Herbert vs. Herbert
By Paul Street at Jan 30, 2007
I agree with the liberal New York Times columnist Bob Herbert of January 25th in his (unacknowledged) argument with the liberal New York Times columnist Bob Herbert of January 4th, 2007.
Let me explain. On January 4th, Herbert opened the New Year by denouncing the occupation of Iraq as “an exercise in futility and mind-boggling incompetence” that is being conducted “with no idea of where we might be headed – as if the U.S. had fallen into some kind of bizarrely destructive trance from which it is unable to awaken.” The occupation of Iraq, he said, is “a war with no meaning and, it seems, no end.”
“There must,” Herbert bleated, “be a leader somewhere who can shake the U.S. out of this tragic hypnotic state, who can see that it is beyond crazy to continue our involvement” in this “tragic fest of death...If there were politicians here at home with some of the courage of the troops in the field,” Herbert concluded, “we could begin saving lives rather than watching helplessly as the Bush White House continues to sacrifice them. Three thousand [the US GI death tool in Iraq] and counting is enough” (Herbert, “Another Thousand Lives,” New York Times, 4 January 2007, p. A23).
The petro-imperialist ambitions – partly fulfilled already – behind the occupation went completely unnoticed by Herbert. Also unnoticed was the best hope for a meaningful end to the illegal assault on Iraq: mass popular resistance of the sort that helped bring an end to the Vietnam War (another criminal and imperial assault that liberal elites still insist on calling “a [strategic] mistake"... deleting its status as a monumental, mass-murderous transgression).
This was not surprising to those who follow Herbert closely. In numerous past columns and in a revealing interview at the Kennedy Library in May of 2005 (he told the audience that “once you launch a war, you have to win the war”), Herbert has pined for the lost “leadership” of such criminal, arch-militarist executives as the mendacious Cold War originator Harry (Hiroshima) Truman and Vietnam War initiator and “missile gap” liar (and Martin King-wiretapper) John Fitzgerald Kennedy.
Reflecting the fact that he is (as he told his Kenendy Library listeners) “just a big believer in leadership” ala “Jack and Bobby [Kennedy],” Herbert's comments have often revealed a critical failure to to see that social and democratic progress is made from the bottom up, by ordinary citizens and activists acting collectively against the interrelated imperatives of Empire and Inequality (See Paul Street, “What About Bob? Reflections on History, Progress, and the Illusions of a Times Liberal,” ZNet [November 26, 2006], read at www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?ItemID =11486).
It is peoples' movements, not the “leadership” of national “elites” (liberal or otherwise) that the world and the U.S, needs to see reinvented in the U.S. today.
As Anthony Arnove noted last fall, ”we can't look for saviors on high to get us out of this mess...We have to do it ourselves” (Tariq Ali and Anthony Arnove, “The Challenge to the Empire,” Socialist Worker Online, October 20, 2006).
Some of the required do-it-yourself rank-and-file courage and activism was on display during the massive march against the war that took place last weekend in Washington D.C. (The demonstration has been predictably under-reported in dominant war media, including the "liberal" Times, consistent with the Venezuelan media behavior described in my last post, where I undoubtedly pissed off this blog's pathetic little cadre of toxic, right-wing trolls by applauding Hugo Chavez's decision to shut down the vicious capitalist "media outet" [propaganda operation] RCTV [Radio Caracas Television]).
People participating in last Saturday's antiwar demonstrations weren't waiting “helplessly” for Bush to admit his “mistakes” and "change his course." They weren't searching for “a leader somewhere” to fix it all from the top down. They were demanding peace, justice and democracy from the bottom up.
(I sure hope Herbert didn't think that the nauseating Barack Obama might be “the leader” – the chosen one from the power elite he so pathetically craves: see my forthcoming article “The Obama Illusion” (Z Magazine, February 2007) and my recent review of Obama's ponderous, power-worshipping campaign book (“The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream” [New York: Crown, 2006] - a book that actually made me physically ill) in “Liberal Myopia and Obama's Audacious Deference to Power,” Z Net Magazine [January 24, 2007, read at www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?SectionID=72&ItemID=11936]).
Now let's hear from Bob Herbert on January 25, 2007. He still doesn't have the oil/petro-imperialism thing down, but now he correctly observes (in a New York Times column titled "Long On Rhetoric, Short on Sorrow,"p. A23) that the Democratic candidates are a bunch of "timid" cowards --- "afraid to throw a punch that might land," Herbert says (quoting Bonnie Rait) --- and adds that "stopping the war and fixing the U.S." is "up to you."
Herbert crafts a welcome paragraph that sounds like something out of Howard Zinn's wonderful Peoples History of the United States when he writes the following:
"the most effective answer...[is] a new era of political activism by ordinary citizens. The biggest, most far-reaching changes of the past century - the labor movement, the civil rights movement, the women's movement - were not primarily the result of elective politics but rather the hard work of committed citizen-activists fed-up with the status quo. It's time for thoughtful citizens to turn off their TVs and step into the public arena. Protest. Attend meetings. Circulate petitions. Run for office...the public right now is way ahead of the politicians when it comes to ideas about creating a more peaceful, more equitable, more intelligent society. The candidates for the most part are listenng to their handlers and gurus and fat-cat contributors, which is the antithesis of democracy. It's not easy for ordinary people to be heard above that self-serving din, but it can be done."
Pretty good. Nicely said, January 25th Bob Herbert! (Way to show that January 4th Bob Herbert!!).
Maybe sometime Herbert will confront the fact --- well understood by Martin Luther King, Jr. and apparently now Hugo Chavez ---- that (get ready to roll, troll[s]) the barriers to peace and justice include the evil twins of capitalism and imperialism, intimately linked to racism and other toxic authoritarian social diseases.
Finally, it was good of January 4th Herbert to note (all-too briefly and in passing) that “ordinary Iraqis” are “paying the most grievous price of all” for Bush's war. It would be nice if Herbert would some day give 700,000 dead Iraqis at least equal victim status with 3,000 dead U.S. GIs when calculating the costs of the Empire's provocative war Iraq.