Thursday, February 03, 2005

The State of Political Theater

President Bush took political theater to a new level during last night's State of the Union address. What in the past was a short speech to Congress has gradually morphed into a grand platform for rhetoric and propaganda. If I agreed with his ends, I may applaud his means. After all, this is politics and there is a fine line between manipulation and communication. There is little more agitating than observing a carefully crafted political message and knowing all along that the masses are going to eat it up and ask for seconds. This despite the facts that the display is full of logical holes, exaggerations and neglect for the truth.

The most striking example of Bush's thematic skills was the recognition of the mother of a marine slain in battle and an Iraqi woman whose father had been assassinated at the order of Saddam Husein and who voted in the recent Iraqi election. As the two women embraced, Bush looked on as the triumphant hero who wishes to be seen as the one that made it all possible. In this single event, the themes of the entire military campaign were dramatically played out for the entire nation to witness. The sacrifice and the spoils of victory that make it all worth while. How do you argue with this? This was a big FUCK YOU to Michael Moore, bleeding heart anti-war liberals and anyone else who dare question Bush's decisions. At that moment you were either moved or recognized who really held the reigns of political power, or perhaps a little of both.

But in the end, this staged event did not communicate the truth. For every isolated situation such as this, there are many more mothers who have lost children and do not feel that the price was worth it. There are mothers in Iraq that wonder why they lost their children to malnourishment during a harsh regime of sanctions imposed by the United States. There are Iraqis who value their right to vote but would have liked to have achieved that right in their own struggle. There are members of the Shiite majority who were egged on to rise up against Saddam, only to be abandoned by the elder President Bush. Later, had they not been deprived of basic living standards largely because of the rigid sanctions, perhaps they could have successfully revolted. To these Iraqis, "victory" is bittersweet. They want to create their own Iraq, outside of the blanket of paternalism offered by the United States. Will George W. Bush allow them to?

If this speech was any indicator, he will not. Bush declared the fighting in Iraq to be a battle with terrorists. Many of these supposed terrorists were eligible to vote in the election. These are Iraqi's who want control of their country. A fraction of these insurgents may be terrorists, but most are labeled as such only in that they actively reject the imposition of "democracy" by a foreign power and do so in a violent fashion. These are Iraqis that do not benefit from "majority rules" democracy, because they are in the minority. They fear that an elected Shiite leader will seek vengeance against them and their fears are probably well founded. These people MUST have a place in the future of Iraq if it is to become the stable, liberated state that Bush likes to talk about so frequently. To brand them all as terrorists is to turn a blind eye to history. Ethnic conflicts in Africa, the Balkans and elsewhere stemmed from the reinforcement of ethnic division. But the label is politically and rhetorically potent, and Bush exploits it. Framing the war in Iraq as a single battle in a larger "war on terror" serves the imperialist intentions of neo-liberal world order. And of course, people love to hear that they are part of a dramatic crusade to end terrorism and tyranny.

But in reality, these are not the terrorists that seek destruction in the United States. To portray them as such is another political manipulation and justification for ongoing military action. Bush would like to portray the mother of the Marine and the Iraqi woman who voted on one side and those who object to the military campaign on the other. Those who fight the Bush administration, whether it is politically or militarily, here or abroad, are "with the terrorists". This is a powerful rhetorical weapon indeed.

The election results are not yet in, but much speculation is flying about regarding the potential victor. The favorite seems to be a Shiite Iranian-born and backed religious leader. Suppose the new government in Iraq aligns itself with the current regime in Tehran. Mind you, this is a regime which he specifically threatened in this very State of the Union address. He warned Iran to abandon any pursuit of nuclear weapons and vowed that America will stand against the leadership in Tehran and with Iranians who "seek liberty". We could very well end up involved in a conflict with Iran and, in turn, with the very leadership in Iraq that we helped install.

I highly doubt that Bush and his cohorts will allow this to happen however. It is more likely that America will continue to meddle with Iraq's political system until we achieve the result WE want. This would be very similar to what happened in South Vietnam, where the U.S. denounced a democratically chosen leader as unfairly elected.

Nevertheless, in George W. Bush's world these geopolitical complexities have no place. He preaches sacrifice, democracy and freedom. He is the crusader who feels that it is his calling, and therefore the calling of the United States to "rid the world of tyranny". What significance does the death of a single soldier have in the light of a world free of tyranny? Who would not sacrifice for such an achievement?

Unfortunately, this rhetoric more closely resembles that of a tyrant than a public servant. Bush asks us to sacrifice for the state and its crusade, he speaks about freedom and democracy but cracks down on civil liberties in his own country. He supports altering our Constitution to specifically deprive same-sex partners of any chance at achieving marriage rights. He cuts funding for social programs here at home to fund bombings abroad. The path to ending tyranny is not to fight every people's battles for them, but to serve as an admirable model to the world. We cannot simply impose our values on the world. That may play well during a stateside speech, but oversees it offends and undermines the valuable ability to promote democracy.

I hope that viewers and listeners of this speech will take it for what it was, political theater. One can admire a savvy politician but must never lose sight of the little man behind the curtain. It was a flashy show with little substance and I believe that most will find it impressive but unsettling. In the end, truth will win and Bush and his administration will be exposed. People can be easily manipulated, but they are often very angry when they realize that they've been had.


Blogger The Liberal Avenger said...

"I had this woman's son killed so this woman could vote in a sham election."

10:06 AM  
Blogger adiloren said...

ha! my thoughts exactly.

10:37 AM  

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