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
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
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.
To the Editor:
You have stated the situation with stunning clarity.
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.
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.
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
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
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 is a poet and a Russian specialist and translator of
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
To the Editor:
Thank you for reminding us that we are not helpless.
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 is a poet. Her translations of Rilke appeared in
Vol. 4, No. 3.