Wednesday, October 24, 2007


The Democratic leadership in the House and Senate think they’ve got a good thing going by passing popular spending bills – SCHIP, the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, was one – that Bush is sure to veto in the name of fiscal conservatism. Then they count on there being too few Republicans willing to break with the administration to override the veto. This, they think, will make the Republicans look bad, even worse than they otherwise would, going into the 2008 elections. What makes it all work, in their minds, is that Bush wants an extra $200 billion more for his Iraq and Afghanistan wars, while the spending he’ll veto is unlikely to amount to a tenth of that.

Were this nothing more than electoral posturing, it wouldn’t be particularly objectionable. After all, in a choice between Republicans and Democrats, one can only hope that the lesser evil party will do as well as it can. But the Democrats’ strategy isn’t just posturing – it’s a charade. With Democrats controlling the House and Senate, the billions for Bush’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the additional billions for his so-called War on Terror (actually, a war on the rule of law) are bipartisan ventures. The Democrats could shut all these operations down in a minute if they wanted to; they could free up money galore for social purposes. But, of course, they won’t. They’ll wring their hands in mock despair instead.

It isn’t just that the Democratic Party is in the thrall of the competitive elections game. Nor is it that plus the (patently false) belief that the Bush wars are making Americans safer. If anybody doubts that they’re making Americans less safe, they should read David Cole’s and Jules Lobel’s new book, LESS SAFE LESS FREE: Why America is Losing the War on Terror (New Press, 2007). [Cole and Lobel argue exhaustively that the war on terror (and the preventive wars that are part of it) not only devastate traditional freedoms and longstanding commitments to the rule of law, but are also counterproductive. This is absolutely obvious, of course, but evidently the case needs to be made, given how many supporters war mongering Republicans like John McCain and Rudy Giuliani have, and inasmuch as there plainly are Democrats too who believe this nonsense. The task Cole and Lobel took upon themselves is a bit like explaining why creationism isn’t science. But somebody’s got to do it.]

The real problem is that, in the end, the Democratic leadership – indeed, the entire Clintonite wing of the party (and not only them) -- want what Cheney and Bush want: a pax Americana assured through control of strategic resources (like oil), and maintained by a military force that no one dares to challenge. This Republicrat consensus is related to the more familiar Washington consensus for “free trade” and neo-liberal economic policies friendly to American corporations. It is, as it were, the Washington consensus’ foreign policy. Bush’s failures threaten the appearance of American invincibility. The US has lost big time in Iraq, and it’s losing in Afghanistan. Republicans and Democrats alike want it to seem otherwiwse because the last thing they want is an Iraq Syndrome even more disabling to imperial designs than the Vietnam Syndrome that Reagan and the first Bush set out to combat and that the (Bill) Clinton administration finally dispatched.

Of course, Democrats can’t just come out as Republicrats – not if they want to retain their “base.” The candidates especially can’t, though all of them – except the unelectable ones (Kucinich and Gravel) – are on board. So their only recourse is to say that they’ll keep on funding the Bush wars in order to “support the troops.” Can anyone say those words without choking in their craw? Evidently. It flows out of the mouths of Democrats and Republicans alike.

I’ve pointed out countless times in earlier entries that putting American troops in harm’s way, subjecting them to death and injury, ruining their lives and the lives of their families, and turning them into purveyors of murder and mayhem is an odd way tp “support” them. It hardly need be said that those who really want to support the troops will do whatever they can to bring them home now. In our so-called democracy, we, the people, can’t do much – witness the 2006 elections. But, unless Cheney and Bush abrogate the Constitution altogether, Congressional Democrats can!

Of course, they won’t – as long as there are troops they can say they have to “support.” They’d rather play out their charade. It may be too much to hope that enough people will notice, but the fact is that, by doing so, they’ve backed themselves into a corner. If it all comes down to supporting the troops and if, thanks to Bush, there really must be a trade off between that and supporting even more needy constituencies, why should the troops get it all? Why not children, the poor, the sick, and the elderly? Why not money for infrastructure and public health and disaster relief? Could it be because the troops are doing something necessary and honorable; because they’re “serving their country” in a way that the rest of us are not? Even if this were true, the question would remain: why should they get it all? [Never mind that getting it all in this context means getting only grief.] But, of course, it isn’t true that they’re doing something necessary and honorable or even worthwhile. More than three-quarters of the American people have, by now, come around to this view. So have almost all Democratic legislators, whether they’ll admit it or not. It’s long past time that they stopped pretending otherwise. Playing out their transparent charade is a moral and strategic blunder. And, insofar as it matters, as it evidently does to the party’s movers and shakers, it is also bad electoral gamesmanship. After Cheney and Bush, only doctrinaire Clintonites and the truly foolish can still believe that bellicosity buys votes. Will the Democrats overcome their Clintonism and end their foolishness in time?

NOTE: While Democrats play games, Bush and Cheney may be revving up for yet another reckless military adventure, targeting Iran. Democrats have done nothing to stop this latest march towards war; but until now the relatively saner voices in the administration, and in the military and intelligence communities have held Cheney and Company back. But Cheney is used to getting his way and so, not unrelatedly, is the Israel lobby, which is dead set on the US taking on Iran. This report from The Congressional Quarterly suggests that it may be happening again.

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