When I was in Germany recently, addressing the Democrats Abroad chapter in Munich, most of us in the meeting hall were perplexed by the behavior of Democratic Party officials in Washington, D.C. What is behind those leaders' ongoing timidity that in some cases is making them enablers of the worst of CheneyBush policies, especially with regard to the Iraq Occupation, excessive presidential powers, and the trashing of the Constitution?
With those topics in mind, let's spend a bit of time here trying to figure out the possible genesis of this Democratic wimpiness, and what can be done about it.
Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Reid appear to be saying:
"Given our relatively slim margins in both the House and Senate, and Bush's newfound desire to use the veto pen, we find it much more useful to try to peel off enough moderate Republicans to our side on a number of issues in order to get some positive legislation passed. Passing defunding-the-war resolutions, or ones authorizing an impeachment panel, for example, might make us feel good but they might well alienate the very moderate Republicans and Independents we're trying to lure to our side. We want to get legislation passed for the American people and that's where we should be focusing our energies, not on distracting, bash-the-Administration resolutions that stand little chance of accomplishing anything while making our legislative work more difficult."If that is the motivation for much of the Democratic leadership's timidity, I would disagree with the strategy but at least I could understand the reasoning behind it. In many cases, however, I think that argument is a smokescreen for deeper motivations.
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I haven't heard any Democratic leaders say this out loud, but it's likely that privately a number prefer the Iraq Occupation to continue through Bush's tenure because that way it's "Bush's War," a "Republican war," and the margin of victory for the Democrats in 2008 could be even bigger, given the massive unpopularity of the Iraq war in the country. If this cynical point of view is actually operable, those Democrats would have blood on their hands; all the U.S. forces and the Iraqi civilians will suffer in the next 15 months because some Machiavellian Democrats waited to act to remove the troops until after the presidential election.
What I suspect is actually going on for most Democrats is Karl Rove Syndrome. They fear that if they don't continue funding Bush's war in Iraq, they might be blamed if something goes even more disastrously wrong on the ground there (because they didn't "support the troops"); they might well be swiftboated as being "unpatriotic" or insufficiently "anti-terrorist." In short, these Dems don't want to do anything that could jeopardize their re-election chances or those of new Democratic candidates for Congress.
OK, though I find that attitude somewhat cowardly — and immoral, as an awful lot of U.S. troops and Iraqi civilians will be killed and maimed in the next 15 months — at least one can understand its partisan political roots.
THE TENDENCY TO CAVE EARLY
But how does one explain so many other caves by the Democratic leadership? Good example from last week: The revised FISA bill contained a retroactive amnesty for the giant telecoms that violated the privacy rights of American citizens in the domestic-spying operation run by CheneyBush's National Security Agency. (Incidentally, we now have learned that the data-mining started early in the Bush presidency, long before the tragic events of 9/11.) ( www.truthout.org/cgi-bin/artman/exec/view.cgi/48/17009 ) The Dems fought that amnesty clause but finally gave in. (Interestingly, Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller, who has accepted large contributions from the telecoms, ( http://opensecrets.org/politicians/contrib.asp?CID=N00001685&cycle=2006 ) capitulated early. )
But that's not the most flagrant retreat to which I'm referring here. Sen. Christopher Dodd, who is in the running for the Democratic presidential nomination, alerted Majority Leader Reid that he was going to put a "hold" on the bill, so as to not give Congress' imprimatur to unconstitutional law-breaking by giant corporations. Reid chose to ignore Dodd's request, which is a violation of traditonal senatorial courtesy. Why would the Majority Leader diss one of his own senators in the face of Administration criticism? Looks like a complex cave to me, which, when added to so many others, underlines the unwillingness by Reid (and Speaker Pelosi in the House) to act like a true party of opposition.
Another example is Pelosi separating herself from the tough comments of Rep. Pete Stark, who denounced his Republican colleagues' upholding of Bush's veto of the S-CHIP bill extending health care to poor and lower-middle-class children. Bush said the bill spent too much money, but Stark reminded his Republican colleagues that they always seem to find the hundreds of billions of dollars necessary to fund the Iraq Occupation but claim not to have enough money to help sick kids. Stark's courage in stating the obvious should be applauded, not dumped on by the Democratic leadership.
But maybe we shouldn't be too surprised by Pelosi's cowardice. After all, she gave away the game when she announced in the run-up to the 2006 midterm election that impeachment would be "off the table" if the Democrats became the majority in Congress. Impeachment is the remedy called for by the Constitution, th ultimate weapon that can be used against an Executive Branch that has run amok with its power. Pelosi's pledge means that the Republicans can carry on as usual knowing that Bush and Cheney will never face any accountability for their illegal, immoral and self-destructive actions.
Nancy Pelosi is my Representative in Congress, and I've written her numerous times to try to find out the reasoning behind her "off the table" decision. Her replies are generic blather without ever responding to the question. I can understand why she might have made that "off the table" remark prior to the 2006 election, so as to not scare away moderate Republicans who might be amenable to voting for Democrats. But the situation is different now, and CheneyBush have not altered their domestic and foreign extremism. Plans are proceeding apace for an air attack on Iran, for example. Thus, voters would understand if impeachment were to be put back "on the table" as a weapon-in-reserve to make CheneyBush think twice about continuing their rampaging policies.
Suppose, for example, Congress were to pass a bill saying that absent an imminent threat from Iran against the United States, a CheneyBush attack on that country would be, ipso facto, grounds for immediate impeachment. That might concentrate their minds a bit. Powerful forces inside the Pentagon, opposed to an all-out, shock&awe attack on Iran's military infrastructure and weapons labs, reportedly have made CheneyBush alter their plan to one relying more on surgical strikes.)
Time and time again, the Democrats, who should know better by now, fall into the rhetorical trap of using the Republicans' framing language instead of going on the offensive by framing the arguments and language in their own terms. "Supporting the troops," for example, should not automatically refer to the funding of failed CheneyBush policies in Iraq, but to "supporting the troops" by arranging for them to depart the catastrophe that CheneyBush have helped create in Iraq. The so-called "War on Terror" is another one the Democrats have bought into without too much thought.
In short, the Democrats seem to have ignored the implications of their momentous victory in the 2006 election — that they are now the majority and can start shaping their own agend, in their own way, using their own framing mechanisms. Too often, they seem to be thinking and acting as if they're still in the minority, having to respond to GOP arguments and policies rather than creating those of their own.
Yes, their margins in the House and Senate are not great, and the Republicans are playing obstructionist games, but introducing bills that don't always pass is not the end of the world. It demonstrates to the citizens (who, at this stage, hold the Democrats in Congress in low repute because of their wimpiness) that the opposition party stands for something, has alternative plans and policies, and, if they were to obtain a veto-proof majority in the November 2008 election, those plans and policies would be implemented, the legislative logjam would be broken, and real change might well come to Washington, D.C.
But if the Democrats don't locate their political spines and stand tall in opposition to the worst of CheneyBush policies, they put at risk their likely sweep of the House and Senate next November, and certainly open the door to the possibility of a HardRight GOP presidential candidate keeping the White House in Republican hands for another four or eight years. And no true Democrat or Independent or moderate-conservative Republican wants that.
Finally, my address to Democrats Abroad stimulated some fascinating letters in response, including some that offer broader, more controversial reasons to explain Democratic timidity. Here, without necessarily accepting their premises, are excerpts from a few:
* "RE: Impeachment off the Democratic table reason #1?: Pelsosi, Reid, Rockefeller, and Harman are up to their necks in the Bush nastiness; the Roves etc. would love to get them involved in an impeachment process and demonstrate how involved these Dems were in the FISA/torture stuff. Hence, these Democrats have tied their own hands and we are left with a fascist government. Scary."
— Joan Magit
* "Hillary Clinton is a Republican in pseudo-Democrat clothing. Her voting record has basically been a rubber stamp for much of Bush's worst policies. She voted for the Iraq war the day before she voted against the diplomatic option (so she is a chronic liar when she states she wanted to continue with diplomatic efforts in Iraq), she voted to fund the Iraq war ten times before it became overwhelmingly unpopular. She voted for the USA Patriot Act I and II. She voted to end habeas corpus. Hillary Clinton bickers with Bush on minor points and superficial splitting of hairs, but she is in all political substance George W. Bush in a woman's pant suit. I used to defend Hillary tirelessly in the 1990s and was hopeful she would be a great leader for the progressive Dems in her time in the Senate. She turned out to be a Neo-Con and a fraud, and if she gets picked, the whole phony Rove vs. Billary will commence, and she will either get elected because of it, or she will be defeated by a much worse Neo-Con on the GOP side. Either way, fear-mongering, war-profiteering, Neo-Cons will win and the rest of the nation will lose and have to endure 4-8 more years of the Bush-Clinton regime."
— T. S. Golden
* "National Security and Homeland Security Presidential Directive NSPD 51 & HSPD-20 dated May 9, 2007 would give Bush the justification to control all branches of government and the opportunity to declare martial law in the event of any 'Catastrophic Emergency,' meaning any incident, regardless of location, that results in extraordinary levels of mass casualties, damage, or disruption severely affecting the U.S. population, infrastructure, environment, economy, or government functions. With our borders and ports essentially unprotected and the huge number of illegal aliens entering our country, the possibility of another real or staged terrorist attack occurring is more than a possibility. ... With the implementation of martial law, could the Bush Administration use this action to suspend indefinitely any future elections? The National Guard, the reserves and the U.S. military are tied up overseas. They are unavailable to protect the U.S. citizens at home. However, military contractors such as DynCorp, Blackwater USA, KBR, Custer Battles, and Aegis could be brought in for just such a purpose. They have no allegiance to the American people."
— Douglas Nash
Well, you get the idea. The level of anger, frustration and fear are out there big time in the citizenry. Unless the Democrats get their act together soon and start behaving as an Opposition Party should, there is no predicting the ramifications of their lack of courage. But certainly the Republicans holding onto the White House, or Congress, for the next four years is a possible one. (And I haven't even gone into the likelihood of continuing electoral fraud.)* "[Response to the funding appeals of Democratic party officials Howard Dean and Tom McMahon:] I will not send one red cent to the Democratic Party this year. They are failing this country by not impeaching these White House criminals. Our Constitution is in shreds, thanks to the Dems playing politics (badly). And if the madmen invade Iran, it will be the Democrats' fault for delyaing the end of the occupation of Iraq before the '08 elections and for not impeaching.
— Diane Lawrence (10/23), South Florida Impeachment Coalition, www.FloridaImpeach.org
Organize, organize, organize!
Dr. Bernard Weiner, co-editor of the progressive website The Crisis Papers (www.crisispapers.org), has taught American politics and international relations at Western Washington University and San Diego State University. He was an anti-war activist and activist journalist in the ‘60s and '70s, and served as an editor of Northwest Passage in the Pacific Northwest. He was with the San Francisco Chronicle for nearly twenty years as a writer/editor/critic, and has published in The Nation, Village Voice, The Progressive, CounterPunch, The Progressive Populist, and widely on the internet. He is the author of “Boy Into Man: A Fathers’ Guide to Initiation of Teenage Sons” (Transformation Press), four volumes of poetry, and numerous plays. He lives in San Francisco. To comment: email@example.com .
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