In his State of the Union address, President George W. Bush played to people’s fears to rally the nation.
Fears Americans have for their physical safety: “The terrorists continue to plot against America and the civilized world. … training and plotting in other nations and drawing up more ambitious plans.”
Fears about economic security: “The tax reductions [Congress] passed are set to expire. … The unfair tax on marriage will go back up. … Millions of families will be charged $300 more in federal taxes for every child. … Americans face a tax increase.”
Fears parents have for their children: “Each year, about 3 million teenagers contract sexually transmitted diseases that can harm them or kill them.”
And fears of gays: “Activist judges … have been redefining marriage. … Our nation must defend the sanctity of marriage.”
Afraid of appearing partisan, the media criticized only Bush’s delivery — not the substance of his speech. But in failing to call a spade a spade, a fool a fool, a dangerous demagogue a threat to America’s future, the mainstream media left it up to others who command an audience to do so.
Receiving her award for Angels in America at the Golden Globes ceremony, Meryl Streep admonished the president, “I don’t think that our two biggest problems in America are that too many people want to commit their lives together ’til death do us part and steroids in sports.”
The Academy Awards will create another opportunity for the entertainers who provide the “roses” that enrich our lives to remind our leaders that people need “bread” to make life livable.
Last year, Los Angeles-based Global Vision for Peace convinced more than 30 film artists — including Streep, Adrien Brody, Daniel Day-Lewis, Martin Scorsese, Susan Sarandon, Anjelica Huston and Brendan Fraser — to wear a Dove of Peace pin. This year, Global Vision for Peace has partnered with the United Nations, launching Artists for the U.N.
The group’s first initiative, endorsed by five Nobel Peace Prize laureates, is to organize this year’s Oscar luminaries to put on the same pin to promote world peace and the United Nations.
Given the dearth of honest critiques, Hollywood progressives have a rare opportunity to showcase real U.S. values to 37 million Americans and millions more in 100-plus countries. Yes, they run the danger of being partisan. To be partisan is to be criticized. Partisanship is a dirty word. It indicates that there is conflict, that not everyone is happy, that rebellion has a voice. That Bush’s State of the Union is not the state of our union.
Recall last year’s Academy Awards, when ceremony director Louis Horvitz, yelling “Music! Music!,” had the orchestra drown out Michael Moore. Moore used his Oscar acceptance speech to tell the shameful truth about our nation’s president.
We live in a time when we have fictitious election results that elect a fictitious president. We live in a time where we have a man sending us to war for fictitious reasons.
This year, Bush said to all of us, we “must work together to counter the negative influence of the culture.” To which we respond: All of us must work together to counter the negative influence of Bush.Using the State of the Union for this type of fear mongering demands from us more than muted dissent. It compels all of us to act. Because Bush is right on one point: If somebody attacks, you don’t just stand by, particularly if it is a militarized oligarchy that clings to power by stoking public fears and appealing to baser instincts.
Joel Bleifuss, a former director of the Peace Studies Program at the University of Missouri-Columbia, is the editor & publisher of In These Times, where he has worked since October 1986.