Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Our Special Specialness

A chief requirement of the executive imperial manager gig, what we playfully call "the presidency," is to grovel before Old Glory while invoking God, Greatness, and Destiny. Most Americans demand this from their father-leaders (mother-leaders as well), so the ritual is routinely catered to, further fetishized by the corporate media. It's a strange, sad, sick display, borne of insecurity and fear, cynically exploited, thoroughly American. I suspect that we'll never be rid of it, even when the machines take power, cybernetic claws thrust upward, saluting holographic flags. Some traditions never die.

With Independence Day approaching (another zombie tradition, increasingly meaningless in a commodified world, though I do love setting off fireworks), tribalism is the main topic, with both Obama and McCain going through the motions to pacify the rubes. McCain's Biergärten enthusiasms are well known:

But Obama's not far behind, playing to the same emotions with a smoother, subtler song. His recent speech honoring the Vaterland featured not only the predictable soft-focus images, but also the requisite "stabbed-in-the-back" refrain concerning the Vietnam era:

"[S]ome of those in the so-called counter-culture of the Sixties reacted not merely by criticizing particular government policies, but by attacking the symbols, and in extreme cases, the very idea, of America itself - by burning flags; by blaming America for all that was wrong with the world; and perhaps most tragically, by failing to honor those veterans coming home from Vietnam, something that remains a national shame to this day."

Tomorrow may belong to Obama, but here he's simply spouting crap. "Dragnet" hippies are always fun to blast, those legions of dirty, pot-smoking traitors who lined up at airports, poised to spit on any pour soul in uniform. Yet the reality is much different, as Obama probably knows. The antiwar movement of the 60s and early-70s embraced returning veterans, many of whom became prominent speakers and activists in the cause. It was the US government that shit all over combat vets, from the VA on down; and there was hostility in the military itself, among active duty personnel and the old coots at the local VFW. I remember it well, as Vietnam was still very fresh in the minds of my NCOs and commanding officers. Hell, there were Vietnam vets in uniform who bad-mouthed their fellow combatants, primarily those who turned against the war. The Southeast Asian slaughterhouse did a serious number on the minds of many I served alongside. It was an early eye-opener for me, the first of many lessons.

I don't know what lessons Obama encountered, but clearly, pandering to American mythology had to be his major. Among Sen. Audacity's many howlers, this passage was especially rich:

"That is why, for me, patriotism is always more than just loyalty to a place on a map or a certain kind of people. Instead, it is also loyalty to America's ideals - ideals for which anyone can sacrifice, or defend, or give their last full measure of devotion. I believe it is this loyalty that allows a country teeming with different races and ethnicities, religions and customs, to come together as one. It is the application of these ideals that separate us from Zimbabwe, where the opposition party and their supporters have been silently hunted, tortured or killed; or Burma, where tens of thousands continue to struggle for basic food and shelter in the wake of a monstrous storm because a military junta fears opening up the country to outsiders; or Iraq, where despite the heroic efforts of our military, and the courage of many ordinary Iraqis, even limited cooperation between various factions remains far too elusive."

Yes, yes -- it's always worse someplace else. That's an American specialty: pointing in other directions. As bad as it must be in Zimbabwe and Burma, it is nothing compared to US history, from ethnic cleansing to slavery to class war to political repression, assassinations, and corruption. And that's just domestically. Let's not even go into our glorious foreign policy achievements, the most recent of which Obama soft-pedaled, seemingly unsure why life is bad for countless Iraqis. But then, you can't tell the truth and get elected in America, a fact that most people acknowledge yet do little or nothing to combat. That should tell us something about ourselves, but if we can find a horror scene in Africa, we won't have to think about it for very long. As Obama riffed:

"I believe those who attack America's flaws without acknowledging the singular greatness of our ideals, and their proven capacity to inspire a better world, do not truly understand America."

To quote IOZ who loves to quote John Goodman from "The Big Lebowski": Fuck it, Dude. Let's go bowling.