12 Political Insights: A Starter Kit for 2006
A BUZZFLASH GUEST CONTRIBUTION
by Bernard Weiner, The Crisis Papers
Bush&Co.'s scandals are coming so rapidly and getting so huge that it's hard to lay off talking about them at length, but in this new year, let's step back a bit for some longer-range perspectives.
In no particular order, here from decades of politics-watching are a dozen bits of insight, most of which were reinforced by events in year 2005. Below each is some discussion of how those truisms flowered in the Bush era.
1. If you have a sturdy dam that develops a crack, fix it quickly before the seeping water enlarges the opening and a flood pours down on the populace.
Given their history and first year in office, the Bush Administration should have been seen early for what they were -- a pack of rapacious, power-hungry incompetents. But, after 9/11 and the anthrax attacks, a frightened citizenry and Congress trusted them to do the right thing. The nominal opposition party caved early and often. The Patriot Act, rushed through Congress right after 9/11, opened the floodgates to shredding Constitutional protections of civil liberties, which then led to the accumulation of more and more police powers in the Executive Branch. (Let us never forget Lord Acton's warning: "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.") Now, four-plus years later, because the governmental breach wasn't repaired quickly enough, it probably will take impeachment and conviction to even begin to restore Constitutional rule in this country.
2. If you persist in trying to force a square peg into a round opening, you will cause great damage to the peg, to the opening, and frustration for yourself, because it simply won't go. Corollary: If you're in a deep hole, first thing to do: stop digging.
The Iraq War was worked out years before the invasion by neo-con intellectuals who thought their goals would be met quickly once Saddam was toppled. They did what was necessary to convince Congress and the American people to support the war -- lied, deceived, swore falsely -- and then ran headlong into a reality for which they were totally unprepared. As occupiers, they did everything late, wrong or backasswards, including bringing Iraq full-scale corruption, massive torture and constant humiliation, and likely civil war and disintegration of its unitary state. The end result will be a religiously-dominated state of some sort opposed to U.S. interests, heavily influenced by Iran. The U.S. eventually will have to leave Iraq, but even though the handwriting long has been on the wall, Bush refuses to find a quick, face-saving way out and will "stay the course" until "victory." Translated: many more thousands of Americans and Iraqis will have to die because Bush cannot, will not, admit the gross political miscalculation that led to that war and the need to drastically change his goals. In all things Iraq, Bush turns out to be extremist Islam's top recruiting agent. Yet another brief for the impeachment of Bush/Cheney.
The "Commander-In-Chief" Dodge
3. Secrets eventually surface, especially the worst ones you're trying to hide.
The Bush Administration is the most secretive in U.S. history -- for a good reason: They have much to hide, a lot of it criminal in nature. The latest secret is an outgrowth of the false reasoning that grew out of the Iraq War and the official policy permitting torture. According to this twisted logic, Bush can do whatever he wants, including violate laws passed by Congress, whenever he asserts that he's acting as "commander-in-chief" during "wartime." Yes, of course, there is no official declaration of war, but Bush says we're at "wartime," and that war will last forever -- ergo, shut up, lie back and don't resist your fate. The latest secret to leak involves his illegal orders to the National Security Administration to "monitor" (data-mine) phone calls and emails of millions of American citizens, without first obtaining court warrants, as required by law. Breaking that law is an impeachable offense. (Note: These classified secrets are being leaked, by and large, by Bush Administration military and security officials, conservatives, anxious to get this reckless crew out of the White House before they sail our country into even more dangerous waters and crash us on rocks and icebergs.)
4. It's not who votes that counts, it's who counts the votes. -- J. Stalin
We have a long way to go to restore integrity and transparency to the touch screen and vote-tabulation system in this country -- right now it's the major political scandal of our time. Secret software controlled by Republican-supporting corporations can easily be manipulated and vote-tallies altered without leaving any evidence of the fraud. But a goodly number of states and localities are raising serious questions about the legitimacy of the process. Several states have threatened to decertify touch screen machines, and some have done so. It is anticipated that class-action and private lawsuits will be filed shortly against Diebold, and that the Securities & Exchange Commission may begin a fraud probe of this leading e-voting company. One can almost spot a growing trend questioning the viability of e-voting. But, as I say, we're still in for manipulated tallies in 2006 and 2008 unless major reforms are demanded and implemented nationwide by the citizenry. Ironically, when manipulated elections are held in foreign countries, and hundreds of thousands of aggrieved citizens pour into the streets to demand an overturning of the tampered-with vote results, the American media and Bush Administration officials celebrate this example of democracy in action. Notice any difference when it comes even to raising the question of whether our elections are honest?
5. Most people passively accept a lot, but when a lot becomes way too much, they get very angry and usually look to exact revenge on those doing them dirt.
There is a "tipping point" in all major social upheavals; one day, things go on as normal and then the next day, when critical mass is just right, citizens move in a forthright manner. Examples: the American and French revolutions, the overthrow of Soviet communism, the '60s civil rights, anti-war and feminist movements. It's taken a while, but the American people -- including an increasing number of conservative Republicans -- more and more are indicating that they've lost trust and faith in the Bush Administration's officials and policies. Keys to this eye-opening have been the Administration's bumbling Iraq policy, its utter incompetence in dealing with the Katrina disaster, and its lies and deceits with regard to running roughshod over citizens' privacy rights by a Chief Executive who is acting more like a banana-republic dictator than the leader of a democratic republic. In addition, half a trillion dollars are being spent on Bush's never-ending Iraq adventure, while the upkeep of streets and infrastructure, and popular social programs, are being cut way back. The middle-class is being pushed more toward the lower end of the economic and cultural spectrum while the wealthy get virtually all the goodies. The economy remains in the doldrums. The citizenry are getting fed up and increasingly indicate their willingness to take out their anger on GOP members of the House and Senate in 2006.
Dems in Search of Courage
6. Bullies feed off submission and acquiescence, and retreat in the face of united opposition.
It is beyond comprehension why it took an entire first term for the Democrats to understand that you can't make nice with those who are working to destroy you as an effective political force. But the Dems did act as if politics could be conducted as usual, thus becoming enablers of Bush's most destructive policies and, by so doing, made themselves essentially irrelevant. In the first year of Bush's second term, the Democrats occasionally were more feisty, behaving as an Opposition Party should. But they still tend to tiptoe around controversial topics (electoral integrity and fraud, for example, which they won't touch with an 11-foot pole, and withdrawal from Iraq ASAP), still terrified of being called "unpatriotic" or "soft on terrorism" or "sore losers." Reid exhibits some starch in the Senate, and Pelosi at times in the House, and they've been able to keep their forces united on enough occasions so that, in alliance with GOP moderates, they've been able to give Bush&Co. fits. Note to Democratic leaders: Stand up straight and fight back, or you'll wind up on the dung-heap of history, tossed there by your aroused, angry Democratic base. If they can get no leverage in turning around their party, they may go the third-party route, along with many disaffected moderate Republicans.
7. If you compromise on morality at the top, inventing rationales for bad behavior, eventually that weakened ethical system will work its way down the chain of command.
For example, if you assert the right of the government to torture prisoners in your care, eventually torture will be widespread throughout the system. If you set up secret CIA prisons around the world where especially recalcitrant prisoners are interrogated with "enhanced" methods, and you "render" prisoners to countries where excruciatingly painful torture methods are employed, you have lost any moral high ground you might have once possessed. In addition, you guarantee that U.S. soldiers held prisoner will be treated in the same manner, and you provide effective recruiting arguments for militant Islamists around the globe. In short, torture is a self-destructive policy -- "stupid" would be another word for it. And, of course, once the feds began massive spying on ordinary citizens, the states and cities followed suit by spying on local peace groups and non-violent activists.
8. If you invade a country, you automatically become occupiers and de facto governors of that country. Ergo, you get blamed for everything that goes wrong. Addendum: It is always easier to get in than to get out.
The U.S. invaded Iraq based on a neo-con belief that victory would come cheap, and they could mold the country into a lackey state easily and quickly. There was no Plan B. Its military occupation ran into a deadly reality on the ground: nationalism, tribalism, religious fervor demonstrated their solid strength (as they do around the world). The U.S. can not "win" in Iraq, in the same way the U.S. could not "win" in Vietnam; eventually, America, in a prolonged and unwinnable stalemate, will have to leave. Better now than later, after tens of thousands more American troops and Iraqi civilians will have been slaughtered or maimed. Bush could declare "victory" now: We helped get them on their feet, they've chosen their own government, they desire us to go, and now it's time for us to feel good about our contributions and bring our soldiers home. But he won't. He and his friends still covet all that oil, and still want to topple a few more regimes in the Middle East; it's not outside the realm of possibility that as Bush's poll numbers continue to head for the cellar, Iran's nuclear power plants will be bombed or Syria will be attacked. Anything to change the subject away from Bush&Co./GOP crimes and corruption.
Impotence of Imperialism
9. Imperialism is even more difficult to maintain in the 21st Century than it was in earlier times.
All imperial countries, blinded by greed and power-hunger (or sometimes even by idealism), eventually are forced out of their colonies. Ask the Romans, the French in Indochina and North Africa, the Russians in Eastern Europe and Afghanistan. The U.S. is no different, and is learning, to its chagrin, that ultimate military power doesn't mean control on the ground. The U.S. is running up a half-trillion in debt fighting this unnecessary war of choice in Iraq, bringing corruption on a grand scale to that country, losing its moral soul with its torture policies; to top it all off, the citizens of Iraq in poll after poll indicate they'd like us to leave. It's time to learn what history has to teach about the high price paid for imperial arrogance and intransigence and get out of there. In short, native populations over time tend to defend their homelands successfully against foreign invaders. Even if the U.S. left Iraq, America still would be the 800-lb. gorilla in the world, and probably could get most of what it wants through diplomacy and economic power -- "soft imperialism." Overt imperialism, controlling the world at gunpoint, is on its way out; the U.S. quagmire in Iraq demonstrates the limits of superpower status. But Bush&Co. believe history (and the laws of science) don't apply to them. So much the worse for them, for those around the globe, and for us U.S. citizens. In the Bush worldview, it doesn't matter that the U.S. is not liked, it's enough that it is feared; taking and controlling -- that's mostly what's important to these guys.
10. Ethics always will be years, sometimes decades, behind the ramifications of technological/scientific breakthroughs; the passage of laws dealing with those ramifications often will lag even further behind.
Whatever the weapon or technology, if you invent it, it will be used, and abused. Our high-tech computing and surveillance systems, for example, permit the government to mine data on millions of emails and phone calls at a time -- and so it's doing so, supposedly directed at foreign terrorists but involving American citizens in the process. (Since everything connected to this eavesdropping is top-secret, it's possible that political "enemies" of Bush&Co. are deliberately being targeted. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.) This type of domestic spying is against the law -- and should be enough to impeach Bush and Cheney. Bush is shameless, saying he'll continue to violate the law, because he's the "commander-in-chief" during "wartime" and thus has the authority and power to do whatever he chooses to do, so what are you going to do about it? Similarly, there are technological breakthroughs that permit even more violations of the right to privacy, and they are being utilized also, or will be soon. The laws haven't even come close to catching up with the ramifications of those scientific breakthroughs.
11. When logic meets faith, most of the time the rational mind disappears, until the day when brute facts intervene to such an extent as to demand attention, action and forsaking of denial.
The world is moving so fast, forcing social and cultural changes so quickly, that many people become frightened, confused, irritated, and long for simpler, more stable societies of old. Religious fundamentalism provides all the black-and-white answers; doesn't matter if it's Christianity, Judaism, Islam, the syndrome is the same. Islam has its Taliban and strict ayatollahs, we have our conservative religious leaders, our own tight-assed Christian Taliban and ayatollahs, who preach the old verities and simplified nostrums that are so attractive to many of our fellow Americans. No matter what the Bush scandal, he can always count on that 25-30% who support him on religious grounds. But more and more citizens are starting to realize the inherent dangers in permitting such religious power to go unchecked, especially when those beliefs come into conflict with science -- on, say, global warming -- and are starting to rebel.
You Have To Know Reality
12. An organism -- a human being, a nation -- needs accurate information in order to compose a reasonable assessment of reality and thus survive the dangers out there. Without that accurate assessment of reality, you can expect disaster.
Rarely does one get accurate information from the Bush Administration about anything. Down in their isolated bunker, they either are fooling themselves, or trying to fool us -- more likely both. The mass-media, corporate-owned and largely conservative in nature, are complicit in keeping the truth from their readers, viewers and listeners. (The so-called "liberal" New York Times, for just one example, had the NSA data-mining story and could have released it a year earlier than it did -- and thus probably affected the outcome of the 2004 election -- but, at the behest of the Bush Administration, chose not to publish it.) To get a more accurate assessment of reality, one has to go to less-controlled media: the foreign press, smaller and independent publications and media outlets (for example, The Nation, Air America, and a few liberal radio talk-show hosts), and, especially, to the largely uncensored Internet journalists, web sites and bloggers. Only when the wealthy liberal/progressive opposition is willing to put its money where its politics are -- by buying up and founding cable networks, newspapers, radio stations and think tanks -- will there be some political parity in the mass media. If you want a free press, as A. J. Liebling said, set up one of your own.
Let us not ignore reporter I.F. Stone's famous maxim: "The first rule of journalism is that governments lie. All governments lie, but disaster lies in wait for countries whose officials smoke the same hashish they give out."
Not a bad description of the Bush Administration. Amen, Izzy.
Copyright 2005 by Bernard Weiner
A BUZZFLASH GUEST CONTRIBUTION
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Bernard Weiner, Ph.D. in government & international relations, has taught at various universities, was formerly a writer/editor with the San Francisco Chronicle, and currently co-edits The Crisis Papers (www.crisispapers.org). To comment: firstname.lastname@example.org