By Bernard Weiner, The Crisis Papers
I received the coded message from "Shallow Throat" -- the high-ranking GOP mole in the Bush Administration -- and quickly arranged a Bethesda meeting at the place I was housesitting.
ST didn't even wait to sit down on the sofa before starting the vent: "Everytime I think you and your Democrat friends have some smarts, and are showing some moxie that might lead to a turnaround in public policy, you screw it up.
"You guys fell right into Karl Rove's trap," said ST, taking off the new wig and wraparound shades. "The public is ready for a MAJOR political shift. You had a chance to nominate someone who would represent a real difference between Bush and his manipulators, but you sent Kucinich and even Edwards packing. Now the two left in the race are centrist Dems -- with potentially huge negative numbers -- who are beholden to the same corporate/lobbying interests that stand behind Bush and Cheney and McCain and Romney. In short, the powers-that-be can't lose no matter which party gets into the White House. Not much will really change."
"Wait a minute," I replied. "First of all, you have to admit that Kucinich and Edwards were belittled, made the butt of jokes, and mostly ignored by the corporate mass-media. Such treatment made it virtually impossible for them to gain any traction in the public polls and imagination. But, more importantly, are you really telling me that you don't see any significant differences between Obama and Clinton, and them and the Republicans they'd be running against?"
"In style yes, but in substance not so much," said Shallow Throat. "On the major issue, for example, the ongoing Iraq occupation, the two Dems are reluctant to move quickly. They seem, in their own ways, to accept the Republican premise that America needs to be the policeman of the Middle East, with a sizable and presumably permanent strike force stationed at U.S. bases in Iraq, what Bush calls 'protective overwatch' of the region. Both Clinton and Obama voted to fund the war, though Obama (not in the Senate at the time) was against it before it started, unlike Clinton: She refuses to concede that her vote to authorize Bush to use force was a mistake; she professes to be shocked, shocked!, that Bush shortly thereafter used the force she voted to give him.
"In addition, all of the candidates, Dem and Republican alike, are not averse to attacking Iran if that country makes one wrong move.
"So, sure, Clinton and Obama would use diplomacy more than Bush did (his definition of diplomacy was to tell a country's leader to back off or get taken out), and probably will think twice before sending troops into combat. But both parties' candidates seem to accept the underlying rationale that took the U.S. into war under Bush, which is that America has a moral responsibility to police the globe as the good-guy superpower, regardless of the financial drain on the treasury, the stretched-thinness of our armed forces around the globe, the damage done to the reputation of America abroad, and the inevitable high death and casualty rates of our troops and innocent civilians."
ANY DIFFERENCES ON IRAQ?
"Now, hold on," I said. "I heard Obama and Clinton in their last debate, the one in Hollywood, and neither gave such indications on Iraq. They seemed genuinely prepared to withdraw the troops and to rethink the foreign policy mindset that leads to such wars. Are they bullshitting us just to get votes from the anti-war base, and to lure Edwards' supporters to their side?"
"Even though they talk the talk about withdrawal of most U.S. troops from Iraq within a year or sixteen months," said ST, "there are a lot of footnote-qualifiers that would keep them from walking the walk. Like keeping the military bases in place, like keeping a residual force there (ostensibly to train Iraqi government police), like accepting Western energy companies' effective power over Iraq's oil, like authorizing a strike force to be located in Iraq in case of 'emergencies.' Additionally, they want to use the threat of an imminent U.S. withdrawal as a club with which to beat the three major ethnic groups in Iraq into getting their act together and creating a functioning, effective democratic government -- but what would Clinton or Obama do as president if the political reconciliation never happens in Iraq and the low-level civil war continues? They don't talk about that."
"But," I responded, "given the likelihood of a McCain nomination, or even if Romney were to become the GOP nominee, don't you think that either Clinton or Obama would be a better alternative? For chrissakes, McCain wasn't joking when he said he's prepared to keep the U.S. fighting in Iraq for 100 years or more!"
McCAIN AND ROMNEY
Shallow Throat laughed. "Well, of course Obama or Clinton would be better than who my party is likely to put up. But we're talking about the need for a MASSIVE overhaul in all areas of post-Cheney/Bush politics, and re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic that is Iraq is not my idea of anything major happening. The mindset that allows for war in that region of the world will not alter all that much. But, you're right, the Dems would change the tone and priorities a bit and maybe that's all we can hope for at this stage."
"That's what I'm saying!"I nearly shouted. "Maybe these are not the candidates you or I would have chosen as the Democratic Party's nominee, but they are infinitely better than the rabid warhawk McCain, who knows honor and duty and 'patriotic' warfare and stay-the-course but not much about diplomacy and peace and when enough is enough. He's still fighting the Vietnam War in his head and the 'Islamofascist extremists' are, to him, the 'gooks' (his terms) of the 21st Century. He is likely to take this country into even more unnecessary wars, that much is clear. And if Bush is an emptyheaded, out-of-control pre-schooler, and McCain the angry kid in kindergarten who just wants to hit or bite somebody, Romney hasn't advanced much beyond first grade."
"Ouch, Bernie, you're a harsh little bugger, ain'tcha?" said ST, with a large grin. "So where does that leave your Democrat-voter friends in November, holding their nose again when they vote for Clinton or Obama against the GOP candidate, choosing the 'lesser of two evils' one more time?"
THIRD-PARTY RUNS IN THE OFFING?
"Well, we don't know what will happen between now and November. Who knows? Michael Bloomberg and Ralph Nader are whacked-out enough to alter the equation if they decide to jump in as third-party candidates before November. Nader, at 74, is even older than crankypants McCain. But I don't think either of them is foolish enough to risk a certain and embarrassing loss."
"Hey, wake up and smell the politics, my friend," said Shallow Throat. "Third-party candidates don't run because they expect to win. They do it to get some ideas out that, they hope, might catch on with enough voters to move the major parties closer to their points of view. Of course, there's also a good deal of naked ambition, publicity-hunger, and desire to punish the parties that didn't choose them.
"And we have no idea which candidate any third-party candidates would harm. Presumably, Bloomberg would draw independent votes away from McCain, and Nader would draw liberals and progressives from Clinton or Obama, so, if both run, that might be a wash. If it's just Nader, say, his entry could be significant. But nobody is sure about any of this; it's all up in the air."
ADVICE FOR G.O.P. VOTERS
"So," I asked, "what would you advise moderate Republicans and progressive Democrats to do in the remaining primaries and in November when confronting these less-than-stellar candidates on their ballots?"
"I thought you'd never ask," said Shallow Throat. "As I've told you before, the reason that I, a lifelong traditional-conservative Republican, take the risk of talking to you every so often** is that my party has been kidnapped by ultra-rightwing extremists who over the past decade or more have run the GOP into the ground. I talk to you, and through you to your liberal comrades, in hopes that we moderate Republicans can get our party back.
"There's no way I can vote for McCain, a dangerous throwback, and certainly not for that prettyboy airhead Romney, who'll say anything and pay any price to get elected. This year I'll vote for the Democrat, whoever it is, just to change political trains and hope that there's a significant start in undoing the great damage that Cheney and Bush have wreaked on the country and the Constitution for eight years.
"In the interim, maybe my party -- staggered by its losses in November -- will come to its senses and move back toward the middle-right, where most conservative Republicans like me really feel most comfortable: small government, fear of overweening federal power, fiscal restraint, respect for privacy, not anxious to involve the U.S. in foreign conflicts unless there's just cause and only then as a last resort, and so on."
WHAT DEMS MIGHT WANT TO DO
"And what about us liberals and progressives out here?" I asked. "What would you advise we do with our votes?"
"Much the same thing initially," said Shallow Throat, putting on the wig and dark glasses. "You elect the Democrat, whoever that is -- I'd guess that Obama, carrying less baggage, would be a bit more free to push for some meaningful change -- and help him or her get elected.
"You read my mind about Obama," I replied, "and, with Edwards gone, that's why I'm voting for him in the California primary. I'm impressed by that less-compromised baggage argument as well as by his history of community organizing work in Chicago, all of which offers me some hope that maybe his actions will match his rhetoric if he were to be elected."
"Yes," said Shallow Throat, "an Obama nomination would demonstrate to the world that the country potentially could climb out from under the enchantment of the shadow forces represented by the extremists currently in power. Then you progressives must try to influence the Congress and the new occupants of the White House, using your money and people-power clout.
"If that doesn't seem to work, then you consider working with disaffected Republicans, Libertarians, Greens, liberal Democrats to create the structure for a national third-party that actually can win in four or eight years but in the meantime will have a great deal of influence on what the two major parties do. But don't do it without a great deal of forethought -- it's infinitely easier to take over a party than to found a viable new one -- and don't do it like Nader and Perot did, just to get votes; if you're going to set up a serious third-party run, make sure to build a permanent third-party structure, from the grassroots up, a party that can grow and solidify, electing local and state candidates, and eventually be a genuine player in national politics, not just yet another a tiny, ineffective fringe outfit."
"So your prognosis," I replied, "is that the good parts of both parties' electoral bases -- the ones who give the money and supply the activist troops -- may have to wait in the wilderness for a number of years to get a chance to really get into power?"
"To have full power, yes," said ST. "But great political shifts usually don't happen overnight -- unless there's a revolution, of course. Shifts usually take years and decades to mature into fruition, picking up steam one election after another. In the meantime, you organize, organize, organize and do what you can to be influential and lay the foundations, and you work your ass off for eventual victory. Whether that victory actually comes or not, at least in the form you fantasize about, is not as important as doing the work to try to make it happen.
"So get to work."
And with that, Shallow Throat was out the front door, leaving me to ponder what I had just heard. I was confused and depressed and elated all at once. In other words, I was thinking as a realistic political idealist. #
**Go here ( www.crisispapers.org/weinerpubs.htm#shallow ) to read Weiner's other conversations over the years with the "Shallow Throat" character.
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 two decades, and currently serves as co-editor of The Crisis Papers (www.crisispapers.org). To comment: firstname.lastname@example.org .
First published by The Crisis Papers and Democratic Underground 2/5/08.
Copyright 2008 by Bernard Weiner.