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The Tao of Winning and Losing
November 13, 2002
Brad Radclife

Nothing 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 want.

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 economy.

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, 1988.)

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