By Bernard Weiner, The Crisis Papers
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 Amerian 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 era?
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 learn from history to avoid making similar mistakes that could turn out disastrously.
“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 Supeme 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” OFFERRED 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 offerred 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’tlike. 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/religioius 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 pieces.
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” flag.
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 our all. #
Bernard Weiner, Ph.D. in government & international relations, has taught at universities in California and Washington, worked as a writer/editor for the San Francisco Chronicle for two decades, and currently serves as co-editor of The Crisis Papers (). To comment: firstname.lastname@example.org .
First published by The Crisis Papers and Democratic Underground 1/29/08.
Copyright 2008 by Bernard Weiner.