There are few bright episodes in the national endurance of an American vice president who has advocated torture, diminished civil rights, silenced opposing views, and conspired with corporate heads against the interests of the American people.
But there have been moments of modest relief.
In September of 2005, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina’s devastation of the Gulf Coast, and the administration’s belated and inept response to the disaster, a brilliant moment in TV history occurred.
Vice President Dick Cheney was on a brief visit to Mississippi, hoping to create the impression that he and the administration actually care for the plight of suffering Americans. As Cheney is interviewed by reporters, we hear the voice of a passerby with a message for the vice president – a message that, much like a Greek Chorus, seemed to reflect the deep tensions and ire of the democratic citizenry.
Since our leaders are utterly shielded, sometimes by the media itself, from the slightest voice of dissent – regardless of how corrupt and heinous their abuse of power may be – authentic expressions like this provide deep resonance.
The voice belonged to Ben Marble, a Mississippi local, a rocker, and a physician at a nearby hospital. His subsequent ballad of the event (listen to it here) is equally rewarding.
Of course, the good doctor’s words were inspired by Cheney’s own statements. The year before, Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont dared to criticize Halliburton, Cheney’s old company, for war profiteering. This irritated the 47th Vice President. When he next saw Senator Leahy on the Senate floor, he gave him this message:
As it happens, on that very day, the Senate had passed legislation described as the “Defense of Decency Act.” The Act sought to “protect children and families” by increasing fines for the broadcasting of offensive and indecent incidents.
Such are the laws that powerful American leaders spend time on in Washington.
Our most morally upright citizens know that the biggest problems in the world are bad words and boobies.
That’s where Kevin Martin comes in. He is chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, or FCC.
You might imagine that running the FCC would entail serving the people of the land by insuring democratic access to the airwaves, and preventing a handful of wealthy corporations from controlling all mass communication.
You would be wrong.
Mr. Martin spends a good chunk of his time as national decency policeman, on the prowl for bad words and boobies that tumble onto broadcasts.
Oh, he’s qualified for the job. He first proved his integrity and moral splendor in 2000 as a lawyer on the Bush-Cheney recount team in Florida. Since taking the top spot at the FCC in 2005, he intensified the FCC’s crackdown on decency with much higher fines for every accidental “shit” and “fuck” that might emerge in a public broadcast.
Last month, however, a federal appeals panel may have finally curbed Martin and the FCC’s great crusade. The court struck down the government policy that fines stations and networks huge sums for the broadcasting of words that Martin deems offensive.
The court reasoned, in part, that if these words were good enough for Cheney and Bush to utter, then they’re good enough for the rest of us.
But it’s important to remember that there are indecent things.
Take, for instance, the American Vice President, who has used elaborate deceptions to construct and conduct a bloody and senseless war that has led to more than 100,000 dead Iraqi civilians, more than 3,600 dead American soldiers, the acceleration and strengthening of Islamic terrorism, and the loss of some half a trillion dollars. He then, as late as last February, characterizes this very same war as a “remarkable achievement.”
There are indecent things.
[To sample two offensive songs, click here to hear Eric Idle’s “FCC Song”, and here to listen to RX’s immortal “Dick is a Killer.” You can see the entire video of Ben Marble’s encounter with Cheney here. The illustration of Cheney comes from Amanda Kavanagh, a marvelous artist whose work can be found here and here.]