Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Or maybe he was just trying to order some freedom fries

Bush’s “let freedom reign” doodle is niggling at me. As a phrase, I don’t know what it means: freedom isn’t something that reigns. To a large extent, freedom is about carving out spaces where larger structures do not reign. I smell something religious in the phrase but I can’t pin it down. In my last, I quoted a Guardian writer saying the phrase showed Bush’s image of himself as a George Washington leading subject peoples to liberty. It’s hard to tell what his self-image actually is. Even a simpleton--and a highly unreflective simpleton--like GeeDubya, but really anyone who has to campaign for high office, making endless speeches about their own virtues, and then living out life pretending to be president, being on tv a lot, seeing posters of himself and so on, well, their ego and self-image develop an architecture of a complexity the rest of us simply do not have.

It’s unclear to me how he envisions the “liberty” to which he plans to bring, if not the world, at least the entire Middle East. He uses the word democracy, but it ain’t that. He has no interest in elections, representative government, the rule of law, etc in this country, so he certainly doesn’t plan to bring that to the Arabic (and Persian) peoples; the contempt for “nation-building” he evinced during the 2000 campaign is still intact. Possibly he intones the sacred words--freedom, democracy--without envisioning anything, abstract thought not being his strong suit. But I suspect he sees it as some sort of conversion experience, where the removal of tyrannical rulers transforms their liberated subjects in the same way he claims his decision to stop drinking and come to Jesus transformed him.

OK, I’ve just googled “let freedom reign,” and there are an odd assortment of sites indeed, 3,140 of them. It’s a phrase mostly used by right wingers of various persuasions, for sure, and it still sounds to me like people misheard the last words of that song with the terrible lyrics and bad grammar sung to the tune of God Save the Queen, but I don’t think this is an innocent phrase.

Still more googling shows that many people, presumably not right-wingers, wrongly think Martin Luther King used “let freedom reign” rather than “ring” in the I Have a Dream Speech. And really, you don’t want to know how many people think he said “let freedom rain.”

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