You Are The Heartland
A Letter to Liberal America
by Barbara Sumner Burstyn
November 22, 2004
Since the election my liberal inbox has been filled with screeds of hand-wringing articles dissecting the ascendancy of George W Bush. They all talk of winning back the heartland, reinvigorating true democracy, fighting the red-blue war of culture, ideology, politics and psychology. But for all the column inches steeped in despair there were very few action plans and even less insight. The reason is simple. Democrats and Republicans are feeding at the same trough.
Drive through the liberal enclaves of any privileged blue state or through the conservative interior of a red state and you see the same big houses – or aspirations of big houses and the same super-sized vehicles.
Open the door of a liberal or a conservative home (a double-wide trailer, a mansion or a New York loft, it doesn’t matter which) and you’ll find the same wide screen TV, the same huge sofa, the same gigantic refrigerator overstocked with pretty much the same food.
Perhaps you’ll find more organic labels in the liberal fridge but the abundance and out-of-season array will be the same. Check the labels on the clothes of a liberal or a conservative and you’ll see they are all made in the same out-sourced, third world sweatshop factories.
One commentator declared the forces of Bushim would eventually be overthrown. But overthrown with what? The polite man who changed his suites and even his ties to match the President, who participated in sham debates, who never once deviated from the script, even when the whole country was watching and he could have turned to the President and asked him the real questions?
Some commentators have bemoaned the choice of Kerry. But did you, the so-called liberal America really want someone different? Perhaps you supported Kerry, who is neither a revolutionary nor a man of vision because you wanted business as usual, you wanted your politics like your cappuccinos: fluffy and comforting.
That’s why the streets aren’t overflowing with protest. That’s why you’re not massing outside the corporate owned television stations demanding they retract their lies and rescind their self- censorship.
That’s why all the columns about fraudulent electoral practices are no more than hot air. Because actually no one wants the system to end, because despite the increasing numbers of poor and working poor, the vast and growing gap between the haves and have-nots, the majority of you are just too damn comfortable.
It’s the great hypocrisy of the American left. Take the very liberal Democrat supporting Sarah Jessica Parker. Pay her more money and she’s happy to re-voice the newly edited, sex-free Sex in the City to keep the heartland happy.
Or Will Smith, the actor who respectfully declined to be present at last year's Academy Awards, supposedly in protest for the war, is happy to make millions in a film like I Robot with a gun super-glued to his hand as he saves the world from yet another black and white evil, with barely a bad word for the corporate greed that created that evil.
That’s because making money is the American way. Because money trumps conviction every time. If you’re a liberal it’s a sign you’re successful in a secular way. If you’re a member of the new force of evangelical conservatives it’s a sign of Gods blessing.
Where I come from the choice between Kerry or Bush is called a Claytons choice: the choice you’re having when you’re not having a choice.
Would the anguish and torment of the Iraqi people have ended under a Democratic leader? Would the environment have been given the kind of urgent priority needed to slow global warming? Would the rights of pregnant women be respected? Would the price of gasoline have been raised so high that Americans would limit their driving? Would coal fired power plants have been forced to control their pollution? Would the coded double-speak rhetoric that says one thing and means another have ended? Would the pharmaceutical industry be called to heel? Would anything have changed in any significant way?
Republicans may have co-opted religion and promoted morality over economics, the environment and human rights. But how is that different from senior Democrats such as Senator Harry Reid of Nevada?
A tee-totaling Mormon who is about to become the conservative standard bearer of the party, Reid’s stand on abortion would drop women back into a dark age. Or California Democrat Senator Diane Feinstein who recently commented that she believes very strongly the voice of the moderates in caucus ought to have some sway (as if the Democrats were somehow extreme). Or Sheldon Silver the Democratic speaker of the Assembly who supports the death penalty. Or Hilary Clinton who is being advised to represent herself as moderately pro-life. Or the scramble, as outlined in the New York Times last week, by Democrats to organize the “religious left” and phrase their positions in more moral and religious terms.
The great con is the idea that having an election makes you a democracy, that your vote makes a difference. A difference to what? The ideology of profit as the highest motivation? Or to the fact that the invocation of religion and morality is no more than a smokescreen to hide the reality of corporate feudalism. That perfect system that ensures your serfdom while sating your senses with consumerism and numbing your awareness that your country is run by and for the corporations who are your real leaders and where in exchange for your compliance you get your every whim sated in a consumer hog heaven.
That’s why you don’t take your idols to task; your hypocritical movie stars, your lying, Teflon suited politicians, your liberal neighbor in his SUV. Yourself. So this is what I want to say to the liberals of America. You’re not going to win the heartland no matter how committed you are to the environment or equality or if your heart bleeds for the poor, or for the innocents of Iraq because you are the heartland. Every time you switch the remote, start your gasoline engine, stuff another McDonalds, chug on a Starbucks, down another anti-depressant, muscle relaxant, painkiller, or shop at The Gap, you are the heartland.
The 2004 election was not a revolution of the right or a failure of the left. It made no difference who you voted for, because until you recognize the conscription of your consumption and your obedience to it, until you smash your widescreens and your SUVs, until you renounce your comfort at any cost and all the other methods of your mass distraction you will get the government you deserve. Because you are the heartland.
Barbara Sumner Burstyn is an award winning freelance writer who commutes between Montreal, Quebec and The Hawkes Bay in New Zealand. She has contributed to a wide range of media, and is currently working on a new novel. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit her website to read more of her work: www.sumnerburstyn.com/. © 2004 Barbara Sumner Burstyn