Democratic Underground

They Want War

April 6, 2005
By A. P. Short

Over the weekend, a key Democratic leadership coalition escalated hostilities along an already volatile front in one of Washington's bitterest ideological disputes. It was a savage and overwhelming broadside - talking heads fanned out across the entire spectrum of the broadcast media, and establishment bloggers fired up their iMacs to take their case to the global network with coordination, zeal, and ruthlessness.

What evil is the Democratic establishment so determined to root out? Certainly, the list of potential fights is long and foreboding. The anti-U.S. resistance in Iraq has staged several large-scale attacks since the American-imposed political process began to founder on the rocks of Kurdish exceptionalism, and rumor has it that one of the top CIA fixers in-country has met with an ignominious demise.

The Army-controlled distribution network in Iraq is a mess and may need to be completely overhauled yet again; meanwhile countries are continually pulling out of the coalition, and Bush, apparently after picking up a newspaper for the first time since February 2003, has finally conceded that yes, perhaps the U.S. taxpayer will have to bear the cost of Iraq's reconstruction after all.

The federal budget picture is such a nightmare that the congressional oddsmakers have pushed the chances of the GOP-controlled Senate and the even more GOP-controlled House agreeing on a workable 2005 budget back to 3:2 against and falling fast. The White House has promised to cut the federal deficit in half by 2009, but all indications are that the deficit will rise in 2005 for the fifth straight year, rocketing government borrowing to its highest real-dollar mark in history.

The Bush administration and the GOP leadership have been implicated in numerous scandals, and in recent months the news has only gotten worse. House Majority Leader, inveterate hatchet man and all-around raving lunatic Tom Delay unexpectedly jumped on the back of a particularly ferocious tiger in February and began attaching his once-comfortably unknown name to all manner of strange and unpopular causes while tossing vile, incoherent threats at anyone who dared suggest that perhaps Mr. Delay should step back out of the spotlight, given the small matter of his impending indictment by a grand jury on massive ethics violations. Much to the dismay of the rest of the Republican leadership Delay, who once told a room full of stunned reporters that he couldn't get into the army during Vietnam because all the slots had been taken by minorities, has characteristically chosen to try to brazen it out.

Fortunately for the nation's citizens, all this excitement hasn't distracted the GOP from the important duty of leading the charge to make it more difficult for debt-ridden Americans to declare bankruptcy. In a time when adjustable-rate mortgages are being called a "ticking time bomb" for low-income homeowners, Delay and House Republicans are hard at work making sure that when that time bomb goes off, those low-income homeowners will lose absolutely everything before being forced to spend five years of their lives in indentured servitude to their credit card company.

Meanwhile, America's standing in the world political arena took another ballpeen hammer to the kneecap last month, as an ACLU Freedom of Information request uncovered incontrovertible proof that Lt. General Sanchez, the man at the top of the chain of command in the Abu Ghraib scandal, had issued instructions to his personnel that they were to use many of the very interrogation techniques for which enlisted men and women in his employ are currently serving long prison sentences.

Six months after writing the memo Sanchez, speaking under oath to a Congressional investigatory panel, said unequivocally that he had never given any such instructions to anyone in the past year. The revealed memo cast further doubt upon the integrity of numerous already dubious internal investigations, which had held unanimously (despite unfettered access to the document for which the ACLU had to fight for months) that the Abu Ghraib atrocities were the result of rogue enlisted personnel acting independently and totally outside the authority of the command structure.

As if all this weren't enough to raise Democratic ire, the U.S. press has inexplicably fallen down on the job on this last story. Since the ACLU released the damning memo on March 25th, the New York Times has run one story on the subject; the Washington Post has not mentioned it. Repeated emails to the Post and Times inquiring about this strange spiking of one of the most explosive stories of our generation have as of the time of this writing gone unanswered.

In short, Democratic Party leaders have a lot to be upset about, and a lot of ground to make up before the 2006 elections, but the list of vulnerable points in their rivals' camp is long and growing ever longer. So it was no surprise to see the DLC hordes taking to the airwaves and focusing with laser-like precision on the single most dire threat facing the modern Democratic Party: anti-war Democrats.

According to these scions of American liberalism, the reason that the Democrats lost the 2004 elections was that a few of our higher-visibility personalities, particularly Michael Moore and, opposed the Afghanistan invasion, which made us all (including, apparently, John Kerry, who supported both the Afghanistan and Iraq wars) appear to be woolly-headed leftists in the eyes of the American electorate. This theory was espoused most comprehensively by Peter Beinart last December in the DLC house organ New Republic, but it is only in the last two weeks or so that the party's right-most wing has seized upon this talking point as its flagship argument in favor of moving the party still further toward Republicanism.

The laudable tendency among Democrats who opposed the destruction of Afghanistan is to engage the DLC on the real merits of the argument. After all, on the facts the matter has been settled decisively in our favor. The war failed to accomplish its stated objective, an objective that its most realistic alternative - a widespread international law enforcement effort - probably could have accomplished: the apprehension of Osama bin Laden, still at large.

But to engage in this argument in good faith would be to miss the point of what Joe Lieberman, Joe Biden and the rest of the corporate wing of the party are trying to accomplish. The dream of the DLC has always been to drive the anti-war, pro-labor segments of the party so far underground that it becomes possible for the money men to poach well-to-do, culturally liberal voters from the GOP in places like Kansas City and Des Moines. It has always baffled wealthy, educated Democrats that other upper-class folk, who share their basic pro-war, anti-labor ideology and who have little patience for the aggressive religious populism that characterizes heartland Republican politics, should have been inaccessible to them for so long due to the Democratic party's image as the domain of unions and the anti-war left.

What the DLC means to say by "those who opposed the Afghan war" is "crazy people who love terrorists." They are counting on the strategy that if they can make a four-year-old war the central battleground in the fight over the soul of the party, it will be the party's activist base that appears to outsiders to be out of touch with the American electorate. They can then use their considerable financial means to batter us with polls and public relations offensives aimed at shaming us into once again allowing the progressive agenda to take a back seat to the strategy of appeasement and doublespeak that has characterized Democratic politics since George W. Bush took office after one of the most foul-smelling, divisive elections in American history.

In the summer of 2004, Katrina vanden Heuvel ran a piece in The Nation that argued that as soon as John Kerry won the White House, it would be time for a knock-down, drag-out fight with the corporate wing of the party to decide the future of Democratic governance in America. As much as I wanted to agree with her, I couldn't help feeling conflicted about the prospect of engaging in an intraparty war at a time when the right-wing juggernaut, while decapitated, would still be flailing about, maiming and destroying the country even in its death throes.

It is only now, in defeat, that I see why the esteemed vanden Heuvel was right, and this lowly commentator was naively deluded. The problems that conservative Democrats have with Bush are and always have been fairly trivial. They balk at how he does things, not what he does. They are afraid that his unserious approach to governing and his lack of concern with the consequences of his actions are bad for business. In 2002 and 2004, when the Liebermans and the Bidens and, yes, the Harry Reids of the world pleaded with the party base for unity in the face of an awesome, unique threat from a radical right-wing regime bent on revolutionary reorganization of our country's basic commitments to human rights, democracy, and equality, they were merely giving lip service to something they knew we believed, and which they did not, and never will.

These men have decided now that we, the roots of the tree, should go back underground where we belong, and let them get on with their important business. Their assumption is that the Democratic party has, by some magical process, become what they have always wanted it to be - a Big Blue Money Machine, rolling on toward some great payday for them and their friends, one day soon when the Republican gravy train runs out of steam, all in due course.

Alas, these wise, wealthy old men are wrong. Unlike the GOP, the Democratic party is not a machine but a community. We have concerns other than who is in power. We worry about the quality of our watersheds; whether they be the coastal waterways of South Carolina or the mountain streams of West Virginia, we want to preserve them so that they might cleanse and nourish the earth in the time of our grandchildren. We feel the pain of our neighbors, whether they be the "permanently unemployable" forced into ghettos and ground down by poverty or the once-proud American farmer, now dwindling in number and struggling to survive in the face of the agribusiness giants working ever harder to make him and his craft expendable, or at least to seem that way. We worry about the education our children are getting as more and more power to shape our curriculum is concentrated in the hands of central institutions, while the schools begin to look less and less like educational enterprises and more like processing centers for young employees.

We do not want the values of our country to be corporate values, no matter how pleasant the language used to sell us on this acrid, plastic vision of the American dream. The bottom line, for us, is not the bottom line - there are things more important than profits, and the so-called "free market" cannot cure our society's social ills. Racism will not be solved by the United Colors of Benetton - there is nothing transformative about the revelation that all money is green. Sexism will not be solved by "girl power;" the idea that femininity is defined and empowered by consuming the right products is not a revolution but a regression.

Of course, here already I'm way out in the wilderness as far as the DLC is concerned. These ideas, resonant with the views of a massive number of Americans - some Democrats, some Republicans, and some who don't vote at all for reasons that, if these are their key concerns, are quite clear - don't fit into the neat box filled with nonsense words that our glorious guardians would have us believe is the sum total of the possibilities of national politics.

The DLC wants to fight a war with the activists and the progressives for the soul of the party. They believe that if if this fight is fought on their terms, using the empty language whose use they have perfected over the course of so many soulless and lackluster campaigns, they can win easily. Security! Health care! Jobs!

But what about a world in which we don't resort to massive violence as our first resort, Mr. Biden? What about the reality of people who cannot afford the time it takes to go to the doctor, Mr. Lieberman, much less the massive bill, inflated to the bursting point by the cynical games of the insurance industry? What about schools that really educate, Mr. Reid, teaching in ways that benefit our community by producing well-rounded citizens instead of churning out little employees like slices of American cheese, ready for export to some industrial center or other to serve the interests of a corporation with a headquarters in the Cayman Islands? And yes, Mrs. Clinton, what about the rights of working people to earn a fair wage, to have enough time to be involved in their family and community, and to have some hope of avoiding poverty in their old age?

On these subjects, real and immediate to most Americans, the DLC is as unprepared as the Republicans for an honest fight, for the simple reason that these subjects are of no direct concern to them. They are, after all, millionaires. Their last refuge, no doubt, after we have begun to beat them about their duplicitous heads with the truth about what the Democratic party really believes, and what we know is worth fighting for, will be the argument they have used time and time again - that by standing up to the corporations who purport to own our party, we will ensure another Democratic defeat in 2006 and beyond. But the Daschlecrats have been to that well once too often, and the consequences of the current situation - a party pretending at health and unity while in reality divided and sick - are all too obvious to anyone who cares enough to take a look.

So as the Democratic right wing takes to the airwaves to declare war on us, the soul of this party, let them hear the cry of this lowly "activist," proud to have stood up against a foolhardy, counterproductive response to a national tragedy, proud to have vehemently opposed the return to aggressive war in the nuclear age in Iraq, and proud, even still after everything, proud to be a Democrat. Allow me to quote our great President; for however inappropriate Bush's words were in the context in which he used them, they are appropriate now, at the start of the next great political fight for the progressive left.

The DLC wants war. I say "Bring 'Em On."

Visit A.P. Short's blog at

 Print this article (printer-friendly version)
Tell a friend about this article  Tell a friend about this article
 Jump to Editorials and Other Articles forum