Bernard Weiner: Beyond CheneyBush, Cynical View
Beyond CheneyBush: A Realistic (Cynical?) View of Change
Here's a brief survey of where we are now in the Election 2008 cycle, which might help progressives figure out where we want to go and maybe even what the post-CheneyBush future might look like. Four quick observations:
1. Let's assume, at least for the sake of argument, that the November election proceeds without attempts at intervention or "postponement" by CheneyBush, and that it is a reasonably honest one, with a minimum of electoral fraud involved. (Certainly, what we've witnessed in the primaries should make us all nervous: a hundred thousand votes not counted in Los Angeles, unsecured ballot boxes left overnight in poll workers' homes in New Mexico, votes not being recorded or going to other candidates on touchscreen voting machines in New Hampshire, etc. etc.)
The election campaign from now until November no doubt will be a mighty dirty one, initiated by Rove and his GOP and swiftboating minions. It will include the usual ploy of illegally suppressing the Democratic vote by knocking off the election rolls as many as hundreds of thousands of legitimately registered citizens. Democratic registration drives will be harrassed by White House-friendly U.S. attorneys charging Dems with "fraud" right before the election. And much more such attempts to manipulate the vote. It's possible that American public might be even more turned off by such obvious tactics, which would harm the Republican candidate.
And, if CheneyBush launch a pre-election air attack on Iran's military and nuclear-lab facilities, which they are itching to do, this also might backfire on the GOP candidate. My own guess is that such an attack, if the reluctant Pentagon brass is not able to prevent it, would come either very soon or between November and when the new president takes over in late-January. (Loosing the dogs of war after the election would avoid a potential negative backlash by voters alarmed that Republicans would be taking the U.S. into yet another interminable Middle East war.)
2. GOP ALREADY LOOKING TO 2012?
Unless something extraordinary happens between now and November, it would seem that John McCain will be the GOP nominee. The only things up in the air are: who McCain will nominate as his running mate (Huckabee?), and how many HardRight conservatives will sit on their hands or vote for a third-party candidate rather than vote for McCain. Even with Romney and Bush#41 giving their imprimature, McCain still isn't trusted as a true conservative by the extremist wing of the party.)
One can reasonably presume that a goodly number of Republican leaders, seeing the handwriting on the wall that the Democrats are a shoo-in in November, privately realize that 2008 is a lost cause and have started working for 2112. In a sense, it's a re-run of the 1964 race: The GOP knew that it was going to lose big by nominating Goldwater, but the rightwing used that huge defeat as the starting point and fuel for building the new engine of HardRight conservatism. Rightwing billionaires like Scaife, Coors, Otis, the Koch Brothers, et. al, founded think tanks, published books, bought up cable networks and radio talk shows, employed scores of rightwing pundits, trained college students in conservative Republican activism, etc. etc. But that 16-year infrastructure-building effort paid off big in 1980 when Ronald Reagan took office.
3. CLINTON V. OBAMA
There is no certainty at this point in the Democratic camp. Clinton seems to have had no Plan B beyond the February 5 SuperDuper primaries, which she and her advisers mistakenly assumed would result in her "inevitable" nomination. The result was a number of tactical errors, including not competing in a number of smaller-states' primaries and caucuses, which did her campaign great damage. Now she's playing catch-up big time -- dumping her campaign manager in the process -- and banking that the big-state delegates in Texas, Ohio and Pennsylvania will take her over the top.
If that happens, she may pull even with Obama and count on the superdelegates, mainly more status quo-oriented office-holders, to push her into the nomination.
But Obama's momentum is so huge now -- as I write this, he's won eight in a row -- that he may be unstoppable.
The danger for the Democrats is that Clinton and Obama, desperate for victory, will savage each other in such ways as to provide an enormous amount of political ammunition for McCain and the Republicans in both the presidential and congressional contests.
4. DEALING WITH THE CHENEYBUSH MESS
4. Supposing that either Clinton or Obama beats McCain handily in November, what might a Democratic administration look like and how much of the CheneyBush disaster could be reversed?
I think it's safe to say that whomever gets into power would be inheriting a huge, tangled mess, one of the worst in American political history. Part of that mess derives from the near-total ineptitude of the current Administration, but much of it is planned chaos designed to mess up the social/political/economic system so badly as to hamstring the incoming president from being able to do much corrective or creative restoration of good government. The GOP hope is that the public will then take out their frustrations on the Democrats in power rather than on those who originally created the gawdawful situation domestically and in Iraq and probably Iran as well.
How many times must a sorely tempted Al Gore have asked himself: "Even if I could win the presidency in 2008, would I want it? Or is it better for me to sit this one out -- look and sound 'presidential' but not have to deal with any of the catastrophe left by Cheney and Bush with which no Democratic president, no matter how decent and inventive, probably can deal effectively?" Perhaps this is why Gore said no thanks.
Maybe Kucinich, or maybe even Edwards, if one of them were to have ascended to the White House, could have turned the CheneyBush policies on their heads, and really made a significant contribution to getting America back on track. But it would seem overly optimistic to think that Clinton (despite her reputed toughness) or Obama (despite all his rhetoric about unspecified "change") would be able, even if willing, to do much more than get the garbage-cleaning process started.
DIALING BACK OUR EXPECTATIONS
Yes, of course either Obama or Clinton is preferable when measured against McCain, and each would be willing to change significant things around the edges. But Obama and Clinton are centrist Democrats who are beholden to many of the same corporatist forces that pull the strings in Washington and have done so for decades.
Those who think the two contenders for the Democratic nomination would push for, and fight for, truly progressive legislation in the areas of universal health care, a major shift in American imperial policy abroad, immigration reform, globalization, public financing of elections, making elections transparent and honest once again, and so on, are likely to be disappointed.
Better to go into 2009 without wearing our usual rose-colored glasses.
A POSSIBILITY FOR REAL CHANGE
I'd be overjoyed to be proven wrong by a Democratic president and Congress willing to take the bold progressive moves that the country so desperately needs and, in many ways, wants. If the Democrats were to capture unstoppable majorities in both houses of Congress, along with the presidency, that might even be possible.
And it could happen: In 1932, FDR was believed to be, and campaigned as, a conservative. Events made him a social-action liberal. Roosevelt was a canny politican, who knew how the system required the right sort of practical-politics manipulation. He once told a liberal leader in essence: "I completely agree with you. Now go back and force me to do what we both want me to do."
Though it's not unusual for a political campaigner to jettison his promise-them-anything rhetoric once in office, who knows what might happen if Obama were to be elected? He might find that he's so inculcated the messages of "hope" and "change" that he won't be able to retreat. He might possibly turn out to be the very agent for significant change in politics he's been playing on TV. Stranger things have happened.
But I suspect that lowering one's expectations, at least for the first four post-CheneyBush years, is the more realistic approach that will be required. The mess they've left for their successors is simply so FUBAR that it probably would take a decade or more to undo just the top layers of damage.
OPPORTUNITIES AND SINKHOLES
Of course, all of us must work our asses off in trying to do more that just settle for what we can get. After eight years of CheneyBush, there are opportunies there for strong, positive leadership as well as plenty of sinkholes of inevitable despair.
So, what we're talking about here is to use the next four years to govern aggressively, yes. But also to educate and train and work for increasing the power and backbone of ordinary citizens and progressive/liberal candidates and office-holders. In addition, wealthy Democratic individuals must step forward to support and help establish the progressive superstructure of honest media, more liberal think tanks, grassroots activist training, solvent internet bloggers, and so on, to help the "restoration" take root and grow. All this will take infinite patience and unflinching determination.
If we had forgotten before CheneyBush, we've been sorely reminded (by their immoral war, moral and financial corruption, and desecration of the Constitution) that democracy has to be worked on day by day, fought for day by day, lest our apathy and acquiescence create an avenue for HardRightists to return to power, which could mean leading this country into even more domestic and foreign-policy disasters.
Politics is indeed a contact sport, and, without ceding the moral high ground by crass imitation of our ideological enemies, we'd better learn how to sharpen our elbows and get in there and play it. #
First published by The Crisis Papers and Democratic Underground 2/19/08.
Copyright 2008, by Bernard Weiner
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 for two decades, and currently co-edits the progressive website The Crisis Papers (www.crisispapers.org). To comment: crisispapers_AT_comcast.net