Friday, August 31, 2007

Here They Go Again

The Democrats left for Congress’s summer holiday by capitulating shamelessly to the Cheney/Bush government’s war on freedom (aka the War on Terror). Now The Washington Post (Aug. 31) reports that, when they come back, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is prepared to “compromise” with Republicans on Iraq War funding by dropping demands for “time lines” for troop withdrawals. Compromise? The man is about as compromised as anyone could be; anyone, that is, except the other party leaders and the all the self-declared “progressives” wallowing in Pelosiite hypocrisy.

If that isn’t bad enough, Washington is swirling with rumors of a post-Labor Day PR offensive promoting Cheney’s much desired extension of the Iraq War into Iran. Will Congressional Democrats do anything to counter the coming barrage? Not likely. Combine abject (and freshly rejuvenated) spinelessness with subservience to the government of Israel (which, not unrelatedly, wants war with Iran as much as Cheney and his neo-cons do) and what to do you get! One wonders why Cheney thinks he needs a PR campaign at all. With Democrats for an “opposition,” he can get what he wants anyway – notwithstanding the fact that three-quarters of the country and almost four quarters of the rest of the world are against him.

There is a smidgen of good news, though. The “base” is becoming more fractious and John Edwards is finally taking the gloves off, ever so slightly, in dealing with the threat of a Clintonite restoration. But, it’s one step forward, two steps back. With the fervor of right wing “think” tank ideologues promoting yet another war, the “liberal” media’s guardians of conventional wisdom are mobilizing to declare that “divisiveness” threatens to undo the Democrats’ chances in 2008. Apparently, they want things to get much worse, so that they can become marginally better. In fact, because many Republican and independent voters are wise to the Clintons and their ways, the Democrats’ electoral prospects depend on intensifying, not smoothing over, divisions in the Democratic Party. Victory in 2008 is the Democrats’ to lose thanks to mounting popular revulsion towards the Bush government. But the task will be much facilitated by putting forward a clear Democratic alternative; in other words, by handing Clintonism a resounding defeat. Many, probably most, party strategists will disagree. To them I appeal to ethically more demanding, but vastly more compelling, standards. As Democrats in Congress prepare to collaborate yet again with the Decider (and the vice-decider who runs him like a puppet), minimal decency and concern for humankind require that Democrats who know better and have the courage to act on what they know run against Democrats – still, alas, the vast majority --who don’t.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Fall Offensive

The Washington Post reports (Aug. 29) that the Bush -- or rather the more than ever Cheney -- administration is going to ask Congress for an addidtional $50 billion, just as soon as the hapless General Petraeus makes his weasely “report” on how well the “surge” is going. According to the Post, they believe that they can get the request through the Democratic controlled Congress. That is one of the few beliefs of theirs that is not unreasonable.

Meanwhile, the Cheney-Lieberman strategy for going to war against Iran, by escalating provocations until an acceptable pretext for war can be manufactured, is underway. All the U.S. could manage yesterday was to detain an official delegation from the Iranian Energy Ministry on its way to meeting with Iraqi officials. The excuse was that they were carrying “unauthorized” (by Michael Chertoff?) weapons. For all but the likes of Fox News, that’s a bit over the top. But be sure that they’ll try and try again. Cheney and the neocons are not easily deterred from starting disastrous wars they have no idea how to finish.

What will the Democrats do about it? The short answer is: most likely, Nothing. Even if they can’t find it within themselves to rise to their Constitutional obligations by defunding Bush’s wars, and even if there aren’t enough votes to remove Cheney and Bush from office, they could at least distract the perpetrators by launching impeachment proceedings against the real (though officially only “vice”) commander-in-chief. Instead, they hem and haw – as, for example, in yet another shameful performance by the “progressive” icon John Conyers on “Democracy Now” (Aug. 28). Conyers evidently believes, again not unreasonably, that flattery and prevarication trumps logic every time, when, in good Pelosiite fashion, the task is to disarm “progressive” dissent. Fortunately, Amy Goodman wasn’t fooled. But will Democratic voters?

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Fredo Impeaches Himself

With the Bush Crime Family’s Fredo, Alberto Gonzales, gone, the Democrats are spared the embarrassment of not impeaching him. But now there is almost nothing left of the Bush entourage except Bush himself, which is to say there is almost nothing left, Dick Cheney is even less encumbered than he already was. Hence the ever greater urgency of House Resolution 333 , calling for Cheney’s impeachment. Will the Democratic leadership finally rise to the occasion, meeting their responsibilities to the American people and the peoples of the world? Don’t count on it. It will be all they can do to find within themselves the wherewithal to continue the investigations of the political firings of U.S. Attorneys that Gonzales carried out. Thus they fiddle while matters of far graver moment approach the combustible stage.


In the beginning, with only a handful of exceptions, the Democrats were unalloyed Bush aiders and abettors. Many of them must have known what the rest of the world knew: that the Iraq War was unwinnable, morally wrong, and potentially disastrous in every pertinent geo-strategic sense. But they went along with it, just as they had gone along with Bush’s Afghanistan War and with his so-called War on Terror. Their support held firm even after the Bush boy dressed up in his pilot suit and declared the “mission accomplished” -- in other words, after it became clear to all but the willfully blind that there was plenty “mission” still awaiting accomplishment. In the 2004 primaries, Howard Dean helped make opposition to the war respectable for mainstream Democrats. But Dean was hardly an advocate of immediate withdrawal, and he was fond enough of Bush’s other wars and of Bill Clinton’s military adventures. Then, according to the conventional wisdom, he shrieked, making way for John Kerry to take up the cause. Kerry, by then, was against the war too, but he was not exactly clear about when or how he thought the U.S. should get out of it. What he was plainly for was competence and multilateralism. Had Fox News and their “liberal media” emulators not succeeded so well in dumbing down political discourse, Kerry might have won on the competence issue alone. But it didn’t work out that way. He lost that election or rather had it stolen from him fair and square – that is, within the bounds of ordinary electoral shenanigans [unlike the 2000 election, when Al Gore and Company allowed Bush family operatives and right-wing ideologues on the Supreme Court to steal the election outright].

By the 2006 election, the old ways no longer worked: almost everybody realized how inept the Rumsfeld-Cheney-Bush Gang was, and what a mess they had made. Still, the Democratic leadership did its best to keep Democrats running for House and Senate seats from catching up with their constituents. Chuck Schumer in the Senate and Rahm Emanuel in the House were particularly culpable. Given the depth of opposition to the Iraq War, the Democrats won anyway – not for what they stood for but for what they were not; they won as un-Republicans. The leadership finally got it. Soon, the entire Democratic caucus was where Howard Dean had been two years before. But, mirroring Dean’s politics, the change was more rhetorical than real. Thus the Democrats kept right on funding the war (while not “supporting” it!) and they kept on putting the troops in harm’s way, doing incalculable physical, mental and moral harm to them and their families, and, of course, to their victims (in order to “support” them!). The Democratic Congress could end the war in a minute by refusing to fund it, but that was out of the question. Thus Pelosiism superseded the more transparent forms of aiding and abetting that preceded it. However, given where the voters are, that isn’t an option for candidates running in the primaries. Even Hillary Clinton did what she had to do; she transformed herself from a War Democrat to a peace candidate (sort of). She did it so skillfully that, for now, the crowd and other anything-but-Bush remnants of the last several electoral cycles seem neutralized. However, with the primary races about to lurch towards a premature climax, it is starting to look like the pendulum may be about to swing back – thanks, again, to the Republicans. It looks like there might be “convergence” ahead.

Of course, we don’t know what the Divinity is telling the Decider. Neither do we know what delusions dwell in the minds of Dick Cheney and his not so merry band of neocons. We also don’t know if Cheney and Joe Lieberman will get their way. Taking their lead from the Israeli playbook [that worked so well last summer in Lebanon!], they’ve both all but declared that they want to provoke Iran into doing something, anything, that the U.S. can use as a pretext for a full-scale bombing campaign. If this happens, or if Bush and Cheney dig in their heels out of sheer stubbornness or stupidity or both, Clinton and the rest will have no choice but to stay on the course they embarked upon after 2006. But it is not impossible that, seeing the way the wind is blowing, the Republicans might, for once, become Democrats Lite. They might just accede to the wishes of the military, the intelligence community and the less crazy reaches of the Cheney-Bush administration, where less unrealistic notions of what to do are brewing. There is no doubt about it: within the bowels of the Republican Party, the realization is dawning that, for both practical and political reasons, the U.S. has to start withdrawing troops. The military is now stretched so thin that it can no longer police the empire effectively, should “needs” arise outside Iraq and Afghanistan. Morale in the military is at an all time low. Even two-time Bush voters have turned sharply against the war and against Bush. “Vietnamization,” turning the war over to local stooges, isn’t working fast enough, if it’s working at all. Thus many prominent Republicans realize they have no good moves, and therefore little choice but to follow the Democrats’ lead.

The problem is clear: the U.S. can’t leave Iraq without looking like a loser, as it surely is’ but neither can it stay in Iraq without losing even worse. The least bad thing, then, is to buy time by bringing some troops home. Democrats have plenty of Republicans to blame for this “revolting development”; Republicans can’t follow them there, though, now that he’s gone, Donald Rumsfeld can finally be of some use -- as a bipartisan scapegoat. But Republicans and Democrats can agree on blaming America’s erstwhile stooges for not doing their part. Remember Ahmad Chalabi? Now they’re turning on his successor in the hearts and minds of the Vice President’s office, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. [In this too, they are taking their lead from the Israeli playbook. Recall the campaign against Yassar Arafat. The Israelis won that battle, but the larger war didn’t turn out quite the way they wanted! They got Fattah to collaborate with them, more or less, but they also got Hamas.]

It was against this background that John Warner, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, broke with Cheney and Bush to call for (very modest) troop withdrawals. If the comparatively saner minds prevail and if war against Iran is avoided, this could happen. It looks too like modest troop withdrawals might just be enough to satisfy those Democrats whose true colors were better revealed in their outright aiding and abetting days. The Democrats may quibble over the numbers and the dates, but not over the principle of gesturing towards a strategic retreat. In fact, the Congressional leadership of the party is already almost where Warner now is: they need only take the small step of moving from advocating (slow) timelines for withdrawal to supporting more ambiguous initiatives. It may be because the Commander in Chief is incapable of understanding what “his” strategy is, or if he understands incapable of staying on point, but the Democrats are already out-Bushing Bush in proposing to “do an Arafat” on Malaki. Thus, in the past several days, Carl Levin, Warner’s Democratic counterpart on the Armed Services Committee, and Hillary Clinton have all but called for Malaki’s removal -- as if, as Malaki put it, Iraq were just “an American village,” which is, of course, precisely what it has become, partly thanks to his own unappreciated collaboration with the occupying power.

Thus we may be on the brink restoring the vaunted “bipartisanship" the mainstream media talks about so much. The Democrats’ and the Republicans’ Iraq policies just might be about to converge.

In reality, though, the Democrats’ and the Republicans’ policies were never all that divergent. In the past few months, it has seemed otherwise because, for reasons of necessity, the Democratic candidates for President have had no choice. This was all to the good. When Hillary Clinton is obliged to come out against more war funding, it makes positions like Dennis Kucinich’s less marginal; it may even force “electable” candidates like Barack Obama and John Edwards to move in Kucinich’s direction. This is not an outcome to despise.

* *

Still, the fact remains: the Democrats and Republicans are, and always have been, “converged” – not just on the war in Iraq, and not even just on the broad policy orientation into which the war fits. They are converged on the need for the U.S. never to seem like it can’t get its way. In this, they take their lead not so much from the Israelis, who only want to seem invincible to their neighbors, but from organized criminal operations that can never afford to look weak on the street.

Defy the U.S., ever so slightly, and pay dearly. How else account for U.S. Cuba policy even before the politics of south Florida became its driving force? How else explain the first Bush’s turning on his erstwhile flunkies, Manuel Noriega and, yes, Saddam Hussein? Or Bill Clinton’s anti-Serbian adventures? And these are only the most conspicuous recent examples. Years too late, Robert McNamara conceded that he realized the Vietnam War was lost, even as he kept it going. Kissinger and Nixon certainly knew that the war was a lost cause; still they prolonged the death and devastation for nearly seven years. The U.S. may have gone into Vietnam for reasons that made sense, or seemed to, to Cold Warriors. But as the Vietnam War dragged on and on, those reasons ceased to matter (except for public relations purposes); the real concern was, again, not to look weak on the street. Similarly, Cheney and Bush started the Iraq War for their own reasons (not the reasons they told the rest of us or that the Democrats claimed to have believed at the time), but the war goes on now for different reasons altogether – because the U.S. must not look like it can’t have its way. In this, the Clintonites, not just their current standard bearer, are and always have been totally on board. This is what the “bipartisanship” they want, if they can get it, is all about.

We should not forget that Kissinger’s and Nixon’s mafioso thinking had utterly devastating consequences. Speaking before the Veterans of Foreign Wars last week, George Bush invoked “the lessons of Vietnam” as a reason for keeping the Iraq War going. He even invoked “the killing fields” of Cambodia. It’s not surprising that he or his handlers would get it one hundred per cent wrong. “Staying the course” in Vietnam led to tens of thousands of additional American deaths, and to hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese deaths. It also led to the killing fields. This in a region with far fewer ethnic, religious and cultural fault lines than the Middle East, a region without nuclear weapons. And this in a world that was still ordered by a balance of terror between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, and by China’s enormous influence in the region. Were civil order to deteriorate in the Middle East as it did in South-east Asia in consequence of Kissinger’s and Nixon’s mafioso thinking, the consequences could well be catastrophic.

Where uppity Third World countries are concerned, mafioso thinking has long been the bipartisan consensus view. The longer it persists, the more elusive the prospects of a “soft landing” for the United States becomes, as American economic dominance inexorably fades. The longer it persists, the more likely too that there will be yet more Vietnam-like, Iraq-like wars. The best thing that could happen for the United States and the world would be a clear and unambiguous perception of defeat. The reality is already there; the U.S. has lost. But the perception is not. This is a dangerous situation. So long as Hillary Clinton and her ilk are able to say that, while of course they “oppose the war,” they applaud how well the “surge” is working in Al Anbar province and elsewhere, the appearance and the reality are sundered, with grave consequences for reality down the line. If Democrats go back to being the unalloyed aiders and abettors of Bush government policies that they used to be, the prospects for unhappy endings grow – even if, thanks to circumstances beyond their control, Bush policies become more “moderate.” To be sure, the difference is largely one of appearance: Pelosiites are Bush aiders and abettors in reality, even as they loudly proclaim otherwise. But in a political culture as void of genuine opposition politics as ours is, appearances matter.

The U.S. and the world were saved much grief by the perception that the Vietnamese won the Vietnam War. In reality, the results were less clear. By raining unprecedented destruction upon that poor country, the U.S. did succeed in realizing at least one of its objectives; it destroyed what Noam Chomsky has called “the threat of a good example.” Still, for decades (though with ever diminishing efficacy), the perception of defeat impeded America’s path to perpetual war – not completely, but significantly. In Germany and Japan, unequivocal defeat expunged the temptations of world dominance; our more equivocal defeat in Vietnam was less salutary. We are worse off for it. But now, thanks to Bush’s failures, another opportunity presents itself. In this, we are extraordinarily fortunate. To soften our landing, we don’t need to be devastated, the way Germany and Japan were. Those of us who are not in the military or in military families can get off on the cheap. All that needs to happen is that consciousness of defeat takes hold in the ambient political culture. Since the U.S. has already lost the Iraq War – and also the Afghanistan War and (less obviously, but no less certainly) the so-called War on Terror, one would think that would be automatic. But, with our party duopoly and our servile media, our capacity to remain oblivious should never be underestimated.

The convergence on Iraq policy that the Warner/Levin collaboration points towards will impede consciousness of defeat – making the reality even worse, potentially catastrophically worse, than it already is. The Clintonites are eager for the pendulum to swing back; it is as War Democrats that they find their proper level. If they get their way, the consequences will be almost as bad as if the Republicans get theirs. If you doubt this, consider the (Bill) Clinton era or the pre-2006 War Democrats. Unless we break down the convergence there already is and intensify the divergence that has developed, at least rhetorically, in the past year, our future is bound to be one of perpetual war -- more competently conducted under Clintonites than under Cheney, Rumsfeld and Bush, but still leading to death and destruction and ultimately to a harder, more brutal, landing than need be. Since Bush has all but assured a Democratic victory in November 2008, the time to stop Clintonism in its tracks and, in so doing, to begin to dismantle the juggernaut is now.

Friday, August 24, 2007

The Crossover Candidate

An article by Michael Scherer in cites several polls that indicate that, of the top three Democratic contenders, the one with the most crossover appeal to Republicans and independents is Barack Obama. Scherer also cites data that suggest that Democrats believe that Hillary Clinton is their most electable candidate. Evidently, they’re wrong.

Of course, the general election is still far off, even if most of the primaries are not nearly as far off as they ought to be; and, with months to go even until the primaries, most likely voters have yet to focus on the candidates. But Scherer’s findings make sense. More people hate Hillary than hate any of the others. This has been true for as long as she’s been in the public spotlight. It is a somewhat puzzling phenomenon. No one just a shade to the left of “the vast right-wing conspiracy” has any cause to hate her for her politics; if they did, they’d have to hate their own politics too. Is it because she’s an uppity woman? That’s certainly part of it. But they’ve always hated her better half as much or more than they’ve hated her. There’s evidently something about that whole rotten dynasty wannabe. I think I know what it is: the Clintons are not just phonies; they’re slick phonies. There’s something about that that drives the hard right nuts. Diehard Republicans don’t mind bumpkins or dummies (so long as they don’t f…k up too badly). They don’t mind evil demons, like Cheney or Rove, provided they seem sincere. They don’t mind fools (e.g. Rumsfeld, Ashcroft, Gonzales and so on). They can even go for sanctimonious twits like Joe Lieberman. But slicksters set them off. It’s stupid, but you gotta take what you can get. If HRC is unelectable, even if the reasons why are silly or unfathomable or both, we can only be grateful. Otherwise, she might get elected. According to Scherer’s data, John Edwards has about the same crossover appeal as Hillary Clinton – none. In this case, the explanation probably does have more to do with politics than personality, since no one seems to hate him. But I suspect that the main thing is that Republicans and independents don’t think much about him one way or the other. Obama gets all the publicity. He’s also more anodyne. Being anodyne and also, in most peoples' minds, black, he’s downright Oprah-ish. Thus, he’s the obvious choice.

Now I am tempted to say that crossover appeal is likely to matter less in this election than any other in recent memory because the Republican field -- and therefore the Republican candidate, whomever he turns out to be – is so pitiful that even the people who voted for Bush twice will have trouble voting for him. But I may be giving those people too much credit. If they could find it within themselves to turn the Bush family into a dynasty to rival the Adams Family, and if they can idolize a lazy, ignorant and patently reactionary actor (I’m referring to Reagan, not Fred Thompson), they’re capable of anything. But it’s still a leap from being capable of anything, to being capable of voting for a Rudy Giuliani or a Mitt Romney.

Anyway, supposing Scherer is right and that the trend holds, what does it tell us about Obama? Maybe just that if you’re well-launched and unthreatening, and if you don’t do or say much to tick people off or make them wary, you can slide into the White House (provided, of course, that our increasingly feckless capitalists find it convenient to back you or at least not block you). Or could it mean that Obama is a Clintonite without all the Clinton baggage. I suspect the latter.

Not long ago, it required the practiced eye of a fine jeweler to find a “center” between the Democratic “left” and the Republican “right.” But under Cheney and Bush, the inmates have taken over the asylum that the Republican Party has become. Is it all that surprising, then, that old-style Republicans, the Papa Doc Bush kind, would be tempted to crossover? But where to go? Clinton is damaged goods; Edwards is now the un-Republican. Obama might be too, though he’s more likely a Clintonite. The longer he remains a Rorschach test, the more crossover appeal he’ll be able to muster without, as they say, “alienating the (Democratic) base.” Whether this is a problem, depends on what Obama “really” is. Time will tell. I hope that it tells in time.

The only thing that is clear, for now, is that Democrats have unfailingly bad instincts when it comes to detecting electability. They would do better deferring to the judgment of Republicans and independents than relying, Bush-like, on their remarkably fallible “guts.” But then they should be careful of what they wish for – because they just might get it.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Kucinich and "the Issues"

No one quite understands how issues become issues, but the general contours of an explanation are clear enough. Media play an important, sometimes decisive, role – especially in filtering potential issues out into the margins of public life and in dumbing down political discourse. But media can also turn potential issues into actual ones. Watergate is the most important late twentieth century example. Whitewater and then Monicagate was another. That issue was manufactured by the extreme right wing; given how little they had to work with, it is remarkable how successful they were. Meanwhile, potential issues – for example, the mass incarceration of black youth – go unnoticed. In certain circumstances, social movements play a crucial role in bringing issues to the fore. Organized political pressure groups are important too – acting independently and in conjunction with media and social movements. How else explain the fact that abject support for whatever Israeli governments deem best for Israel is taken for granted throughout the political culture? Anti-Castro Cubans do nearly as well as the Israel lobby for much the same reasons.

Presidential campaigns can play a role too. Since it matters enormously in our not very democratic democracy who the Chief Executive is, and since our political culture is so thoroughly depoliticized, nomination contests and then general elections do more than anything else to focus the mind of the electorate. Presidential campaigns can therefore play a vital “educational” role. This can be important in its own right; it can also help determine what the issues are. In the 2004 contest for the Democratic nomination, Howard Dean made the Iraq War more of an issue than it would otherwise have been. [He fell into that role because the other “electable” contenders were so complicitous and therefore compromised, and because the more principled anti-war candidates, Dennis Kucinich and Al Sharpton, were marginalized by the press.] In the current electoral cycle, John Edwards has had some success in making poverty an issue. But, for the most part, candidates are issue-takers, not issue makers.

As such, Edwards is pretty good on domestic issues; Bill Richardson is good on the issue of withdrawal from Iraq (he’d leave no soldier behind); Chris Dodd is good on environmental issues. Joe Biden is good for nothing. Barack Obama is vague on everything, though he does emit vibes that suggest that his positions on the issues, if he had any, would be decent. Hillary Clinton, true to her family’s traditions, is dreadful on everything, though she may seem OK from time to time, depending on the constituency she’s pandering to. Mike Gravel, one of the two media non-persons, bests all the main contenders on the Iraq War and on foreign policy generally. But, in the end, there’s no contest: Dennis Kucinich, the other media non-person, is the best by far – on everything, domestic and foreign. Should he therefore be the candidate of choice?

Not necessarily – and not just because he isn’t electable. [It was that kind of thinking that gave us John Kerry in 2004 and that may give us Hillary Clinton in 2008. When Democratic voters make electability their prime consideration, prepare for defeat.] If Kucinich has a coherent analysis of why America is in dire straits, at home and abroad, he has kept it a secret. But he is uniformly and consistently on the side of the angels. There’s no harm in that; niceness is good. But then neither are his positions, creditable as they may be, of much educational value. Still, it is important that he remain in the campaign and that his voice is heard in those increasingly pointless candidate forums. However pertinent or not the issues may be, getting them right is valuable in itself; it is also important for bringing the other candidates, the more “electable” ones, into line. No doubt, those more electable candidates would like him and Gravel gone. For them, those two are just nuisances. But there’s little danger that they’ll get their wish. So long as Gravel adds diverting colorfulness and Kucinich brings along his wife (a demonstrable camera magnet), the press corps want them there, if only as an antidote to the boredom of listening to the other candidates’ sound bites. So long as neither Gravel nor Kucinich appear threatening to the interests of the press corps’ bosses – a sure thing given how adept they are at marginalizing dissent – the bosses are unlikely to pull the plug.

Campaigns may focus the mind, but when it comes to governance, style -- charisma even -- matter more than positions on issues, especially in a political culture in which serious political education is out of the question. JFK was lousy on the issues. But, by being the figure he was (or was presented to be) – and by being assassinated when he was – he helped to make “the sixties” (and the seventies) possible. In right-wing circles, Ronald Reagan played a similar role. Unfortunately, Reagan had a more lasting effect than Kennedy; for this, blame the main implementer of the Reagan Revolution, Bill Clinton! The last quasi-progressive charismatic figure in recent decades in the United States was Robert Kennedy, though he only found his voice in year or so before his own assassination. Obama is hyped as a charismatic figure. So far, though, he has been charismatic more in the manner of Mick Jagger than of FDR or the Kennedys. Edwards has more promise. Can he take up where RFK left off? Probably not. For one thing, the Washington press corps doesn’t seem to like him; perhaps they think he’s a phony. Thus the $400 haircut won’t go away; neither now does the gotcha moment when they exposed his investments in private equity funds connected to predatory lenders in New Orleans. [He says he was unaware of the connections.] Like FDR and the Kennedys, he’s a rich guy claiming to be on the side of the poor. Could the difference be that FDR and the Kennedys were born to wealth, while Edwards made his money as a trial lawyer? Or is it that the Bush family has caused the whole idea of noblesse oblige to fall into disgrace; taking down nouveau riche oblige with it? In any case, Edwards should use a little more of his considerable charm on the boys in the press bus. It shouldn’t be that hard. If they could fall in love with John McCain, they can love anybody.

It may just be the lull of summertime and the fact that the Democratic leadership is out of Washington and therefore doing no harm but, at this point in time, I wouldn’t rule out the prospect of a Kennedyesque Restoration were John Edwards to become President of the United States. Kennedy was bad, very bad, on foreign policy too. Neither of them comes close to Kucinich on the issues. But, even so, a Kennedyesque revival would be a vastly more estimable outcome than a Clintonite Restoration, with or without a Clinton in charge. That’s why I think Edwards deserves “critical (and instantly revocable) support,” even though Kucinich beats him hands down on the issues. At this point, he seems our best hope for ridding the POP, the Party of Pusillanimity, of the plague of Pelosiism and, the issues notwithstanding, for moving the country onto a better track.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Why Now?

The Democratic leadership in the House and Senate did accomplish one thing in the past eight months: they’ve conclusively demonstrated that it makes almost no difference which party controls the House and Senate. For this, they’ve earned approval ratings even lower than those garnered by the Republicans in 2006.

Does this mean that 2008 won’t be the cakewalk it should be for the POP, the Party of Pusillanimity? Probably not. Dashed expectations breeds contempt. But there are also growing numbers of voters who realize that if our country must be ruled by corporate ass kissers, it’s better that they be the ones that the corporate assholes prefer. Normally, that would be the Republicans. But thanks to the incompetence of the Cheney/Bush administration, the usual expectation has been stood on its head. Along with the fact that the Republicans are fielding the most pitiful collection of contenders for the nomination imaginable, the preferences of our country’s more enlightened “business leaders” have become the Democrats’ best hope.

Still, there’s one thing that the Democratic leadership is probably right about: that were impeachment proceedings to begin now against Cheney and Bush – proceedings they have blocked despite overwhelming grassroots support for them -- the effort would fail because the Senate would not convict. There is always the possibility, of course, that impeachment proceedings would unleash a dynamic that would cause enough Republicans to defect (the only way anything worthwhile can be achieved in our Democratic-controlled legislative branch). But it is unlikely. Is this a reason not to go forward with impeachment?

Hardly. It would be wrong to make too much of Karl Rove’s departure. He can do as much harm from Texas as from the bowels of the White House. And, as Bush’s brain, he was always more a bathetic figure than the infallible wizard Democrats blamed for their self-induced defeats in 2000, 2002 and, especially, 2004. Still, he’s one of the last of the major rats to desert Bush’s sinking ship, putting even more power in Dick Cheney’s hands. Cheney is all that’s left except, of course, for the Bush boy’s nanny, Condoleezza; and politics, like nature, abhors a vacuum, which is just what George Bush is without his brain. Will Cheney now use his unencumbered powers to wage war on Iran? Even if he can’t find a way to get that longstanding wish of his fulfilled, count on him to destabilize the Middle East even more than he already has. Count on him too to continue his war on freedom and the rule of law (aka the “War on Terror”); count on the torture regime to continue. Just as we are only now beginning to experience the harm Alan Greenspan did to the economy, count on Cheney to generate enough blowback to keep America insecure for decades. Yes, he’ll be gone in “only”16 months. But consider the harm he can do in that time with the world’s only superpower under his thumb. As the useful idiots of the GOP will tell you, look at all that the other lone superpower managed in just six glorious days!

With our institutions only slightly more democratic than they now are (up, say, to the level of the average parliamentary democracy), Bush and Cheney would be history. With only slightly more “equal justice under law” than we now have, the question we’d be facing now would be how best to bring those two and the rest of the Bush crime family to justice. But our institutions are not very democratic, and we are a long way from equal justice and the rule of law. The best we can do, with the cards we’ve been dealt, is distract the “commanding heights” of our government enough to render its incumbents less able to do harm. That’s why it’s urgent that impeachment proceed. Recall how the process distracted Bill Clinton from his efforts to complete “the Reagan Revolution.” Paradoxically, had “the vast rightwing conspiracy” not had its way, we might not now have Social Security. But Clinton’s impeachment was never more than theatrics; no one, except the Republicans’useful idiots and the sanctimonious Joe Lieberman ever took it seriously. With Cheney it would be different. Articles of impeachment were brought against Clinton for engaging in harmless peccadilloes with a zaftig intern more lovely than his usual paramours, not to mention his wife, and then (the “actionable” offense) lying about it. Henry Kissinger proved that power is indeed an aphrodisiac, even when all else repels; but, even so, Cheney and Bush are busts as ladies’ men. Still, they have committed impeachable offenses – real ones, genuinely actionable ones -- out the wazoo. Were Pelosi and Company to let the impeachment of Cheney get underway, it would not just be theater. With all those pesky “high crimes and misdemeanors,” even Fox News couldn’t turn it into that.

Lets therefore hope that, in these “dog days” of August, with the Congressional Democrats off on junkets or vacations or trying to mend fences with their constituents, that they find just enough courage – or, since that’s unlikely, that they’ll come to their senses about where their interests lie – and move forward on House Resolution 333. Lets distract Cheney as much as our institutions allow. We have a world to lose; and, pace Nancy Pelosi, it can’t wait.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Cowards and Doves

Before the Vietnam War, anti-war movements in Western countries were comprised mainly of men and women of principle: opponents of war in general or of wars of imperial conquest or of wars between imperialist powers. But by the mid-1960s, as the immorality and then the futility of America’s assault on Vietnam became increasingly apparent, and as the harm it was doing to American society became more palpable, a new species of anti-war militant emerged: the dove. At the level of policy, doves were not always distinguishable from anti-imperialist opponents of the war, and the term was often used to designate both. But there was a difference: doves and their pro-war counterparts, hawks, agreed on ends; they both wanted to keep south-east Asia in the American sphere of influence, they both wanted to limit Soviet and Chinese influence in the region, and they were both worried about the consequences of a military defeat (peace without honor). The difference was that once it became clear that the war was going poorly, the doves thought that more fighting would make a bad and unavoidable outcome worse, while the hawks believed that, with more fighting, disaster could somehow be avoided. Because the anti-war movement radicalized many of its participants, the ranks of anti-imperialists within it swelled as the “quagmire” dragged on. But from the time the anti-War movement became a significant force in public life, the principled opponents were outnumbered by unprincipled doves. This remained the case until the distinction became moot, thanks to the “Vietnamization” of the fighting and then, in short order, to the predictable defeat of America’s proxies in South Vietnam.

Thanks mainly to the party duopoly that has stifled our political culture since even before the First World War, the United States, unlike other “developed” countries, has not had to adjust to the loss of a politically significant Left; it had no Left to lose. Our political culture therefore suffers from a certain theoretical deficit – the inevitable consequence of ideological consensus. The situation is not helped by the fact that our media have always been more than usually subservient to the regime in place, though not always to the governments that administer it. In these circumstances, it is not surprising that support for and opposition to our country’s wars would be conceived in an ideologically non-divisive, dove versus hawk framework. But the phenomenon is hardly unique to the United States. Thus, a dove/hawk divide has become pronounced, for example, in Israel, despite a history of ideological contention in that country’s past. Before the founding of the state in 1948, and for many years thereafter, opponents of Israeli belligerency more often than not differed with mainstream Zionists on matters of principle, not strategy or tactics. To be sure, within the peace camp, there was general support for a Jewish homeland in Palestine. But the idea of a Jewish state was controversial – even after the state was established, leading “cultural Zionists” and other advocates of Jewish-Arab peace to accept its existence faute de mieux. Thus, for a long time, ideological contention was the rule, not the exception. Some of the opposition to Israeli belligerency was religiously motivated. For many Reform Jews, it was a mistake to conflate religion and ethnicity, and therefore “un-Jewish” to promote an ethnic Jewish state; for orthodox Jews, the return to Zion was a theological, not a political, conception. But there were also many opponents of Israeli belligerency who were moved by secular concerns. As heirs of the Enlightenment and defenders of the achievements of the French Revolution (and its American predecessor), they opposed the idea of an ethnic state in principle. They also questioned the moral defensibility of imposing Jewish settlements on a land inhabited by others, and that could therefore only be instituted through ethnic cleansing and maintained by social and political arrangements incompatible with the ideal of equal citizenship. Religious opposition faded throughout the first two decades of the state’s existence; after the Six Day War, it all but disappeared except in some ultra-orthodox circles. Within Israel, principled political opposition faded too. Of course, there are still intrepid souls intent on implementing democratic values, not just for the Herrenvolk but for Arabs and Jews alike. But within the broad-tent Zionist camp, there is by now only support for an ethnic state. However, within that consensus, there developed a dove/hawk division as Palestinian resistance increased. Thus there are Israeli doves who believe that the goal of a secure and formally democratic ethnic state is best achieved by negotiating a “two state solution” to “the Palestinian crisis”; and hawks who believe that by military and other repressive means, Palestinians can be “persuaded” to leave their country of origin and/or to remain permanently subaltern within it. The split came to a head with the conquest in 1967 of the relatively small portion (about 28%) of mandate Palestine that Israel did not acquire in 1948, and with the occupation that ensued. Doves think the ideal of a Jewish state is best served by ending all (or most) of the occupation of Palestinian territory; hawks support the installation of an Apartheid regime in the occupied West Bank and Gaza. Israel still has a genuine Left; and, from time to time, it has also had a sizeable peace movement. But most Israeli peaceniks, including those who belong to parties of the Left, are not really principled leftists (or, for that matter, principled democrats); they are only doves.

Again, what makes a dove, in the sense in question here, is not just the adoption of dovish policies. Dovish policies can also be adopted for any of a variety of principled reasons. A dove is dovish for strategic or tactical reasons; reasons of the sort that make hawks hawkish. This is not necessarily a bad thing: the dove/hawk consensus on ends may be perfectly defensible. Whether it is or not can only be determined on a case-by-case basis. In the case of the dove/hawk consensus on Vietnam, the consensus view was patently indefensible. The reasons why are well-known, despite a concerted effort over the past several decades to render them obscure. I will not rehearse them here.

In that case too, the doves were plainly more right than the hawks -- one need only reflect on the harm done by the United States in Southeast Asia as the Vietnam War grinded on. The lesson has not exactly sunk in within our political class, though it is significant that hardly anyone today, this side of John McCain, bothers to insist otherwise. I suspect that this assessment holds in most other cases too; it certainly does in the Israeli dove/hawk divide. Usually, though not necessarily, when there is a dove/hawk split, the doves are more right than the hawks – within the parameters of their consensus on ends.

History shows that peace movements comprised mainly of doves shrink almost to oblivion when hawks are on the march. When hawk policies fail (on their own terms) – when they lead to “quagmires” – then the doves come back. Thus, in 2003, there was a dearth of doves in the United States; in 2007, there is an abundance.

Thanks to the stupendous incompetence of the Cheney/Bush government, a vast majority (perhaps more than 75%) of Americans now oppose the Iraq War. As was also the case in the waning days of the Vietnam War, much of this opposition is apolitical. By 1969, even as the peace movement grew, most opponents of the Vietnam War were not, in any recognizable sense, part of it. This is even truer in today’s anti-Iraq War consensus – largely, but not entirely, because, without conscription, American universities have been comparatively quiescent and non-oppositional, not just politically but also culturally. Thus the proportion of principled opponents to doves within the anti-war movement is probably greater now than was the case in the anti-war movement of a generation ago. But now, as then, most war opponents are neither principled anti-imperialists nor doves who differ from hawks on means, not ends; they are just good people who want the killing and maiming to stop, who want to “give peace a chance.”

As the Iraq War grinds on, many prominent Democrats, having been unenthusiastic hawks, have turned into doves. They agree with their hawk counterparts on the essential soundness of the foreign policy framework that emerged, in the guise of the first Bush’s New World Order, after the implosion of the Soviet Union in 1991, and that was finally consolidated in the (Bill) Clinton years. Its basic contours are clear: the United States must remain overwhelmingly dominant militarily, it must project its power throughout the world, and it must use its power to maintain and, if need be, install neo-liberal economic regimes everywhere. To this end, the United States must control the world’s strategic assets, especially oil; and its core economic institutions, the financial ones especially, must remain dominant over potential European and Asian competitors.

On these broad objectives, along with more particular ones -- such as the need to suppress troublesome peoples, like Arabs and Serbs and uppity Latin Americans in Cuba, Venezuela and elsewhere -- Clintonized Democrats and neo-conservatives agree. There are strategic and tactical differences between them: for example, the neo-cons are more intent on remaking the political order of the Middle East and Central Asia – both to secure direct control over petroleum rich areas and also to make the region safer for Israel, their favorite country and, not incidentally, America’s regional proxy. But neither Clintonites nor neo-cons would think for a moment of demilitarizing the region or, notwithstanding their professed economic ideology, letting genuinely “free markets” determine trade.

Under the “leadership” of Cheney and Bush, the consensus view has taken a decidedly militaristic turn. This has given rise to a dove/hawk division within the framework of the consensus view. It is revealing, though, that today’s doves, unlike the ones a generation ago, are not very dovish. Few, if any, of them oppose Bill Clinton’s military and quasi-military interventions, even in retrospect. Few, if any, oppose Bush’s Afghanistan War. Some of them – Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, for example – claim that they would put even more troops into Afghanastan than Bush has. Today’s doves are dovish on Iraq, but not much else.

Even on Iraq, though, they insult their constituents’ intelligence by claiming that they oppose the war while funding it (as many of them still vote to do) or that they’re “supporting the troops” – the current shibboleth – by putting them in harm’s way and turning them into purveyors of murder and mayhem. [They insult their constituents’ intelligence even more egregiously when, while voicing opposition to the Cheney/Bush war on freedom in their so-called War on Terror, they support the Protect America Act.] Democrats today have become Pelosiites – talking the talk their constituents demand, but doing the opposite. Is it because they are cowards? Or are they just doves who ultimately agree with Cheney and Bush?

Chris Floyd has argued recently that, appearance to the contrary, the Democrats are not cowardly; that their actions bespeak their convictions. He’s right, of course; most Congressional Democrats and most Democratic Presidential contenders, doves though they be, are proponents of the consensus view. They are certainly not principled anti-imperialists. A lead article by Jeff Zeleny and Marc Santora in the Aug. 12 New York Times makes this point painfully clear by recounting how each of the Democratic contenders for the Presidential nomination, while “opposing” the Iraq War, has plans for leaving (some) American troops in or near Iraq for a long time to come.

[Zeleny and Santora cite one exception – Bill Richardson – suggesting that he’s naïve about the technical feasibility of executing a swift and immediate withdrawal. It is yet another shameful mark against the Times that Zeleny and Santora fail even to acknowledge the existence of the two most principled anti-War candidates – Mike Gravel and Dennis Kucinich. These two are very much in the race; they even appear in “debates,” much to the consternation of the “serious” candidates. But, except when one or the other makes a colorful or otherwise memorable remark in one of those joint appearances, the paper of record regards them as non-persons. Thus they remain non-contenders.]

In short, Floyd is right about what Democrats want. And because the consensus view is dangerously unsound – to cite just one of many reasons why, because it invites blowback and breeds terrorism – Floyd is right to fault Democrats for their convictions. But he is wrong about their lack of cowardice. It is not one or the other; one can be both a dove and a coward; that’s what most Democrats are.

The so-called Progressive Caucus is a case in point. There are a handful, certainly fewer than a dozen, genuine “progressives” among its many members. But while these brave souls will, on occasion, take good stands, they won’t act in strategically in a way that would leverage their power – as, for example, Newt Gingrich and his cohorts did in their Contract ON America days. They are too afraid of losing their place as “players.” A similar point could be made for the handful of progressives in the Black Caucus; witness John Conyers’ refusal to launch impeachment proceedings against Dick Cheney. But cowardice is not limited to the party’s left fringe. Quite the contrary. How else explain the reluctance of so many Democrats even to consider censuring George Bush, something they were more than willing to do with Bill Clinton during Monicagate? How else explain the abject servility of Democrats before the might of the Israel lobby? Even holders of secure seats who have many Arab-American and other historically Muslim constituents steadfastly refuse even the palest hint of evenhandedness. How else account for the reluctance of nearly all Democrats even to rise to the level of Pelosiism – on Bush wars, on gay rights, on civil liberties, and so much more – waiting until their constituents are so far ahead of them that they have political cover to burn? The Democratic Party is indeed the Party of Pusillanimity (POP). But it is also, even more plainly, a party of the New World Order consensus – in bed with its “rival,” the GOP. It is a party of cowards AND doves.

* *
Of course, the POP is also still the lesser evil party. This is important. With so much in play, even small differences can have powerful effects on peoples’ lives. But a lesser evil is still an evil; and cowardly dovish Democrats are a very great evil indeed. This is why we must do our best to force them do what principled anti-imperialists would do because their political survival depends on it. Three cheers therefore for Cindy Sheehan, running against Nancy Pelosi! Three cheers for anyone who runs, from the left, against any of the cowardly doves! But too bad for us. Too bad that, in our very undemocratic system, control of the Presidency matters as much as it does, and that the office must be pursued in the way that it is. In consequence, the two “front-runners,” Clinton and Obama, are in a race to outdo one another as national security, New World Order Democrats. John Edwards deserves for making poverty an issue, as it has not been since the 1960s. But, in foreign policy, he shows no sign of breaking away from the consensus. The others are worse still – Joe Biden, especially. Bill Richardson should indeed be praised for claiming that he’d bring all the troops home; but he too is not yet even a dove on Bill Clinton’s wars or on Afghanistan. There are, of course, the Times’ non-persons, Kucinich and Gravel. But those two do not even exist, according to the de facto arbiter of what is and is not marginal. No, it isn’t just Fox News that’s the problem. Our vaunted “liberal” media too are gearing up to force a choice that will insure that, in November 2008, we will have no choice but to have to trudge off to the polls to vote for a Clintonite Restoration.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Edgar Bergen to Leave Charlie McCarthy

According to the Wall Street Journal, Karl Rove wants to spend more time with his family – deep in the heart of Texas. Could the Bush boy’s boat be sinking so quickly that even the biggest rats are deserting it? Or is this a Cheney micro-coup – that will allow him to rule “unencumbered by the thought process” (as the Car Guys would say). In either case, the Bush boy is about to lose his brain (as James Moore and Wayne Slater call the bathetic malefactor). The image is startling but also dangerous: W running around like a chicken (hawk) without a head!

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Obama v. Clinton: the Stakes

Obama wants it both ways: he praises himself for not voting to authorize the Iraq War (lucky for him he wasn’t yet a Senator), but then he wants to be the supreme national security Democrat. To that end, he made a gaffe that Clinton and the other candidates seized upon: he said that, to fight terrorists, he’d conduct military operations in Pakistan – not just a U.S. ally, but an ally with a bomb – with or without the approval of the Pakistani government. This was a very stupid thing to say. But he didn’t back down -- not even after taking days of criticism or after being called on it at the AFL-CIO candidates forum in Chicago. What is he thinking – that standing by stupidity worked for George Bush, so why not for me too? He made another gaffe in Chicago as well, though few Americans noticed (or cared): he referred to the Canadian Prime Minister as a President. Might it be that the problem with Obama isn’t just (!!) his politics? Might it be that he really isn’t sufficiently “seasoned”? That would be bad news for those of us who were counting on him not to win but to blow Hillary out of the water. Remember the stakes. There’s no political space between Hillary and Bill, and if there’s any question about what Clinton administrations are like, let British journalist John Pilger explain.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

The AFL-CIO and the Clintons

It looks like the AFL-CIO will free member unions to endorse whomever they choose. This is good news for John Edwards. He is likely to do well not just because he has, of late, made common cause with many unions but also, according to this analysis, because organized labor won't forgive the Clintons for NAFTA [at least some of Bill Clinton's victims have good sense!] and because both Chris Dodd and Joe Biden have longstanding pro-labor records. They are politically astute enough to realize that, even so, organized labor won't "waste" their endorsements on them -- at least not while they're still so far behind the "top tier" -- but that they can expect no premature endorsements of anyone else.

Monday, August 6, 2007

More Profiles in Cowardice

Last Friday and Saturday, the Democratic led Senate and Democratic led House passed the so-called Protect America Act, the Bush government’s revision of the already spineless FISA system. For an analysis of the harm the Protect America Act will do, see the Balkinization blog run by Yale Constitutional Law Professor Jack Balkin. To see which Democratic House members collaborated with the Bush government, look here. To find out which Democratic Senators sided with Cheney and Bush, look here. Note, especially, Feinstein (California), Mikulski (Maryland), Klobuchar (Minnesota), Casey (Pennsylvania), and Webb (Virginia). If only for this (but there is so much more!) each and every Democrat who, yet again, aided and abetted the Cheney/Bush War on Liberty deserves utter contempt.

Of Arms and the Man

Thanks more to the military’s protestations than to popular opinion, and no thanks at all to the Democrats, it is looking less likely that Cheney and Bush, even if they are not impeached , will end their tenure with the war on Iran that they and their neo-con advisors plainly want. This is at least partly why they’ve fallen back on Plan B. Plan B has been a familiar resort, at least since the Carter administration, whenever the Democrats’ and Republicans’ paymasters feel the urge for a (financial) surge of their own. The idea is to sell zillions of dollars worth of weapons to Saudi Arabia and the other potentates of the Gulf – allegedly, in this instance, to counter Iran. The Saudis don’t need the weapons, can’t use them, and wouldn’t use them if they could, because they, like their counterparts elsewhere in the Gulf, fear their own armies more than they fear any external enemy. But, in the eyes of our leaders, it’s a winning strategy nonetheless. Sure, it is likely to unleash a new arms race in the Middle East, but it also feeds “our” friends’ vanity and our capitalists’ coffers, so why not go for it – recklessness be damned!

This time, as in the past when ancestor Plan Bs have come around, there’s a little, but otherwise insurmountable, problem that must be addressed – the Israel lobby might object. There’s a time worn remedy for this too, however: give – the word is apt! -- Israel more. This time is no exception. Where are the Democrats on this? A few of the more “progressive” ones, like New York Congressmen Jerrold Nadler and Anthony Weiner, are out front pointing out the folly of selling weapons to the Saudis. But neither they nor any Democrat has yet to oppose the countermeasure – the gift to the Israeli military. Certainly none of the Democratic candidates, except Kucinich and Gravel, would dare do anything of the sort. Obama was once comparatively free from the thrall of the Israel lobby but, for as long as he has been on the national state, he has been running away from that part of his past with all deliberate speed. Clinton is hopeless, of course; and so are all the Congressional leaders.

What about John Edwards? So far in this campaign, his main failing has been to acquiesce to the Israel lobby’s demand that military action against Iran not be ruled out – should Iran develop a nuclear deterrent such as Israel has had for the past forty years. This may be wise politically, for the moment. But it is also evidence of the cowardice that ties even this “populist” to the Democratic Party, the POP, the Party of Pusillanimity.

National Security Democrats

The latest round started when Barack Obama said that, of course, he’d meet with “our” enemies. Hillary Clinton said that was “naïve.” She then dragged out her husband’s foreign policy heavies, Richard Holbrooke and Mad Maddy Albright, to elaborate. [If they and their ilk are indeed our future, as they likely will be, it will again strain the Democrats’ claim to be the lesser evil, especially if there are no Cheney/Bush neo-cons in power to make them look good.] Thus the media found Obama guilty of a “gaffe.” In response, he declared in Chicago last week that he’d have no problem sending troops into Pakistan to fight terrorists, even over the objections of the Pakastani government. One would have thought that proposing to violate an ally’s sovereignty would ignite an even greater chorus about Obama’s unfitness to rule. However, it seems that the Democrats are now so enamored of national security posturing and, what comes to the same thing, that the Clintonites are so close to the neo-cons in principle (differing only in being more competent and less out of control) that Obama’s position has won more praise than blame from leading Democrats, just as it has earned him favor on the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page. Is it that leading Democrats are so sure that George Bush has already won the election for them that they’re now eyeing the November election – going after benighted Giuliani supporters? Last Friday (in the Senate) and Saturday (in the House), substantial numbers of Democrats gave the Bush government what it wanted in revisions to the already spineless Foreign Surveillance Intelligence Act (FISA). This utterly contemptible capitulation in the Cheney/Bush War on Liberty suggests that many Democrats are indeed trying to fill Giuliani’s empty shoes. But I think, even more than that, the Democrats are only showing their true colors. Many of them would like the Democrats to be the National Security party again, as they were until some time during the Nixon administration, when a growing anti-war movement within the Democratic Party caused more than a few Cold War liberals to turn Republican and morph, ever so slightly, into neo-conservatives.

There is another cause for concern as well – at least to the (very limited) extent that the New York Times and NPR’s doyenne of conventional wisdom, Cokie Roberts, can be believed. If they’re right, despite her history of Bush aiding and abetting, Clinton has lately won over large swathes of anti-war Democrats, not by apologizing for her voting record, but by insisting, lately, on “timelines” for troop withdrawals. According to the media agenda setters, her operatives have engineered this transformation so skillfully that she has managed to avoid charges of flip-flopping à la John Kerry. Lets hope even liberals are not so easily fooled. [Writing in Salon (August 6), Michael Scherer suggests that this hope may not be realized; that, on this point, the conventional wisdom is dead right.]

Lets also hope that John Edwards is savvy enough not to follow Obama into the national security camp. Should Edwards win the nomination, he’ll most likely end up there eventually. But, for now, with Obama trying to outdo Clinton on the toughness factor, Edwards is looking more and more like the least Clintonite of the leading contenders. That’s not exactly a reason to vest hope in his candidacy, but it is a very good reason to support him over the other two.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Democrats Confront Bush's Fredo

As we enter the month of August, everyone is acting true to form. The Bush Crime Family, unlike the Corleones, has decided, for now, not to do in Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, their Fredo figure. The Pelosiite leadership in Congress has decided to ignore the will of the majority of Democratic voters and of increasingly many independent and Republican voters too on the impeachment of Dick Cheney and then George W. Bush. Unlike George H.W, who would turn on a dime if a flunky of his became troublesome (think Manuel Noriega or, for that matter, Saddam Hussein), the son stands by his flunkies to the point of ludicrousness. Meanwhile, the Democrats are ludicrously misguided about how best to advance their own parochial interests. Needless to say, they are still cowardly too. But if Democrats in the Senate Judiciary Committee have the courage to follow through with procedures they have already set in motion – a very big if – and if circumstances don’t intervene to make the issue moot, then maybe, before long, the Democrats will find themselves doing the right thing despite themselves. They’re at risk of finding themselves in impeachment mode – not, if they can help it, against Cheney and Bush, but against that twosome’s hapless but loyal AG.

There is no question that it would be good for the rule of law if Gonzales were put out of the Justice Department, and it would be a good thing too if the Democrats put him out. It might even help move them to take the obvious next steps. But “if history has shown us anything,” it is not just that anybody can be killed, as Michael Corleone maintained (correctly, it turned out), but also that no one should expect much from Democrats. Even if the Democrats do get the impeachment effort underway, they are likely to stall out after Bush’s Freddo gets his due.

However the fact that the impeachment of Gonzales is now “on the table,” even in the view of the editors of The New York Times, raises an interesting question: what does it take to get Democrats, including “progressive” Democrats, to act like (small-d) democrats should?

Gonzales’s impeachment, if it happens, will provide data relevant for reflecting on that question. But there is already much to reflect on, now that almost all Democrats, even the most Clintonized among them, say that they have turned against the Iraq War. In both word and deed, the vast majority of Congressional Democrats were Bush aiders and abettors long after majority opinion turned against Bush’s war. Of course, in our “democracy,” the median dollar matters more than the median voter. Even so, most Democrats stood by Bush long after it became clear as well to most of their paymasters that Bush’s war was a lost cause. To this day, they won’t defund it, though it is clear as can be that to fund the war is to support it. The difference now is only that to a woman and man, all Democrats proclaim their opposition. Still, it is something of a victory that all leading Democrats now say that the war was planned and waged incompetently or that it has become too costly to win; in other words, that “mistakes were made” and that the thing to do now is to cut the losses.

This parallels what happened with “liberal” opinion during the Vietnam War. After Tet, when both public and elite opinion finally turned against the war, similar reasons were advanced for getting out of Vietnam; the problem was not that the U.S. had no business there in the first place – it was that the war had turned into a “quagmire.” In both cases, the implication is that it would have been wonderful had these wars turned out differently. Had the Iraq war been a “cake walk,” as the neo-cons promised, be assured that it would be a non-issue today in Democratic Party circles – much like Bill Clinton’s murderous Iraq sanctions or his brutal aerial attacks on Serbia. During the Vietnam “quagmire,” as in the present one, there were “doves” who wanted to cut America’s losses and “hawks” who wanted “to stay the course” -- not to win, since that could only happen in their dreams, but in order to keep the country from “falling apart.” There were exceptions then, as now; politicians who joined the people in thinking the war not just a lost cause, but a cause that should be lost. Mike Gravel was one of few exceptions back then; he is one of few exceptions now. He joins Dennis Kucinich and the handful of “progressives” in the Progressive Caucus, a tiny minority within that group, who oppose this Bush war on principled grounds. These political outliers are now, as then, of one mind with ever growing numbers of people. One would never know it, though, from the Congressional Record or, worse still, The New York Times.

Similarly, in the Pelosiite calculus, the wrongness of keeping Cheney and Bush in office is not the issue. The question is what will advance the Democrats’ electoral prospects in 2008; in other words, what will further the prospects of a Clintonite Restoration, empowering the likes of Richard Holbrooke, Joe Biden (now running against Holbrooke for Secretary of State) and the doyenne of the Iraq sanctions, Secretary of State Madelyn Albright. It takes a Condoleezza to make her look good. How many lives are Democrats willing to sacrifice for that possible future?

The question for Democrats in the coming weeks will be whether the House Judiciary Committee, chaired by John Conyers, will have the courage to enforce contempt citations against Bush Crime Family figures like Harriet Miers (who might now be on the Supreme Court, had not the Republican God squad, not the Democrats, blocked her way!) and White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten; and, whether their Senate counterparts will move against Gonzales and Karl Rove. I wouldn’t bet on it. But even if they do, so long as they hold that the problem is just that “mistakes were made,” so long as they do not join Gravel and Kucinich and the others in principled opposition to a crime against humanity and a crime against the peace, they themselves are worthy of contempt --- not in the technical legal sense that they have now brought into play, but according to the word’s literal and utmost meaning.

Note: There is mounting evidence that popular support for impeachment is moving close to the point that the Democratic Party’s official position might actually tip, as happened more than two years ago with support for the Iraq War. However, in this instance, time is short; and there is little chance that the party’s leaders will act in time. Still, it is good news that in the past two weeks, more “progressives” have signed on to HR 333. This proposal, to begin impeachment proceedings against Dick Cheney, now has 34 co-sponsors! Read about it here . This is progress. But how many more must die before all those other “progressives” get on board?