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Thursday, May 1, 1997




The just concluded Summit for America's Future could be be described as so much garish nonsense were it not so pernicious. We've become better inured to the country's feelgood rituals, and can usually dispatch them appropriately with a deserving and weary smirk; only the coarsest, though, could not have been repelled by the unison chanting of the politically vapid, assembled in full complement on a Philadelphia dais this week, a stone's flip from where Franklin and Jefferson once exhibited their acumen.

To observe Clinton now is to be reminded of a smarmy lounge-act comic, trotted out to grace the right's venues, in the manner of a Mickey Manners jumping to yet another Joey Bishop talk show invitation. Any progressive instincts Clinton ever had were only osmotically nominal; hinted at, they were at least tactically useful in both elections, and even as he consigned a million poor children to destitution with his welfare bill he tweeted about feeling their pain.

The call to voluntarism is the inevitable next step for government in its new role as corporate notary. The trusts and the cartels of American lore have bequeathed their love of charities and settlement house soup-ladling to their transnational heirs. Those essential demarcation lines which reliably delimited white flannel from blue denim had become a bit too blurred since the 1930s; trade unionism and social safety-net legislation had encroached beyond proper confines. Big Government, the globalists agree, should again revert to those who best know how to use it -- themselves. The dispensing of subsidies other than the massive infusions they themselves consume must first receive their imprimatur.

* * *

The acolytes for corporatism's prognosis for the nation's ills arrayed themselves in front of Independence Hall in giddy lock-step formation. Clinton and his predecessors, and the two prominent wannabes, left no doubt that they had gotten the message and, more ominously, that they would not soon forget it.

Clinton's eschewal of government policies in the inner cities in favor of "an era of big citizenship" came a week before he will unveil a monument to FDR. No sense in enumerating the contrapuntal dissonances there; they're so blatant that the mind fairly reels, and were one to momentarily waive the fact of Clinton's unctuous cynicism, he would have to be regarded as a certifiable fool.

Some of us are reminded how during the Depression industrialists shamelessly went to Roosevelt on bended knee and begged him to nationalize their companies. Included were some of the most calcified red-baiters in the country. WWII provided this aggregate substantial financial footing, and those in emerging major industries such as aeronautics, electronics and chemicals utilized wartime advances in technology as they spun off private companies after the war. In effect, our government-hating pillars of commerce had their initial research and development costs paid by the public, and of course continued the spree of public capitalization throughout the Cold War and the High Gothic effluence of Reaganism. We might also note, in passing, that paramount on their conservative agendas was an antipathy to foreign aid, even as they benefited from stipulations requiring foreign countries receiving development funding to purchase American products. This clause was operative for 25 years after WWII, and as a consequence many U.S. businesses remained recession-proof because they were able to unload their surpluses to a guaranteed market at taxpayers' expense.

* * *

The poor have long been counseled to emulate such rugged individualism, and Clinton and company reenforced this canard in typically copious fashion. What grates and insults about this officiousness is the notion that the American people need to be lectured about the efficacy of looking out for one another and, in particular, their children. The "problems of the human heart" and the "one-on-one connection" Clinton chirruped about are integral to the American grain. In our time, the civil rights movement was one such manifestation, and the politicians who reside saliently in memory are those who fashioned federal programs to implement the popular will.

Clinton will exude all of his lounge-act glibness in honoring such leadership at the FDR Memorial tomorrow. What he won't mention is that Roosevelt's programs saved American capitalism, for the obvious reason that they regulated it and provided it with a measure of humaneness. In the Clintonian era of big citizenship, the Hobbesian world the Founding Fathers reacted against has reemerged, and this voluntarism summit was but public codification that it's again every man for himself.

Of late we've learned much about the puppetmaster of this entire cronyist edifice, Alan Greenspan, and his capricious ability to raise interest rates to keep unemployment up and wages down. In this state of affairs the safety net is deemed socialist (that is to say, of the non-CEO variety), and those on the margins characterized as morally deficient. Well, well, I faintly hear you murmuring, fellow citizens, and be assured you are on the right track. Under the circumstances, it's hardly a revolutionary act of cognition to understand that the welfare class does in fact work. Indeed, that is its job: to fulfill its role in the Greenspan schematic. And by and large it does it with restraint, without complaint, taking its paltry remuneration and making do as best it can.

* * *

During the summit Nancy Reagan suggested we just say "Yes" to anyone who asks us to help a child. Okay, Nance, consider me a mentor. Help in acquiring the skills to produce a publication along the lines of this modest sheet is henceforth open to any boy or girl who would like to publish one in their own community. I'll gladly give a portion of my time to those youngsters who sense that the daily diet of official claptrap they hear is just so much corrosive bullshit, and I'll help them acquire used equipment to get their newsletters up and running. Moreover, I'll make it a point to see that they have on-line editions as well.

The road upon which Sam Adams and his cohorts traveled to Independence Hall two centuries ago was literally a paper trail. You could have marked your footsteps on the voluminous pamphlets the writers of the American colonies produced in the lead-up to the nation's founding, and I count myself in their debt for their tutelage.

Who knows, if the kids do it right it and it snowballs across the country it could be interesting. You have to wonder if Bill and Al and Colin figured that all this might eventually snap back and bite them on their compound ass. In which case Clinton will deservedly end his term in office as a latter-day King George.

--Copyright John Hutchison 1997



Out of the Mouth of Babes

I hear America singing.


I see Americans reaching out, seeking solace and salvation in times of crisis.


I watch the good people of Boston, and the better ones of New York, wrenched and wretched after the Civil War, bathe in the sweet young voice of Verena Tarrant. Henry James describes her in The Bostonians, dressed all in white with fragrant flowers at her breast, passionately pleading the cause of women: Good gentlemen, you have never been in the box, and you haven't the least idea how it feels!


I watch poor and infirm families from the Far and Middle West, beaten down by the burdens of the Great Depression, respond to the clear healing call of Aimee Semple McPherson. With eyes full of hope, they stream toward the stage of the Angelus Temple in Los Angeles where, long white dress glowing in the spotlight, Sister stretches her arms wide: Come unto to me, all ye who labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest!


I watch thousands of the white women of America, tormented and tortured by the uncertainties of the 1990s, gather around Andrea Dworkin in bookstores like A Clean Well-Lighted Place in San Francisco and Black Oak in Berkeley. Radiating good health and physical fitness, they lean forward raptly as a large woman with a cascade of graying hair, her body draped in blue denim overalls, testifies in a warm triumphant voice on behalf of oppressed women everywhere: Rape, battery, prostitution, pornography -- these are all violations of women's civil rights!


* * *

Dworkin serves, for the disciples seated before her, as a comforting maternal presence, listening sympathetically to their struggles against male domination and offering advice and support. But when she turns to confront the enemy in "the continuing war against women" (the focus and part of the subtitle of her new book, Life and Death), she transforms herself into a juggernaut of vengeance, ready to extirpate the violent power of men over women at all costs. A panoply of battered female victims parades before the podium -- Dworkin herself, Nicole Simpson Brown, and numerous other Americans, Canadians, and Israelis -- pursued by perpetrators of once-unspeakable crimes. For Dworkin, continued silence would mean continued compliance: she has devoted her voice to articulating acts conventionally suppressed by polite society. And insisting that others join in. Only, apparently, by laying completely bare the shame that was wrested upon women in, say, the Holocaust -- and re-creating their shame by the exposure -- can past sins be expiated.

Dworkin details the suffering that women have endured at the hands of men in bloody brutal sex-tinged encounters that consolidate the victors' authority and destroy the losers' power to resist. Bloody brutal sex-tinged encounters, described in heated detail. Is this not pornography? Of course not! Pornography, say Andrea Dworkin and her colleague, lawyer Catherine A. MacKinnon, in the antipornography ordinance they drafted, is "the graphic sexually explicit subordination of women through pictures and/or words" that also dehumanizes them or presents them in "scenarios of degradation, humiliation, injury, torture." It's bad. It lies at the heart of societal inequality and must be prohibited by law for the sake of women (and other helpless creatures such as children and transsexuals). Other problems may plague society as well, but "the graphic sexually explicit subordination of women" is so pervasive and so virulent that, like a raging fever, it threatens to annihilate us before we can tend to them.

Either this argument is subtle beyond my feeble capacity to understand, or it's hogwash. Even if pornography is linked to attacks on women by men, I fail to see how making it illegal will protect a hundred-pound woman against an angry two-hundred-pound husband behind the closed doors of their bedroom. Women -- and children -- provide natural targets for the rage of a larger, more powerful person. Frustration, not pornography, is the life-threatening fever, and once we raise our eyes above titillating crotch level, its sources are readily visible. This is a country where fathers watch as 2,556 babies are born into poverty every day and one mother dies in childbirth; where 40 million people live in poverty, over half of them in working poor households; where at least 760,000 people have no homes at all; where working men (and women) saw 1 million of their well-paying manufacturing and mining jobs disappear in the past few years while corporate executives' incomes skyrocketed. More than ever, we need a healing hand.

* * *

If solace will not come from these women, then from whom? From white-haired "Mother" Mary Jones as she leads a group of pale thin children from the mills of Philadelphia to President Theodore Roosevelt's home. From Elizabeth Gurley Flynn -- Joe Hill's Rebel Girl -- as she addresses striking textile workers in Paterson, New Jersey, grinning, her blue eyes flashing. From Kate Richards O'Hare as she lectures on women's issues with her children beside her and later goes to jail for opposing U.S. entry into World War I. Most of all, from the vibrant voice of Emma Goldman, her stocky peasant's body clothed in nun-like black as she spellbinds with intellectual excursions into realms of individual freedom and collective responsibility: Woman's virtue...is the last fetish which even so-called liberal-minded people refuse to destroy.


--Copyright Betsey Culp 1997


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