Let's face it. Countries, like individuals, get lost sometimes --
lost, ignoring the maps of morality and civil behavior, bringing shame and
disrepute on themselves.
In terms of individuals, good people do weird stuff on occasion: run off, or
inexplicably go on a bender, or visit purveyors of easy virtue, or get
addicted, or use hate-speech in extremis and so on. Stuff happens.
Nations, too, often take leave of their senses. Crises occur. Citizens get
frightened by something and don't know how to respond. A strong leader comes
along and channels that fright, usually aiming it at perceived enemies, real
or invented, or at least highly exaggerated.
The powers-that-be love crises and catastrophes; at such nodal points, the
public is more malleable, more easily rolled. (See Naomi Klein's brilliant
book "The Shock
And when these power-hungry rulers or elites grossly abuse their granted
authority, the result often is social chaos, police-state laws, warped or
broken economies, and often hundreds of thousands, even millions, of dead
and maimed in ill-advised wars of choice.
History is replete with examples of nations, even democratic ones, that go
crazy like this for awhile, head off into authoritarian rule, and sometimes
even totalitarian control. And it isn't easy to turn that ship around.
Sometimes that reversal can be accomplished by the populace, who wake up to
what atrocities are being carried out in their name and throw the bums out
at the next election, or by a coup. Sometimes natural death intervenes,
making intervention moot. Other times, it takes a village, so to speak: The
regional or world community has to act in concert to force a change in
behavior by removing the ruling elite from the country in question.
You know what I'm talking about. Mussolini, Hitler, Stalin, Mugabe, Amin,
George W. Bush.
You may think it's unfair to throw Dubya into that line-up of political
monsters, and I agree that not all miscreants are equal. George W. is no
Hitler or Stalin or Idi Amin.
But it's fair to acknowledge that Bush does deserve to be in that continuum
of grossly awful leaders who used and then abused their power and, by so
doing, brought their countries to wrack and ruin and to worldwide
condemnation and shame. Because Bush was in charge of the world's most
powerful nation on earth, his crimes were magnified in their consequences
and in their regional and global social impact, so his place in the pantheon
of shame is correct.
WHY BUSH IS STILL A DANGER
So why am I bringing up Bush now, after a democratic election has, as it
were, thrown out the bums? Am I being mean-spirited, just beating a dead
1. Bush will still be president for the next two months. Out of failed
ideology and thoroughgoing ignorance and incompetence, he has left his
successor with an ungodly mess to deal with. But he ain't through yet. He
has concocted, so to speak, a scorched-earth welcome-to-the-White-House for
Barack Obama, along with burrowing key political-appointed Bushies into
civil-service positions of power in order to gum up the works even more for
the incoming administration.
By executive order in the past several months, Bush, for example, has bent
all sorts of environmental rules and regulations to give the exploiters and
polluters even more leeway to take what they want, including permitting
cutting some of the last old-growth forests in Oregon and oil/gas drilling
in public lands and immediately adjacent to key National Parks, in
particular in Utah. The idea is to get these projects started, with money in
the federal pipeline, before Bush leaves office, making it more difficult
for the Obama Administration to execute an immediate U-turn.
In addition, Bush has taken many of his mid-level political appointees and
placed them under the civil-service umbrella in jobs overseeing energy and
science experiments for which they are not trained or have no experience.
Being civil service employees
makes it virtually impossible for the new president to get rid of them.
In effect, they would be moles inside the new government in key positions to
harm or hamstring Obama's environmental policies. Among many others
complaining about this last-minute tactic by Bush are
scientists, angry that political ideologues with no scientific training
will have important input on scientific policy.
2. Many of the authoritarian rules and precedents
established during the CheneyBush years are still in place, and could be
abused by Obama or presidents who follow him. True, Obama's transition team
has listed 200 of Bush's executive orders that they will rescind quickly
with the stroke of a pen. But some of the larger issues are still hanging
The overuse of presidential "signing statements" to
nullify aspects of laws passed by the Congress, as part of the "unitary
executive" theory of government, which theory basically turns the
president into a near-dictator;
The policy of "pre-emptive war," attacking a country
that is not an actual imminent threat to the U.S.;
The use of torture as official state policy;
The nullification of the legal concept of habeas corpus
from American law, whereby a judge has to certify the legitimacy of an
The employment of massive domestic spying on and data
mining of American citizens, including eavesdropping without a court
warrant on phone conversations, snooping into mail, examining personal
computer files without the knowledge of the citizen, etc;
The throwing of citizens into jail as suspected
"terrorists" or "enemy combatants," with no access to lawyers; etc. etc.
All of these violations of the Constitution's Bill of
Rights, in the Patriot Act and elsewhere, have been enacted on a regular
basis during the past eight years of CheneyBush. How much of this will be
quickly and aggressively reversed by Obama and how much will he keep some of
these police-state tactics still in place, just in case he wants to use
TRUST OBAMA TO DO RIGHT THING?
Which brings us to a key dilemma facing the progressive base of the
Democratic Party: After eight years under CheneyBush, during which the U.S.
was lost in a dark ideological/corrupt shadow world, President-Elect Obama
promises us, finally, the return of light in our politics so that we can
find our way back to some higher level of moral/spiritual/social health. He
probably won't take the country as far in that regard as many of us might
wish, but his landslide victory did break the back of the CheneyBush
HardRight as an all-powerful movement and offers us, yes, hope for
significant change and progress in righting many of the wrongs of the
past eight years.
As many of us have been saying for months now, if you believe Obama will do,
or even can do, all of the many things he's promised, you're in for a rude
surprise. Obama is not a radical or progressive in how he operates; he's a
pragmatic centrist, with liberal leanings but beholden to many of the same
economic and political forces that have great influence in contemporary
politics. But he's an unusually intelligent politician, open to argument and
persuasion. That's why we on the progressive left must speak out forcefully
when we see him straying from positions that we think can be most useful in
repairing the damage of the past eight years.
So here's the nub of our current dilemma, much talked about in
liberal/progressive circles: How much should we trust Obama to do the right
thing and thus hold back our criticisms of his actions and policies during
this interregnum before he actually is inaugurated as President and during
the first few-months "honeymoon" period? And how much should we start
criticizing him now for his sins of omission and commission, especially with
regard to his somewhat more hawkish foreign/military policies? (See Jeremy
Scahill's "This Is Change? 20
Hawks, Clintonites and Neocons to Watch for in Obama's White House.")
SLACK VS. PRESSURE
My inclination, given the enormity of the problems facing the new president,
is to cut Obama some slack, at least until he takes office and starts
messing up. On the other hand, he's making key decisions now, especially as
he fills out his Cabinet and operational staff, and unless progressives take
a stand now, it may be too late later.
For instance, as far as we can tell, most of his national-security
appointments seem to come from the middle to the middle-right; there is not
one true progressive who can balance out the arguments that will be made
inside the Cabinet. Not a good sign.
I'll be interested to hear where you come down on this dilemma. How we act
in the next few months may have much to do with how President Obama begins
his Administration post-January 20. Join the debate and help "change the
Copyright 2008, by Bernard Weiner