Eminem's rebel yell

By Gary Kamiya
Published October 22, 2004 8:58PM (EDT)

Bush may not be in touch with "the reality-based community," but he dresses up good. First he donned that manly flight suit to swaggeringly pronounce that we had kicked Iraqi ass -- in those happy days when his belief that there weren't going to be any casualties was still operative. Now he's draped himself in the spotless robes of Christian piety, preaching that the Iraq war is part of God's righteous plan to spread freedom throughout the world.

Alas, not all the nation's divines see the war, or Bush, in quite such a holy light. Today, 31 faculty members of the University of Chicago's Divinity School released a statement blasting Bush for invoking religion to justify the war. "It is often observed that the flag is a scoundrel's last resort, and that even the worst policies can successfully be wrapped in Old Glory. We believe the Bush administration is making similar misuse of religion in its attempt to justify the debacle in Iraq," the statement opens.

The academics continue: "Of greatest concern to us, the President maintains that America's sole interest in Iraq is to establish freedom, thereby serving God's plan for humanity. Thus, in his convention acceptance speech he described America as called to lead freedom's cause, freedom being God's gift to the world. And in the third debate he proclaimed: 'I believe that God wants everybody to be free. That's what I believe. And that's been part of my foreign policy.'

"We are persuaded that motives for the war were more varied and more questionable than the President acknowledges. Geopolitical calculations, desires for vengeance, military opportunism, and corporate interest (most notably greed for oil) all accompanied, and at times overshadowed the religious and moral considerations. To package this motley collection under the heading of 'freedom' is deliberately misleading: an offense to language and reason, but a familiar political strategy. To justify it as God's will, however, seems little short of sacrilege.

"As faculty members of the University of Chicago Divinity School, we deplore this attempt to wrap failed policies in religious rhetoric. We call for the repudiation of Mr. Bush's war and his misuse of religion to defend or sanctify it."

Et tu, theologians? And the fact that this blow comes from the University of Chicago, home of the Strauss disciples who are heavily represented in Bush's administration, makes it an even unkinder cut. Still, Karl Rove and Co. probably aren't rushing into emergency session. Even if a new Council of Nicea was convened, pronounced Bush anathema and had him ritually burned in effigy as the Antichrist, Team Bush wouldn't much care unless it cost them a swing state.

But the new Eminem record -- that's a different story.

At the same moment the theologians hit Bush high, Eminem hit him low. As reported in Rolling Stone, Eminem's new song is a bitter blast at Bush and his Iraq adventure. "Rebel with a rebel yell, raise hell/ We gonna let him know/ Stomp, push, shove, mush, fuck Bush!/ Until they bring our troops home . . . Let the president answer on higher anarchy/ Strap him with an AK-47, let him go fight his own war/ Let him impress daddy that way . . . No more blood for oil."

The invaluable Juan Cole, whose blog offers an expert take on events on the ground and behind the scenes in Iraq (if the Likudnik know-nothings who dreamed up the war had one-tenth his knowledge of Iraq and the Arab world, we wouldn't be where we are today), has an interesting analysis today.

Cole notes that Eminem's line "Let him impress daddy" should be seen in light of the rapper's own damaged relationship with his parents. (Was it just me, or did anyone else note that in the first debate, the already-shaky Bush seemed to drop into a permanent, Freudian-tinged funk after Kerry cited his father's wise decision not to drive on to Baghdad?) But his most interesting point concerns the song's implicit populist denunciation of Bush, not Kerry, as Mr. Coercive Big Government, and the possible effect of this association on young working-class white males, a demographic that traditionally tilts pro-war.

"The other interesting thing about the lyrics above is their invocation of the icon of lower middle class white identity, the 'rebel yell,'" Cole writes. "The appeal of the Confederate South for most of them lies not in its horrible race politics or slavery, but in a resistance to the intrusion of the Federal government into their lives. Eminem cannily turns the Republicans' Southern Strategy against them, calling for a revolt against Bush policies by the guys Howard Dean referred to as having Confederate flags on their pickup trucks. (Although most listen to Country, some of the youngsters are Eminem fans.) Bush now becomes a symbol of grasping, stupid Federal interference, and Iraq is reconceived as a carpetbagging operation. 'Until they bring our troops home' is a lyric that makes a moral claim. Bush & Co. have kidnapped US young persons in uniform and are holding them prisoner in an Iraqi cauldron for no good reason. The soldiers are not just soldiers but teenagers, Eminem's constituency. The song is important as a development in popular culture. But I am arguing that it may also be important in class terms. If any significant number of lower middle class white youth are thinking like this, it could make a difference in some races."

If not just America's 500 theologians but the considerably larger Trans-Am-driving, longneck Budweiser-popping, Eminem-listening crowd turns against Bush, it could be a long Nov. 2 for the godly Texan.

Gary Kamiya

Gary Kamiya is a Salon contributing writer.

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