Thursday, August 26, 2004

The World is Watching (and its already taken sides)

Across the liberal media comparisons are being drawn between the demonstrations at the DNC in Chicago in 1968 and the potential for a similar situation to occur in New York at the RNC. Authors advise caution, saying the demonstrators may play into Bush’s hands and cause middle America to swing to the right.

In
Rick Perlstein's article in the Village Voice the author interviews Lewis Koch:

One of the most exhilarating moments in Lewis Koch's life came in the summer of 1968. He was a producer for NBC News, based in Chicago, specializing in the anti-war movement—of which he was a sympathizer. Now, at the Democratic National Convention, he was an actor in what he thought was one of its glorious episodes. Cops were beating kids without provocation, and with the footage he was putting on the air, Middle America might finally realize that justice rested more with those protesting the war than those so violently defending it.
"I remember my self-satisfaction," Koch recalls, "and saying to myself, 'Oh, did you do a terrific job!' "

Then came the most traumatic moment in Lewis Koch's life.

"The phones would ring off the hook. People were furious. . . . Nothing I had intended had gone through. Actually what they saw were clear pictures of these young kids rioting. Chaos in their city." Next thing he knew, Richard Nixon had swept to presidential victory on the wings of a commercial proclaiming—above those selfsame pictures—that "the first civil right of every American is to be free from domestic violence."

…Demonstrators chanted, "The whole world is watching." The reason they chanted it: They thought they had won a public relations victory.

Likewise in an article entitled The Whole World is Watching at salon.com , Michelle Goldberg quotes Todd Gitlin:

…the demonstrators assumed that public sympathy would be with them, the victims. They were wrong. "To our innocent eyes, it defied common sense that people could watch even the sliver of the onslaught that got onto television and side with the cops -- which in fact was precisely what polls showed," writes former antiwar organizer Todd Gitlin in his 1987 book, "The Sixties: Years of Hope, Days of Rage."

Whilst both articles raise genuine concerns, how far can these parallels really be taken? In 1968 were 83 percent of Chicago residents against their city hosting the conference? I don’t know, but I doubt they felt that strongly. The Republicans' decision to hold their conference in New York is at the very least a cynical attempt to cash in on the tragedy that befell the city on 9/11, a tragedy that but for Bush’s incompetence may have been prevented. This is the administration that tried to block an inquiry into that tragedy, that lied about the air quality after 9/11, the administration that betrayed New York.

Both articles focus on the opinions of middle America and their concerns may well be valid, but on a global level the scenario occurs in a very different context from 1968. The world is indeed watching and it is a world that is overwhelmingly anti-Bush. As Polly Toynbee writes in The Guardian :

…Where in the world could you walk down the street and not collect overwhelmingly negative vox pops on Bush's America and its global impact? Last year's BBC/ICM poll, taken in a string of countries across the continents, found only Israel in support of Bush - with Canada, Australia and Korea least unfavourable, but still with a majority against.

That is not necessarily the same as anti-Americanism. The Bushites in their daily, foul-mouthed email assaults on Guardian writers try to portray current anti-American sentiment as racist, akin to anti-semitic. They try to pretend "old" Europe is just effetely snobbish about the Ugly Americans. They dismiss anti-Bush disgust in developing countries as envy and as ignorant support for terror.

But opinion polls make it clear that people are well able to separate their feelings about Americans from the politicians and policies now occupying the White House: 81% of the British say, "I like the Americans as people", according to Mori, but only 19% admire American society. They overwhelmingly reject the proposition "We would be better off if we were more like the Americans in many respects"…

…The world waits on the US elections with particular trepidation this time. The fall of the Berlin wall was a great opportunity missed for America the victor to become the global force for good it thinks it is. The fall of the twin towers was a chance to reclaim that lost global respect, but in every action Bush has swelled the ranks of those who cheered in the streets when it happened.

ICM's poll reveals a world that thinks America arrogant, less cultured, a worse place to live than their own countries and a threat to world peace. Is that hatred now irreversibly hardwired?


…The underlying picture of attitudes towards America suggests a miasma of confusion and deep emotion: the idea of America is woven deep into the universal imagination. When prompted, the world can also admit to seeing the US as that beacon of liberty and opportunity that Americans dream themselves to be…

It is still possible for American – International relations to recover at this point. The world knows the difference between the American people and the Bush Administration, and it still cares enough to make the distinction. Whether they continue to care may depend on what happens between now and November. The world is watching and it is asking for the real America to please stand up.




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