Let's say that from the east while you look south
An icy snowball hits you in the mouth.
You see the kid who did it run, the wretch,
A year ago this spring, I spent several days in Minnesota trailing US Sen. Paul Wellstone as he campaigned for a third term. Wellstone, the most progressive Democrat in the Senate, was battling against a full-scale assault from the Bush White House and its chosen candidate, former St. Paul Mayor Norm Coleman.
Coleman, a Democrat-turned-Republican, liberal-turned-conservative, activist-turned-insider, had a reputation as one of the most egregious political hustlers the state had ever seen. There were plenty of sordid tales to be told about the man White House political czar Karl Rove was packaging as the candidate of conservative principles, patriotism and traditional family values. Garrison Keillor, the host of "A Prairie Home Companion," referred to Coleman as "this cheap fraud" and, echoing the sentiments of a lot of in-the-know Minnesotans, said of Coleman's political ascension: "To accept it and grin and shake the son of a bitch's hand is to ignore what cannot be ignored if you want your grandchildren to grow up in a country like the one that nurtured and inspired you."
I asked Wellstone whether he thought that, considering Coleman's high sleaze factor, this intense Senate race might eventually focus on the personal and political foibles of the Republican nominee. "I won't let that happen," Wellstone said, with the warm drawl that his voice took on after a long day of campaigning. "Norm Coleman and I disagree enough on the issues. And I disagree with the Bush White House on the issues. I wouldn't want to win a race that focused on Norm's personality or his style. That's not right. Minnesota deserves better."
William Kristol's April 7 editorial in The Weekly Standard denouncing critics of the war on Iraq as "anti-American" is startlingly reminiscent of the menacing directives issued for decades by the Soviet Communist Party's Department of Ideology.
Any literate person of Kristol's generation surely remembers the repressive charges of "anti-Sovietism" leveled by the pre-Gorbachev Kremlin against domestic opponents, including the great pro-democracy (and, yes, pro-peace) dissident Andrei Sakharov. Now Kommissar Kristol lays down the line that all critics of the White House's war are guilty of holding "anti-American" opinions. According to Kristol, the "anti-Americans" include "the Teddy Kennedy wing of the Senate Democrats, the Nancy Pelosi faction of the House Democrats, a large majority of Democratic grass-roots activists" and the "bulk of liberal columnists, the New York Times editorial page, and Hollywood."
No doubt Kristol, with his censorious, antidemocratic instincts, would have risen high in the apparat of the old Soviet Communist Party. But there may be a larger, more ominous parallel here: Once upon a time, the Kremlin also used force to try to remake the world in its own image.
Ever since US forces marched into Iraq, conservatives in Congress and their media stenographers have been at war with Americans who fail to read from the Bush Administration's political script.
US Sen Jim Bunning, R-Kentucky, was ranting the other day about charging former MSNBC correspondent Peter Arnett with "treason," after the always controversial journalist gave a ill-conceived yet thoroughly inconsequential interview to Iraqi television. Then, last Friday, 104 Republican members of the US House of Representatives signed a letter demanding that Columbia University fire an assistant professor of anthropology whose extreme -- if not extremely significant -- statements against the US war had made him a favorite target of the New York Post's patriotism police.
Members of Congress, who should be performing their constitutionally-mandated advice and consent duties with regard to the war and its aftermath, are instead asking: "Would you like a witchhunt with those Freedom Fries?" By and large, the Republican torch bearers get points from their constituents and are written off as yahoos by everyone else. But there is a political point to this demonization of dissent and discourse. And it has been evident in the attempts to discredit US Sen. John Kerry, the Massachusetts Democrat who has emerged as something of a frontrunner in the race for his party's 2004 presidential nomination.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. famously came out against the Vietnam War shortly before he was assassinated thirty-five years ago today. His words, eloquent then, are just as relevant today:
"We still have a choice today: nonviolent coexistence or violent coannihilation. We must move past indecision to action. We must find new ways to speak for peace in Vietnam and justice throughout the developing world, a world that borders on our doors. If we do not act, we shall surely be dragged down the long, dark, and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality, and strength without sight."
Read the New York Times' article (" Democratic Lawmakers Keep Their Heads Down While Letting the Generals Speak Out") for clues about what's wrong with the opposition party in this great country. It is silent, virtually mute. (For notable exceptions, see Dennis Kucinich's recent statement, "This War is Wrong and Must End," and Barbara Lee's Resolution 141, titled "Disavowing the Doctrine of Preemptive strategy.") Res 141 was co-sponsored by 21 House Democrats, all members of the Progressive Caucus, including Jesse Jackson, Jr, John Conyers, Barney Frank, Lynn Woolsey, George Miller, Bob Filner and Maxine Waters.
As one Democratic Party consultant put it: "Democrats don't need to do any criticism of the Bush Administration right now. The unnamed generals are doing that job for them." So, now we're depending on retired generals, rather than our elected representatives, to speak the truth about this war. If the majority of Democrats in Congress are afraid to criticize for fear of Republican backlash, who will speak for the millions of Americans who oppose the war? The generals? Not my idea of leadership.
For a much needed civics lesson, George Kennan's " Letter to the Editor" in the Washington Post (March 25, 2003) should be required reading for all Dems. One of America's leading establishment figures, now age 99, frail and living in Princeton, Kennan has more mojo than the current Democratic leadership combined.
I love Aaron McGruder's strip The Boondocks. Last Sunday, as I watched the parade of talk shows and listened to the "sabbath gasbags," (props to Calvin Trillin for that delightful term), I saved a few brain cells by savoring McGruder's celebrated syndicated comic and its two central characters.
Huey Freeman: "American democracy is a thing of the past. The media conspire with this administration to misinform a public that is either too scared or too stupid to reclaim their government."
Caesar: "Someone once said, 'The cynic knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.'"
In 1951, American social philosopher Eric Hoffer published http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0060505915/qid=1049406031/sr=2- 1/ref=sr_2_1/102-2147312-0431321#product-details">The True Believer, his first and most influential book. In it he portrayed political fanatics as people who embrace a cause to compensate for their own feelings of guilt and inadequacy.
I can't help but think of Hoffer's book as I watch George W. Bush in the first weeks of war. "It is the true believer's ability to shut his eyes and stop his ears to facts which in his own mind deserve never to be seen nor heard," Hoffer wrote, "which is the source of his unequalled fortitude and consistency."
Bush is reported to have a special epithet for members of his own staff who worry aloud. He calls them "hand-wringers." And according to a recent New York Times article "President Keeps the Battlefield Close at Hand," March 30, 2003), his "Friends and advisers say that Mr. Bush has never expressed any doubt about his decision to go to war--a certitude that those closest to him say he has exhibited most of his life." Well, it turns out that he did crack once. "'The only time I've seen him second-guessing himself,'" said Roland Betts, referring to the days when he and Bush co-owned the Texas Rangers, "'was when he said that we shouldn't have traded Sammy Sosa.'"
Americans who have tried to get the Bush Administration to listen to their concerns regarding war with Iraq will sympathize with the millions of British citizens who have expressed anger at Prime Minister Tony Blair's willingness to bend to the foreign policy whims of George W. Bush's White House. At times, Blair and his aides are so pliant that they appear no more conscious or competent than members of the US Congress.
But fair is fair. Now that Blair's crew has gone along with the Bush Administration's war with Iraq, it is only reasonable that the American president and his aides accept the wisdom of the British with regards to the expansion of the war.
After Donald Rumsfeld, started ranting about Syria last week, international analysts -- along with astute domestic observers of the Bush team -- began to worry about whether this administration is already looking for another war to fight. That's an understandable concern, as the president himself has identified Iran and North Korea as members with Iraq of an "axis of evil." With the administration's neo-conservative gurus preaching a mantra of global governance that would have the US invading countries on a regular basis, it doesn't require much of a stretch of the imagination to foresee an ever widening war in the Middle East -- and beyond.