Parade politics

Sydney Schanberg

June 10, 1991|By Sydney Schanberg

PARADES can be fun-filled, feel-good, emotionally stirring nation-celebrating events. No doubt Saturday's parade in Washington had, and today's in New York City will have, a goodly portion of all these ingredients.

Unfortunately for this lover of parades, the Desert Storm fetes have a disappointing side, too. As I listen to these particular parade drums, I hear the sound of heavy lifting, of labored enthusiasm, of confusion over the rationale for the Iraq war, of uneasiness over what exactly the victory consisted of.

I do not hear the spontaneous joy and revelry of a great nation celebrating a grand success. What I hear instead are people desperate for an uplift, depressed by the lingering weight of Vietnam, weary of the ills in our economy and our system of social care -- and therefore wishing it all away with a giant circus of flyovers, tanks, majorettes, missiles and tons of cascading confetti.

I appreciate why people feel in need of a lift. What I don't appreciate is the orchestration by a White House using the parades as a way to disguise both the failures at home and the failure of the battlefront victory to achieve any of the larger war aims of Middle East stability and a "new world order" that had been so glibly broadcast by the Bush administration.

Worse, one can sense behind it all a rehearsal for President Bush's re-election campaign next year. Even worse than that, it sounds like a replica of his tawdry '88 campaign.

Here is the subtext resonating sadly in the Bush parade drums: Those who ask questions about this super victory over Iraq are not good Americans, certainly not as good as those who supported the war. Those who don't hail this victory with all their hearts do not love our flag and do not love our soldiers.

In short, from behind the ticker-tape snowstorm, Bush's promissory lips are saying that if you watched the parade Saturday or if you watch it today, you might want to look at the people around you to see if there are any who don't seem enthused, who are not cheering loudly enough, who are perhaps not carrying a flag. Those are the people, he is saying, whom you might want to note down, for they might not be good Americans -- they might even be, gasp, LIBERALS!

This is the politics of resentment. This is scare politics. And George is scaring people.

Corporations afraid of being called unpatriotic are putting up large sums to pay for the parade. Many of these same corporations, as a result of the Reagan-Bush voodoo-economics recession, are laying off thousands of workers. Merrill Lynch, one of the principal sponsors of the New York parade, laid off more than 2,000 employees last year. Chrysler, also a sponsor, recently announced the closing of several plants, throwing nearly 10,000 workers out of their jobs. It's nice that there's no money for jobs, but enough to buy patriotism protection.

And then, oddly, there are the New York's newspapers, all of which have contributed money and-or services to the parade but none of which stood up to the government when the Bush administration imposed the most rigid press restrictions in modern times on coverage of the Iraq war, virtually preventing reporters from going anywhere without a Pentagon monitor. Having given up their birthright with barely a whimper, the newspapers compound their disgrace by blithely becoming sponsors of a parade to celebrate a war that they were in effect not allowed to cover as professionals. Bravo!

A truly mature nation, secure in its strengths, does not have need to beat the drums quite so loudly over quite so modest and undistinguished a war against an opponent unworthy of us -- an opponent, we might remember, who despite our victory still holds power in Baghdad.

A strong nation would be turning its energies to recharging the economy, to devising the kind of national health plan that the rest of the developed world has had for decades, to setting examples not of exclusion but of tolerance and acceptance so that blacks and other minorities can climb the ladder that earlier minorities ascended.

I do not yield to other men and women the right to define patriotism, the right to say that because I don't agree with a particular political party or policy or president, my credentials as an American are in question.

I shall hail and honor the soldiers in the parades who defend and protect me, but I shall reject the politics being thrust at me.

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