rot.

 

All legally. That's what we call military government, the way we teach the Latin American officers mustered for training at Fort Benning to do things in their countries, plus hanging electrodes on the testicles and nipples of those slow to confide who their teammates were in the anti-war group mentioned above. Remember, there's a strong lobby here for torture too.

 

Try holding a placard up, when George Bush is driving by. Kevin O'Neill had a good column last Thursday in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette describing what happened when demonstrators against President Bush were being herded inside a fence at Neville Island for his Labor Day visit.

 

"Police called this enclosure the designated free-speech area, though anyone who had signs praising the president was evidently OK to line the island's main street for the motorcade.

 

"The mini-Guantanamo on the Ohio was set up strictly for security reasons, of course. Those who pose a genuine threat to the president are expected to carry signs identifying themselves as such, as a courtesy. Hence the erection of the Not-OK Corral.

 

"Bill Neel of Butler just doesn't get it, though. He's 65 and can remember a time when our entire country was a free-speech zone. So when he refused to get inside the fence with his sign, he was arrested, cuffed and detained in the best place for inflammatory rhetoric, the fire hall.

 

"Neel's confiscated sign said, "The Bushes must truly love the poor -- they've made so many of us." For holding this contrary opinion in the censored speech zone, Neel was given a summons for disorderly conduct."

 

Battle Terrorism, Go To Prison. It's The Law

 

On September 10, 2002, 23 people who committed the crime of demonstrating against the terror methods imparted in Fort Benning reported to federal prison convicted of trespass, with sentences ranging from six months probation to six months in federal prison and $5,000 in fines. Judge G. Mallon Faircloth is notorious for giving the maximum sentence for a misdemeanor to nonviolent opponents of the School of the Americas.

 

Seventy-one people, School of the Americas Watch tells us, have served a total of over forty years in prison for engaging in nonviolent resistance in the long campaign to close the school. Last year Dorothy Hennessey, an 88 year-old Franciscan nun, was sentenced to six months in federal prison. "It's ironic," says Sister Hennessey, "that at a time when the country is reflecting on how terrorism has impacted our lives, dedicated people who took direct action to stop terrorism throughout the Americas are on their way into prison."

 

Back to Rumsfeld once more. He's dangerous because he's brimful of arrogance, surrounded by fanatics like DoD undersecretary Paul Wolfowitz and has successfully occupied the vacant territory known as George Bush's brain. For an equivalently troubling figure you have to go all the way back to Defense Secretary James Forrestal, whose own brain finally exploded under the weight of his own paranoia. Early in 1949 He resigned his post as DoD secretary and not long thereafter threw himself to his death out of a window in the Bethesda Naval Hospital. There's no chance of Rumsfeld taking such a step. He's way too pleased with himself.

 

Unimaginable

 

"About one-fourth of the individuals who have contributed to McKinney's campaigns over the past five years have names that appear to be Arab-American or Muslim, according to an informal study of Federal Election Commission records by the Journal- Constitution." Can you imagine a similar story appearing about the Jewish financial contributors to the campaign of Denise Majette, who recently defeated Cynthia McKinney in the Democratic primary in Georgia's Fourth District. The Journal-Constitution loathed McKinney.

 

Many liberal Democrats resolutely averted their gaze from McKinney's campaign and disdained her appeals for help, even though Majette's preference for president in 2000 was, if we believe her endorsement, the black, anti-choice Republican, Alan Keyes.

 

Dullness Hailed

 

"Barr, McKinney and Traficant were colorful at the expense of the institution of which they were a part," said Thomas E. Mann, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. "They knew the shock value of their utterances and its capacity to attract a lot of press attention." These dreary sentiments came in a New York Times piece by Carl Hulse piece in about the departure of colorful reps and senators from Congress.

 

Mann is one of those rent-a-quote guys the press loves. Call him up and he'll spit out a couple of sentences like a popcorn machine. In fact those three reps were all in their separate ways testimonies to the fine judgment of their constituents in putting them in office. The Republican Barr, also defeated in a Georgia primary, was as valiant a defender of constitutional freedoms as McKinney, and particularly distinguished himself in the frail congressional resistance to the Patriot Act. Traficant was a glorious symbol of citizen contempt for prosecutorial rampages.

 

Hulse evidently searched out quotes to buttress his thesis-of-the-day, that boisterous and turbulent behavior, not to mention, principled views, are out of popular favor. "Analysts believe," he wrote, "there could be a larger message in the muting of some Congressional voices, particularly in the case of the two Georgians, Mr. Barr and Ms. McKinney. In tense times, the analysts said, the public wants the combative rhetoric softened.

 

"They liked to take strong, uncompromising stands on very controversial issues, and that is what makes them newsworthy," said Merle Black, a political science professor at Emory University in Atlanta. "But they just state opinions and positions rather than engaging in any kind of dialogue, and in the wake of 9/11, when we are at war, they are not viewed as solving problems."

 

Moral: submerge yourself in the gray mass of conformity, and you'll do just fine. It's all balls of course. The public relishes stand-up people. Look at the career of Ron Paul, the great libertarian from Texas, one of just three (another Republican plus Dennis Kucinich, a Democrat,) who recently voted against life sentences for hackers. Traficant was never abandoned by his constituents. H went down because the jury, possibly confused, voted him guilty and Congress threw him out. I'm not sure about Barr but McKinney was the victim of a well hatched plots. She actually got more votes than in 2000, when she was reelected. But outside money for Majette, much of its from Jewish donors, plus a big Republican crossover in the open primary, did her in.

 

The Best Political Mind in Washington?

 

Cal Thomas recently called Paul Weyrich "one of the best political minds in Washington" and asked him what should the GOP focus on upcoming elections. The finely honed political mind of Weyrich duly disgorged the following as looming issues: immigration, homosexuals in the boy

scouts, & the Pledge.

 

The Salt Lake City Tribune, which carries Thomas's dreary syndicated column, duly carried a letter-to-the-editor, monitored by CounterPuncher Christine TenBarge and running as follows: "The only consistency I can find in these issues is 1. They are asinine; 2. They are divisive; 3. They are easy to present to a fourth grader". The writer went on to list real issues, like proposed war with Iraq, corporate corruption, campaign finance reform, etc. hoping that issues that make a difference will actually be debated by candidates. He ended with "Oh no...I just had a thought. What if Cal Thomas is right and Paul Weyrich is one of the best political minds in Washington?"

 

Alexander Cockburn is the author The Golden Age is In Us (Verso, 1995) and 5 Days That Shook the World: Seattle and Beyond (Verso, 2000) with Jeffrey St. Clair. Cockburn and St. Clair are the editors of Counterpunch, the nationís best political newsletter, where this article first appeared.

 

 

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