The Danse Macabre of US-Style Democracy

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The former
president of Tanzania Julius Nyerere once asked, "Why haven’t
we all got a vote in the US election? Surely everyone with a TV
set has earned that right just for enduring the merciless bombardment
every four years." Having reported four presidential election
campaigns, from the Kennedys to Nixon, Carter to Reagan, with their
Zeppelins of platitudes, robotic followers and rictal wives, I can
sympathize. But what difference would the vote make? Of the presidential
candidates I have interviewed, only George C. Wallace, governor
of Alabama, spoke the truth. "There’s not a dime’s worth of
difference between the Democrats and Republicans," he said.
And he was shot.

What struck
me, living and working in the United States, was that presidential
campaigns were a parody, entertaining and often grotesque. They
are a ritual danse macabre of flags, balloons and bullshit, designed
to camouflage a venal system based on money power, human division
and a culture of permanent war.

Traveling with
Robert Kennedy in 1968 was eye-opening for me. To audiences of the
poor, Kennedy would present himself as a savior. The words "change"
and "hope" were used relentlessly and cynically. For audiences
of fearful whites, he would use racist codes, such as "law
and order." With those opposed to the invasion of Vietnam,
he would attack "putting American boys in the line of fire,"
but never say when he would withdraw them. That year (after Kennedy
was assassinated), Richard Nixon used a version of the same, malleable
speech to win the presidency. Thereafter, it was used successfully
by Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and the two Bushes.
Carter promised a foreign policy based on "human rights"
— and practiced the very opposite. Reagan’s "freedom agenda"
was a bloodbath in central America. Clinton "solemnly pledged"
universal health care and tore down the last safety net of the Depression.

Nothing has
changed. Barack Obama is a glossy Uncle Tom who would bomb Pakistan.
Hillary Clinton, another bomber, is anti-feminist. John McCain’s
one distinction is that he has personally bombed a country. They
all believe the US is not subject to the rules of human behavior,
because it is "a city upon a hill," regardless that most
of humanity sees it as a monumental bully which, since 1945, has
overthrown 50 governments, many of them democracies, and bombed
30 nations, destroying millions of lives.

If you wonder
why this holocaust is not an "issue" in the current campaign,
you might ask the BBC, which is responsible for reporting the campaign
to much of the world, or better still Justin Webb, the BBC’s North
America editor. In a Radio 4 series last year, Webb displayed the
kind of sycophancy that evokes the 1930s appeaser Geoffrey Dawson,
then editor of the London Times. Condoleezza Rice cannot be too
mendacious for Webb. According to Rice, the US is "supporting
the democratic aspirations of all people." For Webb, who believes
American patriotism "creates a feeling of happiness and solidity,"
the crimes committed in the name of this patriotism, such as support
for war and injustice in the Middle East for the past 25 years,
and in Latin America, are irrelevant. Indeed, those who resist such
an epic assault on democracy are guilty of "anti-Americanism,"
says Webb, apparently unaware of the totalitarian origins of this
term of abuse. Journalists in Nazi Berlin would damn critics of
the Reich as "anti-German."

his treacle about the "ideals" and "core values"
that make up America’s sanctified "set of ideas about human
conduct" denies us a true sense of the destruction of American
democracy: the dismantling of the Bill of Rights, habeas corpus
and separation of powers. Here is Webb on the campaign trail: "[This]
is not about mass politics. It is a celebration of the one-to-one
relationship between an individual American and his or her putative
commander-in-chief." He calls this "dizzying." And
Webb on Bush: "Let us not forget that while the candidates
win, lose, win again . . . there is a world to be run and President
Bush is still running it." The emphasis in the BBC text actually
links to the White House website.

None of this
drivel is journalism. It is anti-journalism, worthy of a minor courtier
of a great power. Webb is not exceptional. His boss Helen Boaden,
director of BBC News, sent this reply to a viewer who had protested
the prevalence of propaganda as the basis of news: "It is simply
a fact that Bush has tried to export democracy [to Iraq] and that
this has been troublesome."

And her source
for this "fact"? Quotations from Bush and Blair saying
it is a fact.

24, 2008

was born and educated in Sydney, Australia. He has been
a war correspondent, filmmaker and playwright. Based in London,
he has written from many countries and has twice won British journalism’s
highest award, that of "Journalist of the Year," for his
work in Vietnam and Cambodia. His new book, Tell
Me No Lies: Investigative Journalism and Its Triumphs
, is
published by Jonathan Cape in June.

John Pilger 2008

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