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Maxed Out

Burning Bush creates smoky alliance

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Though sounding vaguely Old Testament, this nugget of human wisdom does not, as I initially thought, date back to a time in the third grade when I watched a guy I didn’t know at all whip the snot out of a bully I did know and considered, if not an enemy, at least someone I wanted to stay away from lest I be just another of his victims. Without knowing the victor, I considered him a friend as I watched in utter disbelief and joy as the bully whimpered away, begging for mercy.

I later learned this organizing principle was an old Arab proverb. Even later I learned, like so many things I thought I knew, that too was wrong.

Turns out this handy phrase is the work of a 4 th century BC Indian political theorist named Kautilya. I don’t know if he had a first name and, come to think of it, don’t know if he didn’t maybe come up with this while watching someone pound on a bully at his school.

Whatever, it was a pretty smart thing to say back in the 4 th century BC and it’s still true today. It explains things like NATO, why the U.S. cozies up to Pakistan to fight Iraq who the U.S. considered an ally when it fought Iran, why Canadian soldiers are dying in Afghanistan and why, notwithstanding his total lack of appeal, I prefer Stéphane Dion to Stephen Harper. Okay, maybe that last one’s a stretch.

What it doesn’t explain is the fascinating alignment of powerful interests playing itself out in the U.S. Supreme Court this week.

The Bush administration — ever the busybody — has butted in on a legal case pitting student against teacher, rebellion against authority. The Bushies, naturally, side with authority. Just as naturally, the American Civil Liberties Union, sides with the student. So far, not to beat a point to death, nature has run its course.

Where it gets weirder than a Hunter Thompson acid trip though is the supporting cast of characters. There has been, ever since he became president, a deep and abiding relationship between the Bush White House and what is generally referred to as the religious right, those many, many very conservative groups pushing a religious agenda and wanting to blur the line between religion and the state… at least insofar as it furthers their cause.

An impressive number of them have come down on the side of the student, the side of youthful rebellion.

“Why would that be?” I hear the few of you who have gotten this far ask.

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