American Samizdat

Tuesday, December 05, 2006. *
It seems that almost everything I've read over the past week or two extols the "triumph" of the Democratic party's victory in the mid-term elections. Even the hard-left blogs and sites are at best rather silent and/or conciliatory.

Not so fast! Although even I feel a certain relief that the American electorate (or at least two-thirds of it) has backed off a bit from the current administration, I think a certain cautionary note is totally in order.

First, and most obviously, the Democrats in the Senate and the House have done little, if anything, to effectively challenge the Bush administration. There has been some rhetoric, but all too often speeches on the floor excoriating the Republican policies have been followed by votes in favor of Republican policies and actions. Although the Democrats have regained a majority in both chambers, none of the incumbent Democratic Members or Senators who have consistently voted with Bush were unseated by more left-leaning challengers.

The Democrats gained power almost entirely by simply saying they were "anti-Bush". We still don't know what they are "for". Even worse, recent statements by Howard Dean and several newly-elected Democrats, to the effect that they will let Bush have his war for the next two years is both saddening and enraging. Does this mean that the Democrats will not move against any other Bush policies? What about tax cuts for the wealthy, the USA PATRIOT Act, habeas corpus, constitutional matters like free speech, political prisoners and other critical issues?

It is my conviction that the Democrats will speak more forcefully against many Bush policies, but the rubber meets the road only when they bring these issues to the floor in the form of specific legislation and then vote on them.

Moreover, there is a built-in weakness in the new Democratic majority. That is that it is just barely over fifty percent. President Bush will very likely veto everything that comes his way. That will require a two-thirds majority in Congress to make the legislation law. It will matter more what the Republicans do than the Democrats say. Although it is accurate to think that many sitting Republicans may distance themselves from the President (he is no longer an asset to either side of the aisles), to think that there will be enough votes to end and roll back the neoconservative gains of the past six years is unrealistic.

It is entirely possible that the Democrats will not repeal crucial anti-democratic laws because in many ways those same laws benefit them. The Democrats have a very good chance of winning the White House in 2008. That Democratic president, however, is likely to be a conservative. If that President is Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, John Kerry, or any other Dem front runner, he or she would enjoy the enormous power transferred to the Executive by Bush. Democrats have little history of opposing a president of their own party, regardless of his/her fundamental political stance. And in truth, the Democrats have themselves rarely met a war they didn't like, lest they be accused of being "soft on defense".

For at least four years, we have heard cries for "a return to the old America". But which "old" America to we seek? The Clinton years, when the poor's social support system was emasculated and we relentlessly bombed Yugoslavia? The Carter years, which witnessed the rise of the Trilateral Commission, a doomed Middle East policy, an aggressive US arms buildup, and the unraveling of the Democratic Party? All hope is lost, at any rate, of a rollback to LBJ's or FDR's social programs.

One positive outcome of the Bush years has been the re-emergence of the "true" left, which has been moribund, voiceless, and wandering for decades. We are a potential force for fundamental change in our politics and culture. But history shows that this segment of the Left tends to become more marginalized when the Democratic Party has been in control. Whereas anti-imperialist, anti-capitalist, anti-war, pro-socialist voices have been actively considered during this "neoconservative revolution", it is doubtful that the Democratic Party elite will have much patience for it. The Democratic leadership's calls for bi-partisanship, a slow, "reasoned" withdrawal of our beleaguered forces in Iraq, and continued support of neoliberal "free-trade" globilization are dominant.

The American Left, rather than being vindicated in the just-passed election, has once again failed itself. We (for I am one of us) have squandered the best opportunity to gain power we've had in many years. Instead of finding common cause and unity among the fractionalized parties, institutions, and "sects" on the Left, we chose to put much useless effort into things like "reforming" the Democratic Party under Howard Dean, simplistically focusing on whether Bush is crazy or not, demanding the resignation of Donald Rumsfeld, and trying to get at the truth about who outed Valerie Plame (it was, in essence, Robert Novak).

Without a Leftist movement unified by values and principles driving positive change toward a a truly democratic society, our voices shouting for ending US imperialism, redefining our foreign "national interests", achieving economic equity for all, challenging corporate fascism, and non-aggressively supporting peace will all go unheard, except by us in our own echo chamber.

This "Left" of which I speak must answer some hard questions. Are we truly antiwar, or just anti-this-war? Are we really willing to sacrifice the comfort that the capitalist system has given us? Do we any longer have the skills and heart it will take to bring the Left together and form a true and effective Third Party alternative? Can we build a tolerant spiritual movement to absorb and/or replace the intolerant religious fanaticism that still grips much of the country? Do we have a clear strategy to return our military home from hundreds of bases to be a truly defensive force? How will we disband the military-industrial-academic oligarchy; return stolen land to the people; create a really representative, accountable government; prioritize our objectives and actions intelligently, refusing to be held hostage by issues subordinate to the long-term goals of the movement?

So many questions. So much work. So little time.

[also posted at P! and the PBA]
posted by ddjango at 3:10 PM
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