There are a few things in life that one can count on: death, taxes, and
people wanting to rewrite your play. And, for our purposes today, the
famous dictum from the noted British historian Lord Acton (1834-1902):
"...Where you have a concentration of power in a
few hands, all too frequently men with the mentality of gangsters
get control. History has proven that. ... Power tends to corrupt;
absolute power corrupts absolutely."
It doesn't seem to matter whether those power-wielders
are liberals or conservatives, Democrats, Republicans or Independents,
civilian or military, decent or warped, whatever. There are exceptions,
of course, but the tendency certainly is there for power to corrupt, and
the reality that absolute power corrupts absolutely.
There seems to be something inherent in the holding of power that goes
to peoples' heads. The resulting misrule seems especially egregious for
those leaders who were installed in power via the electoral process.
Somehow, against all expectations, we assume -- we want to assume --
that elected leaders will be more "pure," less likely to abuse the power
at their command, will be less prone to corruption, will be more
accessible to ordinary citizens.
And then our hopes are dashed when the old crew is defeated and the new
bunch turn out almost or just as bad, or sometimes even worse. (The only
saving grace is that democratic elections, provided they are honest, do
make it somewhat easier to remove bad officials -- at least in theory.)
Again, we're not surprised when a dictator behaves atrociously --
Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini, Pol Pot, Amin, Mugabe, Saddam Hussein, et
al.; indeed, we'd be surprised if they conducted themselves in any other
way. Dictators dictate and go wild with the power they have at their
command. Eventually, either their own brutalized populations revolt and
overthrow them, or their neighbors or the world community finally decide
they've had enough and engineer their downfall. (It usually takes years
for this revulsion to build to action; in the meantime, during their
reigns of terror, millions have died, economies and institutions are in
tatters, and countries' souls have been strangled.)
So where am I going with this? In case you haven't sussed it out, I'll
be talking here about CheneyBush, the Democratic Party, and Pervez
Musharraf. Lord Acton would have a field day with these guys as negative
role models for how not to lead.
CHENEYBUSH & AUTHORITARIANISM
Cheney, ever since his days in the Ford Administration, has been
consumed with the desire to expand the powers of the presidency --
presumably as long as he's in proximity to the Oval Office.
Candidate-Bush appointed Cheney to go find him the best Vice
Presidential running-mate; after a nationwide search, Cheney reported
back that he found the perfect V.P. for Bush: himself. The rest is (bad)
Bush has been quoted at least three times expressing, supposedly in
jocular fashion, that dictatorships are much preferable to clunky, messy
democracy -- "as long as I get to be the dictator." Ha, ha.
As they've clearly demonstrated, neither Cheney nor Bush has any
affinity for the give and take of democracy. Certainly they've evidenced
very little patience for the way the country's Founding Fathers, in
their genius, doled out pieces of power to the three branches of
government so that no one person or faction easily could abuse their
limited authority. If the three branches couldn't come to compromise
agreements, there would be governmental deadlock for awhile and then the
people would have a chance to rectify and alter the situation with their
pressure or with their votes in the next election.
That separation-of-power arrangement worked reasonably well for more
than 200 years, but Cheney and Rove and Bush much preferred a more
authoritarian approach. They put democracy on hold and took matters into
their own hands in order to push their domestic and foreign agendas. The
Founding Fathers, and today's citizens, never imagined the scenario of
"men with the quality of gangsters" in the Executive Branch amassing all
control in their hands, and acting ruthlessly to maintain that
stranglehold on power by crushing all opposition.
Short version: They relegated the then-minority opposition party, the
Democrats, to non-entity status with the aim of making them irrelevant
to government and, with the help of some electoral dirty-tricks and
vote-manipulation, creating one-party rule for at least a generation or
two. (The result of keeping all power in the hands of the Republicans
was that virtually all bribes and lobbying money went to GOP politicians
-- which, given the truth of Lord Acton's dictum, resulted in numerous
corruption indictments of Republican office-holders a few years later.)
Further, if any bills passed that didn't please CheneyBush 100%, Bush
would attach a "signing statement" to the legislation saying he reserved
the right to ignore or overturn those parts he didn't agree with. In
effect, a permanent veto power outside the traditional way of quashing
Congressional legislation. It's estimated that Bush has attached close
to 1000 such "signing statements" to laws passed by Congress.
Even more outrageous: CheneyBush got their legal counsels (David
Addington/Scooter Libby, Alberto Gonzales) to devise a theory of
governance that permitted Bush to violate the Constitution or
Congressional laws whenever he claimed he was acting as
"commander-in-chief" to protect the "national-security" interests of the
American people. In short, under a cockamamie "unitary executive" theory
of governance, Bush would be permitted to act as a dictator on all
matters foreign and domestic. He warned the courts, which he has packed
with his own ideological kinsmen, not to interfere with these
prerogatives, and he essentially cut the Legislative Branch out of
oversight of his behavior and/or ignored their occasional objections, in
effect daring anybody to stop him.
Few felt brave enough to question this misrule at the top, especially on
the subjects of the lies used to invade and occupy Iraq, or on torture
of suspected terrorists, or on the shredding of the 800-year-old
tradition of habeas corpus along with Constitutional protections of the
Bill of Rights. (Bush's near-police state included domestic spying
without court warrants, rifling through one's computer, black bag jobs,
"disappearing" citizens into military jails with no access to lawyers,
etc.). With no effective opposition, and with most of the mass-media
parroting the White House spin, CheneyBush have had free reign to
rampage through the law and threaten and invade around the globe.
Hundreds of thousands have died or been maimed as a result -- American
troops and Iraq/Afghanistan civilians -- and a new war is being planned
THE DEMOCRATIC "OPPOSITION PARTY"
And how has the ostensible "opposition party" responded to the
stop-me-if-you-can gauntlet thrown down by CheneyBush and their GOP
supporters in Congress? The Democrats barely take on the issues that
really matter: the ongoing Iraq war, the impending attack on Iran, the
destruction of the Constitution.
In 2006, the American people -- angry and turned off by CheneyBush's
extremism, thorough-going incompetence, and corruption on so many levels
-- voted the Republicans out of power in Congress and installed a slim
but telling Democratic majority. Polls revealed that the voters were fed
up with CheneyBush policies, especially with regard to the quagmirish
Iraq war and the violation of their privacy rights, and that's why they
gave the Democrats a mandate to clean out the stables.
But the timid Dems forgot who put them into power and why, and continued
to act as if they were still in the minority by rolling over on their
backs whenever CheneyBush started calling them "soft on terrorism" or
whatever. In effect, the Democrats have become enablers of the worst
policies of the CheneyBush juggernaut, and now have blood on their
The logic of the Dems' easy and constant capitulations is baffling. Bush
is now the most loathed president in modern history, even lower in
approval ratings than Richard Nixon at his lowest, a mere 24%, and
Cheney is even lower at 11% approval. The public is more than two-thirds
opposed to CheneyBush's Iraq War and Occupation and feel the U.S., in
general, is headed "in the wrong direction." And yet the Democrats
behave as if they have to snap to it whenever the Administration looks
at them the wrong way.
Perhaps the best symbol of that timidity is their refusing to even
consider impeachment of Cheney and Bush for a long list of high crimes
and misdemeanors. Because of their wimpy behavior, on impeachment and
Iraq, the Democrats in Congress are held in even less repute than
Indeed, elements of the Democratic activist base, the ones who worked so
hard to get them into the majority in 2006, are threatening to abandon
the party and are denouncing Dem leaders and many of the announced
presidential candidates for the 2008 race. Many Dems are no longer
sending donations to the Party coffers, and instead are restricting
their giving to specific candidates who demonstrate moral strength and
independence in their policy choices.
In short, as Lord Acton would have known would happen, the ascension to
Congressional majority status power has tended to corrupt the Democrats,
and there is great suspicion that if they were given absolute power they
would be only a little different from the morally-bankrupt CheneyBush
Administration, with more wars of choice abroad and more willingness to
misuse the expanded powers of the presidency against their perceived
HYPOCRISY IN PAKISTAN
The situation in Pakistan is uber-serious. If a centrist/secular Pakisan
government were to fall and militant Islamists got their hands on that
country's nuclear missiles, there is no telling what kind of
conflagration might occur in the Greater Middle East, or beyond.
But certain lessons can be drawn from the situation there. And, lo and
behold, Condi Rice and George W. Bush delivered some of them, calling
for Musharaff (nudge nudge, wink wink) to return to democratic
institutions, guarantee an honest voting process, support a
free-wheeling investigatory press, respect an independent judiciary and
oppositional elements, etc.
Trouble is, the CheneyBush vision of what's wrong is sharp when it
refers to Pakistan but they seem incapable of seeing the mote in their
own eyes. You can't pretend to be an admirable democratic country when
you violate your Constitution and deny citizens their rights, and you
can't denounce torture and mistreatment of protesters and prisoners when
you sanction such in your own behavior, and you can't decry a political
leader also being the head of the military when your country operates
that way, too. The American double-standard reeks.
(Catch this quote from White House Press Secretary Dana Perino when
asked about the situation in Pakistan. Question: "It is ever reasonable
to restrict constitutional freedoms in the name of fighting terrorism?"
Her unequivocal answer: "In our opinion, No." Oh, but I love the smell
of hypocrisy in the morning.)
LIMITED CHOICES IN PAKISTAN
In a way, what's happening in Pakistan, with Musharraf proclaiming
martial law and arresting his political enemies, is reminiscent of the
era of Cold War politics. The U.S. supported with gobs of money and
military aid any country that professed "anti-communism"; this policy
meant that the U.S. lost popular international support around the globe
because we were backing the worst sort of dictators who repressed their
peoples (Marcos in the Philippines, the Shah of Iran, the apartheid
regime in South Africa, etc. etc.). And here we are again: If you claim
you're anti-"terrorist," American will supply you with billions in cash,
police "training," and loads of high-tech weaponry.
Musharraf, who assumed office in a military coup, always has been in a
delicate position with his own people. He has to mollify the U.S., his
major benefactor, while not losing the support of his more nationalist,
Islamic population. Eventually, of course, by being so tightly allied to
Bush, he antagonized the nationalists and the Islamist extremists, the
latter of whom began suicide bombing in Karachi, Islamabad and beyond.
By stomping on his political opposition, Musharraf, who continued to
head the military while serving as president, nearly-destroyed the
moderate middle of the political spectrum. Now what does he do?
(If he loses the election he promises to hold in January or February,
and militant Islamists were to move into power, would the U.S. honor the
democratic will of the Pakistani citizenry? Or, as happened in the
Palestinian territories, would the U.S. denounce the result of the
election and refuse to deal with the popularly-elected victors? For
CheneyBush, democracy is a bitch when the "wrong" people get elected.)
CheneyBush have few decent choices with regard to Pakistan. They could
cut Musharraf loose and support Bhutto, but she has yet to demonstrate
that she can command the allegiance of the people, that she can govern
from the middle, that she would be any more welcome by fundamentalists
in her country. How to arrange all this without greasing the tracks for
the militant Islamists to ride into power -- that's the trick.
A talented diplomatic magician is needed to help arrange this trick, and
the U.S. should be in the thick of it. But Bush, Cheney and Rice
(fixated as they are on the catastrophe they've unleashed in Iraq and
now on how and when to attack Iran) have demonstrated time and time
again over the past seven years that they are not skilled at the kind of
nuanced diplomatic negotiations that are required.
My guess is that we'd better prepare ourselves for what's about to hit
the giant fan in South Asia. Break out the umbrellas.
Copyright 2007 by Bernard Weiner