Monday, November 08, 2004


From a British observer

But why, exactly, do so many of President Bush's critics despise him with such unprecedented venom? It can hardly be because he insists on Washington's right to launch wars of intervention. That has been the position of every president since the Monroe Doctrine of 1823. Bill Clinton did it in Kosovo, with support from not only Tony Blair but also Clare Short and John Kerry. And Mr Bush is not the first president to launch a war on a dubious pretext.

No, like much else today, the reasons seem to be more personal than political. Mr Bush has become the symbol of the one minority it is deemed respectable to hate. Everybody understands that it is no longer acceptable to be rude to racial or ethnic minorities; even Mr Bush's conservative Republicans go out of their way to avoid insulting Islam. The one group that is considered fair game, however, is the kind of 'white trash ' who can be branded ignorant racists. White trash chavs from, say, Essex are an easy target for abuse over here. White trash rednecks from backward places such as Texas are an even easier target over there.

I am not about to set up a 'libertarian Marxists for Dubya' campaign (or for John Kerry either). But the vitriol directed against Bush supporters seems to me no less trashy politics than the racist prejudice that some Republicans espoused in past elections.

The contemptuous tone of this campaign is captured by a song I keep hearing called American Idiot, by the punkish American band, Green Day: 'Don't want to be an American idiot/One nation controlled by the media/Information age of hysteria/I'm not part of a redneck agenda'. A lot of supposedly more highbrow criticism has been in the same low tone. One typical British intellectual has called on all 'intelligent, educated, civilised, cultivated, compassionate people in America' to vote against Bush - with the obvious implication that anybody voting for him must be a barbaric, brutish American idiot. Radical American commentators publish articles under headlines such as 'Clueless people love Bush' and 'Don't be brainwashed!'.

A constant complaint is that many 'clueless people' have already been brainwashed by the Bush campaign's use of scare tactics through an allegedly compliant media. Arianna Huffington, a leading anti-Bush columnist, claims that Americans are voting in a 'fog of fear', and that thanks to Mr Bush's 'unremitting fear-mongering, millions of voters are reacting not with their linear and logical left brain, but with their lizard brain and their more emotional right brain . . . It's not about left wing v right wing; it's about left brain v right brain'. Or, she might just as well have said, intelligent and logical people v emotionally idiotic lizards.

These attitudes are not only contemptuous, they are a cop-out. How much easier it is for the liberal Left to blame stupid voters and the lying media for propping up Mr Bush and the Iraq war, rather than face up to its own failure to mount a convincing case or win the argument.... Those who protest about the power of Republican fear-mongering are using scare tactics of their own, with Mr Bush cast as bogeyman along with bin Laden. Those who pour public scorn on 'American idiots' are parading the latest version of the socialism of fools. [The original "socialism of fools" -- a term coined by August Bebel -- was, of course, antisemitism]


If the present-day plot to blow Bonfire Night off the calendar continues, we may have to forget about fun with fireworks on 5 November. An old-fashioned Bonfire Night is now anathema to authorities that seem shell-shocked by the very idea of crowds of people enjoying themselves with alcohol and a little gunpowder. This year, police are enforcing new laws that ban under-18s from possessing fireworks, and anybody from letting them off in public places or after 11pm except on November 5, New Year’s Eve, Chinese New Year and Diwali. But it is getting harder for many grown-ups to stage a fireworks display on fireworks night, too.

My colleague Josie Appleton has just researched the issue for spiked, the website I edit. She found a sorry tale of bonfire parties cancelled because they cannot keep up with the explosion of health and safety regulations or rocketing insurance premiums. One insurer still prepared to cover fireworks displays told her that, whereas two years ago local bonfires could buy insurance for less than £60, many councils now demand £5 million of cover for events on their land — which means premiums of £1365 for 1000 people. “In the past,” he said “councils would have just let people get on with it”.

Just let us get on with it! Such an anarchic outlook must surely be suppressed. Those who do go ahead have to comply with strict rules which mean that, at their school display tonight, my children will be banned from waving lethal sparklers about.

The few surviving traditional bonfires might soon risk prosecution under David Blunkett’s laws against inciting religious hatred. During the Bonfire Night parade at Lewes in East Sussex, members of the Cliffe bonfire society still uphold the event’s anti-Papist origins, flying “No Popery” banners and burning an effigy of Camillo Borghese, the Pope at the time of the 1605 Gunpowder Plot. Their website reminds us of forgotten verses to “Remember, remember...”:

“Burn him in a tub of tar /
Burn him like a blazing star /
Burn his body from his head /
Then we’ll say old Pope is dead”.

This sounds like an example of religious freedom, which should include our freedom to offend all religions equally. The Secretary of State for Home Affairs and Intolerance may have other ideas.

Even the Lewes Bonfire Council is asking non-residents to stay away tonight. Sadly this is not because, as Edward and Tubs from Royston Vasey in The League of Gentlemen might say, they want “a local riot for local people”, but on the grounds that standing around outdoors in November can be “an unpleasant experience”, and the event will be “confusing and frightening” for children.

Why must children always be used as a stick to beat us into behaving ourselves?


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