How the Democrats Blew It in Only 8 Months

How the Democrats Blew It in Only 8 Months

How the Democrats Blew It in Only 8 Months

Are we better off or worse since the Democrats won back Congress?


Led by Democrats since the start of this year, Congress now has a “confidence” rating of 14 percent, the lowest since Gallup started asking the question in 1973 and five points lower than Republicans scored last year.

The voters put the Democrats in to end the war, and it’s escalating. The Democrats voted the money for the surge and the money for the next $459.6 billion military budget. Their latest achievement was to provide enough votes in support of Bush to legalize warrantless wiretapping for “foreign suspects whose communications pass through the United States.” Enough Democrats joined Republicans to make this a 227-183 victory for Bush. The Democrats control the House. Speaker Nancy Pelosi could have stopped the bill in its tracks if she’d wanted to. But she didn’t. The Democrats’ game is to go along with the White House agenda while stirring up dust storms to blind the base to their failure to bring the troops home or restore constitutional government.

The row over the US Attorneys and the conduct of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has always been something of a typhoon in a teaspoon. The Democrats love it, since they imagine it portrays them to the public as resolute guardians of the impartial administration of justice, a concept whose credibility most Americans sensibly deride. The Democrats now plan to track Gonzales’s firing of the US Attorneys back to that comic opera villain of the Bush era, Karl Rove, another great provoker of dust storms.

The one Democrat acting on principle in the Gonzales affair has been Senator Russ Feingold. He at least tried to dig into the visit of chief White House counsel Gonzales, as he then was, to the bedside of Attorney General John Ashcroft, to get him to sign off on the illegal wiretaps. And how did the Democrat-controlled Congress deal with Feingold’s efforts to nail Gonzales for his efforts to undermine the Constitution and for his prevarications under oath? It promptly legalized the eavesdropping.

Just as the Democrats work tirelessly to demonstrate to the voters that it makes zero difference which party controls Congress, the political establishment forces all candidates for the presidential nomination to sever any compromising ties to sanity and common sense.

Right now they’re hosing down Barack Obama because he said in the YouTube debate in South Carolina that he would be prepared to meet with Kim Jong Il, Hugo Chávez, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Fidel Castro to hash over problems face to face. The pundits whacked him for demonstrating “inexperience.” Experienced leaders order the CIA to murder such men.

Then Obama drew even fiercer fire by saying he would take nukes off the table in the war on terrorism in Afghanistan and Pakistan. “I think it would be a profound mistake for us to use nuclear weapons in any circumstance,” Obama told the AP on August 2, adding, after a pause, “involving civilians.” Then he quickly said, “Let me scratch that. There’s been no discussion of nuclear weapons. That’s not on the table.”

I’m beginning to respect this man. He displays sagacity well beyond the norm for candidates seeking the Oval Office. He comprehends, if only in mid-sentence, that when you drop a nuclear bomb, it will kill civilians. He also realizes that strafing Waziristan with thermonuclear devices in the hopes of nailing Osama bin Laden is a foolish way to proceed.

So Obama is being flayed for his “inexperience,” first and foremost by Hillary Clinton, who permits no table setting that does not include a couple of nuclear weapons next to the sugar bowl. To recoup, Obama has declared his readiness as Commander in Chief to order US forces to hotly pursue Osama into Pakistan, whatever the government of Pakistan might think of this onslaught on its sovereignty.

Has the left the capacity to influence the conduct of the Democrats? In terms of substantive achievement the answer thus far has been no. People didn’t like it when I wrote here a month ago that the antiwar movement was at a low ebb. They invoke the polls showing that 70 percent of Americans want the troops to come home. This is presumptuous, like a barking dog claiming it made the moon go down. It didn’t take an antiwar movement to make the people antiwar. People looked at the casualty figures and the newspaper headlines and drew the obvious conclusion that the war is a bust. Their attention is already shifting to the economic crisis: housing meltdown, car sales meltdown, credit crisis, threats from the Chinese to destroy the dollar. What war?

The left is as easily distracted, currently by the phantasm of impeachment. Why all this clamor to launch a proceeding surely destined to fail, aimed at a duo who will be out of the White House in sixteen months? Pursue them for war crimes after they’ve stepped down. Mount an international campaign of the sort that has Henry Kissinger worrying at airports that there might be a lawyer with a writ standing next to the man with the limo sign. Right now the impeachment campaign is a distraction from the war and the paramount importance of ending it.

For sure, there are actions around the country: Quakers and Unitarians picketing outside shopping centers, campus vigils, resolutions by city councils and so forth. It’s all pretty quiet, in a conflict that has now–as my brother Patrick recently pointed out–gone on longer than the First World War. At the liberal blogger convention, Yearly Kos, held the first weekend in August, the organizers nixed any serious strategy session on the war. John Stauber of PR Watch had to force an impromptu (and very successful) session with leaders of the Iraq Veterans Against the War.

A war people hate, Gitmo, Bush’s police-state executive orders of July 17–the Democrats have signed the White House dance card on all of them. And guess what? Just as their poll numbers are going down, Bush’s are going up, by five points in Gallup from early July. People are beginning to think the surge is working, courtesy of the New York Times. So are we better or worse off since the Democrats won back Congress?

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Katrina vanden Heuvel
Editorial Director and Publisher, The Nation

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