With Washington fixated on the looming war between the Department of State and the Department of Defense, almost no one has noticed an even stranger development within the Bush Administration--its sudden, and apparently wholehearted, embrace of socialism.
Echoing Eugene Debs and Woody Guthrie, among others, Colin Powell has declared that "Iraq's oil belongs to the Iraqi people." There's been no comment yet from ExxonMobil on the possible application of this principle to the homeland, but it does not appear to be empty rhetoric, like the phrases "compassionate conservatism" and "free elections." In fact, the conservative press is buzzing with ideas for how best to distribute the wealth to the people and keep it out of the hands of "Iraqi elites." In a recent issue of The Economist, we find that veteran mouthpiece of global capitalism already fretting that the shared oil revenues could lead to an epidemic of indolence. If you pay "every adult a chunk of the oil revenues each year as basic income," as the magazine suggests, life could become so easy and comfortable that the Iraqis will soon be "disinclined to work."
In addition, the Bushies have committed themselves to generous public services--though only, so far, in Iraq. Schools will be repaired, damaged infrastructure rebuilt, and education made available even to the poorest. Plus, there will be quality health care for all. Imagine: A universal health program, of the kind that has eluded Americans for at least half a century, will be created with a snap of the imperial fingers in Iraq.
Did I say socialism? Make that democratic socialism, verging toward utopian anarchism.
In the Bush vision of the ideal state, there will be perfect democracy combined with a sweetly forgiving attitude toward wrongdoers. Already, Iraqis are free to demonstrate by the thousands, shouting "Americans Get Out!" and even ruder things at the risk of no more than a light hail of bullets. Commenting on the looting that swept Baghdad in the first days of that city's invasion by U.S. troops, Rumsfeld stated (defense lawyers please take note): "It's untidy. And freedom's untidy. And free people are free to make mistakes and commit crimes and do bad things."
What came over the Bushies, who are in this country engaged in a relentless campaign to limit civil liberties and eliminate the last shreds of the welfare state? Is it possible that military triumph, no matter how inevitable--given the appalling weakness of the enemy--has melted their hard little hearts? Those who study domestic violence find that a wife-abuser is likely to display uncommon warmth and affection just after administering a hearty beating. So too, perhaps, our leaders who, having briefly sated their aggressions during Shock and Awe, are now brimming over with the milk of human kindness.
Actually, someone has noticed the Administration's swerve to the left: the sharp-eyed Maxine Waters. "Much to her surprise, the federal government is promising to do everything Los Angeles Congresswoman Maxine Waters has spent years fighting for," a Los Angeles Times article reports. "Waters just never figured the beneficiaries would be residents of Iraq." She is quoted saying, "I think it's terribly arrogant and overly ambitious for this President to think he can invade that country, turn it into a democracy, and use American taxpayer dollars to build an infrastructure that still is not built in some parts of this nation."
But watch what you wish for, Congresswoman Waters. Are you prepared to have South Central L.A. pulverized by weeks of bombing in order to generate the kind of warm feelings now being directed toward Iraq? And do you really imagine that if the residents of that community were to start looting again, as they did in the wake of the Rodney King decision, that the government would shrug and sigh, "Free people are free to . . . commit crimes"?
In the annals of armed conflict, there has never been an outcome quite like this, where the victors coddle the defeated enemy while visiting misery on their own people. If the Bushies get their way, the Iraqis will be enjoying their universal health care system just as Medicaid gets savaged at home. They will be counting up their personal oil profits while Americans face deep cuts in Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, the Earned Income Tax Credit, food stamps, and education at all levels. They will be free to practice democracy in its untidiest forms, while Americans can be spied on and incarcerated without charges under Patriot Acts I and II.
As for the troops we were all vigorously enjoined to "support" with our flags and yellow ribbons--they will come home to find their veterans' benefits cut by $15 billion over the next ten years. American veterans' hospitals, which already resemble the looted hospitals of downtown Baghdad, will soon have fewer amenities to offer than morgues.
It would be churlish to begrudge the Iraqis--who have, after all, endured Saddam Hussein, a decade of sanctions, and Operation Iraqi Freedom--any crumbs of comfort and freedom. But if the Bush Administration's vision of the ideal polity is represented by its plans for Iraq, why can't we have just a little taste of that here?
There is a solution, and I do not mean the tedious, exasperating work of building a mass movement for social justice in the homeland. No, it's far simpler than that: The solution is mass emigration to Iraq.
There's plenty of available housing in Iraq, though mostly of the "handyman's special" variety, thanks to the unfortunate side effects of the liberation process. Power and water will soon be flowing, probably a lot more cheaply than they do here, and there are exciting opportunities for people in the de-mining business and the purveyors of artificial limbs.
Not to mention that you will never have to worry about health insurance again. It's still a challenge to get a visa, of course, due to the defunct condition of the Iraqi embassy, but a nice letter to Jay Garner may just do the trick.
Barbara Ehrenreich is the author of "Nickel and Dimed."