Morning Report 6/22/05I’m With the Band!


Bush, GOP get image help pro Bono

U.S. Senate


Tying the knot: Above, Sununu, who balked at apologizing for lynching, gets his tie tightened—not tight enough—by celebrity fluffer Bono. Below, the rocker has a frothy conversation with Santorum.
U.S. House

No matter how big the crowds are for the Live 8 concert extravaganza, it’s already a sell-out.

Just as he earlier skewered Paul Wolfowitz, George Monbiot, who often wields a sharp knife in his Guardian (U.K.) column, slices through the bullshit in the celebrity-driven Africa debt saga. Good intentions, such as those of Bono and Bob Geldof, are not only often not good enough, but they can be harmful.

In his June 21 Guardian column, “Bards of the Powerful,” Monbiot writes:

Geldof and Bono’s campaign for philanthropy portrays the enemies of the poor as their saviours. The good these two remarkable men have done is in danger of being outweighed by the harm. …

Listen to these men—Bush, Blair and their two bards—and you could forget that the rich nations had played any role in Africa’s accumulation of debt, or accumulation of weapons, or loss of resources, or collapse in public services, or concentration of wealth and power by unaccountable leaders. Listen to them and you would imagine that the G8 was conceived as a project to help the world’s poor.

I have yet to read a statement by either rock star that suggests a critique of power. They appear to believe that a consensus can be achieved between the powerful and the powerless, that they can assemble a great global chorus of rich and poor to sing from the same sheet. They do not seem to understand that, while the G8 maintains its grip on the instruments of global governance, a shared anthem of peace and love is about as meaningful as the old Coca-Cola ad.

Many people—at least in Great Britain—probably already agree with Monbiot on that.

But there’s another part of Live 8 that is nothing but smarmy. We already know that the people most celebrities want to hang with are other celebrities. Right-wing pols have another reason to be seen with the likes of Bono and Geldof: It softens the poor image of intolerance and idiocy that the right-wing pols have with many of the young. Hey, man, it’s rock and roll! And here are Rick Santorum and John Sununu Jr. hanging out with Bono. How bad could they be?

So we forget the slickly sanctimonious Santorum’s fervent drive to enforce his rigid code of behavior on not only sexual practices but also scientific inquiry.

And we forget that Sununu is one of only a handful of senators who refused to either co-sponsor or publicly support the recent public apology for lynching.

Yes, you well-meaning rock stars, shake hands with the devils—even pose for pictures with them— but don’t let them hug the life out of you.

And so we’re left in a situation in which too much bonhomie is too much of a good thing. Or, as Monbiot says it:

The real danger at the G8 summit is not that the protests will turn violent—the appetite for that pretty well disappeared in September 2001—but that they will be far too polite.

This isn’t just a question of style. The recent forgiveness of debt for some of the poor African nations was not the glorious victory that it was trumpeted as. More from Monbiot on Bono and Geldof:

Take their response to the debt-relief package for the world’s poorest countries that the G7 finance ministers announced 10 days ago. Anyone with a grasp of development politics who had read and understood the ministers’ statement could see that the conditions it contains—enforced liberalisation and privatisation—are as onerous as the debts it relieves. But Bob Geldof praised it as “a victory for the millions of people in the campaigns around the world” and Bono pronounced it “a little piece of history”. Like many of those who have been trying to highlight the harm done by such conditions—especially the African campaigners I know—I feel betrayed by these statements. Bono and Geldof have made our job more difficult.

I understand the game they’re playing. They believe that praising the world’s most powerful men is more persuasive than criticising them. The problem is that in doing so they turn the political campaign developed by the global justice movement into a philanthropic one.

And that will never effect real change. Once again, more from Monbiot, because he says it better than I can:

The answer to the problem of power is to build political movements that deny the legitimacy of the powerful and seek to prise control from their hands: to do, in other words, what people are doing in Bolivia right now. But Bono and Geldof are doing the opposite: they are lending legitimacy to power.

From the point of view of men like Bush and Blair, the deal is straightforward: we let these hairy people share a platform with us, we make a few cost-free gestures, and in return we receive their praise and capture their fans. The sanctity of our collaborators rubs off on us. If the trick works, the movements ranged against us will disperse, imagining that the world’s problems have been solved. We will be publicly rehabilitated, after our little adventure in Iraq and our indiscretions at Bagram and Guantánamo Bay. The countries we wish to keep exploiting will see us as their friends rather than their enemies.