Monday, May 28, 2007

Pelosiism, the Highest Stage of Clintonism

Clintonism in its classical form is a version of late twentieth-century (corporate) neo-liberalism, developed mainly by boomers who, having aged prosperously, still identify culturally and socially, but not politically, with attenuated versions of late-60s and early-70s radicalism. Clintonism gives political expression to the kinder, gentler or at least more enlightened elements of the “power elite” on Wall Street and elsewhere, while “feeling the pain” of their victims. Clintonites favor free trade and fiscal conservatism. When it comes to defending the interests they serve, they are not shy about projecting military power – provided it is done competently and that not too many Americans get hurt. Clintonites are adept at coopting “moderate” African-American, Latino, feminist, environmentalist and labor leaders. Clintonism is also a lightening rod for “the great right wing conspiracy” – not so much for its policies but because it reeks of the slickness and inauthenticity of the family for which it is named. For more than six years, Clintonites were shameless aiders and abettors of the Cheney/Bush government – a loyal opposition indeed! But circumstances change. Thus, in recent months, Clintonism seems to have morphed into a new stage. I propose that we call this strain of post-classical Clintonism – Pelosiism. The name is arbitrary; other Democratic Party leaders are at least as culpable as Nancy Pelosi. But she is the most prominent exemplar of the tendency.

Pelosiism was in the making even before the 2006 elections, but it only came to full fruition in the votes held at the end of last week to fund Bush’s wars and his occupation regimes through the summer. The conventional wisdom is that Bush called the Democrats’ bluff and won. On that understanding, the POP, the Party of Pusillanimity, became a subject of derision over the weekend. But it was clear from the beginning that the leadership would cave in; indeed, caving in was the whole point! The reasons why have little to do with what conventional wisdom and the Democrats themselves call “political reality.” The political reality is that Bush’s back is against the wall. Even the military is now so much against him that it’s beginning to look like he won’t get the war he wants so badly against Iran. The public generally, and Democratic voters in particular, want the Bush wars to end now. This is why all of the Democratic contenders for President who are in the Senate, with one exception (the irksome Joe Biden) voted against funding the war. Even Hillary Clinton did! The Democrats’ caved because they are Pelosiists.

Pelosiism is a version of classical Clintonism, made necessary by the realization that the public will no longer tolerate Joe Lieberman style collaboration with the Cheney/Bush government. Thus a Pelosiite will insist in no uncertain terms that he or she is with the people on the war. But then that Pelosiite will be sure to vote for the war or, if that is politically impossible, to assure that the vote will go Bush’s way. [It should go without saying, though unfortunately it does not, that in our Constitutional system for a legislator to vote to fund a war is to vote for that war.] Pelosiism combines basic Clintonite commitments – to corporate neo-liberalism, to developing and deploying so much military power that rivals will see that “there is no alternative” to doing what our power elites want, to Eisenhower era fiscal conservatism – with nominal support for positions that voters who have grown weary of Clintonism support.

Who are the Pelosiites? All the Democratic war and occupation funders in the House and Senate are likely candidates. Not one among them is officially “for” the war. But you can’t exactly tell who the Pelosiites are from last Friday’s votes: after all, Nancy Pelosi herself voted against the funding bill, just as Hillary Clinton did. Pascal famously remarked that “too much light blinds us” – in other words, that anything pushed to the extreme and beyond can take on the appearance and even the character of its opposite. Were there not more obvious explanations involving opportunism alone, Pelosi’s and Clinton’s votes might count as instances of the phenomenon Pascal identified. But, for the most part, the vote is a good enough indicator. In the House, more than ninety Democrats voted either to give Bush all he wanted or didn’t vote at all. Every one of them is a self-reported war opponent. Their rationalization is just that, while they’re against the war, they’re “for” the troops. This is not credible -- they didn’t get as far as they have by being stupid (that only works for Republicans!), and you’d have to be stupid to think, as many Republicans sincerely do, that prolonging the war supports the troops. The only explanation is that they are Clintonites first and foremost, and that they are prepared to insult the intelligence of their constituents if need be, in order to keep a fundamentally Clintonite policy on course. This is the essence of Pelosiism.

Pelosi herself apart, it is fair to conjecture that most, indeed nearly all, Pelosiites in the House of Representatives can be found among those who voted to fund Bush’s wars; and therefore that most of the other Democrats in Congress genuinely do oppose Pelosiism -- contemporary Clintonism -- to some degree. Here follows a list of the clear Pelosiites. Note that most of the House leadership (Hoyer, Emanuel, etc.) are on the list, as is John Murtha who, after a brief flirtation with courage, seems to have reverted back to his old war-mongering, Bush collaborating ways:

Altmire, Andrews, Baca, Baird, Barrow, Bean, Berkley, Berry, Bishop (GA), Boren, Boswell, Boucher, Boyd (FL), Boyda (KS), Butterfield, Cardoza, Carney, Chandler, Clyburn, Cooper, Costa, Cramer, Cuellar, Davis (CA), Davis, Lincoln, Dicks, Dingell, Donnelly, Edwards, Ellsworth, Emanuel, Etheridge, Giffords, Gillibrand, Gonzalez, Gordon, Green, Gene, Herseth Sandlin, Hill, Hinojosa, Holden, Hoyer, Kagen, Kanjorski, Kildee, Kind, Lampson, Larsen (WA), Levin, Lipinski, Mahoney (FL), Marshall, Matheson, McIntyre, Meek (FL), Melancon, Mitchell, Mollohan, Moore (KS), Murtha, Ortiz, Peterson (MN), Pomeroy, Rahall, Reyes, Rodriguez, Ross, Ruppersberger, Salazar, Schwartz, Scott (GA), Sestak, Shuler, Skelton, Snyder, Space, Spratt, Stupak, Tanner, Taylor, Thompson (MS), Udall (CO), Visclosky, Walz (MN), Wasserman Schultz, Wilson (OH)

Then there are the Democrats who decided to sit the vote out: Berman, DeGette, Engel, Jones (OH), Lewis (GA), and Oberstar. That John Lewis’s name should appear in this context is particularly sad.

On the other hand, 142 Congressional Democrats did find it in themselves, if not to end the war directly, then at least not to let Bush do whatever he wants. They should be thanked, but it is the anti-war movement that should be praised. It forced all but a handful of them who, like Dennis Kucinich, would have done so anyway, to vote the right way.

In the Senate, only 10 Democrats voted against the war, and one of them was Hillary Clinton. Barack Obama and Chris Dodd alsovoted correctly; perhaps their motives are a bit less opportunistic. Those more unequivocally deserving praise are: Boxer, Feingold, Kennedy, Kerry, Leahy, Whitehouse and Wyden. They were joined by Bernie Sanders and by two Republicans: Burr and Enzi. In deference to Clinton’s position, her fellow New York Senator, Chuck Schumer, along with four Republicans, didn’t vote at all. That must have been easy for Schumer and hard for the others. It is becoming the norm that, in the courage department, there are more than a few Republicans who rival even the best that the POP has to offer.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

What Democracy? What Democrats?

For a brief account of what “democracy” means in our philosophical tradition, see my POLITICAL KEYWORDS (Blackwell Publishers, 2007). What it means in our political culture has never been more than a pale approximation of any of the term’s legitimate theoretical meanings. However, in the past six years, we’ve reached a new low. For the Bush administration, “democracy” is a word to bandy about to justify imperial interventions. To this day, the major media remain complicit in this shameless exploitation of an honorable ideal. Even for the United States, the Bush government’s adherence to any plausible conception of “democracy” is attenuated to the point of non-existent. They do believe in elections – enough to steal them (as in 2000) and to “fix” them well enough that they don’t need to be stolen (as in 2004). [Remember “Landslide Lyndon?” The Democrats started down their slippery slope when they forgot how to cheat.] Not postponing elections (as the “fascisant” Guiliani proposed for New York City after 9/11) or abrogating their results is all the concession Bush and Company make to democratic theory. Otherwise, their theory of government is dictatorial, not democratic. Republican functionaries have even concocted a jurisprudential doctrine, the theory of “the unitary executive,” to defend elective dictatorship. That a theory so patently contrary to the words of the Constitution and so bereft of cogency could be taken seriously, not least by the federal judiciary up to and including the Supreme Court, attests only to the decrepit state of legal thinking in the Reagan-Bush I -Clinton-Bush II era.

In case there was any doubt before, the Democrats – today on the verge of caving in entirely to Bush on war funding -- are not much better. The 2006 elections were as close as we can get, with our feeble democratic institutions, to a referendum on Bush’s wars. Bush lost resoundingly. Being un-Republicans, Democrats won. They could have – and still can – end the war by not funding it. That would fulfill their mandate, and accord with their Constitutional duty. But instead the Clintonized party leadership, supported by the right wing Democrats they helped select and put into office, evidently resolved to reject their mandate, while appearing to embrace it. They resolved, in other words, to insult their constituents’ intelligence by declaring opposition to the Bush wars and then funding them, justifying their incoherent and immoral stance on the grounds that it is necessary for “supporting the troops” – as if getting troops killed and wounded, turning more than a few of them into murderers and torturers, and brutally disrupting the lives of their families and friends counts as “support.” Thus the Democratic Party has lapsed back into what it does best: aiding and abeting the murder and mayhem that the Cheney/Bush government has unleashed upon the world.

Nevertheless, we the people can still hold the war Democrats to account, even as we are constrained by institutional arrangements that make lesser evilism all but inevitable. There is a pledge now being circulated (see that we should all sign. It reads:

“I pledge to vote against every Senator and Representative who approves funding to continue the disastrous Iraq War. We have already given far too much of our blood and treasure - and killed far too many Iraqis - for a war based on lies. We are now occupying a hostile nation divided by civil war for the benefit of military contractors and Big Oil.
The only way to support our troops is to bring them home NOW, and no funds should be used for any other purpose. If Congress fails to bring our troops home, I will do everything I can - and urge everyone I know - to defeat pro-war Senators and Representatives, both in my party's primary elections and in the November general election.”

We should also be sure that our representatives in Congress and the Senate hear an earful as they return to their districts for the Memorial Day weekend, and that they hear from us – unrelentingly and militantly – thereafter. If they opt for war, they should be the ones to pay.

The Party leadership – the Pelosis and Reids, the Emanuels and Schumers, the Obeys, Hoyers and Levins – are bad enough. But, Hoyer and Levin excepted, they have, so far, at least pretended, through their own votes, timidly to resist the Bush dictatorship’s efforts to defy the will of the people. There are others who have not done even that much. The web site provides a list:

“On 5/10/07, the House of Representatives voted on the McGOVERN AMENDMENT to bring U.S. troops home from Iraq within 180 days. The Amendment was defeated 255-171. ALL Republicans voted to keep U.S. troops in Iraq except Ron Paul (TX) and John Duncan (TN). 169 Democrats voted to bring our troops home, but 59 did not: Jason Altmire (PA), John Barrow (GA), Melissa Bean (IL), Shelley Berkley (NV), Howard Berman (CA), Sanford Bishop (GA), Dan Boren (OK), Leonard Boswell (IA), Rick Boucher (VA), Allen Boyd (FL), Nancy Boyda -KS), Dennis Cardoza (CA), Chris Carney (PA), Ben Chandler (KY), Jim Cooper (TN), Jim Costa (CA), Bud Cramer (AL), Henry Cuellar (TX), Lincoln Davis (TN), Joe Donnelly (IN), Chet Edwards (TX), Bob Etheridge (NC), Brad Ellsworth (IN), Gabrielle Giffords (AZ), Bart Gordon (TN), Gene Green (TX), Stephanie Herseth (SD), Baron Hill (IN), Tim Holden (PA), Steny Hoyer (MD), Ron Kind (WI), Nick Lampson (TX), Daniel Lipinski (IL), Tim Mahoney (FL), Jim Marshall (GA), Jim Matheson (UT), Mike McIntyre(NC), Jerry McNerney (CA), Charlie Melancon (LA), Harry Mitchell (AZ), Dennis Moore (KS), Solomon Ortiz (TX), Collin Peterson (MN), Earl Pomeroy (ND), Ciro Rodriguez (TX), Mike Ross (AR), Dutch Ruppersberger (MD), John Salazar (CO), Allyson Schwartz (PA), David Scott (GA), Heath Shuler (NC), Ike Skelton (MO), Vic Snyder (AR), Zack Space (OH), John Spratt (SC), John Tanner (TN), Gene Taylor (MS), Mark Udall (CO), Charles Wilson (OH). Every Representative must run for re-election in 2008.

On 5/16/07, the Senate voted on the FEINGOLD-REID AMENDMENT to bring U.S. troops home from Iraq by March 30, 2008. The Amendment was defeated 67-29. ALL Republicans voted to keep U.S. troops. 29 Democrats voted to bring our troops home, but 20 did not: Max Baucus (MT), Evan Bayh (IN), Jeff Bingaman (NM), Tom Carper (DE), Bob Casey (PA), Kent Conrad (ND), Byron Dorgan (ND), Mary Landrieu (LA), Carl Levin (MI), Blanche Lincoln (AR), Claire McCaskill (MO), Bill Nelson (FL), Ben Nelson (NE), Mark Pryor (AR), Jack Reed (RI), Jay Rockefeller (WV), Ken Salazar (CO), John Tester (MT), James Webb (VA).”

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Edwards' Challenge

What Democrats have become good at in the past six years is aiding and abeting Bush. One would have thought that the past election and the next one would cause the party’s leadership to rethink their position. It has become increasingly clear however that they are incapable of anything but cosmetic changes. By all accounts, if the leadership gets its way, the Democrats will soon cave in to Bush on war funding. As is their wont, the Democrats – enough of them anyway -- will oppose the war by funding it, and support the troops by putting them in harm’s way.

Fortunately, with a primary election ahead of them, the candidates for President have to bow to popular pressure more than Nancy Pelosi does. [See “Good News/Bad News” – May 16]. Now is the time to keep them on course. John Edwards has issued a call for Democrats to defeat any war-funding bill that doesn’t include timelines for withdrawal, forcing Bush either to accept a pale approximation of a principled position or else to give up on the murder and mayhem right now. In a better world, Democratic candidates would be pushing for immediate withdrawal unequivocally. But in the actual world of abject and servile Congressional and Senatorial Democrats, Edwards’ position is about all one can hope for from a “top tier” candidate. [See “Bravo for Edwards (Sort of) – May 3.] At this point, anything more timid or equivocal crosses the line – from lesser evilism back to the outright collaborationism of the pre-2006, Clintonized Democratic Party. Now is the time to make this as clear as can be to each and every candidate, and to every legislator with ears to hear. Either they rise to Edwards’ challenge or they are utterly unworthy of support.

Monday, May 21, 2007

"Irrelevant" Jimmy Carter

Jimmy Carter, the Democrats’ senior statesman, is becoming increasingly “sad” and “irrelevant” according to sneering White House publicists. This after he pointed out, last week, that Tony Blair’s policies in Iraq and elsewhere were “subservient” and “abominable,” and that the Bush administration’s foreign policy was “the worst in (American) history.” Will the sad and increasingly irrelevant Democratic leadership now join Bush in deriding Carter, as they did last year when he published PALESTINE: PEACE NOT APARTHEID, a painfully restrained reflection on the hardships Israel inflicts on the Palestinian people? If so, it will again demonstrate that the movers and shakers of the POP, the Party of Pusillanimity, are as fearful as ever of uttering the obvious; and that, even today, only Democrats who are beyond wanting or needing to be “players” are capable of speaking plain and simple truths.


According to conventional wisdom, “bipartisanship” is in short supply in Washington. Perhaps it is in the sense that Democrats and Republicans in the House and Senate get along less well with one another than they once did. But, contrary to what we are repeatedly told on NPR and in the corporate media, unfriendliness is not the same thing as “polarization.” If anything, the parties are less polarized than they used to be. Between 1992 and 2006, the time of the Clinton Ascendancy, the Democrats, never much of an opposition to start with, turned themselves into full-fledged, kinder and gentler, or at least less incompetent, Republicans. Evidence mounts day by day that, even after the 2006 elections, this remains the case.

The conventional wisdom also has it that bipartisanship is a good thing. Is it? Lets look at the record. There was, according to the usual account, a bipartisan foreign policy during the Cold War. That consensus recklessly endangered life on earth and turned the United States into a national security state. Was that a good thing? Was the consensus on the so-called War on Terror and the Iraq War? Or what about the two most touted examples of bipartisanship in domestic politics – the dreadful “No Child Left Behind” assault on the remnants of public education; and the tentative agreement announced last week by Ted Kennedy on immigration policy? Kennedy conceded that the bill was not “perfect,” and leading Democrats have outdone themselves these past few days proclaiming that the perfect must not become the enemy of the good. But just what is good about balancing nativist racism with the labor requirements of American capitalism -- at great human cost to the least well-off among us? This is “compassionate conservatism” run amok, George Bush style, with liberal Democrats in the lead!

No, dear pundits, bipartisanship is not such a great thing. But if you really think it is, why not just come out in favor of a one party state? We’re already most of the way there.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Are European Governments Even More Abject than Democrats?

In a (slightly) more just world than the actual one, the architects of the Iraq War – Paul Wolfowitz, in the lead – would be standing before a competent international tribunal, defending themselves against charges of war crimes, crimes against the peace, and crimes against humanity. Instead, Wolfowitz got to “negotiate” his retirement from the presidency of the World Bank – not for his major crimes, not even for his mismanagement of the Bank, but for unethically fattening his girl friend’s wallet. He got his way – he’ll leave, but no mention will be made of his ethical failures (as if the whole world doesn’t already know!) Inasmuch as the entire bank staff and most of the world’s governments desperately wanted him out, he could hardly not have agreed to quit his post; at least not without sinking the World Bank – not a bad objective, but certainly not one he could embrace. Why then did he get as much of his way as circumstances allowed? Apart from the secret of how someone like him could have a girl friend at all, even a foul tempered one, what did he have to offer in exchange for clearing his name? Why did the representatives of the European governments cave? One is tempted to attribute their miserable comportment to longstanding habits of servility before American power. This is surely part of the explanation. When it comes to standing up for themselves, the European governments resemble Clintonized Democrats – that is, nearly all Democrats before the 2006 election and the majority of Congressional Democrats to this day. However, the Democrats are much worse. Bush may be toast, but unless we succeed in forcing Democrats to get their act together enough to impeach Cheney first (followed by the rest of that sorry lot), the Bush administration still has more than a year and a half in which to do catastrophic harm. In the circumstances, appeasement is not unreasonable. Yes, the Europeans lack the courage of their own (or any) conviction. Yes, if they stood up to Bush, the world would be better for it. But at least they can justify their cowardice, as Neville Chamberlain did, with arguments that are not blatantly incoherent. Compare that to the mutterings emanating from the POP, the Party of Pusillanimity, according to which opposing Bush wars entails funding them, and supporting troops entails turning them into targets.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Good News/Bad News

The good new is that popular pressure works: every Democratic candidate with a Senate vote, even Hillary Clinton, voted for the Feingold-Reid amendment. Yes, they voiced reservations about this or that and, yes, in a world where legislators were responsive to citizens, not corporations, Feingold-Reid would be seen for what it is: an endorsement of Bush’s occupation and war. But in the actual world it was a small, timid step in the right direction.

The bad news – well, not exactly news -- is that the amendment lost badly and that Democrats sunk it. Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, led the charge – on that grounds that the Senate must “support the troops.” Either he and his co-thinkers are idiots or they think the voters are -- or both. They really should try to rise above the moral and intellectual level of their colleague, Joe Lieberman, and understand at least this much: that you don’t support troops by pointlessly putting them in harm’s way, savagely disrupting their lives and the lives of their families, and turning a fair number of them into murderers and torturers. If they really want to support the troops, they should make sure that no more harm is done them and that they do no more harm. Bring them home NOW and make sure the government deals with them honorably when they return. For more than 3400 of them, it’s already too late.

But lets not despair. If unremitting pressure can bring along even the likes of a Joe Biden and a Hillary Clinton, then surely it can work on the miserable Carl Levin and the nineteen other miscreant Democrats who voted with him.

Gallup to the Bottom

According to the latest Gallup Poll, Congress now has an even lower “approval rating” than the Bush administration! Evidently, public opinion has evolved to the point that Democratic pusillanimity trumps world historical criminality! We mustn’t make too much of this, however; the Democrats are still the party of the lesser evil. But there is a lesson for the electoral strategists of the POP: reduced to its core, it is that voters find the absence of a backbone repellent. That’s what they ought to have learned from the defeat of Clintonism in the past two presidential elections. They didn’t. Maybe the latest Gallup Poll will finally drive the point into their skulls.

But, alas, the Party of Pusillanimity is about to make matters worse! Today (May 16), the Feingold-Reid amendment to the supplemental appropriation for the Bush wars is scheduled to come to a vote. It mandates fixed withdrawal dates – a timid sop to the anti-war, anti-occupation majority. Its message – that the occupation should continue for a while longer -- is immoral and, for the war opponents its authors claim to be, incoherent. Still, at this point, it would be better if it passes than not. Will it? I’m not hopeful. It certainly won’t win well enough to overcome a Bush veto or, worse still, to derail the POP leadership from caving in entirely next week – when the full bill comes up for a vote. As they have umpteen times before, the Democrats are about to exhibit abject cowardice worthy of the most thorough condemnation. Why is it so hard, even for the least Clintonized among them, to understand that, pious words notwithstanding, whoever funds the war supports the war!

Questions for Republicans

There are two questions raised by last night’s (May 15) Republican candidates debate in South Carolina: (1) where did they find those guys? and (2) is there a chance in hell that the call for “two, three many Guantanamos!” will prevail over the still lively Falwellian advocates of back alley abortions and gay bashing? I think the answer to the second is NO – which is why Giuliani will soon find that he’s squeezed about all he can out of 9/11. My guess is that, when it comes down to it, Islamophobia and anti-immigrant nativism can’t begin to compete with the sexual insecurities of GOP diehards.

Meanwhile, Tony Blair comes to Washington today for the last time as Prime Minister. The Bush boy is about to lose his poodle! Lets hope he warms soon to Gordon Brown, the substitute pet the Labour Party has been kind enough to provide him. Otherwise, he may start acting out again.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Kudos for Dodd

Whenever a Democratic candidate breaks free from the leave-it-to-the-market theology that has afflicted public policy in this country since the Daze of Reagan, he (there is no chance it will be a she!) deserves credit. Therefore credit must go to Chris Dodd for proposing – horror of horrors! – an outright tax on carbon emissions along with a number of other laudable (though “moderate”) proposals for combating global warming. Among the latter, let us praise him for his proposal to spend $50 billion annually for research on renewable energy sources, and for proposing to raise automobile CAFE standards to 50 miles per gallon within the next ten years. Meanwhile, the so-called top-tier candidates -- including the best of them, John Edwards – still wallow in the “carbon trading” miasma of the free marketeers. If they get their way, be sure that corporate polluters will find ways to do whatever they want. Only in the dream world of free market ideologues are markets not infinitely manipulable, especially in a “global” economy where monopolization is the rule and inequality reigns. Straightforward taxation may seem old-fashioned. It is certainly not enough to address the catastrophes ahead. But it is a step in the right direction or, at least, a step back from the wrong direction. That such a proposal can now emanate from within the Party of Pusillanimity is a hopeful sign.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

POP Weasels

With a few honorable exceptions, the POP, the Party of Pusillanimity, collaborated with Republicans from the moment the Bush government set out to bring “freedom and democracy” to the Middle East – in other words, to take the offensive in behalf of U.S. oil and arms interests and right-wing Zionists. Some collaborated out of conviction but, being Democrats, pusillanimity and its concomitant, opportunism, were considerations too. After the 2006 elections, the Democratic leadership determined that it was time to move beyond abject collaboration. After all, the majority of voters had finally caught on: Bush’s wars were failures, even when measured against the objectives Cheney and Bush promoted; and it was plain to nearly everyone that their continuation was doing the country and the world grave harm. Voters also realized that Bush’s wars were flagrantly illegal and immoral and therefore indefensible according to even the most generous conceptions of what justifies war. Democratic majorities in the House and Senate could hardly ignore their constituents’ views in these matters. Nevertheless, they have so far been unwilling to rise to their Constitutional duty to stop the wars by stopping their funding, and to rid the world of Cheney and Bush by impeaching them and then bringing them to justice. Pusillanimity alone does not explain their reluctance. Weasel rationales also guide their thinking, even as they become more transparently preposterous with each passing day.

From the time that the Reagan administration took it upon itself to vanquish “the Vietnam syndrome,” the consensus view among both Democrats and Republicans has been that American military power must be projected throughout the world, and must never again be defeated. Another defeat would make it harder for the economic elites Democrats and Republicans serve to have their way. This is why the U.S. cannot “cut and run” in Iraq or, worse still, be thrown out of the country, as it was in Vietnam. Therefore, so long as there is any chance that the situation can be “turned around,” there is nothing to do but the same old same old – with the addition of as much “surge” as a broken army and an increasingly broken treasury can sustain. For those of us who do not salivate at the prospect of perpetual war, this argument is so blatantly unconvincing that even Republicans are turning against it. The fall back position then is to let the new guy, the hapless General Petraeus, have a go at it – at least through the summer. When he fails, we can be sure that the situation will be represented as a partial success and that the political class, if it remains on its present course, will give him or his successor yet more time to wreak carnage – that is, if it hasn’t already done so by caving in now to Bush’s intransigence.

Meanwhile, can anyone this side of Joe Lieberman really believe that the United States invaded Iraq for any morally worthwhile purpose, much less to promote “freedom and democracy?” Nevertheless, the idea continues to be promoted as conventional wisdom by both Democrats and Republicans and in the mainstream media. This has the effect of making it more likely that there will be another war like this one, if only we can figure out how to do it right. [There is still a danger that this will happen sooner rather than later and that Cheney and Bush will again be the perpetrators – this time in Iran.] In this respect, as in so many others, the media is on board with Bush. Even he conceded that “mistakes were made” (not by him, of course). But they were made in good faith. Thus the killing, maiming and torturing must be weighed against the good intentions of our leaders. It’s a familiar story; it’s how conventional wisdom has long cast the Vietnam War – as a “tragedy” in which good men (and women) did bad things for reasons beyond their control. This is nonsense, of course; the Vietnam War was no tragedy, it was a travesty of morality and law. So too are today’s Bush wars. There are now more than a few Democrats in Congress who understand this well. But, so long as the POP leadership stands in the way, only the most courageous of them will do more than talk about it.

The most insidious of the Democrats’ weasel rationales is the argument the leadership employs for standing in the way of principled and courageous positions. They claim that the party must proceed slowly in order to bring along as many legislators, Democratic and Republican, as they can muster. In other words, their declared view is that the way to end a self-defeating, illegal and immoral war is to oppose it lamely while supporting it financially. This is too “strategic” by half. Republicans will bolt from the Cheney/Bush fold when they realize that they must if they want to be reelected. Incremental opposition by the lesser evil party will not force this realization upon them, and neither will it make it easier for them. Unfortunately, that task fell long ago to an intractable Iraqi resistance and an incompetent Bush government.

Democrats can facilitate the inevitable outcome by acting on clear and principled positions; in other words, by “walking the walk.” Or they can continue to make things worse by talking one way and acting another. The 2006 election and the primary campaigns for 2008 have created a situation that calls for principled positions and courageous stands, not for alliances of convenience between POP weasels and their GOP counterparts. The problem is how to get a Clintonized party to see this -- and then to do more, much more, than just “talking the talk.”

Sunday, May 6, 2007

The Illogic of Non-Withdrawal

According to the New York Times, Democratic leaders in the House and Senate are in a tizzy because their party’s candidates for President are out of line with their efforts to negotiate a war-funding bill with George W Bush. All they want is to be left in peace to voice opposition to the war while funding it. But now two of the three top tier candidates are ahead of them: John Edwards wants them not to cave in to Bush on deadlines; Hillary Clinton wants to rescind authorization for the war. What Barack Obama wants, nobody knows. [By espousing “new ideas” without saying what they are, his candidacy increasingly resembles Gary Hart’s two decades ago, but without the “Monkey Business.” On Edwards’ and Clinton’s proposals, see the entries for May 3 and May 4 below.] The Democratic leadership has a problem that the candidates don’t: they have to keep their “blue dog” (more right wing than most) Democrats on board without disconcerting the rest of their fold. Part of the problem is the inevitable time lag. When the Clintonites Schumer and Emanuel went out looking for candidates to run in Senate and House races, it hadn’t yet dawned that, by November of 2006, almost anybody who was not a Republican and who was running in any but the most solid of Republican districts would win. This is more true today. Clinton herself knows it. But that’s only part of the story. The larger problem for the leadership in the Senate and the House is that, in Congress, money rules. Candidates too have their donors to toady to but, in the end, their strength, early in a primary campaign, is how responsive they are to voters’ wishes. This is why they can afford, for now, to ignore the forces pulling Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi to the right.

Even so, they’re not that far ahead. Edwards is not quite for defunding the war, though his proposal could have that consequence. Clinton certainly is not on board for defunding the war, though her proposal adeptly obfuscates her view. How can they justify their positions? How can the Democratic leaders in Congress justify the even worse position they will end by promoting? Leaving aside the Bush talking point about how the war should be managed by generals “in the field,” not by “politicians in Washington DC,” a classic case of the pot calling the kettle black, the more articulate remnants of the formerly self-confident War Party claim that the war’s “opponents” in Congress -- the ones who want to continue to fund the war, though only for a fixed period of time -- are “intellectually incoherent.” They are absolutely right: it makes no sense to be against a war and then to fund it. But even the incoherent have (unsound) arguments. The Democrats have at least four. Two are peculiar to their party; two they share with the War Party generally.

All four arguments make a mistake that is so obvious that I’ll only state it once: that while they would rule out defunding the war now, defunding it later (even if “later” just means a few months from now) is just fine. Unless these Democrats are prepared to argue that something, they know not what, will happen between now and “later” that somehow changes everything, their position is nonsense. It warrants no further discussion. Their arguments against immediate withdrawal (or, equivalently, against defunding the war now) are not much better. But it is instructive to see where they go wrong.


1) At all costs, the Democratic Party must not appear “soft on defense.” To defund the war outright would violate this inviolable requirement.

COMMENT: Let the immorality of this argument be noted: it puts winning elections above doing the right thing. However, its main problem is its plain speciousness. That the Democrats must not seem soft on defense has been an axiom of Democratic Party strategy at least since the McGovern defeat of 1972. The conventional wisdom, from then on, was that being “soft on defense” explains the party’s crashing defeat in that election. This is “bullshit” in the sense Harry Frankfurt perspicaciously analyzed in his best seller of that name. McGovern lost not because he was “soft” on anything, but because his party deserted him. Between 1968 and 1972, the anti-war movement usurped the place of the Cold War liberals and labor leaders who had run the party from time immemorial. The McGovern campaign was their opportunity for revenge; McGovern became their scapegoat. Note, though, that there is a more plausible claim that is almost the inverse of the conventional wisdom: that, in the 1968 election, Nixon beat Humphrey because the Democrats were not “soft” enough.

2) The Democratic Party must, at all costs, “support the troops.” To defund the war now would violate this requirement too.

COMMENT: Of course, Democrats, like all Americans, should support the troops. But contrary to what we are told by the entire political class, Democrat and Republican, and by the mainstream media, we do not owe the troops support for their “service” to us. They have done us no service; quite the contrary. The Iraq war harms us all; and therefore so do they who carry it out. We owe the troops support because we are complicit in a system that turned good people into economic conscripts, obliged to fight and kill for, yes, “malefactors of great wealth” because they had no better prospects. That same system, and the political regime that superintends it, lets the rest of us, the vast majority, go on about our lives undisturbed. This is grossly unjust. It calls for indemnification. So, yes, we should support the troops. But how does placing them in harm’s way, turning them into purveyors of murder and mayhem, and otherwise disrupting their lives and the lives of their families – count as supporting them? This is another one of those questions that would answer itself, if not for the fog that engulfs our political culture.

Here too reaction to the anti-Vietnam War movement is exacting a toll. Supposedly, those of us who opposed that war didn’t support the troops. Supposedly, it was all the rage, back then, to spit upon soldiers who were fortunate enough to return home alive. Is there a shred of evidence that this ever happened? It certainly didn’t happen regularly; that it did is an urban legend. But there was a good deal of metaphorical spitting. It was done by the government of the United States, and the victims were – and still are – the veterans of that disastrous war. It is even worse now for the veterans of the Bush wars. The problem is not confined to Walter Reed.


3) Immediate withdrawal, the consequence of defunding the war, would make the situation in Iraq worse. The United States has a responsibility not to let that happen.

COMMENT: The United States certainly does have a responsibility; the situation that would purportedly be made worse by immediate withdrawal is one that the United States created. But this is an argument for reparations; not for staying the course, with or without a “surge,” and continuing to make things worse.

There is however a grain of truth in this all too familiar argument. The “surge,” touted as a new strategy, is just a feeble intensification of the old strategy. But, in principle, with enough troops, a semblance of order could be imposed – in Iraq or anywhere else. However the Bush government cannot come close to finding enough troops, without restoring a draft; and, even if they could, they would have to keep them in Iraq indefinitely, something they cannot afford to do. Moreover, the only way this strategy could work well enough to permit the repression ever to be lifted would be for constructive political changes to take place under its aegis. But, if experience has shown anything, it is that the effects of the U.S. occupation are just the opposite. It has already produced a civil war; a more brutal and sustained occupation would turn Iraq into an utterly failed state – with the most dire imaginable consequences for the region and the world.

4) Immediate withdrawal, a consequence of defunding the war, would lead the “terrorists” to “follow us home.”

COMMENT: This should be called the Flypaper Theory: U.S.troops draw the terrorists to themselves and then kill them. Does anyone except neo-cons, John McCain and Joe Lieberman believe it? Is it news to anyone that the terrorists can already follow us home, and that the presence of American troops in Iraq leads neither to their annihilation nor to their sequestration? It’s worth remembering that there were no terrorists in Iraq until the United States made it possible and even necessary for them to go there. At the risk of restating the obvious: the longer the US occupation continues, the greater the risk of terrorists “following us home” becomes.

* *

The evident shortcomings of this last exercise in illogic raise another point, the most important of all. Islamic terrorism has become a problem, thanks largely to American policies. The Iraq War has increased the danger it poses by orders of magnitude. But the threat of terrorism against the United States and its interests abroad can be diminished substantially and abruptly. It’s no secret how: eliminate the irritants that generate it. The first and foremost is the Iraq War itself. Everyone knows what the others are too:

(a) unqualified American support for whatever the Israeli government chooses to do to the Palestinians whose land it occupies;
(b) unqualified American support for brutal and corrupt oligarchs and authoritarian rulers throughout the Islamic world;
(c) the expanding American military presence in the region.

Post-2006 Democrats can stop the Iraq War if their constituents force them to find the courage. As matters now stand, though, there is as much chance that they will end (a) as that they will declare themselves opposed to the troops. They are too much in the thrall of the Israel lobby. (b) and (c) are, if anything, even more intractable. Strategic control of oil resources in the Middle East and Central Asia has become the cornerstone of American policy in these regions. To execute that policy, the U.S. needs compliant local rulers and it needs to be able to project military force. This is why Bill Clinton was as bad on these counts as George W Bush. It could hardly be otherwise: the oil interests both parties serve insist upon it.

Until genuinely transformative, grass-roots politics changes the conditions that make (a), (b) and (c) facts of our political life, the threat of devastating blowback will remain, even after the Iraq War ends. The Democratic primaries can have very little to do with any of this; as with elections generally, they can only ratify changes that have already been forged outside the electoral arena. Without massive popular support, no political leader, certainly no Democratic candidate, will be in a position to move seriously on (a), (b) or (c); not even if one of them were to be miraculously transformed into a genuine statesman (or stateswoman). Only an aroused people can make progress in these areas, just as in the case of Iraq. We are a long way from that point, and therefore a long way from combating terrorism decisively. But we can advance towards that end by holding Democrats, or at least the ones who are amenable to doing the right thing, to account.

In addition to forcing them to endorse immediate withdrawal, we must also force them to acknowledge how insidious talk of “redeployment” and of continuing the so-called Global War on Terror is. Almost all the party’s war funders are guilty on these counts. What they have in mind when they talk about redeployment and more competently fighting the War on Terror could well make (a), (b) and (c) worse. We must make sure this doesn’t happen by insisting that the troops not be redeployed anywhere but home – not in so many months or years, but now! None of the top three candidates are there yet, but Edwards is so far the closest. We must not let him – or anyone else – off the hook.

Friday, May 4, 2007

The Reaganite Love Feast

Last night’s Republican “debate” underscores the importance of the Democratic primaries. It is unthinkable that even an electorate that could give George W. Bush a popular majority the second time around could find straws to grasp in that sorry lot. If I’m wrong about that, then there’s only one possible explanation: that in founding the Home of the Brave and bringing the world’s teeming masses to its shore, the Intelligent Designer who oversees all that was, is and will be made another one of His very big mistakes.

Could anybody actually watch? I tried, but whenever it got to be Tommy Thompson’s turn, I’d lose it. He was my guv for too many years. He may not have been the worst governor or even the worst Secretary of Health and Human Services in America (or the world), but he is surely the most repellent. How could anyone look at him and not switch immediately to almost any other channel to watch his namesake? I have no idea how bad Fred Thompson’s politics are, but at least he’s a better actor than any of the declared contenders or, for that matter, the Gipper himself.

According to the pundits – who, after all, know best – the three main contenders before are still the three main contenders after. Thus the Democratic candidate will likely run against either a piss poor mayor who had some good days when the Bush boy was still cowering in a bunker in Nebraska and for a few weeks thereafter; a war-monger and unrepentant war criminal of unstable disposition and with an almost Clintonite knack for pandering; or a family, family, family guy who raises only one serious question – what were the good people of Massachusetts thinking?

An even bigger question is how they could find ten contenders who make George W. Bush look good by comparison? If the Democrats, any Democrat, can’t win against any one of them, then -- well, words fail. This is why, barring unforeseeable changes of circumstance or a total eclipse of the light of reason, the Democrats will win in 2008. This is why it is urgent that Clintonism be defeated. With each passing day, Edwards seems more and more like the best (least bad) way. Obama – we’re waiting.

Hillary Two/Obama Still Zilch

The better to annoy the freedom fries crowd, why not, like Zagat’s, rate the Democratic candidates the way the French grade baccalaureate exams – on a scale of zero to twenty? Then John Edwards would merit, say, a ten for urging Democratic legislators to throw Bush’s veto of their war funding bill back in his face for as many times as it takes to get him to back off. [This was essentially what Mike Gravel proposed in the April 26 South Carolina debate and, apart from most of what Dennis Kucinich said there, it was the best idea to come out of that spectacle.] By this standard, Hillary Clinton deserves at least two points for agreeing to co-sponsor Robert Byrd’s proposal to have Congress’ war authorization expire after five years – that is, in October. Five years ago, twenty-three Senate Democrats opposed the war. Back then, that was not enough cover for Clinton. Evidently, she now calculates that she can’t afford not to side with Byrd. Still, we must give credit where it is due. If she’d apologize for having voted for the war in the first place, as Edwards did long ago, she could get a point or two for that as well.

But lets not make too much of a good thing. Robert Byrd has been, from the beginning, an honorable opponent of Bush’s wars. He is as aware as anyone of the threat the Cheney/Bush administration poses to constitutional government. But he still thinks that Congress has it within itself to assert its constitutional role, and that the courts will back them up. I fear he is mistaken. Since the days of Truman, Congress has allowed its indisputable authority to declare war to lapse. In the aftermath of the Vietnam War, it tried to reassert a semblance of the authority the republic’s founders assigned to it by passing the War Powers Act. Then, while it abjectly acquiesced, a succession of Presidents from Reagan through Bush, including Bill Clinton, undid even that timid measure. Meanwhile, as the recent ruling on so-called partial birth abortions makes clear, the Supreme Court has become little more than a vehicle for its white conservative Catholic males to do as they please. The Roberts Court will give the Cheney/Bush administration carte blanche – unless they violate Constitutional arrangements so starkly and unambiguously that it would lose its last semblance of legitimacy if it didn’t intervene. That’s a high standard. If the Supremes can go along with the de facto nullification of habeus corpus, they will surely find a way to allow the ‘unitary executive’ to make war in the face of a bill like Byrd’s. In a word, Byrd’s proposal won’t work. It is important symbolically, but it will not end the war.

What will work because there can be no doubt that Congress still has the right is defunding the war. There is similarly no doubt that Congress can remove Cheney and Bush from office. Were Congress to defund the war and were Cheney and Bush to wage it anyway, either they would have to go or the Constitution would. In these circumstances, Republicans of integrity – they exist, probably in similar numbers to Democrats – would rise to the occasion. However they won’t help precipitate it. That is a task for the Democratic majorities in both legislative chambers. But, of course, they won’t do anything of the sort. That would require a backbone. As we know, unlike the GOP, the POP, the Party of Pusillanimity, suffers from a congenital lack of one.

Nevertheless, the fact remains: Robert Byrd is a man of principle. Therefore, the question arises: what is Hillary doing with him? In part, it’s the horse race: by supporting his measure she can inch ahead of Obama for a while in the hearts and minds of Democratic voters. But you don’t stay married to Bill for so long without becoming slicker than that. I would speculate therefore that she realizes that, inadvertently, Byrd has contrived a way for Democrats to let Bush off the hook; to give him the money he wants. They can let him have his war – and therefore not look “weak on defense (sic)” -- with whatever passes for a clear conscience in the POP by funding the war and then rescinding its “authorization.” In other words, they can pass a resolution that, in a better world, would precipitate a constitutional crisis, but that in the actual world amounts to nothing more than a symbolic gesture. On balance, it is a good thing for Hillary to be less of a War Democrat by supporting the end of the Iraq War even to this extent; it’s bad that Obama still hasn’t signed on. But, as with everything else Clintonite, the good in her gesture is opportunistic posturing and little, if anything, more.

Note: there is an interesting article on Obama by Larissa MacFarquhar in the May 7 New Yorker. It’s not quite a puff piece, though it does depict Obama as, above all, a man of vision. However its “argument” boils down to the claim that Obama’s vision for America has more to do with his character than his policies, and that what is remarkable about his character is, as a former teacher of his at Harvard Law School put it, his calm -- that he is like someone “able to lower his blood pressure at will.” That may be fine for quashing white fears about black male rage. But does it translate into a vision for governance? So long as Obama’s score remains zilch, it’s anybody’s guess.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Bravo for Edwards (Sort of)

The bad news this morning (May 3) is that the Party of Pusillanimity (POP) is about to unleash yet another Profile in Cowardice. Once Bush, Pelosi and Reid work out a “compromise” – that is, a way for the Democrats to save face – Bush will get his blank check for murder and mayhem in Iraq. No surprise there. But there is good news too. There is now at least one “serious” candidate for President, John Edwards, who seems to have broken free from the Clintonites – carving out a genuinely center-left position. It remains to be seen whether Obama will follow suit.

First, some definitions. [For more elaboration, see my POLITICAL KEYWORDS (Blackwell, 2007).] What left and right mean is impossible to explain precisely because, being spatial metaphors, they are relational notions; left is defined in contrast to right, and vice versa. This is why they have no fixed meaning. Political parties and social movements that everyone understands to be on the Left, in the notional sense that has been current at least since the French Revolution, have left and right wings, as do movements and parties of the Right. As with any continuum, there are also finer gradations. How many there are, and how they should be described, depends on the context. For Democrats today, the left is comprised of a handful of progressives in the so-called Progressive Caucus, and a few members of the Black Caucus. Most of these left Democrats are now organized into the Out of Iraq Caucus. They are a small group, far smaller than the constituencies they speak for. Before the 2006 election, they could have all fit into an airport limo with room left over for luggage. Now, there are a few more of them. Unlike their opposite numbers in the Republican Party of the early Clinton years, they have never managed to leverage their power by acting strategically. They have no Newt to show them the way and, so far, nothing even approximating his Contract on America. Like many (probably most) Americans, the Democratic left wants to defund the war, and bring the troops home now. There is only one Presidential contender so far among them: Dennis Kucinich, a non-starter. Russ Feingold, a Senator of no fixed political orientation, appears to have joined the left on this issue. When the fix is finally in, it will be interesting to see how many Senate allies he has.

The Democratic right is for timetables and redeployments and the like. I’ll examine their tortured logic in a subsequent posting. Its moral and intellectual level rivals Bush’s, though its conclusions are marginally less inhumane. It appears that there are two wings among the Democratic right: the true believers in a more competent “War on Terror,” and the classical Clintonites, who only want to position themselves in what they take to be the most advantageous way for the 2008 elections. Again, it remains to be seen whether Obama must be counted among them.

The political center is almost never a figurative midpoint between the left and the right. Neither is it an ‘intermediary’ or ‘golden mean’ in the sense familiar from Aristotle. Aristotle’s terms denote positions that are appropriate to prevailing circumstances. There is no reason to think that centrist positions are always or, for that matter, ever appropriate in this sense. Rather, what counts as centrist is whatever is proper to the political mainstream at particular times and places. Center is therefore even less amenable to a general characterization than left and right. Typically, the Center leans towards one or another pole on the spectrum. However, it is almost always at some remove from these poles. The center is also where most political leaders gravitate insofar as they are susceptible to pressure from the constituencies they purport to represent. The Democratic right is obviously not very susceptible to such pressure: it targets the median dollar, not the median voter.

In a political ad, quickly contrived and supposed to air today, the Edwards campaign breaks definitively with the right. It calls on Congress not to cave on a funding deadline; in effect, to stop aiding and abetting Bush’s war. This is a centrist or, better, center-left position in the current context in the sense that it is friendly to the idea of defunding the war, without quite going “all the way.” In this respect, Edwards’ position on Iraq now resembles his position on health care. There too he does not quite call for what the left does – universal coverage under a single payer plan run by the government, not by parasitic insurance companies. But his plan, which I also intend to discuss in subsequent postings, is open to this possibility in the sense that, if implemented, it could devolve into the left position. There is clearly a pattern here.

For a party still mired in Clintonism, a genuinely center-left alternative that can win over the Grand Old POP is a trend to encourage. It’s a step away from lesser evilism and therefore welcome news.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Hyper-Clintonism: the Case of George Tenet

When it came to helping Cheney and Bush decimate Iraq and elevate the likelihood of blowback exponentially, no Democrat came close to Bill Clinton’s old spymaster, George Tenet. Not even if you count Joe Lieberman. Hillary doesn’t hold a candle.

When it comes to unctuous charm, once again Tenet has no rivals. Not even Vladimir Putin. George Bush looked through Putin’s eyes into his soul and saw that he was good; could he have failed to give the old Clinton hand equal scrutiny? Not likely, not even if the Commander-In-Chief was busy on vacation at the time. In Putin’s case, something was evidently lost in translation; understandable when an omnipotent Being is whispering in your ear. In Tenet’s vetting, Bush must have been similarly distracted. But the language was 100% American. Still Bush got took. There’s only one possible explanation. When opportunism calls, George Tenet can charm the pants off anybody. Can Hillary? It’s a question that, as they say, answers itself.

Then there is the philosophical dimension. Philosophers have always wondered, along with Bill, what “is” is. For all his self-serving fatuousness, the man was deep. But “slam dunk”? That’s a concept even a Bush boy can understand. Thus does the spymaster’s kiss and tell memoir raise Clintonism to a whole new level. Our hospitals and cemeteries have the bodies to prove it. So too, on a much grander scale, do the ones Iraqis manage, against all odds, to maintain. So many lives lost and ruined! Be sure of it, though: like Bill and Hillary, only more so, the old Clinton spymaster feels everybody’s pain – all the way to the bank.