Sunday, April 20, 2008

The Limits of Liberal American Politics

I went to hear Naomi Wolf last night to discuss her book, The End of America: A Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot. Wolf explains that fascists like Hitler and Pinochet applied ten steps to ensure their power, all of which the Bush Administration is implementing:

1. Invoke a terrifying internal and external enemy
2. Create a gulag
3. Develop a thug caste
4. Set up an internal surveillance system
5. Harass citizens' groups
6. Engage in arbitrary detention and release
7. Target key individuals
8. Control the press
9. Dissent equals treason
10. Suspend the rule of law

Most of those whose politics lean leftward know this. I don't need to say much more. But what troubled me once again are the limits of liberal American politics. I did my best to filter through her incessant reference to our revered Founding Fathers. For self-serving economic reasons, a bunch of wealthy landowning men got together and created a political system that would allow them to be independent of the King of England. Call me a marxist-feminist and you've made my day.

But not everything made it through the cheesecloth. As early as her first point, Wolf touched on an issue that is very dear to me. She talked about how, unlike Americans, Israelis had real terrorists (i.e. Palestinians) to be afraid of. What a simplification. Yes, some Palestinians are terrorists and use violence. I do not support that. And yes, both Israeli and Palestinian citizens live under the constant threat of bombings. But the Israeli government uses an accepted violence with much more sophoticated warfare (made in the U.S.A.) to keep the Palestian people caged and is deliberatly breaking treaties by not so slowly building settlements on agreed upon Palestinian land. Israel can also severely affected the Lebanese infrastructure, economy, and stability and no one criticizes them. Their terrorism is condoned.

I barely heard anything else she said after that. Writing this, I had to look at this article in the Guardian to remember her points. I was just plain pissed and had that clinging "I am not going to let this go" feeling that I get when I feel that a group of people are considered expendable. It made me think of Senator Obama's speech from a few weeks ago where he talked about race in a way that Americans needed to hear, but also dismissed Israeli accountability in Middle East politics. I was fuming then too. It has become acceptable to criticize the war and the Bush Administration. Race and wedge issues still cause controversy but are at least talked about. A cloak of invisibility envelops any honest talk about Israel.

After Naomi Wolf spoke I myopically went around the theater looking for all of those that I knew were feeling the same way. My Palestinian friend V. was talking to someone and I completely interrupted them to discuss her omission. Later, I saw him talking to her. I cut in line, walked up, and was getting ready to tell her off. I was so angry. V. grabbed me by the shoulder and lead me away. "At least she just apologized for the injustice her people have caused my people, " he said. I would like that apology and acknowledgement to be made public. It is not enough to say it in a private one-on-one conversation. The woman has the power to make a difference.

A little later, a man who knew a colleague that I was standing with made some comment about how Ron Paul would restore our civil liberties. I let out all of my ire onto him and told him that Ron Paul could care less about women's rights. I didn't even say anything about gay rights. My colleague responded to him with much more diplomacy, "Ron Paul is great on civil liberties- for 50% of the population."

I am glad that V. grabbed my shoulder. After the incident with the Ron Paul supporter, I realized that my anger wasn't going to get me anywhere. Not getting so outwardly angry at least. I went home and read over some poems by the man that had opened for Ms. Wolf, Doren Robbins. I recommend him. He's very political but also can appreciate the small things in life. He can mix the beauty and incrediblenes of nature with the horrors of war and the struggles of economic refugees. I will close with one of my favorites:

Natural History

Tried to lift a swallowtail butterfly out of

a thick web, out of leg and wing fragments.
I think they were parts of moths and flies.
All the truncations, all the leaf chips,
dirty gauze strands, Chinese silver ash spores.
Held my thumb knuckle out for it to walk on.
That hesitating, that erotic clinging, that
flexing and trembling. At a garage window.
I forgot my tools inside the truck,
my work shoes by the pedals.
It came out on one thread. The window
behind the web was blank. Leather
insoles held the stained shapes of
my feet, those white swallows
pointing their beaks
at the underworld, pointing
at the carnivorous, pointing
and clinging. I was trying to lift it
through the leg and wing fragments
past the dry torso of a wasp.
Wrist bones secured with wire
in documentaries, fragmented
in my head. Mass grave photojournalism,
as usual quotas waiting for us,
incidental naturalism of our malice
documentaries went through my
interior gauze and webs. I was trying
to be steady. My hand close to the foot
below the wing, close to the breath
jumping on the rim of dirty strands.
To the antennae that looked moist,
to the remarkable fetal expression,
I held out my thumb knuckle.

Check out more of Doren Robbins' work at Pemmican Press.

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