Sunday, October 26, 2008

Choosing Our Battles

“It’s not over ‘till it’s over” but, with “senior campaign aids” sending out resumes and calling Sarah Palin a “rogue candidate” while prominent Republicans hasten to endorse Barack Obama, it sure looks like the McCain campaign is kaput. It couldn’t happen to a more doddering, dishonorable, war mongering former napalmist or to a more stupendously unqualified Barbie doll!

This means that we can look forward, deservedly, to some warm glows as an African American assumes the highest office in the land in a capitol city that was still segregated within the lifetime of his running-mate! It means that the whole world can breathe easier. It means that our next President will be a man of consummate political skill, considerable intelligence and unusual eloquence. In these respects, Obama excels in comparison not just with Reagan and the Bushes – who wouldn’t! -- but in comparison with Bill Clinton too. Still, in the end, his politics and Clinton’s are not all that different. Obama probably knows better; perhaps Clinton did as well. But when our lesser evils are bought and paid for by “malefactors of great wealth,” and when they are on board for maintaining American world dominance and military superiority, there is only so much we can expect from them.

There is the idea out there that Obama is more moveable (in the right direction) than Clinton was. Perhaps he is by force of his personality and intelligence, but this won’t come to much unless “we” who want more than a Clintonite Restoration make it so. If the past is any guide, that will only happen if circumstances force “us” to develop the requisite capacities and militance. In the world Obama will inherit, that is not impossible. This is why we need urgently to think beyond November 4, and to choose our battles wisely.

Since Obama started from generally Clintonite positions and then, after securing the nomination, surged even more rightward, there are many battles to wage. But in a major recession (or worse), it is probably unwise to push hard on policies that would require huge expenditures to implement or that would cause major economic perturbations. This is why now is not the time to push aggressively for, say, single-payer health insurance. Should Obama’s much worse plan be enacted, with all its wasteful giveaways to the insurance industry, it may be possible eventually to back into a single-payer framework. That was more or less what John Edwards’ better, but still bad, plan expressly envisioned. Perhaps we can force Obama to move more in that direction. We should certainly keep talking up the single-payer idea, the better to keep the idea alive. But that’s about all we can expect to achieve for now.

Similarly, let Obama and his advisors have their way, for now, with economic reconstruction. If circumstances force a new New Deal upon them, fine. Some of what they do will then merit enthusiastic support, some will merit criticism. But it’s not for “us” to save capitalism from itself. If it must be saved, then let the more enlightened capitalists and their political operatives do it; let them institute a suitable regulatory apparatus and tax regime (including perhaps “sales taxes” on financial instruments and currency exchanges). Let them punish the white collar criminals within their ranks. For the time being, “we” lack the capacity and the vision to do much better. Paradoxically, it is reasonable to hope that, if they do their jobs well, we who see a future beyond capitalism can begin to do ours.

In marked contrast, however we can and should now move on a major cause of the current economic turbulence: the three Bush wars – the two real ones that are already lost (despite assurances to the contrary by nearly the entire political class and the mainstream media) and the phony one, the so-called War on Terror. By now, Obama has all but dropped even the pretense of being an anti-war candidate. But it was the Iraq War that brought the Democrats to power in 2006, laying the foundation for what is likely to happen nine short days from now. It is up to us to remind Democrats of this, and to keep these matters foremost in Obama’s mind.

Several consequences follow:

- consistent with a sane purchase on what is required to keep the “homeland” secure, we should demand a rapid restoration of the rule of international law (including habeas corpus rights and prohibitions against torture), along with restoration of the freedoms Americans enjoyed before the so-called War on Terror began.

- we should raise (or rather re-raise) demands for immediate withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan. We should demand as well that suitable funds be provided for the reconstruction of those countries under local or international (not American) auspices; in other words, reparations.

-since the the outcomes of the Bush wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are easily obfuscated, we cannot count on the perception of defeat to force a “soft landing” upon us (as the Germans and the Japanese could after World War II). It is increasingly unlikely that the shock of defeat will even be salient enough to give rise to an Iraq Syndrome, analogous to the very beneficial Vietnam Syndrome of the 1970s and 80s. But, if we fight hard enough for it, we can force an accounting for what happened under Cheney and Bush that would help make it less likely that similar misadventures are undertaken in the future. Ideally, this would involve bringing “those two,” as McCain might say, along with their fellow miscreants to justice -- for war crimes, crimes against the peace and crimes against humanity. Unless compelled, the Democrats, with Obama in the lead, are too committed to “bipartisanship”, “reaching across the aisle,” “supporting the troops” and similar nonsense to do anything of the sort. Expect them instead to try to treat the matter similarly to the way Clinton dealt with Iran-Contra malfeasances when he took office in 1992. The better to make nice with Republicans, Clinton effectively called off investigations (and possible prosecutions). Needless to say, his kindness was hardly reciprocated.

If Bush and Cheney are to be brought to justice, it will be because intrepid local prosecutors bring charges of murder against them, as Vincent Bugliosi proposes in his widely read, but seldom reviewed, The Prosecution of George W. Bush for Murder (Vanguard Press, 2008). We should encourage those prosecutions. But also, at the federal level, if the Democrats remain steadfast in their cowardice, refusing to prosecute, we can at least force them to launch something like a “truth and reconciliation” commission. Then, if nothing else, the American public can find out definitively who knew what when; they can learn the extent of the lies Cheney and Bush and the rest of them told.

In other words, we can force the Democrats in Congress to ask again the well-worn question: what did they know and when did they know it? That’s a question not just for high officials in the Bush administration, but for their Democratic aiders and abettors as well. It is a line of inquiry that can be as “bipartisan” as the times demand.

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