Posted by: Dan | January 9, 2005

Vive La Revolucion

On December 27, 2004 TIME Magazine declared the recently re-elected President of the United States of America to be 2004's Person of the Year. The subtitle of the December 27th issue stated, “George W. Bush – American Revolutionary”. Bush Jr. has joined the ranks of such all American heroes as George Washington. As Time notes, “Eagles rather than doves nestle in the Oval Office”. Apparently Bush Jr. is not simply a hawk, he is the personification of American splendour. As Nancy Gibbs and John F. Dickerson write:

For sharpening the debate until the choices bled, for reframing reality to match his design, for gambling his fortunes – and America's – on his faith in the power of leadership, George W. Bush is TIME's 2004 Person of the Year…In his pursuit of a second term, Bush was just as radical as he was in his conduct of a pre-emptive war. As a politician, he showed the same discipline, secrecy and never he demonstrated in his conduct as President. So he emerges with his faith only deepened in the transformational power of clear leadership. Whether or not the election actually yielded a mandate for his policies, he is sure to claim one for his style, because he stuck to it against all odds, much advice and the lessons of history. And on that choice, at least, the results are in.

Now whether those results are actually in as genuine reflection of the American public or whether the Republicans “stole another election” is the topic of a more serious debate than Gibbs and Dickerson suggest(See Lewis H. Lapham's article, “True Blue” in HARPER'S, January 2005). Regardless, it is clear that the major media pundits are rejoicing in Bush Jr.'s re-election and portraying him as a bold, clear-eyed visionary who has triumphed because he is both strong and good.

TIME's portrayal of George W. Bush as a leader first and foremost is appropriately flushed out be Andrew Sullivan's essay on the final page entitled “Year of the Insurgents”. Drawing from the American Heritage Dictionary Sullivan defines “insurgency” as “a condition of revolt against a recognised government that does not reach the proportions of an organized revolutionary government and is not recognised as belligerency” (Sullivan does not include the italicised words, presumably because the fuller definition does not fit the profile of insurgents he is seeking to present). Thus, Sullivan concludes that insurgents are about sniping, not governing. Given the chance to exercise true leadership they prefer to stay on the margins. Besides, he says, they don't really expect victory. They engage in “a war that is not a real war, a halfway inconclusive revolt without end, a battle of attrition that polarizes as it goes essentially nowhere.” Thus, while insurgents from Mel Gibson, to Iraqi “rebels” in Fallujah, to Jon Stewart engage in infectious but ineffective revolts George W. Bush – that blessed American revolutionary and visionary – is the only true winner. And, TIME Magazine seems to suggest, we should be quite thankful for that.

Unfortunately Sullivan does not create an accurate portrait of insurgents (not that he seems concerned to do so) but only achieves a caricature. Looking at other definitions of insurgency (“an organised rebellion aimed at overthrowing a constituted government through the usage of subversion and armed conflict” – Merriam-Webster; “active revolt” – Oxford) one realises the the key to the definition of insurgents is not their aversion to government or leadership but their active resistance to the government as it currently exists. The American Heritage dictionary adds the clause about insurgents lacking organised government points to the fact that insurgencies are grass-roots movements that are still in the process of gathering numbers and organising themselves under structures of leadership. It does not mean that they are essentially going nowhere, it means that they have only just started going somewhere. Naturally Sullivan finds it much more convenient to warp the definition of insurgency in order to have his audience accept his mostly hyperbolic critique of those who oppose the mainstream media, George W., and American foreign policy.

It's hard to miss the doublespeak here. When those like Gibbs and Dickerson call George W. Bush a revolutionary one begins to wonder how much meaning is left in that word. Others who speak and act out against the injustices they perceive within the present order are not called revolutionary – they are insurgents, and insurgents as Sullivan defines them. TIME is careful to reserve the powerful language and symbolism of revolution (thanks to a culture and education system that presents the American Revolution as the pivotal turning point of history. Odd for a nation that is regarded as Christian – for Christianity affirms that the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus was the pivotal turning point of history) for its allies, while also refusing to apply such language and symbolism to its opponents, regardless of how closely either sit fits the terms of usage.

Perhaps t-shirts with pictures of Che Guevara captioned, “Vive la Revolucion” will one day be replaced with t-shirts sporting George W. Bush proclaiming, “Long live the Revolution”. And kids will sit around in Starbucks reminiscing about the glory days of his reign and wonder how they too can continue the war of freedom that he fought so well.

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