in Action: The Democratic Party
May 16, 2003
By Ernest Partridge, The
Never in the history of American politics has so little
been done with so much.
The Democratic party has at its disposal a devastating array
of issues, foreign and domestic, moral and economic, and yet
there it sits, at best dumb-frozen and impotent, and at worst
complicit in the crimes and outrages of the Bush Administration.
In the two short years of the Bush Administration, The United
States of America has become an international pariah as the
Bush regime violates treaties, disregards international law,
and launches an aggressive war on a defenseless nation. This
aggression has been justified by a succession of lies - Saddam's
"hidden weapons," the Saddam-Osama connection, the
plagiarized student paper, the Nigerian forgery - all these
well-known both at home and abroad to be lies.
Those same two years follow upon decade of unprecedented
prosperity, and with it the promise of huge Federal surpluses
and the end of the national debt. All this has been transformed
into economic stagnation, a staggering national debt. and
the prospect of endless deficits. In a binge of "reverse
Robin-Hoodism," personal wealth is being transferred
from the vast majority that produces the national treasure,
to a minuscule minority that owns and controls that wealth.
Meanwhile, the Federal treasury, and the Federal services
that it supports, are being pillaged - Social Security, Medicare,
environmental protection, and even veterans benefits.
The degree of corruption of this government is breathtaking.
Personal friends and supporters of the Administration who
have robbed their employees and stockholders of billions of
dollars of life-savings and retirement income, have escaped
prosecution. Nor have any meaningful legal reforms resulted
from this corporate crime wave. The public at large is told
to "get over it." And friends and family of the
President and his chief aids are positioned to receive enormous
financial advantages from uncompetitive government contracts.
The Constitution is being shredded by the cynically-named
USA PATRIOT Act, with the still worse abuses in "Patriot
II" waiting in the wings. The courts, packed with so-called
"conservative" judges will no longer protect us
from these abuses, as American citizens are held indefinitely
without charge, trial, or access to legal counsel - in direct
violation of several articles of the Bill of Rights.
Nor is this the end of it. But you know all that by now.
And therein is the final outrage: none of this is secret.
All these atrocities, these betrayals of our democracy, are
known or knowable to all who bother to examine the condition
of our politics and economy today.
Meanwhile, the Democrats, the opposition party, refuse to
oppose, in the apparent belief that their winning strategy
is to adopt the pose of a pale and reluctant caricature of
the Republican party. Still worse, their tactics are poor
imitations of those of the GOP, as DNC Chairman Terry McAuliffe
desperately seeks out corporate fat-cats for the party to
sell out to. This is plain stupid: the Democrats will never
win by playing on GOP turf with GOP rules.
The Democrats lack media access and an opulent campaign fund.
But they have the issues, and with the issues alone, the Democrats
have been dealt a winning hand. Even so, the GOP bluffs, the
Democrats fold, and the country accelerates in its rush to
How it this possible?
To be sure, the almost total subservience of the corporate
media is a governing factor in the continuing onslaught of
the Bush agenda. Furthermore, let us acknowledge, the Rovian
political tactics have been brilliant, ruthless, and thus
very intimidating. Media personalities who dare to speak up,
such as Phil Donahue and now Ashleigh Banfield, are banished.
Protesting celebrities such as Tim Robbins, Susan Sarandon,
Bill Maher, Janine Garofalo, Martin Sheen and the Dixie Chicks
put their careers in peril. When politicians such as Tom Daschle
raise a feeble voice of protest, they are denounced as "traitors"
who "hate America."
In the face of all this, the Democrats have been appallingly
defensive, uncreative, and worst of all, cowardly. Their only
valid claim to our support is the plain horror and corruption
of the alternative.
It need not be this way. Not only are the issues overwhelmingly
on the side of the Democrats, the barricades of Fortress GOP
are in many identifiable ways, broken, weak, and assailable.
It is passed time for the Democrats to hold a war council,
put aside their crippling "conventional wisdom,"
and take on a fresh, imaginative and vigorous offensive.
I've not been invited to such a council, and surely will
not be. However, if I were, here are a few ideas that I would
put on the agenda.
Despite their manifest tactical success, the Bush Gang
is not very bright. To be sure, they've got a stable of
experienced PR geniuses and they know how to use focus groups.
But they are not very good at long-term thinking and execution.
One or two steps ahead seems to be their limit. Moreover,
they are constrained by dogma and wishful thinking, topped
off with arrogance. Their thought processes are fixated, not
pragmatic, so when confronted with unintended consequences
they are confounded.
Two examples. First, the
economy. The reigning GOP doctrine is "supply side"
(or "trickle down") - the claim that cutting the
taxes of the wealthy will stimulate growth, thus raising tax
income. This doctrine was followed by Reagan and Bush I, which
resulted in economic stagnation and huge deficits. It was
abandoned by Clinton with spectacularly positive results.
But now, trickle down is baaaack! And to Bush tax cuts are
the solution for anything and everything. Clinton surpluses?
Cut taxes. Deficits ahead? Cut taxes. Is the economy hot?
Cut taxes. Cold? Cut taxes. But now we have a "war."
Cut taxes. This is what clinical psychologists call "fixated
Next, consider Iraq. Rumsfeld's chicken-hawks planned far
enough ahead to win the war. Big deal! With a military budget
four hundred times that of Iraq which, coincidentally, had
been disarmed by the UN, we beat them. A foregone result.
But after "victory," then what? Aside from protecting
the oil fields and the Oil Ministry, it seems that the neo-con
theologians just hadn't thought that through. Sure enough,
they had an idea of what would happen. The Iraqis would welcome
the troops with open arms, urge us to send over some copies
of the Constitution by FedEx, invite in "our" Iraqi
expatriots, set up a secular "democracy" to our
liking, and then, out of gratitude, invite us to take their
oil. Whereupon, the Arab dictatorships would fall like dominos
and be replaced with still more "democracies."
Well, it just didn't happen that way, as any competent Arabist
could have told the neo-cons. But those keepers of the faith
saw no need to consult the experts. And so they are now adrift,
in a conquered country they just don't know how to deal with.
To their amazement, they have discovered that the people of
Iraq have their own history, culture, and religion, and hence
their own ideas of how they would like to conduct their affairs.
What a surprise.
In short, these guys don't really understand the public or
the world beyond our borders. They are contemptuous of science
and intellect. They are dismissive of our history and traditions.
The lesson for the Democrats, then, is simply this: study
and then know your adversary. Analyze their doctrine, take
advantage of their fixations, search out and exploit their
ignorance and their misconceptions, feed their arrogance,
and then lead them to your traps. Rattle their cages, and
watch them come unglued.
Arrogance leads to excess - "pride goeth before the
fall." So, Democrats, lead the Repubs on to fatal
excesses. Once again, take heart from the lessons of history.
The Salem witch mania continued unchecked until the Governor's
wife was accused. And that was the end of that. Eisenhower
stayed aloof from Joe McCarthy's mayhem, until McCarthy went
after George C. Marshall. That was the final straw for Ike.
Nixon's paranoia and vindictiveness led to the Watergate burglary.
Enter John Dean and "Woodstein." Exit Richard Nixon.
We are now seeing these excesses at large in our land. Perhaps
they will continue unchecked until they do in our Republic.
But even more likely, they will backfire. There is a basic
sense of fairness in the American character - perhaps dormant
right now, but it's still there waiting to be aroused. How
much right-wing, AM radio, Cable TV screeching of "traitor"
will the public endure before the impact of that awful word,
"traitor," dissipates until all that remains is
that tiresome screeching. I mean, c'mon, just how much of
Ann Coulter can the public take, before she becomes a comically
pathetic figure? When that blessed moment arrives, Jon Stewart
and SNL will come in and finish her off. "What begins
as tragedy, ends as farce."
Then there is the excess of greed.. A generation ago, the
average Fortune 500 CEO earned in a week what the median worker
of his firm earned in an entire year. Today, that CEO earns
the worker's annual salary in half a day. With the Bush tax
windfall to the super-rich, that equivalent annual income
is moving toward one hour. Apparently, to these plutocrats,
there is never enough. Not so to the public that is being
swindled by this greed. With ever more Americans joining the
ranks of the unemployed, with ever less disposable income
in the hands of the masses, the economy simply must eventually
break and collapse. Unless, of course, the public finally
says "enough," and prompts the now-moribund opposition
party to step in and put a stop to this runaway raid on the
national economy. (See United
for a Fair Economy.)
Where Bush is leading the country, his supporters (the
corporate sponsors and the media) do not want to follow.
They just don't know it yet. Consider: How many of the wild-eyed
Wall Street capitalists of the Twenties ended up better off
in the Thirties? How many of the supporters of Nazism in the
twenties and thirties would, after 1945, have no regrets about
their previous allegiances - those that survived, that is
to say. After all, many early supporters of Hitler, like the
Old Bolsheviks, were liquidated when they were no longer useful
to the regime.
It is plain for anyone with elementary common sense, not
blinded by Bushian dogma and wishful thinking, that the Busheviks
are leading this country straightway to disaster. Our international
debt is now above $3 trillion and rising, and Bushonomics
is bound to add several trillions to the national debt. The
Euro is rising as the dollar falls, and the Euro may soon
become the preferred international currency with dreadful
repercussions on the American economy. Our educational institutions,
physical infrastructure and social services are all being
trashed, and American pre-eminence in scientific and technological
research and development is fading fast. "The outside
world," treated so casually and contemptuously by the
Bush regime, supplies us with the raw materials (most significantly,
petroleum) that feeds our economy. Thus we are at the mercy
of "those foreigners." When they've had their fill
of the Bushista imperial arrogance, watch out!
In short, we are heading straight for a national disaster,
in which there will be few if any winners. When this Titanic
goes down, both first class and steerage will sink with it.
And so, we repeat, Bush's "winners" are headed
for the same disaster as the rest of us. It is the job of
the Democrats to get this message across. And they can do
it the same way as the GOP - repetition, and then more repetition.
"The Big Lie" does not succeed because it is a lie
- it succeeds because it is repeated. Thus there is a converse
"Big Truth" - which, if told often enough, is believed.
And, qua truth, it has the advantage of being confirmable.
But how can the Democrats convey this message, when the corporations
and the mass media are in full cahoots with the Bush gang?
The answer is simple and straightforward: by supporting the
Bush policies, they are booking their personal passage on
the Titanic. But unlike the passengers on that ill-fated voyage,
the privileged few have the capacity to foresee the disaster
ahead. The Democrats and their allies must therefore reiterate
the message to the fortunate few who own the wealth and control
the media: you are not acting in your best interests. You
have no stake in the Bush policies! If, at last, the message
gets through, the progressives might finally gain access to
the media, and the Democrats may finally gain the support
that they deserve. And even today, some of the super-rich
are getting the message; among them, George Soros, Warren
Buffet, Ted Turner, and Bill Gates, Sr.
Perhaps Bill Gates Jr. can be persuaded to detach the "MS"
from "MSNBC," and at last give us the media voice
that we desperately need. In the meantime, we still have the
BBC and the CBC - "Radio Free America" - and excellent
reporting by journalists abroad. And we have the progressive
Internet, active, dedicated and growing spectactularly, albeit
Now is the time for all good Republicans to come to the
aid of their country. The crisis facing our republic transcends
political partisanship. Each of the fifty-one Republican Senators
and 229 Republican Members of Congress took an oath to defend
the Constitution of the United States. All of those individuals
who voted for the USA PATRIOT Act and who ceded war powers
to George Bush are in violation of that oath. They can make
restitution by reorganizing a Congress that will stand firm
against Bush's usurper regime. It happened just two years
ago, when Senator Jim Jeffords left the Republican Party.
It can happen again if two - only two! - Republican Senators
follow his lead. Senators Olympia Snowe (ME) and George Voinovich
(OH) held their ground in opposition to Bush's $750 billion
tax giveaway to the super-rich. This will likely earn them
right-wing opposition in their next Republican Primaries.
So why should they tolerate this abuse, when their Party has
been taken over by a gang of right-wing theocratic extremists,
and when "mainstream" (i.e., "New") Democrats
are now somewhat to the right of what used to be called Moderate
Republicans? Senators Snowe, Voinovich, and other moderates
such as Chafee (RI), Collins (ME) and Spector (PA) have been
abandoned by their party. All that remains of their moderate
Republicanism is a memory and a name. And what's in a name?
It comes down to this: loyalty to party vs. loyalty to the
Constitution and our political ideals. No need for these moderates
to join the Democratic Party, which has scarcely distinguished
itself by its defense of these ideals. It will suffice that
two of them follow Jim Jeffords and claim independence, and
then vote to reorganize the Senate.
The mighty can fall, suddenly and spectacularly - and
have done so many times in the past. It is just possible
that the mighty GOP machine is a Potemkin village - imposing
and impressive from the front, but from behind, a claptrap
concoction held together with chewing gum, duct tape and bailing
wire. A few nudges in just the right places, and the whole
edifice might collapse. The Democrats should locate those
right places and apply the pressure. And that is precisely
what they are not doing today.
Once again, history supplies the examples. In addition to
the Salem witch trials, the McCarthy inquisition and the White
House horrors of the Nixon administration, cited above, there
is the inspiring case of the collapse of Communism. Once Mikhail
Gorbachev let in the fresh air of glasnost and perestroika
the fate of the Soviet Union was sealed, as Gorbachev's reforms
took flight far beyond what he had intended. And when, in
August 1991, the old nomenclatura attempted to take
it all back, they were stopped cold in the streets of Moscow
and St. Petersburg by an aroused public. Communism turned
out to be a rotten and corrupt edifice that collapsed from
within, once a reformer gave it a nudge and the people were
aroused. And this, in a country without a history of democracy
and the just rule of law.
There is a tide of fear and apprehension rising behind the
dyke of GOP propaganda. Today, the mighty GOP PR machine is
utilizing that fear to its advantage, as the surge in Bush
approval post-9/11 testifies. But the Bush message is nothing
but a pack of lies, distortions, and insults, described perfectly
by Shakespeare's Macbeth: "a tale told by an idiot, full
of sound and fury, signifying nothing."
But is it not possible that strong, charismatic, plain-speaking
opposition leader might step forth and gather that anxiety
along with a latent allegiance to our founding political ideals,
and with these resources forge a message that will punch a
hole in that dyke and sweep away the ill-gotten political
and economic gains of the thugs that have taken over our Republic?
It has happened before, and with courage, dedication, creative
intelligence, bold leadership, and more than a little bit
of luck, it can happen again. Given the stakes, the authentic
patriot has no honorable course but to make the attempt.
The Bush regime is like the blustering old wizard behind
the curtain, pushing the buttons and pulling the levers on
the mighty PR machine. The public, by and large, does not
see the wizard and his machinery. And those that do, are told
to "pay no attention to that man behind the curtain."
Who will pull away the curtain?
Where is Toto, now that we need him?
Dr. Ernest Partridge is a consultant, writer and lecturer
in the fields of Environmental Ethics and Public Policy. He
publishes the websiteThe
Online Gadfly and co-edits the progressive website The