Ten Things Learned Since
Dems' Election Victory
By Bernard Weiner, Co-Editor
The Crisis Papers
January 23, 2007
The Democrats are off to a rousing start in the Congress they now
control. In addition to the positive agenda items passed quickly,
perhaps the most hopeful symbol of the major changes being made is that
Speaker Pelosi is creating a global warming committee. But beneath the
positive surface of Democratic progress, there are some harsher
conclusions that need to be aired. Here are ten to start the discussion.
1. The Democrats are still way too timid. Often, it seems as if
they've chosen to ignore the electoral sea-change that occurred in
November. The Dems were a powerless minority for so long, at times they
seem unequipped to deal with their new majority status and that they can
use their atrophied muscles to change things significantly.
For example, the mid-term election clearly demonstrated that the
electorate in no way supported a continuation of GOP policy in Iraq;
Americans want their sons and daughters and husbands and wives rescued
from there as soon as is practicable. Subsequent polls verify this, with
two-thirds of Americans wanting out. But the Dems constantly are looking
over their shoulder, as they did for years, terrified of being condemned
as "unpatriotic" for opposing this reckless, tragic war that nearly
everyone agrees cannot be won militarily in any case.
Rather than taking giant steps to remove our troops ASAP, the Dems seem
content to take baby steps while timorously asking "May I?". The
effective result is that the so-called Opposition Party is enabling the
war-mongering policies of the Bush Administration; unless the Dems take
quick action on Bush's escalation of the war, they will have "surging"
American troops' blood on their hands as well, one effect of which is
that they may well lose the moral high ground in the 2008 election.
2. The Dems aren't moving quickly enough on Iraq and seem
disorganized. For example, they have devised a much-too-late,
slap-on-the-wrist resolution denouncing Bush's Iraq escalation. While
hundreds of troops and civilians are dying each week -- and while the
first wave of "surging" troops have been moved into Baghdad -- the Dems
are still debating and haggling, with their presidential contenders
leading the charge in all sorts of directions. Each candidate (Biden,
Dodd, Obama, Clinton, et al.) has his or her own withdrawal plan, rather
than all agreeing on an umbrella unified approach. Dem chairman Howard
Dean should do some head-knocking here.
Even though Bush for months was
denying in public that he had finalized a decision on altered war
strategies, the outlines of his plan were out there in civic discourse
during all that time. The Dems could have begun organizing a unified
resistance right then. The national anti-war groups could have moved up
their planned demonstrations to an earlier date, or helped mobilize
massive, nationally-coordinated "emergency" rallies for the day after
the Administration officially announced its escalation plan; even
thousands just beating on pots and pans in the streets, as often happens
in countries abroad, would have sent a clear message of resistance.
Rove and Bush, who of course had already set the "surge" in motion well
before publicly announcing it, outfoxed the disorganized anti-war
opposition, who chose to ignore all the signs of the war's imminent
expansion. Tens of thousands of U.S. troops are in the pipeline to join
their fellow "surgers" already delivered there. Meanwhile, the Dems have
diddled and daddled getting the wording just right on a bi-partisan
resolution condemning the escalation, one that is NON-BINDING in any
case! Oh, that will make CheneyBush quake in their boots!
And the first major national demonstration won't happen in D.C. until
January 27, long after much of the real damage has been done. Recall
that PRIOR to the U.S. invasion in Iraq, more than 10 million citizens
worldwide marched in opposition to what was being planned, warning of
the likely consequences. Such rallies didn't stop the invasion and
occupation, but at least they happened early enough to help pump-prime
and build a nascent anti-war movement, so that we were up and running by
the time the bombs began falling over Baghdad. And that movement, over a
few years time -- along with the catastrophe unfolding on the ground in
Iraq -- helped educate the American population, and they've been in firm
opposition to the war ever since.
The anti-war opposition should be much further along by now, both with
regard to impeding the escalation in Iraq and to helping stop the
planned-for attack on Iran, which could happen anytime in the next few
3. The Dems still believe they can trust Bush to behave reasonably.
Example: Senate Majority Leader Reid originally said he could accept
Bush's "surge," as long as the Administration would promise not to
"surge" for very long, maybe just a couple of months. Didn't the Dems
learn anything over the past six years? A "promise" by Bush&Co. is not
worth the toilet paper it's written on; these guys, who lied and
deceived an entire nation into war in the first place, will do and say
anything in order to get their nose under the tent, then revert back to
their original plan as soon as they're inside.
4. The Dems aren't reading the poll numbers. The people for
nearly a year now have been way ahead of their legislators on so many
issues, especially on the Iraq War, with, depending on the poll,
two-thirds to three-quarters of the population opposed to an escalation.
But the Democrats seem obsessed with the fact that Bush still has a
healthy slice of the fundamentalist right with him (maybe 25% of voters)
and continue to worry about being called out by them for opposing this
unconscionable war. Let's all say it together: We will never bring that
fundamentalist crowd to our side on the war, and we don't need them
anyway. There are enough traditional conservative and moderate
Republicans -- and military leaders -- who have deserted the extremists
in the White House and abandoned their earlier support for the war.
In addition, many staunch Bush supporters in Congress and state houses
are peeling off, as they see their prospects for re-election in 2008
diminishing by the day. They realize that Bush and his war are toxic to
their chances for holding onto their seats and to any chance of the GOP
capturing the White House and/or the House or Senate in the next
election. Even conservative Sen. John Warner of Virginia is deserting
the Bush "surge" camp -- now THAT is monumental.
5. The Dems seem content with speechmaking in their hearings.
They have not used their subpoena power, there is too much namby-pamby
questioning by only one or two members, and they haven't raised the
possibility of contempt-of-Congress citations.
For example, whenever Gonzales or Rice got cornered in recent Iraq
hearings, the Dems permitted them to dodge and dance around direct
questions and to escape having to present their views; instead, they let
them promise (that word again) to respond in writing, which may or may
not ever happen. Judging from the past, on those rare occasions when the
Administration does deign to reply, those letters arrive a couple of
weeks late and the written answers are deceptive or unresponsive to the
Bush Administration officials must be grilled in Congressional committee
hearings thoroughly and in public, for as long as it takes to get the
answers from them. No more escape hatches.
6. The Dems are reluctant to use their ultimate political weapons.
I'm talking about the power of the purse and the threat of impeachment.
Pelosi is especially nervous about House Democrats exercising their
oversight responsibilities by restricting use of funds for the war
effort in Iraq, lest they be accused of "not supporting the troops in
harm's way." But, if they could get their act together quickly -- before
the bulk of the "surge" troops arrive into "harm's way" there -- the
Dems could place at least some funding restrictions on Bush's
escalation, and divert those and earlier authorized funds for the
purpose of getting our young men and women out of Iraq in a staged
"redeployment" that could begin within the next few months.
For how this all might be done, check out Gareth Porter's
"How to De-Fund the Escalation", and Michelle Chin's
Sitting on Power to Curb Bush's Iraq War Expansion". The key is to
get these bills passed right now before more precious time slips away.
As for impeachment, as more and more in-depth hearings are held on the
various Bush&Co. lies, corruptions and bunglings, the possibility of
introducing an impeachment resolution should be placed back on the
table. It may take a few months for the various committees to complete
their investigations and release their final reports documenting the
high crimes and misdemeanors of the Bush Administration, but the
evidence will be laid out and should be put to good use in getting rid
of this desperate, reckless crew.
7. The Democrats are complicit in gutting true lobbying reform.
The Dems deserve great praise for getting a raft of new reforms into
place, but there are numerous loopholes that still need to be closed and
the Dems and Republicans, anxious to collect as much money as possible
for future races, seem to work together to make sure end-arounds
continue to exist.
8. The Democrats too easily praise Bush chicanery dressed up as
something else. For example, the Dems apparently are going along
with the sleight-of-hand maneuver that disguises the continuation of the
Bush Administration's widescale domestic spying programs.
For six years, the Democrats have done little to stop Bush's
unconstitutional grab for dictatorial power, especially his refusal to
obey the law that says that all eavesdropping on American citizens'
phone calls and emails must first be authorized by the top-secret FISA
Court. Now, with the Democrats in charge of Congress and with appeals
courts about to take up the various court cases aimed at overturning the
Administration's domestic spying, Bush suddenly claims he will obey the
FISA law, and the naive Democrats claim a "victory." (See Glenn
"Nothing to Celebrate").
But apparently what happened is not that the Administration has agreed
to go to the court for such warrants, but it most likely got one of the
FISA judges to grant blanket authority for Bush to continue to spy on
American citizens whenever he feels like doing so. It's bad enough that
privacy of American citizens is being violated regularly on a massive
scale, but if the Administration, as some surmise, also is spying on its
political enemies through this program -- with no detailed oversight by
court or Congress -- we may never find out what happened.
The Democrats need to get to the bottom of this issue, especially on who
may have granted the blanket approval and on the implications of giving
the Bush Administration a free hand to spy on American citizens. The
Dems should not tolerate evasions and lies and half-truths from Attorney
General Gonzales. In addition, the court cases against this domestic
spying must proceed so that the constitutional issues can be joined.
Gonzales, not incidentally, has asserted that
judges should bow to the
commander-in-chief's will in all national-security matters.
9. The Democrats too easily accept the "framing" terms of the Bush
Administration. For example, so much time has passed since the
bombing of Iraq in 2003 and the establishment of American hegemony there
that the Dems hardly ever revisit the original motives and lies that
took the country into war and a neo-colonial occupation. How Americans
were bamboozled into Iraq is regarded as "old news," and the focus is on
the latest Bush atrocity or in how to get our troops out.
But the neo-con policies that got the U.S. enmeshed in its current
unwinnable quagmire in Iraq derive from the same warped ideologies that
are taking us deeper into that war and moving us inexorably into an
attack on Iran and maybe Syria as well.
Sen. Kennedy has it right when he urges Congress to call for a vote on a
new Authorization to Use Military Force in Iraq (AUMF), since the old
one is now out of date and was based on phony rationales in any case,
such as the supposed presence of WMD in Iraq and Saddam's supposed ties
to 9/11. It's long past time to have this debate on Bush's war policies
that are so endangering America's national security, especially the Bush
strategy of "preventive wars" -- i.e., attacking countries that are of
no imminent threat but who might years or decades hence be antagonistic
Similarly, Sen. Reid says devoid of an AUMF, Bush has no legal
foundation to attack Iran. And, not incidentally, has anyone seen any
demonstrable evidence justifying either the escalation in Iraq or the
planned attack on Iran? Nope. Just the usual agitprop, assertions and
scare tactics from Bush&Co., very reminiscent of the weeks before the
"shock&awe" attack on Iraq in 2003.
10. The Democrats do not go after Bush&Co. at their most vulnerable
spots. One of the major ones is the Administration's having devised
unconstitutional rationalizations for torture as official state policy.
Legal-advisor toadies like Gonzales and John Yoo and Jay Bybee, under
Rumsfeld's tutelage, came up with the cockamamie theory that a president
is effectively beyond the law whenever he says he's acting as
"commander-in-chief" during "wartime." Since the "war on terrorism" is a
never-ending, non-conventional one, that rationale means that Bush can
act as a dictator in perpetuity, ignoring laws passed by Congress,
ignoring the Constitutional protections under the Bill of Rights,
whenever he wants.
Yoo and Gonzales and the others concocted a policy authorizing torture
of detainees either in prisons in the U.S. or Guantanamo, or in foreign
countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan, or in secret CIA prisons in a
wide variety of nations abroad, or sent in "extraordinary rendition" to
countries that specialize in extreme torture methods. The Democrats need
to focus on getting those policies reversed and the government once
again under Constitutional law.
So, those are my ten. No doubt, you could come up with your own list of
shames. The point is that the Democrats finally are in a position to do
something about them, and they're moving way too slowly in confronting
these key issues.
If the Democrats want to take back the White House in 2008 and hold onto
the House and Senate, they'd better get cracking, before they waste the
mandate and momentum supplied them by the voters last November. And
before popular anger and revulsion set in among the progressive
Democratic base to the point of considering switching to a third-party.
Those of us interested in significant change need to put Democratic
leaders' feet to the fire and keep the temperature of the coals hot.
Copyright 2007 by Bernard Weiner