If ever any president and vice president in American history deserved impeachment, I would certainly agree, Bush and Cheney deserve it most richly. And more. And if ever there were a need in America to defend the Constitution and the rule of law by rebuking some would-be tyrants, now is the time.
But to achieve one’s goals, one must act in accordance with the lay of the land. And one must devise one’s strategies with an understanding of the correlation of forces, and with how the flow of time is affecting that balance of power.
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WAITING FOR THE FRUIT TO RIPEN
Right now, the most effective strategy might be patience– a kind of “watchful waiting” for a time when this cancer on our body politic might be the more easily removed. For the unfolding of events is working in our favor.
Consider the opinion poll just released, showing the job approval percentage for Bush down to its lowest level ever (30 percent). Just as Bush seemed unassailable –and the media slavishly licked his boots– when this “Mission Accomplished” war-time president was riding high in the polls, and as the fall of Bush’s approval numbers into the 30s tilted the table so that the politicians and the press began abandoning and criticizing and attacking Bush, so also will every further diminution of Bush’s standing with the American people and the rest of the power structure make him increasingly vulnerable to successful attack.
It is the ripe fruit that falls as if of its own accord into one’s hands, hardly needing to be picked. Likewise, now, events are ripening the Bushites on the vine.
It is of course the unfolding scandal of the utter Bushite failure in Iraq –along with Bush’s utter incapacity to confront reality– that is doing this ripening. With everyone from Bush’s dad’s fixer, James Baker, to Henry Kissenger, to Senator Gordon, leading the way off this sinking ship, Bush is increasingly shrinking into a figure to be despised.
As the anti-government conservative, Grover Norquist, once announced his purpose as shrinking government into something so paltry that he could drown it in the bathtub, the increasingly visible debacle in Iraq is now diminishing the Bushites into a foe whom we can ultimately confront with a clear preponderance of power, who poses little threat to be able to turn our efforts to his advantage.
Soon it will be possible for the Democrats to start conducting hearings to further educate the American people on just how we got into this mess in Iraq, and on various other dimensions of the dishonesty and criminality and incompetence of this regime. This will shrink the Bushites still further.
Not only will the regime become weakened by its loss of stature and respect, but there’s a good chance that the American people will also have developed a strong impulse to load onto the Bushites all their frustration and shame and anger at this disaster in Iraq (and at the other parts of the picture fleshed out in the hearings), and cry out for impeachment. Or at least support it when, at the ripe moment, the process is initiated.
After all, the American people do not like losing. They do not like failure. We like to fire coaches who don’t bring us glory; we boo the quaterback who doesn’t get the ball into the endzone. This ritual repudiation of the loser is a way that we have of keeping the onus of the disgraceful defeat from off our own shoulders.
The emerging picture of the Iraq catastrophe seems ideally suited for generating such an impulse in the American people. “It’s THEIR fault. They lied to us. They blundered. Let’s load up the guilt and shame onto the Bushite goat and, through impeachment, drive them into the wilderness.”
Those feelings have, I suspect, just begun to gather momentum.
Patience will be rewarded.
MORE THAN ONE WAY TO FIGHT
There’s a book entitled The Propensity of Things, by a French scholar named Francois Jullien, that, among other things, draws a contrast between the traditions of China and of the West (in particular, the ancient Greeks) regarding how to defeat an opponent. The Greeks, he said, focused on bold, head-to-head, personal confrontation.
By contrast, in the Chinese tradition, the emphasis is on minimizing the dramatic confrontation, and instead on using “minimum effort to achieve maximum effect”..”simply by exploiting the factors in play.” An example is the famous Taoist story of the butcher, in Chuang Tzu, carving the ox, never going up against bone, and thus never having to sharpen his knife. Thus with the Chinese practice of working with how things are flowing: “Things ‘tend’ of themselves, infallibly, with no need for ‘effort.’”
Whereas the Greeks celebrate the brash warrior like Achilles, who calls out to the Trojans to send out their best warriors that he might confront them and leave their entrails in the dust, according to the traditional Chinese view, says Jullien, “the best general is one whose successes are not applauded” because they appear “easy.”
What makes them easy is that one orients oneself with “the propensity of things.” The trick is to determine as early as possible “the future orientation of events.” Seeing where things are heading, we can ride the wave to where we want to get: “Instead of trying to impose our own preferences on it, we should let ourselves go with the flow of things, adopting the line of least resistance.” We seek to understand the disposition of forces in the world around us, because they are unfolding in “a process that can evolve to our advantage if we make opportune use of its propensity.”
And, as is frequently the case in the martial arts of the East, part of the task of defeating the opponent is to use the opponent’s own efforts to achieve his undoing. “(E)verything must be designed to paralyze [the other’s] plans and wishes and to force him to work, despite himself, toward fulfilling the aims imposed on him.”
Right now, the Republicans are doing the work of calling the attention of Americans to the catastrophe the Bushites have created. The Bushites are doing the work –Bush with his inability to acknowledge what everyone (but the 30%) now recognize the reality to be, Tony Snow with his continual denials and evasions– of discrediting themselves in the eyes of Americans.
Why get in their way? Why carve the ox by cutting bone when, by going with the propensity of things, we can get the meat without damaging the edge of our knife?
The anti-Bushite movement –fueled by Achillean rage, and drawn to the Achillean love of the dramatic clash– might learn something from the more patient, subtle Chinese approach.
(It may well be good for the movement to work now to develop the grassroots support for impeachment. But the campaign will likely succeed better if the front-burner dramas –the workings of the Congress, for example, where the attention of the main media, and thus of the mainstream of the American public, will be directed– avoid explicit raising of that spectre until things have ripened more.)
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