Newsweek and the Silence of the Lambs
14 December 2005
Newsweek's current issue, December 19th, now on the stands, has a cover showing George Bush in a bubble with the heading: "Bush's World - The Isolated President: Can He Change?" For months Doug Thompson's blog - Capitol Hill Blue - has been circulating on the internet, with many of us more curious about Thompson than about Bush. Thompson's charges were outrageous - reports of a President who wandered the White House yelling at his aides, accusing those around him of betraying him - surely Thompson was on a private rant of his own. (Thompson is not a left winger - if anything, he is a libertarian, so his reports carry more sting than something written by a liberal).
Now, with this long article by Evan Thomas and Richard Wolffe, running for ten pages (with a terrific follow-up column on the "Imperial Presidency" by Fareed Zakaria), it is clear that Capitol Hill Blue was reporting the reality. What is most interesting about the article is not what is in it, but what is not in it. Where other articles discussing past Presidents - Clinton, Kennedy, Johnson, Reagan - would have been able to quote "named sources", what we have here is almost entirely anonymous. Take this example: "A White House aide, who like virtually all White House officials (in this story and in general) refused to be identified for fear of antagonize the President..." or "White House officials, as well as one of his closest friends (also speaking anonymously so as not to complicate relations with the President )...."
The problem extends beyond the White House itself, to the military: "According to senior Pentagon officials who did not want to be identified discussing private meetings", to the Republicans in Congress, "One House Republican, who asked not to be identified for fear of offending the White House . . . " and even to those entirely outside the US, "A foreign diplomat who declined to be identified was startled when Secretary of State Rice warned him not to lay bad news on the president. 'Don't upset him' she said".
Don't upset him? Over two thousands Americans dead in Iraq, tens of thousands of Iraqis dead, and Bush must not be upset? The situation is so serious that Senator Joseph Lieberman, an enthusiastic supporter of Bush's war, now is urging a bipartisan "war council" that could advise the President. (There is a rumor Lieberman may be brought in to replace Rumsfeld).
The Newsweek article confirms the feeling many of us have had, as we watched Bush blunder into a criminal adventure in Iraq and stumble so badly over the New Orleans tragedy, that the nation is like a train rushing along toward a bridge that isn't there. The war is getting worse instead of better, the deficit is rising, the tax cuts benefit the very wealthy, the administration is absolutely riddled with corruption - as bad as anything I've seen in my life - and Bush doesn't listen, doesn't read, wants long vacations and wants to be in bed by ten! (And now, as those my age realize, we are stuck with a medical insurance plan that Bush can't even understand).
What makes matters worse is that there seems to be no way to put a brake on this train. The Democrats are divided and for the most part clueless - outside of John Murtha, who saw the truth and spoke it. Hillary Clinton is still building her political platform on support of the military (and, lately, on a bill to ban flag burning). Bush, the man who became President by one vote of the Supreme Court, despite losing both the popular vote and (as the media pretty unanimously agreed after a careful look at the Florida ballots) the electoral college, is now frightened, fearful, appearing only at events that can be carefully controlled, with audiences that are friendly.
We have three more years of this Administration - and frankly not much to hope for from the Democrats. If there is any hope it will come "from below", from millions of citizens who are fed up with an administration that has had only the interests of the corporate state at heart. When there is strong pressure we can see, as with Nancy Pelosi, change is possible. It was clear from watching John Murtha that the military is very uneasy, there are tensions between the military and Rumsfeld. What we need and don't have is a Martin Luther King Jr. But what we do have is Cindy Sheehan, a mother who lost her son, the Rosa Parks of the peace movement, camping outside of the Bush ranch all this past summer, galvanizing tens of thousands of Americans - many of them military families.
What I believe we need to do is tie together some of the issues - the terrible losses of American and Iraqi lives, the failure of the country to put its money where it is needed (New Orleans and our infrastructure), the loss of our civil liberties, the shock of finding torture now an official project - to point out, by dialogue, not by shouting, that we have an administration of the wealthy which is indifferent to the burdens carried by working families, many of them African American, Asian, Hispanic. In short, where there is no leadership, that burden falls on us, home by home, town by town, vigil by vigil, letters to the editors, delegations meeting with members of Congress.
Newsweek, troubled by what it found in the White House, searched for answers in places not so obscure or foolish - the Freudian tensions between Bush the younger and his father, Bush the failure all his life who is now suddenly frightened and insecure as reality presses in. The Newsweek article is important - this is a newsmagazine, not a journal of opinion. And the news it brings us is that our Administration is out of touch and out of control. For our friends elsewhere in the world, now is not the time to "make peace" with the Administration, but to speak truth to power. For those of us living here, now is not the time to despair but to realize that when even a leading newsmagazine runs a feature article pointing out that the emperor is naked, the time for change has come.
Socialist Party nominee (write-in) for Congress, 1958. Peace & Freedom Party nominee for Congress, 1968. Socialist Party nominee for President, 1980. National Co-Chair, Socialist Party, two terms. National Committeeman, Socialist Party. Arrested over a dozen times for participation in peace, civil rights, and labor demonstrations.