It's like watching someone being sucked down into
quicksand. I'm referring to the sad, desperate struggle of the
Republican Party to try to resurrect its electoral fortunes by
championing the exact same policies that took them to embarrassing
defeat in the Obama/Democratic landslide. By their actions, it's plain
they got nuthin'.
Nothin' except to flail about in self-destructive obstructionism,
basically in temper-tantrum mode. If we can't be victorious, they seem
to be telling the Democrats (and, by extension, the country), we'll make
sure you go down with us. This kind of schoolboy behavior is rolled out
at a time in American history when the country's financial and
governmental institutions are close to free-fall catastrophe unless some
drastic corrective action is taken.
But, even when considering the necessity for an immediate and massive
economic -stimulus package, they can't seem to help themselves from
playing their failing hand of old-style political gamesmanship.
The Senate's "compromise" economic-recovery bill that is likely to pass
is about 50% tax cuts, which do little to create jobs in the
near-future. The Republicans forced drastic cuts of all-important
stimulus funds for cash-strapped state and city governments to start
shovel-ready infrastructure projects -- ones that would quickly put
spendable cash into the hands of poor and urban middle-class citizens.
Meanwhile, they made sure to insert even more funds and tax breaks for
the better-off elements of society.
Again, the Republicans aren't trying to hide where their priorities are:
with the very wealthy and large banks and corporations; the rest of the
population will just have to muddle through on their own.
How Obama and the Democrats will respond to the GOP obstructionism in
crafting the final stimulus bill in the House/Senate Conference
Committee will tell us a lot about the hope for significant change in
the next four years. Given the desire of Obama and the fight-averse
Democratic leadership to play nice with the Republicans, in order to be
able to claim "bipartisan" support for the stimulus package and other
important legislative initiatives, the picture doesn't look good for the
kind of major change Americans voted for in November. In effect, while
tacking toward the Republicans, Obama more or less sold out his
progressive base, figuring they'll stick with him when push comes to
The country will be lucky to get some incremental moves forward, which,
given the humongous problems that cry out to be fixed, in some cases is
almost worse than no change at all, since, unless something changes,
will mean the Senate Republicans' will have effectual veto power over
the course of governance at least until the midterm election of 2010.
That future, of course, could be altered if Obama and the Democrats
finally were to discover their governing chops and feel comfortable with
engaging in the political street-fighting being waged by the
Obama, who has an email list of 13 million voters, has not really
employed this mighty political weapon to generate a tidal wave of
pressure on wavering Democrats and moderate Republicans. He could still
do this, of course, but he's weeks late, and the damage has been done:
The Democrats lost vital momentum (not aided by their abysmal vetting
process for some Cabinet and other high nominees) and permitted
themselves to be outmaneuvered and, to a significant degree, rolled by
It's almost as if the Democrats aren't convinced they possess a huge
electoral mandate to effect major change. If so, they've forgotten some
mighty relevant history.
BUSH AS TRUTH-TELLER
To a large extent, the GOP lost so big in the 2008 election because they
were too overt about their true intentions. The usual art of governance
is based on sleight-of-hand tricks, keeping our eyes focused on
something while the real agenda is hidden away from view. But the
CheneyBush Administation didn't seem to care who knew what they were
really up to.
The elites who pull the strings behind the curtain must have cringed
every time George Dubya opened his mouth. The poor dummy couldn't help
blurting out aspects of the actual agenda. "My job is to catapult the
propaganda," he said. And, telling a citizen who criticized his
policies: "Why should I care what you think?" And his thrice-stated
"joking" remark: "If this were a dictatorship, it'd be a heck of a lot
easier, just as long as I'm the dictator."
In terms of foreign policy, the U.S. long has been an imperialist power
in the Realpolitik world. But it wasn't generally talked about openly in
polite company. America placed its iron fist inside a velvet glove.
Stealth imperialism, as it were. Virtually all modern presidents played
that one well.
But George W. and Dick Cheney operated on the neo-conservative principle
that they wanted potential enemies to see, and if necessary experience,
the iron fist. To make sure their perceived enemies got the message,
CheneyBush attacked Iraq, a country that (they believed) couldn't fight
back. It would all be over in a few months, Rumsfeld told us in 2003.
GOD APPROVES OF LYING
Part of CheneyBush's reasoning for behaving in such an aggressive
fashion lay in the U.S. being the last remaining superpower on the
planet, so no need to be subtle about all this. Just get out of our way
and you won't get hurt. That was the philosophy of The Project for The
New American Century (PNAC), a rightwing think tank composed of
high-powered neo-cons that eventually came to run the CheneyBush foreign
and military policy of "benevolent hegemony." Leading PNACers included
Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Woolsey, Perle, et al. (See
"How We Got Into
This Imperial Pickle.")
Another important part of neo-con reasoning derived from the
philosophical underpinnings of such latter-day Machiavellians as
conservative philosophers Albert Wohlstetter and Leo Strauss. These
ivory-tower thinkers believed that the neo-conservative elite had
discovered with absolute certainty what needed to be done in the nation
and around the world and, in the service of carrying out the correct
master plan, one was entitled, nea required, to do whatever was needed
to be said or done in order to obtain victory.
If you needed to lie a nation into war or smear someone in opposition,
by all means do so. The ends justified the means, and propaganda and
spin would paper over the truth, especially since the corporate-owned
media was supportive and ideologically in cahoots with the neo-con
It was a black-and-white, you're-with-the-terrorists-or-with-us, era. No
wonder the religious fundamentalists found such a comfortable home in
the American rightwing. Didn't God tell George Dubya to invade Iraq? In
short, it didn't matter to the fundies that the White House lied about
weapons of mass destruction, or lied about Saddam Hussein being behind
9/11, in order to rush the nation to war with Iraq. Those lies were
necessary in order to justify the "crusade" (Bush's term) against the
Islamist hordes, and, not incidentally, to keep key natural resources in
U.S. and Western hands.
THE U.S. PUBLIC CATCHES ON
As long as there was no effective countervailing power to stop the
world's lone superpower, the operating principle was little more than
just go out there and grab what could be taken and make sure nobody else
could challenge U.S. might and will. Again, PNAC doctrine -- including a
dictator-like President, warrantless domestic spying on Americans, and
torture of prisoners -- turned into state policy under CheneyBush.
It took a number of years for the American populace to figure out the
ramifications of such policies. America was now hated and feared as a
mad-dog, torturing, imperialist bully -- but not respected or liked or
viewed as a moral force in the world. The midterm election of 2006
verified that the voters had rejected the arrogant, self-destructive
style and policies of the CheneyBush Administration, and swept the
Republicans into the minority in the House and Senate.
Did these results chastise CheneyBush? Not in the slightest. Under Karl
Rove's tutelage, the arrogance, the bullying, the endemic corruption,
the lies, the wholesale destruction of the environment, the huge
deficits occasioned by the Iraq War -- all continued as before. And so
the voters once again, in November of 2008, sent an even louder message
by sending the Republicans even further into a the minority role in
Congress, and sweeping more Democrats into the House and Senate and
Barrack Obama into the White House.
The voters wanted major domestic reforms, but weren't necessarily
willing to give up the perks of imperial power and control in the world,
though they certainly wanted to change the tone of American policy
abroad. Stealth imperialism was back.
To get its way, the U.S. once again would use diplomacy, economic power,
political suasion, multilateral alliances, and, when deemed necessary,
threats of the use of force. Torture, while universally decried as alien
to American values and largely ineffectual in any case (since those
being tortured will do or say anything to get the pain to stop), under
Obama it remains as an available tool in the CIA kit, for use in rare
In other words, under Bush, all was revealed and bragged about. Under
Obama, much the same goal is desired -- a world in which the U.S. leads
and effectively controls -- but handled with much more finesse, and
relying first on non-violent means.
SQUEAKING WHEELS AND GREASE
As evidenced by the stimulus-bill fight, Obama is being tugged toward
the far-right, and winds up closer to the center-right, in order to get
at least some percentage of center-left policies enacted. Progressives
need to be cognizant of how all this is playing out, and make their
opinions heard and felt in the corridors of power.
The squeaky wheel gets the grease. Progressive silence implies
acceptance of the shift toward the right.
If this trend continues and not much significant change takes place,
it's possible that public disappointment, frustration and anger will
quickly attach to Obama and the Democrats, and the chance for major
policy reforms in this country will come and go, with a whimper. What
might follow that leadership vacuum is scary to contemplate.
For the good of the nation, friends, it's squeaky-wheel time. Big time.
Copyright 2009 by Bernard Weiner
Bernard Weiner, Ph.D. in government & international relations, has taught
at universities in California and Washington, worked as a writer/editor with
the San Francisco Chronicle for two decades, and currently serves as
co-editor of The Crisis Papers (www.crisispapers.org).
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