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Illusory Differences

Mickey Z
Date Published: 
January 01, 0001
    Now I’ve drawn closed the curtain
    in this little booth where the truth
    has no place to stand
    and I am feeling oh so powerless
    in this stupid booth with this useless
    little lever in my hand.

    —Ani DiFranco, “Birmingham

Did the last year’s anti-war protests occur because Bush is a Republican and has surrounded himself with the likes of Rumsfeld, Cheney, Powell, Rice, and Ashcroft while Clinton, a purported liberal, enjoyed more freedom to commit war crimes?

Bush demonized Hussein as the “next Hitler” in order to attack him. The Left demonized Bush with Hitler comparisons. I’ve written many articles criticizing US policy towards Iraq and have received countless e-mails of support. During Clinton’s bombing of Yugoslavia, I was called a Nazi for “supporting” ethnic cleansing. Who called Clinton a Nazi then? Who made Hitler analogies when he ordered revenge on those “two-bit pricks” (Clinton’s words) in Somalia? Who drew a square black mustache on Clinton posters when civilians died in Yugoslavia during an illegal bombing or a pharmaceutical plant was blown up in the Sudan to distract us from Monica?

These questions bring me back to the 2000 election when Democrats were urged to go Green because Gore was essentially no different than Bush. While this may appear foolish post-9/11, the events of the past three years didn’t change this fundamental reality: The primary difference between Democrats and Republicans is that they tell different lies to get elected.

Prequel to Bush

Would Gore have responded in a drastically different manner to 9/11? It comforts us to believe think Bush is an anomaly and once removed, everything will be better. But during the Clinton/Gore years, the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act was signed into law. This USA PATRIOT Act prequel contained provisions that Clinton himself admitted “makes a number of ill-advised changes in our immigration laws, having nothing to do with fighting terrorism.”

Should we believe Gore would not have clamped down like Dubya’s boys did after 9/11? If he did, would he have faced the same cries of fascism Bush does now? What if Gore gave Iraq the same medicine Clinton gave Yugoslavia...would we have seen tens of millions marching across the globe? Would publications like The Nation be so motivated in their dissent? Will outrage over Iraq manifest itself in nothing more than co-opted support for whichever Democrat raises the $100 million necessary to run for American CEO?

Gore Vidal says: “Our only political party has two right wings, one called Republican, the other Democratic.” This concept of a single corporate-controlled party isn’t new. When Grover Cleveland (Democrat) was elected president in 1884, Robber Baron Jay Gould wired him: “I feel that the vast business interests of the country will be entirely safe in your hands.” Cleveland was succeeded by Benjamin Harrison (Republican), a man who prosecuted railroad strikers in federal courts.

Harrison was bumped out of the White House in 1892 when Grover Cleveland (still a Democrat) reclaimed his throne. In light of this development, Robber Baron Andrew Carnegie received a letter from the manager of steel plants, Henry Clay Frick. “I am sorry for President Harrison,” Frick wrote, “but I cannot see that our interests are going to be affected one way or the other by the change in administration.” Right on cue, President Cleveland used US troops to break up “Coxey’s Army,” a demonstration of unemployed men who had come to Washington to protest.

Democratic failures

More than one hundred years later, when Clinton had the “advantage” of a Democratic Congress, he abandoned his pledge to offer asylum to Haitian refugees, reneged on his promise to “take a firm stand” against the armed forces’ ban on gays and lesbians, and backed away from his most high-profile campaign issue: health care.

Clinton also signed NAFTA and GATT, increased the Pentagon budget by $25 billion, fired Jocelyn Elders, dumped Lani Guinier, bombed Iraq and the Balkans, renewed the murderous sanctions on Iraq, and passed a crime bill that gave us more cops, more prisons, and 58 more offenses punishable by death. After the much-hyped Republican “revolution” in 1994, Bubba delivered a telecommunications bill further narrowing the already laughable parameters of public debate...and he signed the welfare repeal bill.

What about the environment...allegedly Gore’s domain? In 1996, David Brower, former president of the Sierra Club, offered a litany of Clinton-sponsored environmental crimes, i.e. passage of the salvage logging rider, the signing of the Panama Declaration, continuation of the use of methyl bromide, the weakening of the Endangered Species Act, lowering of grazing fees on land, subsidizing Florida’s sugar industry, weakening the Safe Drinking Water Act, reversing the ban on the production and importation of PCBs, and allowing the export of Alaskan oil. Brower declared that Clinton/Gore had “done more harm to the environment in three years than Presidents Bush and Reagan did in 12 years.”

The supposed two-party system is a giant corporate puppeteer wearing a Democrat puppet on his left hand and a Republican puppet on his right. The puppets look different so we appear to have a choice...a choice neatly framed within the bounds of the economic status quo. Both hands are controlled by one brain. We are choosing sides in a false conflict and allowing those is power to determine our freedom of choice. Like the bull in a bullfight, the voter chases the elusive red cape...distracted from the real targets through an attractive illusion...never comprehending the reality that if voting could really change anything, it might be made illegal.

Why did Operation Iraqi Freedom (sic) inspire vastly more outrage than 78 days of carpet-bombing Yugoslavia? Let’s hope it’s more than partisan protest based on the faulty premise of a two-party system, because a movement based on that foundation is certainly doomed.


Mickey Z. is the author of The Murdering of My Years: Artists and Activists Making Ends Meet (Soft Skull Press), and Saving Private Power: The Hidden History of “The Good War” (Soft Skull Press). He is also a contributing editor for Wide Angle, a New York City monthly cultural magazine.