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Looking to the 2008 Election: Confusion, Anger, Hope

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Message Bernard Weiner
By Bernard Weiner, The Crisis Papers Let's construct a pair of binoculars out of two quotes. What we see may help us understand more clearly our current reality and where it could take us in November 2008. Seen through the right ocular is this doozy by former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger; ( ) it's from another era (the early-1970s, to be exact), discussing the socialist government of Salvador Allende in Chile prior to the military coup that toppled his government: "The issues are much too important for the Chilean voters to be left to decide for themselves...I don't see why we need to stand by and watch a country go Communist due to the irresponsibility of its people." Seen through the the left ocular is a recent remark by liberal Democratic Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey from California, ( ) speaking to a gathering of anti-war activists: "You folks should go after the Democrats. . . . I'd hate to lose the majority, but I'm telling you, if we don't stand up to our responsibility, maybe that's the lesson to be learned." So let's join the two together, adjust the binocular focus and see what's on the political horizon. U.S. TRUSTS DEMOCRACY UNTIL... Kissinger's recommendation for the U.S. to decide, and help arrange for, the "correct" rulers for other countries should not be surprising. (In case you've forgotten, Chile's President Allende was overthrown by rightist forces, with covert U.S. help.) That's what authoritarian ideologues do. Why? Because they are convinced they hold the patents on Truth and Righteousness and thus are permitted, nea required, to play God with other peoples' lives. Bush carries it even further, claiming that God told him to invade Iraq. ( ) And now, the supposedly "sovereign" government of Iraq is under firm orders from Bush to meet the "benchmarks" for stability, reconciliation, oil-revenue sharing, etc., or else. The "or else" is clear. If al-Maliki can't or won't do it, he will be replaced by a more malleable, U.S.-friendly leader. "Yes, we made a thorough mess of the situation from the first moment we invaded and set up our occupation. Yes, your civilians are dying by the hundreds each week, sometimes each day, because we removed your dictator but without moving fast enough to establish law and order and police presence and governmental institutions. Yes, we disbanded your army and thus sent hundreds of thousands of young, armed men into the streets without jobs or compensation. Yes, several million of your best and brightest citizens have emigrated from the charnel house that is Iraq. "And because we are responsible for a good share of all this misery and slaughter, we're going to stay another ten years until YOU get it right. "Oh, by the way, we're considering arranging for the division of your country into three distinct parts -- Shia, Sunni, Kurds -- but you'll love it. No need to fret: It's for your own good." BEWARE OF "TRUTH" ZEALOTS What's happening in Iraq, using the Kissinger quote as an example, is not unique to the CheneyBush Administration, nor to the United States of America. Self-righteous zealots, infused with "The Truth," have been galloping over the historical landscape for millenia, causing death and destruction whenever and wherever they decide to conquer and rule other peoples "for their own good." (At least that's the public rationale; privately, it's most often greed for territory and natural resources, attempts to control unstable geopolitical situations, vendettas for perceived injustices, etc. etc.) But because such invasions and occupations have been going on for millenia doesn't make them any more acceptable when we Americans do them, especially so in the Iraq case since that war clearly was one of choice, based on lies and deceptions. And it was carried out with the U.S. having no "Plan B" for nation-building amidst an anti-occupation insurgency and a concurrent civil war as the various sectarian and religious groups jockeyed for power and control. Bush, in his televised address last week, made it clear that there will be no major change of course in Iraq; he'll withdraw the "surge" brigades that were scheduled to be rotated out anyway, and leave 130,000-plus troops still in occupation for a good, long while, at least five and maybe 10 or 20 more years, a la South Korea. (Incidentally, this Korea analogy is total B.S., since there was no countrywide occupation there, no guerrillas who wanted us out.) Bush seems to be suggesting that the administrations that follow him, despite any professed intentions to pull back from Iraq, will find that he has so FUBAR-ed the situation in Iraq that they will be hogtied to the original Bush policy, with little chance for escape. THE MORPHING OF THE PARTIES The election of 2008 could lead to an historic re-alignment of the two major political parties, from the inside. The activist Democratic base, thoroughly angered by how they are disrespected and taken for granted while the leadership directs the party down traditional paths of centrist and center-right policies, is starting to loudly grumble about that leadership and the party's presidential contenders. Speaker Nancy Pelosi, for example, after refusing to put impeachment back "on the table" and being overly timid in her anti-war moves, will have to face off with activist Cindy Sheehan in her home San Francisco district next November. Other wishy-washy or Blue Dog Democrats will face primary challengers from the progressive wing of the party. And here, as noted above, we have progressive Congresswoman Woolsey more or less urging the base to purify the party by knocking off less-than-satisfactory Democrats. That's pretty strong stuff, suggesting that the Democrats won't move off their centrist dime until they are smacked upside the head by the base deciding to abandon the party, which could result in the Democrats losing their majority in the House. WHAT THE DEMS COULD DO Woolsey's heated rhetoric may be ill-advised and self-destructive, but Democratic Party leaders would be foolish to ignore its genesis. Based on conversations this writer has had with numerous progressive Democrats around the country, backed up by recent national polls and letters to the editors and on the call-in radio shows, Woolsey is by no means alone in her thinking. The basis for this point of view lies in the results of the November 2006 election, when the voters overwhelming put the Democrats in charge in the House and Senate to make major changes, especially in the conduct and longevity of the occupation in Iraq. It's now nearly a year later, and the Democrats are doing virtually nothing in the way of stopping the coming attack on Iran, and have done little or nothing except pass non-binding resolutions on the Iraq occupation. If the Democrats were to act like a true party of opposition, they could pass a bill explicity forbidding an attack on Iran, absent an imminent threat to America. They could pass a House bill authorizing funds only to protect the troops as they leave Iraq. They could, by mustering 41 votes in the Senate, cut off funding for the war except to protect the troops as they exit Iraq. But, under Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Reid, they don't; their major aim seems to be to water down bills aimed at Bush's war in order to attract enough wavering Republicans to join them. It's conceivable such bills might pass, but they would be ineffective in doing anything other than telling Bush how tenuous his support is in the Congress, something he already knows. THE REPUBLICAN PARTY COULD CHANGE There is a huge chunk of the GOP that is, and has been for some time, appalled by the hijacking of their party by far-right ideologues who are eager for military adventures abroad, repressive measures at home, and spending the treasury into humongous deficits. For lack of a better term, let's refer to these alienated Republicans as comprising the "realist" wing of the GOP. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger of California ( ) recently told his fellow Republicans that unless the GOP moves back toward the center, it risks becoming a permanent minority party in state and national elections. Alan Greenspan, ( click here ) the former head of the Federal Reserve, a true conservative Republican, finally has expressed another part of that "realist" frustration: "According to the Wall Street Journal, the former Federal Reserve chairman writes [in his upcoming memoir] that the GOP deserved to lose power in Congress last fall because it abandoned its small-government principles and let the budget get out of control. "Congressional Republicans 'swapped principle for power,' he wrote. 'They ended up with neither. They deserved to lose." And though he urged Bush to veto bills to exercise fiscal discipline, the president did not follow through, and that was a 'major mistake'." So you've got more and more Republicans, including many high-ranking Pentagon and intelligence officers, angry at the Cheneyist neo-cons for putting the military and U.S. national interests in jeopardy with their reckless foreign adventures; you've got small-government stalwarts angry at the disastrous, big-spending economic policies of the Bush Administration; you've got libertarians and moderates angry at the shredding of Constitutional protections and the police-state spying and other civil-liberties violations; etc. In short, there is a huge center/center-right wedge of the GOP that, looking at the Bush-lite candidates being offerred, might well sit on their hands on Election Day 2008 or potentially could be lured to vote for a third-party candidate. (In one recent poll, "none of the above" was the winner among Republican voters.) On the other side, as we've seen, there is a huge progressive bloc in the Democratic Party that similarly is likewise turned off the leading candidate currently in the race. If Hillary Clinton were to be nominated, they, too, might choose to sit out the November 2008 election, or could be ripe for a truly dynamic third-party candidate. Is there such a populist, charismatic candidate who might make a race of it by uniting the disenchanted Dems and Reps? Or, more likely, the question should be (reminiscent of when Ross Perot mounted a strong third-party run in 1992, or Ralph Nader in 2000), which party would most benefit by a serious three-way race in 2008? Right now, the public is so averse to Republicans -- due to the never-ending war in Iraq, to the financial, political and sexual scandals, to the deficient candidates running for the nomination -- that the Democratic candidate potentially could take the victory outright, even with a third party running a nominee. But it's not outside the realm of possibility that the Republican candidate could slide by in a three-way race, since the activist Dem base -- who ring the doorbells, drive voters to the polls, and supply millions in donations -- might well abandon the Democrats and split their energies elsewhere. SUMMING UP So let's take a final look through the binoculars above and see what our situation looks like in late-September 2007. If the political situation stays much the same on the ground in Iraq, which certainly seems likely, and if the Democrats don't force a change in mission, which also seems likely, and if the U.S. attacks Iran, which appears to be a certainty within the next few months, the U.S. will be seen as continuing its imperial, self-righteous, bullying policies. Translation: More fuel for the recruiting of suicide-bombers, more terrorism directed at the U.S., an even lower reputation in international circles, more danger to America's national interests. If each of the two major parties nominates someone who is anethema to the base of that party, those segments might split away and either form a loosely-knit third-party, or join with the Greens or whomever, thus throwing the 2008 election into confusion and/or hope, depending on the outcome you desire. It's possible the two major parties would undergo significant internal shakeups and realignments, and that a viable third party might emerge, even if it doesn't elect a candidate in 2008. May we live in interesting times, indeed. # Bernard Weiner, Ph.D. in government & international relations, has taught at universities in California and Washington, worked as a writer/editor with the San Francisco Chronicle for nearly two decades, and currently co-edits The Crisis Papers ( To comment: . First published by Democratic Underground 9/18/07. Copyright 2007 by Bernard Weiner.
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Bernard Weiner, Ph.D. in government & international relations, has taught at universities in California and Washington, worked for two decades as a writer-editor at the San Francisco Chronicle, and currently serves as co-editor of The Crisis Papers (more...)
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