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 bullsh*t, 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."
Moreover, 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.