This post is part of Marc H. Ellis’s “Exile and the Prophetic” feature for Mondoweiss. To read the entire series visit the archive page.
There’s that picture again, this time from the front, President Obama, Susan Rice and Samantha Power, their arms around each other, walking back to the White House after the announcement of their appointments in the Rose Garden. I can’t get that picture out of my mind. With the virtual world exploding, it will be somewhere forever.
Why does the photo bother me so much? On the surface, it’s a lovely photo. Our first African American President with his new female African American National Security Advisor and an Irish-born female scholar, soon to be Ambassador to the United Nations, who believes that American power should be used to intervene to prevent genocide wherever it rears its ugly head in the world. All for the good.
But, then, I experience a sinking feeling in my stomach. What it represents beyond the surface is profoundly unsettling. Is this where progress has led us?
Looking at the records of all three, I can’t help but feel profoundly disappointed. Such is life. We all disappoint others. Sometimes we disappoint ourselves. Still, the sinking feeling is more than disappointment. It’s about cultivating those who would deny our promotions to power. It’s about sleeping to the top with or without sex being a component. It’s about being bought. It’s about selling out.
On the Israel – and Palestine, Obama, Rice and Power have been bought and sold. It’s so obvious. They’re having their records cleansed even at this late hour. By straightening up on Israel, they think they’ll be free to do the right thing on other, more important, issues. They’re wrong.
Anyone who thinks that cleansing one part of your politics has no effect on the other parts is living an illusion. When you get right on one issue, you censor yourself on others. Call it the political fear factor. Once your opponent knows you’re afraid – and you know it too – you’re dead in the political waters. Whatever good you could have done with your power is over.
It’s the political cycle we’re in. How we’re going to break out of the cycle when people who should know better back down for personal ambition is difficult to imagine. Each political figure you hope will be the exception isn’t.
You can’t give up. It’s irresponsible. You can’t move ahead either. Everyone’s selling out.
The other viral story of the week – the National Administration Agency snooping and the company that Edward Snowden worked for, Booz Allen Hamilton, the multi-billion dollar security firm – is equally depressing on a variety of levels. Though seemingly quite different, there’s a connection to the photo I can’t get out of my mind.
One level which hasn’t had much play in the NSA story is about being bought and sold. The New York Times ran an interesting article on the company’s economic size, links to government and the benefits companies like Booz Allen Hamilton bring to the extended Washington, D. C. area. The article reads like a celebration of government largesse. It treats the post-September 11th world as a giant pork barrel where everyone and their brother compete for national security dollars. There isn’t a critical question raised in the entire article about the company or the intelligence industry itself except for how the leak scandal might affect the company’s future.
What struck me was the amount of money the company brings in from the Federal government for surveillance – 1.3 billion dollars last year alone – and the number of people the company employs – almost 25,000 employees. But other than Edward Snowden, few ask why the untold thousands of people employed in the intelligence industry throw their lot in with these kinds enterprise so willingly. Don’t they think about what their work means to individual liberties and our society at large? Aren’t they – like Obama, Rice and Power – selling their souls?
If you want to break the political cycle of injustice and war, you can’t focus only on the politically ambitious. They’re just a mirror of our own condition. If we’re willing to be bought and sold, why shouldn’t they enjoy their brief time at the top?