It is often said, as a way of proving that the Democrats are no different from the Republicans: "The Democrats voted for war, they funded war, they voted for the Patriot Act... They are not different; they are the same. Hoping they will be different is unrealistic and foolish." That's a direct quote from a comment on one of my recent essays in which I argued that the Democrats' newly one power in Congress is an absolutely essential weapon of ours in the battle against the Bushite evil. But one hears variations on that argument all the time.
And I just have to scratch my head and ask: When the Democrats do these things --and I acknowledge that they've done often done such things since 2002-- can't you see that they are not doing them for the same reasons as the Bushites?
Can't you see that the field of forces in which these people are operating compels them to go directions that they'd prefer not to go? I mean it "compels" them, assuming we grant their priorities, which is to survive politically.
I prefer "Profiles in Courage" to the pursuit of that priority-- believe me I do. Having grown up in the 1950s with the image of noble men doing noble things-- protecting the weak by putting their lives on the line, never cowtowing to any evil power, never putting self-advancement ahead of doing the right and true and noble and heroic thing, protecting the weak, even at the risk of one's life-I've always thought that's how a man is supposed to act. (For the two and a half years since I perceived how dark is the threat from the Bushites to everything I hold sacred, I myself have been exerting myself all-out, full-time, for no pay, to help defeat this Bushite evil by speaking moral truth to amoral power.)
MOST PEOPLE ARE NOT HEROES
But it turns out that most people aren't heroes. They may enjoy identifying with those heroes of the Western movies, but they are not all that invested in acting like them when the chips are down. For every Marshall Kane (the Gary Cooper character in High Noon), there's a whole churchful of townsmen who don't want to get involved, and don't want to get shot at, and don't want to get onto the wrong side of Miller and his gang when they take the town over again (over Kane's dead body, which they are likely to do), and maybe even don't entirely mind the idea that their town will become a den of iniquity, so long as business is good.
Haven't you seen the same thing in every organization you've ever worked in? Have you noticed how people will keep their heads down and keep their mouths shut when it matters? A few may say something supportive to the one who speaks out-but only privately, where there's no danger. Their heart may be in the right place, but it's not the heart of a lion. They don't want to risk their own security.
Why should we expect that our elected representatives will be any different? A few heroes maybe. But why should we expect otherwise than that most politicians will be like the people one generally sees in the world-like the townsmen, not Marshall Kane. Like the farmers, not Shane?
So in the fall of 2002, these Democrats --who mostly are not heroes-- faced a field of forces from the Bushites that they read, not unreasonably, as confronting them with the choice between voting as the Bushites demanded or committing possible political suicide.
It was very clear to me then how the Bushites were able to manipulate the media and the public so that the Democrats were able to plausibly believe that if they failed to support this very popular "war president," they would cut their own throats in the elections to come.
It was not foolish for the Democrats to believe that if they acted "wimpy" in contrast with the supposed strength and courage and resolve of our "war President" (and that's how most of the American people then saw him), that if they acted unpatriotic at a time when everybody is showing the flag and a lot of people's vehicles are sporting a bumper-sticker that says "The Power of Pride" over Old Glory while the Bushites were being our supposed great protectors and defenders of "freedom" and the glories of the American chest-thumping way of life, that the Bushites would crucify them in elections as far as the eye could see.
SAME ACTION, WHOLLY DIFFERENT MEANING
Could you not see that when someone like John Kerry voted for the authorization of the use of force IT HAD A COMPLETELY DIFFERENT MEANING than when the likes of Bush and Cheney and Rove and Rumsfeld and Tom Delay worked to drive the country into this war?
For those Bushites, it was all about POWER-- about the assertion of pure might to humiliate their enemies, to command the field, to impose their will upon everyone, to march toward domination of everything.
For Kerry, and most of the Democrats who voted for the Patriotic and Strong thing, for the Defending America from Those Who Would Destroy Us-- for Kerry and most of the others it was not about power but about SURVIVAL.
There's absolutely no way that a Kerry administration had it been in power in 2001-2204, would have taken us to war in Iraq. Indeed, I would wager heavily that no other administration in our lifetime would have taken us into that war, and certainly not into that war THAT WAY.
They voted to authorize the use of force because they were afraid not to. And there was good reason for that fear.
Look what the Bushites did to Max Cleland-- a Vietnam vet who left three of his limbs in Vietnam but who got defeated by the Rovian-Bushite propagandists by putting a poison pill into a piece of legislation creating Homeland Security so that they could get people like Cleland to vote against that version, and then pillory him in the campaign as being "Osama bin Laden's man."
Did you not notice how ill-equipped the Democrats were to cope with Rovian tactics? (Don't forget the Swiftboat campaign, and Kerry's inability to counter it.)
The electorate was afraid: remember how strong fear has been in the hearts of millions of Americans, a fear that came with 9/11 and that the Bushites have done everything they could to fan into flames. And it looked like they'd punish anyone who was hesitant to "protect" them.
So the Democrats, too, knew fear. They knew they were up against an opponent who was riding a huge wave of popularity, that had the mainstream media happily acting like a propaganda arm of the administration rather than as a guardian of the people against a lying bunch of thugs stealing the country, and that had already shown itself capable of manipulating the public into suppporting it and rejecting the "libral, elitist, wimpy, immoral" Democrats.
And they did what the townsmen did in HIGH NOON. They caved to the power that would otherwise have killed them off, politically. Except for a few heroes like Feingold, and a scattering of others.
What the Democrats did was not heroic, but it is a VERY, VERY DIFFERENT THING from what the Bushites did. The Bushites deliberately created the world that served their purposes: they went after a piece of Middle East real estate that would extend their hegemony, and they cast Bush as the "war-time president."
The Democrats just accepted that this was the world they were compelled to come to terms with.
Couldn't you see that?
Couldn't you see as the president started beating the drums of war in early summer of 2002 (and then detoured for a short time to the United Nations to bully the rest of the world) and then insisted on Congress voting a blank-check war authorization before the elections (when there was no need for it but for the political blackmail it made possible)-how the Bushites were driving the Democrats, like a herd of cattle, on a course they didn't want?
Couldn't you see the Dems not ALL the Dems, but most of them-- trying to find a way out? Couldn't you see them try to delay the vote, so they would not be so vulnerable to being published immediately if the public was angry or disgusted by their not supporting the president, not protecting the country, not standing up for America?
Couldn't you see them trying to arrange so that the resolution would require the President to come back to Congress before actually using force, so the issue would not really be resolved until after the election?
But it came down to voting yes for what Bush wanted or voting no and putting one's head in the political guillotine.
The dance was complex but it was right out there in public. This was a very powerful regime just then. The Democrats had no clue how to combat that power, so they knuckled under to it.
I'm not sure how well even politically adept politicians might have combated the Bushites at that point. But the Democrats were clearly not far from masterful in meeting the challenge posed to them by the Rovian propagandists. And the recent elections change that picture only in a very limited way. The Bushites have been weakened NOT by the Democrats TELLING people the terrible truth about this regime, but by Iraq SHOWING people a bit of that truth (about its incompetence if not its evil).
IT WAS NOT JUST THE POLITICIANS
But the fault for this is not just with the Democrats.
It is also with the media, which have been appalling during the dismantling and degrading of our constitutional democracy.
And it is also with the American people who, despite all the propaganda, had access to more than enough information to be able to see what was what. But they were either too lazy to look, or too gullible to believe their "lying eyes" rather than the voice of the Propagandist, or too glad (out of the darkness in their own souls) to follow these evil leaders-- leaders who, in a phrase that I like to use, "under the sheep's clothing of a false righteousness, have let loose the wolf of their unbridled lust for self-aggrandizement."
The Bushites have exploited some real flaws in the American people.
And ultimately, if we want politicians who will do the right thing, we need to create an electorate that will vote for the good and not for the evil.
In 2002, we did not have that. I'm not sure we have it now, either. But we have a chance to try to create it.
THE CHALLENGE OF OUR MOMENT
That means doing what we can to encourage, compel, enable the Democrats to educate them.
But we must not weaken them. They are all we have.
We cannot look to the mainstream corporate media much (though there is Olbermann, and the voice of truth is speaking through more and more voices, and it is getting louder). They might follow as the wind shifts, but they do not work to shift the wind.
Nor is our movement --with all its brave and wonderful voices--going to achieve all that much in moving the consciousness of the American people.
In this divided country, we on forums such as these are mostly preaching to the choir-- which is important in many ways, but it does not move the mass of public opinion very directly.
The lever we have that COULD do the job is the Democrats with their control of Congress. That's where the next stage of the battle against the Bushites needs to be faught.
And so it is folly for us to weaken the only possible champion we have. Everybody dumps on the Democrats-- the Republicans, the Media, and even the Democrats base on the left.
That is a weakness in our movement-- that we weaken the only warrior around that COULD fight the BUshites successfully.
If we put our energy into talking about how terrible they are, we help the Bushites. If we put our energy into helping get the Democrats to move in the right direction, we can defeat these Bushites.
They need us to stiffen their spines. They need us to give them good ideas on strategies to defeat the Bushites. They need us to hammer the media about covering things in a spirit of greater truth and justice. They need us to call them to their better selves, more like Marshall Kane and less like the townsmen.
But they do not need for us to join in the general abuse and contempt for the Democrats.
Their weakness has been our weakness. And their weakness will continue to be our weakness.
But the corollary is also true. Their strength can be our strength. That's why the election is something we owe it to ourselves to celebrate.
That is why we need to work with the Democrats to create strategies for victory.
That is why we need to relate to the Democrats in whatever ways will lead to their doing more of the right thing and less of the wrong thing.
But if we withdraw our support just because these non-heroes don't do as much of the right thing as we wish they would and think they should, we surrender some of our newly won power back to the Bushites.
Andy Schmookler, an award-winning author, political commentator, radio talk-show host, and teacher, was the Democratic nominee for Congress from Virginia's 6th District. His new book -- written to have an impact on the central political battle of our time -- is (more...)