Crossposted from MY LEFT WING
It seems to me that the old cliché, "Those who do not remember history are doomed to repeat it" applies much more to ordinary citizens than to politicians.
In fact, politicians COUNT on that truism. How many people actually know how Vietnam started? How many people further know how our involvement in Vietnam accelerated? How about when the draft was implemented?
And how many know the details of the Weimar Republic, the Reichstag, the supposed “election” of Adolf Hitler, the purported attack by Poland on a German radio station that was, in fact, a falsehood from beginning to end?
The fact that we are, collectively, so very uneducated about humanity’s own recent history, is what the right wing counts on when they send out the attack dogs to decry any comparison between Iraq and Vietnam -- and possibly what the Democrats now dragging their feet on the Iraq Quagmire count on as they tell us every day, "Wait, wait, give us more time..."
Beware the urge to draw comparisons of current events to those historical when attempting to make your case against those current events; woe unto you who foolishly believe that your audience has enough intellectual honesty to respond to the substance of your argument. Oh, pitiable simpleton, don’t you know anything? Kristallnacht? How can you possibly say that the United States of America has anything in common with Germany on the eve of its reign of unspeakable evil? Have we made laws forbidding any one race or religion to work, to teach, to walk the streets after dark? Have we seen an organized assault against their businesses? Do you see the trains lining up, construction under way of concentration camps of any kind wherein to house political prisoners, enemies of the state? We could go on, naive fool – your comparison is baseless. A few civil liberties suspended here and there do not a fascist takeover make!
So when you open your peacenik mouths to even try to mention in the same breath the words “Iraq” and “Vietnam,” prepare yourselves for an onslaught of denial and bizarre – nay, freakish -- pickings and choosings of factual differences that in the mind of the true believer of the ChristoFascist Neocon Zombie Brigade distinguish today’s quagmire from the one in which George W. Bush so deftly managed to avoid stepping lo these 40 years ago.
“That was a jungle! This is a desert!”
Dear god, I cannot even begin to dignify the natterings of these febrile imbeciles with a list of their rationalizations. One thing comforts me, and a cold comfort it is, indeed: the sheer number of these buffoons dwindles by the minute. Bush’s 23% approval ratings for his job performance in Iraq -- in fact, his 30% overall job performance approval ratings indicate one positive thing about this country: only the rock bottom of the barrel, stupidest, most stultified, possibly illiterate, certainly skirting the line between mere insipidity and outright, certifiably impaired and people whose intellectual capacity most resembles that of plastic houseplants remain avid, unquestioning and, obviously, unthinking supporters of this disastrous catastrophe of an excuse for a President and his policies.
To tell the truth, I’ve lost a lot of faith in polls these past several years – gee, golly, dunno why! – and so I choose to believe even better of my country’s population, despite all evidence that I ought believe the very worst. I tend to believe that 23% who believe that Bush has performed superbly in Iraq also believe it of him in all other areas of performance – and that the other 7% is a statistical anomaly, an error created by overzealous pollsters attempting to be overly fair to a common criminal turned war criminal who deserves nothing BUT fairness and, unfortunately, will never get it.
And we wonder why the right wing devalues public education. It is in the interest of the powerful, who wish to retain their power, to churn out generations of badly educated citizens. It is in their interests to churn out giant segments of the citizenry fit for little more than manual, menial labour. Else where will we get our waitresses, our janitors, our grocery store clerks? Can you imagine the chaos that would ensue in a country this size if the majority of the population were actually college educated? Why, we'd have to open the borders and... Oh. Never mind.
No doubt the advances in public education of the past 40 years, inadequate though they may be, drive the neo-fascists mad; there are so many of us who do remember history. Not just Vietnam, but the protests against it, the gradual awakening of an entire generation to the lamentable fact that our beloved paternalistic government was a lying, manipulative, amoral gathering of rich, old, white men who decidedly did not have our interests at heart or in mind.
The question is, are we strong enough, in great enough number, to derail this disaster? Will we be able to convince the older version of that heroic Vietnam Veteran that his true heroism lay not in his laudable actions in battle, but in his even more courageous actions at home? Or will we find ourselves pleading with a presumably decent, younger but already calcified member of the newest older generation, using some version of his own words, hoping to pierce through years of political stultification: "Who's going to be the last one to die for this mistake, President Obama, or Edwards, or Clark -- or godforbidClinton?”
I would gladly trade the impeachment of the monstrous man sitting in the Oval Office for an end to the war in Iraq, were that exchange offered as an option. I would gladly suffer 22 more months of his insufferable sneer and grotesque drawl, if it meant that every single American could come home from Iraq and Afghanistan tomorrow.
We have no business there, you see. Perhaps once we had business in Afghanistan – that, at least, is arguable, though my argument would be that we did not. But Iraq, as any intellectually honest human being MUST admit by now, has been from beginning to present an exercise in imperialist hubris and capitalist folly. And every day we remain in these countries, we lose more and more young American men and women and those countries lose more and more men, women and children – all for naught but the profit of the cronies of the war criminals holding hostage our country and our government.
Over the past two decades I've watched my party, the Democratic Party -- MY representatives in MY government -- sink deeper and deeper into the ignominy of cowardice, appeasement and, worst of all, a cringing, craven desire to retain, at all costs, their tenuous hold on their individual seats of power, all the while losing their collective power in direct proportion to their willingness to sell out their constituency for a buck.
I've watched in dismay, fury and despair as the dignity, integrity, courage and commitment of elected Democrats eroded until, finally, my party was no longer recognizable to me.
I've been a political pragmatist my entire adult life, it seems. I liked to think myself rational, logical, reasonable and sensible. To that end, I supported the candidates who combined the elements of what I considered "electability" and as close a hewing to my own political views and stands as I could hope for from an "electable" candidate. It only made sense, after all; better to hitch your wagon to a flickering star than to a tree stump.
Pragmatism has its place. In the Byzantine, baffling and praetorian world of politics, a lack of prudence and pragmatism is a veritable guarantee of a short life span. Certainly while navigating the twisted channels of American governance, the ability to make judicious compromises and to guard jealously one's political capital in anticipation of putting it to its best use -- these essential talents deserve and demand respect from those of us whose interests are served by those who possess them.
But suppose the talented stewards of the country's welfare were to lose their way? Suppose our elected emissary takes one faulty turn into a dimly lit corridor where truth and propriety seem mere shadows in contrast to the promise of a greater end?
And further suppose that, having grown accustomed, then inured and possibly even approving of our advocates' shortcuts in the name of pragmatism, we found ourselves seduced by the siren song of the practical, the prudent, the pragmatic? Suppose we traveled so far down that darkened hallway that the concept of "the lesser of two evils" took on the aura of an immutable, empirical truth?
Here we stand, facing a seemingly endless journey, our destination no longer an ideal, but a torpid prison of our own making. Having made our pact of pragmatism, we find we now have neither what we want, nor what we should. Bereft of even the meager leavings for which we groveled following every defeat, we can "get busy living, or get busy dying."
The Democratic Party is not dead. No, death would be preferable to the fate to which we have consigned ourselves. The Democratic Party is a rotting, gangrenous, comatose vegetable; we have been reduced to the role of the brain-dead invalid over whom the relatives, lawyers, doctors and judges may scheme and negotiate.
Given the state of our Party, we now have the dubious luxury of having nothing left to lose. Our options cannot be more crystalline: we can continue our impersonation of the living dead, continue making compromises that result in, at best, a slower but no less inevitable mortification...
Or we can arise from our deathbeds, having tasted our own political mortality -- and resolve that never again will we be complicit in our defeats. Never again will we seek to avoid the risk of offending those who will bleed us dry regardless of our anguished compromises made in hopes of lessening the pain in the short term. On awakening, bloodied and exhausted, we see before us the starkest reality of human existence: that some never live to fight another day. That it is better to have fought for something in which we believe than not, for in either case, death comes to us all.
So, what in the hell have I been getting at?
"Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good," I said, quoting Voltaire, but sounding like nothing so much as yet another dithering Democrat.
My senior Senator, Feinstein, voted for the IWR. So did my candidate for President in 2004 -- John F. Kerry. I gave them the benefit of a lot of doubt in that their "No" votes, by themselves, wouldn't have changed the outcome. That's what I told myself. That's what I told everybody.
Except, GODDAMNIT, that's just as much bullshit as saying, "I didn't have time to vote, but my one little vote won't make a difference."
Because there are OTHER people thinking it. And if all these voters who figured "It's just MY vote" dragged their sorry asses to the polls, we'd have a very different government, a very different country and a very different world. Now, in my doggedly idealistic fashion, I choose to believe that it would be different for the BETTER.
What does that have to do with the IWR vote? Or the "foregone conclusion" Cabinet appointments? Let me COUNT THE FUCKING WAYS:
Imagine if EVERY Senator and Congressperson voted the way she or he REALLY WANTED TO, irrespective of political "capital" or "liability."
IMAGINE. Imagine, for instance, EVERY SINGLE DEMOCRAT in the Senate and the House voting AGAINST the IWR. Imagine what a potent force they could have been. Imagine -- they might even have lent courage to enough Republicans to have STOPPED IT ALL.
Imagine what might have been, had a Democratic Senator stepped forward to join the Congressional Black Caucus in their noble effort to defend the voters of Florida and, indeed, America. Imagine if they'd ALL stood up. Imagine, further, those remaining Republicans of honour and integrity, standing with their loyal opposition.
Imagine, now, if you can, something that still lies within our reach, something that doesn't require time travel -- merely courage, integrity, honour, honesty, dignity and simple human decency.
Imagine our Democratic representatives in the Senate and the House, resigned as they are to the confirmation of Bush's nominees by the malignant majority Republican Party... casting their votes according to conscience and common sense, instead of prosaic, pointless polity.
Imagine a party comprised of valiant advocates for the people, determined to fight till their last for what they know is right, for what they can be proud of when they shuffle off this mortal coil.
Imagine a Democratic Party whose elected members care more about what's right than what's pragmatic.
In the civilized societies of our understanding, the elected representatives of the people are designated "leaders," almost always a misnomer.
They are still my party; tenuous as their claim on me is, I am still a registered Democrat, and will remain so until the day a viable third party arises to speak for the left (and that is a topic for another day, but suffice to say I believe the Republicans to be the party of the right, the Democrats the party of the centre, the moderates, the “mainstream,” if you will -- and the party of the left a mere glint in the eyes of those of us who yearn for representation but have none). And as A Democrat, who has never voted for anyone but a Democrat and likely never will, I have every right to make these criticisms of my party. Here is another: the Democratic Party seems to lack imagination, even now. Must we draw them pictures? Are not the pictures they’ve already seen enough to prod them from their desiccated torpor? Very well, let us draw them a picture:
Imagine, after all your failures, that you finally come to life and realize that you now hold the power you thought you lacked. Imagine bringing your respective houses to a stand-still and demanding an end to the war. An end to the killing, an end to the suffering, an end to the malfeasance, the murder, the graft, the lies.
You have the power. We gave it to you last November. You have made your promises, paid lip service, patted our liberal heads, scolded us when we demanded action and faster action still – some of you have dared reprimand us for our lack of pragmatism, our failure to heed the realities of the situation you face on the floors of your houses in Congress. Shame on you. We want no more excuses. We want action, we want you to fulfill your promises, we want an end to the war in Iraq. And should you fail to heed our demands, you will have no one to blame but yourselves when you lose your tenuous grasp on a majority in Congress, and mark our words, you will lose that brass ring of the Presidency and we will ALL pay for that.
And as for us, the much vaunted “We, the People?” We, who simultaneously bray to the rooftops our pride in our so-called “democracy” and bemoan our collective impotence in the face of the tensile strands of that democracy, as one by one they snap at the behest of the bureaucratic servants of a nascent fascism only a fool couldn’t recognize by now as a distinct possibility, if not foregone conclusion? Shame on us all, as well. Some of us, to be sure, bear more responsibility than others for the dissolution of this great experiment; but when the world crumbles, will it matter who pulled less weight?
If any of us can say we did all we could, perhaps we will go to our graves with conscience clear; but I, for one, know full well I have not done all I could. I have done all I could bear to do, without risk to home, property, family and physical safety or freedom. Nothing like “all I could have done,” can I claim – to claim it would be a bigger lie than to say I feel much in the way of shame over it. No martyr, I – in this age of extraordinary rendition and suspended habeas corpus and god only knows how many of us really have been “disappeared,” what good would it have done to place myself in harm’s way, I ask myself, to deprive my son of his mother – when so many in this country don’t even know the desperate straits in which this nation finds itself?
It will not do, for lone protestors to offer themselves up to the machinery of this ruthless administration. There is only one path to forcing change, and that path requires millions of feet. They need not be all in the same place at the same time, though certainly half a million strong in the larger cities simultaneously make for a lovely photo opportunity – if, that is, you can get it covered by the right wing corporate media – no guarantee of that, as we know all too well. At least, it will not be covered if, as has happened each time in the past several years, the “protests” are managed and monitored and licensed and planned for a weekend, the better to not disturb the peace, the better to not interfere with the average working day’s events. God forbid we stop any morning traffic. What would the neighbours think?
Who said it? "There go my people; I must lead them!" Was it Gandhi? Now, there was the antithesis of a pragmatist. Martin Luther King, Jr., I believe, said something like, "Too often, 'Wait' means 'Never.'"
Malcolm X is my favourite. The Declaration of Independence is a close second, and really, what does that say? "By any means necessary," indeed.
Somewhere between civil disobedience and outright violent revolution lies the true compromise we face, the only compromise worth contemplation. For people with nothing to lose, the only unacceptable path is the one of least resistance.
If our elected representatives refuse our demands, taking refuge in perfidious platitudes and the cowardice of the circumspect, it is incumbent upon us to lead them. We are people whose eyes and ears have been rudely opened to the terrible truth: The fault -- and thus our fate -- lies not in our stars, but in ourselves.