David Labowitz, an insurance salesman here [Narberth, Pennsylvania], said he voted for Mr. Bush in 2004 and was eager for the next election to come along so he could rectify what he called his mistake. “I am a registered Republican,” Mr. Labowitz said, “but I am so embarrassed to be a registered Republican.” (New York Times, July 9, 2007)
Imagine a burning building, with the people inside scrambling to find the exits.
Now imagine that building located on the deck of a large ship, isolated in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, riddled with gaping holes and sinking fast.
Keep that image in your mind, and add to it the tsunami that is fast approaching the ship’s location.
It will get there soon, but not before the Enola Gay, which is buzzing overhead with a special delivery item in its payload.
Got that picture in your mind? Welcome to the Republican Party, July 2007.
Or, the “Grand Old Party”, as our regressive friends like to call it. Old? Sure –as old as greed itself. Party? Well, there ain’t a lot of celebrating going on in its vicinity, but if you mean a congregation of ever-narrowing numbers of people aggregated around certain political ideas, however ridiculous they may be, well then, sure, this is a party. But grand? Only in the scale of its current mess.
If you’ve got any political antennae at all, any sensitivity to the moods and trends of American politics, you can’t help but conclude that it is all collapsing fast, and with it as well many of the multiple enablers who have assisted in bringing us this ugliest of disasters these last years. It’s all coming apart now, bursting its tawdry seams, and doing so not only with a tremendous rapidity, but with even a tremendous increase in the rate of rapidity.
What a week it has been.
The most obvious signs of implosion, of course, are the Republicans in Congress who, one after another, are now ditching the president with sunrise-like regularity. It seemed like there was hardly a day this week when one or two more didn’t abandon the sinking ship of Bush’s Iraq catastrophe. Or should we say that you are “cutting and running”, my dear GOP friends? Should we now question your patriotism? Should we note that many of you are up for reelection next year and, having seen what happened last go-round, are now “playing politics with national security”?
If we were Karl Rove, George Bush or Dick Cheney, we would say those things, of course. If we were garden variety regressive fellow-travelers –much like, well … you, actually –we would. If we were your attack dogs, like O’Reilly and Limbaugh, we most certainly would. But we needn’t do any of those things, because you folks have spoken for yourselves. You backed an insanely incompetent buffoon for president, little distinguishable from Caligula other than by the suit and tie where the toga once resided. You supported his administration’s every move even when you saw that it catered to the worst possible instincts of our country, and that it represented the very antithesis of American constitutional government. You stood by or piled on as its agents berated, vilified and destroyed any and every true patriot who showed the greatest courage by expressing the slightest objection to these toxic policies.
Now that you are seeking rescue from the burning building on the aforementioned sinking ship awaiting the fire of the gods to be quenched only by the great exhalation of Poseidon himself, you should count yourself lucky –Mr. Voinovich, Mr. Lugar, Mr. Domenici, Mr. Alexander, Ms. Snowe –if your too-little-too-late-mealy-mouthed-half-baked attempts to undo the tragedy you helped create in Iraq results only in the loss of your seats in Congress. How will you face the mothers of those who have lost so much more –who have lost everything –for your astonishing lapse in judgement, at best, and your raw political opportunism at (probable) worst, my proud Republican friends?
One by one, two by two, they bailed this week, so that sometimes it seemed that the only Republican senator who didn’t jump ship was that good old patriot, John McCain. I guess McCain must be a religious true believer, because after Bush and Rove sicced the sickest dogs on him in 2000, he’s done nothing since but love his former enemy. Indeed, so great is McCain’s Christian embrace of George Bush that he seems to have even adopted the latter’s delusional personality out of sympathy. The only week McCain’s presidential campaign has ever had that was worse than this week was last week. The guy has a whopping two whole million dollars left in the bank, hasn’t bought a single ad with the tens of millions already wasted on a caviar campaign, is slipping in the Republican polls behind a pro-choice guy with a lisp and another guy from Massachusetts, can no longer raise contributions for the campaign, and therefore had to lay off more than half his national staff. Then, on top of all that, this week he loses his two top operatives through what appears to have been a civil war going on inside the campaign. We can’t quite tell who quit whom, but either way, McCain’s bid for the White House nowadays looks rather more like an episode of ER than a presidential campaign.
Asked if he fired these guys, Big John said: “No, no, no, no. I’d describe the campaign as going well. I’m very happy with it. People are free to make their own assessments. I think we’re doing fine.” That’s scary. Of course, it also fully explains how McCain can be just about the only person this side of Dick Cheney who thinks things are going just fine in Baghdad. And isn’t that just what we need right now, another four or eight years of a ’round-the-clock hallucinating chief executive? No matter. Like Don Rumsfeld, Tony Blair and the former Republican majority in Congress before him, McCain is being amply rewarded for his loyalty to The Wrecking Machine Formerly Known As George Bush, and for sharing the president’s megalomania. Twice McCain has been the odds-on favorite to be the Republican nominee for president, only to watch the little terror from Texas destroy his great life ambition, now for a second time as well.
[Last minute update as we go to press: It has been reported that McCain had a huge fight with Senator Voinovich on the Senate floor (the biggest row people have seen there in decades), that he illegally called campaign contributors from the Senate cloakroom (the very thing that he lambasted Al Gore for doing in 2000), that his two top people in Iowa have joined the exodus from his campaign, and that his campaign co-chair in Florida just got busted for offering to perform oral sex on an undercover cop for twenty bucks. You think I’m making this stuff up, don’t you? But I’m not. That’s the beauty of the regressive right –with these guys you don’t have to! That was today’s news. I wonder what tomorrow will bring. Oh, did I mention that McCain turns 71 next month?]
Looking across to the other side of the aisle, one could certainly be equally amazed at the ‘leaders’ of the majority party in Congress, Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi. If anyone could possibly be more ineffective at the job of opposing a reckless, dangerous and now publicly despised president, it is hard to figure how. Perhaps if they were to send Dick Cheney a dozen roses and asked him please to end the war he might feel more pressure than he has since January, when the Democrats gained control of Congress. It’s hard to know which would be more intense.
The most astonishing thing to know about Harry Reid is that he was reputedly once a boxer. Does that mean someone threw a punch at him on the schoolyard grounds in seventh grade and broke his horn-rim glasses? Is that what they mean when they say this guy was a boxer? I only ask because I desperately want the leader of the Democratic Party in the Senate to be a fighter. But, today, everything about what Harry Reid says, does and even looks like to me telegraphs punching bag, not fighter. Or wet noodle. Under a doormat. You know –the one leading into the servants’ quarters.
I am therefore at least slightly pleased to see that Reid is apparently nearing the end of his rope on Iraq. Gee, could that be because Congress now has job approval ratings even lower than George Bush, and without having done anything to anger anybody except those who expected it to actually do something, especially on Iraq? Having utterly and unnecessarily capitulated a month ago on the supplemental appropriations bill for the war, Reid is supposedly now already gearing up for action rather than waiting for September as the White House wants. Whatever else the majority leader is, it would seem doubtful that he is so stupid that he’d aggravate his base to the point of frenzy by raising this issue again only to cave once more, so maybe we’ll actually see some action this time… But then, that’s what I expected last month, too.
If he wants to know how much is at stake, he can just ask his pal Nancy Pelosi next door. The most astonishing thing to know about her is that she represents one of the most liberal districts in America. So she becomes Speaker following an election, the clear message of which was ‘end this nightmare’, and the first thing she does is take impeachment off the table! What is it with these people? Do they go native in Washington and just lose all sense, including any sense of themselves and their own backgrounds? If Congress met on the moon, would they start acting like rocks?
Life just got a lot uglier for Nancy, and deservedly so, in what is undoubtedly the political highlight of the week, if not the decade. In the most clever and thrilling application of progressive politics we’ve seen since Larry Flynt brilliantly offered a million bucks to any mistress who would out her Republican hypocrite paramour during the Clinton impeachment, Cindy Sheehan has threatened to run against Nancy Pelosi for her San Francisco congressional seat unless Pelosi proceeds on impeachment against Bush within two weeks time.
I wish we progressives could do more of this sort of clever infighting, but here the circumstances are rather unique. Nevertheless, this maneuver by Sheehan is brilliant. Much like the campaign to embarrass China during their Olympics if they don’t put pressure on Sudan over the Darfur issue, it is a case of leverage on leverage. Sheehan is leaning on Pelosi to lean on Bush. If Pelosi isn’t crapping in her panties right now, she’s a bigger fool than would be the test-tube offspring of George W. Bush and Dan Quayle, carried to term by Paris Hilton. Pelosi’s district is perhaps the most progressive in the country. If angry sentiment against Bush and against his Iraq war doesn’t run at least 90-10 there, I’d be shocked. Pelosi’s already an enormous source of disappointment for anyone to the left of Joe Lieberman, and Cindy Sheehan –backed by an army of motivated volunteers and donations literally from across the world –would have an excellent chance of dethroning the New Queen of the House, only two years into her reign.
Sheehan has, with this single bold stroke, completely reshuffled the deck for Pelosi, Congress, Bush, America, Iraq and the world. A coldly dispassionate look at the new lay of the land suggests that Nancy Pelosi now has two options ahead of her. She can either become (the first female) president of the United States following the impeachment of Bush and Cheney (and perhaps even keep the job after the 2008 election), or she will likely lose both her Speakership and her seat in Congress. There probably is no in-between. That doesn’t seem like such a tough choice to me, especially because the only ones who pay in this scenario are Bush and Cheney. But it does require a certain boldness –even if its boldness driven by terror –which is a quality not exactly in abundance among Democrats in Congress these last, well, decades.
There are two other beautiful aspects to impeachment that should be kept in mind. One is that the public is ready for it –as Dick Cheney might say, “big time”. Half of those polled –an astonishingly high number –believe that Bush should be impeached, and probably most of them don’t even quite know why they feel that way. For Darth Cheney the numbers are 54 percent in favor versus 40 percent against. In short, there is little political risk here for Pelosi to proceed. That is especially true given that ample evidence of the administration’s lies on Iraq is already in the public record, and that Bush has already admitted to both breaking statutory law and violating the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution with his illegal domestic spying program. He couldn’t be more guilty than he already is if he gave his next press conference in handcuffs and an orange jumpsuit.
But the juiciest joy of impeachment, besides of course conviction and removal (or better yet, conviction and removal of a disastrous president who also happens to be the leader of a party that wrongly impeached a Democratic president), is that the White House could no longer continue hiding evidence by invoking its bogus executive privilege or national security doctrines. Or, more precisely, they could, but only if they wanted to stand by watching themselves lose the trial in the Senate. Their position would be tantamount to an accused murderer refusing to present exonerating evidence at his trial because of devotion to some relatively obscure constitutional principle (I mean, how many Americans understand the doctrine of executive privilege?). You can do it if you want, but there will be a price to pay. You’ll lose badly.
Of course, if the evidence you’re supposedly protecting on principle doesn’t actually exonerate you but in fact proves your guilt, well then that’s a whole ‘nother kettle of fish, isn’t it? Once the impeachment process begins, I see little hope for Bush and Cheney other than that enough Republicans and perhaps even a few Democrats would prevent the two-thirds vote necessary to convict. But given public sentiment right now, let alone later, and given the evidence (or unanswered accusations) that would be brought out via an effective prosecution combined with the mounting electoral vulnerability of Republicans generally and anyone supporting this White House specifically, even thirty-four votes in defense of the indefensible in the Senate might be hard to muster. Cindy Sheehan has started a pebble rolling down a mountainside. There is every possibility this could turn into a landslide of international proportions.
The same failings of Congress must also be applied to the mainstream American media. Much like the preening blowhards on the Hill, the press is enormously culpable in the multiple tragedies of Bushism, for both utterly failed their assigned role in the American constitutional firmament as the watchdog and check against the accretion of executive power. The media’s guilt regarding the specific matter of Iraq is even more egregious, as they not only failed both in asking tough questions about the policy or even questioning the patently bogus claims of the administration before the war, but also frequently served as a mouthpiece for broadcasting precisely those lies.
So the New York Times –which has the most to atone for, if only because it violated the most trust of all –began its week with an extended editorial calling for the withdrawal of American forces from Iraq. Yep, they’re fed up with Mr. Bush’s deceits, it would seem, and they’ve finally figured out that the succession of benchmarks and breakthroughs claimed by the administration are little more than smokescreens intended to delay any real action on Iraq until January 2009, when the agony of Bush/Cheney finally and mercifully comes to a halt (assuming Cheney doesn’t first rewrite that part of the Constitution as well).
I couldn’t be more delighted to see a bit of wisdom from our national paper of record (still, however, mixed with naivete about the position and power of George Bush’s America in the world), but gee, would it have been too much to have asked for that back when it mattered? Would it have been too much for you guys to have covered, two years after the war was launched and when the rough extent of its utter foolishness was already clear, the Downing Street Memos, which proved beyond question that the war was based on lies? And while we’re at it, if you folks really want to atone for your sins, why don’t you do something slightly bold now, like call for the impeachment of the president and vice president?
I suppose we should be thankful for the little we’ve gained in recent years, even if the emphasis truly is on the little. I have been reminded of this of late in reading coverage of the Bush administration in the media. Here’s a decent example, excerpted from an AP article by Jennifer Loven, entitled: “Bush Rips Democratic Lawmakers’ Failures”:
President Bush accused Democratic lawmakers on Saturday of being unable to live up to their duties, citing Congress’ inability to pass legislation to fund the federal government.
“Democrats are failing in their responsibility to make tough decisions and spend the people’s money wisely,” Bush said in his weekly radio address. “This moment is a test.”
The White House has said the failure of a broad immigration overhaul was proof that Democratic-controlled Capitol Hill cannot take on major issues. “We saw this with immigration, and we’re seeing it with some other issues where Congress is having an inability to take on major challenges,” said spokesman Tony Fratto.
The main reason the immigration measure died, however, was staunch opposition from Bush’s own base-conservatives. The president could not turn around members of his own party despite weeks of intense effort.
Here we see the White House in its usual Rovian posture, simply inventing reality out of whole cloth, never mind the mind-bending absurdity of it all. If it is advantageous to describe black as white, up as down, Kerry as coward and Bush as courageous, Iraq as necessary to our security and its opponents as America-haters –then just do it. They have very good reason to continue in this Wonderlandian mode. It’s worked brilliantly for years, and hardly anyone –certainly in the press –ever has the courage to inject silly stuff like facts and reality into the discussion. Moreover, if someone is ever foolish enough to do so, there’s always the politics of personal destruction to rely upon. Make an example out of Joe Wilson and Valerie Plame, and the rest will get the idea.
If you want to see how far we’ve come, though, take a good look at the last paragraph in the passage quoted above. It’s what the nice folks in the media biz like to describe as “context”. Not so long ago, had this article run, that paragraph would have been missing –completely AWOL. The administration, and especially this ridiculous imbecile of a president (but wasn’t it just so endearing how he mangled words and didn’t know the name of the president of Pakistan?!) could make any claim, no matter how absurd, no matter how contrary to known fact, and you wouldn’t find such corrective context anywhere in sight, let alone in the same article. It was crucial that the nonsense go unchallenged, and so it did. Of course, to inject such contextual background into a story of this sort is arguably to add a political slant to it, something that a ‘neutral’ American press fancies that it doesn’t do. What they don’t tell you, however, is that failing to add such context in the face of known absurdities (like the notion that the Democrats spiked the president’s immigration bill) is just as much if note more of an act of politicization as is adding it. Worse, it is also an act of cooptation.
And, speaking of absurdities, notice also how far we still haven’t come. Someday in the future, perhaps, there will also be some qualifying context behind this jaw-dropper: “Democrats are failing in their responsibility to make tough decisions and spend the people’s money wisely”. Imagine how differently –and how much more honestly –the piece would have read if the next paragraph had said: “George Bush inherited America’s biggest budget surplus in history, and turned it into the biggest deficit in history, because of which the national debt is now at $9 trillion, or about $60,000 per taxpayer, and rising, and accumulating additional interest every day. When Republicans took control of government, they went on a spending spree that dwarfed anything Democrats had ever done. Bush never vetoed a single spending bill.”
Of course, the media –like Congress –have been way behind the public at virtually every step of this process, and that continues to be the case today, so that even though the public views the administration (albeit still too generously, merely) as dishonest and inept, it will be some time before anyone inside the Washington establishment can hint at such a perception, despite that it is fully rooted in fact. Outward acknowledgment of any (and every, real or fabricated) pejorative quality is, of course, reserved for Democratic presidents only.
And then, of course, there is Bush himself to consider. Fully seventy percent of the public are now reported to want the troops out of Iraq by April. My guess is that that number will skyrocket even further now that it has been revealed that the cost of the war is running $12 billion per month. The president is due to report to Congress this week on the progress made in Iraq, but there isn’t any. Literally. Reported one story, “The Iraqi government is unlikely to meet any of the political and security goals or timelines President Bush set for it in January when he announced a major shift in U.S. policy, according to senior administration officials closely involved in the matter”. Is it therefore any surprise with these guys that, as another headline put it, “Administration Shaving Yardstick for Iraq Gains”, and that they are furiously trying to lower expectations in advance of the report? In yet another media report, the categories they invented trying to gussy up the corpse of Iraq were described by one insider as “bizarre”. No doubt. Perhaps they’ll be citing the Iraqi government for increased efficiency in addressing the problem of the global population boom. Could that be a category?
Meanwhile, Defense Secretary Robert Gates canceled his trip to Latin America this week and National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley bagged his family vacation, both returning to Washington in a hurry. According to ABC, an insider described the White House as being in “panic mode” as members of Congress are trying to ditch Bush and Cheney faster than a nasty case of the clap picked up on some overseas junket.
Meanwhile, the usual suspects from the rabid right are desperately trying their level best to keep the poison flowing, of course. The New York Times was attacked by conservative papers for capitulating to some very, very bad people in the Muslim world, while the Washington Times attacked both Democratic and Republican members of what it dubbed the “appeasement caucus”, who are “are poised to send another unmistakable message of weakness to the jihadists”. I had always thought that spending half a decade and half a trillion dollars only to see the entirety of your empire’s land forces get the shit kicked out of them was a pretty good definition of sending an unmistakable message of weakness to your enemy, but what do I know? The Wall Street Journal, meanwhile, cautioned frightened Republican members of Congress that “their best prospect for making Iraq less important in 2008 is military progress that allows for a reduction in US forces with honor and a more stable Iraqi government”. Hmmm… “Peace with honor”, “Peace with honor” –where have I heard that gem before?
In any case, the old magic doesn’t work anymore, especially when applied to former stalwarts from their own party. While we may have passed the point where anyone in the public cares enough about them that trashing wobbly GOP legislators appears at all unseemly, it nevertheless is certainly missing more than just a bit in the way of credibility. I don’t think many Americans are going to be angry at these Republicans for only supporting an insane and hated war for four-and-a-half years, instead of for “a generation”, as the White House has suggested.
We have very far to go, to be sure, but the project of regressive politics and the Bush administration to which it has been intimately tied is crumbling before our eyes. Like David Labowitz, quoted at the top of this piece, voters have lately been clocked departing the GOP at speeds approaching Mach 5, horrified and shamed at their own foolishness for ever associating with such monsters in the first place. And still the worst tales of greed and deceit and murderous violence have yet to emerge from the bog that produced Bush, Cheney, Rove, DeLay and Scalia, of that I am as sure as can be. Imagine how it will look when more –and the worst –of the truth is revealed.
It’s worth considering how far we’ve come, and how perilous was the fate of the republic, only a short time ago (and, unquestionably, still to some degree today). The most chilling words ever to emanate from this or any administration were surely also the most honest these guys ever spoke. In the summer of 2002, a “senior advisor” to Bush (my guess has always been that it was Rove) spoke off the record to reporter and author Ron Suskind, and in so doing revealed the true project of the regressive movement, now firmly lodged in the White House. Suskind reported this conversation in the following paragraph from his 2004 article, “Without A Doubt”, and the words have been frightening many a thoughtful reader ever since:
The aide said that guys like me were “in what we call the reality-based community,” which he defined as people who “believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.” I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. “That’s not the way the world really works anymore,” he continued. “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality –judiciously, as you will –we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”
Fortunately for the entire world, it turned out a bit differently.
History’s actors are now history’s acted upon. Perhaps they are stunned to find that they are mere mortals, like the rest of us.
And the empire has gone the way of every other empire before it. Only a lot faster.
And they did, indeed, create realities through their actions. Those realities are called Iraq, global warming, Katrina, the debt, and more.
And we in the reality-based community did indeed study them, and increasingly, we did so rather judiciously.
And we don’t like what our studies have revealed. And we don’t want their empire, especially with them at the head of it. And we don’t want their reality creations.
And so we’re creating a new reality, ourselves, we pathetic peons in the reality-based community.
And they can study our reality. Judiciously, as they will.
And they’ll have plenty of time to do so. In their jail cells.
DAVID MICHAEL GREEN is a professor of political science at Hofstra University in New York. He is delighted to receive readers’ reactions to his articles (firstname.lastname@example.org), but regrets that time constraints do not always allow him to respond. More of his work can be found at his website, www.regressiveantidote.net.