Reading Marie Cocco's Washington Post column this morning, as it was reproduced on Truthdig, I thought I caught another whiff of the repetition of history (without any Marxian overtones of farce). Her headline, "When It Costs Too Much to Support the Troops," certainly had a familiar ring; but that was not the repetition that tweaked me. Nor was it the introductory story she offered to justify the headline:
The comment was outrageous, but it was not the least bit surprising. A psychologist responsible for assessing returning war veterans for post-traumatic stress disorder—a psychological ailment that could entitle them to monthly disability payments—told staff members not to diagnose the illness because to do so would increase the government’s costs.
“Given that we are having more and more compensation-seeking veterans, I’d like to suggest that you refrain from giving a diagnosis of PTSD straight out,” the psychologist at a Department of Veterans Affairs center in Texas wrote in an e-mail. She suggested diagnosing a less severe disorder that would not carry the greater long-term disability costs.
Rather, I was struck by the way in which she escalated this account to its obvious generalization, calling it "a demoralizing reminder of the way the U.S. health care system works for just about everyone."
This historical memory this provoked was one of our current President's father. In this age in which elections are strategized in terms of large collections of highly specialized demographic units, it turned out that one of the units that seemed to cohere in its opposition to George H. W. Bush was what we now call the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) community. When the press picked up on this and hit the elder Bush with a question about how he planned to win over this group, his reply was that he "wished the homosexuals would just go away;" and the press had a field day with that answer. Unfortunately, this happened during the 1988 campaign, which is the one that made him Bush I.
Just go away. It was that phrase from history that was ringing in my ears, but now it was a new Bush Administration casting it in a new light. It is a light that differentiates the population of the United States into two categories. In one category we have the "productive members of society," where the semantics of "productivity" amounts to "serving our needs and interests as we wish them to be served." In the other category is everybody else; and, whether the issue is health care, education, or even serving your country, Bush II has revived his father's attitude in a broader context. In his heart of hearts, he wishes they would all just go away.
Well, not only did not the LGBT community refuse to go away; they have now received a significant vote of confidence from the California Supreme Court. That casual dismissal by Bush I-to-be was also a dismissal of the very diversity that is such a great asset to this country. It also provided an interesting foreshadowing of his wife, Barbara, observing that Katrina victims had better conditions in the New Orleans Superdome than those they had in their homes. I suppose we can now see Barbara as having taken the first step towards generalizing her husband's attitude, so it should be no surprise that her son would take matters to an even more general level.
Still, just what did the elder Bush mean by "just go away." I suppose that the most innocuous reading was that he wanted them to stay away from the polls on Election Day. Less innocuous would be the implication that they should cease to be Americans, picking up their life style and settling somewhere else, like Canada or Holland (where all sorts of permissiveness runs wild, they say). In the case of the current Bush, however, the semantics may be more brutal. With his strong convictions of faith and Divine Justice, "go away" could well mean "depart from the living." If he could go to Sinai in the spirit of delivering the Mosaic Code to the Arab World, he could just as easily see himself as the mortal instrument of the Last Judgment in his own country.
I have suggested that the ultimate goal of the War Against the Poor is the creation of a new class of slaves. Since slaves are objects, rather than subjects, when they cease to satisfy their "productivity goals," one can simply dispense with them, as one might dispense with a car one no longer wishes to drive. If one is to recognize a need for motivation at all (which is not necessary if they are really objects), it is only through the simplest of slogans, like the one about work making freedom, which kept the prisoners in the Nazi death camps at their jobs in the vain hope that they would eventually be delivered from that hell-on-earth. However, it is that connotation of "dispense" that supports the semantics of "go away" in the world of the current Bush Administration; and, if the LGBT community could hold fast and not "go away" to satisfy Bush I, then all of us in that "second Bush II category" should hold just as firm. As they used to chant in protest against the Vietnam War, "Hell, no, we won't go!"