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).”

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