Don't know about you, but I find myself caught right in the middle of the glass half-empty/half-full way of looking at our current political situation.
In my last piece ("Shining Our Light on the Shadow Forces: Open Letter to the Fledgling
'Movement'"), I talked about how things are going to get worse before they get worse, and then even more worse, and then things will start to get better. In my darker periods -- which these days is most of the time -- I still believe this, that what is about to come down from Bush&Co. in the next few years is going to be horrendous, both for Americans domestically and for those in the way of U.S. imperial moves abroad.
Domestically, due-process Constitutional protections, already in shreds thanks to Bush & Ashcroft, will nearly disappear. Big Brother government will invade our privacy in virtually every area of our lives, thanks to technological breakthroughs and the magic word "terrorists." More citizens will be yanked off to the American gulags, cut off from judicial review or even their attorneys. Internationally, Bush&Co. will continue to march forward belligerently, arrogantly and theateningly in their desire to bring "benevolent hegemony" to those areas of the world rich in minerals and energy sources, thus stirring up
anti-U.S. rebellions and fueling more terrorism.
But rather than dwell on that awful picture, and what it presages for the future -- the glass half-empty scenario -- let's search for any hopeful signs that point to a way out of our current morass.
In this glass-half-full approach, consider these:
1. Big Brotherism. A number of anti-big-government conservatives, appalled at the Constitutional excesses of the Bush Administration and its Big Brother approach to snooping on American citizens, have begun to rebel. A bit late, of course -- since many of them supported those very excesses in helping get the USA PATRIOT Act and the Homeland Security bill passed -- but better late than never.
It almost boggles the mind to read that such rightwing stalwarts as Dick Armey, Bob Barr, and Henry Hyde are about to join forces with the American Civil Liberties Union, as consultants, to try to rein in the police-state tactics of the Bush Administration. Politics does indeed put one in the sack with the strangest bedfellows. (Incidentally, the ACLU -- which is running TV ads in selected markets showing Ashcroft taking scissors to the Constitution -- reports that it is being inundated with new members, up 12% from last year at this time, and rising fast.)
In addition, such conservative/libertarian columnists as William Safire and Pat Buchanan likewise are taking frontal potshots at the excesses of this arrogant Administration and its approach to the Constitution. Good on them!
If the civil libertarian wing of the Democratic party, and the anti-war movement in general, are wise, they will welcome these lapsed brethren into the anti-Bush&Co. fold and try to utilize their conservative credentials to lure more such disaffected Republicans to the cause of restoring Constitutional balance and due-process to our polity. (I think the Democrats may have leaders with that kind of wisdom; I'm not sure about some of the segments of the anti-war movement, still locked into slogans and behaviors that are sure to alienate the great middle-class of Americans, without whom no political movement can make much
2. The Jeffords example. Given this relatively slight but growing conservative opposition to Bush&Co. excesses, there may be more leverage for leaning on such moderate GOP senators as
Snowe, Collins, Specter and Chaffee to "do a Jeffords" and become Independents, thus blocking Bush&Co.'s total control of the U.S. Congress. It would be a miracle if some or all of them were to bolt the party -- those GOP moderates stand to benefit from the perqs of being part of the winning side -- but if they did, it would make it easier for Democrats to head off the more egregious policies of the Bush Administration. Surely these GOP moderates are uneasy with (or even revolted by) some of those policies and, with enough pressure from inside and outside the Senate, they might be willing to consider such a patriotic move. There is talk amongst some Democrats of trying to lure them over by promising them key leadership positions and other blandishments -- not a bad strategy, if a bit obvious.
3. The Supreme Court. One can expect that some of the more outrageous provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act and the Homeland Security Act will make their way to the U.S. Supreme Court, perhaps as early as next year. Given the growing revolt by conservatives against the more extreme aspects of those bills with reference to civil liberties and privacy, it is possible that the Supreme Court, with a conservative majority, might rule that some of those provisions are unconstitutional. (One can imagine that
Rehnquist, Scalia and Thomas would always rule for Bush&Co. -- they are, in a way, charter members of that Co. -- but Kennedy and O'Connor, a shade more moderate, might join the more liberal four on questions such as these. Let us not forget, many conservatives are worried about the martial-law-type precedents established under Bush that would still be in place were liberal Democratic administrations to retake the government some day.)
Already, we've seen several key court cases recently where Bush&Co. have had their hands slapped. An appeals court has ruled that the feds can not violate California law and turn over the oil-rich coastline to companies wishing to drill. And the judge hearing the case against Cheney's continuing refusal to make public who participated in shaping the Administration's energy policies once again has ordered him, in no uncertain terms, to turn over those papers and quickly. That's one courageous judge. (It's not clear what penalties could be exacted against Cheney if he chooses to ignore the court's order -- contempt-of-court proceedings are not likely, but it's conceivable they could be ordered; it's even possible that impeachment could loom somewhere down the line. But, once again, the true face of Bush&Co, arrogantly deciding for themselves what information should be seen by the American public will be made manifest, and electoral consequences could ensue.)
4. The Esquire Article. In case you haven't heard, a Bush Administration insider -- John
DiIulio, who was Bush's head of the faith-based initiative program -- sent a long memo to Esquire writer Ron Susskind that takes a vivid peek behind the corrupt, power-hungry mob in the White House. Among his bombshells: "There is no precedent in any modern White House for what is going on in this one: a complete lack of a policy apparatus. What you've got is everything, and I mean everything, being run by the political arm. It's the reign of the Mayberry
Machiavellis... On social policy and related issues, the lack of even basic policy knowledge, and only a casual interest in knowing more, was somewhat breathtaking... "
DiIulio made the obligatory public backtracking a few days ago, after coming under heavy fire from the Bushistas, but what he wrote stands as a most important critical attack, all the more effective because it's not from a Democratic heavy or an online progressive writer but from a conservative who continues to support Bush as a leader.
What he's saying is what many of us have been asserting for quite awhile: that the extremist HardRight agenda is what is driving the Bush&Co. engine, not policy that is intelligently vetted in terms of what is good for the American people. And Karl Rove, the Rasputin behind the throne, runs that domestic 24/7 political operation -- just as Cheney runs the foreign policy wing, and probably much more.
In short, a major fissure has opened up in the Bush facade, and through it the American people can get a clearer view of the ambitious, power-hungry zealots in charge. Score one for our side.
5. "The Republican" charge. Chuck Baldwin writes in "The Republican," a newsletter for the GOP faithful: "Back in August, columnist Paul Craig Roberts asked the question, 'Is a vote for Republicans a vote for a police state?' The answer seems to be a resounding yes! The Bush administration seems determined to turn our country into the most elaborate and sophisticated police state ever devised."
"Things are so bad," Baldwin goes on, "that outgoing house majority leader Dick Armey said that under Bush the [Justice Department] is 'out of control.' In fact, the conservative congressman is reported to be seriously considering taking a position with the ACLU in order to help fight the federal government's usurpation of constitutionally protected liberties. Does that mean one must leave the Republican Party in order to fight for liberty? Maybe so... The tyrannical tendencies of old King George III of England cannot hold a candle to the Machiavellian machinations of King George XLIII of the United States. Unfortunately, there are few Paul Reveres around to sound an alarm. Unless contemporary patriots act quickly, Republicans, not Democrats, will be the ones that ultimately dismantle our constitution and trample our liberties."
Again, this invective was not spewed by the partisan enemies of the Bush Administration, but by a fellow Republican, thoroughly angered by his realization that his beloved party has been hijacked by far-right extremists, hell bent for leather to turn this country into the exact opposite of what small-government conservatives have been supporting for decades. Grounds for hope.
6. Kissinger. This one is a bit convoluted, so hang with me here. It would appear on the surface that Bush appointing Kissinger to chair the blue-ribbon commission on how 9/11 happened means the results will be a whitewash for Bush&Co. The ex-Secretary of State & National Security Advisor -- with blood all over his hands for his policies, and notoriously secretive in defending all regimes from public scrutiny -- is regarded as a Bush toady who will see no evil and report no evil in terms of what the Bush Administration knew and when they knew it, and why they did nothing to protect American citizens from the coming terrorist attackers on 9/11.
But one friend suggests the following, and though it's hard to swallow, it is a possibility. The shorthand version is: payback.
Kissinger, in this reading, is not totally Bush's man. Kissinger, who is like an elephant that never forgets, may want to revenge himself on old enemies, most notably Rumsfeld and, perhaps subconsciously, even the Bush family. And so, with his own private resentments active, and with Democratic vice-chairman George Mitchell prodding him from the sidelines, Kissinger -- anxious to resurrect his image from that of potential war-criminal back to the days of the brilliant, courageous Nobel Prize-winning statesman -- may let some of the dirt reach the light of day.
If and when that smelly truth hits the fan, watch out! The American people, even in their terrorist-fright, would not take kindly to leaders who, to further their own political agenda, chose inaction in the face of knowledge of what was coming -- leading to 3000 innocent American civilians dying. Out of that kind of rage and disappointment are impeachment movements born.
7. Town Hall politics. Bush&Co. are trying to make war with Iraq an inevitability, a fait accompli, a juggernaut that supposedly can't be stopped by anyone, not allies, not the American citizenry. To accomplish this end domestically, they pushed the USA PATRIOT Act and the Homeland Security Act through Congress. But in town after town, city after city -- 22 at last count, and 40 more pending -- municipal governments are voting not to recognize the validity of unconstitutional behavior on the part of the feds.
As Nat Hentoff reports about the growth of the work of these Bill of Rights Defense Committees, by and large these resolutions are similar to the one passed unanimously by the Northampton City Council on May 2, 2002, which required that:
"Local law enforcement continue to preserve residents' freedom of speech, religion, assembly and privacy; rights to counsel and due process in judicial proceedings; and protection from unreasonable searches and seizures even if requested or authorized to infringe upon these rights by federal law enforcement acting under new powers granted by the USA Patriot Act or orders of the Executive Branch.
"Furthermore, Federal and state law enforcement officials acting within the City are asked to 'work in accordance with the policies of the Northampton Police Department .. . by not engaging in or permitting detentions without charges or [using] racial profiling in law enforcement.'
Also, "the U.S. Attorney's Office, the Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and Massachusetts State police [are to] report to the Northampton Human Rights Commission regularly and publicly the extent to and manner in which they have acted under the USA Patriot Act, new Executive Orders, or
COINTELPRO-type regulations." This includes "disclosing the names of the detainees held in western Massachusetts or any Northampton residents detained elsewhere."
This is grassroots democracy at its finest, telling the over-reaching Ashcrofts and Bushes that they've gone way beyond the line of legal, or even decent, human behavior. Not a good omen for Bush&Co. (Why not try to get something similar going in your town or city?)
8. Snoops in Bed. The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case concerning the sodomy laws. The hopeful reasoning here goes something like this: If the court holds that the Southern law making sodomy illegal is an unconstitutional invasion of privacy in the bedroom, the maddog fanatics in the Bush base of fundamentalist Christians will be outraged and consider withdrawing support from Bush. If the court rules in favor of such laws -- which, remember, have reference to heterosexual as well as homosexual behavior in the bedroom -- there will be a mobilization within the libertarian right as well as in the incensed gay community to have Congress pass laws overturning the court's ruling. Bush will then have to take a stand on this hot issue, and whichever way he goes, it doesn't bode well for him in 2004.
9. The Bush "mandate." Bush&Co. spokesmen and supporters claimed after the results of the midterm elections were announced that they would continue to use their "mandate" given them by the voters in 2000 to push their programs through Congress. But there was no mandate in 2000 -- since the will of the voters, who chose Gore, was superceded by five members of the U.S. Supreme Court, who halted the counting of citizens' ballots and installed Bush into the White House -- and neither was there a mandate on November 5th of 2002.
Only 40% of eligible voters actually cast ballots, and just slightly more than half chose the GOP candidates. In other words, 21% of eligible American voters chose the GOP. A swing of a few thousand votes here, and another few thousand there, and the Democrats would be in control of the Congress. (I've written elsewhere about the possibility of vote-tampering in those key states where touch-screen voting was employed, with no paper ballots and no exit
polls to check those results against.)
In short, even if one believes the election results were on the up-and-up, the victory for Bush&Co. was razor-thin. There is no "mandate" to do anything but govern from the middle, but, figuring this is their one chance to fashion the political scene for the next decade or two, Bush&Co. are pretending that they won a massive victory that permits them to push through their extreme greed-and-power agenda, and to hell with you.
10. The Sin of Pride. Finally, and following from the last one: There is in the post-election behavior of Bush&Co. no humility, no concession to decency, only a mad dash for the goodies of profit and power. Domestically and internationally, there is little but the willingness, even an eagerness, to push anyone aside who gets in their way.
There is, in this behavior, what the ancient Greek dramatists called "hubris," a tempting of the gods, who are prone to visit bad things on the heads of those mortals who pretend they are like gods themselves. The punishment for those who evidence overbearing pride and arrogance is to be brought low by their own excesses, by their belief that they can get away
Pride goeth before the fall. Let it be so.
Copyright 2002 by Bernard Weiner
Bernard Weiner, Ph.D., is co-editor of the The Crisis Papers. He has taught American politics and international relations at various universities,
and was with the San Francisco Chronicle for nearly 20 years.