Editor’s Note: This article deals with the Republican party’s notion that it owns the concept of Americanism, and anything not conservative is, by definition, unpatriotic (try reading right-wing witch Ann Coulter's book “Treason” for the complete explication of this hypothesis). At the time this article was written, the courts had just thrown out a lawsuit from Fox News, the GOP’s main media outlet, against comedian Al Franken, who had used the phrase “fair and balanced” on the cover of his book on the right-wing press. Fox has trademarked that phrase and feels it can’t be satirized. Apparently, the network has little respect for free speech, and, more importantly, no sense of humor or irony.
Tony Blair must live on the wrong side of the Atlantic. After yoking his political future to President Bush’s quest to remove Saddam Hussein, Britain’s prime minister would be lucky to survive a vote of confidence in Parliament.
Meanwhile, on this side of the ocean, W is being measured for Mount Rushmore. Peace in Iraq continues to be more difficult than war, the Saddam-al-Qaida connection remains doubtful and the WMDs are as elusive as bin-Ladin, yet Mr. Bush rides high atop the polls.
The 16 words in the State of the Union address were bothersome, but not for W, whose aides acted as if he were a puppet speaking a language he didn’t quite understand. The administration neocons who promoted the war couldn’t decide whether CIA screw-ups, British intelligence or rogue speechwriters from the NSC had fed him faulty information. However, no one dared suggest that politicians have, on rare occasions, been known to be somewhat less than forthcoming, so — and here the unthinkable becomes blasphemous — Mr. Bush could possibly have lied to the American people just a little.
W is lucky that such views have become both unspeakable and unpatriotic. Our open-ended war on terrorism has made dissent untenable (ask the Dixie Chicks or Bill Maher just how untenable), enabling the Republicans to stake an exclusive claim on patriotism. As Ann Coulter, Joseph McCarthy’s latest apologist, has vehemently pointed out, disagreement with conservative orthodoxy is now tantamount to treason.
The GOP must have realized it had become the sole steward of patriotism during the 2002 senatorial elections. Republican Saxby Chambliss was able to unseat Georgia Senator Max Cleland, who’d lost both legs and an arm in Vietnam, by questioning his love of country, and the voters didn’t find it repulsive. (Chambliss escaped military service due to a trick knee.)
W is lucky he isn’t Bill Clinton, a peacetime president whom we were encouraged to distrust and disrespect. Clinton was impeached for lying about his adultery, yet W gets away with calling tax cuts for the rich a “jobs bill,” pro-logging legislation “forest fire prevention” and anti-environmental measures a “Clear Skies” initiative. And his party must have been encouraged when no one seemed to notice the hypocrisy of a self-proclaimed C student, who’d gotten into Yale because his father was a legacy, attacking affirmative action in college admissions.
Clinton was called a draft dodger for seeking a deferment. W took the Dan Quayle route, using his family connections to join the air national guard (from which he’s been accused of being AWOL). Like Dick Cheney, who applied for five separate deferments because he “had other priorities during the ’60s than military service,” W managed to avoid the draft. Nonetheless, when he donned a flight suit to land on an aircraft carrier, the media fawned all over him like he was Patton. (Oddly, Michael Dukakis, who actually did serve a hitch in the military, was ridiculed by the press for riding in a tank during his 1988 presidential campaign.)
W is lucky that, since September 11, the press has behaved like his personal lapdogs. The news channels that aren’t outright tools of the right wing are intimidated by accusations they lack patriotism. Meanwhile, the Republican channels, such as Fox, constantly berate the “elite media” (i.e., networks not actively involved in the Bush re-election campaign) for their “liberal bias.”
Any network that’s owned by a right-wing publisher (Rupert Murdoch), run by a long-time GOP media consultant (CEO Roger Ailes), and features conservative journalists Tony Snow and Britt Hume as its “fair and balanced” anchors must admire the chutzpah of an administration that calls itself “compassionately conservative.” And any news outlet where Bill O’Reilly can refer to himself with a straight face as an “independent,” thrice-married adulterers like Newt Gingrich can pontificate about “family values” and convicted liars such as Oliver North can excoriate the ethics of the Democrats is unlikely to criticize its own party’s leadership.
W is lucky he’s not the governor of California. Gray Davis has been pilloried (and with good reason) for blowing the state’s surplus and running up enormous deficits. After he pointed out that the Bush era recession, as well as some of the activities of W’s friends in the energy business, might have had something to do with California’s problems, his election was recalled.
Meanwhile, W has blown an even-larger surplus (in much the same way as he’s blown the world’s good will since 9/11) and run up a federal deficit of mythic proportions. But the buck doesn’t stop there. As we enjoy the second of two Bush recessions, which bookend eight years of Clinton prosperity, the GOP can point to that one cause that trumps dissent on any issue — 9/11.
The Republicans will soon own Sept. 11, just as they already hold title to patriotism. According to stories in “New York Magazine” and the "New York Times," the GOP has plans to lay the cornerstone for the World Trade Center monument during its 2004 national convention in New York City. Of course, they would never think of politicizing Sept. 11 for partisan gain, even if it would help cement four more years of their exclusive stewardship of its legacy. That would be crass and exploitative.
Perhaps, if he’s lucky, Tony Blair can sublet a little room in their monument.
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