I went with several friends to last Saturday's lecture by Michael Parenti. I really liked the first 20 minutes in which he eloquently explained the dangers of laissez faire capitalism and how power and greed can corrupt a healthy democracy. Unfortunately, these gains were wiped out when Professor Parenti launched into an incomprehensible apology for the Iraqi regime under Saddam Hussein.
Parenti argued that there were only five times when the U.N. weapons inspectors found the government to be in non-compliance (and those five were trivial if not manufactured by spiteful weapons inspectors intent on finding something wrong). His source for this argument? A statement from the Iraqi government's state department! Parenti was so obsessed with portraying Saddam Hussein as the innocent victim of American imperialism that he failed to see the situation critically.
If there's one thing everyone in the peace movement should agree upon (regardless of how you feel about U.S. foreign policy) it's that Saddam Hussein is a fascistic monster who knows only how to exploit his own people in order to keep himself in power. It is a fallacy of the left to assume that in order to level a critique against the U.S. projection of power and control of oil one must defend a rogue like Saddam, portraying him as some sort of Enlightened figure thumbing his nose as Uncle Sam. This fallacy leads to a moral bankruptcy within the peace movement. In my opinion, there is no contradiction in critiquing both U.S. foreign policy and Iraqi totalitarianism. We must do this if we are to remain consistent.
Another of Parenti's arguments seemed strange to me. At one point, he related an anecdote in which he saw his first paycheck and noted all the taxes that came out of it. "I felt my pay should be twice that," he remembered wondering when he saw his pay stub. I didn't get the point. The government provides services. To pay for those services it collects taxes progressively from its citizens. No taxes, no services. Yet, Parenti argued that we need more not less government services.
The last thing I'd like to mention is that the overall tone of Parenti's lecture was extremely negative and pandering. He had a bunch of "yes men" in the audience and he knew it (even going so far as to eliciting "Yes!" and "No!" responses from us). Such preaching to the choir felt like one big gripe session where we all sit there listing the problems of the Republic. But at no time did Parenti present a plan of action or call us to take specific steps to alleviate the problems he was pointing out. Too often he said "they are doing this" and "they are doing that." This is sloppy thinking. Who are they? Big business? The Shrub and Cheney? The Illuminati? Such populism plays well in front of a sympathetic audience (because each person can silently replace "they" with his or her favorite villain) but it leaves much to be desired for those of us who want to know specifics.
Ok, there's all the negative stuff for everyone to see. The six of us that went together all felt pretty much the same. I don't say all of this because I disagree with Parenti's politics. I just think he owed everyone something a little deeper than the sermon he preached before the choir on Saturday.