“We Told You So”: Reflections on Authoritarian Peril, Left Invisibility and the Latest Stage of Pathetic Democratic Surrender
By Paul Street at May 30, 2007
One of the things a Left writer, speaker and activist has to get used to in the U.S. is that almost nothing you ever say will receive the attention it deserves beyond the supposed “lunatic fringe” to which you are by definition consigned.
You will make key points that are born out by subsequent history and then watch people put their hands on their heads and say “why didn't anyone predict or understand this at the time?”
You will know that you predicted and understood the matter at hand at the time and that it made zero difference. The narrow spectrum of permissible “mainstream” discourse means that your reflections amount to inaudible whispering in the front row of a movie theater with a blaring soundtrack.
People on the Left said that there were no weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in Iraq, that Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with 9/11 and al Qaeda and that the occupation of Iraq would be a terrible disaster and an imperial crime. Ever since the fraudulent nature of Bush's case for war became evident and the mass-murderous, devastating and criminal nature of the occupation became clear, we've had to sit and listen to various “leaders” and authorities say over and over again that they wouldn't have supported the invasion if only they knew then “what we know.”
Sorry, but we knew. We completely knew the truth on the Left. We had out bullshit detectors on in real time, when it should have counted. We drew on information sources (hardly restricted to Left circles) that were readily available to anyone who cared to know the truth of the matter. We wrote about it. We talked about it. We marched and made signs about it. Hell, we screamed about it. But what do we know? We're leftists and leftists are nuts. .
Lately I've been listening to outraged and depressed antiwar liberals expressing their disappointment about the Democratic Party's total cave-in to Bush's Iraq War. The Democratic Party has given up even on the non-binding timetables for combat troop withdrawal they were initially advancing. Now they've given Master Bush his Iraq War supplemental billions (100 plus) with essentially no substantive conditions at all. The deal includes some pathetic language about Iraq government “benchmarks” – including the passage of a petro-imperialist “oil law” that will open Iraqi's petroleum fields to Western and especially U.S.-led corporate exploitation – to be certified by Bush alone.
This sorry capitulation stands in major defiance of majority U.S. opinion supporting a speedy conclusion of the war and calling for diplomatic solutions.
The Democrats could have required Bush to agree to timetables for “withdrawal” in order to receive war funding. They could have put the terrible onus of “not supporting the troops” on the highly unpopular, impeachment-worthy president, whose handling of the Iraq situation is now seen as inadequate by more than two thirds of the U.S. populace.
Instead they have opted to give Bush another disgusting Iraq War victory. They allowed themselves to be faced down by the vicious messianic-militarists, arch-authoritarians and war criminals in the White House half a year after the Democratic Party rode mass antiwar sentiments to a Congressional majority.
Mark yet another step forward for the onward march of the authoritarian peril in the U.S. “It can't happen here?” “It” is happening here, slowly but surely. The Democratic Party's seemingly endless determination to prove the effective irrelevance of liberalism and representative democracy is a big part of why.
The problem with the “antiwar” liberals I've been reading and talking to lately isn't that they are uncomfortable with pathetic surrender and collaborationism on the part of the Democratic Party. They should hate that surrender – the occupation of Iraq is a major imperial crime and not just a “strategic blunder,” as it is routinely described by the leading Democratic presidential candidates.
The problem is that so many “liberals” are “surprised” by the Democrats' sorry performance. They really thought things were going to turn out otherwise.
Why? Like many on the Left, I had no such expectations. Here are a small number of many examples from things I've been saying and writing since the Democrats took Congress last November:
1. From the transcript of an interview I did with DemLeft in late November of 2006:
DemLeft: The Democratic Party took both houses of congress in the recent elections. Anger and discontent about the occupation of Iraq was Undoubtedly a factor in the Republicans losing. What can we expect from the Democrats regarding Iraq?
“Equivocation and confusion and deception and disingenuousness and mixed messages and hypocrisy and cowardice. There's not one Democratic Party and there's not one Democratic position on Iraq. But the dominant “centrist” (quite imperialist) trend calls itself ‘pragmatic' and ‘realist' and wants to stay away from an honest confrontation with American imperialism, which it upholds and wants to implement in a more ‘competent,' effective, and outwardly ‘multilateral' and human-friendly fashion. The dominant forces in the party criticize the invasion of Iraq for being conceived and executed in a mistaken and strategically incompetent (and perhaps corrupt) fashion. They don't have the courage to call it what it was – a monumental imperial war crime and a racist and illegal oil and currency invasion. They ignore most of the 700,000 Iraqi dead and talk narcissistically only or almost exclusively about the 3,000 American dead. When they mention Iraqi victims they use low ball numbers. The Democrats don't want to be charged with “losing Iraq.” They are scared of being painted out as pansies and as being anti-military and soft on official enemies. And they are deeply committed to Israel, which will compromise any positive impulses they might have in regard to solving problems in the Middle Eastern tinderbox. King fought against Cold War liberals are horrified of being tarred as soft on communism and if he were alive today he'd be criticizing oil-imperialist neo-liberals Democrats scared of looking soft in the war on terror.”
“The leading Democrats walk a thin line between declared commitments to withdrawing or ‘phasing down' and/or ‘redeploying' troops (rapid withdrawal happens to be supported by the majority of American people, the Iraqi people, and the rest of the human race) and the fact that they are opposed to the notion that Iraq should be free to do whatever its people and/or rulers want with all that incredibly strategic petroleum under its not-so sovereign soil."
'We know from recent polls by the British Ministry of Defense and the U.S. State Department that the preponderant majority of Iraqis have for some times supported an immediate U.S. withdrawal. We know that a majority of Americans have turned against the invasion and support the rapid removal of troops. A 2004 Chicago Council on Foreign Relations poll (CCFR) found 72 percent of Americans thinking that the US should remove its military presence from Iraq if that's what the majority of people there want! Even Bush is on record saying that the U.S. should leave if the people of Iraq so request. Some Democrats will push for serious exit total exit plans but the most powerful ones won't. It isn't just Republicans who have to care about the fact that, as William Blum reports, ‘American oil companies have been busy under the occupation, and even before the US invasion, preparing for a major exploitation of Iraq's huge oil reserves. Chevron, ExxonMobil and others are all set to go. Four years of preparation are coming to a head now. Iraq's new national petroleum law -- written in a place called Washington, DC -- is about to be implemented. It will establish agreements with foreign oil companies, privatizing much of Iraq's oil reserves under exceedingly lucrative terms. Security will be the only problem, protecting the oil companies' investments in a lawless country. For that they need the American military close by.' (William Blum, ‘Would Jesus Leave?' ZNet Magazine, 26 November 2006 www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?SectionID=72&I temID=11487)."
"Oil company plans and profits aside, the notion of the people in the Middle East cutting any deal they wish with their oil – dealing however they wish say with China – is just strategically and world-systemically unthinkable to either side of the bipartisan U.S. foreign policy establishment, particularly at the current rather advanced state of the deterioration of U.S. global economic power. And that's the main reason I think that we will continue to have this strange and disturbing disconnect between the people - the people of the U.S., the people of Iraq, and the people of the world – want the U.S. to do and what it will actually do (whichever party is in power in Washington) regarding Mesopotamia.”
2. From the very first issue of my Empire and Inequality Report, (November 11, 2006) titled “Victory Without Vision” and inspired by the Democrats' Congressional victory:
“BEATING SOMETHING AWFUL WTH NOTHING WONDERFUL”
“America's superficially educated journalists are prone to bad historical analogies. Over the last few days I have seen and heard print and electronic reporters make repeated parallels between the Democrats triumph in Tuesday's mid-term congressional elections (I am writing on Thursday, November 9) and the Republican's sweeping victory in the 1994 congressional mid-terms.” “Beyond the obvious correspondence of one party taking power from another while the losing party holds the White House, the analogy breaks down in two critical ways. First, the Republicans rode to congressional power on the basis of a very distinct and specific agenda driven by a firm moral and ideological vision written up in noxious Newt Gingrich's vicious ‘Contract With [On] America.'”
“The congressional Democrats this week won while offering no clear agenda or vision. They've been content to ride the wave of popular discontent with the hideously corrupt and criminal war party in power, knowing that the Narrow Spectrum American Winner Take All System of Permanent Electoral Revolution Prevention means that voters had nowhere else to go. The Democrats just let the “other side” shoot itself in the foot and – as Chicago Tribune reporter Michael Tacket put it on Tuesday night – ‘essentially beat something with nothing' (M. Tacket, “Angry Electorate Says ‘No' to Bush,” Chicago Tribune, 8 November 2006, p.1).”
“The Democrats' victorious platform this fall? That ‘we are not the corrupt, arrogant and blundering Republicans. We know you hate that smirking and incompetent tyrant Dubya so register your protest here by voting for us. We do not happen to have been the business party in power that invaded Iraq and flubbed Katrina.' ”
“Tuesday's elections showed that (in Tacket's words) ‘Democrats didn't need vision to win.'” “A second problem with the 1994/2006 analogy is that the proudly ideological Republicans of the mid-1990s came in determined to punish an ideologically and politically flexible president who was willing to accommodate and indeed incorporate key parts of their agenda. They were so full of partisan cojones and related constitutional chutzpah that they ended up impeaching their bete noir (whose principal sin was stealing key parts of their viciously regressive agenda) Clinton for lying about oral adultery. The Democrats of '06 are coming into the congressional majority under a party leadership that proclaims its willingness to forgive a messianic president who has committed monumental (and frankly unforgivable) war crimes and has advanced a relentless series of high-state deceptions for which an extended period of incarceration would be appropriate.”
“Beyond its current ‘charm offensive' and its related sacrifice of War Criminal Rumsfeld, we should not expect the White House to listen all that seriously to the so-called (see below) opposition party. Certainly Bush has less to fear than he ought to with Pelosi and other top Democrats announcing in advance their lack of interest in acting on their elementary duty to impeach the president for high crimes and misdemeanors. For added good measure, the centrist Democratic presidential sensation BaRockstar Obama (see below) has been saying that the Democrats may be ‘punished in ‘08' if they ‘don't show a willingness to work with the president' (Jeff Zeleny, “Democrats Fight to Say, ‘You're Welcome,'” New York Times, 5 November 2006, sec.4, p. 4).” “Now there's an interesting and revealing take on what the outraged, Bush-loathing voters had to say Tuesday: yes, by all means, please do ‘work with this president.'”
3. From the twelfth issue of my Empire and Inequality Report (February 28, 2007), dedicated mainly to the ignorant and power-worshipping content of the New York Times:
….“ ‘ LEFTWWARD HO' WITH CORPORATE WHORES?”
“A final example of clueless conservative stupidity at the Times comes in a recent Sunday commentary titled ‘Leftward Ho?' This essay's author, Times writer Mark Leibovich, addresses an interesting question: how far ‘left' has United States politics shifted with and after the remarkable “thumping” (Bush II's word) the Republican Party received in last November's congressional mid-term elections? Leibovich is right to think that the jury is out. He has moderately accurate things to say on why the “victorious” Democrats are reluctant to confidently and forthrightly advance progressive positions and policies. He rightly notes the Democrats' continuing vulnerability to right-wing accusations of being “soft on national security.” He observes that Democrats are still sensitive to the standard Republican claim that they are a ‘tax and spend' party of bleeding-heart ‘big government' liberalism (Mark Leibovich, ‘Leftward Ho?' New York Times, 18 February 2007, sec. 4, p.1).”
“But Leibovich omits critical structural, political-economic and related electoral factors which guarantee that the Democrats will not seriously confront the combined and interrelated structures and imperatives of Empire and Inequality, Inc. Many of those factors are usefully discussed in a recent New Left Review essay by Mike Davis (Mike Davis, ‘The Democrats After November,' New Left Review 43, January-February 2007). They include (all quoted comments below come from the Davis article):”
* “The Democrats' deep electoral interest in the perpetuation of the Iraq fiasco through the 2008 elections. ‘From the standpoint of cold political calculus,' Davis notes, ‘the Democrats have no more interest in helping Bush extract himself from the morass in Iraq than Bush has had in actually capturing or killing Osama bin-Laden.' Unpleasant as it may be to acknowledge, the obvious quadrennial incentive for the Democrats is ‘to snipe from the sidelines at Bush's ruinous policies while avoiding any decisive steps to actually end the occupation.' “
* “The absence of a visible antiwar movement ‘capable of holding politicians' feet to the fire or linking opposition to the war to a deeper critique of foreign policy (in this case, The War on Terrorism).' “
* “ The Democratic Party leadership's deep commitment (accurately noted by Brooks) to the broader imperial so-called ‘War on Terror' and thus to criticizing O.I.L. not for being a brazen act of imperialism (such accurate description is almost unheard of in Democratic Party circles) but for undermining ‘the war against Islamism.' “
* “The Democrats' reliance on corporate campaign contributions to win the presidency and expand its fragile new majority in Congress. The Democratic party is ‘brazenly cruising for cash' and sees a precious new chance to redirect corporate dollars away from the Republicans – an opportunity it is not about to ruin by taking left positions on the environment or labor rights.”
* “The absence of regular, effective and ‘relentless pressure' from labor and environment groups to counter dominant business influence on the Democratic Party.”
* “The leading Democrats' ‘cargo-cultish commitment to deficit reduction and fiscal frugality' – neoliberal ‘fiscal responsibility.' ‘The Democrats,' Davis notes, ‘are now sworn to a path of anti-Keynesian rectitude that would have made Calvin Coolidge blush.' This combines with the long right-wing assault on government to cripple Democrats' willingness and capacity to advance social justice and environmental protection.”
* “The Democrats' unwillingness to tax the wealthy in order to balance budgets and advance positive government functions. ‘The Democratic leadership continues,' Davis observes, ‘to takes its cues from Goldman Sachs and Genentech.' “
* “The ‘poisoning' of much of the party's ‘populist' (anti-neoliberal) wing (e.g. Jim Webb) by nativist sentiments that foolishly posit ‘Mexican gardeners and investment bankers' as ‘coequal exploiters of the native working-class. ‘ “
I could give many more “told you so” examples, but what would the point be? Americans, including many liberals are simply unable and (in some cases) unwilling to hear the Left. .
So I guess its time to just hang it up and get with the long liberal pre-fascist self-immolation program. Yes, let's all just grab our heads and act shocked and “surprised” at the Democrats' failure to function like a Left opposition party. Let's pretend that the Democratic Party isn't at bottom an Establishment institution committed to much the same corporate and U.S. world-supremacist Empire and Inequality agenda as the Republicans. Let's read or write another editorial in “The Nation” about what the Democrats should have done if they were really the Left actors they ought to be.
Right and let's imitate that old Billy Crystal skit on “Saturday Night Live.” Let's stick another nail in our thigh or arm and complain about the resulting pain, saying “boy I hate it when that happens.”
I need the nation's left-liberals to grow up and face some harsh reality. In the meantime I will try not to drift into ultra-Lefist nihilism and radical sectarianism.