Environmental Ethics
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Ernest Partridge, Ph.D

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The Gadfly Bytes -- February 21. 2006

Perception is Reality

Ernest Partridge,

February 21, 2006



Today the many disparate crises of the past have combined into one general systemic crisis, placing the basic structure of the Republic at mortal risk. At the forefront of concern must be the question: Will the Constitution of the United States survive? Is the American state now in the midst of a transmutation in which the 217-year-old provisions for a balance of powers and popular freedoms are being overridden and canceled? Or will defenders of the Constitution step forward, as has happened in constitutional crises of the past, to save the system and restore its integrity?

Jonathan Schell

Yogi Berra said it best: “It is difficult to make predictions, especially about the future.”

Predictions in politics rest upon two assumptions: (a) that present trends will continue into the future, and (b) that there will be no totally unexpected “surprises.”

Both assumptions are rarely true and both are refuted both by common sense and by the lessons of history.

Case in point: last week’s “Texas shootout.” Until last week, the White House routine was in motion and functioning smoothly: Bush was the public face of the Administration, and Cheney the hand in the sock-puppet, self-selected in 2000 to give stability, maturity and “gravitas” to the Bush regime. Last week Cheney was exposed to the public at large as the reckless, self-absorbed, super-annuated adolescent that his perceptive critics knew him to be. Today the right-wing propaganda mills are up to full speed, telling us “move along, folks, nothing to see here.”  But try as they might, the public perception of Dick Cheney will not revert to status-quo-ante. The “present trend” of the Bush/Cheney team has been turned in a new direction.

But Dick Cheney’s bad aim was a minor disruption, of interest to us only because of its immediacy. Other “surprises” are well known to all of us.

  • In the fall of 1958, Fidel Castro seemed to be insignificant irritant to the regime of Fulgencio Batista in Cuba. On New Years Day in 1959, Batista fled Cuba, and two days later Castro and his “brigands,” marched into Havana.

  • In the summer of 1963, John Kennedy’s election to a second term appeared to be a near-certainty.

  • So too, his brother Robert’s nomination at the Chicago Democratic convention in August, 1968.

  • On election day in 1964, Lyndon Johnson seemed assured of a second term four years hence. And on election day, 1972, there was no reason whatever to doubt that Richard Nixon would serve out a full term.

  • In the early eighties, Reagan’s UN Ambassador, Jeanne Kirkpatrick, warned us all that where communism had established its rule, it had never retreated one square inch. And Mikhail Gorbachev, the Right told us, was just another Communist apparatchik, like all the others – “Khruschev with a tailored suit and a thin wife,” as George Will put it.

  • In 1990 Nelson Mandela was a prisoner of the South African apartheid regime. In 1994 he was elected President of the Republic of South Africa.

Political upheavals are like earthquakes. Beneath a placid landscape, stresses quietly build up until the fault ruptures, suddenly and without warning, forever transforming the landscape.

So, is an upheaval looming ahead for the United States? Not necessarily. For history also teaches us that democracies can descend slowly, by small increments, into despotism. As William O. Douglas put it: “As nightfall does not come at once, neither does oppression. In both instances, there's a twilight where everything remains seemingly unchanged.”

Which is our future? A bang, or a whimper? Or perhaps a renaissance? We don’t know. But the answer, to no small degree, is in the hands of us, of "we the people."

This much seems likely: given the increasing unrest among the American people, the accumulating evidence of GOP corruption and Administration crimes, and the likelihood of a devastating economic setback, come September and October this year, the political landscape will be radically different from what it is today. It could be far worse, with an intervening catastrophic terrorist attack followed immediately by martial law and full-fledged fascism. On the other hand, we the people just might achieve our deliverance from this reign of error, lies, greed, and cruelty.

The latter, hopeful, outcome may appear impossible today. But we must never forget that every successful peoples’ liberation movement begins as an impossible dream. (And, be sure, many such movements remain so). They then often proceed to possibility, then probability, and finally to inevitability and success.

The resistance to Bushism is now at the “impossible” stage; today, the Busheviks control the ballot box and the mainstream media. Their continuing control of the Congress and soon the Courts seems assured, and the alleged “opposition party” is enfeebled, disorganized and compliant. To be sure, if conditions and trends remain as they are today, and there are no “surprises,” continued control by the GOP of all branches of government is a certainty.

However, it is very unlikely that conditions and trends will remain as they are, or that there will be no disrupting “surprises.” Below this controlled and placid political and economic landscape, the stresses are accumulating.

Among them:

  • More and more moderate republicans and authentic conservatives are finally coming to realize that they share little more with the Bush Administration and the GOP Congress than a name, “Republican,” and an adjective, “conservative.” With the rightward shift in US politics, traditional Republican values and policies – fiscal responsibility, small government, local control, individual self-reliance -- are approaching congruence with those of the Democratic party. And genuine conservatives share with the Democrats, and in opposition to the Bush regime, a respect for our Constitution, the balance of governmental powers, and the rule of law.

  • Similarly, many libertarians are becoming disenchanted with the Bushevik assault on civil liberties and its flirtation with theocracy. In fact, a recent analysis of congressional voting records has determined that with the exception of the estimable libertarian-republican, Ron Paul, virtually all the top voting scores in the libertarian index belong to House Democrats.

  • Bush has lost the confidence and support of a majority of Americans. His approval ratings have once again dropped below 40%. A November AP-Ipsos poll found that 57% of those polled do not believe that the Bush Administration has "high ethical standards," and the same number say that Bush is not honest.  Last month, a Gallup poll found that 58% consider Bush's second term a failure, and 53% believe that Bush's administration deliberately misled the public about Saddam's alleged WMD programs.  Finally, an October Ipsos poll found that exactly half of the population would want Congress to consider impeachment if Bush lied about his reasons for going to war with Iraq

  • The Religious Right is fracturing, and the moderate Christians are becoming politically active, reminding us that Jesus blessed the peacemakers and condemned the wealthy and the hypocrites. Some evangelical Christian ministers are openly criticizing Bush’s environmental policies and expressing concern about global warming.

  • The patience of the international community with the neo-con’s imperial ambitions is wearing thin. And as knowledgeable observers of international politics and economics are fully aware, the community of nations is quite capable of exerting considerable economic pressure on the US government.

  • Bushism is based upon and sustained by a scaffolding of lies and deception. At long last, the public is beginning to “wise up,” and as the Busheviks respond to public skepticism with still more lies, their credibility crumbles, and with it their legitimacy and political clout.

  • Doubts about the validity of the election process will not go away, despite the disparagement of the issue by the mainstream media and the persistent indifference of the Democratic Party. More and more jurisdictions are decertifying electronic voting devices as legal challenges proliferate.

  • The US economy is approaching a breaking point, as the housing bubble is about to burst followed by the bankruptcy of millions of double-mortgaged speculating home owners. With ever-more Americans “maxing-out” their credit cards and credit qualifications, and with the continuing decline in median middle-class income, consumer spending is certain to stall.  Nothing provokes the American public to political action more than economic distress.

  • It is finally beginning to dawn on a few “movers and shakers” of finance and industry that where Bush, Inc. is leading, they should not want to follow. There are few winners in an economic depression, least of all investors. And a country that fails to invest in infrastructure, in scientific research, in technological development, and in education, and which “outsources” its technical jobs, is committing economic suicide. Savvy investors and corporate financial officers recall that they flourished during the Clinton administration, not to mention most Democratic administrations.

  • After five years of slavishly spewing out Bushite/GOP propaganda, the mainstream media is losing its credibility and its audience. The public is beginning to look to alternative sources for its news: the foreign media, the independent press, and of course, the internet.

  • The would-be despots, Bush, Cheney and the rest, are not very good at despotism. There is a widening charisma-gap, as these leaders appear ever-less “commanding” and ever-more puerile, incompetent, and even pathetic. In addition, Bush and his minions are not “deep thinkers.” They prefer faith to science, and gut-feeling to expertise. The public is beginning to appreciate that this administration can not bend reality to its will, and that eventually “reality bites.”

All these factors are working to the disadvantage of the Bush regime, thus, the sub-surface stresses are accumulating. Given the manifest skills of the Bush propaganda machine, and the blackmail and intimidation issuing from Karl Rove’s office, the political fault beneath could hold fast throughout the next decade, into the Jeb Bush Administration. Or it could rupture next month. My guess is sooner, rather than later.

Meanwhile, the resistance is gaining in strength.

The catalytic moment for liberation movements arrives when (a) the movement achieves self-awareness – when the dissenters look about and find that they are not alone, and recognize that they are participants in a concerted political force, (b) when the movement acquires effective leadership that focuses goals and coordinates action, and (c) when leaders and followers of the movement achieve results, albeit minor, and thus perceive that success is achievable. This perception that success is possible is, in itself, a formidable political force. “Perception is reality.” Si, se puede!

I opened with a warning about the unreliability of political predictions. So I will not now hazard predictions about the State of the Union in the fall, as the mid-term election approaches. However, I can point out some factors that might emerge in the meantime to re-shuffle the political deck.

Election fraud: As Bush’s approval ratings continue to fall, the economy sours, the Iraq casualty toll increases with no end in sight, the Abramov and Plame scandals yield indictments, the defensive lies from the White House become more transparent and desperate, opinion polls point to a Democratic blowout in the November elections. As more and more voices are heard to ask, “why on earth did we elect these guys?,” the public becomes ever more receptive to the reply, “we didn’t! Those damned machines elected them!”  Then the Busheviks face a daunting dilemma: can they allow a Democratic takeover of the Congress, and with it the power of congressional investigation including the levers of subpoena and the threats of perjury and contempt of Congress? Or dare they once again "jigger" the computer programs, in the secret and unauditable ballot and compilation codes, to assure a GOP “victory,” thus inviting a Ukrainian-style public rebellion?

The Mainstream Media: As the MSM continues to lose its audience, it faces another dilemma: propaganda vs. profits. When the Soviet media, state-owned and thus in no need of profits, persisted in spewing out state propaganda, it gave rise to an underground media, samizdat, and an enthusiastic public audience for foreign broadcasts and publications. In the United States today, profits are a factor, as here and there elements of the MSM, facing competition from foreign and independent sources and the internet, are exhibiting increasing critical independence from the GOP party line.  The opponents to Bush, Inc., need no counter-propaganda. A healthy dose of the truth will suffice as an invaluable resource in the struggle to bring an end to the reigning oligarchy.

Leadership: The resistance to Bushism is essentially leaderless, and thus unfocused and disorganized. When the leaders emerge, reflecting the values and aspirations of the resistance movement, that movement may become a formidable force.

I am not proposing another despot to replace the ones we have. If prospective leaders step forward with agendas alien to the followers, they will be discarded. Successful leaders must embody the values and aspirations of the movement. In an authentic popular movement, communication and coordination between leaders and followers flows in both directions.  Though rebels by nature resist authority, leadership in a resistance movement is essential, for if the movement is to be effective, its goals must be defined and focused, and its activism coordinated.  Let’s be realistic: where would the sixties civil rights movement be without Martin Luther King, Jr. – or, of not King himself, a King-like leader? Where India, without a Gandhi, South Africa without a Mandela, Russia without a Sakharov? For that matter, where would the United States be without a Washington, Jefferson, Franklin and the rest? All of these succeeded as leaders because those in their movements chose to follow. Other individuals, lost to history, claimed leadership and were rejected.

Message Discipline is behind much of the success of the GOP. Memos with “talking points” issue forth from the offices of Karl Rove and Dick Cheney, with clear and simple messages that are heard, incessantly, in the echo chambers of right-wing talk radio and right-wing punditry. In contrast, the left speaks with a thousand tongues, with worthy causes spread all over the political landscape, and with factions, that should be allies, fighting amongst themselves for a place at the podium. Witness the Washington Mall peace rallies, where we hear messages of gay pride, reproductive freedom, animal liberation, save the rain forests, abolish the death penalty, and, oh yes, end the war. All these are commendable causes, and all these are also wedge issues that fracture the coalition, to the delight of the right, which therein gains an opportunity to divide and conquer.

To the public at large, a thousand messages equate with no message, and a validation of the tiresome right-wing criticism that “the left has no new ideas.”

The essential message of the resistance movement must be simple, clear, with few elements, and comprehensive enough to encompass a broad coalition of citizens, who may differ on particular issues: liberals, progressives, the religious, the secular, moderate Republicans, conservatives, libertarians. To the religious, ask “What would Jesus Do?” (I.e., promote peace and charity, and condemn wealth and hypocrisy). To “establishment” Republicans and their followers, “What is the supreme object of your loyalty? A party? A man who happens to be President” or your country and its laws and Constitution?"  And to citizens in general: “This country belongs to 'We the People of the United States,' and we want it back!”

If these few and simple messages are repeated, over and over, the public might at last pay attention, and the resistance movement might achieve self-identity and grow into an irresistible force for reform and renewal.

In conclusion, we must pay no attention to the pundits’ proclamations that Democratic control of Congress is “out of reach,” that impeachment is impossible, or that claims of election fraud are groundless paranoia.. There are live bombs in the basement of The House of Bush – scandals, crimes, betrayals, treachery, even treason. Any one of these potentially explosive issues might, at any time, go off and bring down the entire wretched structure. Or they might all be defused, as a long night of despotism falls upon our republic. We can be confident only of this much: the present trends will not continue, and we must expect and be prepared to deal intelligently with the unexpected.

We Americans are not an evil people. Woefully ignorant at times, and short on political sales-resistance. But when we sense that we’ve been swindled and lied to, watch out! Our country was born in rebellion against tyranny. We have a Constitution and we have a tradition of liberty and the rule of law. We have vivid memories of a short time ago when we lived in a country that was both prosperous and free.

But neither were the Germans or the Russians fundamentally evil people. Yet they succumbed to evil regimes. The Germans had to be liberated at horrendous cost. After seventy long years, the various nationalities of the Soviet Union threw out their oppressors. We may suffer the fate of the Germans – there are no guarantees. Or perhaps “the Old World” will come to the rescue of the New,” just as we came to their rescue in the century just past.

Far better that we accomplish our own liberation and renewal. For only the American people can restore the honor of the United States of America.

Copyright 2006 by Ernest Partridge



Ernest Partridge's Internet Publications

Conscience of a Progressive:  A book in progress. 

Partridge's Scholarly Publications. (The Online Gadfly)

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" and co-edits the progressive website, "The Crisis Papers".   His e-mail is: gadfly@igc.org .

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 .