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Weiner: It's Worse, and Better, Than We Thought

Author's Note: The Democratic Party sponsors chapters around the world for ex-pat citizens working and living abroad; representatives of these chapters are entitled to attend the party's conventions and help shape the platform. Two years ago, I was invited to speak to the largest chapter in Germany, in Munich, and last week once again visited that lively group, which in large part echoes the progressive positions of its stateside Democratic activist base. Below are my introductory comments, summing up what the American political situation looks like on the ground; after the talk, we spent another hour on ramifications of U.S. policy toward Iraq, Iran, North Korea, the badly mangled Constitution, torture, the sluggish U.S. economy, etc. These folks are sharp.

Two years ago, six months after the November 2004 election, Democrats Abroad still had no official confirmation that their absentee-ballot votes had been received and accurately registered. I was appalled to learn from DA-Munich chair Shari Temple and Germany DA chair Mitch Wolfson, along with other members, that two years later, the situation, though a bit better, still remains unclear. The chain of custody of those ballots, and of those coming from troops serving abroad, has not improved in all electoral districts and the U.S. voting procedures appeared to be as dangerously manipulatable as in stateside America as well. Disgraceful!

Here is that address to Democrats Abroad (Munich), delivered 11 October, 2006:

It's Even Worse, And Better, Than We Thought: An Address to DemocratsAbroad


By Bernard Weiner, Co-Editor
The Crisis Papers (www.crisispapers.org)

Two years ago, when we last met in this same building shortly after the debacle of the 2004 election, the situation in the U.S. was really bad, but not yet desperate. The question then was "how bad would it get under CheneyBush?" The short answer to that question now is "Very VERY bad." Consider:

* Today, things are so bad in the States for liberals, progressives, Democrats of all stripes that a kind of permanent political depression is the operative mode for so many of us laboring in the anti-Bush, pro-democracy fields.

* So bad that many of my friends and colleagues, depending on what happens November 7, are seriously thinking about getting out while the getting is good, like those who emigrated in fear from late-'30s Germany.

* So bad that one almost doesn't want to open the newspaper in the morning or listen to the news at night, for the latest Bush&Co. atrocity or policy-disasters -- and for how the mainstream, corporate media ignores them or takes the White House spin as its marching orders.

* So bad that, at least on the fringes -- from the far Right and the far Left -- there is starting to be talk about the possible need for some kind of revolution, even if undefined.

* So bad, that some liberals -- yes, liberals! -- are starting to float speculation about a military coup to overthrow the Bush Administration.

That's how far we've come in two years.

ON THE OTHER HAND...

The short answer also is: Things are better than they were two years ago. Mainly because the extremism, incompetence and recklessness of the Bush Administration have finally led huge numbers of Americans, especially traditional Republican conservatives, to back away in revulsion from the greedy crooks and arrogant, war-mongering ideologues who rule the GOP these days.

This movement is most significant within the military and intelligence establishments, appalled at what they are being tasked to do; many of these true conservatives are making their views known, sometime openly as retired generals and colonels and CIA agents but also by currently employed operatives and military officers covertly leaking damaging plans and information to civilian spokesmen like Congressman Jack Murtha and reporters like Seymour Hersh of the New Yorker and to leading reporters for the New York Times and Washington Post.

In short, as the polls have been showing for some time, Bush, for the most part, is locked into firm support from only one sector of the populace: his fundamentalist base. His approval numbers have been fluctuating within a fairly narrow range for many months now -- roughly mid/low 30s to low-40s.

On the Iraq War, the numbers are even worse; it's clear that about 2/3 of the American people have come to a collective judgement that the war is a terrible mistake -- started from the wrong premises, botched in execution, trapped in an unwinnable stalemate -- and that it's time to figure a way out.

As you can see, the bad news and good news create a kind of emotional roller-coaster ride for those of us politically active types in the States. What it's like for you up to 6000 miles away, I have no idea, but I'd guess the roller-coaster analogy resonates with you as well. The Democrats cave on Samuel Alito for the Supreme Court and down you go, but Abramoff and Mark Folely explode into the headlines on another day and your mood shifts upwards.

VICTORY FOR DEMS, WITH A BIG "IF"

So, if you ask me what will happen on November 7, I'd have to give you answers from both camps.

My gut tells me that IF the election is an honest one, the Democrats have a good shot at taking back the House, and now they even have a possible shot at the Senate. (Today on the internet, I saw a story that indicated that Republican officials themselves are anticipating a loss in the House of between seven and 30; the Dems need 15 to retake that body.)

The desire for change is so wide-sweeping in the country (aside from that one-third base, who would stick with the Republicans even if photos surfaced of Bush servicing a sheep in the Oval Office), and the Democratic base so fired up, that a sea-change sweep could happen in the House, with a lot of votes coming from disenchanted Republicans across the country. A House victory would mean that starting in January, real investigations could begin, with the Democratic majority in charge of subpoenas, putting witnesses under oath and so on. Even an impeachment resolution is not outside the realm of possibility, though probably not likely, at least not immediately.

That's my gut. My more realistic side reminds me that I thought much the same in November 2004, and even headed for dinner that evening convinced we'd done it, only to cotton to the theft of that election later that night. (And I, for one, will NEVER forgive Kerry for capitulating so quickly, especially after he promised that he'd fight to the end for a full and fair vote count.)

SLIME, SLEAZE & SUPPRESSION

I am cognizant that there are still several weeks to go before Election Day, and Karl Rove and his minions are out in full force trying, by hook or by crook (emphasis on that latter word), to organize vote totals that, at the least, will minimize the Dem victory to manageable proportions, and, at most, eke out slim victories in enough key districts to retain control of the House.

Democratic candidates are being slimed by Rove's dirty-tricks folks and the 527 Swiftboat-like PACs. Poll taxes (under the guise of photo IDs) will be keeping many poor, minority and rural voters away from the election polls in many, mostly Southern states. Suppression of minority voting in urban inner-cities moves ahead, right on schedule. A massive get-out-the-vote campaign is being mounted by GOP-supporting churches. Etc. Etc.

And I haven't even included discussion of possible October "suprises," such as bombing Iran's nuclear facilities because of some claimed "imminent" danger to U.S. interests, or announcing the death or capture of Osama bin Laden, or claiming to have averted a major terrorist attack inside the U.S. (None of those possibilities, of course, have to be true; merely asserting them, true or not, gets the job done for Rove&Co. prior to the election.)

MANIPULATING THE NUMBERS

Then there is computer-voting. We know, because it's been demonstrated in public many times, how easy it is -- taking less than a minute -- to alter the software programs in computer-voting machines, and in vote-tabulating computers, producing just enough of a secret, undetectable tweak to ensure a 1 or 2% majority for enough Republican candidates to continue controlling the House. Sure it would look downright suspicious and prima facia proof of vote theft. But the key question for the Republicans would be: So what? What would Americans do about yet another election that clearly seems to have been stolen from the people? We know what the Ukranians did, and the Philippinos did, and so on, but Democrats tend to concede early, and tamp down the flames of angry protest.

Per usual, Democrats are a day late and a dollar short on the electoral-integrity issue. Since they didn't put up much of a fight after 2000, 2002 in Georgia and elsewhere, and in 2004, their trying to play catch-up in the final weeks before the 2006 election could turn out to be a disaster. Only in the last days before Congress' pre-election adjournment, for example, did a few Democratic senators try to get a national bill guaranteeing verified paper ballots as emergency back-ups for precincts that were having demonstrable problems with their machines. Late again.

If this stolen-election scenario were to play out, with Bush&Co. still in control of the Executive, Legislative and Judicial branches of government, along with the Fourth Estate, the mass media, what would America look like for the next two years of Bush's term?

Short answer: Not good. Domestically, the slide to a native American fascism has been solidified with the recent vote by Congress authorizing torture as state policy, electronic eavesdropping as state policy, military tribunals for those suspected of being terrorists, arrest and detention of American citizens with no access to the courts as state policy, a controlled press under the thumb of the administration, the Judiciary warned into staying out of the Executive's way, etc. (Heretofore, one could accuse the CheneyBush Administration of skirting the law and Constitution; now that authoritarian approach has been ratified by Congress, supposedly representing the population as a whole. That's the real depressing aspect of these votes.)

Abroad, CheneyBushRumsfeld would feel emboldened by their electoral "mandate" to ratchet up their war machine, with Iran in their bombsights and perhaps Syria and even Venezuela and North Korea in the on-deck circle. More and more troops would have their rotations delayed or postponed, more and more Guard and Reserve soldiers would head for the Middle East, more mercenaries ("contractors") would be put into that region. Only as a last-resort would a military draft be re-instated -- because Bush&Co. saw what happened during the Vietnam War with such a draft in terms of helping build a huge antiwar movement.

So, what can possibly stop this development toward fascism and imperial conquest?

Short answer: Not much. We've just about played all our legal cards.

THE HOPE IN AVALANCHES

The one remaining card is a massive, landslide defeat of GOP candidates in the House and/or the Senate. If the Democrats were to take over one or both of those chambers, they could throw a giant monkey wrench into the policy momentum of the CheneyBush juggernaut, begin to initiate honest investigations of corrupt and dangerous CheneyBush policies and programs, subpoena witnesses, require them to testify under oath, indict them for possible perjury, etc. etc.

At the very least, a Democratic victory in November would offer some hope that the dire situation could be addressed and steps taken to turn this country around and back to political sanity. The courts likewise would read the election returns and begin to act more circumspectly. Similarly, the mass media would feel more empowered to dig deeper into Administration crimes and misdemeanors.

At the very most, Cheney and Bush and Rove and Rumsfeld and Rice would see the handwriting on the wall and moderate their views. Not bloody likely, of course, as these guys will be driven from power only when a political stake is driven through their shriveled hearts.

Alternative point of view: Even if the Democrats were to win big, the Bush bunker crew might well try to ram all their policies through, by executive fiat if necessary, while they still control the military apparatus, the Justice Department, FEMA, etc. -- and dare anybody to stop them. That's been their M.O. to date, so why would they want to, or feel the need to, change?

If the GOP can be decisively defeated on Nov. 7, there won't be an immediate turnaround, of course, but there will be hope for major changes down the road. If the GOP, through dirty tricks or otherwise, sqeaks through the midterm election not too badly hurt, all those extreme reactions I mentioned at the start of my talk will begin to look more and more necessary to many in order to save our country.

As Tiny Tim might have said: "God help us, everyone."

*************

Bernard Weiner, Ph.D. in government & international relations, has taught at universities in California and Washington, worked as a writer-editor for the San Francisco Chronicle, and currently co-edits The Crisis Papers.

First published by The Crisis Papers and Democratic Underground 10/17/06.

Copyright 2006 by Bernard Weiner.

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