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The Popularity of Peace and Presidents
By David Swanson
Numerous media organizations regularly poll members of the public on whether they approve of the President's job performance. Uniformly, these polls show a dramatic upsurge in approval of Bush immediately following the attacks of September 11, 2001, but a decline in approval following Hurricane Katrina.
Working in favor of national sanity is the fact that the hurricane is more recent than the airplane attacks. While it seems distinctly unlikely that people will yet begin approving of Bush because there was a hurricane, it is at least conceivable that people will stop giving him credit for having occupied the White House and possessed a pulse on 9-11. That is to say, I can imagine people revising their assessments of 9-11 to fall more in line with their assessments of Katrina.
In both cases, Bush took actions that contributed to the disasters. In both cases he failed to respond to them effectively. In both cases he devoted most of his energy to public relations. In both cases he told whoppers with a straight face or a smirk.
We're familiar with Katrina. Bush contributed to the disaster by pushing an energy policy that increases global warming, by defunding flood protection efforts, by putting an unqualified crony in charge of emergency management, and by sending the National Guard to guard another nation's oil. Bush failed to respond by playing golf and going to birthday parties, by proposing a woefully inadequate sum for repair work, and by praising the lousy job being done by his buddies. Bush staged phony repair work for photo ops and lied like a dog about who was to blame and who had done what in response to the hurricane.
Amazingly, many of us are less familiar with the parallels on 9-11. Bush ignored dire warnings about the coming attack and chose to go on vacation. He failed to respond by sitting transfixed in an elementary school classroom and then taking no immediate actions. He staged photo ops, stymied all attempts at a serious investigation of what had gone wrong, and proceeded to blame the attacks on entirely the wrong person: Saddam Hussein. On March 18, 2003, Bush formally submitted to Congress that a war on Iraq was necessitated by threats to this country from Iraq and by a need to go after nations that were behind the 9-11 attacks. That pair of lies led directly to the National Guard's absence from the nation, as well as furthering U.S. dependence on oil.
On September 11, this Sunday, in Washington, D.C., the Pentagon (with funding help from a number of media outlets) will promote the same lies yet again, with a march and a concert attempting to paint the war on Iraq as an appropriate response to the 9-11 attacks. On the same day, a group of hurricane victims plans to establish on public ground in DC a protest encampment called "Bushville," which brings us full circle: victims of the more recent disaster are now protesting the deceitful prolongation and exacerbation of the earlier one.
On September 14, next Wednesday, two events will occur in DC that may generate less notice but offer greater hope, I think, than anything else on the radar screen. One is the House International Relations Committee meeting to vote on a Resolution of Inquiry into Bush's lies about the reasons for war. The second is Congressman Dennis Kucinich's re-introduction of a bill to create a Department of Peace. The proposal is that our government actually put some effort behind creating peace, to counter in some small way the massive efforts (and the majority of our tax dollars) which we dump into promoting war. Kucinich's vision offers hope for this planet and – as a tool for that purpose – for developing an opposition political party with a clear enough message to vote for. That message (of which most Democrats are insanely terrified) includes the need to shift resources from the Pentagon and war to constructive investments in renewable energy and mass transit. Democrats shy away from such talk because they don't want to be accused of favoring "big government." Various analyses of Katrina's impact on public opinion push the idea that "big government" is in again. Maybe so, but the more vital point for progressives to make is that small government never was. Bush has not given us a small government. He's merely given us a government that puts most of its money into the Pentagon. We have to change that, and we cannot do so as long as we are afraid to talk about it.
On September 15, next Thursday, Democrats and a few brave Republicans will stretch to the limits their willingness to speak truth to power. Lynn Woolsey, Co-Chair of the Progressive Caucus, will hold a hearing on how to bring the troops home. Afterwards, at 5 p.m., Congresswoman Woolsey and other members of Congress will join peace groups and military families and veterans to rally against the war in front of the White House.
It will be interesting to see where the opinion polls move after the coming week of activities, all of which are, however, prelude to a massive mobilization against the war on September 24 in Washington. What would happen – I hesitate even to dream it – if the media covered this anti-war event with even half the new-found decency with which reporters have covered the hurricane? Time will tell.
DAVID SWANSON is a co-founder of After Downing Street, a writer and activist, and the Washington Director of Democrats.com. He is a board member of Progressive Democrats of America, and serves on the Executive Council of the Washington-Baltimore Newspaper Guild, TNG-CWA. He has worked as a newspaper reporter and as a communications director, with jobs including Press Secretary for Dennis Kucinich's 2004 presidential campaign, Media Coordinator for the International Labor Communications Association, and three years as Communications Coordinator for ACORN, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now. Swanson obtained a Master's degree in philosophy from the University of Virginia in 1997.