The Perils of Passivity

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CommonDreams.org

The Perils of Passivity

I have to laugh - in-between the tears, of course - when I listen to regressives speak of the likes of Barack Obama, Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi in terms of Stalinesque autocrats or thuggish mafia bosses.

I'm pretty sure that the elites who propagate this nonsense through mouthpieces such as Limbaugh or Beck know just how absurd and contradictory to pesky reality those assertions are. But the regressive hoi polloi - as idiotic and ill-informed a bunch of bots as you'll find anywhere this side of the Borg - well, they eat this stuff up whole hog.

It's really astonishing, because I can hardly think of three wimpier or more politically anemic drenched noodles than these Democratic buffoons, along with the rest of their pathetic pity party. And also because America actually has had some pretty tough progressives in its history. Harry Truman would eat Harry Reid for breakfast, and still be hungry again before lunch. Lyndon Johnson could teach Barack Obama a few (thousand) things about how to move a legislative agenda through a balky Congress, and it wouldn't involve getting his ass kicked by Joe Lieberman, I can tell you that. Franklin Roosevelt would surely be able to school Nancy Pelosi on the finer points of national leadership.

Democrats have been playing the weakness game for nearly a half-century now, ever since Johnson was driven from office in 1968. That has meant very bad things for the country, which has now been all but completely captured by economic oligarchs, via their wholly-owned human levers in both parties.

What is more remarkable is what it has meant for the Democratic Party, which seems incapable of being assertive even when it comes to preserving its own interests. And what it has meant for the Democrats is more or less that they lose elections, except when the default governing party of the GOP screws up so badly that the public has no other choice than to go with the feeble ones for a while. Republicans then get a few years to rehabilitate themselves, during which time they incessantly shred the Dems from the sidelines, and then the cycle begins anew.

This is precisely where we are now. It absolutely defies the imagination that the Republican Party hasn't been sentenced to death by hanging, drawing and quartering after the crimes of the last decade. But no, remarkably, they are in the midst of an amazing revitalization now, courtesy of their aggressive deceits and the utter capitulation of the party nominally in charge.

There are three things that Democrats absolutely don't understand about the notion of assertive leadership. First, if you don't do it, you won't achieve anything. The American political system, as created by the Founders, is designed to produce utter stasis, the only exception being, well, exceptional moments. Second, no one will follow you, if you don't lead. Leadership is crucial to substantive achievements, but it also has its own intrinsic rewards. People want to be led, and they want to believe in their leaders. Indeed, they will follow strong leaders, like Ronald Reagan for example, even when they disagree with their politics. On the other hand, if you project fecklessness, they will tend to despise you, sometimes even though they like your ideas.

Finally, if Democrats don't lead, the aggressive ogres in the opposition who care not the least about the corrosive effects of deceit and destruction on the institutions of democracy will go ahead and define you to the country, and not in a pretty way either. Sound familiar?

This came clear once again this week, as the demons of the regressive right came out trumpeting the most scurrilous of lies and the most inflammatory of rhetoric during a national security threat. Yet again. On a plane headed to Detroit we had another ignorant and insecure kid, indoctrinated with a toxic brew of bad religion and even worse politics (no, no - I don't mean a Palin supporter), trying to blow up an airliner in the name of some jive deity or another.

Undoubtedly the Obama administration could have handled the national hand-holding circus that follows such events a lot better than they did. He waited too long to say something, and when he did, it took his usual passionless form that could put the audience to sleep at a Rage Against The Machine concert. (Doesn't this guy ever get pissed off at anything? He makes Mike Dukakis look like a meth-crazed pro wrestler by comparison.) Then there was the minor matter of Janet Napolitano, reminding everyone how, ahem, well the system actually had worked in preventing a terrorist attack. Apparently, unbeknownst to all of us, the government had secretly hired the Dutch passenger a couple seats over who leapt onto Umar Abdulmutallab to put out the flames. Wow! Those TSA spooks are everywhere! But all of this administration verbiage is after the fact, and doesn't change a thing about what happened. It's the theater of reassurance. It's not like Obama would have been saving lives by speaking on the day of the incident, rather than waiting two days longer.

So what happened next? What else would happen in an American political system populated by vicious Republicans and pathetic Democrats? The GOP thugs came out swinging, attacking the Obama administration for being weak on national security. It reminds me precisely of what Bush did. No, I mean what his father did. No, I mean what Reagan did. No, it's what Nixon did. No wait, wasn't this McCarthy's stock trick? Get it? This is not exactly cutting edge, newfangled politics in America, though you'd never know it watching Democrats deal with this stuff.

Anyhow, right like clockwork, out trotted Dick "Dick" Cheney to rally around the American president at the moment that the country was under attack. Well, not quite. Even though I've been assured by the former Vice President's office that he really is a patriot. You know, even though he "had better things to do" than go fight in Nam and all. Sorry. I must have inadvertently slipped into a parallel universe there, where retired vice presidents maintain their dignity. Back in our galaxy, however, this is what the man actually had to say: "As I've watched the events of the last few days it is clear once again that President Obama is trying to pretend we are not at war. He seems to think if he has a low key response to an attempt to blow up an airliner and kill hundreds of people, we won't be at war. We are at war and when President Obama pretends we aren't, it makes us less safe. Why doesn't he want to admit we're at war? It doesn't fit with the view of the world he brought with him to the Oval Office. It doesn't fit with what seems to be the goal of his presidency - social transformation - the restructuring of American society."

Nor was he alone. Back on the Cheney Gang, other Republicans and the scary lot in the punditocracy who hold their coats voiced similar indignation. And more. Congressman Pete Hoekstra seemed to think that the very best expression his patriotism could to take would be in the form of a fundraising letter built around the terrorist attack. Can you say ‘noble'? Nah, me neither. But I've heard of the concept.

The lunatic right in America (and let's face it, nowadays what other kind is there?) has been absolutely champing at the bit for a good national security crisis with which to hammer this president as weak on defense, resorting once again to the seemingly inexhaustible campaign theme for them all down the ages. That's why they leapt on this incident - which of course is not minor, but neither is it anything like Pearl Harbor or 9/11. And that's why Cheney's been singing this song for this whole last year. He knew something would happen, and he was laying the groundwork.

But there are just a few things they left out, no doubt absolutely unintentionally:

* They forgot to tell you that while it took Obama an inexcusable three days to make a statement on this event (as if that would change anything, anyhow), it took Cheney's marionette nearly a full week to say anything about the shoe bomber case, an incident almost identical to this one, except worse because it came just a few months after 9/11. Bush was on vacation (what else is new?), and didn't even make a statement about Richard Reid - he just mentioned him offhandedly in a press availability that he did six days after the attack.

* Cheney lambasted Obama for treating the latest incident as a legal matter. What he didn't mention is that the Bush people did exactly the same thing with Reid, and then bragged about the conviction they got in the courts.

* Cheney lied (yeah, really!) both outrageously and ridiculously when he said that Obama is trying to pretend the country is not at war. Obama has been saying that the country is at war since at least when he was a state senator. He said it throughout last year as president - beginning with his inaugural address: "Our nation is at war against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred" - and he said it throughout the year prior as a candidate. He typically doesn't use the ‘war on terror' construction when he talks about it, but presumably that's because he realizes it's an idiotic phrase.

* Somehow, as well, the folks who want you to believe that Obama is afraid to really fight a war also want you not to notice that he just announced his second major escalation of the - what would you call it? - the thingy in Afghanistan that involves lots of soldiers and weapons and blood and people dying. This little bit of attempted legerdemain is not exactly shocking anymore, is it? The day that cognitive dissonance goes out of fashion is the day there are no more conservatives.

* Another thing Cheney probably doesn't want you to know is that some of the folks who probably plotted the attack in Yemen were actually released from Guantánamo by ... oops, the Bush administration. Yeah, Bushco sent some of them to Saudi Arabia to participate in an "art therapy rehabilitation program". You think I'm making that up, don't you?

* I'm also pretty sure that Cheney won't be mentioning who set up the anti-terrorist national security system that failed so miserably to put the pieces together on Abdulmutallab last week. Remind me again, which administration was in office for most of the last decade? Which one reshuffled the bureaucratic architecture to make the system work properly after the 9/11 debacle?

* Of course, perhaps that wasn't the problem. Maybe the thing was that the system works fine, as long as someone is in charge. There actually is a nominee to lead TSA who has been readily approved by two Senate committees, but has had his nomination process stopped dead by that radical left-wing friend of Muslim terrorists, Jim DeMint, of South Carolina. Funny, you don't hear a lot about that from Cheney and his clones. So why is this critical nomination being held up? DeMint is waiting for a promise that TSA workers won't be allowed to unionize. And, really, that makes sense, if you think about it. Gotta keep our priorities straight, folks! Can't have the worker bees earning a respectable wage now, can we?

* The last thing that probably isn't going to get a lot of mention is the fact that the worst foreign terrorist attack in history was sustained on the watch of - wait for it now - a certain team known as the Bush-Cheney administration. Not only that, but in fact the only such attack of major proportions was during their presidency. And not only that, but there is a huge raft of evidence - including the testimony of their own top terrorism and intelligence people - that they didn't give a crap about it while the warning bells were ringing at 120 decibels.

Whew. Can I stop now?

The point of all this is that the radical right's arguments about national security this week are entirely absurd, and that's on a good day. Most of the rest of the time they are completely contradictory and utterly hypocritical.

But this kind of thing goes on all the time. Obama is labeled a big spender for trying to use Keynesian tactics to rescue the economy from the disaster bequeathed us by a regressive goon who doubled the size of the national debt in just eight years. Democrats are called socialists for adding 35 million instant coerced customers to private insurance rolls, rather than creating a public healthcare plan, like just about every other developed country in the world. Obama is supposedly weak on national defense, according to the folks who ran two wars against third world countries right out of the tenth century, and succeeded in getting nowhere almost a decade later, while the US military is spent and the national treasury depleted.

It's unreal. But worst of all, this stuff actually gets traction. Loads of it. Tens of millions of Americans swallow it whole, and many more are added to the ranks every day.

These are the wages of wimpiness. These are the perils of passivity.

This should never have happened, and a year ago it would have seemed almost inconceivable to anyone (except those actually familiar with the Democratic Party of the last generation or two). Even so, it is absolutely astonishing that these punks don't realize the imperative of throwing punches, of naming enemies, of framing a narrative. All the more so because this is not a case of politics for politics' sake. I couldn't care less about the Democratic Party, other than wishing that most of them rot in Hell. However, they are the ‘opposition' to the full-on nightmare scenario, and we're semi-stuck with them as the would-be voice of sanity.

My god, though, if you can't trash George W. Bush after this last decade, if you can't demonize Wall Street bankers who learned greed by stealing marbles from other kids in kindergarten, if you can't remind voters of what cowards Cheney and the chickenhawk chorus actually are - when the hell can you do it?

Democrats are inept, the public knows it, and that will be a major part of their undoing in the next two election cycles.

But the other part of what will get them is that they'll absolutely let anyone say anything about them, and just take it.

Just in case the Dems are wondering if they're in trouble or not, there's an old political adage that says, "Your know you're toast when your party gives a nice benefit to seniors but you let the other side define that as murderous government death panels".

Well, okay. It's not an old adage. In fact, it's not an adage at all.

But at this rate, it will be soon.

David Michael Green

David Michael Green is a professor of political science at Hofstra University in New York.

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