The Vultures of Life

Brian Cook

It’s apparently not enough for George W. Bush to have taken the words freedom,” liberty,” and democracy,” and perverted their meanings beyond any recognizable definition. His latest lexical transformation targets nothing less than life” itself.

The president has been on the stump touting the culture of life” and we can cheerily look forward to being saturated by the term for the indefinite future. The death of Pope John Paul II provided Bush both an occasion to hail the phrase’s progenitor and a political opportunity to stay on message.”

What is that message? According to Bush, it is a culture in which the strong protect the weak.” It’s tempting to suggest that protect” here means something akin to feast on the vanquished flesh of.” But perhaps it’s wiser to take Bush’s meaning at face value, and note that his usage precludes the possibility of empowering the weak. The unspoken assumption is that the strong must continue to be strong and, more significant, that the weak must continue to be kept weak.

The administration’s proposed budget spelled the logic out clearly. Strengthen the strong — tax cuts for the rich and budget increases for their military protectors.” Weaken the weak — budget cuts to education, housing subsidies and other social services.

It should be no surprise then that a culture of the-opposite-of-life” surrounds us. For example, take a look at our schools. March brought another school shooting, this time on an Indian reservation where 39 percent of the population live below the poverty line. That the tragedy was widely reported, and duly catalogued, as the worst school shooting since Columbine,” speaks volumes about how adept we’ve become in normalizing such violent outbursts.

As for our military protectors, on March 25, the ACLU released 1,200 pages of documents obtained from the Pentagon revealing the widespread use of torture in Iraq. Disobeying a court order, the Bush administration delayed the documents’ release until late on a Friday night — the better to bury the sordid story in the Saturday news hole. The documents included such life-affirming revelations as the breaking of a teenage detainee’s jaw and superior officers ordering soldiers to beat the fuck out of” prisoners.

But, surely our statesmen spouting the culture of life” must be exemplars of that value? Men like Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), who recently pondered the connection” between the recent spate of courthouse violence” and unaccountable” judges making political decisions.” Granted, Cornyn didn’t know for certain if there is a cause-and-effect connection.” He was just positing the notion, tentatively, in a spirit of free and nitwitted inquiry.

Such examples, however, are somewhat disingenuous. Proponents of a culture of life” have one main concern (aside from homosexuals) in both culture and life: babies. Not the ones that are actually born, mind you. Advocates of life” say nothing about the fact that the United States now ranks 42nd in the world in infant mortality, two spots below Cuba.

The reason for their silence is simple. To change the U.S. infant mortality rate would require granting the right to universal healthcare to the already born who actually can (and rightfully do) assert that right. It’s no coincidence that the only subjects to whom the Republicans willingly grant rights are those whose voices they can ventriloquize — fetuses and the unfortunate Terri Schiavo.

In both cases, the concerned parties — respectively, pregnant women and Michael Schiavo — who actually can claim rights, such as the right not to have their bodies legislated or the right of the spouse as next-of-kin to honor a loved one’s wishes, are dismissed by Republicans.

Thus, in the name of protecting the helpless, Republican policies seek to make nearly everyone helpless. Those of us who still have a voice must strongly protest: When we’re told they’re giving us liberty, what they’re really giving us is death.

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Brian Cook was an editor at In These Times from 2003 to 2009. He now works on the editorial staff of Playboy magazine.
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