It's the usual M.O. from CheneyBush. They still act and speak as if
nothing has changed politically from when they first fired up their
juggernaut nearly eight years ago.
Ignoring the irony, for example, they've appointed Paul Wolfowitz -- the
always-wrong neo-con architect of Iraq war policy -- chair of the State
Department's arms control and disarmament panel. They continue to
nominate incompetent ideologues for high posts. They have re-vetoed the
popular SCHIP bill that would expand health care to poor children. They
are talking about putting U.S. forces into Pakistan and are still
issuing bellicose warnings about a possible attack on Iran. They are not
cooperating fully, or sometimes even at all, with Congressional
investigations of their scandals. They are opening up more of the
fragile Alaska wilderness and waters to logging and oil exploration.
They pretend to do something, but in reality do little or nothing, about
such running sores as the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, global warming,
affordable health-care; etc. etc.
CheneyBush remind me of huge rampaging monsters, countless arrows
sticking out of their bleeding wounds but still able to thrash about and
wreak great damage. They're lame ducks, weakened politically but angry,
highly motivated and out for revenge and vindication.
Because CheneyBush are still operating in their old style -- the
reckless, arrogant style that has made Bush the worst president in
American history (with Cheney even more disliked than Bush) -- the
public is ready, and has been ready for several years now, to cut them
loose, along with the Republican Party.
It seems pretty clear that the damaged-by-association GOP will fare
badly in Senate and House races in November, giving the Democrats an
even bigger majority, probably enough to prevent Republican filibusters.
(Question: But how many of those Democrats will be genuine
liberals/progressives and how many will be from the centrist-rightwing
of the party, willing to join the GOP conservatives on key votes?)
THE PROGRESSIVES' CHOICE IN NOVEMBER
It would seem apparent that the fired-up Democrats should be able to
take the White House as well, but since the party system in this country
is so loose, many voters tend to base their presidential choice
separately, upon their need for a leader who makes them feel comfortable
and secure. Short version: This means that the Democrats don't have a
lock on re-taking the presidency in November.
It comes down to whom the parties nominate, and how the campaigns are
run. Luckily, any of the three viable Democratic contenders would make a
decent, perhaps even good, president. None of the leading Republicans
give one any hope in that regard. But going against Romney or McCain is
not going to be a walk in the park.
Rove&Co. (which includes most of the major corporate media) are
salivating at the prospect of having a full-bore go at Hillary Clinton,
or Barack Obama, with their swiftboating forces ready to crank up the
old dirty-politics smear machine that worked so well for them in taking
care of Kerry and Gore. Plus, the Democrats are, in their race toward
the nomination, providing even more political ammunition for the GOP in
their attacks on each other.
Assuming that either Clinton or Obama is the Democratic nominee -- i.e.,
a candidate from the centrist-right, beholden to the usual plutocratic
forces -- how should the progressive base of the party respond? Offer
unqualified support to whomever the Democrats nominate? Sit out the
election because not all that much will change if Clinton or Obama, or
even Edwards, gets into office? Join the Greens or another third-party?
Hold one's nose and support the Dem nominee as a small, incremental move
toward good government, the best one might hope for in a non-progressive
William Rivers Pitt, one of the best progressive writers on the
internet, takes the long view, opting for the last-named solution:
One election won't change anything, but ten
might, and there is no reason or impediment blocking dedicated
Americans from keeping their shoulders to the political activism
wheel long enough to roll that rock up the hill. ...-Change is not
going to come, and has already come, and may yet come. This is what
makes the 2008 presidential election an absurdity, and an
opportunity, and a fait accompli all at once. It is what it is.
As for me, I'm working for Edwards as long as he's in
the race, as the most progressive viable alternative among the
Democrats. I'm waiting to see how primary voters treat the three Dem
contenders; and then I'll make up my mind about how to vote in November
after seeing the Republican ticket and deciding if the policy
differences between the two parties justifies yet another vote for a
Democrat in November. I know I'm not alone in this attitude. This seems
to be what the objective conditions are telling us in 2008.
HOW WE GOT TO THIS PLACE
It might be appropriate here to recall how we got to this place as
CheneyBush enter the final year of their White House tenure. To
appreciate the answer -- that they've always operated on the principle
that a spread-'em-wide offense is the best defense -- it thus might be
helpful to remember the historical context. So, here goes:
Other countries wind up under the heel of authoritarian rulers, but it
happens often enough in those nations and regions that they know what to
expect and sometimes how to oppose or otherwise get around the worst
policies of those harsh governments. When authoritarians take over in
so-called "civilized" countries, the citizens, raised on democratic
traditions and trained to behave civily, often are bereft of effective
strategies for dealing with get-out-of-our-way-or-else leaders who play
by their own rules.
Take Germany in the 1930s, for example. Even though Hitler had written a
book outlining his extremist philosophy, few paid attention to that
little creep and his bullyboy followers. When he assumed the reins of
power, Hitler slowly begin slicing away at freedoms, starting with the
most vulnerable, marginal elements in society -- those with mental and
physical defects, Communists, Jews, trade union leaders, et al. Since so
few objected to the maltreatment of these weak groups, he set out after
bigger game, including religious leaders and political opponents. In
addition, Hitler, a megalomaniac, began unnecessarily attacking
neighboring countries, both for imperial conquest and to rally the
population to his side during wartime.
Huge segments of the German population, hungry for decisive leadership
during a time of uncertainty and chaos, and easily bamboozled by the
regime's propaganda ministry that had control of all means of
mass-media, fell into line behind Hitler and his Nazi party. Other
segments of the citizenry came to be aware that the Fuhrer's policies
likely would result in taking the country down the road to catastrophic
ruin, but they hadn't organized early enough to be effective. By that
time they were starting to think in oppositional terms, they had few
ways to fight the fascist dictatorship under which they lived, and many
soon found themselves in Hitler's concentration camps and crematoria.
Please don't misunderstand. I'm not saying that CheneyBush's America is
Hitler's Germany. But wise citizens try to
from history to avoid making similar mistakes that could turn out
"COMPASSIONATE CONSERVATIVES" -- NOT
Unlike Hitler, neither Bush nor Cheney let the American public know what
they planned to do if they got their hands on the levers of power. They
disguised themselves as "compassionate conservatives" -- remember that
handy little term? -- during the 2000 election. Bush talked of the
"humble" foreign policy he would initiate, and said that
"nation-building" would not be part of American behavior abroad. He
spoke of their devotion to "small government" and to "protecting"
citizens' rights from a Big Brother federal behemoth.
Then, even though Bush had lost the popular vote and with ballots still
out there needing re-counting, they were installed into the White House
by a conservative majority on the Supreme Court and began working behind
the scenes to carry out their real agenda. At the very first Cabinet
meetings, Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill later told us, Cheney and Bush
and Rumsfeld were discussing plans for attacking Iraq, a country that
was incapable of, and uninterested in, doing physical harm to the United
States. In addition, also long before the horrific events of 9/11,
CheneyBush were authorizing widespread domestic spying on U.S. citizens.
If a Democrat or a traditional Republican had been placed in power by
similar circumstances, that leader would have realized how divided the
country was and would have treaded lightly, trying to finesse their
agenda through Congress in a bipartisan way. But the philosophy behind
the CheneyBush approach, as devised by political guru Karl Rove, was
that it didn't matter how they got into power or how close the election
was. The point, Rove indicated, was that as long as they had control of
the reins of power and had a majority of one, they should behave as if
they had a "mandate" to rule as they saw fit.
The corollary, and this is where it gets interesting, was that they
should act ruthlessly toward their political opponents. Instead of
seeking bipartisan cooperation, they would play smash-mouth,
take-no-prisoners politics, the aim being to marginalize or, if
possible, destroy the Democrats as a viable opposition and create the
conditions for several generations of one-party Republican rule.
THE "OPPORTUNITY" OFFERED BY 9/11
And then came 9/11. Neoconservatives had salivated at the prospect of a
"new Pearl Harbor" (page 51 ) as a cover for their political
revolution, and now it had arrived. CheneyBush had been forewarned in
advance by numerous countries' leaders that a "spectacular" attack was
coming from al-Qaida, probably by air and aimed at American icon
targets, but the Administration chose to do nothing. Afterwards, they
talked to their colleagues about taking advantage of the new
"opportunity" (to use Condi Rice's term at the time) that 9/11 offered
to push their agenda. "9/11" became the umbrella excuse that we citizens
were told justified every controversial Administration action.
The Democrats, already fairly weak, disorganized and indecisive, never
knew what hit them. They thought that the new Administration would
behave in the time-tested Washington way of traditional give-and-take,
compromising, small-step governance. They had no idea how to combat an
Administration that wanted all power in its hands, and would lie and
cheat and steal their way to get what they wanted. The Republicans in
Congress, so happy to be in the majority, with all the perqs that go
with that lofty position, blindly supported Cheney and Bush, even when
the White House was turning Congress into an irrelevancy.
Internationally, CheneyBush's control of the government meant being
eager and willing to use their lone-superpower might to attack potential
foes with so-called "pre-emptive" wars. Since there was no other
superpower to oppose them, they figured it would be easy to take what
they could get, re-order the world in America's imperial image and to
meet America's needs, and slap down anybody else, even traditional
allies and international organizations, that got in their way. Hence,
ignoring the United Nations, some of their key friends abroad, and the
ten million protesters marching in the streets, CheneyBushRumsfeld
launched their unprovoked invasion and disastrous occupation of Iraq.
Domestically, CheneyBush's governing philosophy required that all police
and intelligence power move into the hands of the president, the
"unitary executive": secret courts, torture prisons, black bag jobs,
sneak-and-peek invasions of citizens' privacy, invasions of their
computers and emails and telephone calls, and so on -- all were part of
this obsession with full control. The courts would be packed with
far-right Federalist Society judges; Congress, at best, would be
consulted but would have no power to stop White House actions.
And, if by chance Congress passed a law CheneyBush didn't like, Bush
issued "Signing Statements" that said he wouldn't enforce parts of the
law he didn't like. If Congress subpoenaed his aides for testimony or
documents, Bush refused to comply.
NO "PLAN B" FOR IRAQ
But something happened in Iraq that CheneyBushRumsfeldRove hadn't
counted on. The invasion/occupation of that country had been devised in
the ivory towers of neocon think tanks, and was based on lies and
misconceptions; when harsh reality popped up, the Administration, in
denial and still locked into fantasy, had no idea what to do. They
hadn't anticipated a full-scale nationalist-Iraqi rebellion to their
incompetent, imperial rule, and had no Plan B to counter it. For four
years, CheneyBushRumsfeld were locked in ideological quicksand, while
Iraq spun out of control and into a bloody civil/religious war; tens of
thousands of American troops were dead or badly wounded, with close to
one million innocent Iraqi casualties.
CheneyBush were better off domestically, since, for the most part, the
mass-media were in their corner, eschewing investigatory journalism and
presenting Administration spin as truth. And, best of all, the
population had been so frightened by the terrorist attacks of 9/11, and
the anthrax attacks soon afterwards, that they were agreeable to giving
the Administration whatever it said it needed to fight its
self-proclaimed "war on terror." As it turned out, this blanket request
included the Constitution, which CheneyBush proceeded to shred to
For six years, the Democrats, effectively neutered in Congress, were
little more than political eunuchs. All Rove&Co. had to do was call them
"soft on terrorism," or "supporting the terrorists," or "offering aid
and comfort to the enemy," and the timid Dems would back off, lie back,
and be rolled over yet again.
The future didn't look good for the Democrats or for democracy itself.
There was no opposition party to speak of, and thus no effective
oversight of the worst of Administration policies; the Dems even took
the one real political weapon they had, impeachment, and placed it "off
the table." With no opposition party to speak of, the Republicans simply
did whatever they wanted and never had to worry about possible penalties
for their overreaching, misbehavior, corruption, foreign-policy
disasters, destruction of Constitutional protections, etc.
TURNING THE TABLES
You can fool all of the people some of the time, and some of the people
all of the time, but, as the saying goes, you can't fool all of the
people all of the time. It took six years, but the American citizenry --
often led by traditional conservatives, including many high-ranking
military officers -- finally turned on the Bush Administration and, in
the midterm congressional election of 2006, swept the corrupt,
incompetent and pro-war Republicans out of majority control.
The disaster that was Iraq, the fading economy, the over-reaching for
more and more centralized power by CheneyBush, the trillions spent on
misadventures abroad, the failing infrastructure around the country, the
ruining of the environment, the denigration of science, the downplaying
of global warming -- all these, and more, led Americans to want, and
expect, something different from the new Democratic majority.
It turns out that our expectations were too high. The numerical majority
was not quite enough for the Democrats to get much legislation passed,
and the Republicans -- even staring at major defeats in the upcoming '08
election -- remained allied with CheneyBush and filibustered most
liberal legislation. And so the Democrats, under Reid and Pelosi,
crawled back into their timid mode, forgetting that Bush's approval
numbers certify him as one of the least popular presidents in history.
The old GOP pattern repeated itself: smear your opponents as "weak on
national security," and as aiding the forces of terrorism by calling for
withdrawal from Iraq. Indeed, the major contenders for the Republican
nomination are throwbacks to the failed policies of the CheneyBush
Administration, as if they're running in the 2004 race, not the one in
2008. Which is why the Democrats are wrapping themselves in the "change"
The political situation has indeed changed. If the Democrats and we the
people acknowledge that fact and commit to united, progressive activism
to turn our country around, it might be possible to effect the kind of
major change that is required.
It won't come easy, and it won't happen overnight. The fight never is
easy when wounded beasts are cornered. But, if we love our country and
the unique system of government that has been so distorted by the
current squatters in the White House, we can do no less than to give it
Copyright 2008 by Bernard Weiner