Environmental Ethics
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Ernest Partridge, Ph.D

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The Gadfly Bytes -- May 12, 2003

Missing in Action: The Democratic Party

Ernest Partridge

Never in the history of American politics has so little been done with so much. 

The Democratic party has at its disposal a devastating array of issues, foreign and domestic, moral and economic, and yet there it sits, at best dumb-frozen and impotent, and at worst complicit in the crimes and outrages of the Bush Administration. 

In the two short years of the Bush Administration, The United States of America has become an international pariah as the Bush regime violates treaties, disregards international law, and launches an aggressive war on a defenseless nation. This aggression has been justified by a succession of lies -- Saddam’s “hidden weapons,” the Saddam-Osama connection, the plagiarized student paper, the Nigerian forgery – all these well-known both at home and abroad to be lies.

Those same two years follow upon decade of unprecedented prosperity, and with it the promise of huge Federal surpluses and the end of the national debt. All this has been transformed into economic stagnation, a staggering national debt. and the prospect of endless deficits. In a binge of “reverse Robin-Hoodism,” personal wealth is being transferred from the vast majority that produces the national treasure, to a minuscule minority that owns and controls that wealth. Meanwhile, the Federal treasury, and the Federal services that it supports, are being pillaged -- Social Security, Medicare, environmental protection, and even veterans benefits.

The degree of corruption of this government is breathtaking. Personal friends and supporters of the Administration who have robbed their employees and stockholders of billions of dollars of life-savings and retirement income, have escaped prosecution. Nor have any meaningful legal reforms resulted from this corporate crime wave. The public at large is told to “get over it.” And friends and family of the President and his chief aids are positioned to receive enormous financial advantages from uncompetitive government contracts.

The Constitution is being shredded by the cynically-named USA PATRIOT Act, with the still worse abuses in “Patriot II” waiting in the wings. The courts, packed with so-called “conservative” judges will no longer protect us from these abuses, as American citizens are held indefinitely without charge, trial, or access to legal counsel – in direct violation of several articles of the Bill of Rights.

Nor is this the end of it. But you know all that by now. And therein is the final outrage: none of this is secret. All these atrocities, these betrayals of our democracy, are known or knowable to all who bother to examine the condition of our politics and economy today.

Meanwhile, the Democrats, the “opposition party,” refuse to oppose, in the apparent belief that their winning strategy is to adopt the pose of a pale and reluctant caricature of the Republican party. Still worse, their tactics are poor imitation of those of the GOP, as DNC Chairman, Terry McAuliffe desperately seeks out corporate fat-cats for the party to sell out to. This is plain stupid: the Democrats will never win by playing on GOP turf with GOP rules.

The Democrats lack media access and an opulent campaign fund. But they have the issues, and with the issues alone, the Democrats have been dealt a winning hand. Even so, the GOP bluffs, the Democrats fold, and the country accelerates in its rush to disaster.

How it this possible?

To be sure, the almost total subservience of the corporate media is a governing factor in the continuing onslaught of the Bush agenda. Furthermore, let us acknowledge, the Rovian political tactics have been brilliant, ruthless, and thus very intimidating. Media personalities who dare to speak up, such as Phil Donahue and now Ashleigh Banfield, are banished. Protesting celebrities such as Tim Robbins, Susan Sarandon, Bill Maher, Janeane Garofalo, Martin Sheen and the Dixie Chicks put their careers in peril. When politicians such as Tom Daschle raise a feeble voice of protest, they are denounced as “traitors” who “hate America.”

In the face of all this, the Democrats have been appallingly defensive, uncreative, and worst of all, cowardly. Their only valid claim to our support is the plain horror and corruption of the alternative.

It need not be this way. Not only are the issues overwhelmingly on the side of the Democrats, the barricades of Fortress GOP are in many identifiable ways, broken, weak, and assailable. It is passed time for the Democrats to hold a war council, put aside their crippling “conventional wisdom,” and take on a fresh, imaginative and vigorous offensive. 

I’ve not been invited to such a council, and surely will not be. However, if I were, here are a few ideas that I would put on the agenda.

(1)     Despite their manifest tactical success, the Bush Gang is not very bright. To be sure, they’ve got a stable of experienced PR geniuses and they know how to use focus groups. But they are not very good at long-term thinking and execution. One or two steps ahead seems to be their limit. Moreover, they are constrained by dogma and wishful thinking, topped off with arrogance. Their thought processes are fixated, not pragmatic, so when confronted with unintended consequences they are confounded.

Two examples:  First, the economy. The reigning GOP doctrine is “supply side” (or “trickle down”) – the claim that cutting the taxes of the wealthy will stimulate growth, thus raising tax income. This doctrine was followed by Reagan and Bush-I, which resulted in economic stagnation and huge deficits. It was abandoned by Clinton with spectacularly positive results. But now, “trickle down” is baaaack! And to Bush tax cuts are the solution for anything and everything. Clinton surpluses? Cut taxes. Deficits ahead? Cut taxes. Is the economy “hot”? Cut taxes. Cold? Cut taxes. But now we have a “war.” Cut taxes. This is what clinical psychologists call “fixated thinking.” 

Next, consider Iraq. Rumsfeld’s “chicken-hawks” planned far enough ahead to win the “war.” With a military budget four hundred times that of Iraq which, coincidentally, had been disarmed by the UN, we beat them. A foregone result. But after “victory,” then what? Aside from protecting the oil fields and the Oil Ministry, it seems that the Neo-Con theologians just hadn’t thought that through. Sure enough, they had an idea of what would happen. The Iraqis would welcome the troops with open arms, urge us to send over some copies of the Constitution by FedEx, invite in “our” Iraqi expatriots, set up a secular “democracy” to our liking, and then, out of gratitude, invite us to take their oil. Whereupon, the Arab dictatorships would fall like dominos and be replaced with still more “democracies.” 

Well, it just didn’t happen that way, as any competent Arabist could have told the Neo-Cons. But those keepers of the faith saw no need to consult the experts. And so they are now adrift, in a conquered country they just don’t know how to deal with. To their amazement, they have discovered that the people of Iraq have their own history, culture, and religion, and hence their own ideas of how they would like to conduct their affairs. Who woudda thunk it? 

In short, these guys don’t really understand the public or the world beyond our borders. They are contemptuous of science and intellect. They are dismissive of our history and traditions.

The lesson for the Democrats, then, is simply this: study and then know your adversary. Analyze their doctrine, take advantage of their fixations, search out and exploit their ignorance and their misconceptions, feed their arrogance, and then lead them to your traps. Rattle their cages, and watch them come unglued.

(2)     Arrogance leads to excess – “pride goeth before the fall.” So, Democrats, lead the Repubs on to fatal excesses. Once again, take heart from the lessons of history. The Salem witch mania continued unchecked until the Governor’s wife was accused. And that was the end of that. Eisenhower stayed aloof from Joe McCarthy’s mayhem, until McCarthy went after George C. Marshall. That was the final straw for Ike. Nixon’s paranoia and vindictiveness led to the Watergate burglary. Enter John Dean and “Woodstein.” Exit Richard Nixon.

We are now seeing these excesses at large in our land. Perhaps they will continue unchecked until they do in our Republic. But even more likely, they will backfire. There is a basic sense of fairness in the American character – perhaps dormant right now, but it’s still there waiting to be aroused. How much right-wing, AM radio, Cable TV screeching of “traitor” will the public endure before the impact of that awful word, “traitor,” dissipates until all that remains is that tiresome screeching. I mean, c’mon, just how much of Ann Coulter can the public take, before she becomes a comically pathetic figure? When that blessed moment arrives, Jon Stewart and SNL will come in and finish her off. “What begins as tragedy, ends as farce.”

Then there is the excess of greed.. A generation ago, the average Fortune 500 CEO earned in a week, what the median worker of his firm earned in an entire year. Today, that CEO earns the worker’s annual salary in half a day. With the Bush tax windfall to the super-rich, that equivalent annual income is moving toward one hour. Apparently, to these plutocrats, there is never “enough.” Not so, to the public that is being swindled by this greed. With ever more Americans joining the ranks of the unemployed, with ever less disposable income in the hands of the masses, the economy simply must eventually break and collapse. Unless, of course, the public finally says “enough,” and prompts the now-moribund “opposition party” to step in and put a stop to this runaway raid on the national economy. [Cf. United for a Fair Economy]

(3)     Where Bush is leading the country, his supporters (the corporate sponsors and the media) do not want to follow. They just don’t know it yet. Consider: How many of the wild-eyed Wall Street capitalists of the Twenties ended up “better off” in the Thirties? How many of the supporters of Nazism in the twenties and thirties would, after 1945, have no regrets about their previous allegiances – those that survived, that is to say. After all, many early supporters of Hitler, like the Old Bolsheviks, were liquidated when they were no longer useful to the regime.

It is plain for anyone with elementary common sense, not blinded by Bushian dogma and wishful thinking, that the Busheviks are leading this country straightway to disaster. Our international debt is now above $3 trillion and rising, and Bushonomics is bound to add several trillions to the national debt. The Euro is rising as the dollar falls, and the Euro may soon become the preferred international currency, with dreadful repercussions on the American economy. Our educational institutions, physical infrastructure and social services are all being trashed, and American pre-eminence in scientific and technological research and development is fading fast. “The outside world,” treated so casually and contemptuously by the Bush regime, supplies us with the raw materials (most significantly, petroleum) that feeds our economy. Thus we are at the mercy of “those foreigners.” When they’ve had their fill of the Bushista imperial arrogance, watch out! 

In short, we are heading straight for a national disaster, in which there will be few if any winners. When this Titanic goes down, both first class and steerage will sink with it.

And so, we repeat, Bush’s “winners” are headed for the same disaster as the rest of us. It is the job of the Democrats to get this message across. And they can do it the same way as the GOP – repetition, and then more repetition. “The Big Lie” does not succeed because it is a lie – it succeeds because it is repeated. Thus there is a converse “Big Truth” – which, if told often enough, is believed. And, qua truth, it has the advantage of being confirmable.

But how can the Democrats convey this message, when the corporations and the mass media are in full cahoots with the Bush gang? The answer is simple and straightforward: by supporting the Bush policies, they are booking their personal passage on the Titanic. But unlike the passengers on that ill-fated voyage, the privileged few have the capacity to foresee the disaster ahead. The Democrats and their allies must therefore reiterate the message to the fortunate few who own the wealth and control the media: you are not acting in your best interests. You have no stake in the Bush economic policies!  If, at last, the message gets through, the progressives might finally gain access to the media, and the Democrats may finally gain the support that they deserve. And even today, some of the super-rich are getting the message; among them, George Soros, Warren Buffet, Ted Turner, and Bill Gates, Sr.

Perhaps Bill Gates Jr. can be persuaded to detach the “MS” from “MSNBC,” and at last give us the media voice that we desperately need. In the meantime, we still have the BBC and the CBC – “Radio Free America” -- and excellent reporting by journalists abroad. And we have the progressive internet, active, dedicated and growing spectactularly, albeit woefully underfunded.

(4)     Now is the time for all good Republicans to come to the aid of their country. The crisis facing our republic transcends political partisanship. Each of the fifty-one Republican Senators and 229 Republican Members of Congress took an oath to defend the Constitution of the United States. All of those individuals who voted for the USA PATRIOT Act and who ceded war powers to George Bush are in violation of that oath. They can make restitution by reorganizing a Congress that will stand firm against Bush’s usurper regime. It happened just two years ago, when Senator Jim Jeffords left the Republican Party. It can happen again if two – only two! – Republican Senators follow his lead. Senators Olympia Snowe (ME) and George Voinovich (OH) held their ground in opposition to Bush’s $750 billion tax giveaway to the super-rich. This will likely earn them right-wing opposition in their next Republican Primaries. So why should they tolerate this abuse, when their Party has been taken over by a gang of right-wing theocratic extremists, and when “mainstream” (i.e., “New”) Democrats are now somewhat to the right of what used to be called “Moderate Republicans.” Senators Snowe, Voinovich, and other “moderates” such as Chafee (RI), Collins (ME) and Spector (PA) have been abandoned by their party. All that remains of their “moderate Republicanism” is a memory and a name. And “what’s in a name?”

It comes down to this: loyalty to party vs. loyalty to the Constitution and our political ideals. No need for these “moderates” to join the Democratic Party, which has scarcely distinguished itself by its defense of these ideals. It will suffice that two of them follow Jim Jeffords and claim independence, and then vote to reorganize the Senate.

(5)     The mighty can fall, suddenly and spectacularly – and have done so many times in the past. It is just possible that the mighty GOP machine is a Potemkin village – imposing and impressive from the front, but from behind, a claptrap concoction held together with chewing gum, duct tape and bailing wire. A few nudges in just the right places, and the whole edifice might collapse. The Democrats should locate those “right places” and apply the pressure. And that is precisely what they are not doing today.

Once again, history supplies the examples. In addition to the Salem witch trials, the McCarthy inquisition and the “White House horrors” of the Nixon administration, cited above, there is the inspiring case of the collapse of Communism. Once Mikhail Gorbachev let in the fresh air of glasnost and perestroika the fate of the Soviet Union was sealed, as Gorbachev’s “reforms” took flight, far beyond what he had intended. And when, in August 1991, the old nomenclatura attempted to take it all back, they were stopped cold in the streets of Moscow and St. Petersburg by an aroused public. Communism turned out to be a rotten and corrupt edifice that collapsed from within, once a reformer gave it a nudge and the people were aroused. And this, in a country without a history of democracy and the just rule of law.

There is a tide of fear and apprehension rising behind the dyke of GOP propaganda. Today, the mighty GOP PR machine is utilizing that fear to its advantage, as the surge in Bush “approval” post-9/11 testifies. But the Bush message is nothing but a pack of lies, distortions, and insults, described perfectly by Shakespeare’s Macbeth: “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

But is it not possible that strong, charismatic, plain-speaking opposition leader might step forth and gather that anxiety along with a latent allegiance to our founding political ideals, and with these resources forge a message that will punch a hole in that dyke and sweep away the ill-gotten political and economic gains of the thugs that have taken over our Republic? It has happened before, and with courage, dedication, creative intelligence, bold leadership, and more than a little bit of luck, it can happen again. Given the stakes, the authentic patriot has no honorable course but to make the attempt.

The Bush regime is like the blustering old wizard behind the curtain, pushing the buttons and pulling the levers on the mighty PR machine. The public, by and large, does not see the wizard and his machinery. And those that do, are told to “pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.”

Who will pull away the curtain? 

Where is Toto, now that we need him?

Copyright 2003, by Ernest Partridge

Dr. Ernest Partridge is a consultant, writer and lecturer in the field of Environmental Ethics and Public Policy. He has taught Philosophy at the University of California, and in Utah, Colorado and Wisconsin. He publishes the website, "The Online Gadfly" (www.igc.org/gadfly) and co-edits the progressive website, "The Crisis Papers" (www.crisispapers.org).  Dr. Partridge can be contacted at: gadfly@igc.org .