By William Rivers Pitt
t r u t h o u t | Perspective
Friday 10 October 2003
"The right-wing politics that had forced the scandal were alien and unknown to much of the White House senior staff. To them, what the right was doing seemed so far-fetched, so impossibly convoluted, that they couldn't quite credit it. The self-enclosed hothouse nature of the right-wing world made it difficult to explain what was going on to those who lacked contact with it. Many had never even heard of people like Scaife."
- Sidney Blumenthal, 'The Clinton Wars'
I am writing this essay from an internet cafe nestled in a blue-collar neighborhood in Berlin, Germany. I have been, in the last week, to Amsterdam, Antwerp and The Hague. I will go from here to London, Oxford and Paris. I have been giving talks to ex-pat American groups and large crowds of confused Europeans. The Europeans are not confused because they are ill-informed; they are, in fact, far more aware of what is happening in America than most Americans are back home. These Europeans know all about the Project for The New American Century, they know all about the Office of Special Plans, they know all about the lies that have been spoon-fed to America and the world. They know all of this, simply, because the news media in Europe is not owned and operated as an advertising wing for General Electric, AOL/TimeWarner, Viacom, Disney or Ruppert Murdoch.
What these Europeans don't understand, and what they keep asking me, is why. "America had everything going for it," said noted Dutch author Karel von Wolfen to me the other day. "America had the respect of just about the whole world. No one here can possibly fathom why they would so quickly and so brazenly throw that all away."
Explaining this whole phenomenon is a bit like trying to unravel a Robert Ludlum plot. It is part fantasy, part madness, part greed, bound together with the barbed wire of an unyielding ideology. I try, again and again, to make it all clear.
I tell them that all this started in 1932 with the election of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. This election ushered in the phenomenon known as the New Deal - the rise of Social Security, the eventual rise of Medicare, the development of dozens of other social programs, and the enshrinement of the basic idea that the Federal government in America can be a force for good within the populace. Even in 1932, such an idea was anathema to unrestricted free-market profiteers and powerful business interests, for the rise of a powerful Federal government also heralded the rise of regulation.
Within the ebb and drift of American politics, those who stood agains tthe concepts espoused by FDR and his adherents drifted inexorably into what is now the modern Republican Party. This drift was aided by the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which motivated the last vestiges of the old, racist, Confederate Democratic Party to bolt to the right. Lyndon Johnson's Great Society plan further widened the rift, and the progressive activism in the 1960's and 1970's solidified the battle lines. Once the shift was completed, the stage was set for the kind of political to-the-knife trench warfare that has been happening to this day.
Many issues were bandied about in the no-man's land between the lines, but at the end of the day, the issue to be tested was that basic premise brought by FDR: What will the place of the Federal government be in the lives of the American people? Can that government be a help?
Those who argued against this idea had ample rationales for their resistance, some of them uncomfortable to hear in the light of day. The activism of the Federal government brought about racial desegregation and the rise of minority rights, something a segment of the right finds unacceptable to this day. The activism of the federal government made it difficult for unrestricted free-market loyalists to secure the privatization of available mass markets like health care, insurance and Social Security. The activism of the Federal government kept mega-businesses from the ability to grow to whatever size they pleased, even though such growth was death to the basic capitalist concept of competition. The activism of the Federal government forced these businesses to spend a portion of their profits on pollution controls. The list of complaints went on and on. In a corner of their hearts, many who stood against FDR's plans did so because the rise of an activist Federal government smelled a little too much like Soviet-style communism for comfort.
And so the trenches were dug, the bayonet s were fixed, and the war dragged on and on. The right howled that such an activist government would require the American people to be taxed to death. The right howled that public schooling did not work, and they de-funded public education on the state and local levels to prove their point. The right invented bugaboos like the "welfare queen," with her Cadillac and ten children, who avoided working and lived of the sweat from the honest man's brow. Often, the American people listened to their arguments. The rise of Ronald Reagan is evidence that their message had strength, if not merit.
The problem, as ever, became clear before too long. Unrestricted free-marketeering, deficit spending, tax cuts for the richest people in the country which would purportedly cause the trickling down of monies to the rest, unrestricted polluting, unrestricted defense spending, and the deregulation of absolutely everything, is poison to any economy that is subjected to it. George Herbert Walker Bush was left holding this particular bag in 1992, and he was not enough of a salesman to convince the American people that it was still working.
This, I tell my European counterparts, is when all hell really began to break loose.
Many people believe the statement that "Bill Clinton was the best Republican President we've ever had." There are a great many facts to back this assertion, but it begs the question: If Clinton was the best Republican President we've ever had, why did the Republicans work every night and every day for eight years, why do they continue to work to this day, to destroy him and the economic legacy he left behind?
The answer is complex. Clinton is labeled 'Republican' by the Left because of the passage of NAFTA, of GATT, of the Welfare Reform Act, of the Telecommunications Act, and for a variety of other reasons. In many ways, however, this does not tell the entire story. The passage of these rightist packages came, in no small part, because Clinton had no hard-core activated base pushing him in the proper direction. After twelve years of warfare against Reagan and Bush, a massive swath of the progressive community saw Clinton's victory in 1992 and felt like they had at last won the fight. They threw their activism into neutral, leaving Clinton with no army to back him up. One can hardly blame them for doing so after such a protracted struggle.
But this left Clinton exposed. The onslaughts of the right pushed him inexorably in their direction, because there was no powerful progressive network there to push back. Only after the impeachment mayhem broke loose did the tattered threads of progressive activism come back together again, but by then the damage had been done. Certainly, there were many progressives in America who fought the good fight every step of the way, but there were not enough of them. Progressives in 2003 who label Clinton as 'Republican' should take a long look in the mirror, and remember what they were not doing from 1993 to 1998, before casting final judgment. I am, sadly, one who has trouble facing that mirror.
An analysis of the facts, and the record, reveals Clinton to have been one of the most effective progressive Presidents in American history. By 1998 he had managed to create an economic system that filled the Federal treasury with unprecedented amounts of available money, and he had also managed to pass a variety of progressive social programs that benefited vast numbers of middle-class Americans. When Clinton stood up in 1998, with a massive budget surplus waiting in the wings, and cried, "Save Social Security first!" he was roaring a battle cry across the trenches that had been there since 1932. Such a surplus would fund social programs all across the country. Such a surplus would, at long last, settle the argument: An activist Federal government can be a force for good within the American populace, and once more, can be paid for with extra left over. The New Deal/Great Society wars seemed to be coming to an end.
This was why he had to be destroyed.
The rest is coda. The impeachment, funded by right-wing activists and business interests, stormed along by a mainstream media whose Reagan-era deregulated status led to a complete breakdown in journalistic ethics, and all buttressed by years of unsubstantiated scandals pushed along by congressional zealots with subpoena power, left the American population exhausted enough to vote against their own best interests in 2000. Too many didn't vote at all. The "Clinton! Clinton! Clinton!" drumbeat that lasted over 2,000 days drove the voters into thinking a change was required. Though Gore won the election, the margin of victory was small enough to be exposed to theft by a partisan Supreme Court which, by rights, should not have come within a country mile of touching that case. A corrupted news media, again, pushed the whole farce along.
Now, we have a nation run by profiteers who preach the gospel of privatization in all things. When Bush, on October 4, 2001, argued that more massive tax cuts for rich people were needed to "counteract the shockwave of the evildoer," while a pall of poison smoke still hung over New York City, the truth was there for all to see. Now, pollution controls have ceased to exist, and the private realm of defense contractors are seeing more money than they ever dreamed they could. The simple truth that the Federal government can be a force for good within the American populace, a truth realized in 1998, has been flushed down the toilet by a pack of right-wing activists who are links in a chain of warfare that stretches back to 1932.
Mission accomplished indeed.
The fallout from this has been extreme. Trickle-down economics have returned to America, with the inevitable economic downturn and unemployment riding sidecar. The Federal Treasury, once full to bursting, has been looted completely. This, in the end, was the mission. That money could not be allowed to stay in the Treasury, because the American people would have expected it to be used to fund the programs they depend on. The Bush administration moved every penny of that money into the wealthiest portions of the private sector, using September 11 and terrorism and fear and war as an excuse to storm the trenches their forefathers had been shooting into for over 70 years. It was a smash-and-grab robbery writ large.
When I explain all this to these Europeans, they want to know if the war is over. Not hardly, I tell them. The hubris of these zealots has led to economic problems in America that are quickly moving beyond the reach of spin. The hubris of these zealots has caused the Central Intelligence Agency to act in their own defense, a deadly turn of events for the Bush administration. The last two Presidents who found themselves on the bad side of the CIA, Kennedy and Johnson, did not end their terms comfortably. The war in Iraq, begun in no small part to further loot the Treasury, has loosed a tiger with very sharp claws. Internationally, the realization that the Atlantic Alliance is gone has begun to take root, and forces beyond the control of the Bush administration are coming together globally to act as a counterweight to all that is happening in America.
The laughable irony of it all, also, may come to aid their undoing. Consider the fact that the Bush administration worked hammer and tong to discredit the work of the weapons inspectors in Iraq in the run-up to the war. Fast-forward to today, and the administration is telling everyone to be patient, be trusting, be faithful in the weapons inspection work being done by Dr. David Kay in Iraq on behalf of the administration. The massive stockpiles of weapons we heard about ad nauseam are still missing, with the sole exception of a vial of botulinum toxin that was found, sitting spoiled in the refrigerator of an Iraqi scientist for ten long years. The essential contradiction is so blatant that the evening comedy programs in America are making hay out of it. When this kind of silliness makes prime-time, the writing is on the wall.
The corrupted media is still there, of course. The zealots hold all the high ground for the moment. Ending this massive catastrophe will cost oceans of blood and sweat and tears. But it can and will be ended. You can bank, I tell these Europeans, on that.
Jump to TO Features for Wednesday 10 October 2003