Let Us Speak of Pheasants and Peasants
(By American Zen’s Mike Flannigan, on loan from Ari.)
“We’re killing children, we’re killing women, we’re killing innocent people.… Do we have the right here in the United States to say we are going to kill tens of thousands of people, make millions of people, as we have, refugees, kill women and children as we have?… We must feel it when we use Napalm or a village is destroyed and civilians are killed.” – Senator Robert F. Kennedy on US involvement in Vietnam, 1968
“A poem is a pheasant,” was how Wallace Stevens once defined poetry. Anyone who’s ever made note of or (like Dick Cheney, when he wasn’t shooting senior citizens in the face) hunted the pheasant know that the quail is an easily-startled bird. Wallace’s point was that if you abruptly come charging at a poem instead of sneaking up behind it, the poem’s meaning will flee.
The same can be said of the American people.
Now, we don’t like to think of ourselves as either physical or moral cowards. After all, our grandfathers and great grandfathers willingly jumped into the meat grinder known as Normandy on D Day and, before that, battled to keep the nation together at Gettysburg, Antietam and both bloody Battles of Bull Run. We dropped our plows and pens and fought almost 100 years before that to establish our independence from the tyrannical and seemingly invincible British.
But we’re also the same people, Reeboked and moussed palimpsests of our heroic forebears, who ran to the supermarket in our SUV’s and, inexplicably, gorged ourselves on duct tape and jugged spring water right before Y2K because very serious and trusted people told us to without explaining how duct tape or jugged water would counteract the effects of our computers’ time stamps going back to 1900.
A year or two later, when the Bush/Cheney administration cynically used 9/11 to take away our constitutional protections by way of rewarding us with unconditional and full-throated support, those same protections fought for and died for by those same heroic ancestors, we allowed these bastard sons of Adams and Jefferson to contort our thinking and even our belief and value systems so that indefinitely taking away those civil liberties was a good tradeoff for a little bit of safety.
Who cared if national security was never actually increased, and even weakened, as a result?
So, yes, we are a nation not of laws or even of men but pheasants: Easily-startled animals insufficiently removed from the animal kingdom as to be immune from the herd mentality seen every day on the midwestern plains and in the stockyards.
Those who do not fit the definition of pheasant can usually be classified as peasants too depressed and despairing to be frightened. This is what the right wing has reduced us to, true, but much of the blame can be laid like a dead wreath at the mausoleum door of what used to be liberalism. And what had survived of liberalism’s very likely final decline is sounding more and more like the right wing, the last chapter of Orwell’s Animal Farm coming true before our very eyes, in real time and beamed into our living rooms, sponsored by BP (“We’ll Make it Right!” they promise us in banner ads at the top of so-called liberal blogs whose proprietors apparently can afford to abandon their own moral belief system in their pursuit of bandwidth revenue).
A cursory look through some bylines just from the last few days tells or asks us what’s going on: How things have either remained static or gotten worse under Obama than under Bush II. But, in the case of the author of a grimly fascinating article entitled, “The American Left and the WikiLeaks Documents”, David Walsh asks how we can be so competently and calmly led astray by some of our most trusted liberal voices, particularly The Nation magazine.
The founder of WikiLeaks, Julian Assange, is today living the life of David Kimble because he and his site refuse to accept the lies and heavily redacted documents dribbled to us by our government from time to time through a gutted FOIA and making these truths, as our forebears once wrote, self-evident.
Assange has been turned into the real-life fugitive for committing the unforgivable act of ripping off the humanitarian mask the last two administrations have put on our two wars and showing us the true face of our attitude toward the people we’re told we’re liberating. Thanks to Assange, we were given indelible, incontrovertible proof of how much contempt we feel for the Iraqi people and in our own voices speaking our own words. Thanks to Assange and his latest, 92,000 page scoop, we now know the true limitations of COIN in Afghanistan that, one would think, was already made self-evident by Rolling Stone’s landmark article on Gen. Stanley McCrystal and his team. But it isn’t just the Republicans who want to hunt him down like a rabid dog but the Democrats, too. The truth is, literally, samizdat.
We the pheasants of the Disunited States of America, a massive herd of upholstered buffalo living in constant fear of the nonexistent bow, arrow and spear, are also a people who have to be beaten over the head with the cudgel of truths that alert us to the true danger. While we cowered from anyone who even looked Middle Eastern and smelled of falafel, no one told us about the dangers the PNAC neocons represented. While we reviled the working poor and medically uninsured, we let self-dealing HMOs and Big Pharma essentially write their own health care bill just as we let the banks and other lenders write their own self-dealing bankruptcy bill five years ago while we reviled the bankrupt.
While we spat at ACORN we completely forgot about the Andrew Breitbarts and James O’Keefes of the world and the Republican money men behind them. While we publicly pilloried the dispossessed as they were being evicted from their own homes, we conveniently forgot about the lenders and their pie-in-the-sky promises of low-risk loans until we found out we had to bail them out.
While we sneered not at Andrew Breitbart but at Dan Rather, we forgot about the Republican douchebags who funded the Swiftboat Veterans and suddenly George W. Bush’s spotty military record was more commendable than John Kerry’s well-documented one.
While we’re conditioned to snarl on cue at Hamas or the nuclear warhead-coveting Mamoud Ahmedinejad, we keep giving one free pass after another to the terrorist state of Israel and don’t seem to care that we’re paying them $3 billion every year to kill innocent Arabs, as if Israel is the only nation in the Middle East entitled to defend itself.
And while the entire government dumped on Shirley Sherrod without stopping to consider the source of the easily-debunkable rumors of her racism, we let the Winston Smiths of Fox “News” and, once again, Andrew Breitbart and his band of not-so-merry pranksters alter the face of our government (which is to say made it a bit whiter). While we hurl invectives at illegal immigrants who only wanted to work for meager wages, we tend to forget about the reason why they come here: Unscrupulous produce companies who’ve come to depend on that cheap, sub-minimum wage labor to harvest their crops for even larger corporations. We all too easily forget that these immigrants who will now be rounded up en masse under a nakedly fascist, extra-legal law known as SB 1070 will be making Arizona courts and CCA, the private prison corporation that’s enjoying bigger profits under Obama than they ever did under Bush, very wealthy.
We are a stupid, stupid, easily misdirected people who start at mice while remaining blissfully unaware of the elephant charging us from behind. And a viable liberal movement could’ve worked wonders in preventing this from happening. Martin Luther King would’ve set us straight on Van Jones, ACORN and Shirley Sherrod. Bobby Kennedy would’ve set us straight on Iraq and Afghanistan. But they’re long dead and the liberal movement, like Hamlet at Ophelia’s funeral, jumped in the grave with them.
Now, right wing mouth-breathers like David Horowitz and other conservatives in a perpetual state of mental spasm are no longer the bad guys: It’s university professors who are likened, not by Horowitz but so-called liberals, to the welfare queens we were taught to revile by our genially mean-spirited Dutch Uncle Ronald Reagan.
Now that Iraq is literally a Seven Year Itch, we’re smoothly informed by Obama that things are going along right on the schedule that had been denied both us and Iraq for nearly six years under Bush. And hardly anyone, not even those passing themselves off as liberals, are stopping to ask aloud, “But why did we invade Iraq, in the first place?” If Iraq and Afghanistan have produced some tangible results, it will be all worthwhile. And if I threw a hand grenade into a china shop, I’m sure the owner would be overjoyed that I hung up a couple pieces of dry wall and slapped some wallpaper over it.
But evil is still evil no matter its IQ. We couldn’t quite bring ourselves to fully embrace the reality that Bush was evil because he was a bumbling, inarticulate intellectual anorexic. We can believe even less that Obama’s policies are evil because, darn it, he’s so glib, intelligent and good-looking. In fact, the only true face of evil we’ve known these past ten years was Dick Cheney’s snarling puss but, officially speaking, Cheney wasn’t the President.
And the really bad news is, not only has liberalism been shifted to the right as only Joe Overton’s window can do it, we’re already so disgusted by this Bowdlerization of liberalism that we’re poised to give conservatism another chance. Liberalism, true liberalism and not its anemic cousin Progressivism, has become a forgotten utility player deep in the shadows of the dugout. We’re giving up on it before many of us in our lifetimes have had a chance to see it fully extend itself in the batter’s box.
And Obama is proving to be almost as much of a boon to the morally and intellectually overdrawn GOP as Bush was to the equally bankrupt Democrats. Too many of us still let Obama represent the so-called progressives and (pardon me while I snicker) liberals on the Hill rather than see him for what he is: A wet-legged centrist more prone to fire a competent official than incur right wing wrath. Liberalism had not failed us: Obama had.
But then there’s the sophomore jinx, the almost invariable rule that a first term president’s party will lose their majority in the House in the first midterm after his election. And I’m all for voting literally 99% of these Democrats out, provided we can find true liberals and progressives with which to replace them. But we’ve yet to learn that, since the 60’s, the Republican Party never has the answers nor the solutions for what ails this nation, especially the latter day GOP.
The Republican Party has made pheasants and peasants out of all of us and all we do is hold out our empty bowls and timidly ask, “Please, sir, may I have another?” And when the response comes, the liberals will be right behind the conservatives in the cruel chorus of laughter.