Long Day's Journey After Election Night

With Republicans gaining control of the Senate, few analysts doubt that 9/11 set the stage for George W. Bush to lead his party to victory. Fourteen months ago, in the national media vortex, a president widely perceived as simple-minded and problematic suddenly became inspirational.

The massive violence boosting Bush's authoritative aura came in two basic configurations. For U.S. media, the threat of horrific violence aimed at America quickly became the overarching problem of the new epoch. In another category, the Pentagon's awesome capabilities to inflict horrific violence rapidly emerged as a central part of the touted solution.

In such a media atmosphere, a president eager to unleash the nation's military prowess could hardly fail to gain in stature. Bush ascended to the political stratosphere. Much less often mentioned were the media dynamics that rocketed him there.

The violence of 9/11 and the pledged U.S. war on Iraq are media bookends for the story of Bush's trajectory to the GOP triumph of Election Day 2002. In the closing months of this year's campaign, the specter of an overwhelming military assault on Iraq effectively swept aside other issues -- notably the economic well-being of Americans -- that could have meant big trouble for Bush's party on Election Day.

While most Democrats on Capitol Hill voted against Bush's war resolution last month, party leaders such as Sen. Tom Daschle and Rep. Richard Gephardt eagerly went along with the war promoters. When the nation's media spotlight fell on them, Daschle and Gephardt had nothing of value to say. The president, and evidently most journalists, liked it that way. Here was bipartisan unity; the loyal opposition, dutifully serving as the caboose on a war train.

But even on its own craven terms, the can't-beat-'em join-'em approach of harmonizing with the mediaspeak chorus was a dismal failure: America gets two Republican houses of Congress. And, almost certainly, a horrendous war with Iraq.

About 180 degrees from all the craven blather, a new documentary provides chilling context for what has occurred and what is to come. Michael Moore's film "Bowling for Columbine," now showing at a small number of theaters across the country, is everything that the media-pandering statements along Pennsylvania Avenue have not been. The movie focuses on realities of violence and fear in the United States.

In his latest film, Moore ventures where very few mainstream American journalists have been willing to tread. He looks at links between enthusiasm for guns that are small and enthusiasm for guns that are huge -- weapons that fit in the palm of a hand or on a person's shoulder, and weapons that are launched from jet bombers and aircraft carriers.

This country's "gun culture" has many facets. The victims include people randomly shot dead with a handgun or an assault rifle. But the media-framed issues of gun control do not extend to the big guns of the Pentagon.

Major media outlets don't go there. Moore's documentary does. "Bowling for Columbine" is a brilliant movie, adroitly confronting our society's ongoing spirals of murderous violence.

Oh, we have our reasons; our fears and hopes. Those who kill usually do. A domestic cornucopia of violence, the United States simultaneously wields what is, by far, the world's most powerful arsenal: the Pentagon, our tax dollars at work.

Long trapped between the despotic regime of Saddam Hussein and lethal actions of the U.S. government, Iraqi people are in Uncle Sam's crosshairs. With violence, George W. Bush and GOP leaders find the reliable promise of adulatory media coverage and enormous political leverage. Terrorism and war strengthen their hands.

These days, one of the few prominent TV pundits challenging the momentum toward U.S.-taxpayer-funded slaughter in Iraq is MSNBC's Chris Matthews, who offers some clarity about President Bush. "I'm afraid he's riding the tiger with all these hawks around him," Matthews said on Nov. 6, "and I'm afraid he can't stop them."

At this point, there is no evidence that Bush wants to stop the hawks; he's one of them. And the fawning media coverage in the aftermath of Election Day can only embolden his zealotry. Strike up the band, send out the troops, start yet another war in the name of righteousness. Those who mourn will not be ready for prime time.

Norman Solomon writes a syndicated column on media and politics.

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