Something I wrote for tehelka a long, long time ago…


Washington, January 30, 2002

State of the Union…

It is unseasonably warm in Washington. A balmy breeze blew past Capitol Hill tonight as Congress gathered for the State of the Union address. Part political love fest, part populist  theater, and part declaration of national purpose, this one event long ago took on a life of its own.

Leading a nation united by terrorist attacks, disheartened by recession, and
slowly finding its way back to politics as usual, the State of the Union
address presented President George W Bush with an opportunity to declare the nation’s political agenda, set the stage for his party in the upcoming
midterm elections, and further cement an alarmingly high popularity rating.

The reviews of political pundits and the early poll returns show that in
one respect Bush attained his central goal. He enjoys unremittingly unanimous support among the American people. This is not unusual: a
nation attacked is a nation united. In most other respects, it is singularly
frightening. Tonight’s speech was, at its heart, American politics in its
basest and most depraved incarnation.

On the domestic front, there were few surprises. The unholy union between
Enron and the Republican Party, in which campaign coffers were filled with
Enron funds and thousands of employees saw their life savings evaporate,
was brushed aside with a request that Congress initiate financial safeguards
and accounting reforms. Senior citizens were promised aid for prescription
costs, and the Senate was asked to pass a Republican economic stimulus package that has already cleared the House. A call went out for citizens to pledge themselves to national service and for the formation of a “Freedom Corps”  -the Bush equivalent of Kennedy’s Peace Corps. All were warmly received – although  the “Freedom Corps” exhortation seemed to land on the floor with a resounding thud,  where it will lie in embarrassed prostration until it is forgotten. The military, of course, will get more than its share. Bush called for a huge increase in military spending – including a call once again for the development of the technically doubtful “missile shield”.

The preceding was, of course, the second act.

As it inevitably would be, the war on terrorism took centre stage. Wrapping
himself in the flag and anointing himself with the tears of a nation, Bush
began the address as the righteous defender of freedom – a true warrior
born on the Fourth of July. 

One can find some comfort in a few small things. Restraint is not usually
found in his references to terrorism; thankfully, the word “evil” was only
used five times in less than an hour. The remainder, however, was derisorily true to form. Terrorism against the US, a phenomenon that has grown out of decades of careless American foreign policy, was again reduced to a simplistic falsehood – the war against terror is a war against those who would deprive of us our “freedom”.

This theme is wonderfully simple. It avoids so many uncomfortable questions and one basic truth – that terrorists couldn’t care less about our
freedom. Terrorists simply want us to die. This is because the US has been “free” to support oppressive regimes in Islamic states, “free” to support Israel in whatever it does, and “free” to pursue its interests regardless of the
rights of others. As the defender of “freedom, one can then be “free,” as
the only nation that has used nuclear weapons, to proclaim that Iran, Iraq,
and North Korea must not be allowed to develop these weapons on their

Irony or thoughtfulness have no place in this approach. How Ronald Reagan’s Mujahideen “Freedom Fighters” have become George W Bush’s “evildoers” does not need to be examined. When speaking to your nation, trot out the wounded soldier and the new leader of “liberated” Afghanistan, place the flag on your shoulders, and tell your people that they must fight to be free.

Whatever you do, don’t ever ask why.

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