Maybe this happens to you, too. You go away on vacation for a few months,
come back and sort through your snail/email and back copies of magazines and
'net stories, only to find that a good share of the mail is third-class
junk/spam and not all that much has changed in the news.
That's the way I feel these days. After pumping out about 300 essays since
9/11, recently I more or less took a three-month leave from publishing
political analyses on the internet in order to reconnect with other aspects of my
life, in particular to focus on three major creative projects: a new play
(in February), a photo exhibit of new work (April), and a music concert based
on my poetry (May).
Now I'm back, sort of, only to find that much of the political news remains
the same as when I took my creative break: Obama is maintaining his high
national approval ratings as he moves his agenda forward, the clueless
Republicans continue as little more than the obstructionist Party of No. But some
shiftings are beginning to happen in Washington that I don't fully understand.
So I arranged a meeting with Shallow Throat to see if the moderate
Republican mole (who has been such a helpful source in the past**) could fill in the
blanks in my knowledge while I was absent from the political scene for
three months. We met at a noisy end-of-the-Metro-line cafe.
"So much of what President Obama is doing is right on track with the good
things he promised to do during the campaign," I said, "so I am mystified
why, in the past few months, he has moved away from other important positions
he took as a candidate on a wide variety of subjects: canceling the promised
release of more torture photos, defending CheneyBush's 'state secrets'
positions in court, ratcheting up the war in Afghanistan big time, agreeing to
'military commissions' for show trials of terror suspects, keeping the murders
of interrogated detainees out of the news, etc. etc. All of this caving to
rightist positions makes him look like a typical political chameleon or,
worse still, a hypocrite, or even worse, not much better than Bush Lite."
"I gather," said ST, "that you're talking about his willingness to give
Bush and Cheney and the crew a total walk on their unconstitutional behavior
and on their war-crimes. In effect, if my guess is correct, you and your
liberal friends think on these issues he is selling out his principles and his
ACCESSORY AFTER THE FACT?
"Exactly," I replied. "The law is explicit: If you know of a felony (such
as state-sponsored torture) and refuse to report it to the appropriate
authorities for action, or impede investigations by covering up the facts, you can
be charged as an accessory after the fact in those crimes -- domestically
and in international courts. I still support Obama and the great bulk of what
he's trying to do domestically, but I need to try to understand why on
earth Obama is behaving this way. Hundreds of thousands of people have died as a
result of the lies, deceptions and illegal activities of the previous
administration, and Obama, by doing nothing, is letting them all walk away from
their crimes, setting a terrible precedent for more law-breaking by future
presidents and their underlings."
"Well," said Shallow Throat, "since I'm not in the Obama Administration,
I'm sure I know less than your Democrat friends in power. But I've got some
reasonable speculations based on the scuttlebut I'm picking up and my own
sense of how the Beltway operates.
"First of all, it's essential to realize that Obama is not an ideologue. He
has ideals and goals, to be sure, but as you yourself wrote repeatedly
during the campaign, he's mostly a pragmatist with some liberal leanings. As a
realist, he knows there is a big difference between the nation at large,
where he and his programs are massively popular, and the D.C. island, where his
policies have to make their way through the dragons of special interests and
win approval in a Congress beholden to those interests.
"Obama knows he can't do it all, can't fix the economy and everything else
as well, in one fell swoop. He wants to get a few major initiatives enacted
into law during these first two years -- health-care reform, for sure --
and he needs some Republican votes. So he's, in effect, trying to take
national-security concerns out of the equation -- torture, war-crimes, terrorism,
military tribunals, surveillance -- in order to smooth the way toward passage
in Congress of his major agenda items. He isn't kidding when he says he
doesn't want his first term to get bogged down by turning to time- and
energy-consuming investigations into the nefarious crimes of Cheney/Bush-era.
"But Obama simply doesn't yet understand how things work in Washington. The
partisan politics of any situation will always out -- starting with
damaging leaks -- especially so in a situation where the opposition, in this case
the Republicans, is looking for anything to drag Obama and the Democrats
down. Hell, they've already announced their oppositon to his nominee to the
Supreme Court and that person hasn't even been named yet! And they sure as hell
are going after Obama and his proxies, or are trying to, on
HELPING OBAMA FAIL
"That's what I don't get," I said. "What can the Republicans hope to gain
by playing this obstructionist game and by using the despised Dick Cheney as
their spokesman? Surely, they read the polls. The American people are not
buying the extreme politics they're selling. So why not make some alterations
in their leadership and policies and move more toward the center?"
"You are so naive sometimes, Bernie," said Shallow Throat. "My party, still
under the control of the extremist neanderthals, is buying time, bolstering
their base, while waiting (and working) for Obama to fail. The leaders of
the party, who enjoyed the perqs of power for the past eight years, are not
about to give them up without a fight. They still think their brand of 'pure'
conservatism can climb back into power in the foreseeable future, maybe as
early as 2010. So, the politics of destruction, of obstructionism, of moving
to rename their opposition the 'Democrat Socialist Party,' for example.
"They're willing to take the hit for seeming foolish now, in the hope that
when Obama stumbles and falls -- perhaps when the unemployment and credit
situations are bad enough next year to cause a genuine Depression -- the
public will lose its enchantment for the guy, and, with no other viable
alternative out there on the horizon, the voters will turn back to the Republicans
for stability and prosperity and 'tough love'. That's why the GOP leadership
has no room under their restricted tent for us moderate conservatives. That
clown at the head of our party, Michael Steele, says he welcomes everyone
into the Republican Party, including us moderates, as long as we don't try to
change it. That's the idiotic point of view of our GOP leaders these days.
I'm embarrassed for our party everytime they open their mouths."
DEMOCRATS' CIRCULAR FIRING SQUAD
"The other side of that issue," I said, "is that Obama is being pummeled by
forces within his own party by Blue Dog Democrats and so-called 'moderate"
Dem Senators and House members. If they all stood together against the
Republicans, more could get done faster. But, regardless of what their personal
motives and ambitions might be, they are effectively acting in concert with
the Republicans in messing up Obama's momentum and policies, the result of
which is that little of moment gets done. Yes, we can't."
"And," said Shallow Throat, taking a swig of a Dos Equis, "the result of
this behavior by the likes of Bayh and Lieberman and Baucus and the rest in
the Senate, and the Blue Dogs in the House, is to join Limbaugh and Gingrich
and Boehner and that baggage-laden crew in trying to ensure that Obama does
not succeed with any major initiative. Reminds one of Will Rogers' famous
statement: 'I'm not a member of any organized party. I'm a Democrat'."
"OK," I replied, "Let's suppose that you're right about Obama's motivation
for pulling back on so many hot-button national-security issues in order to
smooth the way to get his health-care reforms and other such legislation
through Congress. What does such behavior bring him? It seems clear to me that
no matter what Obama does in the way of intended mollification of the GOP,
the Republicans, having no positive programs to offer, are going to attack
him brutally anyway; he might as well fight for what he really believes in,
ST smiled. "Millions of you liberals went into the presidential campaign
thinking you had a progressive or radical ally in Obama. You raised your
expectations of him so high because you wanted to believe that at last, some real
structural changes would be made once he got to the White House. I hope you
now are coming to realize that Obama is in no way interested in upsetting
the elite forces in place. Just look at his embrace and protection of the
very financial institutions that took the economy into the toilet, and his
acceptance of the neo-cons' American exceptionalist foreign/military policy.
"In short, Obama is no revolutionary, no anti-capitalist, no verbal
bomb-thrower -- even if the far-right chooses to label him and his policies
'socialist' and 'nazi-like' and 'communistic' and so on (that's how desperate they
are to find some awful epithet that will stick and drag him down). No, he's
just a politician, one whose heart may be in the right place on a good many
issues, but willing to sell out his grandmother (and his liberal base) if he
has to in order to get a few decent pieces of legislation passed and
another term in office."
FIGHT ON THE INSIDE OR GET OUT
"So what would you advise progressive Democrats and moderate Republicans to
do?" I asked. "Neither one seems able to affect the course of their
party's leaders. And so nothing much changes in America, and the forces in control
of the status quo continue to prevail. Having lost a good share of their
retirement funds, maybe even their jobs and homes, more people grow
disenchanted about the possibility for meaningful change in this country, grow tired
of the usual partisan games and corruptions. They drop out of the political
process of democracy with a 'curse on both their houses' mentality. Anger,
despair, frustration grow. Whether that translates into violent,
proto-revolutionary opposition is unclear."
"I can speak to the moderate-Republican part of that question," said
Shallow Throat. "From our point of view, our course must be to build up our
alliances and forces and hope that the self-destruction of the GOP continues so
that if the Republicans once again lose the national election in 2010, the
extremists will be forced out and we can re-assume control of our party. Our
moderate center-right policies, devoid of all the extremist rhetoric, will
look attractive once more to a huge swatch of the American public --
independents, moderate former Democrats, conservative-but-not-crazy-conservative
"But," I responded, "your plan only works if after yet another humiliating
defeat at the polls in 2010, the GOP leaders either resign or are pushed out
by you moderate conservatives. What if they simply continue to hold on and
rule in their suicidal way?"
"I'd say if things don't change for the better after the midterm election
in 2010, then we moderate Republicans will be in pretty much the same
situation that you progressive Democrats might be in as well: disenchanted with
your party leaders, that is to say Obama and Reed and Pelosi and Rahm catering
to the powerful elites who benefit from the status quo and are not likely to
make substantative changes to help out ordinary citizens.
"It might well be time for a mass withdrawal from the traditional two
parties and the founding of a true and powerful big-tent populist third party,
one that could attract a huge upswelling of support from a wide variety of
sources from both left and right. If 2012 is the right time to run such an
insurgent third-party candidacy, one with the real possibility of winning (or,
at the least, picking up 35% or more of the vote), the time to start thinking
seriously about such a prospect is fast approaching.
"But, for many, it's way too early to make any serious moves in that
direction as both the moderates in the GOP and the progressives in the Democratic
Party seem still willing to fight for dominancy and influence within their
respective parties. Not until they are humiliatingly unsuccessful will they
be open to the idea of jumping ship and planting the seeds for a grassroots
campaign to create a viable third party.
"Until then, prepare for some victories and many distressing defeats." And
with that, Shallow Throat left the cafe, leaving me with a hard pit in my
stomach as I contemplated what I'd just heard.
**To read earlier conversations with the Shallow Throat character, go
Bernard Weiner, Ph.D. in government & international relations, has
taught at universities in California and Washington State, worked as a writ
er/editor with the San Francisco Chronicle for two decades, and currenty serves as
co-editor of The Crisis Papers (www.crisispapers.org).
May 20, 2009