Monday, May 22, 2006

J'Accuse Le Parti Democratique

The Irate Codger, the Hermit of 4032, emerges from his cave once more to hurl his imprecations into the wind, raving like Lear on the heath, and it matters not to him whether anyone hears or replies! He will have his say, curse the heavens! He speaks, of course, of the Democratic Party. Just the other day, when the price of gas hit three dollars a gallon and a jubilant Senator Charles Schumer (I refuse to call him "Chuck") crowed that now at last the Democrats had Bush on the ropes, I asked myself, "Is this the nadir? Have we now bumped the bottom, or is it possible to go even lower in cynicism, opportunism, pandering, and the craven abandonment of scruple?"

Can the Democratic Party ever produce a presidential candidate with guts, conviction, and eloquence? Well, here are two guys who in one case might and in the other definitely does want your support, and two party wonk journals seriously proposing that this time they deserve your admiration and perhaps your support. The April edition of American Prospect proposes "The New New Gore," in a breathless essay by one Ezra Klein. This new, new Gore made a thundering speech before a select audience last November, and if you hadn't been there you'd scarcely believe the transformation. Freed from hack consultants and ignored by the media, "Al Gore as presented by Al Gore is infinitely more electric and attractive than the anodyne stiff the media popularized and the voters remembered." He has evolved into "the most articulate, animated, and forceful critic of the Bush administration" we have. Why, in 2002 the guy even came out for single-payer health insurance! And his new movie about global warming, "An Inconvenient Truth," is a real eye-opener and shows him in an entirely new light. Gore now views global warming as "the biggest challenge this species ever faced."

Hey, wait a minute. Gore published "Earth in the Balance" in 1992, remember, fourteen years ago, and it was all about global warming. He headed the American delegation that negotiated the Kyoto protocols to the Rio treaty in 1997. He ran for president in 2000 and, between Labor Day and November 7 of that campaign season, never once uttered the word "environment," let alone "climate change" or--gasp--the unthinkable, "global warming." An inconvenient truth indeed; so inconvenient that in a presidential campaign it couldn't even be whispered, lest his opponent ape his father and pin on hapless Al the jeering epithet "Ozone Man."

What accounts for the emergence of the new, new Gore? His epiphany came with Howard Dean's campaign in 2003. Hell for leather, no holds barred, fuck the consultants, comfortable in his own skin and all that. Joe Trippi, Dean's..ahem..consultant (fired, as I remember, after the Iowa caucus) tells the wide-eyed Klein that Gore "looked and saw that, Holy Shit, those guys are running the kind of campaign I wanted to run." (I bet he wasn't so vulgar as to say "Holy Shit" around Tipper.) "Wanted to run," note. What prevented him? Oh, yeah, those consultants, Joe Klein's whipping boys. So, unleash the real Al Gore!

Not persuaded? Well, the Nation has another suggestion. How about "The New Kerry"? (May 29 issue, page 5. In an anti-war address at Faneuil Hall in April, writes an admiration-addled Ari Berman, on "the thirty-fifth anniversary of his stirring testimony before Congress as a representative of Vietnam Veterans Against the War, Kerry was invoking a theme downplayed throughout his 2004 campaign and confronting the issue that bedeviled his candidacy: the war in Iraq." "Downplayed." He didn't downplay it; he stifled, strangled, and buried it. He said, "Just as I defended my country as a young man, I will defend it as president." He murdered his younger, braver self, the coward. Of course it was futile.

And his support of Bush's war and his vote for it, a vote he "stood by" not only through the campaign, but for a year and a half afterward? "After years of vacillation, he has found his voice on Iraq....Of all the votes he's cast in the Senate, Kerry told Tim Russert on Meet the Press, his Iraq vote is the one he'd most like to take back." Pity he didn't say that in August 2004 in Boston in his acceptance speech. Imagine how those delegates, eighty per cent of whom were anti-war and dying for words of courageous defiance, would have greeted that! It would have been like TR in Chicago at the Progressive Party convention in 1912: "We stand at Armageddon and we battle for the Lord." Pandemonium. Instead he gave them that ghastly, phony Swift Boat Veterans patriotic love-in. Oh, and he's now for "healthcare for all Americans." Maybe that means single-payer, but very probably not. "The presidency is never very far from his mind," Berman tells us. For the definitive word on all this, see Ellen Goodman's "Don't Run, John Kerry," in the Boston Globe, April 28.

New Gore, new Kerry. Those with very long memories may recall the origins of that. In 1960, a hack journalist named Earl Mazo wrote a famous piece in the New Republic, and a book, called "The New Nixon." In the next decade and a half, the term became an endlessly repeated joke. Ezra Klein and Ari Berman remind me of Lucy holding the football; they must think we're all Charlie Brown.

And then there's Hillary. Gore and Kerry are far from being tragic figures, for their defeats were cowardly, but there was pathos in the downfall of each. They are decent, thoughtful, principled men who went into politics to do good, and their models, Albert Gore Sr. and JFK, were worthy of emulation. It's just that when it came to it, courage failed them, and they'll spend the rest of their lives living with that bitter truth. HRC is different. There are no--that awful term--"core convictions" there. She's moved from Lani Guinier, Marion Wright Edelman and the Children's Defense Fund to Bill Bennett and Sam Brownback, from "It Takes a Village" to "The Book of Virtues." Every position taken is discardable. In 1997 she went to the West Bank, "prematurely" called for the creation of a Palestinian state, and decorously bussed Mrs. Arafat on or near the cheek. When she ran for the Senate in 2000, she knew what had to be done. She kissed the ring fingers of the New York rabbinate (figuratively, of course, as in "kow tow"), proclaimed her belief that Jerusalem was the eternal and indivisible capital of the Jews whatever the Oslo accords might say to the contrary, and ever since has been elbowing Charles Schumer over which of them is AIPAC's most dependable champion in the Senate.

And of course she's been famously "reaching out" to the Republican right, assuring the pro-lifers that she hates abortion almost as much as they, siding with the Republicans, along with Joe Lieberman, on Terri Schiavo, teaming up with Robert Bennett of Utah on a bill to make a crime of flag-burning when the intention is to "intimidate" someone (she compared it to the Klan burning a cross on a black couple's lawn), and joining Rick Santorum and Sam Brownback in a bill to crack down on the violence and sexism of video games. Santorum is a reactionary Catholic. Brownback, formerly a Southern Baptist, was recently converted to the faith of Mother Church by the Rev. Richard John Neuhaus (misidentified in my last missive as Neustadt--sorry). Santorum, along with Justices Scalia and Alito, is rumored to be a member of Opus Dei. Watch out for Hillary to condemn "The da Vinci Code" in no uncertain terms!

The other day she addressed the Chamber of Commerce and scolded young people nowadays who seem to think that work is a "four-letter word." Well, it is. She thought it was high time "we started to think some very old-fashioned thoughts." The pandering was so risably blatant that both John Stewart and Stephen Colbert ran clips on their satirical shows, alongside John McCain in cap and gown at Fallwell's Liberty University.

What else is there to say of this woman? She has been unflinching and unyielding in her support of the war she voted for without a qualm or moment of reflection in 2002; tried to get to Bush's right by going to Baghdad to rally the troops, seize a mess tray, and get in the chow line; and proposed a year ago that the active duty armed forces be increased by 80,000, in increments. Other pro-war Dems then in the Senate have dropped by the wayside: Rockefeller, Biden, Edwards, Kerry. She never will. If she becomes president, our stratospheric defense budget will go even higher. And, oh yes, health insurance. Al Franken, on his talk show on Air America Radio asked her if she would now endorse single-payer. Dumb question perhaps to the woman who with Ira Magaziner concocted that success-proof scheme thirteen years ago, but anyway, for the record, she replied, "No, we require a uniquely American solution."

But, we are told, the nomination of HRC is almost a done deal. Unheard of heaps of campaign cash. No real opposition. Steely resolve. But something funny is going on. Most of the people talking this way seem to be Republicans. "Hillary Clinton's political future is both unpredictable and unlimited. She has..a political network second to none. And money will never be a problem. Senator Clinton would be a formidable opponent for Republicans in 2008 as the nation remains closely divided." Who said that? Why, the aw-shucks boy-Senator from South Carolina, Lindsey Graham, in an appreciation of HRC in Time ("I have found common ground with her on improving health-care benefits for members of the National Guard and Reserve.") Yes, the former boy-Representative who in 1999 was one of the six Republican "impeachment managers" who framed the articles to bring down Hill's hubby. Ah yes, politics and strange bedfellows.

Who says she can't be stopped? Dick Morris, for one, that endearingly brazen Machiavel (I loved the bit about phoning Bill in the White House from a hotel bedroom in downtown Washington, talking hardball politics while sucking a prostitute's toes), Morris, that Inside the Beltway Iago who might as well wear a smiley-face sign saying "Treachery is My Middle Name." And now, bankrolling a fundraiser for her is Rupert Murdoch ("He is a constituent of mine," she pointed out.) Why are all these Republicans so interested in giving Hill a shot at the Big Prize? Because they salivate at the prospect of having that huge balloon of a target floating lazily over their heavy artillery in 2008. I think the Hillary Clinton campaign is a vast right-wing conspiracy.

Even with Bush's approval ratings in the low thirties (and in one poll, 29), the Democrats are almost bereft of "campaign themes." Rahm Emanuel, the chairman of the Congressional Democratic Campaign Committee, is about to come out with a book called "The Plan--Big Ideas for America's Future," and Ted Kennedy has written something called "America Back on Track," but these big ideas for getting America back on track are exceedingly feeble: increase the minimum wage, tuition tax credits for college students, increased federal contributions to public schools, promotion of "energy independence" by cracking down on big oil company price gouging, and the creation of a Homeland Security system second to none, in which every container entering the United States would be inspected. Currently, 95% of them are not. For why inspecting all containers is a very dumb idea, see below. And Iraq? Here it's the Basil Fawlty strategy: Whatever you do, don't mention the war. Nothing on the Republican theft from middle and low income earners to reward the rich, nothing on higher CAFE standards for motor vehicles, nothing on lowering carbon emissions, and. of course, nothing on averting global warming. The Bush-created hysteria over Iran's "nuclear ambitions"? We don't go there.

The only Democratic forays of late have consisted of demagogic lunges to Bush's right. In February it was the Dubai Ports World furor, begun by Schumer and HRC, equally horrified at the prospect of kaffiyeh-wearing Ayrabs complete with beards and sunglasses taking over our ports. It was pointed out that two of the nineteen 9/11 hijackers came from the United Arab Emirates! Schumer and Clinton introduced a Senate bill to prohibit any foreign country from managing any fraction of a US port. Awkward that China and Singapore have for years owned companies that manage loading and unloading from Long Beach to Oakland. The UAE owning anything in the US was "utterly unacceptable," Schumer said.

Bush was blindsided and bewildered. He threatened to veto any legislation repealing the Dubai deal. Schumer knew he was bluffing. "I smell the scent of victory," he said. But were he and Clinton and Barbara Boxer, who also took up the hue and cry (she feared for Israel's security) so dumb as not to know that if they got to Bush's right, the Republicans--Hastert, Frist, Duncan Hunter, James Sensenbrenner et al-- would get to their right quick as a flash, as they did? When it comes to playing upon American credulity, chauvinism, and Islamohysteria, they're the masters. It's their franchise, goddammit. Nevertheless, Howard Dean trumpeted the repeal of the deal as a Democratic success. In the Democrat's weekly radio address on Saturday, March 11, Dean said, "America had a great victory this week in the war on terror" thanks to the alert action of "key Democratic senators and representatives."

There were two prominent Democrats who distanced themselves from this triumph, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, both of whom said Dubai ownership of the former Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company posed no threat whatsoever to American security (Clinton had earned a nice chunk of change from an address in Dubai stressing Arab-American cooperation). I bet Bill was commanded to sleep on the couch the night after he said there was nothing to the whole scare.

[Oh, as to why inspecting every container to enter an American port makes no sense: Here is Edward S. Walker, Jr., president of the Middle East Institute and former U.S. ambassador to Israel, Egypt, and the UAE. "By the time a container has entered one of our ports and been off-loaded for further processing, it is probably too late to avert a nuclear or biological attack.... The Container Security Initiative is the critical piece in the port security puzzle. The UAE was the first Middle Eastern state to join this U.S.-sponsored initiative. Under its provisions, customs and border protection officers are permanently located in UAE ports to inspect containers before shipment to the United States... In short, we already depend on the cooperation of the UAE and its management company to ensure the security of U.S. ports, regardless of this proposed contract." "Ports Deal Fearmongering," March 6, Tom Paine.Common Sense.]

In February, Dubai, in April, the price of gas. Man, was Schumer in his glory now! On Thursday, April 28, he and Emanuel "stood in front of a mock service station price sign to denounce high gas prices---'High gas prices are going to be the final nail in the GOP coffin,' Mr. Schumer predicted cheerfully---while endorsing an amorphous 'Manhattan Project' to reduce United States dependence on foreign oil." (NY Times, Sunday, April 30)

Whenever there's a spike in gas prices, the out-party is sure to blame it on the administration. In the Spring of 1996, gas went up forty cents a gallon and Bob Dole went to a gas station in Virginia, put on a hard hat and posed filling a tank to make the point that Americans were being crushed by high gas prices. His target was the three and a half cent a gallon uptick in the tax passed by the Democrats in 1993. "Mr. President, repeal that tax!" he said, with all the fervor of Reagan's "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!"

At the time, this struck me as so fatuous that I mapped out a GOP ad campaign along the lines of the insurance industry's "Harry and Louise" commercials aimed at the Clinton health insurance plan. A worried guy sitting at the kitchen table, coffee cups and crumpled pieces of paper in front of him. His wife enters and brightly asks "Why so glum, honey?" He shakes his head and answers "I've just been doing the math, Marge, and what with this Clinton gas tax there's just no way we can afford that trip to Yellowstone this summer." "Oh, Jim," she says, "the kids will be so disappointed!"

Well, Dole was a piker compared to the Democrats last month. Three and a half cents? They proposed that the whole federal tax on gas be repealed for sixty days. It was to fend this off that the Republicans brought up their instantly derided idea of a $100 tax rebate to ease motorist through this crisis. But that was paltry compared to Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow of Michigan's proposal for a $500 rebate, a figure she said was more commensurate with how much gas prices will cost the average motorist this year.

We are at the nadir; we must be! High gasoline prices are, in fact, our salvation, for nothing else will save us from our national addiction to huge fuel-gulping and polluting SUV's. And, as Daniel Gross of the NY Times wrote in "Why Prices at the Pump May Have Little Bite" (Sunday, May 7, Business section, p. 3) only about four cents of every American consumer dollar goes to gas, and this level has been more or less constant for years. The recent spike adds about a penny to that total.

No one in the congressional Democratic Party has the guts to speak the truth. Our national predicament, our global predicament can only grow worse with a leadership such as this. Molly Ivins speaks for all of us: "I don't know about you, but I have had it with the D.C. Democrats, had it with the DLC Democrats, had it with every calculating, equivocating, triangulating, straddling, hair-splitting son of a bitch up there, and that includes Hillary Rodham Clinton." (The Progressive, March 2006)