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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 7/17/13

Progressives Must Face Their Shameful Political Goiters

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Anyone who's seen goiters, either live or in images, knows that the swellings around the neck they cause can be hideously repulsive. Unsurprisingly, most people, on seeing a particularly ugly goiter, feel a strong impulse to turn their heads in shock and disgust. Of course, this urge to flinch is often tempered by politeness and compassion, since the goiter is attached to a fellow human being. Also, lots of us feel an irresistible curiosity at something so repulsive that nudges us, despite ourselves, to sneak another peek. 

Barack Obama v Mitt Romney Denver Debate
Barack Obama v Mitt Romney Denver Debate
(Image by DonkeyHotey)
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Barack Obama v Mitt Romney Denver Debate by DonkeyHotey

Barack Obama v Mitt Romney Denver Debate by DonkeyHotey

It's truly unfortunate that this tempering urge to steal a second glance seldom applies to morality and politics. Instead, the overwhelming majority of us scurry desperately to sweep our most shameful misdeeds into some dusty, never-visited corner of our mental attics and to hope against hope our families, friends, and associates will soon bury them in a similar oblivion. While such moral amnesia doubtless plays a key role in our ever-imperiled effort to live with ourselves, it's also a sump hose ever threatening to leech away moral character. And its influence in politics is simply disastrous. The cliche "Those who forget history are doomed to repeat it" is a standing testimonial to the moral scourge of political amnesia.

Like Sheldon on TV's Big Bang Theory, I like to pose a question with my own preconceived, none-too-obvious answer that people, by my criteria, are almost certain to get wrong. My question is this: What's the most important fact about the Iraq war? And like Sheldon, I admit only one correct answer: That Democrats almost unanimously supported it. But unlike Sheldon, I'm NOT being totally idiosyncratic and arbitrary in the only correct answer I accept. Sure, "What's the most important fact about X?" is always a pretty unfair question, since there's never any single obviously correct way of judging what's most important. But it should be pretty clear, in speaking to self-styled "progressives," that what they think about the Iraq war--like whether they think of it at all, or think it was all Bush's fault--is a VITALLY important issue. For it's crucial in determining future progressive policy--or how we judge politicians like Obama. For example, his criminally irresponsible performance in the Obama-Romney debates.

If we wish to be consistent in espousing progressive values, I can find only one way of judging the Iraq war: as a HUGE unrepented national and progressive sin. In other words, as an appalling moral goiter we've chosen not to look at. And, for so-called progressives, this applies not necessarily to the war itself--which can ALWAYS be faced as "that mess Bush created"--but to the war as "that crime against humanity Democrats almost universally supported." For what we should have learned is that the same spineless lack of principle underlying Democrats' rubber stamping of Bush's war plan now underlies their support for Obama's most Bush-like policies. Never having repented their unjust-war sins, "progressives" continue to wallow in them.

Now, when it comes to come to facing up to and repenting of progressives' moral goiters, true progressives face no worse enemies than Obama supporters. No one is more apt than Obama supporters to make lame excuses for Democrats who marched to war in lockstep with Bush; for example, the shopworn and toothless excuse that Bush deceived them. My point is that if the presumably "progressive" Democrats of the post-9/11 era really had principles, Bush w ould have been UNABLE to deceive them. Simply by applying traditional just-war theory--the one Obama claims to apply to his drone policy but visibly doesn't--they could have perceived that Saddam (even WITH the weapons of mass destruction he was never proved to have) was NOT the sort of imminent threat justifying the guaranteed vast harm our war effort would cause, both to our nation and innocent Iraq civilians. An analysis of Saddam's motives would have easily shown that his chief interest lay in remaining dictator of Iraq; the Gulf War almost certainly convinced him that any real threat to the U.S. on his part would swiftly finish his reign. 

That's why he caved so quickly about letting U.N. weapons inspectors into Iraq--despite its making a mockery of his recent "strongman" postures. Macho despots like Saddam don't show blatant weakness--or worse, invite ridicule--without cause, so we already had pretty solid evidence he didn't intend to mess with the United States. And besides, given the level of GUARANTEED harm our war would likely inflict--not just U.S. and (above all) Iraqi casualties and vast waste of resources, but a dangerously unstable power vacuum after Saddam's demise--our level of assurance about the existence of WMDs needed to be extremely high. To my mind, we were obligated to continue inspections until the U.N. turned up something solid, and even then to hold off from war until Saddam had had the chance to destroy the WMDs. Any other behavior was criminal--and it was precisely criminal behavior "progressives" almost unanimously supported. To our enduring shame.

So how does Operation Iraqi Freedom (a.k.a. Enduring Progressive Shame) tie in with the Obama-Romney debates? As repulsive moral goiters involving lying propaganda and callous indifference to human life, the two are VERY comparable. But these morally indefensible debates, despite their relative recency, are already buried in the same sands of moral oblivion that cover Democrats' Iraq war sins. Yet if progressives really cared about the future of our nation--or matters of principle and conscience--these hideous boot-kicks to the face of democracy would still be page-one headlines.

That the Obama-Romney debates were a sick, twisted joke--in a nation where Lincoln and Douglas once profoundly honored the notion of "informed consent of the governed"--should be apparent to everyone. Given the debates' loathsome level of corporate censorship--which naturally entails the banning of candidates with alternate views like libertarians or Greens--any candidate who participates has already made a greasy slide toward the bottom of our political pole-dance. Perhaps Obamaheads will answer, "But everyone knows it's a game, so why get so bent out of shape?" Because to me, our blithe acceptance of such games--like defending Obama's NSA spying by claiming it's nothing new--shows how far "progressives" have already sold democracy down the river.

And besides, no one has sufficiently pointed out the callous, reprehensible irresponsibility of this particular game. As just noted, everything critical I'm about to say about Obama applies at least equally to Romney, whose mere debate participation--like Obama's--already marked him out as political slime mold. But as a committed progressive, I'm disgusted with my side's dangerous insistence on being moral Pharisees, forever beating our breasts in smug gratitude that we're not those loathsome Republicans. Whereas we have some pretty appalling moral goiters to rid OURSELVES of, and Obama's dangerously irresponsible debate performance gave me convincing proof of how potentially lethal our sins have become.

In theory, the debates are--or at least once were--supposed to be a rational exposition of policy options, so Americans could make an informed choice between candidates for the job of world's most powerful leader. As comedian Jerry Seinfeld is apt to say, "Good luck with that." But even if lots of us are now cynical enough to write off the debates as a game, the amount of dangerous, consequential misinformation they convey should NOT be tolerated. And Obama was such a willing, irresponsible purveyor of this political toxic waste that he should be treated as toxic waste himself.

Obama committed two major debate sins, one of commission and one of omission, and I don't see ANYTHING that can exonerate him. The sin of commission was his eager participation in Romney's saber-rattling against Iran, which Obama as Commander-in-Chief knows leading experts on the region (including Pentagon ones) do NOT consider an imminent threat. The sin of omission was his failure even to mention climate change, which leading scientists consider a GARGANTUAN threat. But it's in Obama's inexcusable saber-rattling that progressive's selective amnesia about the moral goiter of Democrats' Iraq support appears at its ugliest and most dangerous.

"Those who forget history are doomed to repeat it." It's precisely because progressives have buried their Iraq-war support that Obama's saber-rattling was so reprehensibly unforgivable. Sure, Obama never committed himself to an Iran war during the debate, but he had to be aware that Romney was surrounded by neocon advisers who craved it with truly vampiric blood-lust. So, if Romney won the election, Obama would have publicly given cover to not just one but TWO catastrophic policies: a repeat in Iran of our deeply unjust Iraq aggression and a scandalous commitment to worsening climate change even greater than his own. Seeing that Republicans had already lied America into a disastrous, morally indefensible war--and that Democrats, fearing being stigmatized as "soft on terror," had spinelessly rubber-stamped it--there is NO excuse for Obama's offering a sitting president's endorsement of catastrophic policy based on lies. Without electoral luck, Obama's boundlessly irresponsible saber-rattling and progressives' selective moral memory would have produced another "perfect storm"--with humanity again as victim.

All those committed to recovering America's moral memory--as a crucial step toward recovering our democracy--should consider joining the conversation at Time to Restore Democracy ( ). Though intentionally nonpartisan, the page is more progressive than most that use the name.

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Patrick Walker is co-founder of Revolt Against Plutocracy (RAP) and the Bernie or Bust movement it spawned. Before that, he cut his activist teeth with the anti-fracking and Occupy Scranton PA movements. No longer with RAP, he wields his pen (more...)

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