Tao of Winning and Losing
November 13, 2002
in the world is as soft and yielding as water, writes
the Taoist sage, but for dissolving the hard and inflexible,
there is nothing better.
The pundits who call the mid-term elections "historic" are
right-the Republicans have brought our government as close
to a one-party autocracy as it has been in the memory of anyone
who is alive today. The president who said, "this would be
a lot easier if this were a dictatorship and I were the dictator"
has practically gotten his wish. The Republicans have effectively
finessed the checks and balances carefully crafted by the
founders, and now can pass any bill, overturn any law, confirm
any federal judge, set any budget, and eliminate any tax they
When the day reaches its zenith at noon, it has already
begun to die.
On the surface, it appears that the Republicans now have
the opportunity to put into place every radical policy they
have - more income tax cuts for the rich, a repeal of estate
taxes and corporate tax, "business friendly" environmental
regulations (meaning a wholesale gutting), no crackdown on
corporate crime, privatizing social security, cutting Medicare
and social programs, and siphoning even more billions of tax
dollars to cronies in the military-industrial complex.
Despite their insistence on a balanced budget amendment in
the widely touted "Contract with America" in 1994, the last
fiscal year which ended in September has resulted in the first
deficit in four years and obliterated Clinton's record $237
billion surplus of 2000 turning it instead into a $159 billion
shortfall. The 1.35 trillion, 10-year tax cut can only burst
more gaping holes in the leaky Lusitania of our once buoyant
And let's not forget about the holy grail of the right: overturning
Roe v Wade and making the right to life of a multi-celled
blastocyte override the right to life of its fully human parent.
Last and no doubt worst is the Bushistas' inexorable plan
to invade Iraq, now even more likely since the Democrats couldn't
mount real opposition even if they wanted to.
Success is as dangerous as failure.
But the Republicans have this big problem: their own success.
Bush Inc. have promised their backers the full gamut of the
right wing agenda, and they now have absolutely no excuse
not to deliver. For the big defense proponents, the Republican
government will have to spend record amounts to fight "terror,"
even though in a contracting economy this means a larger piece
of the Gross Domestic Product appropriated by defense. That's
money we need to get the economy growing again, yet studies
have perennially shown that government money invested in the
military (as opposed to other spending programs) benefits
the economy the least.
Those who endeavor to control, who use force to maintain
their power, go against the current of the Tao. They take
from those who have too little and give to those who have
far too much.
Meanwhile, tax cuts are already flowing not to the people
who paid them, the people who need them and would spend them
to spur the economy, but to the rich who will buy more tax-free
bonds or another vacation home in the Azores. Not only is
it a regressive tax policy in the extreme - using the power
of government to make our society less equal - but it almost
ensures that the bad economy will go even further south.
That coupled with the absurd tokenism of a toothless SEC
gumming at Martha Stewart's ankles while Ken Lay clinks glasses
with Bushistas, and we can expect that investors will continue
to avoid an equity market many rightly see as corrupt. Investment
money won't be coming from government or from the private
sector. I think even Karl Marx and Adam Smith would agree
on what the economy is going to look like a few years from
now - a train wreck.
Even the press is expressing second thoughts: "Though Wall
Street might salivate at the prospect of a Republican Congress,
the rest of the country isn't so sure; in a CNN/Time magazine
poll released recently, 44 percent of the more than 1,000
Americans surveyed thought Democrats were better at handling
the economy, compared with just 39 percent who thought the
Republicans were better.
"And fears of a return to the deficit spending that has
characterized recent Republican presidential administrations
could lead to a rise in interest rates, as fixed-income investors
seek a greater return to match their expectations for higher
inflation. Higher interest rates could put a damper on economic
growth." ("The GOP: Taking stock-Sweep of Congress could embolden
Republicans' legislative agenda." CNN/Money 6 November 2002)
Pundits seem to enjoy intoning that in this election "it
wasn't the economy, stupid." Just wait two years. The party
of "fiscal responsibility" will have us drowning in more red
ink than the last time we had Republican presidents.
For every force there is a counterforce. Violence, even
well intentioned, rebounds inevitably upon the violent.
Bush Inc. already has invasion plans of Iraq on the front
pages of our local newspapers. The trouble is wars seldom
go according to plan. Let's assume a best-case scenario: a
two-week rout in which Saddam and his republican guard are
obliterated with minimal casualties on our side. Forget for
a moment that this was essentially the scenario Johnson and
his generals went into Vietnam with. Forget that, with his
impending demise, Saddam Hussein will have no reason not to
use whatever weapons he has against any and all perceived
enemies, including Israel. Forget that it will now be impossible
to counter potential terrorists' arguments that the U.S. wants
to take over Islamic countries, since that is indeed just
what we'll be doing.
Let's assume that everything falls out just as Rummy has
outlined it. Then what? A splintered Iraq comprised of three
warring factions - the Sunni minority, the Shia majority that
leans toward fundamentalist Iran, and the Kurds, who have
made plain their goal of a separate country much to the horror
of our allies, the Turks. The idea that we can go into that
powder keg of hates and alliances and set off tens of thousands
of provocations without getting hoisted on our own petard
is the height of arrogance.
Governing a great country is like frying a small fish.
You spoil it with too much poking.
For decades, deadlock in government has meant maintaining
the status quo on abortion rights. The radical right has poked
pruriently around in citizens' bedrooms by opposing gay rights,
sex education, internet censorship, the abortion pill RU 486,
but hasn't really been able to puncture the safeguards permitting
choice. Despite the gory billboards and debate on the "partial
birth" abortion ban, nothing much has really changed. Now
however abortion foes want payback for their years of unswerving
support of neo-cons.
Sandy Rios, president of Concerned Women for America, summed
up that view in a recent article contending that "anti-abortion
stands played a vital role in the Senate victories, including
those by Jim Talent in Missouri and Norm Coleman in Minnesota.
The lesson, she said, was that the Republicans should no longer
be concerned about accommodating abortion-rights supporters
within the party's 'big tent.'" (David Crary, "Anti-abortion
activists celebrate GOP gains," AP, 8 Nov 2002)
Trouble is the issue of choice has been settled in this country
since 1973, so Bush is in a damned if you do, damned if you
don't situation. No longer can he blame lack of movement on
"obstructionist" Democrats. If he really does appoint judges
that overthrow or effectively curtail Roe v Wade, he will
be crushed by a huge voter backlash in the next election.
If he makes no move to stop abortion (other than what he has
already done such as the pathetic gesture of de-funding international
family planning clinics), he will be rightly assailed by his
backers for simply using them as tools.
When two great forces oppose one another, the victory
goes to the one who gives way. The Master takes action by
letting things run their course.
The real message the voters have sent in the last two elections
is that overall our country supports liberal principles and
policies more than conservative. The vote for Gore and Nader
far outstripped Bush and Buchannan in 2000, for example. This
held true in the last election as well-Democratic totals were
higher than the opposition's. Perhaps the best thing in the
long run for the voters of this country is to get an object
lesson in what happens when the neo-cons get their way.
(Most of the lines of the Tao Te Ching adapted from Stephen
Mitchell, Tao Te Ching A New English Version, New York: HarperCollins,