Democrats By Default?
If control of Congress changes hands in January, it will be because the Republicans lost, not because the Democrats won. The national Democratic Party is not trying to win elections this year. It is sitting back, playing it safe, and watching the Republican Party self-destruct. The Democrats have no message beyond tired old clichés they’ve been spouting for decades. The Republicans are reduced to a different set of clichés-about winning the war and keeping taxes low and standing up for traditional values-but to most Americans these words ring hollow. The Republican record speaks for itself and it contradicts the party’s rhetoric.
The Bush administration has overreached. Years of incompetence, deceit, and hypocrisy have caught up with it, and the President’s lackeys in Congress are going to pay a price on Election Day. If Democrats take over the House and/or Senate, it will be by default. It will be because Republicans deserve to lose, not because Democrats deserve to win. In fact, both parties deserve to lose, but at the moment Republicans more richly deserve to lose. Also, with a two-party system there is no easy way for Americans to register their displeasure with the tweedledee party in power other than voting for the tweedledum party out of power.
If Democrats unseat Republicans in Congress, the party should not interpret the result as a mandate for the Clintons, Rahm Emanuel, and the Democratic Leadership Council. It will be nothing of the sort. If Democratic leaders had populist principles and genuine guts, they would bury the Republican hacks in a landslide of 1932 or 1974 proportions. Instead, they will be lucky to eek out a narrow victory. They have pulled their punches and relied on mushy talking points with little popular appeal. They are complicit in the very policies most disliked by Americans: war in Iraq, plutocratic government, dogmatic materialism, runaway federal expenditures, outsourcing of jobs, illegal immigration for the sake of corporate exploitation, and civil liberties sacrificed in a climate of fear.
Democrats in Washington have nothing to offer populist, libertarian, or evangelical Americans, but it’s become obvious to many Republicans of those varieties that they’ve been taken for a ride. So, on Election Day they will either stay home or vote (D) to teach (R) a lesson. But the 2006 results will not change the fact that the Democratic Party has serious ongoing problems.
With Mortimer Snerd stepping aside in 2008, Republicans will find a fresher face with less liabilities. Democrats will lack a shared target that has served to unify the party and distract its supporters from Democratic failings. HRC will not waltz back into the White House despite her mountain of money and will of iron. Any pro-war, pro-corporate, yuppiefied Democrat will face a stiff challenge even without Hillary’s personal baggage. Important parts of the traditional Democratic base are either gone or standing at a distance and no amount of money from Manhattan and Hollywood will woo those voters back when the party has an equivocating message combined with both economic and cultural elitism. A Democratic victory in November is desirable because it will punish the Republicans and wipe the smirk off of Bush’s face for a day or two. It is also desirable because a Democratic-controlled Congress might be willing to stand up to Bush a bit more out of simple partisan opportunism. You know-the way many unprincipled Republicans opposed Bill Clinton’s wars in the Balkans and his abuse of presidential power.
Earlier this year, Democratic leaders shamelessly knifed Ohio senatorial candidate Paul Hackett in the back. Hackett, a plain-speaking Iraq War vet, was taken out for the benefit of Congressman Sherrod Brown, who is touted as a true-blue, Daily Kos-style liberal Democrat. Brown may be a cut above most congressional Democrats but he is still a professional politician who cannot let go of the ring of power. The grassroots should turn out to vote for such politicians but they should not get uppity and actually want to hold high office themselves. No, that is reserved for an aristocracy of handpicked Democrats in the races that are considered winnable. I am not an admirer of Ned Lamont, but I was surprised in a happy way when he defeated the pompous phony Joseph Lieberman in the Connecticut senatorial primary. On the eve of the primary, Bill Clinton went to Waterbury to announce, "Yeah, Joe Lieberman is a friend of mine. I love him and he’s in a tough race." Senator Barbara Boxer is another supposedly progressive Democrat who made the trek to Connecticut to campaign for Lieberman, reminding Democrats of his commitment to the environment and abortion. She neglected to mention his love affair with Wall Street and strident support for imperial warfare.
Cogs in the Cheney-Rove-Bush machine warn that patriotic, God-fearing Americans should shudder at the prospect of Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House: "See how much she gets done. Next to nothing, except cutting and running from Iraq…" This is supposed to be frightening? First off, it would be a pleasure to see the federal government getting next to nothing done. Gridlock would be a relief. Let’s take a two year break from budget-busting, liberty-smothering, and blood-letting bills. We’ve had enough of efficient, fast-track enlargement of federal power by the Humphrey Democrats, Rockefeller Republicans, and Trotsky Communists who control the White House. Let’s see some partisan bickering and checks & balances. Maybe Congress will start to act like an independent branch as designed by the Constitution. Secondly, we should cut and run. The Bush alternative is to stay and die…for no good reason. Unfortunately, Pelosi and Reid have no intention of removing troops anytime soon so war-mongers and nation-builders need not fear.
That’s the essence of the problem. Democrats may replace Republicans at the helm of Congress but they will remain collaborators on a host of terrible bipartisan policies. Where has the Loyal Opposition been during the past five years? More loyal than opposed. Democrats criticize Republicans because they haven’t fully funded No Child Left Behind, not because the law was an unconstitutional boondoggle from the beginning that ought to be ended post-haste. In 2001, every Democrat in the Senate except one-Russell Feingold-voted for the Patriot Act. Last year, Democratic leaders helped to reauthorize the law with cosmetic changes. Party leaders have left Robert Byrd twisting in the wind as he has stood up for the Constitution and they did not lift a finger to assist John Murtha when he came out against the Iraq War.
In November 2005, when hawkish Congressman Murtha (D-PA) called for withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Iraq, party leaders gave him no support. Republican leaders then crafted an immediate-withdrawal resolution as a political trap for Democrats, forcing them to go on record for everyone to see-basically to "put up or shut up." Almost all Democrats took the path of evasion and convenience by voting Nay. While an obvious ploy, it was also a clear anti-war resolution that those with the courage of their convictions should have been able to support. The resulting 303-3 vote is reminiscent of the Senate’s 88-2 vote for the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution in 1964.
Senators Daschle, Reid, Biden, Kerry, Edwards, Clinton, Bayh, et al. voted to give Bush a blank check in 2002 so he could invade Iraq and set up a puppet government. These individuals are not stupid. They knew what they were doing. They were not misled by "faulty intelligence." They were aware that the Iraqi government was no threat to us and they did not care about the brutality of Saddam Hussein. These are practical people who assisted Bush with the WMD lie because it served their purposes. Fully committed to an imperial America and beholden to the lobby that serves the interests of the Israeli government, most Democrats were enthusiastic supporters of a war against Iraq. The goal was never in doubt-merely the means. The great debate between Republicans and Democrats revolved around the difference between a unilateral invasion and a multilateral invasion. A difference of a few letters. That’s all. An extra Chirac here, an additional Schroeder there. Does it matter to the men, women, and children dying in Iraq? No, it does not.
No real threat to our people. Unconstitutional abrogation of Congress’ power to declare war. Americans didn’t see the importance of meddling in another country’s affairs. Americans would shed their blood and lose their limbs for a mission having nothing to do with national defense. Thousands of innocent Iraqis would have their homes destroyed and lives taken. None of these arguments carried any weight with the Democratic insiders. No, the problem was that the French, German, and Russian governments had not yet signed off on a U.S.-led war. This meant that the UN Security Council had not given a sufficiently large fig leaf to the operation. It was a public relations problem for our long-term imperial aims. It looked too crass to the rest of the world. It had nothing to do with respect for the truth, for our system of government, for public opinion, or for human lives.
Democratic criticisms of Bush’s planned war were weak and minor in 2002-03 and their criticisms today remain the same. We can give John Kerry the ambitious politician credit for reinventing himself as an "anti-war" leader in 2006 but it’s a little late and it’s transparently false. Democratic leaders do not even claim to want an immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops. No, that should take place ASAP-and possible is defined as When the UN steps in and sends troops to replace ours. Assuming other world powers are crazy enough to send their own citizens into the quagmire, why should our troops be kept in harm’s way and in a position to harm innocent Iraqis in the meantime? Don’t look for the Murtha or McGovern proposals to pass in a Democratic-controlled Congress. No one should confuse Nancy Pelosi with Cindy Sheehan or Harry Reid for Noam Chomsky. In the end, Pelosi and Reid support this war just as much as Bush and Cheney in their own waytheir own preciously multilateral way.
One clue in discerning how little difference there is in Washington between Dems and Reps is how both sides prattle on about the "War on Terrror." By using the phrase associated with an undeclared, open-ended war against an unnamed enemy, Democrats place themselves right beside Republicans in a thoroughly dishonest endeavor. And they join the Bush administration-and, ironically enough, al-Qaeda-in keeping the American people fearful. If the purpose of terrorism is to terrorize, then Bush, Reid, and bin Laden have all played important roles. Once public opinion turned solidly against the Iraq War, Democrats recognized an opportunity to use the debacle against Republicans. In recent months they have criticized Bush for insufficient saber rattling toward Iran and North Korea. One of the Democratic talking points since the Kerry campaign of 2004 is that the war in Iraq has distracted Bush from the more inviting war we should be contemplating against Iran. That’s progress for you! Peaceniks, are you listening?
On September 28, most Democrats in the Senate voted against the Military Commissions Act that essentially legalizes imprisonment and torture as the President sees fit for the purposes of "national security," but they did not try to filibuster the bill or provoke public outrage over this violation of history and morality. They rolled over. Of course, Lieberman voted Yea. Unlike most of his colleagues, he does not feel the need to even put up a pretense of belief in traditional party ideals. Sherrod Brown was one of the 32 Democrats in the House to support the measure.
One day later, the Senate approved the $448 billion National Defense Authorization Act for FY07 by a vote of 100-0 after minimal debate. That’s right. Not a single Democrat voted against giving Bush $70 billion more for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Press reports at the time noted that the Iraq War costs us $8 billion a month, that it has cost $379 billion so far, and that while the war "continues to be unpopular with voters, according to opinion polls, even Democratic opponents of the war voted for the Pentagon measure" (Andrew Taylor of AP). Congress has the power of the purse. If a majority in Congress wanted to end the war in Iraq, it could simply say, "No more money. You’re done." It will probably never happen but it is theoretically and constitutionally possible. In the House, only 22 Democrats voted against financing the war machine, joined by one Republican (the ever-reliable Ron Paul of Texas, which is why traditional conservative William N. Grigg has written a blog post entitled "Unless your Congressman is named Ron Paul, he doesn’t deserve to be re-elected"-see http://freedominourtime.blogspot.com). Nancy Pelosi voted Yea, as did Sherrod Brown.
Also on September 29, the House approved the Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act by a 412-6 vote. Three Democrats (Markey, McDermott, and Stark) joined three Republicans (Flake, Hostettler, and Paul) in opposition. The Senate? Oh, it approved funding the department by a 100-0 vote on July 13. Americans who wonder what their second-tier rulers are doing in between privately schmoozing high rollers at cocktail parties and publicly greeting folks in local diners can go to: http://thomas.loc.gov/home/rollcallvotes.html#SENATE. It is enlightening but disheartening to see how similar the two parties are on the big civil liberties, economic, and foreign policy issues of our day.
In recent years, liberal Democrats have become aware of the existence of neoconservatives and the harm they have done to our nation and the world since they began dominating the federal government in 2001. What is not widely known is that national Democratic leaders are ideological cousins of the neocons, who began their careers as Humphrey Democrats with a dash of Trotskyism mixed in for bad measure. In the early 1980s, many of them moved like parasites from one unlucky host to another. In the Republican Party, they formed an alliance with the old Rockefeller wing of the GOP (hence the fingerprints of Shultz-Rumsfeld-Cheney-Gingrich-Kissinger all over the current administration).
Heirs of the 1950s "totalitarian liberals" who remained within their own party comprise the base of the Democratic Leadership Council and its Progressive Policy Institute arm. They staffed the Clinton administration and look to Harry Truman, Hubert Humphrey, and Henry Jackson as their heroes of "muscular internationalism." They are elitist in every way, from abortion rights to global meddling. That is why the Republican establishment has embraced Lieberman with such warmth. They are all cut from essentially the same cloth: elitist and statist, arrogant and violent. The sanctimony of Lieberman and Bush makes it even worse. Whether called Neoconservatism in one party or New Democrats in the other, it is a toxic mix of ruthlessness, flexible ethics, love of power, world revolution, and state socialism combined with corporate subservience.
Think of the Hugo Chavez speech at the United Nations General Assembly (that’s the part of the UN that has no power). When someone finally cuts through the bullshit and publicly states the truth-that Bush is an evil emperor-Pelosi, Schumer, Rangel, and other leading Democrats rush to Bush’s defense. Calling it "a waste of time," Nancy Pelosi has promised on national television that Democrats will not impeach Bush and there is no reason to doubt her word. So there may be congressional hearings but they will all come to very little. Perhaps a low-ranking staffer will pay a price but deference will be paid to those at the top of the administration.
The results of the 2006 election should not be misunderstood. If national party leaders are committed to elitist ideas-some as old as eighteenth-century conservatism and some as modern as limousine liberalism, political correctness, and globalization-how likely is it that Democrats will regain majority status on a consistent basis? Not very. Elitism is, by nature, unpopular.
CounterPunch articles tend to be negative as writers try to look at the cold, hard facts of the world. I’ll end this piece on an upbeat note. The Democrats are deeply flawed and they don’t deserve to win a national election, but a Democratic capture of Congress would be a good thing. I don’t begrudge anyone voting for a third-party candidate in this or any other year, but on November 7 we can celebrate a Democratic victory because the Republicans will have received a much-deserved comeuppance. It is not everything but it is something. It should be enough to make conscientious Americans happy for at least a little while.
There is not a lot of justice in this world but every now and again the mighty pay a temporal price for their wickedness. As a young Jewish mother-to-be said two thousand years ago, "He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts, He has put down the mighty from their thrones" (Lk. 1:51-52). We need not have any illusions about the nature of the instrument used to punish the Republican Party. It will be enough that it pays a price for its greed, dishonesty, and violence.
JEFF TAYLOR is a political scientist. His book Where Did the Party Go?: William Jennings Bryan, Hubert Humphrey, and the Jeffersonian Legacy was published this summer by University of Missouri Press. For more information, see: http://www.popcorn78.blogspot.com.