My local town of Eureka in northwest California had a pretty good peace rally on March 18, to mark the third anniversary of the U.S. attack on Iraq. They’ve put them on every year, including a big one just before the war started. It was a total local affair. An ad hoc group called Communities for Peace worked for eight weeks and, with the help of Veterans for Peace, pulled 2,000 people into the municipal auditorium on F street. There were plenty of young people and the crowd sat a bit restlessly through three speeches before hitting the streets. There were four marching bands.
They headed down to the square in Old Town, next to the rehabbed waterfront, where your CounterPunch co-editor was the designated final speaker. I cheered them all up by telling them no one present should ever look in the mirror and tell themselves they’re not smart enough to run the country. They are. The country is being run by morons.
I read out some of the more spectacular moron predictions from 2003, finishing up with Chris Mathews on MSNBC: “We’re all neo-cons now.” and Vanity Fair’s answer to Clausewitz, Christopher Hitchens: “This will be no war — there will be a fairly brief and ruthless military intervention…. The president will give an order. [The attack] will be rapid, accurate and dazzling…. It will be greeted by the majority of the Iraqi people as an emancipation. And I say, bring it on.”
I told them that two out of three Americans now opposed the war in contrast to maybe one out of 100 elected politicians. The problem is not in the heartland. The problem is at the national level. As popular opposition to the war across the country has mounted, the demonstrations have got smaller! There is no visible national strategy to end the war and bring the troops home. I attribute this in considerable part to the disastrous fealty of the leadership of some of the big organizations to the Democrats. This explains why United for Peace and Justice, for example, was missing in action for most of 2004. It didn’t want to rock the Kerry boat, even as Captain Kerry was drilling holes in its hull.
Defenders of UPFJ said it register an antiwar presence at the Democratic convention in Boston, and anyway, it couldn’t get too far ahead of the general mood of its base, which of course raises the question of how much of a left exists in the country these days. As your CounterPunch editors pointed out last week, If it wasn’t for Cindy Sheehan and Jack Murtha the antiwar movement in this country would have all but disappeared as a presence on the national political agenda, from the late summer of 2005 on.
Even while I was speaking, the weekend news shows were detailing the latest attack plan of the Congressional Democrats. It’s called “Real Security”. And no, “security” here doesn’t mean a living wage, a pension, a health plan, and no Stop Loss order for your kid to stay in Iraq. It means guns and cops and lots of flag-wagging.
“Real Security” calls for Democrats to hinge the 2006 fall campaign on how the Republicans have failed us on the issue of national security. Harry Reid says Democrats should wrap themselves in the flag, use tanks as backdrop and then try to outflank the Republicans from the right with demands for increased military funding, a better fought war, tighter borders, and ports run by white American-born Christians, preferably free of radical organizers from the ILWU.
As reported in the Washington Times, Reid’s strategy memo advises: “Ensure that you have the proper U.S. and state flags at the event, and consider finding someone to sing the national anthem and lead the group in the Pledge of Allegiance at the start of the event.” Next up was Joe Biden, standing between two gold-fringed flags, and probably with Old Glory underwear, telling the press that ” to the extent that Bush fails in Iraq, American interests are seriously damaged, and I’m rooting for his success, not his failure.” This is the man who explained his 30-minute opening speech at the Alito hearings by saying he wanted to put the nominee at his ease.
So what are we looking down the road towards, across the next year or two? A bunch of national Democrats like Hillary Clinton screaming about illegal immigrants and voting for funding for a wall running from Corpus Christi to San Diego, staffed by Israeli death squads. If the war gets mentioned at all, it’ll be back to the old winning Kerry formula: We’ll fight it better. They’ll be drawing up Patriot Act 3, plus new national ID cards and street cameras on every street corner, just like they’re installing in the UK.
Faced with this sort of challenge the Republicans will probably win again. Good luck to them. Who wants Democrats to get in, just to run a better police state, the way Blair and New Labor have in Britain where, last time I looked, the government was planning to gas every badger, from Lands End to Cape Wrath.
Who wants Democrats to get in, to run a “better” Empire? In the Bush years , Latin America is seeing a new dawn, with Hugo Chavez publicly deriding our Commander in Chief as a drunk and sending cheap heating oil to the poor in the North East. In the Bush years two professors, from the University of Chicago and the Kennedy School (which is now rapidly distancing itself), have published a 80-page paper outlining exactly why slavish deference to the Israel lobby is hurting America. I don’t think that would have happened in Clinton time.
A couple of days after the Eureka rally I heard from David Simpson who, with his wife Jane Lapiner, was one of the organizers, that there’d been some grumbling from Democrats in the march at my attack on the ghastly performance of their party. They evidently felt that I should have held my tongue out of respect for unity that day. But how can one possibly avoid commenting on the elephant in the room, namely the fact that there is no credible opposition in Washington! The Democrats in Congress have caved on everything. They caved on the war, on immigration, on trade, on the Patriot Act, on the NSA eavesdropping program, on the bankruptcy laws, on Roberts and on Alito, and most recently on Feingold’s motion of censure of Bush, a president who’s using the Bill of Rights to clean up after his dog.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t Democrats in every county (or at least those counties where the Democrats still exist) fighting the good fight. David Simpson described going that same weekend to a hall in Ferndale, 15 miles down the road from Eureka, where Mike Thompson, our local US rep for California’s first congressional district, was having a meeting with Humboldt county constituents. Thompson was arrogant and impatient with critics from his left. When someone asked what the Democrats were offering by way of a program for the fall campaign, Thompson said brusquely, We’re working on that. Then a fellow got up and said that Democrats of Humboldt country were working on a program to, and ticked off a pretty radical list, starting with demands for impeachment.
The trouble is that there’s no earthly prospect of such a program getting any traction inside the Democratic Party. It’s as if some Prussian regional branch of the NSDAP in 1938 kept virtuously passing motions calling on the national party to condemn anti-Semitism and forswear territorial expansion. The Humboldt Dems can pass terrific resolutions and draw up wonderful plans and Rahm Emanuel will throw them in the trash, along with all the advisories from Howard Dean. Look at what they did to Christine Cegelis in Illinois, who narrowly lost last week in the sixth congressional district primary to Tammy Duckworth, parachuted into the district by Emanuel.
In the First District here Thompson is immune to pressure from the left. As he comfortably informed his Ferndale audience, Karl Rove could give his opponent a million dollars and it would make no difference.
The national Democratic Party long since abandoned even the pretense that the quadrennial national party convention is there to formulate a party platform responsive to the demands and programs of the party’s base membership. Any talk about resuscitating the Democratic Party has to address this issue.
Just look ahead. Russ Feingold will make a great showing in the early primaries, then get creamed by the Democratic machine. He’ll give a powerful speech at the convention, pledging allegiance to the candidate. And what will that candidate be pledging? Here’s a omen: “Let’s be clear about the threat we face now. A nuclear Iran is a danger to Israel, to its neighbors and beyond. The regime’s pro-terrorist, anti-American and anti-Israel rhetoric only underscores the urgency of the threat it poses. U.S. policy must be clear and unequivocal. We cannot and should not-must not-permit Iran to build or acquire nuclear weapons.” Yup, HRC, the same woman - as Justin Raimondo recently reminded us — who told Bill to bomb Belgrade, shouting at him down the phone, “What do we have NATO for if not to defend our way of life?”
Rosanne Cash on the War
‘Compounding the problem was her public opposition to the war in Iraq, which angered many of her father’s admirers. “I got so much hate mail,” Rosanne Cash says in an interview with Rolling Stone. “Invariably, they would say, ‘Your father’s a real American, and you should go sleep with Saddam.'” Ironically, Johnny Cash himself was adamantly against the war. “It broke his heart, it really did,” she asserts, claiming that her father was “addicted” to war coverage on CNN during his last months. “We talked about it in every single conversation we had,” she says. “He was almost a Quaker in his pacifism. He thought there was never a reason for war — and he had felt that way, he told me, since the Vietnam War.”‘
Footnote: an earlier version of this column runs in the print edition of The Nation that went to press last Wednesday.