Friday, February 04, 2005


Azmi Bishara analyzes Bush's speeches

You probably couldn't pay me enough to watch talking head pundits on American cable news programs analyze George W. Bush's inaugural speech for his second term. However, I was very interested to see what Azmi Bishara had to say in Al-Ahram. Although it's not his best writing (I actually often find that his English pieces in al-Ahram lack focus) there is lots to think about in here and a few real gems.

Bishara starts off by talking about the growing willingness to openly talk about the fact that the president isn't writing his own speeches. While this was always an open secret before (everybody knew that there were speech-writers involved), it has now become an open and accepted fact, such that it becomes public knowledge that Michael Girson was responsible for the speech and that it underwent 22 revisions. Not that this is particular to George W. Bush, but Bishara thinks it significant nonetheless.
This applies not only to the US but to many other countries in today's world -- an undoubtedly new world in which charisma has assumed a new meaning and, more importantly, in which the concept of lying has undergone a complete upheaval. The lie has become the truth. Whereas formerly the fact that the president did not write his own speeches was something to be kept from the people, it is now no longer necessary to conceal the lie. The president can now recite speeches, feigning conviction in words everyone knows he never wrote but without having to feign he wrote them. To some people such open deception passes for honesty.
There is then some discussion of the use of "liberty" and "freedom" in the speech and the meanings that these words have taken on in the context of the Bush administration and the world.
Although both terms convey the sense of liberation and emancipation, freedom implies the general absence, or removal of, externally and internally imposed constraints, whereas liberty has a specific socio-political application dependent on a system of laws and regulations.

Bush, in his address, uses the words interchangeably. This is not because Bush's speech writer was unaware of the difference but because his aim was to blur the distinction between freedom, which is still an unresolved issue for many Third World countries, and political liberty, under which heading are many issues now precariously up in the air in American society.
Then we get to some meat and potatoes.
There was one sentence in the speech that revealed with spine chilling clarity the ulterior purpose behind Bush's rhetoric: "America's vital interests and our deepest beliefs are now one." This must be the most insidiously propagandistic statement I have ever read. Nothing more clearly epitomises this administration's determination to compel the public to identify with the ideology of the state. The American people are to understand that their "deepest beliefs" and their interests are one and the same thing. Taken in the context of this speech, and in conjunction with Bush's other speeches, they should further understand that it is now in America's interests for that most American of beliefs -- liberty -- to be wielded as a primary instrument in foreign policy and the pursuit of imperial hegemony. On this, moreover, Bush is explicit: "Advancing these ideals is the mission that created our nation. It is the honourable achievement of our fathers. Now it is the urgent requirement of our nation's security, and the calling of our time."
Bishara then goes on to talk about the Bush administrations coopting of certain frameworks of the left.
Bush does not leave the subject there; he couches the mission in philosophical terms with which no enlightened leftist could take issue: "We go forward with complete confidence in the eventual triumph of freedom. Not because history runs on the wheels of inevitability; it is human choices that move events."

The writers of this speech clearly listened in on discussions among their university colleagues in the 1970s and 1980s over the relationship between freedom and historical imperative and between subjectivity and objectivity as propounded by Hegel, Marx and the neo-Hegelians. Well, there's nothing wrong with a dose of anti- determinism, enlightened leftists might have thought, with a quick breath of relief. But, just as quickly, Bush knocks the wind out of them with a single punch: "History has an ebb and flow of justice, but history also has a visible direction, set by the author of liberty."

Now, not only is the mission once again cast as a historical imperative but also as an article of faith. One does not have to look far for the inspirational source for this sentence. It is to be found in a speech by the neo-conservatives' godfather, Barry Goldwater who, when running as Republican contender against John Kennedy in 1964, said "this nation was founded upon the acceptance of God as the author of freedom".
I haven't seen this Goldwater comparison yet. Maybe I am not looking in the right places, but it seems a bit ironic that a Palestinian member of Israel's Knesset would have to be the one to draw connections between Bush and Goldwater. Our historical memory in the United States has been put through the wringer. Nobody remembers that Elliot Abrams, recently promoted to deputy national security advisor, was involved in the Iran Contra scandal. Hell, nobody remembers Iran contra. That's so pre-9/11. The whole world changed. We have no need to remember what happened before, because it was all mistakes based on an assumption of safety. Safety is gone. Fear rules. Forget the past. In fact, we can't even go back a few years, when we thought we were going into Iraq because their weapons of mass destruction constituted a grave threat to us here in the United States. That's all been replaced by liberty and freedom and purple fingers raised in solidarity with the voters of Iraq. (Please excuse me while I vomit indignantly.) And thus we come full circle:
When introducing the New Deal, Roosevelt spoke of four types of freedom: freedom of expression, freedom of belief, freedom from want and freedom from fear. This was his response to a major economic crisis. Bush's new deal threatens the first three freedoms, the third of which inspired Roosevelt to establish the social security system. As for the fourth freedom, Bush has distorted this into the freedom to disseminate fear, which rapidly translates into the freedom to restrict all other freedoms and liberties.

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