Historically, the country of Poland has always been assigned the same role in the theater of international politics.
Its kinda like the unnamed actor in the red shirt who beams down to the planet with Kirk and Scotty and the rest of the regular gang. HeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s only there for one (fleeting) reason. You know heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s gonna get zapped by the local evil alien.
If youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re Poland, youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re expected to do two things. One is to get smashed by one or perhaps even several of your vastly more powerful neighbors. The other is to then be occupied, or perhaps even simply swallowed up wholesale.
Over time, the Poles even got good at this themselves, sometimes assisting in their own annihilation with techniques like the liberum veto, an innovation which allowed any (and every) member of parliament to unilaterally bring the legislative session to a close and vacate all legislation already passed to that point. Sort of like the veto-driven ineffectiveness of the UN Security Council on steroids.
Except for one difference. When the UN gets it wrong, thereÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s little chance that someone will sail up the East River, invade mid-Manhattan, and occupy Turtle Bay. Poland, on the other hand...
What IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m wondering is, why does the Democratic Party feel compelled to be Poland every four years (and often in-between, as well)? WhatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s up with nominating one wholly cerebral, completely unflappable, painfully careful, mind-numbingly deliberative, thermostatically-controlled, cool-customer candidate after another, eh?
We live in the most astonishing of times, politically speaking.
And I don't mean that as a compliment.
There is so much I would hate to try to explain to an alien about our politics. Same with a human five centuries from now -- it's just that I'm not so sure there'll be any.
One president has oral sex in a private consensual relationship and lies about it, so right-wing freaks spend $40 million to investigate this most heinous of crimes and bring impeachment charges against a president for only the second time in American history. Meanwhile, one of their own trashes the Constitution at every turn and isn't even investigated, let alone impeached, let alone removed from office.
This same president plunged the world into war on the basis of non-existent weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, but couldn't be less concerned when North Korea actually goes nuclear on his watch. This president went to war to bring democracy to the Arab world, but can't even be bothered to pressure Egypt or Saudi Arabia to move a tad in that direction. This president uses an attack on the US to justify international belligerence and mass human rights violations, but doesn't seem very interested in even attacking, let alone vanquishing, the supposed perpetrator.
We could go on and on detailing the ludicrous inanities of American politics in the age of Bush (himself Exhibit A), but really my favorite has to be the case of global warming. In a society devoted like no other to the politics of fear, we have somehow managed to forget the one thing we should probably fear most.
Imagine if there was a meteor headed toward our one and only planet, with the potential to do devastating and possibly lethal damage to the planet. Imagine that we had the technological capability to divert the course of this weapon of the massiest mass destruction, and all we needed was the will to do so. And imagine that we chose to focus our society's energies instead on ... gay marriage. Or illegal immigration. Or premarital sex.
Not only would we screw up all of those policy areas, but we be toast anyhow, along with all our unmarried gays, undocumented workers and 'virgin' teenagers (who have anyhow become experts at anal and oral sex in order to avoid the forbidden kind). So, what fool handed us the keys to this planetary oil tanker? Shouldn't, like, um, the Swedes or the Norwegians be the world's Only Superpower? They seem harmless enough.
Remember Dick Cheney's 'one percent doctrine'? He argued that if there's even a one percent chance of a terrorist attack, you have to go on the offensive. There's this little thing called cost-benefit analysis that seems to have gone sorely missing over the last, er, eight years or so. It was last seen flowing down the sewers of Baghdad. It would lead to a conclusion that yes, you should take threats seriously, but that if the solution to a one percent probability of danger that could threaten the lives of a thousand people is to adopt a policy which definitely kills 100 million of your own citizens, that's probably a bad plan. Costs and benefits, you see. I mean, people can differ on this, of course, but I'd vote to take the one percent risk in such a case. Admittedly, though, that's not so helpful when you're in the middle of trying to scare the hell out of people so they'll vote for you, or acquiesce to your destructive policies.
But I digress. There is a monstrous catastrophe not only headed our way, but actually already here. I'm not a climatologist, but my sense from paying attention to media reporting on this issue over the last two decades is that there is not only a one percent chance that global warming is both real and anthropogenic, but rather a ninety-five percent chance. Perhaps ninety-nine. Yep, sure, there are a few scientists out there still making the opposite argument. Probably some of them aren't even on oil company payrolls! But the vast majority of reputable climate scientists now agree that this is happening, that we are making it happen, and that the results will be catastrophic. This, after ten and twenty years of a (somewhat) healthy scientific skepticism about those claims, which only further underscores the validity of the findings.
Last week we had James Hansen reminding Congress, twenty years after originally doing so, of the gravity of this situation. One of the top scientists from one of America's premier science agencies -- who was told, by the way, to shut the hell up by the Bush administration -- was reminding us yet again that we are facing mass species extinctions and ecosystem collapse among the lovely perils awaiting us if we continue in the current direction. Assuming, that is, that it isn't already far too late to turn it around now.
Think about that for a second: Mass extinction. Ecosystem collapse. Meteor. Ninety-five or better percent chance.
So what will they say about us five centuries from now -- those very few, very toasty, remaining humans, living on mountain tops, the only dry land to be found? What they'll say is probably unprintable in any family newspaper, that's for sure. But in-between the expletives I think you'd be likely to find words like ... "unconscionable" ... "breathtakingly stupid" ... "astonishingly selfish" ... and, "If you weren't already dead I'd kill you!"
Indeed, we -- or at least some of us -- half-deserve this fate for choosing the likes of Nixon, Reagan, Bush, DeLay, Scalia and the rest these last decades. It's the rest of the world I feel especially sorry for.
And what's especially killer about this particular issue is the degree to which the multiple maladies and solutions all line up so neatly. Sometimes the cosmos sends you a message in very subtle ways. Other times it beats you over the head with a two-by-four. Occasionally, it detonates a small nuclear device in your backyard swimming pool to get your attention.
We're very much in the latter category right now. You don't exactly have to do a full and complete inventory to figure this one out. Here, just take this pop quiz. Quick, now: What factor do all of the following items have in common: massive environmental devastation, skyrocketing transportation and food prices, a declining middle-class with disappearing jobs, and a war-prone and constant calamity-threatening Middle East continually sucking in American military involvement and nightmarishly distorting our foreign policy? (If you're somehow still struggling with this, you may want to consider spending a little more time catching up with current events. Meanwhile, though, here's a bonus hint for you: Alan Greenspan described this as the real reason America went to war in Iraq.)
Now flip it on its head. What would be a way in which our society could address the massive threats of global warming, a sinking middle class with lousy jobs, poverty-inducing energy costs and military nightmares in the Middle East, all at once? How about if we made it a giant national priority to wean ourselves off carbon-based energy sources through a variety of policies mixing incentives and regulations, and a huge national effort to develop alternative fuel sources, with all the industrial development and good-paying jobs associated with launching such industries? What did Jimmy Carter call it, thirty freakin' years ago? "The moral equivalent of war", wasn't it? Too bad he was a failed president, though. Hardly invaded any other countries. What could he possibly have known?
So, last week James Hansen reminded us that we are headed for such joyous 'lifestyle changes' as mass extinction and ecosystem collapse. Of course, most regressives continued to pooh-pooh such warnings as some sort of liberal conspiracy to undermine capitalism. Do climatologists seriously strike anybody as crypto-anarchists masquerading as scientists in order to destroy capitalism? And, if that was really their goal, wouldn't there be a lot easier ways to crash the system than to go spend years getting a PhD, do a bunch of boring research for low pay, and grade a million mind-numbing term papers written by a million grammatically-challenged college sophomores?
Then there's that pesky little problem of evidence. Every week there's more, though hardly any quite as egregious as what you could have seen on CNN.com just a few days ago: "North Pole Could Be Ice-Free This Summer, Scientists Say".
What will they say -- assuming there are any "they" left to be saying things -- in five centuries about us nice folks who managed to bequeath the solar system a second Mercury where a green and fertile planet once stood, just so we could party a little longer? I'm not sure, but I don't think it will be pretty.
These regressive fools and their pre-/anti-scientific religious superstitions just kill me.
And that's just the problem. They're killing all of us.
People all over the world - and certainly no less progressive Americans - are trying to take the measure of Barack Obama. The previous and coming few weeks will be a good, though not perfect, moment for doing so.
I have long believed that the winner of the Democratic nomination in 2008 would be the winner of the presidency. With an average six-point polling spread between Obama and McCain, that is looking more and more true. Moreover, my guess is that this year, like most, the Electoral College math will magnify that gap even further. I have contended for some time that Democrats are going to have a giant year (or, more precisely, Republicans are going to be fiercely spanked), all down the ballot, ranging from dogcatchers up to senators and governors. I expected that the presidential race might be a bit closer than those others, but even that may not be true.
Of course, everything can change in a day, let alone four months. Just ask Mike Dukakis, who entered his year's summer with 12-point advantage over George Bush the Elder, and proceeded to get stomped. Dukakis was one of the earliest Swiftboat victims, back before there even were swiftboater political assassins, per se, and of course the Atwater/Rove machine destroyed him mercilessly. He never seemed to know what hit him, and he certainly never fought back.
Neither condition seems likely to apply to Obama, however -- particularly the latter. That great hissing sound you've been hearing for some time now is the energy going out of the regressive right movement, including the funding and support from the hired guns. Not only do these people see the freight train headed their way, but they can't even get remotely excited about their standard-bearer, John McCain. If your politics suck in America, it's getting harder and harder to get out of bed in the morning.
Moreover, there hasn't been a Democrat like Barack Obama in the thirty years since the Faux Cowboy rode into town and sent them all scurrying for cover. Whatever else one can say about Obama, he doesn't stand around like Dukakis or Kerry getting punch drunk, watching his prospects go down the drain as scumbags relentlessly punk him with the crassest of tactics. Obama may yet lose this election, but it's highly unlikely that he'll do so while being a hapless observer of his own demise. For the pathetic creature known as the Democratic Party, that alone is actually a giant leap of progress.
Given that the presidency is within his reach, the question of who he really is now comes into sharper relief. As I see it, there are basically two options to choose from, with a host of permutations and degrees of variation between and around them. President Obama can either be an FDR, or he can be a Bill Clinton. He can either be a bold leader who leverages crisis and a sweeping electoral mandate into transformational policy and historical leadership, or he can be a caretaker who cravenly seeks to make no mistakes and therefore realizes no accomplishments. He can be a progressive who comes to the rescue of a country badly in need, or he can be Republican-Lite, putting corporate interests ahead of the nation's.
Many people are wondering which model we'll get with Obama. Some don't really care, as long as he is simply President Not Bush. Others have simply gone ahead and made the leap, assured that he is the Second Coming. As he once said, himself, for some reason people seem to project all their hopes and aspirations on this man.
But which is he? My guess, sadly, is that his instincts are more Clinton than FDR, at least when it comes to the cautious inaction aspect. That I can (barely) bear; the corporate shilling I cannot.
It's very much worth remembering, however, that both FDR and Clinton were presidents of their time. Without serious crises, FDR would likely have been Clintonesque. Meanwhile, with them, Clinton could have arguably risen into the pantheon of great presidents. Indeed, he supposedly once lamented that he got through eight years without such a crisis on his watch, a comment which for me always summed up the priorities of Clintonism better than any other single notion. Quick pop-quiz question: What kind of person is so incredibly self-absorbed that they would wish a deadly national crisis on their own country because of the positive effect it might have on their personal legacy? Answer: A Clinton.
Right now, Obama looks to inherit a situation rather in-between the 1930s and the 1990s, which, ironically, is in many ways probably more unfortunate than if things were palpably much worse. On so many fronts, now and into the foreseeable future, America is a slow-motion train wreck. That means it's coming apart fast enough to do truly catastrophic fiscal, environmental, economic, moral, political and international damage over a decade or two, but not fast enough to overwhelm the public's fear of change and thus generate support for bold action. This could well be the worst of all worlds.
Nor, unfortunately, is Obama likely to be compelled to do the right thing on most any of these fronts. Indeed, he will not only run into resistance from a public that claims to want change but probably really only wants the kind that makes their pockets jingle a little more, but he will also certainly inherit a Congress run by Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid that is deeply devoted to doing nothing other than serving corporate interests. We progressives can try to pressure him, but if history is any guide, we tend not to have much relative influence. Moreover, almost anything that follows George W. Bush is going to be such a dramatic improvement, and so deeply welcomed, that - especially someone like Obama - will benefit from deep reservoirs of public patience and good will. Finally, the regressive movement which so successfully hobbled Clinton is likely to be in a complete crisis melt-down mode after the American public has had a little Come-to-Jesus conversation with them on November 4th. I don't expect them to be very adept at pressuring Obama at least during the early part of his administration, and I doubt he would allow them to anyhow.
The long and the short of this is that the contextual conditions don't bode well for Obama to run a truly transformational presidency, nor does much of anything in his past suggest that that is his ambition. By my count, that leaves only one remaining potential major motivating factor, which is the question of legacy, the factor that seemed to motivate Lyndon Johnson, for instance, to go to the wall for civil rights. But Obama is a walking legacy. Thirty seconds after he is sworn in next January he will already have fulfilled what could conceivably become the bulk of his historical significance. And it's no small thing, either. American politics have been the provenance of elites for so long now, just having a black man living in that White House is alone pretty huge.
But it is not enough. If Obama defaults to being a Clintonesque caretaker, he'll get away with it for a while, but not forever. Forget about history. In the here-and-now there is mounting impatience with the state of this country, particularly on the economic front. Unfortunately, this is the major area where Obama has offered his least compelling vision, and where he would face probably the greatest of resistance. I'm not convinced, for example, that it would necessarily be politically more difficult to withdraw from Iraq than to raise taxes on the wealthy.
Recent events in the Obama campaign may have been disheartening to progressives, perhaps signaling his centrist tendencies, perhaps suggesting that the extent of the real change he is offering is simply to not be Bush, perhaps inferring - worst of all - that it will be Wall Street which will have his ear. The most recent and prominent example of this sort of stuff was Obama's choice to opt out of his prior repeated promise to accept public financing of his campaign and the limitations that go with it. That is, in some respects, disheartening. And perhaps will be much more so if it convinces him that he can lie with impunity.
And there have been other signs as well. His choice of Jim Johnson as his lead advisor in vetting vice presidential nominees was about as Washington old school establishment as you can get, and that was even before it blew up in his face because of Johnson's skanky personal finances. Much more ominous have been the presumptive nominee's selection of Wall Street-leaning Jason Furman as the campaign's chief economic advisor, and his denunciation of the Supreme Court's decision this week to prohibit the application of the death penalty for raping a child.
As horrifyingly noxious as that latter crime certainly is, few Americans are better positioned than Obama, the African American constitutional law scholar, to understand just how twisted is the use of the death penalty in any case. His criticism of the Court's majority suggests the worst sort of pandering to a bloodthirsty public, not unlike Governor Bill Clinton's nauseating decision to personally preside over the execution of mentally retarded Ricky Ray Rector in order to attract centrist voters in 1992.
But the Furman choice may be the worst indicator yet of this guy's intentions. Furman is closely associated with Robert Rubin, who is closely associated with conservative economic principles within the Democratic Party, those favoring Wall Street over Main Street. What makes that act especially disheartening is that it was essentially a free choice for Obama. He's not going to win or lose a lot of votes from a voting public amongst whom almost none could distinguish Furman from, say, Joseph Stiglitz, as an alternative. Using the death penalty to pander for votes is truly sickening, but at least if we know it is pandering we can excuse (I don't) it as perhaps necessary to be able to achieve a greater good in the America of the 21st century. On the other hand, choosing a corporate-leaning economic advisor when almost no one is looking at what you're doing may well signal the candidate's true politics.
To an extent, this can all be excused - possibly - as pre-election necessity. It's crucial to win this year. It's crucial for Obama not to allow himself to be swiftboated. It's clear that he well understands these principles. Frankly, I don't want him to advertise any unpopular, left-of-center politics he might have during the campaign, whether or not he would pursue those policies in office. They won't help him now, and they'll very likely hurt him. It does none of us any good for John McCain to become America's 44th president of the United States, and after watching the pathetic performances of Dukakis, Gore and Kerry in (not) fighting for the presidency, I for one am not going to hold Obama's feet to the political purity bonfire of ideological self-immolation.
On the other hand, there are limits to what is tolerable, even in an election as crucial as this one. While I don't expect the guy to be a socialist, I'm going to be powerfully disappointed if he repeats Clinton's economic policies, notwithstanding that they're marginally better than McCain's or Bush's. And I have to admit that I find the death penalty comments revolting, especially when he could have just chosen to be silent on the issue.
What makes all of this even more troubling is that Obama is already killing McCain in the polls, and therefore doesn't appear to need to use the most egregious of these tactics. To be sure, he should be highly cautious about believing the election is all sewn up. And he gives every appearance of understanding - as any Democrat long ago should have - that these guys are going to try to smear him mercilessly, and therefore nothing should be taken for granted - eh, Mr. Kerry? That fifteen point lead - even assuming that it is accurate - could potentially disappear rapidly - eh, Mr. Dukakis? Still, is it really necessary to favor the expansion of the use of the death penalty in America?
What Obama appears to be doing is following the standard American presidential script, which is to run to your left (if you're a Democrat) during the primaries, and then to the center after securing the nomination. Obama never got very far to the left of the public at any point, but you can see him repositioning now. Perhaps after the election we'll see yet a third version, and perhaps that will be more progressive than not. Perhaps.
I don't think anyone knows, which is why so many of us are watching this guy so closely. It's easy enough to be disappointed, especially for progressives, but mostly if you're so unrealistic that you'd rather be one hundred percent politically pure than have a chance to govern. Some issues are worth that extremely high price. Many are not. What I can say for myself is just this: I'm looking for someone with sufficient courage and vision to be able to govern at the left edge of what is realistically possible. While I'd certainly prefer more than that in a perfect world, in the real one I'm stuck in, I'll generally take that over nothing at all. And I'll certainly take that over the rampant destruction of all things precious that will continue if the GOP is allowed to govern another four years. Let's face it. If we're honest we'll admit that the only difference between voting for Ralph Nader versus demanding that Obama take electorally impossible stands is that the latter is an even surer path to political suicide.
Everyone has to make their own choices, of course. But, me? I generally recommend against suicide.
When it comes to Obama, we have to wait and see. What I can say is that he used to be closer to that realistically possible progressive edge in prior months than he has been over the last couple weeks. I might be happy if this is the low point for him and it just gets better from here on out. But let's be honest, he's had better stretches than this last one.
And it matters, too. To choose but one example, in the last week top NASA scientist James Hansen told Congress regarding global warming that "We're toast if we don't get on a very different path. This is the last chance." He predicted mass extinction, ecosystem collapse, and dramatic sea level rises if we don't take steps to save the planet, and fast.
The same is true across so many domains of American and global society, even if the crises aren't quite that stunningly acute. We are in very deep trouble, in so many ways.
For sure, it will be wonderful to remove from the body politic the cancer currently occupying the White House.
But it will not be enough.
Watching George W. Bush in operation these last couple of weeks is like having an out-of-body experience. On acid. During a nightmare. In a different galaxy.
As he presides over the latest disaster of his administration (No, it's not a terrorist attack -- that was 2001! No, it's not a catastrophic war -- that was 2003! No, it's not a drowning city -- that was 2005! This one is an economic meltdown, ladies and gentlemen!) bringing to it the same blithe disengagement with which he's attended the previous ones, you cannot but stop and gaze in stark comedic awe, realizing that the most powerful polity that ever existed on the planet twice picked this imbecilic buffoon as its leader, from among 300 million other choices. Seeing him clown with the Washington press corps yet once again -- and seeing them fawn over him, laugh in all the right places, and give him a standing ovation, also yet once again -- is the equivalent of having all your logic circuits blown simultaneously. Truly, the universe has a twisted and deeply ironic sense of humor. Monty Python is about as funny -- and as stiff -- as Dick Nixon, by comparison.
It's simply incomprehensible. It's not so astonishing, of course, that a country could have a bad leader whose aims are nefarious on the occasions when they are competent enough to rise to that level of intentionality. Plenty of countries have managed that feat, especially when -- as was the case with Bush -- every sort of scam is employed to steal power, and then pure corruption and intimidation used to keep it. History is quite littered indeed with bimbos and petty criminals of this caliber. What is harder to explain is how the citizens of a country of such remarkable achievements in other domains, and with the capacity to choose, allow this to happen. And then stand by silently watching for eight years as the tragedy unfolds before their eyes.
But let's give credit where credit is due. This is precisely by design. This is exactly the outcome intended by the greatest propaganda-promulgating regime since Hermann GÃƒÂ¶ring set fire to the Reichstag. It was GÃƒÂ¶ring himself who famously reminded us that, "Naturally the common people don't want war; neither in Russia, nor in England, nor in America, nor in Germany. That is understood. But after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine policy, and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. ...Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country." Sure worked in Germany. And it worked even better here, because these guys were so absolutely careful to avoid exposing the costs of their war to those who could demand its end. For example, by some counts, there are more mercenaries in Iraq, at extremely high cost, than there are U.S. military personnel.
There's only one reason for that. If the administration implemented the draft that is actually necessary to supply this war with adequate personnel, the public would end both the war and the careers of its sponsors, post haste. For the same reason, this is the first American war ever which has not only not been accompanied by a tax increase, but has in fact witnessed a tax cut. Likewise -- to "preserve the dignity" of the dead, of course -- you are no longer permitted to see photographs of flag-draped caskets returning to Dover Air Force Base. And the press are embedded with forces who are also responsible for their safety, which is just a fancy way of saying that they're so censored they make Pravda look good. It is, in short, quite easy for average Americans to get through their day, every day, without the war impacting their lives in any visible respect, and that is precisely what hundreds of millions of us are doing, week in and week out. All of this is courtesy of an administration that couldn't run a governmental program to save its own life -- but, boy, it sure as hell knows how to market stuff.
Perhaps Americans and American democracy are no wiser or better than any other people or political system, even today, even after the worst century of warfare in human history, even after the mirror-image experience of Vietnam. Maybe the experience of Iraq hasn't even changed them, and they'll once again follow like lemmings when led to war by pathetic creatures such as George W. Bush, 50 years from now. Or five years from now. Or even five months from now, as Dick Cheney tees up a confrontation with Iran in order keep Democrats out of the White House and himself out of jail.
Sure, presidents and prime ministers, no less than kings and fÃƒÂ¼hrers, will lie their countries into war. Sure, they're very good at it and getting better all the time. Definitely a frightened people are more prone to stupidity than those lucky enough to contemplate in the luxury of quiet safety. Without question, it helps an awful lot -- if you're just Joe Sixpack, out there trying to figure out international politics in between a long day's work, helping the kids with their algebra homework, and the Yankee game -- to have a checking-and-balancing Congress, a responsible opposition party, and/or a critical media helping you to understand the issues accurately, rather than gleefully capitulating to executive power at every opportunity. But that by no means excuses a public who was fundamentally far more lazy than they were ignorant or confused. And lazy is one thing when you're talking about a highway bill or even national healthcare. But when it comes to war, lazy is murder.
I don't think it took a giant leap of logic to understand that this war was bogus from the beginning, even based on what was known at the time. The war was sold on three basic arguments, each of which could have been easily dismantled even then with a little thoughtful consideration.
The first was WMD, of course. So, OK, perhaps your average American didn't know that the United States government (including many in the current administration) had actually once supplied Saddam Hussein the material to make these evil weapons and had covered for him at the United Nations and elsewhere when he used them. This historical myopia is very much part of the problem, of course. Americans are so ready to denounce supposed enemies without doing the slightest bit of historical homework to make sense of the situation. If you don't know that the United States actually canceled elections and helped assassinate a "democratic" president in Vietnam, of course you're going to support war there. If you don't know that the United States toppled a democratically elected Iranian government to steal the country's oil and then installed a brutal dictatorship in its place, of course you're going to be angry at U.S. diplomats being held hostage. And if you don't bother to learn the true history of Iraq, perhaps you'll find the WMD argument quite persuasive.
But, in fact, even without the historical background information, it never made a damn bit of sense. Iraq had been pulverized by war and sanctions for over 20 years prior to 2003. Two-thirds of its airspace was controlled by foreign militaries. Its northern region was effectively autonomous, a separate country in all but name. It was in no position to attack anyone. Moreover, it hadn't attacked anyone -- not the United States or anyone else. Indeed, it hadn't even threatened to attack anyone. Shouldn't that be part of the calculation in determining whether to go to war? Do we really want to give carte blanche to any dry (we hope) drunkard in the White House who today wants to bomb Norway ("They're stealing our fish!") or tomorrow wants to invade Burkina Faso ("They dress funny!")?
Too often, of course, the historical answer to that question has unfortunately been yes, we apparently do want to do that. But let's consider the massive warning signs in this case, even apart from what could be known about the administration's lies at the time. Shouldn't it have been enormously problematic that Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11? Even the administration never had the gall to make that claim. Wasn't it transparent to anyone that America had plenty on its plate already in dealing with the enemy we were told we had, rather than adding a new adventure to the pile? And why wasn't this thing selling throughout the world, or even amongst the traitorous half of the Democratic Party in Congress? Remember how everyone at home and abroad -- yes, including the French -- supported the United States and its military actions in Afghanistan only 12 months before? Shouldn't it have been a warning sign of epic proportions that these same folks wouldn't countenance a war in Iraq just a year later? That the administration had to yank its Security Council resolution off the table, even after breaking both the arms of every member-state around the horseshoe table, because it could still only get Britain and two other patsies to lie down for this outrage, out of a total of 15, and nine needed to pass?
And how about the logic of that whole WMD thing, after all? Did anyone ever stop to think that 36 other countries were thought to have clandestine WMD programs, including around a dozen that are pretty hostile to the United States? Did anyone not remember that the Soviets once had nearly 25,000 strategic nuclear warheads pointed in our direction? What ever happened to the logic of deterrence? To mutually assured destruction? And what about the mad rush to go to war, preempting the U.N. weapons inspectors from doing their job? Are we really OK with the notion that instead of "risking" whatever would have been at risk by giving the inspectors another six or eight weeks to finish up, we've instead bought this devastating war down on our own heads for no reason at all?
The second rationale for war was the bogus linkage between Iraq and al Qaeda. The extent and ramifications of this lie are so significant that the White House, it was just recently revealed, squelched a Pentagon report showing no connections between the two. Remember how definitive Cheney and the rest were of this supposed al Qaeda linkage, based pretty much entirely on a meeting between two operatives in Prague which likely didn't even take place? Now we find out that the Department of Defense has spent the last five years combing through a mere 600,000 documents, and found zero evidence of such a link. Not some evidence. Not mixed evidence. Zero evidence.
Then, once again, there's the matter of that whole pesky logic thing. Pay attention now, class. What do we know about al Qaeda? They are devoted to religious war -- jihad -- in the name of replacing governments across the Middle East with theocracies, or better yet recreating the old Islamic caliphate stretching across the region, right? Right. Now if this vision could have more thoroughly contradicted Saddam's agenda for a secular dictatorship seeking regional domination on his own Stalinist terms, it is hard to imagine how. You don't need a Ph.D. in international politics to see that these two actors were about as antithetical to each other as the Republican Party is to integrity.
Lastly, Bush's little adventure in Mesopotamia was supposed to bring democracy to the region, remember? Never mind, of course, that there has long already been a fairly thriving Islamic democracy, right next door. Oops! It's called Turkey. And let's not forget Mr. Bush's long-standing devotion to democracy, as he amply demonstrated in the American election of 2000. Or as he has continually manifested by bravely and publicly pushing the Chinese to democratize. Just as he has with his pals in Egypt and especially the family friends running Saudi Arabia, the recipient of more American foreign aid than nearly any other country in all the world.
What is clear is that the reasons given to the American public for the war in Iraq were entirely bogus. This much is already on the public record, from the Downing Street memos and beyond. Even if we can only speculate on why they actually invaded -- oil, glory, personal insecurity, Israel, clobbering Democrats, Middle Eastern dominance -- what we know for sure is that the rationale fed to the public was a knowingly fabricated pack of scummy lies. It wasn't about WMD, it wasn't about links to al Qaeda, and it sure wasn't about democracy.
But even if we can't identify the true motivations within the administration for invading, we can surely begin to see the costs. Probably a million Iraqi civilians are dead. Over 4 million are displaced and now living as refugees. Together, these equal a staggering one-fifth of the population of the entire country. Meanwhile, the remaining four-fifths are living in squalor, fear and a psychological damage so extensive that it is hard to grasp. America has lost 4,000 soldiers, with perhaps another 30,000 gravely wounded. Hundreds of thousands more will be scarred for life from their experiences in the hell of Mr. Bush's war. Our military is broken and incapable of responding to a real emergency, at home or abroad. Our economy will sustain a blow of perhaps $3 trillion before all is said and done. Our reputation in the world is in the toilet. We have turned the Iranian theocracy into a regional hegemon. And we have massively proliferated our own enemies within the Islamic community. That would be one hell of an expensive war, even if the reasons given for it were legitimate. It is nearly incomprehensible considering that they were not.
This week, a man died in France, the last surviving veteran of World War I, a devastating conflict that -- even a century later -- nobody can really explain to this day. Meanwhile, Dick Cheney, John McCain and Joe "Make-me-SecDef-Mac-oh-please-pick-me-Mac" Lieberman parachuted into Iraq for photo-ops to sustain the war they don't have the integrity or the guts to abandon. Never mind that their visits had to be by surprise, and that they stroll around the Green Zone wearing armored vests -- surely the most powerful measures of the war's success imaginable. Of course, to be fair, we've only been at it for five years now. Perhaps after the remaining 95 on McCain's agenda go by, Americans will finally be safe enough in Iraq to announce their visits in advance.
So, happy anniversary, America! You put these people in charge, and then -- after seeing in explicit in detail what they were capable of -- you actually did it again in 2004! You stood by in silence watching the devastation wrought upon an innocent people, produced in your name and financed by your tax dollars. And you continue to do just that again, now in Year Six.
Brilliant! Put on your party hat, America. You won the prize.
You've successfully answered the musical question, "How lethally stupid can one country be?"
Oh boy. Where have I seen this movie before?
I think it was four years, surprisingly enough. Hey, what a coincidence! Wasn't there a presidential election going on back then, too?
Remember how Howard Dean came out of near total obscurity, how he started walloping the presumptive front-runner, John "Fearless" Kerry, by taking bold positions (at least in the context of American politics) against the war, and against George W. Bush? Remember how Kerry changed his tune to ape Dean's message, and how nervous Democratic voters played it safe and came home to the guy with the experience and the name brand? Remember what an outstandingly effective candidate he then turned out to be? Remember the "real deal"? (Oh, and what a deal it was. I think experienced card players refer to that hand as a 'jack-shit straight, seven high', if I'm not mistaken.)
Is this ringing any bells for anyone?
Only Democrats could lose the White House in 2008. It's hard to imagine a more perfect storm favoring their decisive, landslide victory. This should be 1932 redux, and then some. There's a reviled incumbent from the opposite party, already past his expiration date four years ago when he stole a second election. There's a new nominee from that same party joined to him at the hip on the most important issues, and stupid enough to be seen as such publically. There's the economy heading into a recession after years of lethargy for the middle class. An extremely unpopular war based on lies. A massive national debt. A housing crisis. An environmental crisis. Gas at well over three bucks a gallon. Oil over $100 a barrel. The dollar at record lows and plummeting. Pension stocks falling and cities falling apart - when they're not literally drowning. Scandals everywhere in the Republican Party. Three-fourths of the country believing America to be on the wrong track. And more. Put it all together and it's an amazing scenario! It's like some poli sci professor somewhere was tinkering around with a real-life statistical model, setting all the variables at max to see how big a blow-out is theoretically possible. "Hey, I wonder what happens ifÃ¢â‚¬Â¦?"
It's a perfect, perfect storm. And then along came Hillary. Look, I certainly don't object to her running if she wants to. But I do object to how she's running, and I think Democratic voters are as dumb as a bag of hammers sitting out in the rain to pull the handle for her. In this year of the great political tsunami, Republicans have managed to - inadvertently, it would seem - choose their best hope to hold on to the presidency, even if they can't quite stand their own choice. Hillary would be the Democrats' worst hope.
She would go into the general election with all sorts of pre-existing baggage and negatives. She would get smashed to pieces by McCain on the very voter selection criteria she herself has articulated for use against Obama: experience and national security. McCain could virtually take her 3:00 a.m. ad, pull her out and drop himself in, and use it against her. And he will. Her candidacy is already ugly to contemplate, and she hasn't even released her tax filings yet. Aren't Democrats just brilliant? Hey, maybe she can get Kerry to be her running mate! Perhaps Bob Shrum is free these days, and can finally push himself into double digits on his personal best lifetime count of presidential races lost (with zero wins), by managing the campaign.
But it's not just Democrats going with the Clintons that alarms me, it's how they might win it. It is almost a mathematical certainty that neither candidate can win the nomination by means of gathering pledged delegates in the months ahead. Under the proportional allocation system Democratic primaries and caucuses tend to use, a candidate has to do exceedingly well in the popular vote to realize a significant shift in delegates. It would appear that Clinton's got some favorable states ahead, and that Obama has as many or perhaps more, unless momentum has really shifted now, after Tuesday. I tend to doubt that is the case, unless Obama goes all Massachusetts at this point, like Kerry and Dukakis, and stands by helplessly watching the steamroller as it relentlessly approaches. In which case, fine, anyhow - get the clown off the stage, he's not ready for prime-time. As a tired American progressive, worn down by disappointment across more decades of losing politics than I care to count, I can abide many things. But one of them is not another wimpy Democratic presidential nominee who gets out-slugged by the latest Karl Rove and manages yet again to seize defeat from the jaws of victory.
Anyhow, let's say we end the primary season about where we are now, with Obama about 100 delegates up, and having won more votes and more states than Clinton, but with neither candidate over the magic nomination-clinching line. It would be fairly outrageous for the Clintons to seize the brass ring at that point, but they will not care in the slightest what the ramifications of their actions might be for the party or the country. The Clintons will do anything - and I mean anything - to get the presidency. This is a sickness that infects the hearts and minds of some people much more than others. Because of their own needs, most prominently a very deep-seated personal insecurity, they simply need the validation of being president, and they go after it like a heat-seeking missile headed toward a power plant.
You don't want to get in their way, man. Road kill is no mere metaphor when someone's intensely-held life aspiration is on the line and their moral bearings got tossed overboard sometime back in their twenties. You don't get that sense of desperate pathological need from, say, Jimmy Carter or George McGovern, while individuals like George H. W. Bush or Richard Nixon fairly reeked of it. In the case of Bush the Elder, clearly the whole point of being president was to be president. He didn't seem to have any ideas of what to do with the office once he got there. In the case of his son, the whole point was to do it better than Dad, and so he had lots of completely insane ideas of what he wanted to do once he got there, particularly in areas like taxes and Iraq, where Poppy had screwed-up on the way to losing a second term (amateur!).
The Clintons are very much cut from the same cloth as Old Man Bush. Actually doing something in office is incidental to the main project, which is the psychological satisfaction (and reassurance) that comes from all the attention, glory and power attached to the White House. Compared to that overwhelming goal, they no more care about national health care than does Sean Hannity. If they can win by going single-payer, so be it. If they could win by war, the death penalty and welfare slashing instead, they would. Indeed, they have. The point is that the Clintons will do anything to secure the presidency, even if that includes wrecking that part of the Democratic Party they didn't already wreck during the 1990s, and/or tossing a few body blows in the direction of American democracy. The definitive model here is the 2000 election, and the campaign I'm referring to wasn't Al Gore's, ladies and gentlemen. More like the other one in that race. Anyone with any doubt about what they're capable of needs to adjust the satellite dish on their igloo, and fast. (If she does leave the race, it's only because she absolutely cannot see any mathematical possibility of winning whatsoever, and she wants to preserve some shred of her reputation because - and only because - she'll be getting ready for 2012. Even if there's Democratic incumbent in the White House. Maybe especially if there is.)
Far more likely is that Clinton remains in the race, keeps it competitive by staying within range delegate-wise, and marches all the way to Denver fighting for the nomination. Then she plays some card, or combination of cards, in order to effectively steal it from Obama, despite his having won more states, more votes and more pledged delegates. Perhaps she does it using superdelegates. Perhaps she manages to get Florida and Michigan counted. Perhaps she sues to invalidate her loss in the Texas caucuses. Perhaps John Edwards (with anywhere from 12 to 61 delegates pledged to him, depending on whose count you believe) wants very badly to be Vice President or Secretary of State. Perhaps Bill cuts some sort of deal in a smoke-filled room somewhere. Maybe it goes to the Supreme Court for resolution (you know, those nice people in black robes who gave you the George W. Bush presidency), and they decide in her favor. Most likely she employs a combination of all these gambits, and collectively they could possibly give her enough delegates for a narrow technical (and very Pyrrhic) victory.
If any of these scenarios play out, Obama should leave the Democratic Party and run as a third-party candidate. Simple as that.
It would be the morally proper thing to do, and it just might even be successful, especially in the longer term.
If this seems an improbable quest, remember that Obama's support is quite passionate - he's not just your standard-issue marginal political preference for, say, Joe Biden over Chris Dodd. Nor would this be some personal (and absurd) vanity project, like Ross Perot's. His supporters would be outraged at the stealing of the nomination from its rightful owner, and they're a motivated bunch. Black voters would feel particularly slighted, and would be likely to follow Obama elsewhere. That alone would be enough to finish off the already badly-damaged Clinton candidacy in the general election. Given this moral high ground, too, I don't think Obama would be perceived as the Ralph Nader who gave the election to McCain. Perhaps, because of access restrictions, he wouldn't even be able to get on the ballot in many places, except as a write-in.
In the end, I don't think it much matters. If he can't win in 2008, the country will be ripe for the taking after four years of John McSame. And Obama has shown us nothing this last year if not excellence in organizing skills. There's plenty of time by 2012 to give birth to a real progressive party that has been aching to calve off from the Democrats for three decades now. If the Clintons and the Liebermans of this world want to hang tight with their DLC party of Diet Pepsi Wall Street, let them. If they feel a burning compulsion to become the Whigs of the 21st century, I for one won't stand in the way.
The idea of a third party alternative has long been a dream of progressives in America. It has also too often been a fantasy and a distracting albatross. Particularly since the Bill Clinton era of centrist sell-out - but really going back to the Reagan period of Democratic cowardice, the McGovern campaign of entrenched Party power acting shamelessly toward their nominee, and certainly the Johnson debacle in Vietnam - progressives have been looking to ditch the shell of the former New Deal now doing business as the corroded (and corrosive) Democratic Party.
Unfortunately - really, very unfortunately - it's an almost impossible trick to pull off given the structure of the American political system, and I have joined lots of other smarter people counseling against the effort, suggesting an attempt at hijacking the Democratic Party instead. Not for nothing was the last new major party born in America 150 years ago. It's not an accident that for about three-fourths of the country's history it's been Republicans or Democrats. Period.
Oddly enough, however, this is probably the year when the country could come closest in a long time to seeing the birth of a genuine third party. Theoretically, at least - if the right sequence of events transpired. It's probably a long-shot, and not my personal preference for the short-term, but it is feasible, it's probably the only way to imagine overcoming the considerable institutional barriers to creating a third party in America, and doing so would be just the shot of adrenalin this decrepit old political system needs. Moreover, there are - believe it or not - still some folks out there who don't yet get the damage done by conservatism in America. Another four years of the same may be just the tonic to finally seal that deal forever.
So, let me see here. We'd have a destroyed Republican Party, a destroyed Democratic Party, and a new progressive, "Fired-Up!" party rising out of their ashes. We could do a lot worse than that. And we could thank Hillary Clinton for it all, if it happens.
Sometimes a silver-lining can turn into a whole pot of gold.
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The opinions expressed by our writers are their own.
American politics sucks, doesn't it?
C'mon, face it - you know it does. You know 'cause you've experienced it your whole life. You (and I) have made a career out of sitting there watching in helpless astonishment as dweebs like Mike Dukakis and John Kerry stood by hopelessly looking on in election after election, while crypto-fascist punks like Dick Nixon and Little Bush handed them their lunch. Only then to go on and rack up nearly as much damage in the world as imaginable, while using hate and divisiveness to maintain support at home. Right?
Your whole life teaches you that to be a progressive in America is to make Sisyphus look like a slacker. Hey, at least he got to the top of the mountain once in a while! Even if it was all for naught, that's still a lot more than we've been getting across the better part of a lifetime. Right?
Maybe -- just maybe -- the long regressive winter of American politics is coming to a close. And maybe -- just maybe -- it is doing so with the extra kicker of a righteous wrath bringing its fury down on those most deserving of a generation's worth of rage and contempt.
If you think I've gone off my rocker into a naive Wonderland so absurd that it would make Neville Chamberlain squeamish, try on this little thought experiment to see what I mean. Cast yourself back to the dark days of 2003 or 2004. The country has gone off on some 9/11-induced mass hysteria making Salem look like a picnic. The dumbest and the meanest amongst us are in charge. They are telling palpable, demonstrable lies about imaginary enemies, and the public is rallying behind their insane plans for Armageddon (in some cases quite literally), even (s)electing them for a second term. Their job approval ratings have skyrocketed to 90 percent. They are demonizing as traitors anyone who even feebly disagrees with them, even as they shred every major provision of the Constitution all claim to revere. And very few do dare to disagree with them -- certainly not leaders of the completely misnamed opposition party. They are on a roll, fueled by a religious-like (and religious) fervor, and it looks like there is no end in sight. Remember?
Cast yourself back to that time, and ask what you could have reasonably imagined -- back then -- for February of 2008? What could you have reasonably dreamed of for this moment, back in those dark days? What would have been fair to expect with all that as predicate?
Could you have imagined that George W. Bush would become a hated and reviled president, widely despised by the same public that once gave him 90 percent approval? Could you imagine that the Republican Party would be in tatters and that -- with an irony more delicious than any gourmet meal -- Bush himself would be the architect of his own party's undoing? Could you imagine the principles of Bushism completely rejected by an angry and sobered (pun fully intended) American public?
Could you have imagined anything as perfect as the tale of Mitt Romney? A guy who told every lie imaginable to shamelessly and embarrassingly slobber all over the freaks who still control his party, only to lose anyhow? Could you have hoped to see this weenie would drop $40 million of his own hard-stolen cash in order to get stomped by what passes for a 'liberal' in the Republican Party? Could you have hoped for an irony as rich as watching the party of religious intolerance dump this smarmy turd because his Mormonism was too scary to even this lot of nutty zealots? Could anything be better than to see the door smack this guy in the ass on his way out, after saying in his surrender speech "We need to teach our children that before they have babies, they get married", and "I simply cannot let my campaign be a part of aiding a surrender to terror" by staying in and helping the Democrats to win? Do desserts come more just than that?
Could you have imagined a guy running for president of 9/11 actually getting unceremoniously dumped by his party, despite talking about that day incessantly? True, it would have been slightly better if Giuliani had hung around longer in order to more fully expose his serial divorces, his public extramarital sexual affairs, his marriage to his cousin, his children's hatred for their dad, his record of arrogance and ugliness as mayor of New York and his legion of Bernie Kerik connections. But hey, most of that is fully out now, and Giuliani's price on the lecture circuit has literally plummeted while he stands naked and utterly rejected, even by the scary monsters of the GOP. I can work with that.
Could you have imagined the once fearsome Republican Party machine being blasted to bits, with all the junior high kids running it turning in on each other and viciously attacking their brethren? Could you have hoped that they would nominate someone for president that they basically hate and don't trust? Could you have dreamed that certifiables like Ann Coulter and James Dobson would say that they'd campaign for Hillary before they'd support John McCain, the very nominee they're stuck with? And wouldn't it really have been too much to ask for to have a guy named Huckabee stick around in the race, embarrassing the supposed heir apparent?
Could you have wished that to win the GOP nomination the successful candidate would have to tack way to the right of an American public that is moving rapidly the other way? And that -- because having done so still fails miserably to placate his own base -- he'll be unable to tack toward the center after securing that nomination? And that McCain will very likely have to pick someone far more conservative than himself -- and therefore less attractive to most voters -- as a running mate in order just to get his own voters to drag themselves out to the polls in November?
Could you have dreamed that the petulant pissants of the religious right who have previously forced so many to bow and scrape before them and their agenda of sexual obsession would be left fulminating in irrelevance, vowing not to support the Republican candidate for president, leading legions of voters away from the party, and committing mutual political suicide in the process?
Could you have hoped that the Clinton Collaborators who expected to be shoe-ins for the coronaÃ¢â‚¬Â¦ er, nomination, would not only be rejected by Democratic voters, but would additionally be humiliated in the process? Would you have not paid serious money to watch the Anointed One's composure disintegrate before your very eyes as the ground receded from beneath her feet? Can you imagine her sheer fury at having sold-out everything and everyone to be president, only to be left holding the bag, her butt good and well kicked by a funny-named nobody from nowhere? Firing her campaign manager (which has only succeeded in alienating Hispanic voters), the rest of her staff going off the payroll (they're just being thoughtful and dedicated!), spending $5 million of her own money, getting out-fundraised three-to-one, bringing out the big hubby gun for a crude shotgun blast of smear venom - all this and still getting absolutely obliterated by a guy who doesn't even pander? Could you have hoped even in your wildest dreams that Bad Bill's true colors would finally be exposed to his idiotic supporters who never saw him for the Republican he always was? Would you have dared write a script in which deploying Bubba to play hardball on the campaign trail instead had the effect of alienating his most supportive bloc of voters and actually driving votes away from Hillary?
Most delicious of all, would you have ever believed that the bloody-handed enablers of the Iraq war -- Clinton, Edwards, Kerry -- all of whom knew exactly what they were voting for, and all of whom did it to advance their personal ambitions over the dead bodies of Iraqis and Americans alike, that these disgusting opportunists would have been handed their walking papers, in no small part because of this vote? And that the guy who had the courage to oppose the war from the beginning would perhaps be rewarded with the presidency -- over their dead political bodies -- in part because of that stance? My goodness, it's enough to make you believe there is a god, after all. And that she's taking very careful notes.
And could you have hoped that those other bloody-handed enablers of Bush, Bushism and Iraq at the New York Times would be dumb enough to embarrass themselves by endorsing Clinton on the eve of her destruction, utterly missing what is possibly the most significant political wave of our time? (By the way, Memo to Paul Krugman: You are a great voice of sanity now massively tarnishing your reputation by using nasty smear tactics to try saving a ship that has already sunk anyhow. If you don't know what I mean, go to your encyclopedia and see: "Clinton, Bill -- New Hampshire and South Carolina." Then knock it off.)
Could you have dreamed, in 2003 or 2004, that poll data would show the public having turned further to the left than anytime since 1968? Could you have imagined record voter turnout among Democrats in primaries this year, while demoralized Republicans can barely get up off the couch from watching "Lost" to go vote? Would you have let yourself hope, back then, that young people are especially energized, and that they want nothing to do with the disaster that is the Republican Party? Especially knowing that these are party affiliations probably set for life, could you have let yourself even dream of these developments? To think of the day when to be labeled a conservative would once again be considered an embarrassment, especially for anyone under 30?
Would you have dared to imagine a tsunami of factors -- ranging from sheer anger, to incumbent retirements, to economic meltdown, to the accident of twice as many GOP Senate seats up for election in 2008, to an epic 180 degree reversal in traditional fundraising fortunes, to complete despondency of the Republican base and historically high mobilization of the rest of us -- that all of these will likely combine to produce the biggest congressional landslide since 1932?
And could you have ever dreamed in 2003 that five years later America would elect a black progressive president you'd never even heard of? A guy who is Kennedyesque in his inspirational qualities -- to the point where many Republicans are actually attracted to him -- and who can use that appeal to sell his agenda? A guy who will end the war, who will take the global warming crisis seriously, who will put economic justice back on the agenda, who will restore the country's place in world opinion, who will bring fiscal sanity to the government, and who will respect democracy and the Constitution?
I must confess, the more I see Obama in action, the more I like him. I've warmed to him slowly -- particularly because I'm very wary of charismatic figures, especially those with light resumes and speeches full of platitudes. But I have nevertheless warmed to him. I think he's authentic. I think he's smart intellectually and I think his campaign shows that he's smart politically too. I don't think he is running because he needs to be president to soothe his emotional deficiencies. I think he's in it for the right reasons, an unbelievably fresh concept after decades of Clinton joyriding and Bush/Cheney kleptocracy. I admire the fact that he could have written his own ticket to serious financial success after graduating magna cum laude from Harvard Law School, but chose instead to be a community organizer.
And as for those platitudes, they have either diminished, or else I'm listening more carefully now. Check out some of what Obama said the other night, after winning the Potomac trifecta:
"We can't keep playing the same Washington game with the same Washington players and somehow expect a different result, because it's a game that ordinary Americans are losing. We are going to put this game to an end.
"It's a game where lobbyists write check after check and Exxon turns record profits, while you pay the price at the pump and our planet is put at risk. That's what happens when lobbyists set the agenda, and that's why they won't drown out your voices anymore when I am president of the United States of America.
"It's a game where trade deals, like NAFTA, ship jobs overseas and force parents to compete with their teenagers to work for minimum wages at the local fast-food joint or at Wal-Mart.
"It's what happens when the American worker doesn't have a voice at the negotiating table, when leaders change their positions on trade with the politics of the moment, and that is why we need a president who will listen not just to Wall Street, but to Main Street, a president who will stand with workers not just when it's easy, but when it's hard, and that's the kind of president I intend to be when I'm president of the United States of America.
"It's a game where Democrats and Republicans fail to come together year after year after year, while another mother goes without health care for her sick child. That's why we have to put an end to the divisions and distractions in Washington so that we can unite this nation around a common purpose, around a higher purpose.
"It's a game where the only way for Democrats to look tough on national security is by talking, and acting, and voting like Bush-McCain Republicans, while our troops are sent to fight tour after tour of duty in a war that should have never been authorized and should have never been waged.
"That's what happens when we use 9/11 to scare up votes instead of bringing together the people around a common purpose. And that's why we need to do more than end the war; we need to end the mindset that got us into war."
You know, that's good enough for me. For now, at least. I want someone who will end the war and provide healthcare. I want someone who will call the regressive nightmare of the last decades what it is. I want someone who will not stand by watching while he gets swiftboated by the right, taking our dreams and aspirations down the toilet along with the incompetence of his campaign. Right now, I think Obama is all those things and quite possibly a lot more. I don't think it's a matter of just settling for the least worst alternative to embrace what he's offering.
And I won't hold Obama's eloquence against him. To listen to him is to truly realize, in a comparative sense, the unbelievable sheer political poverty of the regressive era - to be reminded of how low we've sunk, not only in actions and rhetoric, but in ideas and aspirations too.
It took me some time before I came to agree with the notion that Obama is a charismatic figure. I saw several of his speeches which I thought were okay, but not that impressive. Since Iowa, though, I've watched him closely and I have to say that he is indeed inspirational. And that counts. I had lunch this week with a friend and colleague who told me that fifty years later he still feeds off the exhilaration that John Kennedy implanted in him as a ten year-old, one day back in 1960. We should always approach charismatic politicians with a boatload of caution. That way be dragons. But not so much caution that we become permanently cynical, and not so much that we can no longer recognize a good and powerful thing what it presents itself to us, as it sometimes will.
Look, I know that we won't be getting Eugene Debs for president in 2009. That's a shame, and it's a rightful critique of the poverty of American politics (not to mention the politics of American poverty) that that won't happen anytime soon. (Or will it? The conditions for a serious break to the left in this country have probably never been better at any time since 1932.)
And let's be honest, there's also still an awful lot that can go wrong. Clinton could rally in Texas and Ohio and pull this out, especially by engineering some skanky superdelegate coup. Or she could do a lot of damage, seeking to wreck that which she can't win, so she can run again in four years. McCain could successfully swiftboat Obama. Perhaps there is a skeleton in the latter's closet that even the much vaunted Clinton opposition research team hasn't been able to find (or fabricate). Cheney could arrange an October Surprise national security emergency to tip the election in McCain's direction and insure that Dick doesn't have to do jail time. Herr Diebold could steal another election for the fuhrer's party. Obama could win and turn out to be a nothingburger after all. Deadbeat regressives could block his agenda using the filibuster or endless allegations of faux corruption and bogus sexual peccadilloes. Etc., etc. The list goes on and on.
But let us not grow so cynical that we can't recognize a hopeful moment, even when it slaps us upside the head.
It wasn't supposed to go down like this, remember?
Karl Rove was supposed to have built a permanent majority for the Republican Party. Instead he has brought it to ruin.
The Iraq invasion was supposed to be a cakewalk, leaving George W. Bush a literal master of the world, able to smack down Syria, Iran, Cuba, North Korea and Venezuela. Instead, it killed his presidency and contributed mightily to killing the cancerous conservative movement which he personifies.
Hillary Clinton was supposed to have the nomination sown up, especially because of having Bill as an asset, and because of her 'correct' vote on the war and her ultra-safe (non-) position on every imaginable issue. Instead she has turned herself into a soulless robot who is getting clobbered in part because of all those very same factors.
Nobody not completely infected with the sickness of the right was supposed to be able to win the GOP nomination. Instead, its most progressive candidate (which is a far thing from saying progressive) now has it all but sown up.
The Republican right was supposed to be monolithic, disciplined and authoritarian. Instead, it goes into the general election furiously divided, with each faction savaging the others.
Democrats were supposed to be too cowardly and stupid to fight back effectively. Instead, Obama is already showing signs of knowing how to win a political battle, and even to do so while appearing to stay above the fray. I strongly suspect that McCain will find it equally impossible as Hillary has to throw a punch at Obama without having it instead come back around and punch himself in the face.
As shocking as it may seem to those of us who've been down so long that we've forgotten what up looks like, this is a moment of great portent, a time quite pregnant with hope (and not just the focus-group buzzword kind). Obama could very well be a transformative figure -- an FDR to Little Bush's Herbert Hoover. Americans crave change badly, and -- contrary to what Ann Coulter might tell you -- there's really only one direction to go, unless Germany in the 1930s is your cup of tea.
Moreover, that is exactly the direction the public wants. Less war, more healthcare. Less arrogance, more diplomacy. Less destruction, more environmental protection. Less kleptocracy, more economic security. Less sexual obsession, more quality education. Less Katrina-style grand failures, more Apollo-style ambitious successes.
There's a reason that Dick Cheney isn't on the ballot this year, folks, and it ain't simply because he's got all the charisma of a sawed-off tree stump. Even Republican voters could figure this one out when they dumped the pretty-boy version of Cheney -- Mitt "Say Anything" Romney -- over the side of their party yacht. The rheumatic hound doesn't want to get up anymore. Ol' Regressive is showing his age. That dog don't hunt and they know it. (Though I wish they didn't. Romney getting ground under Obama's tracks would have made Goldwater's 1964 routing look like Sherman's March to the Sea by comparison.)
The public is ready for a turn to the left, and Obama wants to give it them. Young people have abandoned the GOP in droves. As importantly, conservative policies and politics have been discredited for a generation or more, especially if some Democrat could unplug their brain from life-support long enough to just say so. Obama is saying so.
To be sure, there is much work to be done. And there is incredible damage - perhaps too much damage - to be undone. There are pitfalls ahead, and even if there weren't, Barack Obama (probably) doesn't have the politics of Paul Wellstone.
All that said, there is reason to be happy and hopeful. There is reason to believe that our forty long years in the desert are now mercifully coming to an end.
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The opinions expressed by our writers are their own.
What a ding-dong I am!
For months -- nay, years! -- I've been ranting about how screwed up the war in Iraq has been, and how disastrous have been its consequences.
What a fool I've been! In reality, it's actually turned out pretty great.
That's what I learned when I read William Kristol's recent New York Times piece, "The Democrats' Fairy Tale." In a stroke of thoughtfulness, generosity and uncanny prescience, the Times was kind enough recently to hire Kristol to write a regular column for their op-ed page. I guess that's because Ariel Sharon was unavailable and David Duke was on vacation.
And bless his little heart, Kristol knows a thing or two about a thing or two. Heck, he's the one who got us into Iraq in the first place! He's been telling us for a long time what a cool thing it would be to knock over that tin-pot Saddam Hussein crank, and damned if he didn't convince the president to do it, despite Bush's decades of foreign policy experience.
But it's been a rough couple of years for Ol' Bill, 'cause the whole damn country went into some sort of narcoleptic, apoplectic, pathogenic tizzy about the war, crying fickle and foul at every turn and seeming like all everyone wanted was to end the darned thing. Imagine that. What a bunch of whiny little self-interested twits, squealing like a continent full of Europeans, and utterly failing to see the great wisdom of Young William's Grand Adventure In Mesopotamia. It's really quite nauseating, isn't it?
In his article, Kristol really rips the Democrats, and don't they ever deserve it. Now that Iraq appears to be marginally more peaceful than it was last year at this time, Kristol is angry because, as he puts it: "It's apparently impermissible for leading Democrats to acknowledge -- let alone celebrate -- progress in Iraq."
Bill is angry because the Democrats (and the public -- but, oddly, he doesn't mention that part) still want to end the war -- even though it's been a huge success! They should "celebrate" it, instead! Fortunately, he is clever enough to suss out the real reason for this childish intransigence. It's not, as Hillary put it, because the Iraqis know the Democrats will shut off the supply valve of endless wasted dollars and soon-to-be casualties headed to Baghdad. As Kristol notes, "That is truly a fairy tale. And it is driven by a refusal to admit real success because that success has been achieved under the leadership of Ã¢â‚¬Â¦ George W. Bush. The horror!" I must admit I've suffered from some of the same confusion as the Dumb Dems, whom I think we can all agree are simply hopelessly naive pacifists intent on allowing our country to be taken over by Very Bad People (of less than fully white complexion) who mean us harm. You know the type I mean, like George McGovern, who flew all those bombing missions during World War II while Little Bush, Cheney, Ashcroft, Kristol and the rest fought Ã¢â‚¬Â¦ valiantly Ã¢â‚¬Â¦ in Ã¢â‚¬Â¦ Viet Ã¢â‚¬Â¦ oh, never mind. Anyhow, that hopeless and dangerous idealism is why, just one year before the Iraq war, every single Democrat in the Congress opposed the invasion of Afghanistan except for Ã¢â‚¬Â¦ well, except for Ã¢â‚¬Â¦ every single Democrat in Congress other than one. Okay, never mind on that one too.
Look, let's get down to brass tacks here. Kristol just gets it. The rest of us don't. He realizes that in the grand scheme of things -- "World War IV" as his pappy likes to call it -- what's important is not the big picture, but the very narrowest.
You may think, for example, that promulgating egregious lies in order to shove your way into an Iraq war that no one else wants is stupid and counterproductive, damaging the credibility and interests of the United States, and probably accounting for the lack of allied support in a more credible war in Afghanistan. But Bill Kristol knows better.
You may think that fighting a war that massively drains military, diplomatic and financial resources away from the real enemies of the country in order to pursue a pet project that has nothing to do with those genuine threats would be idiotic and suicidal. But that's 'cause you're not as smart as William Kristol.
You might believe that it was a ludicrous waste of blood and treasure to kill 4,000 Americans and one million Iraqis, while borrowing and spending a trillion bucks (fast going up to two) in order to invade a country that had neither attacked us nor threatened us. And that doing so was an extremely poor choice of resource allocation, especially when we have tens of millions of children doing without healthcare in this country. But if you were a clever neoconservative like Bill Kristol you'd know better.
You might think that wrecking our military and compromising American security over a non-problem -- indeed, a problem that people like Bushes and Cheneys and Rumsfelds and Reagans once very much created and encouraged -- would be a stupid choice of priorities. But that's only because you don't have the foreign policy insight of someone like Bill Kristol.
And let me guess -- I bet you also think that launching a war that brings chaos to a vital and volatile area, and that massively increases the power of an Iran run by radical theocrats was a really, really dumb idea. But if you were Bill Kristol you'd realize that all we need is a third war against an Islamic country, and we can clean up the whole mess all at once!
Or maybe you're like all those American intelligence agencies, who collectively reported last year that the Iraq war was actually creating anti-American terrorists rather than eradicating them. But if you were as smart as Mr. Bill and his Kristol Ball, you'd know that they're all just a bunch of long-haired and bearded blame-America-first left-wing Berkeley rejects running covert ops for the CIA, NSA and other intelligence agencies. Of course they're going to diss the war! It's going well, and those unpatriotic spooks can't stand that because they hate America!
Maybe you're angry because you think the same American soldiers whom people like George W. Bush are always hiding behind should actually have adequate armor to fight the war they've been thrust into, rather than their families having to hold bake sales to buy it for them. And maybe you also think they should be treated a wee bit better than they have been at Walter Reed (and far beyond) when they come home wounded, or they have to fight harder than in Anbar to get the benefits owed to them out of the military. But what Bill Kristol knows is that you can't make an omelet without breaking some eggs! So lighten up on that whole concern-for-the-troops thing already. (Unless you're the president doing a photo-op, of course.)
Don't tell me you're chagrined at the idea that American forces may be in Iraq for another decade, or even for a full "generation." Probably that's just because you or someone you know might have to go fight there. People like Kristol never do, of course, so why should he worry?
Are you angry that well-connected cronies and corporations got rich off this war? That eight billion dollars in cash went completely missing in Iraq? That multi-billion dollar no-bid contracts got paid out for jobs never done? That American soldiers worked and bled and died for peanuts alongside mercenaries making four times as much salary? That we will be paying for this war in interest on loans and expensive treatment of the wounded for generations to come? Yeah? Well Bill Kristol thinks you should get your priorities straight!
Have you somehow come to the conclusion that turning one-fifth of Iraq's 25 million people into either corpses or refugees hasn't exactly been a great liberating service to that country? You know, sorta like when we told them to rise up but then stood by and watched Saddam mow them down. Or when we turned a blind eye to Saddam's use of chemical weapons against his own people, and even protected him from condemnation for those crimes at the UN? Bill Kristol thinks that's because you just don't know the true value of freedom and democracy. Oh, and you put too much emphasis on that whole not-getting-killed thing.
Are you one of those whiny liberals who believe that this war -- whether one supported the idea of it originally or not -- has been ridiculously mishandled from the beginning? That there were never enough troops sent in? That allowing rampant looting was stupid? That failing to have plans for the occupation of a country of 25 million people constitutes criminal negligence? That firing the Iraqi army was just as idiotic as sending thousands of armed and angry men home unemployed sounds like it would be? That purging the national government and infrastructure of all Baath Party members was a prescription for chaos? That allowing civil war between Sunni and Shiite was disastrous? Yeah, well, Bill Kristol knows better. He understands that what's really important is that the massive levels of violence and pandemonium of these last FIVE years (count 'em) are now possibly slightly lower than the outrageous levels they've long been at, and could conceivably stay that way.
Can't you see the small picture here? Kristol can. I guess that's why he has a New York Times column and you don't. I guess that's why the president listens to his advice and not yours.
Who could blame him for being angry and vituperative toward dangerously silly Democrats who don't see the peril facing our civilization?
Such quibblers! So what if the war was sold on completely fabricated lies, was supposed to be a cakewalk but has now lasted longer than World War II, has divided the country and made the world hate us, has squandered our (borrowed) resources and broken our military, has brought instability to a volatile and crucial region and allowed a real national antagonist to double its power, has diverted our resources from the still-uncaptured guy who supposedly attacked us on 9/11, has become a factory for producing anti-American terrorists? So what if this war has now supposedly been 'saved' by precisely the same strategy that was vehemently rejected by the same people in the beginning?
Let's keep our priorities straight here, people. All that really matters is that we've seen a possible slight improvement in levels of violence in Iraq over the last couple of months (all of which may be due to a host of possible factors, including that there aren't many people left alive to fight there anymore). Get it?
Some people think that burning down your neighbor's house and having your own catch fire as a result is a highly stupid and really criminal thing to do. What neocons like Bill Kristol understand, though -- and what naive liberals will never get -- is that what really matters is whether you can slightly diminish the rate at which the flames consume those dwellings, five years after starting the fire. That's what's genuinely important -- not the ashes where the houses once stood.
If you understood that simple principle, you wouldn't be complaining about this war so much. Rather, you'd be "celebrating" how well it's going.
If you understood this logic, you'd have supported the war from the very beginning, as William Kristol did. (Which of course has nothing to do with his apparent defensiveness about it today, we can all rest assured.)
In fact, if you were as smart as Bill Kristol and the other fine folks who brought you the invasion of Iraq, you'd quit with all your smug complaints, once and for all.
And you'd realize what a great freakin' war this really is!