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Ten Things Learned Since Dems' Election Victory

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Bernard Weiner
Message Bernard Weiner
The Democrats are off to a rousing start in the Congress they now control. In addition to the positive agenda items passed quickly, perhaps the most hopeful symbol of the major changes being made is that Speaker Pelosi is creating a global warming committee. But beneath the positive surface of Democratic progress, there are some harsher conclusions that need to be aired. Here are ten to start the discussion. 1. The Democrats are still way too timid. Often, it seems as if they've chosen to ignore the electoral sea-change that occurred in November. The Dems were a powerless minority for so long, at times they seem unequipped to deal with their new majority status and that they can use their atrophied muscles to change things significantly. For example, the mid-term election clearly demonstrated that the electorate in no way supported a continuation of GOP policy in Iraq; Americans want their sons and daughters and husbands and wives rescued from there as soon as is practicable. Subsequent polls verify this, with two-thirds of Americans wanting out. But the Dems constantly are looking over their shoulder, as they did for years, terrified of being condemned as "unpatriotic" for opposing this reckless, tragic war that nearly everyone agrees cannot be won militarily in any case. Rather than taking giant steps to remove our troops ASAP, the Dems seem content to take baby steps while timorously asking "May I?". The effective result is that the so-called Opposition Party is enabling the war-mongering policies of the Bush Administration; unless the Dems take quick action on Bush's escalation of the war, they will have "surging" American troops' blood on their hands as well, one effect of which is that they may well lose the moral high ground in the 2008 election. 2. The Dems aren't moving quickly enough on Iraq and seem disorganized. For example, they have devised a much-too-late, slap-on-the-wrist resolution denouncing Bush's Iraq escalation. While hundreds of troops and civilians are dying each week -- and while the first wave of "surging" troops have been moved into Baghdad -- the Dems are still debating and haggling, with their presidential contenders leading the charge in all sorts of directions. Each candidate (Biden, Dodd, Obama, Clinton, et al.) has his or her own withdrawal plan, rather than all agreeing on an umbrella unified approach. Dem chairman Howard Dean should do some head-knocking here. Even though Bush for months was denying in public that he had finalized a decision on altered war strategies, the outlines of his plan were out there in civic discourse during all that time. The Dems could have begun organizing a unified resistance right then. The national anti-war groups could have moved up their planned demonstrations to an earlier date, or helped mobilize massive, nationally-coordinated "emergency" rallies for the day after the Administration officially announced its escalation plan; even thousands just beating on pots and pans in the streets, as often happens in countries abroad, would have sent a clear message of resistance. Rove and Bush, who of course had already set the "surge" in motion well before publicly announcing it, outfoxed the disorganized anti-war opposition, who chose to ignore all the signs of the war's imminent expansion. Tens of thousands of U.S. troops are in the pipeline to join their fellow "surgers" already delivered there. Meanwhile, the Dems have diddled and daddled getting the wording just right on a bi-partisan resolution condemning the escalation, one that is NON-BINDING in any case! Oh, that will make CheneyBush quake in their boots! And the first major national demonstration won't happen in D.C. until January 27, long after much of the real damage has been done. Recall that PRIOR to the U.S. invasion in Iraq, more than 10 million citizens worldwide marched in opposition to what was being planned, warning of the likely consequences. Such rallies didn't stop the invasion and occupation, but at least they happened early enough to help pump-prime and build a nascent anti-war movement, so that we were up and running by the time the bombs began falling over Baghdad. And that movement, over a few years time -- along with the catastrophe unfolding on the ground in Iraq -- helped educate the American population, and they've been in firm opposition to the war ever since. The anti-war opposition should be much further along by now, both with regard to impeding the escalation in Iraq and to helping stop the planned-for attack on Iran, which could happen anytime in the next few months. 3. The Dems still believe they can trust Bush to behave reasonably. Example: Senate Majority Leader Reid originally said he could accept Bush's "surge," as long as the Administration would promise not to "surge" for very long, maybe just a couple of months. Didn't the Dems learn anything over the past six years? A "promise" by Bush&Co. is not worth the toilet paper it's written on; these guys, who lied and deceived an entire nation into war in the first place, will do and say anything in order to get their nose under the tent, then revert back to their original plan as soon as they're inside. 4. The Dems aren't reading the poll numbers. The people for nearly a year now have been way ahead of their legislators on so many issues, especially on the Iraq War, with, depending on the poll, two-thirds to three-quarters of the population opposed to an escalation. But the Democrats seem obsessed with the fact that Bush still has a healthy slice of the fundamentalist right with him (maybe 25% of voters) and continue to worry about being called out by them for opposing this unconscionable war. Let's all say it together: We will never bring that fundamentalist crowd to our side on the war, and we don't need them anyway. There are enough traditional conservative and moderate Republicans -- and military leaders -- who have deserted the extremists in the White House and abandoned their earlier support for the war. In addition, many staunch Bush supporters in Congress and state houses are peeling off, as they see their prospects for re-election in 2008 diminishing by the day. They realize that Bush and his war are toxic to their chances for holding onto their seats and to any chance of the GOP capturing the White House and/or the House or Senate in the next election. Even Sen. John Warner of Virginia is deserting the Bush "surge" camp -- now THAT is monumental. 5. The Dems seem content with speechmaking in their hearings. They have not used their subpoena power, there is too much namby-pamby questioning by only one or two members, and they haven't raised the possibility of contempt-of-Congress citations. For example, whenever Gonzales or Rice got cornered in recent Iraq hearings, the Dems permitted them to dodge and dance around direct questions and to escape having to present their views; instead, they let them promise (that word again) to respond in writing, which may or may not ever happen. Judging from the past, on those rare occasions when the Administration does deign to reply, those letters arrive a couple of weeks late and the written answers are deceptive or unresponsive to the questions asked. Bush Administration officials must be grilled in Congressional committee hearings thoroughly and in public, for as long as it takes to get the answers from them. No more escape hatches. 6. The Dems are reluctant to use their ultimate political weapons.I'm talking about the power of the purse and the threat of impeachment. Pelosi is especially nervous about House Democrats exercising their oversight responsibilities by restricting use of funds for the war effort in Iraq, lest they be accused of "not supporting the troops in harm's way." But, if they could get their act together quickly -- before the bulk of the "surge" troops arrive into "harm's way" there -- the Dems could place at least some funding restrictions on Bush's escalation, and divert those and earlier authorized funds for the purpose of getting our young men and women out of Iraq in a staged "redeployment" that could begin within the next few months. For how this all might be done, check out Gareth Porter's "How to De-Fund the Escalation" ( www.tompaine.com/articles/2007/01/16/how_to_defund_the_escalation.php ) , and Michelle Chin's "Dems Sitting on Power to Curb Bush's Iraq War Expansion" ( http://newstandardnews.net/content/index.cfm/items/4116 ). The key is to get these bills passed right now before more precious time slips away. As for impeachment, as more and more in-depth hearings are held on the various Bush&Co. lies, corruptions and bunglings, the possibility of introducing an impeachment resolution should be placed back on the table. It may take a few months for the various committees to complete their investigations and release their final reports documenting the high crimes and misdemeanors of the Bush Administration, but the evidence will be laid out and should be put to good use in getting rid of this desperate, reckless crew. 7. The Democrats are complicit in gutting true lobbying reform. The Dems deserve great praise for getting a raft of new reforms into place, but there are numerous loopholes that still need to be closed and the Dems and Republicans, anxious to collect as much money as possible for future races, seem to work together to make sure end-arounds continue to exist. 8. The Democrats too easily praise Bush chicanery dressed up as something else. For example, the Dems apparently are going along with the sleight-of-hand maneuver that disguises the continuation of the Bush Administration's widescale domestic spying programs. For six years, the Democrats have done little to stop Bush's unconstitutional grab for dictatorial power, especially his refusal to obey the law that says that all eavesdropping on American citizens' phone calls and emails must first be authorized by the top-secret FISA Court. Now, with the Democrats in charge of Congress and with appeals courts about to take up the various court cases aimed at overturning the Administration's domestic spying, Bush suddenly claims he will obey the FISA law, and the naive Democrats claim a "victory." (See Glenn Greenwald's "Nothing to Celebrate.") ( http://glenngreenwald.blogspot.com/2007/01/nothing-to-celebrate_116907140467333806.html ) But apparently what happened is not that the Administration has agreed to go to the court for such warrants, but it most likely got one of the FISA judges to grant blanket authority for Bush to continue to spy on American citizens whenever he feels like doing so. It's bad enough that privacy of American citizens is being violated regularly on a massive scale, but if the Administration, as some surmise, also is spying on its political enemies through this program -- with no detailed oversight by court or Congress -- we may never find out what happened. The Democrats need to get to the bottom of this issue, especially on who may have granted the blanket approval and on the implications of giving the Bush Administration a free hand to spy on American citizens. The Dems should not tolerate evasions and lies and half-truths from Attorney General Gonzales. In addition, the court cases against this domestic spying must proceed so that the constitutional issues can be joined. Gonzales, not incidentally, has asserted that judges should bow to the commander-in-chief's will ( www.msnbc.msn.com/id/16668110 ) in all national-security matters. 9. The Democrats too easily accept the "framing" terms of the Bush Administration. For example, so much time has passed since the bombing of Iraq in 2003 and the establishment of American hegemony there that the Dems hardly ever revisit the original motives and lies that took the country into war and a neo-colonial occupation. How Americans were bamboozled into Iraq is regarded as "old news," and the focus is on the latest Bush atrocity or in how to get our troops out. But the neo-con policies that got the U.S. enmeshed in its current unwinnable quagmire in Iraq derive from the same warped ideologies that are taking us deeper into that war and moving us inexorably into an attack on Iran and maybe Syria as well. Sen. Kennedy has it right when he urges Congress to call for a vote on a new Authorization to Use Military Force in Iraq (AUMF), since the old one is now out of date and was based on phony rationales in any case, such as the supposed presence of WMD in Iraq and Saddam's supposed ties to 9/11. It's long past time to have this debate on Bush's war policies that are so endangering America's national security, especially the Bush strategy of "preventive wars" -- i.e., attacking countries that are of no imminent threat but who might years or decades hence be antagonistic to America. Similarly, Sen. Reid says devoid of an AUMF, Bush has no legal foundation to attack Iran. And, not incidentally, has anyone seen any demonstrable evidence justifying either the escalation in Iraq or the planned attack on Iran? Nope. Just the usual agitprop, assertions and scare tactics from Bush&Co., very reminiscent of the weeks before the "shock&awe" attack on Iraq in 2003. 10. The Democrats do not go after Bush&Co. at their most vulnerable spots. One of the major ones is the Administration's having devised unconstitutional rationalizations for torture as official state policy. Legal-advisor toadies like Gonzales and John Yoo and Jay Bybee, under Rumsfeld's tutelage, came up with the cockamamie theory that a president is effectively beyond the law whenever he says he's acting as "commander-in-chief" during "wartime." Since the "war on terrorism" is a never-ending, non-conventional one, that rationale means that Bush can act as a dictator in perpetuity, ignoring laws passed by Congress, ignoring the Constitutional protections under the Bill of Rights, whenever he wants. Yoo and Gonzales and the others concocted a policy authorizing torture of detainees either in prisons in the U.S. or Guantanamo, or in foreign countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan, or in secret CIA prisons in a wide variety of nations abroad, or sent in "extraordinary rendition" to countries that specialize in extreme torture methods. The Democrats need to focus on getting those policies reversed and the government once again under Constitutional law. So, those are my ten. No doubt, you could come up with your own list of shames. The point is that the Democrats finally are in a position to do something about them, and they're moving way too slowly in confronting these key issues. If the Democrats want to take back the White House in 2008 and hold onto the House and Senate, they'd better get cracking, before they waste the mandate and momentum supplied them by the voters last November. And before popular anger and revulsion set in among the progressive Democratic base to the point of considering switching to a third-party. Those of us interested in significant change need to put Democratic leaders' feet to the fire and keep the temperature of the coals hot. # Bernard Weiner, Ph.D. in government & international relations, has taught at Western Washington University and San Diego State University, worked as a writer/editor at the San Francisco Chronicle, and currently is co-editor of The Crisis Papers (www.crisispapers.org). To comment, write crisispapers@comcast.net . First published by The Crisis Papers 1/23/07. www.crisispapers.org/essays7w/ten-things.htm Copyright 2007 by Bernard Weiner >> www.crisispapers.org/essays7w/ten-things.htm
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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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