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Doctors and Dictators

Crank Call


Published January 10, 2001 at 7:46 p.m.

Everyone’s talking about “cooperation” and “bipartisanship” — “Bringing America Together,” as the Bushmen say. That’s the official slogan of the corporate-military state, in case you hadn’t heard. Quoting Scott Shuger in Slate: “Imagine what they could have come up with if they hadn’t been robbed of four weeks of valuable transition time!”

I don’t know what I’d do without Shuger in the mornings. His crisp, daily digests of America’s leading papers give me the news I need without the “personalities.” It’s what NPR must be to other people, only I can’t stand the sound of Nina Totenberg’s teeth clicking together. Similarly, I can’t read through a whole issue of The New York Times anymore — there’s something so white about the Grey Lady lately.

Thus to our own “Democratic” governor, Howard Dean, “moderate” extraordinaire, who was quoted in Sunday’s Times on the subject of states’ rights — that is, President Select’s sudden re-conversion to Republican doctrine that The Federal Government is Bad For You. According to the Times: “Across the spectrum of domestic policy issues, from health and welfare to education, transportation and environmental protection, the new administration promises to shift power from the federal government to the states, and state officials of both parties said they expected the promises to be kept.”

You may wonder how President Select — who owes his White House victory solely to the collusion of the last word in federal authority, the U.S. Supreme Court — can be so earnest now about the 10th Amendment, which guarantees the states “all powers not specifically granted to the federal government.” Select prefers to regard the states as “partners,” not “interest groups,” whatever that means, and Howard agrees with him.

“I do believe that the states will end up with more flexibility to manage Medicaid and other health and human-service programs,” Dr. Dean declares, having told us already in his inaugural address that he won’t “dictate” the direction of health care in Vermont. “I have deliberately avoided laying out the specifics of how I believe our three goals of cost control, reducing the cost shift and universal access should be achieved,” Dean said. “I want this to be our plan, not my plan.”

You see? Such cooperation! Such bipartisanship! There followed the obligatory words about “consensus on how to proceed” — not consensus on health care, note, only on “proceeding” to it — followed by pieties in the Bushman mode: “At this moment we are not divided. We are Vermonters. At this moment, we are united in one mission,” etc., etc. Riiight.

Of course, Dr. Dean will be proposing cuts in Medicaid benefits and higher co-pays for Medicaid recipients, which in any case are already in effect. Please don’t take this as a sign of “dictating” anything. Given the composition of the Legislature this season, Dr. Death’s measures should have no trouble passing, and then, you see, it won’t be his fault.

Peace in our time, eh, Howard? I’m one of the people who didn’t vote for you, as it happens, not because I think you’re a bad executive, but because I think you’re a bad doctor. I don’t think you’re a doctor at all anymore, and I wish you’d stop calling yourself one. Where’s Neville Chamberlain when you need him?

Better get used to it, anyhow, because this is how it’s going to be under the Bushmen — words saying one thing and hands doing just the reverse. You can see this already in the composition of Select’s proposed cabinet, which may be “diverse” in appearance but is purely corporate, and purely right-wing in fact.

I’m not the first to point this out, obviously — indeed, everyone is pointing it out — but on it goes, all the same. Why should we be surprised? We’ve just seen the first wholly artificial presidential election in American history. You may not have noticed, because the dogs of the press are so busy writing articles about themselves and each other, and talking so much on so many channels at once, I think there may be a shortage of hounds in the pack just now.

This is the saddest part of the spectacle — the dismantling of American democracy is taking place right before our eyes. We’ve got the best of American reporting and “investigative” journalism covering the same event, all the time, and the only result is theater — absurdist theater, at that. Everything’s the opposite of what it seems. And while our bipartisan cooperators squabble over Select’s more egregious nominations — especially the repulsive John Ashcroft as U.S. Attorney General — they’ll shoo in Colin Powell, the coziest, cuddliest, whitest general since Hindenburg, and help the Bushmen toward their goal, which is the militarization of the government.

Select’s lack of a popular mandate will mean nothing in this scenario. The agenda’s set and will be carried out as announced — gifts to the rich, theft from the poor, “religious charity” in place of social services, “education reform” as a means to segregated schools. And let’s not forget the “Missile Defense Shield,” opposed by our allies and insane on the surface. They’re going to do exactly what they want, and the excuse they’ll give is “the economy.”

We’ll talk about the economy next time, children, if we can see our way past culture, and if I’m still allowed to write. I leave you with a quote from Select, taken from CNN’s news broadcast of December 18, 2000, and guaranteed verbatim: “If this were a dictatorship, it’d be a heck of a lot easier … just so long as I’m the dictator, heh, heh.”

Howard has nothing to worry about.

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