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Empire and Social Insecurity: Battle Plans of This White House

It was hard to sit still and watch his smug bully’s face during the February 2 State of the Union speech. It was infuriating to watch the standing ovations of the surrounding Congress, or hear the fawning patter of the news media.

In official traditions, the President tells Congress each year how the "Union" (meaning the United States) is doing. In reality, the State of the Union speech is a "bully pulpit" where presidents build public support for their next actions.

George W. Bush didn’t dare breathe a word of truth about the real "State of the Union." Bush couldn’t mention how most of the planet thinks he is a bloody cowboy who wants to rule like a new Roman emperor. He didn’t mention how the invasion of Iraq has turned into a brutal counterinsurgency. He didn’t discuss how bitterly the U.S. "homeland" is divided between "two Americas"—half of which hates the sight of him.

Revolutionary Worker #1267, February 13, 2005, posted at rwor.org

It was hard to sit still and watch his smug bully’s face during the February 2 State of the Union speech. It was infuriating to watch the standing ovations of the surrounding Congress, or hear the fawning patter of the news media.

In official traditions, the President tells Congress each year how the "Union" (meaning the United States) is doing. In reality, the State of the Union speech is a "bully pulpit" where presidents build public support for their next actions.

George W. Bush didn’t dare breathe a word of truth about the real "State of the Union." Bush couldn’t mention how most of the planet thinks he is a bloody cowboy who wants to rule like a new Roman emperor. He didn’t mention how the invasion of Iraq has turned into a brutal counterinsurgency. He didn’t discuss how bitterly the U.S. "homeland" is divided between "two Americas"—half of which hates the sight of him.

Could he mention how millions mutter about maybe moving to another country, or finding new and powerful ways to resist? No.

Bush didn’t even discuss the usual government balance sheet (for the obvious reason that the annual budget deficit is approaching half a trillion dollars, while he demands $100 billion more to occupy Iraq and Afghanistan).

No, this government is on a faith-based mission. Facts aren’t allowed to obscure the vision. Obstacles are just supposed to be bulldozed away, by brute force if necessary. And every policy speech of theirs has a chilling feel of Orwellian double-think.

Bush was puffed up during this speech by Iraq’s staged election-under-the-gun, which came to us distorted through the lens of an incredibly dishonest media. This election sham was offered as proof that (regardless of "errors") the U.S. is at least (somehow and supposedly) "doing some good in Iraq." In the audience of Bush’s speech, his conservative supporters dipped their fingers in purple ink and waved them around (in supposed "solidarity with Iraqi voters").

How much more honest it would be if they just dipped their hands in Iraqi blood and waved that around while Bush ranted.

*****

Let’s look beneath the ugliness of it all and do some "reconnaissance on the enemy." Let’s dissect what this speech shows about where this government is actually planning to go. Three things jump out:

  • First, Bush openly threatened Syria and Iran.
  • Second, he took aim at Social Security and proposed first steps toward its privatization.
  • And third, he made it clear that he will seek to end women’s legal right to choose abortion and appoint a new wave of judges to get this accomplished.

King of the World

The President of the United States stood in front of Congress like an emperor announcing what other governments must do—Saudi Arabia must do this, Egypt must do that, Syria must heel. He openly encouraged the overthrow of Iran’s government and pledged support for that effort.

In Iraq, Bush had said he was invading because of WMDs—but there were no WMDs. He accused Iraq of "links" to "terrorists"—but there were no links. There was supposedly a threat to the U.S. "homeland"—but there was no such threat.

What very very short memories we are expected to have! Because now, in this speech, we are suddenly back to Square One. Bush’s justification for threatening Iran? They may be trying to get WMDs. They supposedly back unnamed "terrorists." (Déjà vu all over again!)

So here we are: Justifications for war blended into each other, until it is clear that, for the U.S. government, no justification is needed.

And the underlying, unstated logic behind this? The U.S. is making an aggressive grab for world domination, and everyone (especially the strategic Middle East countries and the potential rival powers of the European Union) is simply supposed to fall in line.

Bush’s speech was surrounded by more explicit and more ominous threats from his government. Vice President Cheney openly said that Israel might now launch targeted strikes on Iran. The new Secretary of State Condeleezza Rice refused to say there would not be war, explaining that Bush was not taking "any option off the table." In other words, Iran (and other countries in the world) now live under a permanent, unrelenting threat of U.S. attack.

Let’s talk about values for a moment: All this naked imperialism is supposed to be considered normal. A simple and mindless equation is used: The U.S. government is for "freedom" and backed by "god"—and so whatever this government does, or wants, or demands is righteous.

And no one is supposed to think too deeply whether all this negates the rights of other nations, whether it disregards what their people really want, whether people ruled by the U.S. are ever really "free," whether there really is a "god" backing colonial crusades, or whether what really is being imposed isn’t just the sordid interests of U.S. capitalism.

The Last Shred of Security

Bush has declared war on Social Security.

Some things need to be pointed out before we can get to the heart of what that means:

First, his targeting of Social Security is a sign of the extremism of the forces who now rule the U.S.

Social Security was set up to guarantee a minimum survival pension for much of the population and to guarantee that disabled people and orphans aren’t simply abandoned.

Nearly 48 million people currently receive Social Security benefits (with average benefits of $11,000 a year). Without Social Security, it is estimated that half of older people would find themselves in desperate poverty—unable to cover the bare necessities of life. Though it is shamefully inadequate, Social Security is popular (and even beloved) because for many working people it is the only pension they have.

And so Social Security has been considered "the third rail" of U.S. politics—meaning that if a politician even lays a finger on it, it could be political death.

Bush (and his charging crew of right wingers) clearly dare to go there—with hatchets in their hands.

Second, Bush’s program has nothing to do with solving a "crisis in Social Security."

For decades, reactionary forces have deliberately "under-funded" all the social institutions and programs they wanted to destroy (including public education, public housing and Social Security). Then, as a program like that grows bankrupt and frustratingly inadequate—they say "it isn’t working" and demand its abolition through privatization.

Privatized education (like school vouchers, etc.) leads to formalizing a class-tiered and segregated educational system, filled with religious ignorance.

When horrific public housing gets torn down, hundreds of thousands are driven into homelessness.

When welfare was gutted, many more impoverished women were driven into prostitution. And whole communities are driven deeper into the "faith-based" embrace of fundamentalist churches.

Social Security is now grossly underfunded. And their solution? Bush’s plans don’t solve Social Security’s funding problems. He never discussed funding at all. His plan was for the "partial privatization" of the system—shifting some of the tax money of younger people into the stock market. And this is no solution at all: and will increase the insecurity of people’s lives and retirement.

Third, Bush’s approach to Social Security is to turn different sections of the people against each other, and against the remaining national social net.

After working their lives away, people need to be cared for—and guaranteed dignified, meaningful, and secure lives even after they are too old or sick to work. This has never happened under this capitalist system, and even the flimsy, tattered social net that does exist is now under frontal attack.

But as Social Security stumbles toward bankruptcy, the discussion of its problems are used to fuel a raw mood of dog-eat-dog. Bush argues that since old people are now living longer, they are an unfair burden on coming generations of young people. And so young people (supposedly) should look at their narrowest selfish interests—and demand that more of their retirement taxes should go straight to themselves (personally, as individuals).

In the most twisted argument seen in a loooooooong time, Bush actually says (in his current speaking tour) that Black people should support Social Security privatization because they die earlier than white people, and fewer Black men make it to retirement age. Is he arguing that efforts must quickly be made to guarantee decent health care for Black people so they don’t die needlessly? No! His argument is that Black people should help him dismantle Social Security, because (supposedly) fewer of them live to get it!

(Not only is his argument twisted, it is also a lie. For about 20 percent of retired people, Social Security is the only income. But that number is 38 percent among Black and Hispanic elderly people. Attacking Social Security means attacking the most poor, and not surprisingly that includes many Black people.)

Fourth, Bush’s plan of partial privatization is only a first step.

The goal here is to create the political conditions for abolishing universal social protections. Once younger people invest part of their social security tax in the stock market, once the unified system is broken up, then (and this is openly stated in conservative think-tanks) the larger "political consensus" backing the social net is shattered. These are plans to ultimately end a universal, guaranteed national pension system!

Now, let’s look at the bigger picture. This destruction of Social Security is part of a larger move to actually rewrite the social contract of U.S. capitalism and to create a so-called "ownership society."

Let’s talk about values: The conservative Republican forces now in power want a society without a hint of social solidarity or the "entitlements" of guaranteed mutual support. They want a society where fear and insecurity reinforce conformity and obedience, and where an individual’s only refuge is the traditional family and the traditional church.

They want a world that glorifies "personal responsibility"—which really means that the injustices of society can be blamed on supposed moral flaws (and "irresponsibility") of those who are suffering.

In short, they want a society where poverty comes without dignity or entitlements, and where wealth comes without guilt.

And let’s talk about the material underpinnings of those ugly values: They want to guarantee that the United States has an ever-growing lower tier of desperate people who live in fear of falling. Their whole program is fundamentally rooted in capitalism and in the capitalist need for more and more people willing to work for less and less—to guarantee the global competitiveness of their "homeland."

Rewriting the Basic Law

Bush’s speech laid out a tight and specific battle plan for winning "the culture wars"—by using presidential powers to remake the legal system. Bush said he will appoint judges who don’t "legislate from the bench," and he demanded that the Senate’s Republican majority have a free hand to approve his nominees. And he called for passing a constitutional amendment against gay marriage.

To understand what all this means, let’s list the major Supreme Court decisions that conservatives are talking about when they denounce "judges legislating from the bench":

Brown vs. Board of Education (1954, which dismantled official state segregation of schools)

Griswald v. Connecticut (1965, which said states could not make it illegal to sell birth control)

Loving v. Virginia (1967, which overturned state laws forbidding interracial marriage)

Roe v. Wade (1973, which made abortion legal across the U.S.)

Lawrence v. Texas (2003, which legalized gay sexual acts anywhere in the U.S.)

Bush and his supporters uphold a legal doctrine called "strict constructivism"—which means that judges can only uphold those rights that are literally written into the Constitution. Large parts of the modern legal tradition, like the "right to privacy" and "separation of church and state," are not literally written into the words of the Constitution.

Once again, let’s talk about values: What guides this whole program is the fundamentalist view that people are basically sinful, that their behavior and choices need to be confined and sharply limited. It is a view that says Right and Wrong are absolute and determined by fundamentalist Christian teachings on "god"—and therefore people should not have wide "choices" about their own lives or about the direction of society itself.

Bush justified his plans by talking about "building a culture of life"—which is a code word for attacking women’s right to choose. And it is revealing that, in the same speech, he talked about how he plans to reform the federal death penalty system—which is a plan for getting the federal government back in the business of executing prisoners! What a wonderful "culture of life"!

Let’s talk about the bigger picture:

The right wing calls all this "culture wars"—and they really mean "wars." At the end, they want a victory where their enemies are flattened and they have the power to remake the U.S. (and much of the world!).

Specifically they want to impose a reactionary and traditional view of patriarchy on family and sexuality, including especially on women and teenagers. They want to end abortion and much more: they want to sharply restrict birth control, sex information, tolerance of gay sexuality, and social experimentation. They want "cultural diversity" to disappear under a tidal wave of conformity and censorship. Many of Bush’s Christian fascist hard- core supporters openly see their goals in theocratic terms—they want the harsh morality and rules of their religion to be the law-of-the-land.

It is a vision of a world where everyone "knows their place" and where the power of society will slap you back into your place if you forget.

They think this is their moment. And they are looking for openings to make big advances. Imagine if there is another incident like 9/11. How will people like Bush, Alberto Gonzales, Rumsfeld and Condoleezza Rice exploit it? And what will the U.S. and the world look like if they have their way? From the commanding heights, in the White House, in Congress, in the military and in the Supreme Court—they are like the gangster who warns "We can do this the hard way, or we can do this the easy way."

An Unacceptable Future

After the State of the Union speech, it stood out how unopposed Bush’s program currently is within the power structure.

The Democratic leadership, of course, got their usual "moment of response." Who was the first speaker for the Democrats? Senator Harry Reid from Nevada, a conservative Mormon and supporter of the criminalization of abortion. This social conservative now heads the Democrats in the Senate!

With him was Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the House Democratic leader, who argued against "slipping out the back door of Iraq" and demanded that Bush accelerate the creation of an Iraqi puppet army.

Who can imagine either of them leading any real opposition to the program Bush was laying out?

And yet, if you really listen to Bush’s speech and afterwords piece together what it means—it is clear. They are serious about all these changes, and the people need to be very, very serious too. They have their filthy values, and we need to fight for our values: internationalism, bold social experimentation, liberating social change, equality and choice for women, real eye-opening education, scientific critical thinking, and a whole culture of mutual support among people.

Clearly millions of people would be horrified to live in the world Bush envisions. And literally millions would help fight it—if they understood deeply what is at stake, and if they saw a way to actually resist, and if they got a living sense of a liberated new society that is worth fighting for.

 
 


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