Tuesday, October 26, 2004

America's most (un)civil war

The Statesman

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

America’s most (un)civil war


The USA is a fierce democracy; non-violent may be, but brutal. Democratic presidential candidate Senator John Kerry said the “W” in George W Bush’s name stands for wrong – wrong on war, wrong on peace, wrong on budget, wrong on social security, wrong on everything. But Bush, he said, would admit no mistakes and instead tries to hide the painful truth of war, having gone bad with “arrogant boasting” that the war is being won. Quoting former US commander in Iraq General Ricardo Sanchez who had warned about the poor supply problems, Kerry said, “Bush went out and told the American people that our troops were properly equipped.” Kerry’s running mate, Senator John Edward, said Bush has been hoodwinking the American people “into believing that he is the only one who can fight and win the war on terrorism.” Of course both keep boasting that they can do a better job of winning the war on terrorism. In an unguarded moment, Kerry said terrorism might be reduced to a nuisance like illegal gambling or prostitution, for which he was castigated by the Republicans. Bush said the war against terrorism could not be completely won. But he was quick to explain that since terrorism is not a state enemy, it would not be completely eliminated. Bush has been calling Kerry a flip-flopper, a man who speaks looking at the polls. He supported war in Iraq and then turned against it. He is a man without conviction and credibility. Bush said while he is fighting to end terrorism and spread freedom, Kerry “has chosen the easy path of protests and defeatism” and that he would push the nation to “a major defeat in the war against terrorism.” Talking in New Jersey, a Democratic state that bore the brunt of the 9/11 attacks on World Trade Centre, Bush said his opponent “has now flip-flopped his way to a dangerous position. He has talked about artificial timetables to pull our troops out of Iraq. He has sent the signal that the USA’s overriding goal in Iraq would be to leave, even if the job is not done.” Short of name calling, they have been putting down each other as someone unfit to be the commander-in-chief. The rhetoric of mutual vituperation is being reinforced by negative ads that pull no punches. There was a time when liberalism as a political philosophy was in vogue. Liberals with their social programmes, from social security to welfare for unwed mothers, turned the USA into a gentler, kinder society. But liberalism as a public policy required state intervention in the lives of the people, apart from taxation to fund the programmes. So as the mode of consciousness began to change, sometime around the Reagan era, Democrats came to be called tax and spend liberals, and became associated with more government and less individual responsibility. Today, calling an American “a liberal” is as bad as it can be, worse than calling him an immoral person. So a Bush ad says, “John Kerry and his liberal allies. Are they a risk we can afford to take?” Kerry’s anti-Bush ad shows images of violence in Iraq, where US troops are attacked, as the ad says, “530 times a day.” Another ad asks, “Are we safer today with a lying Bush? Or with naval hero Kerry?” The unkindest cut came during the third presidential debate when the moderator Bob Schieffer asked if the gentlemen, Bush and Kerry, thought whether homosexuality was natural. While Bush tried to wiggle out of the question (I don’t know, he said, but the sanctity of marriage should be preserved.), Kerry responded by referring to Vice-President Dick Cheney’s daughter being a lesbian and said homosexuality is natural. Regardless of his good intention, the reference to Bush’s running mate’s daughter left a bad taste. But who cares? It is a civil war – the kind the USA has never seen before. It is a war about the USA’s hearts and minds. And it is a bitter one. No one would emerge a total victor and claim a mandate, which might not be that bad for rest of the world. The American people have been deeply divided since the last presidential poll, but 9/11 temporarily papered over those divisions. If Americans were deeply divided over the issue of weapons of mass destruction before the invasion of Iraq, there might not have been a war. But Americans had become a victim of a spiral of silence induced by a post 9/11 wave of fear and patriotism, and had developed a dangerous collective mindset. The media had unwittingly become a propaganda machine for the administration. It is now that some of them have begun to question their transcendent silence and timidity. Florida achieved notoriety in 2000 when the presidential poll got bogged down due to the perfidy of the electoral machinery (hanging chads and other alleged sleights of hand), and the US Supreme Court stepped in to cut the Gordian Knot and handed over the election to George Bush. The Florida election night terror of 2000 still haunts Democrats in spite of the fact that the state claims that it has installed what is being called “idiot-proof” computerised ballot machine. The fear of Florida 2000 repeating itself has unleashed pre-emptive legal wars. Democrats have been accusing officials of Republican controlled states of trying to disenfranchise new voters who are most likely to vote for the former. Republicans have been accusing Democrats of voter registration frauds. Both parties have hired thousands of campaign lawyers, and established SWAT teams with networks of cell phones and helicopters, who are going to patrol every poll precinct especially in swing states and are ready to take the battle to court. Even the Afghanistan election seemed a more civilised affair.

(ND Batra is Professor of Communications, Norwich University, Vermont. You can blog him at http://corporatepower.blogspot.com.)

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