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The Democrats and the Anti-Bushite Movement: How This Important Alliance Should Work

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The most important task facing America now, after the election, is the same as it was before the election: it is to discredit the Bushite forces in the eyes of the American people, to drive the Bushites from power, and to repair the damage that those dark forces have done to America and to the world. For the achievement of these goals, the Democrats in Congress and the anti-Bushite movement are natural allies. And how well both sides of this alliance manage their relationship, and perform their complementary roles, will be one important determinant of how successfully this task is accomplished. A VITAL ALLIANCE BASED ON COMMON INTERESTS It is a natural alliance because the two sides need each other, and because they have important common interests. For the anti-Bushite movement, there really is no alternative instrument for combatting the Bushites than the one opposition party that, whatever its defects might be, is capable of contending in the political arena. In the long run, there may be some other organized instrumentality of power. But those who recognize the threat posed by these Bushite forces should know also that we don't have the luxury of looking to the long run. What is required now is short-run success. And for this, in view of the utter moral bankruptcy of the Republican Party of recent years, the Democratic Party is really the only conceivable tool to pry power away from those forces that have animated this presidency and have been destroying this country. Whether the Democrats need the anti-Bushite movement as much as the movement needs the Democrats is unclear. In part, it depends on how thoroughly the Democrats embrace the goals of combatting the dark forces of Bushism. To the extent that the Democrats' goals of combatting the Bushites is subordinated to the goal of simply winning and keeping power, the Democrats need the anti-Bushite movement the way any political party needs its "activist base": "Don't get so unhappy with us that you go away, or sit on your hands, when we need you." But to the extent that the Democrats are also dedicated to the goals of saving America from the threat of these forces, the Democrats need the movement to act its part powerfully and effectively and wisely in order to strengthen their hand in wielding their power in the public arena. Regardless of the Democrats' devotion to the causes of the anti-Bushite movement, the goal of empowering the Democrats in the political arena --in public opinion, and in the next cycle of elections-- remains vital for the success of the movement. In the political arena, for the next couple of years at least, the struggle for power between the Bushites and the Democrats will remain a zero-sum game: whatever power is wrested from the Bushites will go to the Democrats, and any political weakening of the Democrats will imply a corresponding strengthening of the Bushites. Therefore, while there might be some meaningful divergence of interests between the Democratic office-holders and the movement, which would lead the Democrats to be excessively cautious in pursuing the eradication of Bushism and the healing of America, even then the Democrats' EFFECTIVE pursuit of political advantage will nonetheless be substantially aligned with the interests of the anti-Bushite movement. Far better for the movement, however, if the Democrats' primary goal were the same as the movement's. In other words, far better for the movement --and for America as well-- if the Democrats were to seek political advantage and political power and electoral victory AS A MEANS TO SAVE THE COUNTRY FROM THESE DARK FORCES rather than vice versa. A PREDICTABLE DISCREPANCY: SOURCE OF STRENGTH OR A WOUND IN THE ALLIANCE Even if this both sides are fully devoted to ridding America of these Bushite forces and the damage they've done, a difference in the approaches of the two sides is altogether predictable. It is virtually inevitable that there will be discrepancy between the boldness of what the movement cries out for the Democrats to do with their power in Congress and the more cautious approach the Democrats will actually choose. It's an instance of that general truth that where you stand depends on where you sit. One of the great challenges to this alliance will revolve around how the two sides deal with this discrepancy. In an ideal scenario, this discrepancy would not only be predictable, but also desirable. Ideally, the movement's loud cries --for bolder moves, for more direct confrontation, for more aggressive investigation and exposure, for more flexing of political muscle-- can strengthen the Democrats' hands. The greater the popular groundswell to go after the lies and crimes of the Bushites, the safer it will be for the Democrats to move in that direction. The congressional Democrats and movement can enact, in other words, a variant on the "good cop/bad cop" routine. Or, to put it another way, as Stokely Carmichael's militancy strengthened the hand of the more moderate Martin Luther King, Jr., so can the movement work to define "moderation" in the direction of more intense confrontation with the Bushite regime over its criminality and dishonesty and incompetence. But there are other less ideal scenarios in which the gap between the movement's more aggressive stance and the Democrats' more cautious approach can also create a pitfall into which the alliance could break down. Each side in this alliance has its shortcomings which can get in the way of the two doing the politically effective dance together that the country needs. Consider first the defects of the politicians. The Democrats have been widely --and I believe correctly-- perceived in the movement as too clueless and too cowardly to be as effective in opposition as they might have been. The Democrats may wish to interpret their victories in the 2006 election as vindicating their approach. But life is a terribly uncontrolled experiment, and I would argue that interpretation is unjustified by the evidence. It seems at least as possible that the Democrats' success was despite the Democrats' caution as because of it. Thus, there are legitimate reasons for concern that, when the predictable gap opens up between the popular clamor and the politicians' strategies, part of the gap will be a result of the errors of judgment on the part of the congressional Democrats. These politicians may prove to lack the passion and principle and courage and judgment to prosecute effectively the war against these Bushite forces. But the movement also might blunder in playing its role around that gap. I would propose as a premise here that the success of the struggle against the Bushites requires that the Democrats be able to enlist the support of the great majority of the American people. Surely now, when the Democrats neither occupy the White House nor enjoy veto-proof majorities in Congress, the next two years should be --whatever else they are-- a time during which the Democrats gain the trust of an American majority which, at the moment, trusts neither political party. Any course of action during these next two years that results in 2008 in the electorate returning today's disgraceful Republican Party to power --in the Congress and/or in the White House--must be judged a terribly wrong course of action. Many people in the movement, however, seem to believe that if the Democrats were to act in a way that satisfies us --i.e. those who are impassioned foes of the Bushites, and who get our news from places like truthout and Huffington Post-- they will be politically successful. Surely, if recent years have taught us anything, it should have taught us that we are hardly a representative cross-section of the American public. It may be our job to call for bold action, for full exposure of the dark truths of this regime. But it is also incumbent upon us to recognize that the job of the Democrats in Congress is not to satisfy us but to bring a majority of our countrymen into the fold of the one party that can defeat the forces --the world-empire builders, the fascistic corporatists, the theocrats-- that have done such injury in recent years to what's best about America, and that will still be lusting for power after their present public faces have left office. Of course, as said above, the Democrats might well err on the side of over-caution. But on the other hand, we should remember that the one thing on which elected office-holders are likely to be expert is in the making just such judgments. "What will a majority of voters support?" This is the one question that those in elective office must be able to answer well-- or they won't be in office for long. So while the Democrats in Congress may judge wrongly, we who never have to gain majority approval should at least not be too co*k-sure about the superiority of our own judgments on that score. And in addition to having some humility enter into our critiques of these important allies, I suggest also that we show some patience. With the election of 2006, the struggle has entered a new phase. The stakes are very high, and the field of battle is fraught with many unknowns. It would be great if the Democrats did it all flawlessly, if they showed the superb judgment and high political courage and impeccably coordinated and clever political strategy that the judges in the Olympics would give a perfect 10. But these people are fallible, like ourselves, and the task at hand has a high difficulty factor. It is unlikely, therefore, that the Democrats in Congress will be able to find their footing and to negotiate the difficult passages so quickly and flawlessly. Many flying machines crashed before one could be made that could traverse a hundred yards. So I suggest that we hold off from denunciations and condemnations for a few months. Wait for a while before deciding that their dithering or their confusion or their caution means their goals are not the same as ours. Give them the benefit of the doubt --letting things unfold a few stages-- before jumping to the conclusion that these allies of ours are too cowardly or foolish to be our champions in this battle. The alliance is just too important not to give it every chance to succeed. And the Democrats will have plenty of other enemies to contend with without our being in a hurry to pile on as well. The Bushites will doubtless play their usual dishonest tricks-- the character assassinations, the scare tactics, the accusations of virtual treason, the deliberate distortions. And the corporate media, one can anticipate, will play along with those Bushite distractions and obfuscations Fifteen years of right-wing propaganda --abetted, no doubt, by the actual shortcomings of contemporary liberalism and the Democratic Party-- have left the Democrats weakened in the eyes of the American people. Given what they are up against, we would be foolishly undercutting our own cause to bein any hurry to belittle them. The time may come for blame and complaint. But it would be a mistake to go there with haste. THE MOVEMENT AS A SOURCE OF VISION AND VERVE What the Democrats need from us is not our scorn but our encouragement. They need not our contempt for their lack of boldness but helping them to screw their courage to the sticking place. They need for us to provide the arguments and the scenarios that show plausibly that the right thing can also be the advantageous thing. They need for us to supply good battle plans. They need for us to pressure them-- in wise and constructive ways. They need for us to engage them --through the blogosphere-- in a good conversation about how they should proceed. They need for us to supply a vision of what the healing of America can look like. They need for us to rouse our countrymen to cry out for the truth and justice we'd like to see become the American way again. Politicians rarely lead, but when there's already a parade for them to get in front of. It's up to us to form a parade promising enough that prudent politicians will judge that it leads to political success. That's how politics works, and we ought not blame politicians for gauging things in political terms. Indeed, at this crucial moment in American history, that's our job, too.
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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...)
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