zaterdag, juli 31, 2004

Anti-Bush toy made in Malaysia, natch.

I get hot and cold about Naomi Klein. One has to credit her with having the foresight to write what would become as many have said, without too much hyperbole, the 'bible of the anti-globalisation movement', No Logo, before Seattle. She was in no way jumping on a bandwagon (not that the global justice movement is a particularly bad bandwagon on which to jump. Jump away) and clearly and in a savvy, well-produced book outlined many of the key arguments against the corporate sacking of the western welfare state and the unmitigated pillage of the third world. Where I go cold toward her is when she embraces the 'march-around-the-state' politics of John Holloway, Ya Basta/Tutti Bianchi, the PGA and other anarcho-reformist/rejectionists.

Right now, I am more hot toward her than cold, and not because she is a very nice bit of anti-capitalist crumpet, but because of her recent subversive little 'endorsement' of John Kerry in the Nation (reprinted in today's Guardian. Oddly, the column's title in the Guardian is "Anybody but Bush - and then let's get back to work" - somewhat more anodyne than its header in the Nation, "Ditch the Distraction in Chief").

She begins the piece by mentioning 'Bush in a Box' - the latest piece of 'standard-issue Bush-bashing schlock, on sale at Wal-Mart, made in Malaysia.' It's

"…a cardboard cut-out of President 43 with a set of adhesive speech balloons featuring the usual tired Bushisms: "Is our children learning?" "They misunderestimated me" - standard-issue Bush-bashing schlock, on sale at Wal-Mart, made in Malaysia."

This is a genuinely riveting anecdote, saying so much about where the libera/left is at the moment. It drew me into the article all the more because yesterday when I was in the Waterstone's here in Brussels, I myself was struck by the sheer volume of anti-Bush publications on sale. Some of them are quite good, but there are just so many variations on the theme (just go to Amazon and type in Bush in the search field and you get a glimmer of this) that have plainly been pumped out to make a quick buck. Visit your local bookshop [even, or rather especially, one in the States itself. I was in a bookshop at Chicago O'Hare Airport last Christmas and you could have mistaken it for some (admittedly rather pleasantly appointed) leftie bookshop in a student ghetto somewhere] and you will see as many tables of anti-Bush books as there are of garishly sleeved chick lit. There are two different books alone titled Why Bush Must Go. It has become a genre in itself.

You can imagine the poor journeyman publishing house editoress that hasn't yet greenlighted any anti-Bush-o-matic literature: 'Cathy! I thought I told you to find anti-Bush shit! What's with this 'New Weird' literary fantasy crap you're championing? Random House has three fucking anti-Bush best-sellers in the New York Times this week! We're being murdered here! Come on, girl, think! Now, let's brainstorm…J.K. Rowling - what are her politics? Didn't one of the Backstreet Boys get in trouble after 9/11 for wearing a peace button or something? No, wait, they haven't had an album in two years…'

On the one hand it is tremendous that liberal/progressive politics are so profitable. I'm sure more than a few well-intentioned liberal book-buyers, having wandered into Borders or Indigo in order to buy something mildly critical of Bush but essentially imperially harmless by Zbigniew Brzezinski, have, Mr. Magoo-like, wandered out with something by Edward Said or Tariq Ali. On the other hand, so much of this stuff is just so blandly uncritical of the Democrats, and harps on about little more than how Bush can't pronounce the word 'nuclear'. Klein, in her piece, notes how very easy it is to attack Bush for being dumb, for his malapropisms.

"Bush in a Box pretty much summarises the level of analysis coming from the left these days. You know the line: The White House has been hijacked by a shady gang of zealots who are either insane or stupid or both. Vote Kerry and return the country to sanity.

"But the zealots in Bush's White House are neither insane nor stupid nor particularly shady. Rather, they openly serve the interests of the corporations that put them in office with bloody-minded efficiency."

She then argues in a similar vein to my posting last week on why it is better for the anti-war and global justice movement if Kerry wins: not because we should have any illusions that Kerry will be any better than Bush - and here she lists his positions on the war, Israel, the war on drugs, Venezuela, free trade, corporate taxation - but because the left does have illusions in Kerry. And they need to be shattered if we are to be able to return to the task at hand. Kerry needs to win not because Kerry will be better, but because he will be just as bad:

"[M]ost progressives are already solidly in the Anybody But Bush camp, convinced that now is not the time to point out the similarities between the two corporate-controlled parties. I disagree. We need to face up to those disappointing similarities, and then we need to ask ourselves whether we have a better chance of fighting a corporate agenda pushed by Kerry or by Bush."

"[I]t's worth remembering that it was under Bill Clinton that the progressive movements in the west began to turn our attention to systems again: corporate globalisation, even - gasp - capitalism and colonialism. We began to understand modern empire not as the purview of a single nation, no matter how powerful, but a global system of interlocking states, international institutions and corporations, an understanding that allowed us to build global networks in response, from the World Social Forum to Indymedia. Innocuous leaders who spout liberal platitudes while slashing welfare and privatising the planet push us to better identify those systems and to build movements agile and intelligent enough to confront them."

"Under a Kerry government, the comforting illusion of a world united against imperial aggression will drop away, exposing the jockeying for power that is the true face of modern empire. We'll also have to let go of the archaic idea that toppling a single man, or a Romanesque "empire", will solve all, or indeed any, of our problems…With Bush out of the picture, we lose the galvanising enemy, but we get to take on the actual policies that are transforming all of our countries."

Preach it to me sister.