by John Spritzler

August 31, 2004

[]'s spoof of Kerry & Bush ( ), to the tune of Woody Guthrie's "This Land Is Our Land," was an overnight sensation. Everybody sent the web address to their friends. The spoof was so popular because it said what most people really think -- both candidates are as phony as a three dollar bill. How seriously can anybody take this election when polls show a majority of Americans think the U.S. invasion of Iraq was wrong and yet both major candidates back it to the hilt? Some network TV stations even played the spoof in its entirety, probably figuring that the public was watching it anyway and already viewed the election with contempt, so ignoring it would only make people even more skeptical that their TV news is telling them what's going on in the world.

The jibjab spoof, plus the immense popularity of Fahrenheit 9-11, indicate that the American public is extremely alienated from both major parties and extremely skeptical of mass media propaganda, despite the powerful emotional effect of the 9-11 attack, despite the complete unity of the entire capitalist class in promoting its war on terror, and despite all of the "Orange Alerts." I cannot recall a time in U.S. history when America's ruling elite failed so remarkably in their effort to whip up war hysteria when they went all out to do so. People are far more sophisticated in their understanding of elite lies and manipulation than ever before.

But if more people see through the lies than ever before, why is there not a massive popular movement for change? I think the problem here is Americans' crippling sense of hopelessness. People who are in fact the majority think of themselves as a small minority. The plutocracy who really run the show in the United States work very deliberately to keep people feeling hopeless. They control virtually the entire range of public discourse to do it, even publications that are supposed to represent a "left" or liberal alternative. I was reminded of this recently when I attended a book reading by the editor of Harpers Magazine, Lewis Lapham.

Harpers, with its 200,000 circulation, is the largest mainstream monthly magazine in the nation which opposed the Iraq war. The only other magazine with a similarly big influence in the anti-war movement is The Nation, a weekly edited by Katrina Vanden Heuvel. Lapham told the audience at the book signing that he is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR). The CFR is the elite organization which formulates U.S. foreign policy. It includes approximately 4000 members who are, as the CFR puts it, "leaders in government, business, finance, media, academia and a wide range of nonprofit organizations." The CFR is an exclusive group. New members must first be endorsed by four current members and then be selected by the membership committee; once admitted, members are not allowed to reveal publicly what any other member says during its meetings. The CFR is no mere advocacy organization. Since 1961 all thirteen of the Secretaries of State, ten of the fourteen Secretaries of Defense and eleven of the fourteen Directors of the CIA have been CFR members. This organization includes not only people like Condoleeza Rice and Dick Cheney, but also Bill Clinton, Jesse Jackson and Robert Reich. It transcends the "right wing"/"liberal" divide because it serves the wealthiest American families, like the Rockefellers, and uses politicians of every stripe for that single purpose. Lapham made light of his membership in the CFR, saying he writes against his fellow members all the time but "they don't read" so they don't even know it. Ha ha. CFR members, however, are not about to kick Lapham out; he serves the organization quite skillfully. He attracts anti-establishment readers and then tries to neutralize their threat to the plutocracy by telling them they have no realistic choice but to "hold their nose and vote for Kerry."

The Nation's editor is also a member of the CFR. Now why would CFR members be editing such strongly anti-war magazines as Harpers and The Nation? The explanation is that powerful people understand that to hold onto power one must lead not only one's allies but also one's enemies. The CFR wants to make sure that the anti-war movement remains isolated from the majority of American people. How to do that? Make Americans believe that the anti-war movement is wedded to views which most Americans find extremely controversial, namely the liberal agenda of same-sex marriage, affirmative action, gun control etc. If CFR-edited anti-war magazines succeed in making the anti-war movement believe that the liberal agenda defines what it means to be a decent "progressive" person, then the people in that movement will isolate themselves from most Americans. And in the process, the anti-war movement will come to feel that it cannot rely on ordinary Americans and must therefore rely on people in high places, i.e. Democratic Party leaders and in particular John Kerry. Thus both Harpers and The Nation simultaneously attack the war in Iraq and treat the liberal agenda as sacrosanct; and they both tell their readers it is necessary to "hold one's nose and vote for Kerry." The CFR wants to handcuff the anti-war movement to the liberal agenda. The last thing the CFR wants is for common sense to prevail in the anti-war movement. Common sense would say to unite Americans around the important things they agree upon -- no wars fought for hidden agendas, real democracy instead of fake democracy, things like that; not things like same-sex marriage for crying out loud.

Other members of the CFR, those (like William F. Buckley, founder of the conservative National Review magazine, and former Rep. Newt Gingrich) who specialize in influencing people opposed to the progressive agenda, try to convince their followers that the only alternative to the liberal outlook is an overtly pro-capitalist one. To those who resent being viewed as racist, homophobic ignoramuses by rich, elite liberals like Senators Clinton and Kennedy, these leaders say, "You're absolutely right." What they don't tell their followers is that they are also right in standing up against the class privileges defended by the likes of Buckley and Gingrich, such as the privilege of wealthy shareholders of a company to live in luxury without working while employees who do the work get hit with layoffs and cutbacks in health insurance at the whim of the owners. Or the privilege of politicians like Rumsfeld and Cheney and Bush to lie to Americans and send them to fight and die in wars that have nothing to do with protecting Americans or freedom. God forbid that people who disagree with the progressive agenda should turn towards a revolutionary outlook of abolishing class inequality and creating a real democracy. This is what the Buckleys and Gingrichs must prevent. It's not an easy job because, in fact, many of the people who are put off by the liberal agenda are as opposed to capitalism and its atrocities, like the Iraq war, as are self-described "progressives."

I discovered this when I went to a demonstration against same-sex marriage recently in front of Boston's City Hall, where they were passing out bumper stickers that read: "Power to the People, Not the Courts." I asked a young college man who was holding one of their banners if he agreed with the Pope's opposition to the Iraq war. This led to a discussion of the war and 9-11 between me and him and a handful of others in their group who joined in. It turned out the college student was deeply opposed to the war. One of the other members of the group began backing me up by telling a third person how the whole 9-11 story we've been told is a lie and how the military jets were not scrambled, etc. The college student was the son of working class parents in the nearby housing development. He told me how his mother told him that all the politicians were liars, and how he shouldn't trust his college teachers when they bad-mouthed the working class. (He was opposed to same-sex marriage, by the way, because of his concern for its negative effect on children in such marriages who don't have the benefit of being raised by their real mother and father; he was sensitive to this because his father had left when he was young.) People like this student and his mother and the others demonstrating with him against same-sex marriage are part of the majority of Americans who want a democratic revolution, even if they have never heard it spoken of in those terms before.

The crucial question that should concern the anti-war movement is this: Will these people rise up to join in a movement to overthrow the American plutocracy, or will they be neutralized by hopelessness? These Americans know the reality of class power. They see organizations that purport to represent them using issues like same-sex marriage as a litmus test to make it clear that they are not welcome, not in the Democratic party, not in the sell-out unions that cozy up to the Democratic party, not in the anti-war movement, and not in any other liberal organizations. The only welcome mats they see are in front of the Republican party and allied right-wing organizations which respect traditional views on social issues while making it very clear that wealthy people must run the show. Working class people can listen to Rush Limbaugh make fun of liberals and denounce liberal elitism. But the price of admission is to grit one's teeth and not complain when Rush attacks working class aspirations. For example, I once heard Rush tell a naive ditto-head, calling in to tell his hero why he was on strike against UPS, that the caller should go back to work and quit belly-aching and if he wanted to improve his life he should become an entrepreneur and do it the American way. The function of liberalism in the hands of its elite leaders is to ensure that working class Americans see their only choice as being either the Rush Limbaughs and George Bushes on the right, who pretend to respect them on social issues, or the Clinton and Hollywood glitterati liberals on the left who hold them in utter contempt.

The liberal and conservative ideologies are both instruments of the plutocracy. Our rulers use both ideologies in a coordinated strategy to keep us divided against each other and reliant on phonies like Bush and Kerry. This land is our land, but to take control of it we need to beware of these traps that our CFR "friends" have crafted for us. We the people are a huge majority. We agree far more with each other than we do with the small elite who rule America, who ratchet up inequality every way they can, who use the electoral system to disguise what is in fact a dictatorship of the rich, and who wage wars for a big lie to keep us under control.

John Spritzler is the author of The People As Enemy: The Leaders' Hidden Agenda In World War II, and a Research Scientist at the Harvard School of Public Health.

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