Saturday, November 04, 2006

Grim Thoughts at a Time of Hope

A glance at the categories in the sidebar of this blog will demonstrate that I am interested in politics: that category is twice the size of the next largest one. Yet in the past two weeks, I have posted about inconsistencies in literature and religion, Walt Whitman, musician Jonathan Coulton, Battlestar Galactica -- and only posted once about politics, and then briefly. Is it that I don't care that we have a monumentally important election in just a few days?

No, not at all. I care deeply; it is preoccupying my thoughts to a probably unhealthy degree. Nor is it quite that I have nothing to say, although I am more a fan than a perpetrator of political wonkery. But I am not sure I have anything positive to say. I have spoken before about optimism as a moral position -- something I believe strongly on rational grounds, although as a fallible being in a fallen world, I have trouble putting into practice within my own heart. So part of me feels reluctant to speak grim thoughts at a time when morale and energy is so important to securing for ourselves a better future. Those who have hope and fight in them are right, and heaven forefend I should do anything to dampen their spirits.

And yet --

It's not that I don't think will win next Tuesday -- at least the House, and hopefully the Senate too. The polls indicate this, and while certain long-scheduled last-minute "surprises", or the Republicans' built-in advantages, or simple happenstance (or all three) might always change matters at the last minute, I will admit that I not only think we will win, but I have my heart set on it -- emotionally, I've banked on it, and if things should turn out unexpectedly -- or, even, if we garner a weak rather than the strong victory that our country (and world) so desperately needs -- I will unquestionably be crushed. So yes: I strive always to be reality-based, the polls look good -- and my hopes are if anything beyond the polls, my attempts to restrain them notwithstanding.

Why then so grim?

It's not that I don't think it will matter if we win. Even apart from the horror that our loosing would imply -- that American democracy is truly broken beyond any ability to register the public will -- a Democratic congress will be able to do some extremely important things. Just the often-cited investigations would be an extraordinary step forward: one of the central problems with our government now is an unaccountable and unhindered executive branch, and holding Bush and his henchmen to account for their crimes, their lies and their blunders -- and exposing those crimes, lies and blunders which they have heretofore kept secret -- is of the utmost importance. If we win and get nothing else out of it, it will have been a huge step forward. And beyond that, the Democrats positive program, modest as it is, is nevertheless important and valuable. So yes, it will matter. It will matter a lot.

I'm just not sure it will matter enough.

In large measure this is simply because the extraordinary damage -- to our country and to the world -- done by the Bush regime will not be easily undone, and cannot be undone completely whatever political victories we shall secure. As Publius put it,
...the 2000-through-2004 elections were the really important ones. The consequences of those elections simply can’t be undone. I think there’s a Billmon post on this somewhere, but even if the Dems win, Iraq will still have been invaded, torture will still have been approved, and, well, I could go on. It’s the whole “you can remove the nail but not the nailhole” point.
Bush's evil "cannot be wholly cured nor made as if it had not been," no more than the evil to which this phrase was first applied. And even that evil which can be cured will not be cured without enormous -- nearly impossible -- effort. ("...But to such days are we doomed": yes, I understand that too.) So that's part of it: even if, as I dearly hope and fully expect, we win Tuesday, it will be too little, too late. If nothing else, then for the dead.

But I have more practical -- which, I think, is to say, more future-oriented -- foreboding as well.

To begin with, there is the powerful fact that the Republicans work best in opposition. The pent-up force of the right wing's anger and paranoia and hatred and contempt, the sheer motivating power of its urge to destroy, will be upon our throats within seconds -- seconds -- of a victory. Their extraordinary willingness to use any means, however foul, to hold on to power will, I fear, seem as nothing next to their willingness to use foul means to attack those to whom they lost it.

The dishonesty of the attacks will not stay them. Let us take the single most pressing issue: Iraq. America's choices, now, are between the horrible and the even-worse-than-horrible: not only are there no longer any good outcomes, there are no longer even any merely bad outcomes. As of now -- November 4, 2006, before the election -- there are no options remaining which will not mean terrible things for the United States, and far, far worse for the Iraqis. And this is because of the Republicans. The entire time of the war they have had unquestioned dominance of the United States government: they began the war, the prosecuted the war, and the have lost the war. Whether such outcomes were inevitable from the moment the war began, or merely became inevitable due to the extraordinary incompetence and venality with which the war has been fought, is at this point academic: it's lost. And they lost it.

But this will not stop them -- it will not hinder them for as long as a nanosecond -- from blaming the end of the war on the media, the Democrats, the left. We know this for a fact because they are already doing so: the venerable stab-in-the-back theories long beloved of authoritarians everywhere have already been trotted out repeatedly. The Democrats will have come to office with a mandate to end the war -- indeed, with the public expectation that they will end the war: "A substantial majority of Americans expect Democrats to reduce or end American military involvement in Iraq if they win control of Congress" as the New York Times put it a few days ago. But if they do, terrible things will happen -- because at this point, terrible things will happen whatever we do -- and the right, without the least shame or historical honesty, will blame us. (And it goes without saying that our lapdog media will largely let them get away with it.)

The same applies, mutatis mutandis, to the economy; to the budget; to the degradation of our political institutions; to the damage done to our civil rights and liberties; the slow, ongoing catastrophe of global warming; and on and on.

Then there is the question of whether the Democrats even will stop the bloodshed -- or, at least, the American role in the bloodshed -- in Iraq. That they will have (assuming they win) a mandate to do so won't mean that they will. Fools and cowards and idiots and David Broder (but I repeat myself, as the old joke goes) are already saying that the Democrats should walk softly if they win. They would be themselves fools and cowards and idiots if they did so; but that is hardly reassuring, given that the Democrats have long demonstrated a positive genius for political foolishness, idiocy and, above all, cowardice. They have been better of late; they are many orders of magnitudes better than the deliberate, positive evil that is the opposition; but all that that means is that the Democrats too are better in opposition. And I fear a return of their weak-kneed and spineless tendencies should they actually win. -- All of which will just be made worse by the fact that the issue will come to the fore simultaneously with the vicious and dishonest Republican attacks I have already predicted.

And finally there is Bush -- or perhaps I should say, Bush and Cheney. They have already made it perfectly, crystal clear that any victory will not change their minds about their policies. Cheney said just the other day (h/t) that its not their job to change their minds just because, y'know, the voters want them to. And they won't.

But -- and this is my last, deepest, and greatest fear -- that this applies not only to what they have done and what they are currently doing, but to what they intend to do.

Put simply: Is Bush planning to wage an aggressive war -- possibly even a nuclear war -- against Iran? There is ample evidence that they have been making preparations for the possibility -- indeed, some feared they might do so before this current election. That, it seems, is now not going to happen (surely even they aren't fool enough to do it in the last day or two before...). But what about right after? Will Bush simply push forward with his attack even if the country votes for the Democrats -- even if the country votes overwhelmingly for the Democrats?

The only honest answer to this is that I haven't the slightest idea. But I do know that the theories of executive power, particularly in matters of war, that this administration have relentlessly championed means that they will feel no need whatsoever to get authorization from congress. It is certainly rumored that Bush feels he must "deal with" -- i.e. wage aggressive war against -- Iran before his term ends. And it may well seem to them that an attack on Iran would not only do well in reclaiming the agenda, but would be simplest if begun before they loose control of congress -- if only to avoid annoyances from those whose readings of the constitution are different from theirs.

I trust that I don't need to add that such an attack, in addition to being grossly immoral, would be catastrophic in its consequences.

Of course none of this means that I don't want -- desperately, desperately want -- the Democrats to win. Partly this is because, if Bush intends to wage aggressive war against Iran, a Democratic victory will simply change its timing, not its likelihood. And partly this is because 'vote-for-me-or-I-will-kill-many-people' is simply not an appeal that a free people should listen to, under any circumstances. And partly this is because, however cowardly or inept they might be in their response, the response of a Democratic congress to such an attack would at the least be clearly better than that of a Republican one.

But it means that, for this reason and all the others, while I am utterly wrapt with hope, I am at the same time filled with fear and foreboding and worry.

So then what?

Why, we keep on fighting. What else? This is part of why optimism is a moral position. Whatever the odds or possibilities, despair will not improve them. "There is naught that you can do, other than to resist, with hope or without it," to quote again from that same literary work. It is precisely the same as our choices in Iraq: if we must choose between the horrible and the even-worse, let us choose the horrible. If there is no hope, let us go down struggling to improve the world anyway. In the words of the old song:
I know the one thing we did right
Was the day we started to fight:
Keep your eyes on the prize,
Hold on.
Which is why, at the end of the day, all these grim thoughts should not deter us from doing what we need to do. Anything you can do, Noble Reader, to ensure that we win Tuesday -- that we win in as big a manner as possible -- will only be for the good. Even if I am right -- especially if I am right -- in my worries and fears, we need as large and strong a party on our side as possible. And perhaps -- fortune willing -- I will be proved wrong. I dearly hope so.

So vote. Vote with your eyes open: vote with an understanding that it will be but the first, small step on the road to the recovery of our country. But vote.

And then we'll see.

Update: John Holbo has some grim thoughts of his own on the forthcoming election:
Assuming the Dems win there will be a Constitutional crisis when the President claims privilege and refuses to cough up documents for investigations into corruption and cronyism in Iraq reconstruction, bad intelligence, etc, in response to congressional subpoenas. Does that seem likely? But I don’t know enough to guess what form it is likely to take – the legal wrangling, that is. What is likely to happen? (I can’t say I’m depressed at the thought of the investigations. Far from it. But I don’t relish the prospect of the wrenching legal struggles that will be necessary...
As I said in comments there (echoing what several others had already said), a Constitutional crisis and “wrenching legal struggles” is very much a best case scenario; far more likely is that the Dems simply roll over and play dead when Bush refuses to comply with perfectly legal subpoenas. So I am put in the odd position of hoping for a Constitutional crisis… since the alternatives are no meaningful investigations into the crimes of this administration at all. (Since Bush obeying the law is clearly not a possibility.) And this is what flows out of the most likely positive outcome of a victory in this election!

But, of course, far better a Constitutional crisis than simple acquiescence in Bush's ongoing evisceration of the Constitution. So go, do what you can, keep your eyes on the prize... and vote.

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