Monday, October 30, 2006

Ass Kicked -- Conclusion

On yesterday's "Face The Nation," one of the Sunday shows where the elite talk to each other and hone their propaganda, DNC chairman Howard Dean admitted that even if the Dems take control of Congress next week, don't expect much movement on Iraq. After all, Dean said, Bush will still be in charge of the military, and will doubtless stick to his failed policy in the face of all counter-evidence and/or pressure. All the Dems will be able to do is set timetables and try to nudge Bush toward meeting them.


Man, is there any weaker "opposition" party on the planet? The Dems are laughable, simply laughable -- or would be, if their cowardice and cravenness didn't contribute to more death and destruction. Here's a criminal president, poll numbers in a wet ditch, who's as ripe a candidate for impeachment as you could ask for, but if the Dems take control of the legislative wing of government, don't expect them to do anything hasty, or God forbid, politically just. The Dems are solely interested in power and control; and if this happens to fall into their laps due to the incompetence and venality of the Repubs, rather than from any innovative or courageous policy the Dems might fashion, then that's even better, since the expectations won't be as high. Just having a majority, however slim or inactive, will more than do, especially for those libloggers and radio hosts who will obediently toss the Party-approved confetti.

Bet you can't wait for '08!

As I said last week, I'm laying out my history with and against the Dems to show those of you who believe I'm merely an ideological hit-and-run artist that my frustration and anger have serious roots. We left off at 1992, the dawn of the Clinton era, which most American libs saw as a Second Coming -- of what, I was never really sure. Camelot? The Great Society? Jimmy Carter's support for state terror in Central America, southern Korea and East Timor? Clinton's victory in '92 was a heady time for those who lost their heads and have yet to reclaim them. It marked the moment when American liberalism finally conceded whatever ground it still held to the rightwing, and it has staggered along ever since.

When Clinton was re-elected in '96, it appeared to the credulous that the Dems were truly back after 12 years of Republican White House rule. Unlike Jimmy Carter, Clinton got a second term; but then, unlike Jimmy Carter, Clinton faced a weak Bob Dole rather than a robust Ronald Reagan. And besides, as in '92, it was Clinton who wore Reagan's pompadour, with Dole playing the dual role of Carter/Walter Mondale. The GOP had no shot that year, and they knew it, which is why they offered up Dole for ritual sacrifice. They were looking ahead to 2000, when the presidential field would be wide open, or at least open enough to push an under-educated political scion on a public they despise and fear. If one has any doubt that Repub elites have zero respect for those they seek to con and rule, you need not look any further than George W. Bush.

The same can be said of the Dems who, after the brief Bill Bradley charade, went whole hog with another privileged political son, Al Gore. In Gore, the Dems' move to the right was more or less complete, especially when Gore picked Joe Lieberman to serve a heartbeat away. This was The Ticket, libs and assorted progressives were told, and there would be no deviation. If you were left-of-center, the Democratic Party owned your vote, if not your full allegiance, and any rejection of what Party elites deemed as politically acceptable would not be tolerated.

I heard this a lot during the 2000 campaign, not only from Party hacks online and on TV, but from people I knew who worked for Dems on Capitol Hill. Eight years of Clinton made these wonks even more power-hungry; plus, they were pissed off and defiant after Clinton survived impeachment, and they craved some payback. I got into some pretty petty arguments with a few of my professional liberal friends when discussing the dreadful Dem ticket. But petty was nothing once I decided to support Ralph Nader.

I didn't jump on the Nader wagon overnight. As in '88, '92 and '96, I seriously considered boycotting the presidential circus in favor of watching the inevitable bullshit explosions as election day neared. But the more I read about Nader's run, the more drawn in I became. If the lib wonks were angry with how the Repubs treated their god Bill Clinton, then we who believed that the Dems weren't much better than the GOP, that is, when they weren't openly helping to enact reactionary policies, were insulted that Gore/Lieberman was being shoved down our throats. How much further right were the Dems supposed to slide before they were called on it? This, and the hostile, condescending comments made by those Dems I knew made my decision that much easier.

Besides, I was interested to see if Nader could grab the five percent of the vote needed to award the Greens federal matching funds, which would help to build a small, but potentially effective alternative party. Not that I was crazy about the Greens. Some of the meetings I attended and members I chatted with did little to lift my political spirits. The entire election seemed like a no-win situation, no matter how it went. But I knew a couple of old colleagues who worked directly for Nader, and they kept me inside the loop, which helped somewhat. And of course, there was Nader himself, who during that election gave some of the best and most stirring speeches of his public life. Plus, he told the truth about the fixed political system and the corporations that control it. That alone was inspirational, especially when set against the status quo droning of Gore and Lieberman's friendly patty-cake with Dick Cheney. Finally, there was a clear and unambiguous choice.

As the Nader campaign moved into the fall and attracted huge audiences nationwide, the long Dem knives really came out, and it was clear that Nader's poll numbers would be cut down by election day, through direct personal attacks and 'round the clock fear mongering. Still, I did what I could; and when Nader was booked for "The Late Show with David Letterman," the show's producers told Nader that he could bring on and read his own Top Ten list. A good friend of mine, working with Phil Donahue as a Nader adviser, phoned me and asked if I could come up with two Top Ten lists -- actually, 30 Top Ten jokes overall -- in less than 36 hours. I said yes, then pulled a serious all-nighter with the wife laying on the office couch, snoozing until I woke her to read out the latest batch. I met my deadline, and was told that the Nader camp loved the lists. Thing is, I couldn't stay awake to see if Nader used any of my jokes, as I was exhausted. I never did see his appearance, and was told that at the last minute, Nader wanted to answer the Dems' attacks on his candidacy. So much for my frenzied efforts. But Phil Donahue found it funny (Marlo, too?).

We all know -- shaken-not-stirred Kali do we know -- how that election ended. Not only were enough voters scared off from voting Nader that the Greens failed to get five percent, but Al Gore, who mysteriously found his populist tongue at the last minute, fell largely mute when the Florida ballot mess spilled forth. I lack the time and energy to once again contest the whole "Thanks Ralph" reaction from angry Dems, but I don't recall many sarcastic "Thanks Al" remarks coming from the same mouths. After all, it was Gore who, after timidly poking into Florida's results, handed the whole shebang to Bush, for "the good of nation." If there ever existed a sterling example of political insider conformity, it was Gore's surrender in Florida. He could have and should have fought to the last disputed ballot, but being born into political privilege and knowing the rules of elite engagement, Gore naturally acquiesced. Yet it is Nader who bears all the blame.

Four years, 17,894 "Thanks Ralph"s and one Howard Dean meltdown later, the Dems thought they found The Answer in John Kerry. A Vietnam combat vet who was slightly to the left of Al Gore, Kerry cast a wider, if not the widest, net, bringing in not only the Dem faithful but those who felt guilty about supporting Nader in '00. There were also those, like me and many people I know, who felt no guilt about exercising free political choice, but believed that another four years of Bush would be disastrous for the world, and we, grudgingly, supported Kerry's campaign. Not that we were unaware of Kerry's shortcomings and his own imperial concepts; but it seemed that Bush was unprecedented in his criminality, and replacing him with a lesser crook would help to slow the rancid tide until a broader opposition could be forged.

Pie in the exploding sky? No doubt. But other than abstaining, what choice was there? Nader ran again, only this time as farce, with no semblance of a wider political agenda. If one truly wanted to kick out Bush, Kerry was the only option, no matter how awful he proved to be.

Don't you love democracy!

I took the '04 election so seriously that I actually worked for the Kerry/Edwards campaign. I phonebanked, stuffed envelopes, drove people around, and spent time talking to Kerry operatives in the local office. Once again, I was reminded why I despise the Dems so. Most of these people were youngish white men seeking some kind of political career with the Dem party. All they cared about was winning elections. Talking actual politics, apart from Party-approved bullet points, proved fruitless as many of them had no idea what was going on in the wider world. Nor did they know much about the history of the party they chose to serve. On top of this, some of these guys were incredibly snide and short-tempered with the volunteers, the majority of whom were senior citizens. They set themselves up as political wizards to be blindly obeyed, rather than co-workers looking to oust Bush. I spent less and less time in those offices, though put in a full day on election day, trying to avoid any serious contact with these dweebs as a few came apart at the seams, openly worried that Bush would win.

Wasn't it Harry Truman, a Dem, who said something about heat in kitchens?

So there you have it -- my history working with and against the Dems. Perhaps my anger is all on me. Perhaps I'm being unrealistic about the possibility for serious political change in the US at this point in time. Perhaps the Dems are what we deserve, and deserve to get good and hard. If so, then I willingly concede my shortcomings in this area. But please remember that I spent a chunk of my life taking the same donkey ride as you more enthusiastic boosters. How you can still find something of value in being led around the same enclosed pen, year after year, escapes me. Personally, I find the whole set-up depressing, but a lot of you don't. Well, you're welcome to your fun, but please don't insist that the rest of us must share your enthusiasm. When your hallowed mule ends these wars, stops assaults on civil liberties, expands protection for the poor, and limits if not eliminates corporate influence on public elections and politics, then maybe we can talk. Until then, keep your ass to yourselves.

THE LATEST: Dem darling, Barack Obama, is carefully and critically appraised in the November Harper's by Ken Silverstein. Well worth a read, though you must have the print edition to do so. And, surprise of surprises, Obama's camp didn't take kindly to some of Silverstein's observations, and responded in kind. That, along with Ken's reaction, may be read online here.