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In Gulliver’s Travels (1726), Jonathan Swift has his hero say of the inhabitants of Brobdingnag: “I cannot but conclude that the Bulk of your Natives, to be the most pernicious Race of little odious Vermin that Nature ever suffered to crawl upon the Surface of the Earth.”
Gulliver might have used those words, just as appropriately, to describe House and Senate Democrats as they mobilize to support Barack Obama’s looming Syrian War.
Large majorities of Americans understand how dangerous Obama’s war plans are. The awareness is dawning too that it is morally preposterous for the United States, a serial violator of international law and the main purveyor of terror and violence in the world today, to assume the role of judge, jury and enforcer for the Middle East or anywhere else.
CounterPunch readers know this well. There have been scores of postings on this site and elsewhere exposing the bankruptcy of Obama’s case. I have written several of them myself, and there is no need now to go over the same terrain again. The arguments are familiar; the conclusions are obvious.
House and Senate Democrats understand this too; so does Obama. And yet they persevere.
The former scramble to back their leader out of party loyalty and because, where Obama is concerned, they, along with many of their constituents, feel obliged, like Babbitt in Sinclair Lewis’ eponymous novel, to “boost, not knock.” For Obama, it is a matter of saving face — after boxing himself in by stupidly drawing a red line in the sand.
If only the heavens were just! Then there would be a hell for Democratic Obama enablers like Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, and for their media flacks; John Kerry and Hillary Clinton would befoul the nethermost regions.
It would be especially wonderful if there were also a special hell where Barack Obama and Bashar Al-Assad could dwell together for all eternity — comparing their stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction (we know whose would be bigger), composing kill lists to no effect, and dreaming impotently of flaunting international law.
But, alas, none of these miscreants will face cosmic Justice; damn God for not existing! The American people, the Syrian people, and the peoples of the countries into which the Syrian civil war spills over will suffer this-worldly punishments instead.
Of course, there are a few brave Democrats still, and some of them will probably not succumb, even in the end, to their leadership’s line. Ironically, however, at this point, the best chance for holding back the Obama juggernaut lies with the GOP.
Only a couple of weeks ago, relying on Republicans for any decent objective would have seemed as outrageous as Obama’s war plans now do. Republicans haven’t changed either; circumstances have — thanks more to Obama’s bungling than to anything the Syrian government might have done.
The GOP was the Greater Evil Party before, and it still very much is; Republicans still make Democrats look good.
The best of them are unabashed (ruling) class warriors. Others, like John McCain, are always at the ready to go to war. And then there are the lunatics who have taken over the asylum the GOP has become.
Gulliver’s words hardly do them justice.
To be sure, their obstinacy elevates them. The ignorance, indeed the outright stupidity, they evince inspires fear and awe. From the standpoint of classical aesthetic theory, the Grand Old Party, at its extreme, almost rises to the level of the sublime.
And although it is madness, there is method to it. Had pre-Obama Democrats been even a tenth as obstinate, they might have stopped George W. Bush in his tracks. But that “pernicious Race of little odious Vermin” didn’t have it in them.
Still they are by almost any measure the lesser evil. It does not follow, however, that it is always worse when Democrats lose.
Obama trounced John McCain in 2008, and Democrats then controlled both the House and the Senate. Nevertheless, the nascent Tea Party, born in reaction to Obama’s victory, has set the agenda ever since.
It is becoming a familiar theme: Republicans lose and yet their influence is enhanced.
Obama won again in 2012. Had Mitt Romney won instead and had he proposed anything like what Obama is planning for Syria, we can be sure that Democrats would by now have overcome their inherent pusillanimity, and would be united in an effort to stop him. They would have a good chance of succeeding too.
Instead, we have the sickening spectacle now taking place.
We even have Democratic Party front organizations like MoveOn.org polling its left-leaning membership over whether to support Obama’s perilous, self-serving folly. How pathetic is that!
The lesson is plain: lesser evils are not always worse or, what comes to the same thing, when we look to the larger consequences, it is not always obvious who the lesser evil is; not as obvious, anyway, as is usually supposed.
In any case, the party that is ostensibly the greater evil by any measure is now our best, perhaps our only, hope for avoiding the impending disaster Obama and his inner circle are about to foist upon the world.
Perhaps nothing will stop our Nobel laureate from launching this next war of choice. Certainly public opinion won’t; our decrepit political class is contemptuous of it – from the President on down.
But the bought and paid fors in Congress do ultimately need votes, and therefore cannot ignore their constituents’ wishes entirely. And there is at least some chance that Obama might find it unwise to defy a Congressional vote. That is what happened with David Cameron in the British Parliament; it could also happen here.
But with only a few Democrats courageous enough, and progressive enough, not to follow their leader, Congressional disapproval can only happen with massive Republican support.
Can Republicans be counted on to do the right thing? If they do, it will be by going against their nature. Except for a few brave souls in the party’s libertarian fringe, Republicans, like mainstream Democrats, are imperialists at heart. But, unlike Democrats, they have a saving grace: they hate Obama (for all the wrong reasons, of course) and will do anything to hurt him.
Theirs is not the kind of hatred that sharpens awareness and quickens the mind. Their hatred is irrational and blind.
In its service, some of them are willing, even eager, to close the government down, bringing incalculable harm to everyone. This could happen very soon, when Congress must, yet again, raise the debt ceiling.
The poor will then suffer more than the rich, but there will be no winners – except perhaps the Obamaphobes, who care about nothing so much as bringing the President down.
Their immediate objective this Fall will be to thwart funding for Obamacare, as required by the Affordable Care Act. They are just mean and stubborn enough to hold the entire government hostage to this end.
This is odd, to say the least, since the core principles of the Affordable Care Act are Republican concoctions – fashioned in the early 1990s at the Heritage Foundation as an alternative to Hillary Clinton’s proposals. And, as everyone knows, when he was the Governor of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney put a plan very much like Obama’s into effect.
The Affordable Care Act is nevertheless likely to do more good than harm, and it is less market-centered than doctrinaire libertarians might like. Even so, from the point of view of the Republican mainstream in the pre-Obama days, it is definitely on the right (that is, the wrong) side of the class struggle. A more honest name for it would be “the Healthcare Profiteers and Private Insurers Protection Act” or perhaps “the Set the Cause of Genuine Health Care Reform Back Another Generation Act.”
However Obamacare’s Republican coloration hardly matters to Obama’s Republican opponents; he is behind the Affordable Care Act — therefore they will do anything to stop it.
Will it be the same when it comes to his Syrian War?
It would be for sure but for one sad fact: right-wing ideology and anti-Obama animosity have become entangled with the Tea Party’s take on “patriotism,” according to which, by jingo, nobody gets away with dissing the USA.
That is what Bashar Al-Assad supposedly did – “supposedly,” because the case is hardly proven, except in the minds (or words) of John Kerry, Chuck Hagel, and others in the innermost-circle of the Commander-in-Chief.
But Tea Party Republicans work on faith, not evidence, and they believe what their pundits tell them. They therefore find themselves on the horns of a dilemma. They want to hurt Obama by any and all means. But, at the same time, they will brook no challenge to “USA Number One.”
It therefore matters whether they see Obama starting another war to save his own face (or, rather, his own sorry ass), or whether they think the war he wants to start is about saving face for the United States. Because both are true, it could go either way.
Nothing else concerns them. They could care less about poison gas and they are fine with Syrians killing Syrians. Since many of them are islamophobic, that prospect positively warms their hearts.
In this respect, they are essentially of one mind with the Obama administration and the mainstream of the lesser evil party.
Therefore, like their rivals, if they come to believe that America’s “credibility” depends on intervening to enforce prohibitions on the use of chemical weapons – never mind that we don’t really know what happened in the Damascus suburbs last month, and that any U.S. intervention is all but certain to have the opposite effect — then they too will go along.
As a criminal organization writ large, the American empire cannot tolerate defiance; “credibility” is all. On this point, as on so many others, the greater and lesser evil parties converge.
Our only hope, then, is that right-wing Republicans focus on Obama’s “credibility,” not America’s. That could happen; their hatred might just be blind enough.
If they prevail, and then if Obama is convinced that it will hurt him politically to ignore Congress’ will, the danger will pass. Otherwise, beware!
With a real Left gone missing and with a Democratic Party that is worse than useless, this is what it has come to.
Who would have imagined that the “hope” Obama used to talk about meant hoping that Republicans will keep him from starting a war even “dumber” than the one he campaigned against (before continuing it for several years and then repackaging it in order to make it seem like it wasn’t entirely lost)!
Obama promised “change,” and he wasn’t lying. But change like this makes even George Bush look good.
ANDREW LEVINE is a Senior Scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies, the author most recently of THE AMERICAN IDEOLOGY (Routledge) and POLITICAL KEY WORDS (Blackwell) as well as of many other books and articles in political philosophy. His most recent book is In Bad Faith: What’s Wrong With the Opium of the People. He was a Professor (philosophy) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a Research Professor (philosophy) at the University of Maryland-College Park. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).