Columnist at large in the Big Apple

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By Wendy Binnie

Greetings from New York, the Big Apple, Gotham City, the place where, according to our administration’s finagling of the EPA, the air is and has been fit to breathe since 9/11/01. Oh yeah? And there’s a bridge for sale here too!

It was the week before Christmas and tourists in jovial moods were buying goods which used to be beyond their pocketbooks until the Euro and other currencies eclipsed the dollar. At Rockefeller Center a group of Europeans were discussing the air quality as they had been told it was still suspect.

They were astonished and dismayed to find out that the administration had quashed the EPA’s report on the city’s potentially deadly air. They predicted the costs and casualties (which will not become evident for some years) stemming from this outrageous act would be in the mega-millions and lead to many unnecessary deaths.

People who use inhalers and nebulizers reported needing them more often. Others have said publicly and privately that they are developing asthmatic symptoms and “their lungs and chests have not been ‘right’” since (the attacks). Agent Orange and Gulf Wars 1 and 2 syndrome anyone?

Needless to say the visitors were not amused. One read from an English language paper: “President George W. Bush’s administration is developing a reputation for paranoia to match that of Richard Nixon’s White House snake pit 30 years ago. The New York Times says American TV is frightened not to support Bush. “America’s television networks are privately owned, yet they behave like state-run media.”

Indeed, during the Iraq war, “many Americans turned to the BBC for their television news.” The paper quotes, favorably, Director-General Greg Dyke’s statement about U.S. TV news stations which “wrapped themselves in the American flag and substituted patriotism for impartiality.”

“Although he can barely speak without a script and went missing for most of the day when terrorists struck on Sept. 11, 2001, President George W. Bush was portrayed as a lucid, decisive and brave commander-in-chief by an American TV documentary.” Why so? Because it has been made (with full presidential co-operation) by film-maker Lionel Chetwynd, who sits on the White House’s Arts and Humanities Committee.

The events of 9/11 were a tragedy for America and the world. You’d have thought that taste alone would have inhibited the president from exploiting this dark day for personal propaganda. “For those who love America but hate base political chicanery, these are unhappy times.”

They were referring to a movie shown some time ago – it is interesting to note how “foreigners” know more about our country than do we. Here are a few items picked up from happy clear-lunged (sic) New Yorkers.

Some time ago, the neoconservative guru and cunning political strategist William Kristol, editor of media baron Rupert Murdoch’s hard-right magazine The Weekly Standard, spelled out for students at Princeton University his take on the current political state of the nation. “Religion,” he told a Daily Princetonian reporter, is becoming “the defining force of U.S. politics. Beginning in 1972, cultural, social and religious divides began to become more salient, more important, in explaining people’s voting behavior.”

Kristol should know. As a Bush administration insider and a leader of the neoconservative upsurge now dominant in the White House, and as a frequent TV panelist, he has been influential in assembling evangelical factions of the religious right as a core voting bloc supporting Bush who makes much of his devotion to God both in his personal and political lives, and invokes God in all his speeches, including those on Iraq.

Most of us worship the same god as Bush, but his interpretation of God’s will diverges sharply from that of many. Opponents of the war in Iraq included Pope John Paul 11, the Catholic bishops, the National Council of Protestant Churches, leaders of such denominations as Episcopal, Presbyterian and Methodist, and some prominent rabbis. How can that be?

The late Barry Goldwater had an explanation. The senator from Arizona, the vanquished Republican presidential candidate in 1964 and the acknowledged godfather of traditional conservatism, explained it in 1994. “Our problem is with these neoconservatives, the radical right, the religious extremists whose interpretation is very narrow, and who want to destroy everybody who doesn’t agree with them. I see them as betrayers of the fundamental principles of conservatism. A lot of so-called conservatives today don’t know what the word means.”

The hallmarks of Goldwater’s brand of “fundamental” conservatism were individual freedom and equal justice, liberty and justice for all. He did not consider abortion or gay rights issues of prime importance to the religious right to be conservative or liberal, but rather political issues and matters of personal conscience.

To hear Bush tell it, God was on his side in “the just war” against the wicked Saddam Hussein. Former President Jimmy Carter, for one, flatly disagreed, saying that he “became thoroughly familiar with the principles of a just war, and it is clear that a unilateral attack on Iraq does not meet these standards. This is an almost universal conviction of religious leaders.”

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Last week the inspiration for Goldwater and Ronald Reagan’s brand of conservatism – real conservatism – William F. Buckley died. He was nearly 30 years old when he founded National Review, which would become the conservatists’ bible.

There are no words left to describe his impact on politics and true conservatism – he and William Safire used them all. He was worthy of respect and admiration because he didn’t waffle, he was able to address his subject in language worthy of Shakespeare and did not flip-flop to suit anyone. Nor did he ram his religion down his readers’ and listeners’ throats.

He was a gentleman and also a real, honest-to-goodness conservative – Bush should have taken lessons. Mr. Buckley’s erudite wit will be sorely missed.

In the meantime, until our country gets straightened out, we’ll always have New York in all her glory on a cloudless, starlit, crisp and shining evening just before Christmas 2007.

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Wendy England Binnie, a novelist and op/ed columnist, lives in Oak Trace Villas with husband, Bill. Contact her at smcnews@earthlink.net.