A plague has seized the Nation. It emanates from Washington, D.C., and is spreading wherever People try to come to grips with the abuse of power there by the most dangerous government corporate money can buy. Symptoms (particularly among People committed to real democracy, social justice, and non-violence in our relations with others) include barely controllable rage, enormous frustration, organization of third parties, and ultimately a sense of total scorn for mainstream electoral politics as anything other than a personal career. The name of this malady is Lame, Spineless Democrats (LSD). Friends don’t let friends enter the hallucinatory, pseudo-powerful world of LSD and its pushers in the Democratic Leadership [sic] Council without strong mutual support.
Thanks to leading Democrats who misplaced their spines, their passion, their intelligence, and their guts, the Republican Party seized total power over all three branches of the United States Government in the 2002 mid-term elections. With Republican control of the Senate we face federal courts packed with ultra-right wing ideologue judges (enjoying lifetime appointments) for at least a generation. It has been said that for evil to triumph it is only necessary that good People do nothing. The national leaders of the Democratic Party, the Tom Daschles, Dick Gepharts and Joe Liebermans who have been trying to win elections for 20 years now by beating the Fat Cat Republicans at their own corporate bribery game, let America and the world down. These uncertain trumpeters failed to grasp one very simple and fundamental fact about the type of electoral “democracy” that prevails today in America. If you let your political opponents define the key issues and control the timing of which issues will dominate the agenda, while you avoid providing any clear answers to their inflammatory and flagrantly misleading rhetoric about “freedom,” “security,” and “evil,” you will get your ass kicked. Duh.
In the midst of a major international crisis of violence accompanied by a deep economic recession, the top Democrats on the national scene gave Americans no real reason to vote for their candidates and caused this disaster. They offered no vision, no voice, and no message or theme that resonates with ordinary folks. But it goes far beyond their (lack of) “the vision thing,” beyond the tired “issue” of “moderates” vs. “liberals,” and even beyond the timid fear of challenging a wartime president. Look at just some of the embarrassment of riches squandered by the Democrats’ refusal to fight or even criticize Boy Emperor George W. Bush on any fundamental issues of war and peace, corporate corruption, and the economic health of the Nation and its People:
Bush’s thugs did everything they could to obstruct and delay the congressional hearings on intelligence failures that preceded the September 11 attack. This administration had come into office in January 2001, facing intense warnings from its predecessors about the then little known potency of al-Quaida. A robust plan for attacking them had been developed under LSD Clinton. It has been described as essentially everything done after September 11. National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice simply sat on it for four months. By April a paper Bush administration “policy review” for covert action against bin Laden had been completed, but it stalled in the National Security Council. It was not included in an actual plan on paper until August, when Rice signed a White House policy directive, and Bush was briefed at his Texas ranch. In the meantime, especially in June, the intelligence community was receiving constant threats and corroborating information about bin Laden’s major, “spectacular” attack plans. Those in the know were convinced that something horrible and really huge was coming soon. Nothing was done. (All of this is in addition to the unconscionable failures to detect, investigate or keep track of the hijackers and their alleged associates.) It may well be possible for someone in Rice’s position, responsible for assessing and responding to such critical national dangers, or that of CIA chief George Tenet, to screw up their jobs worse than this. But I can’t see how. One of the Democrats’ most blatant failures as a political opposition after September 11 has been giving Bush and his top aides a wholesale pass on their unbelievably irresponsible actions and omissions in the area of national security. With very few exceptions, Congresspersons have not called for the firing of the top “intelligence” officials who enabled this disaster. The administration was allowed to obstruct, delay, and manipulate a series of superficial inquiries into these failures in the congressional intelligence committees. Then, when some of the ugly truth finally came out during committee hearings in late September 2002 (just in time to be pre-empted by plans to attack Iraq), Bush’s spin doctors promised to convene the special commission they previously opposed, to finally get to the bottom of it all. We are no safer from terrorist attacks today than we were before the World Trade Center was destroyed. Democrats have completely failed to challenge the Bush administration’s incompetence, demonstrated both before and after September 11, in matters of security and intelligence. The Republican right wing has taken a fervent, and ostensibly religiously inspired, position on the critical Arab/Israeli conflict that can only be described as madness. It makes the traditional extreme American bipartisan consensus on support for Israel, which has itself been far outside the mainstream of international politics, diplomacy and opinion for decades, seem reasonable by comparison. A new alliance between hard core Zionists and the most extreme fundamentalist Christian political cadre has emerged to dominate U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East. As reflected in recent remarks about “so-called occupied territories” by Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, the real powers on the intellectually light weight Bush team, current U.S. foreign policy is justified by the Bible. The Book of Exodus has the Israelites putting the inhabitants of the Promised Land to the sword, so Christian fundamentalists in 21st century America “reason” that Ariel Sharon’s massacres are acceptable, even desirable as they hasten the second coming and the blessed “rapture.” That the real basis for supposedly responsible public officials supporting such millenarian nonsense has less to do with the Book of Revelations, than with the bottom line of military contractor corporations who do billions of dollars worth of business with Israel, is not particularly comforting. U.S. policies on “free trade” and corporate globalization have thrown Africa, most of Latin America, and much of the U.S. itself into the economic toilet. Now the Bush administration’s September 2002 National Security Strategy (NSS) makes explicit their drive for a global empire. It says that there is only one model for successful national development, its version of “free market” capitalism, lower taxes for the rich, and “free trade” abuse of democracy by the world’s ruling multinational corporations. If anyone anywhere ever challenges our dominance or any of these policy choices, the NSS says we will attack them (as with Iraq, and “Either you are with us, or you’re with the terrorists”). George W. Bush was (sort of) elected President of the United States, not Emperor or Mafia Don of the Planet Earth. The first George who occupied this office stressed that he was not to be addressed or viewed as a King. But the Bush/Cheney administration’s policies, in addition to being a recipe for breeding anti-U.S. terrorism around the world, require a new job description. The LSD have not even attempted to make this outrageous arrogance of power an issue in our national political life. Then there is Iraq (at least for now). Thanks to the top Democratic leadership, the congressional “debate” on war against Iraq was not Hawks vs. Doves. It was Hawks vs. Hawks. Tens of thousands of Americans joined in hundreds of anti-war demonstrations throughout October 2002. We were led by respected members of the religious and civil rights communities, and by organizers of local labor unions. We demonstrated in the streets against the proposed slaughter of tens of thousands of Saddam Hussein’s victims, which would be for the profits of Big Oil, and for U.S. control over Iraq’s energy resources as well as the strategically vital region. The Democratic Party was by and large, with a few notable exceptions, completely AWOL. In the absence of strong congressional opposition, Bush’s political guru Karl Rove transparently used the war with Iraq debate to “maintain a positive issue environment” for Republican candidates. The savvy LSD pols walked right into Rove’s trap and didn’t even put up a struggle. Is it any wonder that voters don’t trust their brand of “leadership?” The 2002 election, incredibly, was not a referendum on corporate corruption, as embodied in the Enron scandal, and all it portends for American democracy and the economy. Exploding budget and trade deficits, and rapidly growing economic inequality between workers and the corporate elite, were non-issues. LSD leaders even limited their arguments about the ailing U.S. economy, inadequate health care, and unemployment to whining about how Iraq pre-empted the agenda. They offered no policy program for a better life for the majority of American working families. The Lame, Spineless Democrats have not figured out a way to address such issues, without being accused of “class warfare” by the real class warriors whom Enron and its ilk put in position to rob the rest of us blind. LSD is known to produce such a powerful sensory and cognitive disconnection from the surrounding real world.
To have democracy, there must be serious debate of fundamental issues, and a decent respect for the truth. In the 2002 campaign the Bush/Cheney/Rove administration successfully avoided the former. They never had the latter. Bush’s hypocrites are the guys–now in unchallenged control of the most powerful military/imperial machine in the planet’s history–who responded to the disaster of September 11 by advocating a “Department of Homeland Security,” without civil service or union protections for the employees tasked with protecting Americans from terrorist violence. They want a bloated new “don’t rock the boat” bureaucracy. Its hundreds of thousands of employees, like the FBI agents who were prevented from searching Zacharias Moussaoui’s computer before September 11 for evidence of al-Quaida connections, would lack any protection from retaliation by their bosses if they speak up about bad policies or decisions. To their credit, even the LSD in Congress have opposed Bush’s union-free “security” plans. But taking such a position on one relatively narrow issue is not enough by a long shot. Effective leadership demands consistency and principles. In order to claim leadership in such troubled times, a party has to boldly show People what they stand for, forthrightly say what they’ll do, and clearly demonstrate that they are a better alternative to John Ashcroft’s Gestapo tactics and Dick Cheney’s corrupt imperial ambitions. Instead the leading Democrats have loyally supported such abuses. They are tripping if they expect the majority of the American People to support them in their moral shame, their unforgivable physical endangerment of the rest of us, and their utter political irrelevance. Thanks to LSD hallucinations of an excuse for leadership, we now face the arrogance of absolute, unaccountable power in the White House, Congress, and the Federal Courts, without any of the effective checks and balances envisioned by the architects of American government.
Into the streets to save the world before these losers piss it all away.
The author would like to acknowledge the following excellent articles published during late September through October, while Karl Rove’s Iraq strategy played out in the election campaign, as particularly influencing this essay:
1. Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, by John Prados, The American Spectator, 9/23/02 2. For the Democrats: A Defining Moment, by Marty Jezer, Common Dreams News Center, 9/27/02 3. Fighting Terrorism with the Wrong Weapons, by Ahmad Faruqui, Counterpunch, 10/16/02 4. The Red Queen Program, by Molly Ivins, Boulder Daily Camera, 10/25/02
TOM STEPHENS is a lawyer and a member of the board of directors of the Detroit Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild. He welcomes comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.