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William Rivers Pitt: Hateful Days

Hateful Days

Friday 19 November 2010

By William Rivers Pitt,
t r u t h o u t | Op-Ed

Protesters outside of the groundbreaking of the George W. Bush Presidential Center. (Photo: Ian Aberle / Flickr)

There is a great deal of hate in my heart today. Not the healthiest condition to find myself in, but these things sometimes cannot be helped. The hate is a free-flowing thing, expanding in all directions because, simply put, there is something to revile and despise in virtually every direction I turn. Sarah Palin's ridiculous reality show was a ratings blockbuster. Hateful. George H. W. Bush is getting the Presidential Medal of Freedom, because Mr. Obama just can't help sucking up to the very Republicans who are about to make a project out of throttling his administration. Hateful. There will be no punishment for those who destroyed CIA evidence of rampant torture during the Bush administration. Wildly hateful.

One cannot swing one's dead cat by the tail these days without striking something that makes me want to give up on this tepid reporting job and take up firebombing. Barring that, the only other reasonable solution would seem to be undertaking a deep and profound heroin habit. Just shoot up and float away, leave all this mad and awful noise behind and go chase the dragon for a bit. Why not? Thanks to our Afghanistan adventure, there is a glut of the stuff on the world market. It makes perfect sense, in a way; where is the fun in enduring a massive global economic and political meltdown and rampant joblessness without an ample, cheap supply of good smack?

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Heroin is bad for you, I know. But so is politics. These days, both are equally poisonous to the body and soul.

More than half the members of Congress are millionaires - 261 of them, to be exact - which puts the stalled conversation on erasing the Bush-era tax breaks for the wealthy into much greater and more nauseating perspective. The Democrats squandered this sure-fire winner of an issue in the run-up to the midterms (two-thirds of Americans want those tax cuts repealed) while simultaneously dropping the ball on extending the tax cuts for the middle class. Why, we asked? What's the point? Did they want to lose in November? No, I suppose they didn't...but it sure looks now like they want to be rich more than they want to be in the majority, and the rest of us, again, are left to suck on it.

The Democrats...ah, yes, the Democrats. Seldom in history has there been a larger collection of utterly useless people than the motley mob of elected officials who rally under the banner of the Democratic Party. They had the House, the Senate, the White House and put two new Justices on the Supreme Court, and yet with all that power and influence, found themselves blown out yet again in a midterm election. It's not that they were ineffective during those years - quite the contrary, in fact. But if a tree falls in the forest and the media doesn't report on it, did it happen? The virtual blackout of reporting on what the Democrats got done can certainly be blamed to a degree on the "mainstream" news media, but it goes far beyond that, and must in the end be laid at the feet of a hapless party and a president who appears to have attended the Blind, Deaf 'n Dumb School of Political Messaging.

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During the dark days of the Great Depression, President Roosevelt pushed through a massive slate of federal programs aimed at getting the economy back on its feet. There was serious right-wing resistance to these programs, just as there is today, but with one vital difference. Back then, Roosevelt and his administration made damned sure the American people knew where and how they were being helped by these programs, and who exactly was providing that help. The Nation's Stephen Duncombe explained it thusly:

FDR entertained the press in the White House, winning their loyalty by increasing access to his presidency. Murals created by the Works Progress Administration on the walls of post offices and other public buildings retold history as the accomplishment of everyday citizens. The Resettlement and later Farm Security Administrations re-envisioned the face of America by commissioning tens of thousands of photographs of poor farmers and workers.

But the best propaganda for the New Deal lay in the material projects themselves: the parks built, roads constructed and young people put to work by the Civilian Conservation Corps; the integrated system of power, agriculture and industry of the Tennessee Valley Authority; and the handsome, handcrafted Timberline Lodge, built atop Oregon's Mt. Hood by the WPA. These accomplishments were then publicized. In one imaginative effort, the Bonneville Power Administration even paid Woody Guthrie to visit the Columbia River Gorge and write songs in homage to the land, the river and the new federally funded dams.

What all these publicity efforts had in common was an assumption that form and content needn't be an either/or proposition, that aesthetic image and material reality might be complementary, and that publicity could be used to include, not distract, the American people. New Deal publicity spoke to the emotions but also fed the mind. As public relations historian Stuart Ewen argues, "Unspoken, but evident, was a determined and unaccustomed faith in ordinary people's ability to make sense of things." It was propaganda, but it was propaganda in tune with democracy.

Today, most Americans think Mr. Obama was the one who pushed the TARP bailout through. Most Americans are not aware that the Obama administration orchestrated a tax cut for 95% of Americans. Most Americans don't know a damned thing about the ways they are being helped and bettered by the accomplishments of the Obama administration and this last Congress, and that is because Mr. Obama and his friends in Congress failed utterly to tell them about it.

President Roosevelt can be heard spinning in his grave; politics is not just about policy, a fact FDR knew well, but is also about messaging and explanation. The Democrats have fallen short on any number of issues, but they have not been abject failures by any stretch, and the reason they appear to be so today is almost entirely their fault. When you run the whole government, there are plenty of ways to get the media to cover your work the way you want it covered (Fox News notwithstanding). There are plenty of ways to inform the people of what you’ve been up to, as FDR so clearly proved. They didn't get this done, in any way at all, and that failure is about to reap bloody dividends.

What was it Mick Jagger said? "I'll be in my basement room, with a needle and a spoon..."

Well, not yet. There are a few bright spots to be found here and there, if you know where to look. Take this, for example:

Protesters called for George W. Bush to be arrested for his role in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars as he opened his presidential library in Dallas. Demonstrators staked hundreds of white crosses into the ground to represent troops killed in both wars and carried banners saying 'torture is illegal' and 'arrest Bush'.

The protesters, who also held signs including one reading 'Library or Lie-bury', included Cindy Sheehan, who became a war critic after her 21-year-old son Casey was killed in Iraq in 2004 and who staged a prolonged demonstration in 2005 outside his Crawford ranch.

At first blush, this story offers nothing more than another reason to let the hate flow freely. A library groundbreaking for George W. Bush? What will the exhibits be made of? The bones of murdered Iraqi civilians and the folded flags of dead American soldiers? Maybe they can have a wing dedicated to shredded bits of the Constitution his administration treated with such overwhelming disdain. The very thought of such a place being erected makes me want to break things.

The pictures of the protesters, however, tell a different story: clad in black with featureless white masks, they served to remind Mr. Bush, Mr. Cheney and the rest of us that the ghosts of the last decade do not lie easily in their mass grave, that the perpetrators of gross crimes will be pursued by the people for as long as they draw breath, and that the truth of it all is not yet buried. These are hateful days, but once again, it is a person like Cindy Sheehan who shows us the way.

Hunter S. Thompson once said, "One of the basic rules of politics is Action Moves Away from the Center. The middle of the road is only popular when nothing is happening." Well, there is plenty going on today, and the middle of the road is now good only for long yellow stripes. Yes, I hate, with depth and passion, and have much cause to do so. But if those protesters at the Bush Library teach us anything, it is that hate must be channeled if it is to have any real effect. Theirs was an eloquent protest, and ours must be the same.

No retreat, the man once said. No surrender.


William Rivers Pitt is a Truthout editor and columnist. He is also a New York Times and internationally bestselling author of two books: "War on Iraq: What Team Bush Doesn't Want You to Know" and "The Greatest Sedition Is Silence." His newest book, "House of Ill Repute: Reflections on War, Lies, and America's Ravaged Reputation," is now available from PoliPointPress.


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