Bogeyman Politics

Copyright © by Len Holman, 1/14/11


  The recent, scary, unexpected—but predictably and alarmingly media-worthy—news is that China’s military has a prototype stealth fighter plane, way ahead of the projected time our intelligence people had estimated it would.  It’s not unexpected or scary that China has a stealth fighter said to be very good.  It’s not scary because China is already scary, and it’s not unexpected because China wants to be HSIA (Hot Stuff In Asia) and she can’t do that without a decent stealth fighter.  It IS newsworthy because China is our on-going bogeyman.  You probably thought it was Hugo Chavez or Kim Jong Il or that crazy guy in Iran, but China plays its part very well, and its continuing shadow has—as the show biz folks say—legs.

  This country has always been very good at creating monsters out of people and nations we don’t agree with.  China is constantly used as that Evil we all love to hate, the monster on the screen we cover our eyes against when the music gets scary, but peek through our fingers anyway, that bloody car wreck on the freeway that is so horrendous and is such a gory exemplar of bad and inattentive driving, or bad luck, but for which we slow down to see and relish every carmine moment.  China’s power to scare us is based on the overpowering publicity we give it.  Every newspaper, web site, journal—every place Americans get their information—has the “latest”  bad news about China:  they’re using so much cement, the rest of the world won’t have enough to build strip malls; they use so much coal that the climate will dramatically change in two years and polar bears will be using pools in Beverly Hills to stay cool;  China has so many people they could afford to be nuked and not miss the hundreds of thousands killed in a strike; China has designs on all of Asia and threatens the American Navy’s way of life.  Iran is also a target of our invective, but they are fooling around with nukes and that makes them less amenable to bullying words.  But stay tuned for this—Iran invective is picking up.

  Demonizing the other guy is not new, including what was said about every President we’ve ever had, including the ones on those lists of “great” Presidents.  Lincoln, for example, was regularly castigated in print and in cartoons, being called a “gorilla,” and no history of the settlement of the American West would be accurate without the vicious, unremitting use of pejorative language used by settlers and the military against Native Americans—which gave license to those who wanted a ski cabin in Montana.  Overheated rhetoric is as American as its half-baked policies.  With the shooting of Arizona representative Gabrielle Giffords, we have a sudden, totally hypocritical, surge of concern for what is euphemistically called “overheated rhetoric,” as though this was a sudden phenomenon brought on by the two previous elections we’ve been forced to endure.  But we have a wonderful history of demonizing, then destroying.  For example, take a look at the war movies in the forties, which show Japanese pilots and soldiers as evil, demonic creatures wearing Coke-bottle glasses and giggling maniacally as they kill American heroes.  “Those “dirty Japs” needed to be nuked, so we did.  Today, we have a much more sophisticated media environment with which interested and powerful interests can demonize and control, and we have many enemies to attack and time is so short.  But there is a caveat when someone is demonized for the purpose of eventual demolition:  they have to be ripe for it and not capable of fighting back very much.

  Witness the run-up to the Gulf War (“Desert Storm”), in which the Iraqi Republican Guard was touted as the second coming of the Roman army, and which encounter turned out to be the second coming of a pillow fight at a sorority.  And those WMDs?  Yeah.  So some four thousand Americans were killed, but that—to the planners in the Pentagon—is acceptable if the result is what was wanted.  The vicious rhetoric is directly proportional to the perceived ease with which we can, and eventually will, annihilate the target of our invective.  China can, presumably, defend itself quite well, and is gingerly treated as that shadowy figure in the background, that boogeyman the hero will someday have to confront. Someday.

  Meanwhile, there is GREAT concern about the tone of our internal political rhetoric, and one wonders what the folks in South Central L.A. think about all this. While moms and dads put their kids to bed in bathtubs to stop those stray bullets every night, and small children playing in their own yards are caught in cross fires between rival gangs, no American President comes to their neighborhood for memorial services or goes on national TV to decry the violence.  Oh, well, maybe someday—but first we need to blame Sarah Palin or Nancy Pelosi or someone for using words to incite some mentally disturbed guy who has been on the mental edge for years (noticed by so many people), and who could have been set off by losing his Internet connection or getting too much saturated fat in his doughnuts.  Words do have consequences because they are the vehicles for ideas, and ideas have consequences because they induce behaviors, so it makes sense to tone it all down, if for no other reason than to actually let some dialogue through.  Of course, not every heated town hall meeting will produce a gun-wielding nut, but if enough dust is thrown into the air, SOMEONE is going to sneeze.  But not to worry, disaster fans, this will all blow over soon, and we’ll go back to our old ways.  We’re already doing that.  The commentary about WHO is to blame for the exaggerated rhetoric is, itself, exaggerated.  And already, Sarah Palin has pissed of Jews for using her “blood libel” line.  Already.

  So we create bogeymen, and we have our targets to use as the need arises.  Who will turn on the lights so we can see that the menacing shadow in the corner of the bedroom is just a chair?  Who will come into our rooms and assure us all is well, and that we may sleep in peace?  So far, we have taken our vitriol to a new level, but I am sure that we can go even lower.  So what will it take?  Glenn Beck has urged Sarah Palin in an email that she should protect herself because if she is harmed, Beck claims, it will “take down the republic.”  Well.  We’ve had Presidents assassinated, anthrax mailed to congress people, and have had a man with an automatic weapon fire on the White House, but we’re still here.  So, Glenn:  take the advice the Fox news president gave to his network people and tone it down.  Go back to your New Messiah thing and don’t concern yourself with Sarah Palin’s safety.  She’s like China:  a target for bogeyman verbiage, but too powerful to nuke.


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