March 10, 2003
Lapham at Victoria

Nothing's made me happier recently than Lewis Lapham at Victoria College talking about Havana in 61, Saigon in 75, Henry G. Dearborn (who he shares blood with) and his decision not to cross the St. Lawrence and raid Montreal in 1812, because "it was cold" and because "on the other side there were men with guns" and because, despite the fact there were 7 million people in America and a mere 500,000 Canadians at the time - and despite the fact that the U.S. government had declared the invasion a cake-walk openly predicting Canada would fall by August - Dearborn's soldiers saw no point in the carnage.

At some point I got out my pen and started writing stuff down: America is a story that doesn't make sense if you start on Chapter 30. The Bush Administration is a "constituency of frightened rich", a band of "Utopian Anarchists". The Patriot Act was passed without discussion and a list of its effects, rendered in a mesmerizing sentence or two, shows it is being written by people who have no respect for, or understanding of, the American story. There's the Three Strike Policy (upheld by Bush's Supreme Court) that has recently sent a man to jail for 25 years for stealing three golf clubs. There's their axis of evil theory, their ideas about taxing the poor and not the rich, the affirmative action stance in Michigan, their vested interest in drilling in the arctic and overturning Roe V Wade. And there's this War on Terror, which Lapham deliciously put forth was more futile than the War On Drugs has been, or a War on Lust might be.

For the most part his focus was domestic, and he appraised the key players by taking issue with a few of their proudest insights. On Rumsfeld's "The absence of evidence is not evidence of absence" he took a minute to fathom the contempt. He had a go at Bush's "That's the interesting thing about being President," statement, offered to Bob Woodward, that followed "people might feel they have to explain themselves to me but I never feel I have to explain myself to people." Lapham took this to be the greatest proof yet that Bush doesn't understand the meaning of the word politics. And the greatest lie he tells is the lie that says "America will not live in fear." Where else, Lapham asked, does the current administration expect us to live? Something like 'suspect the sky, don't trust your neighbour, hide your children'. We are, after all, in a war with religious fundamentalists, and being led by a man who thanks God for American liberty in his State of the Union addresses, thereby denying outright the secularism of politics. He holds hands and sings songs about the Lord in the White House every morning.

To the question: Why now? Lapham was funny listing the reasons, chief among them "the weather". To be sure, soon it will be too hot to fight the kind of aggressive ground war the attack on Iraq calls for. But the reason this war has to happen now, in Lapham's mind, is because war is easier than peace. The War On Iraq is the easiest way the current administration sees to turn the economy around and look good in the next election. Never mind that there will certainly be another terrorist attack, and that WOI is only speeding such an attack along. Never mind that this war is brought to you by the greedy minds behind the Enron scam - just fear Saddam and realize his time has come. No one will be happier than Osama bin fuckhead himself.

Lapham's summation - "The Bush administration is the past" sounded such a hopeful note, however naive it may be. It crystalized with his assertion that the "Empire" premise no longer holds - as we're too vulnerable in too many ports and we have to see this before we are made to see it forcibly. Ground Zero as nuclear wasteland, or something even worse. America must not act alone, must listen to its friends and allies, must seek to hold on to whatever shreds of sympathy it garnered on the eleventh of September, and perhaps realize it is winning the War On Saddam the very same way it won the Cold War - bloodlessly.

Really, Lapham didn't say anything I hadn't read or heard before, yet boy, did he ever, in spite of this, manage to sound novel. It got me thinking how rare it is I hear a peace advocate actually finish their sentences without being jumped on by some monied pundit. And it made me feel a lot more comfortable about being in the same camp as Tim Robbins and Madonna on a political issue.

It had been killing me recently.

Posted by at March 10, 2003 04:31 PM

Call on God, but row away from the rocks.
-- Indian proverb

Posted by: Party Poker on November 4, 2004 09:02 AM .
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