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The Fabric of Deception and Liberal Complicity
by Paul Street
October 31, 2004

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The Shroud of 9/11, No Further Questions Asked 

Why did The 9/11 Commission let George W. Bush get away with denying that he had been given abundant reason to have acted to pre-empt the Sept. 11 terror attacks?  The commissioners knew very well that numerous attempts had been made within the US national security bureaucracy to wake the criminally negligent Bush administration up to the grave and imminent threat that came to fruition on the terrible day that Bush turned into his defining moment and political jackpot. Before Bush looked two commissioners in the eyes and lied about his pre-9/11 ignorance about the danger posed by al Qaeda, the commission had reviewed mountains of evidence that totally contradicted the president’s testimony


 According to Benjamin De Mott in a recent issue of Harper’s, there was no chance that the commissioners would have called Bush on this deception.  This was because “challenging the chief executive as a liar entailed an unthinkable cost -- the possible rending of the nation’s social and political fabric.” 

Let’s call this the De Mott Proviso (not something De Mott himself embraces, by the way): “mainstream” politicos and other key opinion-shapers can’t expose the president as the lying liar that he truly is   because doing so will upset the dominant social order.  

I don’t know if De Mott’s explanation is correct, but it’s worth noting that Bush lies about practically everything, from his own youthful behavior (which included dodging service in a bloody imperialist war he vocally supported) to the purpose and consequences of his “middle-class tax cuts,” his ecocidal environmental record, and the reasons he invaded Iraq and...the list goes on.  

If “independent” commissions (and “opposition" presidential candidates) can’t call Bush a liar without unraveling “the social and political fabric,” then the lion’s share of the president’s rhetoric and conduct would appear to be off the table of serious criticism. 

Has Bush been granted the Divine Right of Presidential Bad Faith, Necessitated by the Requirement to Preserve Social Hierarchy?   


Fear of “rending the social fabric” is probably part of why almost nobody with “mainstream” public prominence has been willing to say flat out that the Republicans stole the 2000 presidential election. For an especially good look at the De Mott Proviso in action, look at that haunting section in Michael Moore’s “Fahrenheit 9/11” where the recently “defeated” Al Gore presides over the U.S. Senate’s certification of Bush’s embezzled presidential “victory,” refusing to allow challenges by a stream of African-American Congresspersons who knew that the illegal disenfranchisement of black voters in Florida had thrown the presidency to a racist and reactionary opponent of civil rights and social justice. 

One can also look at the New York Times’ pathetically weak, tight-lipped coverage of the pilfered 2000 election and the subsequent re-count battles. 

Top white Democrats and their liberal friends at the nation’s leading “newspaper of record” knew very well that Team Bush had shamelessly rigged the outcome.  They felt they couldn’t say so, I strongly suspect, because the sheer enormity of it all -- rightist electoral coups “can’t happen here,” after all -- might threaten the “social and political fabric.  

What will they say if, as seems distinctly possible, the Bushcons re-steal the presidency next week?


For another example of truths that can’t be told in the interest of preserving hierarchy, one can examine a recent New York Times editorial titled “When Soldiers Say No."   Commenting on the courageous refusal of 18 Army reservists to deliver a fuel shipment to a distant airbase with inadequate protection in an insurgent zone in Iraq, the Times’ editors told a small part of the truth about the incident. They accurately noted, in language that seems straight from the Kerry campaign, that “Pentagon planners have failed to provide enough troops, armor, and training to the young men who are bravely risking their lives for their country.”  They rightly observed that the White House and Pentagon have victimized their troops by trying to subdue Iraq on the cheap, failing to understand the depth and degree of Iraqi resistance, and  “stubbornly overriding the Army leadership’s correct judgment of how many troops would be needed to secure the country.” 

What the Times and for that matter Kerry CAN’T do is acknowledge the hopeful bravery of U.S. soldiers who dared to defy, in however  “small” a fashion, the dictates of their immediate superiors in the world’s most powerful military.  The elite liberal Times can’t relate that defiance in any meaningful way to the bloody and regressive American Empire Project and to the related persistence of deep social and economic inequalities in the imperial “homeland.”

It can’t acknowledge the welcome nature - for most world citizens - of the possibility that such “treasonous” resistance within the imperial ranks could lead to a reduction in the number of the officially invisible (in the U.S. and its presidential campaign) Arab victims of U.S. assault and occupation.  It can’t quite tell the truth that mostly lower and working class U.S. soldiers and reservists are stuck in the bloody Hell that is occupied Iraq because of their presence at the bottom of a profoundly authoritarian, unequal and wealth top-heavy social structure in the “world’s greatest democracy” --- where elections are normally stolen by big money and corporate power even when they aren’t stolen on the spectacular model of the great 2000 Florida ballot robbery.  

The Times can’t acknowledge the viciously circular reality whereby the imperial activity (the supposed “democracy” export) that emerges as a matter of course from savage domestic U.S. inequality deepens that very “homeland” injustice. The Times can’t tell the elementary truth that the country for which U.S. troops are “risking their lives” was hijacked after 9/11 by a loathsome cabal that has used false patriotism to cover its radically jingoist, brazenly imperialist, and coldly regressive designs at home and abroad.

It can’t acknowledge the heroic nature of the Iraqi street fighting that has repeatedly pushed back the gendarmes of this truly dangerous rogue-state beast that is Bush and Kerry’s America. That Iraqi resistance has every right in the world to make it supremely dangerous for reservists to carry fuel (or anything else) across a land that neither Bush nor Kerry has any legitimate right to occupy.   

“Soldiers in combat,” the Times reminds us, “can’t pick and choose their mission, no matter how grave the risks they are asked to face."  After listing a number of Bush administration failures in Iraq, the Times editors’ claim that “none of these [failures] lessen the serious nature of uniformed soldiers’ refusal to carry out legal orders.  An army where discipline breaks down can neither accomplish its mission not protect its own troops.” 

Yes the “social and political fabric” of empire and inequality might unravel if the immediate battlefield pawns of imperial violence begin to think that they might have something to say about how, when, and why they kill and die. 

What authoritarian rot. Let the discipline break down. Let the racist, imperialist, and murderous blood- and oil-soaked U.S. “mission” fail in Iraq. To what “legal orders” are the Times’ editors referring, exactly? The whole occupation operation has been hideously criminal and immoral from the start. 

“Protect the troops?” You getting them the Hell out of Iraq. And the truth is, soldiers can legally defy some missions and have been known to refuse certain tasks even without legal sanction and for very sound reasons.


For my part I’m not very impressed by the quality of “the nation’s social and political fabric.” I would be happy to see it significantly torn down and re-woven, from the bottom up.  I witness too much of the sadistic chaos that this “fabric” --- which I personally see as an interlocking set of rigidly hierarchical power structures --- inflicts on the massive and rising number of Americans who experience extreme exclusion and disadvantage.  

Right outside my office window, for example, is a South Side Chicago neighborhood called “Grand Boulevard.”  In this very preponderantly black community, according to the 2000 Census: 

* The official (heavily understated) unemployment rate in 1999 was 24.4 percent.

* Less than half (46 percent) the men over 16 were part of the civilian labor force.   

* More than one third (39 percent) of the households had incomes less than  $10,000. 

* Median income was $14,178 (compared to $38,625 for Chicago as a whole).

* More than half (53 percent) of residents received food stamps.  

* More than half (52 percent) of the residents lived at or below the notoriously low U.S. poverty level.

* Forty-two percent of youths under 18 lived in “deep poverty,” at less than half that inadequate official poverty level. 

I’d like to tell you that Grand Boulevard is a freakish anomaly within the supposedly prosperous “global city” that post-industrial Chicago has become.  In reality, it is one of 22 Chicago neighborhoods that are both more than 90 percent. African-American and deeply challenged by extreme poverty and its many negative consequences. It is only one part of a largely invisible lower class that suffers at the bottom of the steep American pyramid while the policymakers allocate ever more tens of billions of dollars to finance the pursuit of their deadly imperial dreams. 

The above neighborhood poverty numbers, it is worth noting, date from the peak of the  “Clinton boom,” before the Clinton-Bush recession kicked in, with its disproportionately negative impact on black communities. By early 2003, more than million black children lived in “deep poverty” in the U.S.  

Those who care to look can find some of the poorest U.S. neighborhoods and the greatest intra-municipal disparities of all in Washington D.C. Some of the worst urban misery in the “advanced” world is ready to view just a short cab ride away from the very offices where the current masters of American empire, war, and inequality “fasten the triggers for the others to fire, and sit back and watch while the death count gets higher” (to quote Bob Dylan’s 1962 song “Masters of War”)   

Americans of all classes and races need their nation’s decision-makers to tell the truth.  We also need and deserve a better, democratic and egalitarian “social and political fabric.” 

If telling the truth will help unravel the rotten old authoritarian “fabric” of imperial inequality and get us making a new democratic and truly social “fabric” of justice, peace, and equality, then all power to the truth.

That’s just something to keep in mind when the Bush administration steals a dangerous return engagement and legitimate mass civil unrest ensues in “the world’s greatest democracy.” 

Paul Street is a writer and researcher in Chicago, Illinois. His book Empire and Inequality: America and the World Since 9/11 is now available from Paradigm Publishers. He can be reached at:

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