Column No. 32 By Steven Jonas, MD, MPH - September 30, 2004

I write this column not knowing the derivation of the term “800 lb. gorilla in the room.”  I take it to refer to an event or an issue that is of great importance in a given setting, to which no one in said setting is referring.  One or more participants may be aware of the creature’s existence, but others may be totally oblivious. But in any case, no one is talking about their nature, considering how they came to be in the room, or planning in any way how to deal with them, at least openly.  What the gorilla population thinks about having the name of their species used in this sense I have no idea, but if they take offense at it, I do apologize.  I didn’t make up the term myself.

There are (at least) four major issues that very seriously effect and are-having/will-have a major impact on the future of our country.  Three of the gorillas significantly concern themselves with both foreign and domestic policy. The Bush Campaign is not talking abut any of these gorillas and certainly wants to stay as far away from them as possible.  For its true position on any of them would definitely be a negative factor for the Georgites.  The gorillas I am talking about are: true Sharonist policy for Israel/Palestine, the Patriot Act and its assault on our Constitutional rights, the role of Big Oil in both domestic and foreign policy, and the Christian Right and its true agenda.

Even though it is the case that the Georgites simply want to these gorillas to stay in their corners, unnoticed, the Kerry Campaign isn’t referring to any of them either, for a variety of reasons.  One is that they might not know how to deal with one or more of them, in terms of policy, or politics, or both.  A second is that in one or more instances the Kerry position is not all that different from that of the Georgites.  A third is that the issue is extremely complex and therefore much groundwork in educating the public would have to have been laid before a reasonable position could be discussed in the electoral context.  Therefore, I am not raising these issues here with the thought or the claim that the Kerry Campaign should take them up now.  But were the Senator to become President, he is going to have to deal with at least two of them, and I think that he should at some time in the future deal with the other two as well.

The first of the “will have to deal with” issues is that, almost certainly,  the current Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, does not in any way, shape, or form desire peace with the Palestinian people – at least a peace that would envision a viable, independent, if demilitarized, state for them in the West Bank and Gaza.  What he wants, or at least appears by his actions to want, is to make conditions so uncomfortable for the Palestinians in the West Bank that they will leave, hopefully, in Sharon’s terms, for Jordan.  Since his days as a young Army officer, Sharon has referred to the territory now comprising the nation of Jordan as the only true Palestinian homeland, the 1947 UN decision on partition to the contrary notwithstanding.

Sharon, of course, does not currently say this out loud.   But several of his cabinet ministers do, as do numerous political and religious figures in Israel to Sharon’s right (if you can imagine anyone to the right of Sharon).  Furthermore, the “facts on the ground,” as the Sharonists like to refer to them, that is the ever expanding conglomeration of Jewish settlements on Palestinian land, indicate that this is the ultimate goal.  There is nothing in the current Israeli policy of annexation, destruction, and ghettoization that indicates anything else.  The next US President will be forced at some time during his term to deal with this reality that no one happens to talk about.  Gorilla No. 1.

Next is the Patriot Act and its assault on the Constitution.  I have written about this issue in other columns and will revisit it only briefly here.  Under the Patriot Act the President can, on his own authority, search any home without obtaining a search warrant from a non-secret judge, label any person, citizen or non-citizen, a “terrorist”  or “terrorist threat;” then proceed to arrest and  imprison that person without making the fact of the arrest public, without informing the person about the offense with which they are being charged; and may hold the person indefinitely without access to a lawyer and without being brought to trial, not even to a grand jury proceeding.

Certain of these provisions have been held to be unconstitutional by a closely split Supreme Court, but the current regime has not backed down in wanting to have them in some form on the books.  If the Georgites win the election, and get the opportunity to replace even just Sandra Day O’Connor on the Supreme Court, rest assured that the current anti-Administration decisions will be reversed.  And the Georgites want both to make the Patriot Act permanent and expand the powers under it.  Thus, at a stroke, the Patriot Act, without the benefit of going through the Amendment process, has repealed the Fourth Amendment’s protection against warrant-less searches without probable cause supported by oath or affirmation, the Fifth Amendment’s guarantee of the due process of law, and the Sixth Amendment’s guarantees of “speedy” jury trial with full knowledge of charges and the opportunity to confront witnesses in criminal cases.  Gorilla No. 2.

Gorilla No. 3 is the role of Big Oil in the determination of both foreign and domestic policy of the United States. In foreign policy, for example, if the Iraq invasion is not really about oil, hegemony in the Middle East, and the establishment of permanent bases there (the U.S. has 10 plus of them under construction), what is it about?  We know that it is not about WMD or al-Qaeda (except in the sense that a British diplomat, taking the 17th century English playwright’s George Fahrquahr’s name in vain, recently referred to US policy as a Recruiting Officer for them).  It is not about freedom or democracy either.  Bush’s record on those subjects for his own country (see Gorilla No. 2) shows that George Bush has no interest in either one.  But the Project for the New American Century of Perle, Wolfowitz, W. Kristol, etc., which began proposing an Iraq invasion back in the 1990s and are the foreign policy setters for the Georgite regime, gave us the real reasons for the attack, to which now the aims of Sharonist Israel can be added.

As far as domestic policy is concerned, I don’t have to go through all of the environmental stuff, that fact the Bush and Cheney both come from the oil industry, the power of the oil lobby, and etc. Just this note.  It is not the “insatiable addiction of the American people” to oil that make us use so much of it.  It is the oil industry’s insatiable addiction to the profits they derive from it.  Why do we have such an antiquated railway system compared with every other industrialized country, and one that runs mainly on diesel rather than electric power?  Why is energy conservation a dirty term in the US?  Do shopping mall parking lot lights really have to stay on all night, as do the lights in my own office complex, where there is no master switch to turn them off in the open spaces?  Why was one of the first acts of the Reagan Administration, the first in which the oil industry really had juice, to summarily end a major alternative/renewable energy research program that had started under Carter?  Why does not the industry itself realize that yes, no matter much oil they discover, EVENTUALLY it is going to run out, and then where will they be, to say nothing of us?

The US oil industry owns very little of the stuff in the ground now.  They make their money by selling the oil they import from the producing nations.  Therefore, to make as much profit as they can, now, they need to sell as much of the stuff as they can, now.  In this case, it is the future of mankind, not the devil that will take the hindmost.  That is why they were, and are, so eager to get their hands on the oil patch in Kurdish Iraq, which may contain the largest reserves outside of Saudi Arabia. Gorilla No. 3

Gorilla No. 4 is our homegrown Christian fundamentalist movement that has so much in common in its approach to civil government with the Muslim fundamentalists.  Just briefly here, in domestic policy these people want to enforce by the use of the criminal law their prescriptions for certain personal behaviors that, given the fundamental weakness of their arguments, they can not get people to abide by voluntarily.  They want to establish that the US is a “Christian Nation,” just as long as they, and only they, get to define just what is “Christian,” and in their vocabulary “love thy neighbor as thyself” is surely not part of it.  In foreign policy, the millenarianism of the Armageddonistas, of which George Bush himself may well be one, holds that the modern state of Israel must hold all the land that the Bible defines as “Israel” before the “Rapture” can occur.  And so their more-than-fervent support of Sharon and what he is really after.  (Oh-so-briefly) Gorilla No. 4.

Should Kerry win, in my view our task as progressive Democrats will be get these gorillas out of the corners and into the arena of policy discussion.  If Bush wins, our task will be to start immediately working on developing a platform for the Democratic Party that will firmly and strongly oppose the Republicans on all of these issues, propose resolutions for them, and set about finding the right candidate to be the Gorilla Tamer for 2008.