l e t t e r s  t o  t h e  e d i t or  


On Monday, November 4, 2002, the Editor sent a letter to our subscribers explaining why we had published no Autumn issue. That letter elicited a large number of replies. Although the reason for it has passed, we thought our readers might want to read a selection of those replies and comments: they compose a small snapshot of a moment in political time, or are a sort of place-marker in the political process. In this issue’s Endnotes, “A Year in Washington,” we write at greater length about what we saw during our year in the capital.

November 4, 2002

Ladies and Gentlemen:

A number of readers have asked why no Autumn issue of Archipelago appeared. Has Archipelago been retired? they ask in kind alarm. The answer is simple: No, Archipelago is quite alive, and Volume 6, Numbers. 3/4 will be on-line sometime after mid-December.

With that issue, we inaugurate a new series, “Living with Guns,” in which various writers will contemplate how, historically, philosophically, metaphorically, ethically, and even legally, Americans have allowed ourselves to justify and bear ever more lethal weapons, and how we have lived (and died) with the choice that is perhaps not that of a majority.

In the meantime, no Autumn issue appeared because I went on sabbatical. I went to Washington. I wanted to see up close how this President and his administration are changing this nation. In the Endnotes of Spring 2002  “The Colossus,” I had written: “The President and his cohort believe intensely that they have the right to govern; to govern by their own rules; and they are remaking terribly important rules by which this nation is governed. Their expansion of executive and legal powers, without clear recourse; their unwillingness to share information, necessary to our democracy; and their determination to involve this nation in a long, formless ‘war’ — it looks like real war but has not been formally declared by Congress — for which they are unwilling to make an accounting: this is a watershed in our history. The Republicans since Nixon have not been shy about circumventing the Constitution; their arrogation of power continues and, if not opposed, will, I fear, become unalterable. In that case, we Americans will no longer know ourselves as the people we were before the presidential election of 2000. Perhaps this is already true.”

I wanted to see if it is already true. But I am not alone in my deep unease and dismay.

In last week’s New Yorker, Hendrick Hertzberg reminded us that Al Gore received half a million more votes than George Bush did, that Bush was then selected by a bare majority in an appallingly partisan act by the Supreme Court, and that no one since — including Gore himself — has spoken out nationally for the majority whose votes he had won. On Friday’s “Now,” on PBS, Bill Moyers convened a round table of philosophers and political scientists and asked them how we can repair our rapidly disintegrating democracy. Garrison Keillor, on Saturday’s “Prairie Home Companion” (NPR) reminded us that if the Republicans win the Senate and the House, their proclaimed “agenda” — a solidly conservative court system, increased militarization, further shrinking of what remains of our system of social welfare and well being, the removal of a woman’s right to choose, and more, will rule our lives for the foreseeable future. He’s a yellow-dog Dem himself, he said, being the product of Republicans who wouldn’t vote for a Democratic candidate if he came down from the sky on wings: a dry reminder of the apocalyptic vision hovering over of much of our nearly-ruling party.

About ten days ago, with more than 100,000 other people, mostly middle-class, many of them of my (Sixties) generation, I marched in Washington against this President’s coming war, then saw that march under-reported in the media, which don’t seem to know how to tell this story.

The story is this, as I see it: The President has told the world that we are its dominant military power (let us remember that he includes military domination of Space), and that any observable threat to that power arising from any other nation may, at his discretion, be subject to a preventive strike. He has proclaimed that his government has expanded their definition of legitimate defense to include offensive war: that the America takes the legal right to become, when necessary, an aggressor nation. Our — very, very serious — domestic issues shrink before the magnitude of this declaration. Congress has handed the President a free rein and a blank check, as Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia instructed us in his eloquent defense of the Constitution. If the Western nations are already engaged in a real world-wide war — the “War on Terrorism” — nonetheless, the scope of that war has now been expanded, by us.

Tomorrow is Election Day. Important governorships, a third of the Senate, and the entire House of Representatives are in contest. I urge the American readers of this journal, having considered with due seriousness all that is at stake, to go to the polls. Vote. Person by person, the vote is a very small bit of power. It may be all the civil power we, those in resistance, have left.

Yours truly,
Katherine McNamara


To the Editor:

You have stated the situation with stunning clarity. Many thanks.

G.F. Hale


To the Editor:

I salute you on your comments and your courage and clear thinking. I just want to reassure you that many people share the same beliefs in this matter.

Matthew Jennett
Pharos Books, New Haven, Ct.


To the Editor:

Just wanted to tell you how much I appreciated this latest message. Even though the U.S. press played it down, we have other sources (the British press, for example), and I know that the march in Washington was hugely successful. Wish I could have been there. I certainly was in spirit. I’d so like to think that young people in the U.S. are becoming more politically aware and active. I come in contact with many American students over here and all too often it seems like they’re focused on getting their MBAs and making loads of cash. One can only hope for the better, and the turn out in Washington was encouraging. I have my fingers crossed that tomorrow’s elections might reflect some of that protest, if people will just get out and vote. (I mailed in my ballot to Oregon over a month ago!) If it’s a Republican sweep, I think I’ll feel like giving up on the U.S., and then remember that many people, such as yourself, are carrying on the good fight.

Keep up the good work on the front lines and in print. I look forward to the next issue.

Jill Adams
Editor, The Barcelona Review


To the Editor:

While I suppose I agree in principle with your general attitude toward the current administration’s policies, the dismaying thing to me is not so much that the Bushies have taken power as that it has been given to them by a bunch of stunned liberals and other Democrats who can’t seem to get it together to raise an argument that most of the country wants to listen to. While it is probably true that the Supreme Court, under the control of special interests, acted outside of its jurisdiction in overruling the Florida court (as proved by its own reluctance to overturn a state electoral decision in New Jersey, an admission that there is no federal electoral process, only a state-based system, according to the Constitution), it is also true that the polls continue to put the Republicans virtually even with the Democrats. Not just Bush and the gang, but others across the land.

The vote tomorrow will not be corrupt or one of coercion in a one-party totalitarian system. It will rely effectively upon the same mechanisms that existed two, four, eight, eighty years ago. If the Republicans win both the House and the Senate, so be it: vox populi. Nothing to argue against. Live in a democracy, sometimes you get jerks. Some times they stay there for eight years, as the Republicans believe Clinton did.

The Republicans who spent zillions of federal dollars to bring down Clinton finally have their revenge. The same seething hatred that many now feel for Bush was earlier coursing through the veins of frustrated Republicans for eight years. The country did not go to hell because one party was in power and the other wasn’t. (If it’s going to hell, I propose that is for reasons other than the current regime.)

In the last two years, with the press and the media virtually bought off and catatonic, and the Democratic politicians afraid to say anything (witness that tired hypocrite Joseph Lieberman, clearly trying to become president by looking like Bush), I have been reminded too much of the grumbling and whining of the Russian intelligentsia in recent years, who complained only of their own demise and marginalization, yet did nothing really to stop what has turned out to be Putin’s rise to totalitarian power. Putin is now replacing the Chechen-run Moscow mafia (which owned the mass media) with the Petersburg mafia, of which he is a part and beneficiary. In either case, you have a mafia.

It was this same idea that Ralph Nader was trying to get across when he interloped in the 2000 elections: his point, which Democrats hate to hear, was that both Bush and Gore were representing the same set of interests, only with different modalities of expression. His claim that he was not merely a “spoiler” was backed up by his observation that his own, lazy-ass green party would have no choice but to wake up if Bush were elected, since Bush would clearly be such an obvious affront to the liberal sensibility that the Liberals would have to start shouting louder.

So far, that hasn’t happened. Amusingly, bin Laden has gotten exactly what he seems to have wanted. I never talked to the man when he was alive, but I suspect he realized on a deep level that America, possessing no real backbone or moral commitment to anything outside the petrodollar, would respond to his attack with fear and posturing rather than with real comprehension of what had just happened, and a desire to take responsibility for its unique position in a very disturbed world. So Bush, who was otherwise just a mediocre one-term president, now gets the chance to undo eight years of Clintonism over the same period of time. Meanwhile, al Qaeda has exacted its revenge, which is fomenting America’s growing inability to believe in its own institutions.

Alas, the alarm you are sounding with your letter represents a complete loss of faith in America’s institutions, which do include checks and balances and an electoral system and a more or less unfettered press. That loss of faith seems to me to be a tacit attack on the very America that elected (at least by its current popular support if not at the ballot box) the current Administration, and is likely to do so again.

From my side, I predict the current group of clowns will engineer their own demise. If they win both chambers of Congress, and therefore own the entire government, then there will be no one to blame when the economy crumbles and social programs have been dismantled to the extent that the populace is extremely insecure. Then you have the chance, in another two years, to throw the bums out. If you don’t succeed, then in theory that’s democracy at work.

Bruce McClelland
Bruce McClelland is a poet and a Russian specialist and translator of Osip Mandelstam


To the Editor:

Thanks so much for sending out your message. Well-received on this end. I will vote tomorrow—my senator Dick Durbin deserves my vote for having opposed the use of force resolution.

I’ve been pretty shaken up by the death of Paul Wellstone. Below are a couple things I’ve posted about him in recent days.

All right, let’s vote, and march, and write, and do a lot of other stuff, too.

Dan S. Wang

From Dan S. Wang:

Hi friends and acquaintances, I’m sorry to bother you with group mailings but I did want to share with you a bit of my experience knowing Paul Wellstone. Since most all of you who are receiving this have some interest in and commitment to political activism, I thought you might forgive my questionable nettiquette and allow me to indulge my grief.

I had Paul as a professor during my first year in college. He helped me to articulate my early interest in environmental issues, and encouraged me to examine my personal history as a child of immigrant parents, and to think about how that fit into my evolving political outlook. I took two classes with him, including his famous ‘Social Movements and Protest Politics’ course, which produced a reliable number of aspiring organizers each year. He made it a point to emphasize that classwork would never fully educate anyone about politics. He convinced me. I worked for ACORN the following summer, joined the governing board of MPIRG the next year, and never lost my interest and belief in practicing some kind of activism at some level ever after.

But what really made the impact on me was how I saw him treat individuals, and how he treated me. He really believed that one person could make a difference — it sounds like such an incredibly banal thing to say, much less believe — but that’s how he went about interacting with people. You could just see it in the way he talked to some of the most marginalized people — single mothers on welfare, people who lost their farms — in his eyes, every single person, no matter what, was somebody who had the potential to do something really amazing. Especially when they had something to fight for.


Contrary to how the mass media has portrayed him, Paul was anything but an idealistic lost liberal. Anything but naïve. When talking politics (which is what he was almost always talking), he used the word ‘power’ all the time. He understood that politics is war by other means. He also knew there was an army just waiting to be assembled for his side. He became more circumspect with his terminology after he became a senator, but only because it was a cosmetic requirement of the job.

His doctoral dissertation was, if I remember correctly, titled THE BLACK RADICALS: WHAT DO THEY WANT?, and was based on a lot of research conducted in urban ghettos. His first book was titled HOW THE RURAL POOR GOT POWER, and was similarly based on first-hand contact and exchange with farmers suffering foreclosure and the rural unemployed. Between the two works lay his greatest talent, and for us the most valuable lesson — the man knew how to talk and how to listen, how to build trust and friendship with people from any socioeconomic or cultural group, how to learn from others, how to give credit to others, how to see ordinary people as agents. People who, with the right tactics, can exercise political power. By the time he chaired Jesse Jackson’s campaign in Minnesota in ‘88, Paul was already way beyond the Rainbow Coalition, in terms of actual experience working with a true cross section of the Left.

There was something incredibly anachronistic about Paul — the scrappy neighborhood organizer who went national — but I would argue for revisiting the ideas and subjects he taught. The basics, in times of acute crisis (like right now), are still very relevant. What do we want? How do we get it? If we don’t get it, then we try something else.

He wasn’t much for the mirror stage, the logocentrism of language, the spectacularized society. But he knew the history of American protest and organizing through and through, from the populist farmers to the suffragists to the labor movements to the civil rights marchers to the SDS-ers to the grape boycotts to the anti-nuke groups to the sanctuary movement, and so on. Because he identified with the most marginalized people, he firmly believed that the consequences of political activism and organizing were almost guaranteed to be better than inaction, even when things developed in unforeseen ways. That’s something to remember these days: enforced despair is to be rebelled against, and optional despair is afforded to the privileged.

Organizing as experimentation. To conduct the successful experiment. Political science in the best sense of the term.

The experiment Paul conducted using himself as the subject succeeded wildly. Even in death, the confirmation of success is there. Why else would more than 20,000 people attend a memorial service for a United States Senator, in an age when ordinary people are more than likely tempted to celebrate when a prominent politician goes down?

Dan S. Wang is an artist working in letterpress. His collaboration with Alan Sondheim, “Rosa’s Argument,” appeared in Vol. 4, No. 4.

To the Editor:

I want to say ‘thank you’ for your note of explanation of what has occupied your thinking. I believe you’ve stated well and concisely some of the most worrisome aspects of what has creepingly gone on in Washington. As you say, Republicans have a clear 30-year track record of misstating and bypassing the Constitution as it concerns their persistent efforts to arrogate and concentrate power. The result is a military/industrial/ [and now] political and communications complex that trumps anything of the sort that we may have protested against in the ‘60s. Yes, the threat to the sunnier, more beneficent aspects of our character as a nation is sinister. Yes, it would be great if people of conscience would emerge tomorrow from their state of shock and passive disillusionment and vote — in the old Chicago phrase— “early and often.”

Yet I don’t quite see the groundswell of opinion which might lead to that happier result. Why not? First, I think, the Democratic Party may be blamed for not having the courage of its convictions, for trying to fly low under the radar of a narrowly defined “patriotism” in this war-mongering hour. As in the Gore presidential campaign of 2000, the party leadership’s modus operandi is playing not to lose, rather than playing to win. Wishful thinking steers the ship; they hope the electorate will note that the Bush regime has delivered nothing in health care, that its “prosecution” of boardroom corruption has been all tough talk, that more people are without jobs (or job retraining) and that this exodus of work likely will continue as U.S. companies pursue a “leaner and meaner” ethic of Bottom Line ‹ber Alles.

But what does the Democratic Party now stand for? There has been more silence than enlightenment about this, leading one to wonder how much will the party possesses for any sort of hard, doctrinal political fight. When their own convictions are too nebulous or lacking in rigor to make comparison desirable, Democratic politicians have not been apt to dissect their opponents’ policy statements — which conservative spin-doctors have learned to turn into pap readily digestible by an intermittently attentive public — and expose the selfish bedrock ideologies and “ends-justify-means” ethics hidden beneath them.

I fear that the Democratic Party, in the eyes of much of the undecided U.S. electorate, appears, at best, to be rather ineffectually wistful, or, at worst, to be a bunch of watered-down Republicans, bent on chasing power but inept at marshalling it into legislation and policy.

Secondly, I think we have been ill-served, as a nation, by our news media, which seem no longer to know how to ask hard questions of politicians and to persevere analytically through the smokescreen denials, changes of topic, and appeals to public prejudice (for patriotism, against snoopy questioning of authority) with which the politicians tend to respond.

Perhaps it’s naïve of me to believe so, but writing or broadcasting news used to seem like a profession; now it’s been made a business. CNN makes claims about the depth of its investigations; more evident is its tone, appropriate to a shill, perhaps, but not to an objective, observant commentator. (Ah, Walter Cronkite, happy birthday! We could use someone like you.) There has been so little public EXAMINATION of this administration, its methods and intentions, that those voters not motivated by inimical prior convictions may have had little ground AND little incentive to do such analysis for themselves.

All the conservative name-calling directed over 30 years at the news media — “biased,” “left-leaning,” and worse — has had effect, and perhaps more directly than the organizers of it could have hoped. To avert the accusing finger, our news organizations now tamely swallow most of what is said or reported by conservatives, as if it will be enough to let history judge. The Bush regime has no loyal opposition with a voice.

Since the electoral debacle of the Goldwater campaign (if not earlier), the core mode of conduct in Republican politics has been that of hostile takeover, stealthily wrapped up in the flag, the founding fathers, notions of prosperity, and whatever else for which the public has shown an appetite. Steadily, the mechanisms of governance have been disappearing from view, taken behind closed doors, walled off from scrutiny, which, itself has been represented as a danger to the nation.

A culture of public fear has been lit and stoked, though we are frequently assured that we are in the right hands now.

If the Democratic Party is not to become as irrelevant as the United Nations is said to be, it had better find its footing, its gumption, and something more of unity, or we all may find the rules of democracy and the path of our country changed. So thanks again for raising the alarm, and eloquently. I’ll try to beam it on to friends and colleagues who might be swayed or emboldened. (I had been tempted to try to write “Nine-One-One: Our Nation Hijacked,” but to assemble facts and figures — in short, to go beyond the Republicans’ favored methods of allegation and assertion — would have dragged me away from my fiction, and also seemed to demand more faith in its potential persuasive efficacy than I’ve been able to find, lately.) Best wishes, too, for Archipelago.

Jon Guillot (in hopes that tomorrow may yet prove that “Regime Change Begins at Home”)

Jon Guillot is a rare-book specialist, appraiser, and owner of Magnum Opus Rare Books, Charlottesville, Va.


To the Editor:

Please remove from your mailing list. I was interested Archipelago from the standpoint of arts and literature, but less interested in your particular and personal political opinion. I’d prefer to get those from the folks who are up front about what business they are in. Thanks.

(No signature)


To the Editor:

Many thanks for reaffirming this U.K. reader’s belief that there is, in the U.S. consciousness, still a deep well of common sense. All too often we’re shown the shallow, blurred, unified face of ‘The U.S. prepares for war...’ / ‘The U.S. rejects Kyoto...’ / ‘The U.S. this and that...’ as though in collective madness a 280 million strong gun-toting hoard are ready follow Mssrs Bush and Powell without question.

Your march on Washington was presented more as a footnote than real news. But in Europe, more than ever, we need to hear from the U.S. the sort of views expressed in your message.

So, in short, best wishes for tomorrow. As with any major U.S. event, the shockwaves will be felt globally. That’s an awesome responsibility for any electorate; I hope the power is used wisely.

Martin Reed.


To the Editor:

Thank you for reminding us that we are not helpless.

Best regards,
Caila Rossi

Caila Rossi is a short-story writer from Brooklyn.


To the Editor:

I was happy to hear from you and to read the eloquent message you penned to Archipelago readers. Here in New Hampshire (conservative Republican territory), there is a chance that Jeanne Shaheen (D) will beat John Sununu (R) for a seat in the Senate, primarily because Sununu is pro-life and Shaheen pro-choice. On other issues, the voters will probably — unfortunately — elect Craig Benson as governor because Benson has bought the vote by spending 11 million dollars of his own money and promises not to instate an income tax or a sales tax. The entire tax burden in N.H. is borne by homeowners through a property tax. For homeowners of modest means or those on fixed incomes, this unfair burden can mean that they have to sell their homes — yet the electorate won’t entertain a more equitable way of raising money for education and other programs. A sad commentary on an unenlightened populace!

Elizabeth Knies

Elizabeth Knies is a poet. Her translations of Rilke appeared in Archipelago, Vol. 4, No. 3.


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