January 25, 2005
OK, so there were no electoral "anomalies" in Ohio that the public
would accept as smoking-guns, no last-minute miracle that was going to block
The reality we progressives have to face is that Bush&Co., with a
compliant mainstream media in their pocket, are moving their political
juggernaut full-steam ahead, not disguising in the least their reckless,
Here's a list of nine post-Inauguration things we know about our current
situation. How we progressives, liberals and moderates deal with these
stomach-churning political realities will determine our future, and likely
the future of our country and the globe.
1. NEO-CON AGENDA IS RE-ACTIVATED
Bush's Inaugural Address, Cheney's interview with Don Imus on the same day,
and the testimony of Condoleezza Rice and Alberto Gonzales at their earlier
Senate confirmation hearings give clear insight into what the next four
years are going to look like. To put it succinctly, not only should America
expect more of the same unfolding catastrophe, but probably it'll be even
In foreign affairs, Bush&Co. remain enthralled with the arrogant neo-con
theories that call for America aggressively to change the world in its
image, first by bullying and bribing, but, if that doesn't work, by bomb and
bullet and torture. (Now that the CIA is being frozen out of the loop,
Rumsfeld, who approved various torture policies, is running "black
ops" from out of the Pentagon, including assassination squads --
supposedly to be inserted only in foreign countries.)
Cheney rattled the sabers at the Bush Administration's next target, warning
the Iranian mullahs that unless they changed course, the U.S. might not be
able to prevent Israel from attacking Iran to knock out its fledgling
nuclear program -- and suggested that, if Israel didn't attack first and
Iran continued to try to develop nuclear weapons, the U.S. might be forced
to do something itself along those lines. Actually, according to the
dynamite reporting of Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Seymour
Hersh, the U.S. already has covert teams inside Iran, choosing the
Rice and Gonzales refused to disavow or criticize either the original legal
memoranda okaying torture of prisoners in U.S. care, or those legal opinions
providing the president with dictatorial powers. The latter memos asserted
that a president acting as "commander-in-chief" during
"wartime" is above the law and can rule as he sees fit, overriding
Congress and the courts. (In the meantime, the U.S. continues to send its
most difficult terrorist suspects to supportive countries abroad --
Pakistan, Egypt, Indonesia, Jordan, Sweden, etc. -- that don't have such
strict anti-torture statutes.)
Bush tells us that he wants to eliminate "tyranny" of others
abroad, but he allows himself the option of exercising it at home, wants to
expand "freedom" abroad but constricts it at home. (Already, under
the Patriot Act, he imprisoned U.S. citizens for years, with no access to
attorneys, no charges; the government can "sneak&peek" into
your house, or your computer, without your knowledge; can listen to your
private conversations with your lawyer, etc.) No wonder so many of our
former allies, and others, around the globe view the Bush Administration as
the ultimate political hypocrites concerning "liberty" and
"freedom" -- to be feared for sure, but not respected.
2. THE RHETORIC OF "FREEDOM" & "LIBERTY"
Constantly using the focus-group tested memes of "liberty" and
"freedom," Bush's Inaugural Address promised the removal of
"tyrannies" and replacing them with governments of
"freedom." Those terms, of course, are amorphous and elastic
enough to include or exclude anyone, as you choose. Bush&Co. will do
business and support authoritarian leaders like Putin in Russia, Musharraf
in Pakistan (both countries possess nuclear weapons), Mubarak in Egypt, and
the Communists in China, but will go after the Iranian mullahs, North
Korea's Kim Il-Jung, and even try once again to overthrow the
popularly-elected President, Hugo Chavez, in Venezuala, whose country,
surprise!, is one of the leading oil-producers.
The lesson is that one should pay no attention to the high-sounding,
idealistic phrases of political rhetoric in Bush's Inaugural Address.
(Believe it or not, Bush appears actually to have read a book, Natan
Sharansky's "The Case for Democracy," and lifted whole concepts
from it and inserted them into his address.) Judge the walk, not the talk;
just observe the imperial ambition underlying the rhetoric, and focus on the
actions of the Bush Administration that run counter to what was said.
In sum, Bush&Co. feel they can rule unimpeded because the U.S. is
engaged in a state of permanent war (the "war" against an enemy
that cannot be defeated, terrorism being a tactic easily carried out forever
by groups of shady characters all around the globe), which state of
"war," they assert, provides the political/legal cover for all
their greedy, power-hungry moves, foreign and domestic.
And, they keep claiming that Bush's certification as the winner of the 2004
election means he has a "mandate" to do whatever he wants to do,
and that this "mandate" indicates Americans voted to support his
Iraq war policy. All this in the face of recent national polls showing the
great majority of the American people are opposed, and that Bush's
favorability numbers are below 50%, which almost never happens to a
3. IRAQ & CHAOS-THEORY "VICTORY"
In the denial-of-reality world that characterizes this Administration, there
was no need to mention Iraq in the Inaugural Address because Bush&Co.
are moving on to the next phase of the crusade. No need to remind folks that
the current war is a disaster, and that so many Americans were conned into
approving it. So, like magic, the word "Iraq" suddenly disappears
from the administration's vocabulary, at least for the moment.
It may sound crazy, but in important ways, the neo-cons look upon Iraq as a
success, and a model for future actions in that region. Let us, in the
following attempt, try to understand it from their point of view:
"Sure, there is chaos and uncertainty and violence in Iraq. Which is
why we can lean on and convince so many Iraqis -- especially those that will
assume power after their parliamentary election -- to keep our troops there.
'Until the situation stabilizes', our 14 major military bases in that
country can be used for our own purposes, the billions of dollars in
reconstruction contracts we signed with U.S. companies remain in force
'until the situation stabilizes.' Which will be the 12th of Never.
"The liberals just don't understand. They tell us that our aggressive
policies will upset the delicately-balanced apple cart in the rest of the
Middle East, and they believe that is a terrible thing. But we and our
friends stand to benefit when we upset apple carts. Chaos, as long as it
doesn't get completely out of hand, is what we thrive on.* We're the only
Superpower left standing, which means we are the only ones who can clean up
the mess we've fostered. It's a win win equation.
"The only thing we need to be careful of is how all this plays out with
Americans at home. Theoretically, they could force the Congress to gum up
what we're accomplishing abroad. So we have a lot of public-relations work
to do to convince them to go along -- which we can do by ratcheting up the
fear quotient in terms of the 'war on terror' -- you know, 'fight them over
there, so we won't have to fight them here,' that kind of stuff. It can be
done, as our 2004 election victory attests."
What can we do about this kind of thinking? Progressives should join forces
with those on the Right who likewise see disaster looming ahead in Iraq
unless the troops are taken out of there at the earliest possible
opportunity, like the day after that country's parliamentary elections in a
week or so.
*Check out this quote from key neo-con theoretician Michael Ledeen, of the
American Enterprise Institute:
"Creative destruction is our middle
name, both within our own society and abroad. We tear down the old order
every day, from business to science, literature, art, architecture, and
cinema to politics and the law. Our enemies have always hated this
whirlwind of energy and creativity, which menaces their traditions
(whatever they may be) and shames them for their inability to keep pace.
Seeing America undo traditional societies, they fear us, for they do not
wish to be undone. They cannot feel secure so long as we are there, for
our very existence -- our existence, not our politics -- threatens their
legitimacy. They must attack us in order to survive, just as we must
destroy them to advance our historic mission."
4. STASIS IN PALESTINE/ISRAEL CONFLICT
Bush&Co. seem to realize that the germinating seed of worldwide Islamic
terrorism is the long-festering Palestine/Israel conflict. If the U.S. could
arrange an acceptable peace settlement between the warring peoples, Islamist
terrorism would be without a major organizing tool.
But Bush&Co. never have seemed willing to take the next step and make
such a peace settlement happen. Their unwavering support for the hard-right
Likud party, as expressed for years by Ariel Sharon, means one of the
combatants, Israel, more or less has a green light from America to do
whatever it wishes to do with regards to the Palestinians.
Everyone knows what a fair peace settlement will look like -- a viable,
contiguous state for the Palestinians; a guarantee of Israel's security and
right to exist; Israeli withdrawal from virtually all the settlements in
Gaza and the West Bank; Jerusalem as an international city -- but since the
U.S. hardly ever presses Israel to make the required concessions, nothing
substantive ever happens.
It's not clear that Bush&Co. will change their attitude now. Besides,
keeping the Middle East pot on the boil, without a permanent solution, makes
American power and influence all the more important in that region of the
I would love to be wrong about this -- that Bush seriously is going to
engage on this issue -- but I'll believe it when I see it.
5. SLICING AWAY AT "LIBERTY"
Control abroad for Bush&Co. goes hand in hand with control at home. The
militarization of the Inauguration in Washington, D.C. -- having thousands
of uniformed soldiers protecting The Leader, which role traditionally falls
to the police and Secret Service -- is a prelude. Even more worrisome is the
illegal inclusion of Army Commandos in the mix. Add into this mix the
government-ordered, Orwellian-titled "Free Speech Zones," at the
Inauguration and elsewhere across the country, where protesters often are
herded and contained behind fences or barbed wire.
In addition, Ashcroft complained that the Justice Department didn't have
enough police powers under the Patriot Act, and needed more. The
Administration originally drafted Patriot Act 2, but since it was getting so
much flack about the extremist parts of Patriot Act 1 -- from conservative
Republicans as well as from liberal Democrats --it decided on a stealth
approach instead. Patriot Act 2 was broken into smaller bits and, one by
one, they've been attached to bills that will have little trouble being
approved, trying to sneak them through while few are noticing.
In short, as part of Bush&Co.'s permanent state of war, our liberties
are being sliced away, bit by bit, all in the name of "national
security" and "anti-terrorism." Watch what you say and what
you read and what you report and what causes you support.
Of course, if you place tongue firmly in cheek, it all makes a certain
logical sense; Bush keeps telling us that Al Qaida hates us for our
freedoms; getting rid of our freedoms would give the terrorists less to hate
us for. (Don't get me wrong; there are Bad Guys out there, and we need to
protect ourselves, but there's no need to "destroy" the
Constitution in order to "save" it.)
6. THE BUNKER MENTALITY
Because of Bush&Co.'s fantasy way of thinking, its inner-core members
cannot and do not trust those not fully on board. Colin Powell tells Bush
the truth, that the Iraq War is going badly, and he's out; Army General
Shinseki, who said publicly prior to the full Occupation that the U.S. would
need several hundred thousand troops in Iraq, is "retired"; CIA
analysts who are not 100% Bush loyalists are purged. The inner circle of
those who can be trusted to toe the line grows smaller and tighter. Cheney
leads the way, and key Cabinet positions are filled with co-conspirator
toadies (Rice, Rumsfeld, Gonzales, Hadley), who will protect The Leader at
all costs. See "Bush
Heads for the Bunker."
This would all be cause for mild alarm, and lots of late-night TV humor,
except that Bush policies are resulting in tens of thousands of U.S. troops
and Iraqi civilians being killed and wounded; our treasury is being depleted
and burdened with trillions in debt (even in "wartime," no
sacrifice is asked of those who can afford to pay more; instead, the tiniest
sliver of the truly wealthy get enormous tax breaks); our infrastructure and
social services are hurting badly for funds and attention; our air and water
protections are compromised, and huge sections of our natural environment
effectively are being turned over to the polluters.
7. BUSH'S DESTRUCTIVE "REFORMS"
Domestically, Bush wants to concentrate on a few key issues -- Social
Security "reform," and tort "reform" -- and get them
passed quickly, before a large opposition has the chance to form. In both
cases, the goal is to emasculate and ultimately destroy initiatives that
give citizens more power to improve the quality of their lives.
Similar to way in which Bush&Co. cooked the facts and conned the
Congress and American people into supporting the invasion of Iraq, the
battle to "reform" (read: decimate) Social Security is hyping the
"need for immediate action" to solve a supposed
"crisis," by taking money out of this highly successful, popular
program in order to permit younger workers to buy into the stock market.
There is a need for some fixes to Social Security, for sure, but there is
plenty of time to think through and come up with those bi-partisan fixes in
the decades before any anticipated genuine "crisis."
On tort "reform": The public long has had the right to sue
corporations, HMOs, malpracticing physicians, etc., that have done them
wrong, and benefit from jury awards of punitive damages for pain and
suffering. The Bush plan would put a low cap on such awards; this would aid
those being sued -- who, surprise!, tend to be conservative Republicans --
and might well reduce the number of such civil lawsuits. A side benefit of
such low caps on monetary awards would be to discourage trial lawyers (who
tend to support the Democratic party) from taking those cases.
8. URGENT: BACK TO PAPER BALLOTS
It's clear that the Bush Administration and the GOP in general -- with the
exception of a goodly number of traditional Republican conservatives and
moderates -- have no desire to repair our broken electoral system. They have
benefited from the slipshod way elections are held in the various states and
counties, which, stated baldly, is an open invitation to fraud and
corruption. So why would they want to go along with serious electoral
That conclusion is unsurprising. What is unexpected is that the Democrats,
the party one would think would be in the forefront of electoral reform, is,
as usual, asleep at the wheel. Whether they wake up quickly, to demand major
change before the 2006 midterm election, also will tell us whether they're
serious about being a combative Opposition.
What kind of reform am I talking about? At the very least:
a. Make it illegal for partisan officials to be in charge of partisan
elections. The examples of Florida's Katherine Harris in 2000, and Ohio's
Kenneth Blackwell in 2004 -- both were chairs of their respective state's
Bush/Cheney Campaign while they served as Secretary of State in charge of
elections -- provide the best case for reform. The election for the office
of Secretary of State in the various states should be non-partisan; those
actively engaged in campaign work should be barred from holding that
b. Use the voting system utilized by a good share of advanced countries
(Canada, many in Europe and elsewhere) that makes fraud virtually
impossible: paper ballots, hand-counted, with outside monitors and observers
from each political party carefully checking the tallying of the votes.
True, it takes a bit longer to get the final results, but everyone knows the
vote is accurate and, equally as important, verifiable.
There is no integrity to our current voting system. The same few
corporations that provide the voting machines, in this case
Republican-supporting companies, also provide the secret software; the
companies' technicians often show up to "adjust" the machines and
to provide last-minute "patches" to the vote-counting software;
for the most part, no verifiable paper receipt is provided, even though
these companies also manufacture ATM machines that automatically provide
receipts. In addition, it has been demonstrated how super-easy it is for any
knowledgeable hacker to gain access to the vote-counting computers, alter
the software, and exit without even leaving a trace of the tampering.
In short, our system is badly broken, easily compromised, and probably has
been manipulated in at least two of the three previous national elections.
The only cure is to shut it down, and go back to paper ballots at least
until the bugs and tampering possibilities are seriously dealt with and
repaired. Unless we make our elections honest -- with automatic prison terms
for electoral felonies -- none of our other initiatives will pay off fully.
9. DEMOCRAT RENAISSANCE OR WIMP-OUT?
The Democrats have been exhibiting nascent signs of growing a spine -- a few
of their more courageous members have taken on Rice, Gonzales, Rumsfeld,
Cheney and Bush. But, as a party in general, they're still enablers of the
worst aspects of Bush Administration policy; they jabbed and parried and
even landed a haymaker or two on Rice and Gonzales, for example, but then
backed off. They vote to ratify nominees for office such as those named
above when, in truth, those Administration leaders should be in the federal
docks for various felony offenses, and at Nuremberg or Brussels to answer
for their war crimes.
I don't think I'm alone among progressives who are willing to grant the
incoming Democratic leadership a bit of time to prove themselves as capable
of mounting a true Opposition to Bush&Co. policies. A key test will come
with whom they select as their National Party Chairman, and whether they
stick together to oppose Gonzales and Rice when the Senate votes on their
nominations in a week or so.
When the far-right decades ago decided they were marginalized within their
own Republican party home and had no chance to ever gain control of the
levers of power in this country, they spent years, lots of energy and much
money to slowly and then quickly take over their party. Progressives are in
a similar position today.
We progressives are providing the energy, campaign troops and much money to
the Democrats, but we are, and have been, set off to the side when it comes
to exercising control of the party's direction. It seems clear that we have
to be ready for the fight of our lives to retake the Democratic party and
remold it into a genuine Opposition, with bold and creative ideas that will
lure more voters to the cause -- especially those who've opted out of the
process because they're fed up with wimpy responses to Bush outrages.
I think it's worth the fight. And that the time is right for such a fight.
And that it's possible we could win, and could use the massive outpouring of
energy, especially by younger activists, in building over time the necessary
political infrastructure (media, think tanks, etc.) to change our society
for the better. George Soros and friends seem committed to spending millions
in this effort, which is a good sign, since they got burned badly in the
What have we got to lose? If we do nothing, we're acquiescing to
Bush&Co. atrocities, and will have blood (and the screams of those
tortured) on our hands as more thousands die in the Administration's
imperial adventuring abroad. If we lose the Dem fight, we always have the
option to consider joining others who are disenchanted with the status quo
to found a new, dynamic third party -- one not crafted for total ideological
purity but one that has a real shot of winning and affecting national
It's time to saddle up and join the progressive posse for peace and justice.