What did we learn last week from the 9-11 Commission testimony of Richard Clarke, George Tenet et. al. ? Mainly, we learned how little we know about the world, notwithstanding our pretensions to be the leader of it. Al Qaeda? Condi Rice denies that she'd never heard of it. Hu-mint (or is it hum-int?) in Afghanistan? Well, shoot, that would've required humans, who were intelligent, whom we trusted, and--here's the kicker--who trusted us!
So as I'm thinking about the Full Frame docs about politics, the first image that comes to mind is the self-centered Texas state legislator in Richard Stekler's Last Man Standing, running for re-election and wrapping himself in the red, white and blue of the Bible (or didn't you know?), who tells his fellow white folks that the difference between those fundamentalists over there and righteous folks here is that their god tells them to die for him, whereas our god died for us.
Us, it's clear, does not mean everybody under the sun. It means--and here's where a documentary picture, if the cameras are in the right places, saves so many words--that the Big Guy's got a plan, and pretty obviously he's lookin' to us to issue the orders and the rest of the world is s'posed to follow 'em.
The cameras were in amazing places in 2001 and 2002 for The Revolution Will Not Be Televised, the Irish documentary about Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and the failed attempt by that nation's oil-rich elite, notably including the owners of the country's five private television companies, to topple him in a coup.
This is stunning footage: filmmakers Kim Bartley and Donnacha O Briain were with Chavez in the presidential palace because he was such a compelling story anyway--hero to Venezuela's poor, scourge of the small upper-class that ran or worked in the national oil company, a self-styled revolutionary with a lot of "Elvis," to use Molly Ivins' term.
But when Chavez announces that he's going to spread the oil wealth from the 20 percent who've been getting it to the 80 percent who haven't, the coup plotters sabotage the state-owned channel, knocking it off the air, while they attack him full-bore, fulltime on every other broadcast channel. Now throw in the Joint Chiefs of Staff, because Venezuela's top military brass were co-conspirators in the coup.
American viewers who remember anything about this--and remember, most Americans have never heard of Hugo Chavez, or they think he picks grapes--probably remember that our TV networks said Chavez "might be" mentally unstable, "might have" ordered troops to fire on protesters, was definitely "controversial" and friendly with Fidel Castro (which he is). They said this because--what do they know?--they asked the Bush Administration, and the Bush Administration supported the coup.
Venezuela is this nation's third-biggest oil supplier. Chavez was messing with our oil, even telling Venezuela's poor that it was their oil. So on Venezuela's privately owned TV stations, Bush's mouthpiece Ari Fleischer and Colin Powell also are heard to say that the democratically elected and hugely popular Chavez had "lost control," and the "democratic" removal of his administration--which saw the plotters abolish the constitution, the legislature, and the courts and install their own president--would be a reasonable solution to Venezuela's "problem."
The revolution will not be televised? The point of the old '60s song isn't that it won't be shown, only that Americans will be too busy watching Petticoat Junction to catch any of it. But enough of the world press was in Venezuela, and enough Chavez supporters were armed with digital video cameras, that the truth got out of Caracas and then back in via cell phones, satellite television systems and, of course, the Internet.
The people of Venezuela, better attuned to who's lying and who isn't than we are, poured out in the streets, overwhelmed the anti-Chavez, pro-oil industry demonstrators, and restored Chavez to office. Oh, and now the Bush Administration tells us they were neutral, coup-wise.
Can we run the world while being so ignorant about it? Watch David Grubin's LBJ, if you missed it on public television. The tragedy of Lyndon Johnson was that he knew his own country's problems of rural poverty and racial injustice so intimately and seemed anointed by history to battle them, and he ended up fighting a senseless war in Vietnam, a country he knew nothing about--and Americans knew nothing about--except that they were s'posed to be following our orders and they were not.
Watch Alexandra Lescaze's Where Do You Stand?, a straightforward telling of the history of union organizing efforts at the old Cannon Mills company in Kannapolis, which was sold to Fieldcrest, then to Pillowtex, which closed it last year and put 4,700 people out of work. It's heartbreaking exactly because those fighting for justice in their homeplace know so little about--or have so little influence over--the worldwide force of capitalism that they're up against.
The saddest thing about Last Man Standing, Stekler's depiction of Texas politics as seen through a close, hard-fought legislative campaign, is that even the good guy, the young Democratic challenger, has nothing useful to say about world issues, and no "Elvis" when it comes to domestic issues either. The young LBJ had it. He was a whirlwind--check it out--but when he world intrudes, he's clueless, and so is just about everyone around him. No hu-mint there, either.