While in Boulder, Colorado last week, my brother and I stopped by Boulder Books. There I found on the rack a new collection of Tom Tomorrow cartoons. His latest book is Hell in a Handbasket. On the cover, it depicts our president, Dick Cheney and political adviser Karl Rove. Each has devil horns coming out of their foreheads. It is subtitled, “Dispatches from the country formerly known as America”.
I am a big fan of Tom Tomorrow and his weekly strip This Modern World. Looking back on this collection of strips though, which begin in late 2002 as the Iraq War was being sold to the American public, it is as easy to cry as it is to laugh. In fact, it is hard not to laugh and cry at the same time. Not all of us were deceived by the lies coming from the Bush White House at the time. For me, the Iraq War was nothing more than a simpleton’s paranoid fantasies fully realized by 150,000 American troops. I raised holy hell at the time. I attended peace marches. I wrote letters. I called senators. This preemptive war to remove a despotic dictator with delusions of grandeur (but zero influence outside his own country) to me symbolized everything that was wrong with my country. Tom Tomorrow got it right. The day we invaded Iraq, my country lost its soul. I no long live in the United States of America.
As Sparky the liberal penguin put it in this cartoon from 2002, “Um – here’s a scenario for you: what if the invasion of Iraq turns out to be a complete catastrophe – costing thousands of lives, setting off other wars in the region, and ultimately doing far more harm than good?” To which the two Republican clones start worrying if Saddam Hussein is training an army of giant mutant lizards who can shoot deadly laser beams out of their eyeballs.
As a country, we lost our minds and our souls on March 18th, 2003, the day that we invaded Iraq. Just about all of us were hornswoggled. You would expect neoconservatives, with their Neanderthal and schizophrenic vision of the world, to lose a sense of perspective. But Colin Powell? The same man who warned Bush that when it came to invading Iraq, if we broke it, we owned it? The same man who cautioned us never to go into a war without a sound exit strategy? I remember at the time debating his presentation to the U.N. Security Council with friends online. Most were wholly convinced. Fuzzy satellite shots of railroad cars and dubious intelligence reports from second hand sources were sufficient to them for us to start a war. Gosh, we knew where those WMDs were: smack dab in the middle of the Sunni Triangle. Rumsfeld knew it for a fact.
It was all so clear to me back then, but I was mostly alone among my peers. They treated me with either disdain or condescension. Bush and his fellow yahoos could try, but they could not yank my chain. Yet it was clear that as Bush was yanking most of our chains, his chain was also being yanked. The neoconservatives played our simpleton and puffed up fool of a president like the puppet that he is. In turn, it is tempting to think that Saddam was pulling the neoconservatives’ chains. However, I do not think that was the case. Saddam simply could not conceive of someone even more deeply paranoid than he was.
See, here is the thing. Why were the neoconservatives so convinced that Saddam was acquiring weapons of mass destruction? It is clear to me: because subconsciously they identified with Saddam. I know he would do it because I would do the same thing, was what was coming from their id. Something must have gone very wrong with them while growing up. Perhaps Dad had been too handy with the belt. Perhaps they had been picked on too much during recess at school. They were full of repressed anger and anxious for a suitable form of revenge. Unfortunately, those who hurt them had disappeared. So they found others on whom to turn the tables. They convinced themselves that they really were smarter and better than everyone else. Moreover, they would prove it by slowly, over many years, gaining power. They would suck up to simpletons like Bush and use them as their means to an end. For one-dimensional people like Bush had an uncanny ability to latch onto the millions of other simpletons out there. It required leveraging the same faith that these voters had in their religion into candidates who emulated their values, but who could be manipulated. Bush was a convenient toady, but there are still plenty of them around. Bill Frist is the next George W. Bush.
For all the neoconservatives’ protestations about wanting to spread freedom, their real aims were duplicitous. What they really wanted was to control us so they could remake us into a stronger sort of mongrel super-race of uber-Americans. While many of Bush’s supporters are creationists, the neoconservatives are pragmatic social evolutionists. Social Darwinism is their most basic core value: Americans must become meaner and nastier than every other country, because in their paranoid minds the world was an incredibly nasty place. Only by becoming as ruthless and single minded as the enemy could we triumph. To save our way of life, it must first be destroyed, then remade into a new, more militant and less tolerant image.
A trumped up war with Iraq gave them the means to their end. Their vision of America had us citizens goose-stepping to their beat. Just like Adolph Hitler, they cravenly hit us at our most vulnerable spots: fear, paranoia and rabid patriotism. Fear: if you vote for the Democrats then you are helping terrorists, because they secretly want the enemy to win. Moreover, we need color-coded alert levels so we are always aware of just how precarious our happy suburban lives are. Paranoia: be suspicious of everyone who does not act patriotic. Pass something called The Patriot Act, which makes everyone markedly less free. Patriotism: you are either for us or against us. They knew we would fall for it, because it worked wonders for the Nazis too. Human nature is constant and the masses are malleable with the right leverage. For Bush, the rule of law became inconvenient to a nation’s new challenges. Therefore, he invented the most dubious of rationales: a “unitary executive theory” that he interprets as no law can touch him if he does not want it to. He can do anything he wants as long as he thinks his actions protect the country from its enemies. Just to make sure it lasts for the foreseeable future, he made sure that fellow conservatives who subscribe to the unitary executive theory filled two Supreme Court vacancies.
Now finally, the country is sobering up. It would have been much better had the country been fully sober last November. Nevertheless, as I pointed out back then, karmic forces cannot be held in check forever. Bush’s poll numbers hover in the mid thirties and Congress’s numbers are even lower. Dick Cheney’s approval rating is 19%. Cheney was booed today throwing out the first pitch at the Washington Nationals’ season opener.
In reality though we still live in dangerous times. The biggest threat though is not from al Qaeda. For Osama bin Laden is the real puppet master. He was shrewd enough to realize exactly who our president was: one big dumb ass easily manipulated domino. His goal was not to convert America into devout Muslims, although that may be a long-range fantasy. No, his real goal is to convert the Islamic world into one conservative Islamic caliphate. To accomplish it, he needed a force bigger than he could muster. The United States military was the first domino, and he just needed the President of the United States to tip it. His goal could be done on the cheap. Just hijack a few planes using some misguided religious martyrs with box cutters. Have them fly a few airplanes into our most prominent buildings. Do it and we would respond more predictably than Pavlov’s dog. We have been masterfully played for the fool, but bin Laden was also fortunate to have his evil stars so perfectly aligned. Such a grandiose mistake like the one we made in Iraq was only possible with the neoconservatives in positions of power and a complete fool in the Oval Office.
Therefore, the dominoes fell one by one. Many gave the illusion of progress on the war on terror, while actually exacerbating it. It remains to be seen whether those Americans who still remember the blessings of freedom and liberty can stop this chain of dominoes before the world slowly devolves into an eternal set of religious mini-wars lasting generations.
However, forces are lining up to limit further damage. It is already beginning. To work, it simply must be manifested by a return to power by the Democrats in both houses of Congress this autumn. With a change in Congressional power, our new leaders will then have to summon the courage to impeach and convict Bush for his clearly illegal high crimes. It is unclear though that even if Bush is impeached and convicted, that he would actually vacate his office. It is also unclear whether the 2006 elections can be conducted fairly. There was enough voting fraud in 2000 and 2004 for even the mildly paranoid to be disturbed. Diebold controls many voting machines and they sure enough delivered Ohio for the Republicans as promised with a last minute Republican vote surge. Republicans also control most supervisor of election positions. I do not think they will go peacefully; having power is just so intoxicating.
The November elections may turn out to be a time to manifest real patriotism. It will require our supervisors of elections simply to do their duty and let the voting be free and fair. For our biggest enemy is no longer hiding in caves in northwestern Pakistan. He and his cronies occupy the White House and all positions of power in the government. They have shown an unwillingness to listen to reason and an affinity for using whatever means are necessary to affect their desired ends, legal or illegal. We will need every tool at our disposal.
Until now, losing an election was enough to remove someone from power. It may take massive demonstrations that will dwarf recent immigration protests to remove the neoconservatives. It may take massive civil protests with demonstrators lying down blocking access to public buildings, like during the Vietnam War. It may take ordinary citizens standing in front of tanks like in Tiananmen Square. Let us hope a sane head or two in the neoconservative power circle can persuade the rest that their time is over.
Let us also hope that Tom Tomorrow’s next book of cartoons comes from the United States of America that we grew up in, not the grotesque and sick parody that is currently foisted on us. We must stare down these paranoid schizophrenics and firmly show them the door. We may have to push them out. We may have to haul them out one by one and throw them onto the streets. However, they must go if we want to live in the United States of America again.