He that would make his own liberty secure must guard even his enemy from oppression; for if he violates this duty he establishes a precedent that will reach to himself.
Thomas Paine (1737 - 1809)
On the StairMaster at my local gym, a friend and I watch a gleaming bank of televisions, each tuned to a different station, all displaying identical images of Operation Iraqi Freedom: The Occupation. We live in a small, conservative university town in West Virginia, where I am often accused of being a feminazi, or, worse still, a liberal feminist. Still, I risk a comment on the cynicism of American foreign policy. My friend, a beautiful, hyper-fit, married mother of three scolds me: Its for our freedom. We are ensconced in a high-tech gym, free and safe as one can get, I remind her. Then, channeling Fox News, she repeats the familiar anesthetizing sound bite: the U.S. has liberated the Iraqi people from tyranny. The power of political deflection at work; we sweat in the amber glow of the latest Terrorism Alert.
Like all American wars, this is a war of class and ideas. One class has the idea to make war; another fights the battles and pays the price. Like many of my neighbors, my friend misunderstands to which class she belongs. The combination of faith in authority and grinding self-doubt that typifies my small town makes it the perfect audience for Operation Iraqi Freedom. We distract ourselves welcoming Jessica Lynch home as the Bush administration presents a budget removing $265 billion from the entitlement programs upon which many West Virginians rely, including $14 billion in veterans benefits. Yet, as polls indicate a growing skepticism toward George W's handling of the war in Iraq, my small town is awash in yellow ribbons and plastic American flags. Local churches advertise patriotism as an act of faith, local merchants now sell Freedom Fries, and radio personalities insist that we respect our President no matter what he does or how we feel about it.
West Virginia is wildly unhealthy and impoverished. Left behind, essentially. Nationwide, we rank first in obesity, third in sedentary lifestyle and smoking, and fully 25% of our children live in poverty. The city I live in has been shrinking for 30 years. We pay nearly $2.00 a gallon for gasoline in service to a war that, in reality, will continue to impoverish us and enrich the already wealthy for years to come. We consistently pay more taxes, pay more for declining city services, receive less and less assistance for our vast underprivileged, underemployed, undereducated population and watch from a distance as the wealthiest Americans (who do not live here) pay fewer taxes, get richer. Well, some of us watch. This kind of economic news is avoided by the local news media, whose job it is to keep our minds on the mundane: First Warning Weather and Hometown Heroes.
The truth is, here in forgotten West Virginia we are in no immediate danger from terrorism, although we flatter ourselves that we may be. (We buy our share of duct tape.) The greatest threat posed to this population comes from the President we helped to elect who turns his back on our economic health and exploits our patriotism to shrink our civil liberties. Bush lies about his own military experience; threatens the much needed (and well earned) veterans benefits owed to the likes of Jessica Lynch and her impoverished family; works to make the Earned Income Tax Credit more difficult for families to claim; shrinks winter fuel assistance for the poor and then argues that what we really need are increased tax breaks for the rich. Even members of his own party have called this plan indefensible.
Still, I cannot bring my friend to question the war on Iraq or this administration. Despite that her husband is unemployed (lost jobs are not coming back), she overtaxed and her state falling into economic crisis, she drinks in the opiate of American intervention and power. Soothed by the FoxNews version of political reality--the Bush administration has our freedom and economic well being at heart--she heads home to raise three kids and pay the bills alone. On the other hand, I am quite sure that George Bush couldn't pick women like us out of a line-up, women struggling to keep it together on $25,000 a year. I am also quite sure he will continue his cynical domestic policies and acts of economic aggression against us.
Our drive from the gym takes us past decaying neighborhoods draped in patriotic symbols, charms against an invented enemy, simulacra of political relevance. My friend draws comfort from these gestures; our neighbors are genuinely loyal to their country and their president. Too bad their loyalty is not returned in kind.
Dr. Kellie Bean, firstname.lastname@example.org. Associate Professor, English, Marshall University, who teaches feminist theory and cultural studies. Currently writing a book, "The Vexed Body Politic: Feminism and the Media." This article is originally published at opednews.com. Copyright Kellie Bean, but permission is granted for reprint in print, email, blog, or web media so long as this credit is attached.