Away to prison for three years goes Lynndie England, her pleas for mercy ignored by the military panel in Fort Hood, Texas. So what’s the tally so far to indicate America’s revulsion over the systematic use of torture by its own forces? It tots up to a handful of rednecks. Scot-free go those who inherited a secret system of torture that goes back decades and who insured that its relentless and widening application would soon bring the practice to light. The framers of the policy go free. The lawyers who gave torture its new garb of legality plump themselves down in richly endowed chairs at our most esteemed law schools or are rewarded with seats on the Supreme Court. The senior military officers who ordered the use of dogs, isolation cells smeared with filth, water boards and other techniques designed to drive their captives mad have escaped all sanction, except for the eloquent reproofs of Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba. Lumpen intellectuals, like Jonathan Alter and Alan Dershowitz, who clamored for torture need fear no indictment or downtime on the cable shows.
If there was a real party of opposition, maybe those who mandated the new torture system would face some sanction. If Democratic Party leaders had made an issue of it, some fiber would have been given to the calls for punitive sanction of the engineers of the torture systems. But top Democrats were silent. Torture was not an issue in the Kerry campaign. And the grunts were abandoned as surely as Kerry abandoned the rednecks of Appalachia and the working poor across America.
Thus it is, with each month that passes, the Democratic Party seems to have touched bottom. Then it promptly sinks even deeper into the ooze of cowardice and irrelevance. While Interstate 45 from Galveston to Houston was clogged with evacuees fleeing the wrath of Hurricane Rita, there was a similar jam on the Beltway round Washington, as Democrats fled the city on the eve of the September 24 antiwar rally, panic-stricken lest their presence in Washington be construed as endorsement of the rally’s antiwar message.
Here’s a war the voting population of the United States views with a hostility that’s soaring by the day. The latest CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll, released September 19, shows 67 percent disapproving of Bush’s Iraq strategy–a jump of 9 percent since their last poll less than a month before; 63 percent want to see a pullout, partial or full; and half of the latest New York Times/CBS poll’s sample declare that Iraq will never become a democracy. It looks very much as though attitudes toward the war no longer break along traditional party lines: 40 percent of Republicans oppose their own President on the war.
At the rally only Ralph Nader pointed out that Republicans may be the antiwar movement’s prime emerging market. The Homeward Bound resolution, which calls for the withdrawal of American troops beginning in October 2006, is co-sponsored by two Republicans, Walter Jones of North Carolina and Ron Paul of Texas.
You’d think that on the most elementary precepts of political self-advancement Congressional Democrats would have been besieging the rally’s organizers for a speaker’s slot. But the Democrats have not only forgotten how to fix elections, they’ve lost the simplest political instincts of all, opportunism and grandstanding. Not ten, not five, but precisely one Congressional Democrat, Cynthia McKinney–a woman the Democrats tried their best to destroy three years ago–addressed the 150,000 people on the Ellipse protesting the war in Iraq.
For those interested in some of the reasons for this incredible abdication, we can cite former NSA staffer and muckraker Wayne Madsen, who reported the day of the rally that “according to Democratic insiders on Capitol Hill AIPAC put out the word that any member of Congress who appeared at the protest, where some speakers were to represent pro-Palestinian views, would face their political wrath.” Madsen wrote that three members of Congress had been scheduled to speak at the rally–McKinney, Lynn Woolsey and John Conyers.
Insofar as there is an official position on the war from Democrats, it’s presumably the US Army Relief Act put forth by Senators Joseph Lieberman, Hillary Clinton, Bill Nelson, Jack Reed and Representatives Ellen Tauscher and Mark Udall. Reed, Tauscher and Udall are among the most liberal Democrats on the Hill. The act calls for an increase in troop strength by 80,000 over the next four years. This is not a position that is finding much favor among American voters. The recent CNN poll registered just 8 percent of respondents, both Democrats and Republicans, as supporting an increase in US troop strength in Iraq.
There’s scant doubt that 2008 will see an antiwar Democrat running in the presidential primaries. It might well be Senator Russell Feingold of Wisconsin, although it seems Feingold’s wife cited his presidential ambitions as one of the reasons she was divorcing him, a plan she disclosed to the senator earlier this year. But Feingold fled the September 24 rally just like the others. Perhaps he feared jeers from the demonstrators for his bizarre performance in another arena, the hearings on John Roberts for Chief Justice. After flaying Roberts with his questions, Feingold meekly voted to approve the nomination of this profound anti-civil libertarian who might well be leading the Supreme Court through the first half of the twenty-first century.
The prime loyal Democratic voting bloc left consists of black Americans. If one facet of Roberts’s career is indisputable, it’s his lifelong hostility toward, and efforts to undermine, civil rights laws and federal court rulings on desegregation. This carries scant weight among Democrats on the Hill. You want further evidence of Democratic collapse? How many of them went to New Orleans to protest the most glaring exhibition of racism in America since Bull Connor wielded his cattle prod? Shaquille O’Neal, who had tons of aid trucked to the Crescent City, couldn’t even assemble a full basketball team out of the paltry number of big-time Democrats who came to New Orleans in its hours of crisis.