Democratic Underground  
Soldiering On
October 16, 2002
By arendt

In a speech leading up to the vote on Iraq, Senator Kennedy described the situation in America for the last twenty years as "a Cold Civil War". This is not merely a metaphor; it is a dangerously unappreciated reality. The reactionary right-wing has been firing live ammunition for quite some time now, and the incoming fire on our Constitution has escalated dramatically since 9/11.

P.M. Carpenter has already stated this in the clearest possible terms:

"...ultraconservatives once again are demonstrating that the real war in which they see themselves is a domestic, not a foreign, one...the Right's rush to confrontation isn't hysterical at all; its methodical, premediatated, simply another chapter in its playbook of ever-escalating warfare against domestic opponents....Conservative extremists... cannot and will not tolerate so much as an inkling of dissent because theirs is a fundamentally paranoid and authoritarian ideology."

So, think very carefully before you decide to vote against a Democrat in the election. The leadership of the Democratic Party may be incompetent, but the vast majority of them and of the party are genuine small-d democrats.

Voting for a Republican would be like a Union soldier joining the Confederate Army because he was tired of risking his life for incompetent Union generals.

We must remember that we are fighting to preserve the Constitution, while the Republicans are fighting to destroy it. We are fighting for open trials, habeus corpus, separation of powers, separation of church and state, open access to government records, campaign finance reform and SEC enforcement to end crony capitalism, and media re-regulation to restore a genuine free press instead of corporate conglomerate media for hire only to the Right.

We are also fighting to preserve the middle class, while the Republicans are fighting to loot it. We are fighting for balanced budgets, progressive taxation, a viable and decent healthcare system, a functioning and secular public education system, a science policy that is neither oil industry environmental Lysenkoism nor theocratic creationism, and a non-looted Social Security system.

If we cannot preserve this infrastructure, the middle class will die; and our demographics will come to resemble Haiti or Mexico City: a few billionaires and their minions living in walled compounds with the wretched, uneducated masses living in polluted slums and working for chump change in maquiladoras.

Our cause is desperate; and we will need some kind of miracle, like the Taxicabs at the Marne in WW1, or the Dunkerque evacuation in WW2. It is that desperation which exacerbates our sense of betrayal in the Iraq vote.

The dismal failure of the Democratic leadership (as opposed to some members of the party rank and file) to fight for the U.S. Constitution has demoralized the Democratic constituency and all non-Democrats who looked to them to stop the reactionary juggernaut.

But U.S. and U.K. history are full of tales of bravery by the ordinary footsoldiers, even when their leadership was incompetent. The Union generalship at the beginning of the Civil War was abyssmal: the dithering McClellan, the incompetent Burnside (whom Lincoln said "snatched defeat from the jaws of victory"), the commanders at Bull Run. British generalship against Rommel's Afrika Korps was equally outclassed. And yet, the soldiers fought on; they endured bad generalship and heavy casualties because they believed in the cause they were fighting for: democracy.

The lesson we need to extract from these tales is that soldiers can endure some incompetent generals, but the leadership must be seen to be trying to find good fighters. (Eventually, the Union found Grant and Sherman; and the British found Montgomery.)

Nobody should be questioning the patriotism of Democrats who would rather stay alive politically than die for nothing. Especially in the House, rigid Republican discipline guaranteed passage of Bush's Iraq Bill. Democrats in marginal districts saw no gain in committing hari-kari. Likewise, in the Senate, the same type of situation prevailed, although armchair quarterbacks could argue for a Hail Mary pass. However, where Democrats held solid seats, they should have "fought their front". This is what happened in the House, where the majority of Democrats voted "no". But it did not happen in the Senate.

The Senate rules offered the potential for delaying the vote and educating the public to change the political balance; and some senators tried to use those assets. Senator Byrd deserves to be long remembered as a principled defender of the Constitution. Senator Kennedy deserves respect for his long and consistent fight for genuinely progressive causes. But these patriots were hung out to dry by a de facto Democratic Senate leadership (plus Speaker Gephardt) that cut and run.

The key words here are "de facto". While Senator Daschle is the Majority Leader, his situation is precarious. He has a one vote majority, preserved by an Independent. He has a gang of presidential wannabees (Edwards, Kerry, Lieberman, and perhaps Hillary Clinton) to mollify, and a few potential deserters, like Zell Miller, to keep an eye on. The man is busier than a one-armed paper hanger with hives. His collegial leadership style is too low-key for the shooting-war situation he finds himself in. So, as much as I regret the senator's "yes" vote, anger does not rise high against the man who converted Senator Jeffords and thwarted a complete steamroller of the Constitution a year ago.

The de facto leadership I refer to consists of the high-profile people who are looked upon or promote themselves as "presidential material". (Clearly, Byrd and Kennedy are not in this group.) If Senator Daschle is the logistics officer that keeps the supplies rolling, the presidential aspirants are supposed to be the armored divisions that do the heavy fighting. And, somewhere, there is supposed to be a general staff making strategic plans.

It feels as though the de facto leadership is channeling General McClellan:

"McClellan excelled at preparation, but it was never quite complete...the enemy was always larger and better prepared. McClellan wrote 'The enemy have from 3 to 4 times my force'..." - James McPherson, "Battle Cry of Freedom"

The Congressional mail ran 10:1 or more against the Iraq Bill; but the de facto leaders chose to believe the absurd polling numbers and the totally biased corporate media. (Who are you going to believe? Me or your own lying ears?) These are the same poll numbers that say most Americans still think the dyslexic warmonger in the White House is doing an "overall good job", even as his own military and CIA explode his fabrications and the economy drops like a MIG hit by a Sidewinder.

Of all the de facto leadership, the biggest disappointment has to be John Kerry. Senator Kerry comes from the safest of safe states - Massachusetts, whose entire Congressional delegation is Democratic. He has an impressive military record as well as anti-war credentials. He has vast personal wealth via his marraige to Teresa Heinz. He is very smart and has a track record in Congress. He knows what is up with the Bush Oil Cabal because his commission investigated drug dealing in the Iran-Contra era. Senator Kerry had all the necessary cover to open fire on the chickenhawk warmongers, but he cut and run. One can only conclude that his presidential ambitions (and the need for Red State votes) clouded his allegiance to the Constituion.

Get a clue, Senator (and all you other presidential aspirants). You can't run for president in someone else's police state! Or, are you expecting us footsoldiers to bail out the Constitution so that you can then run on our heroism?

In conclusion, the current-day Democratic Party is first and foremost about the right of the common working citizen to self-government. The leadership of that party belongs to those who defend those ideals at some personal cost. True small-d democrats should vote against Republican authoritarians, theocrats, corporate crooks, and warmongers in the coming election battle. Once we have won that battle, we can work for regime change in the Democratic Party - the party whose rank and file upholds the Constitution instead of eviscerating it. If we start showing the courage of our convictions, we might actually convince the principled genuine conservatives to trust us to uphold the Constitution and their rights to free speech.

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