Daniel Patrick Welch: The Wrong Side of History
The Wrong Side of History
By Daniel Patrick Welch
We were all lied to. We're used to it. If Westmoreland's body counts and Watergate and Iran Contra and the Savings and Loan and the first Gulf War didn't teach some of us, then I guess some of us were never meant to learn. The fact is that some of us bought it, and some of us didn't. It's a big, glaring, important distinction, one that, without indulging hyperbole, divides the whole of history and places us on one side or the other.
This is not parlor politics or polite, gentlemanly disagreements with our colleagues "from the other side of the aisle." It's a long, older struggle: call it revolution and counterrevolution, progress and reaction--whatever you choose. But those of us who froze our asses off while being herded like cattle along 3rd Avenue in Manhattan a year ago were not "misled." We, and the ten million who marched with us the world over last February 15, we refused to be misled--indeed refused to be led at all by the liars and their sycophants who packaged and sold this war. The world, it can be safely said, from the overwhelming hostility now aimed at the US, was not misled. History itself was not misled, only sidetracked by a power whose bloated military "strength" defies all need or rational excuse.
The world is waiting, too, to see on which side of history post-Bush America will decide to right itself. Will it abandon its insane military buildup, and actively disengage from its designs of global domination? The question weighs heavily on the futures of our children. For it does seem, despite its tenacious hold on power and it almost limitless resources, the Bush administration is despised not only by most of the world, but also by most of the same electorate that never gave it any mandate in the first place. All this talk of "electability," as if it were some scientific postulate that could actually hold some concrete meaning, all this talk merely inflates defeatism. Bush the mighty cannot be slain! Why not? He's a criminal and a liar, who in any decent society would have been removed from office long ago.
The question is, what will replace the Bush junta? It is a sweeping question, one which, given the pummeling the world has taken at its hand these past few years, should be a grand one. Akin to the rebuilding of Europe, say, or the end of the cold war. There was a similar opportunity then, when we talked of the "Peace Dividend." But it was handled by men with small minds and greedy palms, and the New World Order busied itself instead with more wars, and the global dominion of a tiny handful of gigantic corporations roaming the globe, looking for every last pocket of opportunity to wring for cash.
Now we face a similar choice, and I suggest we should entrust it to a government whose vision is as broad as the epoch requires. John Kerry, alas, does not fit the bill, despite his meteoric rise to frontrunner status since the Iowa caucus. I do not dislike him; have voted for him against republicans when it seemed the wise thing to do, and I imagine I could do so again if the alternative were an extension of the Bush Destruction Machine. But I do not want him to be my president, and until I have no other choice, I will oppose his climb to the top of the anti-Bush heap. A translator friend from Brazil, who has chided me for focusing narrowly on the US elections recently, had this to say: "… the world doesn't want to know how or if the president will be elected. What the world wants to know is how Bush or Not-Bush will affect their lives. Think about that!"
See--it is not, unfortunately, just about Republicans vs. Democrats. Both parties have been complicit in the enormous bloating of the military industrial complex about which that famous Republican, General/President Eisenhower, so sternly warned us before leaving office. When push comes to shove, we need people in government who ignore expediency and do that which, in their hearts and in their intellect, they know to be right. This is rendered all the more important by the disintegration of independent thought in the US, the consolidation of corporate media, the immense pressure and resources controlled by the right wing in this country.
There is an inner clock, one that keeps time despite the seeming sway of history and the drums of war. Some people have it, and most do not. I fault Kerry in this regard. I am not bashing him, so please spare me the hate mail--I am not capable of throwing the election by pointing out obvious flaws. Senator Kerry and the Democratic establishment may well do so by over looking them, however.
With regard to the Iraq war, I am quite sure that I will never forget, nor can I forgive, a vote in favor of the War Resolution. It is not just about pride or my frozen ass, but a deeper truth about leadership and trust. If indeed Kerry was duped, then he missed something most of the world did not, and is not fit to lead at such an important moment in history. The excuse that such a vote could be based on secret information to which the world was not privy is scarier still, as it enshrines a penchant for secret government and renders meaningless the very concept of rule by the people. Not that I favor any particular rationale for supporting a decision which resulted in the loss of tens of thousands of lives and the shredding of any remaining vestige of international cooperation--but I think scariest of all would be if he knew it to be wrong, but voted for it anyway, out of a willingness to play the game, to be a good soldier.
This, I have come to believe, is the most likely case, and it settles too well with a few other instances where conviction succumbs to expediency. Much has been made of Kerry's status as both a war hero and a war protester. The incongruity is not for nothing--they do seem to be opposite in many ways. And on closer inspection, the dissonance becomes apparent. Shortly after Kerry's Iraq vote, Brian Willson, former supporter and fellow Vietnam Vet wrote a stinging "Open Letter to John Kerry," which is as poignant as it is sad. Willson Writes:
"The first hint of a bit of disconnect in your style was when during your first Senate campaign you denied returning your war medals, with a thousand other veterans, in protest of the war during Dewey Canyon III. That was a bit of a shock, since for most veterans who returned their medals in that emotional ceremony on Friday, April 23, 1971, it was a very proud and healing moment. Your 1984 campaign response: You had returned the medals of a WWII acquaintance at his direction. All those 13 years everyone thought you had had the courage and leadership to return medals that to veterans who returned them represented medals of dishonor drenched in the blood of innocent Vietnamese who did not deserve to die for a lie, any more than our fellow US Americans. I guess you knew then that you were to be running for office."
Then, more recently, beyond the painful chapter that was Vietnam, comes the issue of gay marriage. I'm not gay (though not, to quote Jerry Seinfeld, "that there's anything wrong with that.") I am, however, in an interracial marriage, and the issue has a personal resonance for me. There are those in this country who are still not ready for interracial marriage. My own marriage would be invalid, and indeed illegal, had not earlier leaders decided that my civil rights need not wait until a majority was "ready" to recognize them.
No one is "pushing gay marriage," except, perhaps, for those couples who are ready to make that commitment to each other. A true leader does not allow the issue to framed by the right in this way. The courts have not been hijacked by "activist judges" (except for the type that installed the Jackass-in-Chief in the Oval Office). Jurists are simply moving toward an inevitable historic moment: a civil right enjoyed by one group cannot be denied to another, no matter how uncomfortable it makes anybody. Leaders who "seek the center" on issues of right and wrong for electoral advantage are not agents of change.
We do not recognize religious marriage in this country, and every pastor, priest, rabbi or justice of the peace must sign a civil license acting in the capacity of a state official. This is exactly why this issue sits at the nexus of the struggle to overcome reactionary forces in the US. The correct framing of the issue is right before our eyes: the right wing knows that it must pursue the idea--think of this for a moment--of a constitutional amendment to ban the extension of this right to a certain group. This is an outrageous concept, and should be met head on. Most people in the US now have family, friends, acquaintances, or workmates who are gay; speaking of "ready," I do not think Americans are ready to change the Law of the Land to pursue a bigoted witch hunt that would make Anita Bryant proud.
Kerry's so-called "doghunters" have been concerned chiefly with covering his right flank, always assuming that his left was immune to attack. But these stands represent a pandering to the right, which will be equally damning in a time where such pandering is not only unpalatable, but unnecessary as well. To return to the interracial analogy, there's nothing to warm the heart of a recalcitrant old white racist more than the brown face of a mixed grandchild. I have a similar bellweather: when Homer Simpson can ponder on prime time television whether his gay kiss or a kiss from his wife "is the best kiss I've had all day," I'm betting that America is not ready to put the genie back in the bottle--or the closet, as it were.
In fact, I think Americans are ready for much more than we are given credit for. The experience of the past few years has truly shaken people's consciousness. Broad sections of people are increasingly wary of a distortionist, toadying press; increasingly demanding of true health care reform, and not just a further bloating of the insurocracy. Even some polls have shown that large majorities back key elements of a progressive agenda. In an irony that must make the candidate scream, one caucus in Washington ratified all ten points of Dennis Kucinich's platform, while giving two thirds of their delegates to other candidates. The world is full of cautious, blow-dried, Ken-doll politicians with their finger in the wind. Caution and timidity will predictably yield what they have thus far: a suffocating stalemate fought on the right wing's turf--and lost, often as not--where two halves of a giant party wrangle over middle class white votes. What we need is the steely determination in the face of power that makes real change possible. We will get that through an election which electrifies a movement and sweeps republicans out of power with a broad vision for real change.
© 2004 Daniel Patrick Welch.
Reprint permission granted with credit and link to danielpwelch.com. Welch lives and writes in Salem, Massachusetts, USA, with his wife, Julia Nambalirwa-Lugudde. Together they run The Greenhouse School. A writer, singer, linguist and activist, he has appeared on radio . Past articles, translations are available at danielpwelch.com. Links to the website appreciated.
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