HIGH SCHOOL DRIVE-BY TRUMPS WORLD POLITICS
by Doug Lasken
American Reporter Correspondent
Los Angeles, Calif.
LOS ANGELES -- Tip O'Neill famously said that all politics is local. This idea might seem strange to people contemplating the Bush administration's war policies. What does our Iraqi policy have to do with potholes and variances?
I felt I had some understanding of O'Neill's concept last week when gang members drove by Taft High School in Woodland Hills, where I teach, and shot three innocent students waiting for a bus, seriously wounding them. At least in our city, all international news was pre-empted by the shootings. Instead of watching the latest bombing in Israel, we saw Mayor Hahn and Police Chief Bratton giving a news conference in Ralph's parking lot across from the school. Local politics did indeed seem to have the potential to loom large.
The impression persisted the next day when Taft's parking lot was crowded with news vans, and teachers spent what would have been instructional time helping students cope. I listened to stories of students who were standing next to the victims and saw them fall, or who missed by seconds being on the spot where the bullets flew, and woke up screaming that night as the realization of death's proximity hit them.
But as the days passed the wider world crept back, and I was able once again to consider a story that had been interesting the previous weekend: President Bush's request for $87 billion to cover unanticipated costs for the "rebuilding" of Iraq. These costs will include, we are told, the re-establishing of security, so that the Iraqi people can go to work and school without fear of being shot by lawless, armed marauders, and the reopening of Iraqi public schools, so that children can have a safe learning environment. The President picked the wrong week, at least in Los Angeles, to announce his request.
Maybe O'Neill had in mind just such a concurrence of local and global politics. How can anyone who follows the news of our city help but question why a piece of this $87 billion is not coming here to help us establish a safe community in which to work and go to school? We read this week that because of the State shortfall, Los Angeles Unified has reduced per-pupil spending by $50, throwing numerous schools into the worst budget crises they have ever faced. Everything from gang-abatement to textbooks is in jeopardy. In fact, looking around the country, where virtually every state is struggling to say solvent, local politics would seem to dictate that something is terribly wrong with administration policy.
Of course, the administration's Iraqi policy is presented as necessary for national security, a cause for which Americans have traditionally been willing to sacrifice. The problem is that national and global politics have to be credible locally. Support for World War II was relatively strong even during the depression because the war offered a compelling and believable story to ordinary people. Germany and Japan were seen as threatening and powerful before we entered the war, and Japan attacked us before we attacked them.
In the case of our war against Hussein's Iraq we have no such solace. The Bush administration used the claim of Iraqi involvement with the 9/11 attacks, and the claim that Iraq was producing weapons of mass destruction, to justify our invasion. Neither claim has been verified, and now we are sup posed to forget about them. Bush has switched to warnings about the confluence of terrorists in Iraq, but there's no evidence such a threat existed before he attacked.
In World War II no one with credibility proposed that the threat posed by Hitler and the Emperor was fabricated to produce lucrative arms contracts for Washington insiders. Today it is perfectly respectable to suggest that Bush and his buddies are a new breed of nation raider, after the model of the old corporate raider, scamming the nation first with deregulation of energy, then with huge contracts awarded after the Iraqi invasion in a closed-bid giveaway to the insider corporations for which many of Bush's men consulted. The $87 billion, probably somewhat diminished to create the appearance of representative democracy, will be the frosting on the cake for those same insiders. As the corporate raiders left their stockholders high and dry, so the nation-raiders will leave American citizens fending for themselves in desolate, dysfunctional cities.
Credibility problems like this give local politics the edge.
You can see what's local; it's all around you. No one thinks that the threat of violence in our city is exaggerated so that someone can make a bundle. Everyone in Los Angeles knows that our public schools are not safe, that our services are inadequate. We can see it, and it makes a coherent story. George Bush's foreign policy does not.
Doug Lasken teaches English at Taft High School in the Los Angeles Unified School District and is a language arts consultant for the California State Board of Education. Comments can be sent by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org