Thursday, March 15, 2007

Bush Kills Off American Optimism

by Len Hart, The Existentialist Cowboy

Bush has robbed Americans of that most American trait -optimism. In the worst of times, Americans shrugged off deprivations and hardships with both a complaint and a wisecrack.

Not quite the British "stiff upper lip", it nevertheless struck back at bad times with a smart ass remark amid faith that things would get better. World War I would make the world safe for Democracy. The Axis powers would be defeated. We would get rich.

At the height of the depression, the movies had a hit with a little ditty called "We're in the Money". It made Ginger Rogers a star.
"We're in the Money," lyrics by Al Dubin, music by Harry Warren (from the film Gold Diggers of 1933, 1933)

We're in the money, we're in the money;
We've got a lot of what it takes to get along!
We're in the money, that sky is sunny,
Old Man Depression you are through, you done us wrong.
We never see a headline about breadlines today.
And when we see the landlord we can look that guy right in the eye

We're in the money, come on, my honey,
Let's lend it, spend it, send it rolling along!

Oh, yes we're in the money, you bet we're in the money,
We've got a lot of what it takes to get along!
Let's go we're in the money, Look up the skies are sunny,
Old Man Depression you are through, you done us wrong.
We never see a headline about breadlines today.
And when we see the landlord we can look that guy right in the eye
We're in the money, come on, my honey,
Let's lend it, spend it, send it rolling along!
But if you might not get rich, an American might provide for his children a better education than he got. An American might indulge fantasies of equality, an education, a career. An American rarely feared that he would be locked up unfairly, beaten, deprived of his rights as an American.

Unless he was black.

But in those days, as E.L. Doctorow would say satirically in "Ragtime", "...there were no negroes."

An American might sleep soundly at night knowing that his government would not be reading his mail or conspiring to break into his home. He might never be accused of treason for supporting a Democratic candidate. He might even dare to join his local union shop.

Of course, even then, such optimism was often misplaced. Black people were lynched. Education was difficult to get. Many died in the dust bowl. Others starved. During the Great Depression, my own relatives lived on wild game in the "Big Thicket" of southeastern Texas. One of my own ancestors might have killed a game warden. I will never know the truth of it. Out of that national experience, another great song became emblematic:
"Brother, Can You Spare a Dime," lyrics by Yip Harburg, music by Jay Gorney (1931)

They used to tell me I was building a dream, and so I followed the mob,
When there was earth to plow, or guns to bear, I was always there right on the job. They used to tell me I was building a dream, with peace and glory ahead,
Why should I be standing in line, just waiting for bread?

Once I built a railroad, I made it run, made it race against time.
Once I built a railroad; now it's done. Brother, can you spare a dime?
Once I built a tower, up to the sun, brick, and rivet, and lime;
Once I built a tower, now it's done. Brother, can you spare a dime?

Once in khaki suits, gee we looked swell,
Full of that Yankee Doodly Dum,
Half a million boots went slogging through Hell,
And I was the kid with the drum!

Say, don't you remember, they called me Al; it was Al all the time.
Why don't you remember, I'm your pal? Buddy, can you spare a dime?

Once in khaki suits, gee we looked swell,
Full of that Yankee Doodly Dum,
Half a million boots went slogging through Hell,
And I was the kid with the drum!

Say, don't you remember, they called me Al; it was Al all the time. Say, don't you remember, I'm your pal? Buddy, can you spare a dime?
The ghosts of the often tragic struggles for equality, civil liberties, the right to join a labor movement, still haunt America. The struggles were engaged because we believed the ideals might be achieved. Labor might achieve a living wage. Minorities might achieve equality. And, during the long Viet Nam debacle, we took to the streets in Chicago because we believed peace might break out. That was the real meaning of flowers placed in gun barrels.

During the administration of Bush Jr, it was difficult to be so optimistic. Bush did not merely eschew American ideals, he openly derides them. Most perniciously, he said "This would be a whole lot easier if this was a dictatorship...just as long as I'm the dictator." Thus Bush declared the anti-American nature of his regime at the outset and, true to form, he waged war on the U.S. Constitution.

Bush is not content to crush American optimism. He seeks to replace it with fear and despair, powerful negative emotions that he and his party eagerly embrace and exploit. Dick Cheney's infamous "snarl" is but a symptom.

By contrast, Franklin Delano Roosevelt -at the height of the depression -said: "We have nothing to fear but fear itself." Bush, by contrast, seems to be the physical manifestation of the American anxieties that he exploits. He is nothing without the phantom menaces that he summons. His very image is enough to trigger a shot of adrenalin, a "fight or flight" reaction that goes right to the gut.

It is no wonder than his recent trip throughout Latin America was notable for the violent demonstrations that it inspired. And, in Europe, you will find graffiti stating "Bush is Satan".

It does not matter that Bush is or is not Satan. What matters is that millions of otherwise intelligent people believe that he is. In fact, he is more loathed than Satan.
The really bad news for Bush? When the same pollsters asked Americans to name a "famous person" as their "biggest villain of the year," 25 percent of them volunteered the president's name. That put Bush way out in front on the biggest-villain list. Rounding out the most villainous five: Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Kim Jong Il, who combined couldn't match Bush's 25 percent level..
--Tim Grieve, War Room, More popular than Jesus, more hated than Satan,
Bush is thought by billions to be a most powerful force for evil. Clearly, he inspires fear at home and terrorism abroad,. He has made of America, an un-American state. Bush himself summed up his agenda:
We will export death and destruction to the four corners of the earth.
-George W. Bush
It just keeps getting harder to remain optimistic.-The Existentialist Cowboy
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