Gelded Donkeys: Why the Democrats Are Worse Than Useless

In the Sherlock Holmes mystery, Silver Blade, it was the dog that didn't bark that fingered the killer. As Holmes explained to Watson, the reason for the silence, even as the victim was being murdered, was that the dog must have known the killer - its own master. Viola! Mystery solved.

In the Sherlock Holmes mystery, Silver Blade, it was the dog that didn't bark that fingered the killer. As Holmes explained to Watson, the reason for the silence, even as the victim was being murdered, was that the dog must have known the killer - its own master. Viola! Mystery solved.

In a similar fashion, amidst the most catastrophic presidency in the history of the country, it is the donkey that doesn't bray that identifies the culprit. And the culprit, of course, is the donkey's master. It is a who-dunnit of Olympian proportions, for the fate of the country hangs on its solution.

The extent of the disaster of the Bush presidency is almost beyond cataloguing. But it is worth trying in order to comprehend the stunning impotence of the Democrats in offering any meaningful opposition.

Through a torrent of naked lies, psychotic delusion, and calamitous incompetence, George Bush has mired the U.S. into what General William Odom (hardly a pacifist or leftist) has called, "the greatest strategic disaster in the history of the country."

The Iraq war has grievously, perhaps irreparably, damaged America's moral standing in the world. It was illegal in inception and has been savagely brutal in execution. It has caused thousands of American and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi deaths. It has consumed almost half a trillion dollars with the end nowhere in sight. It has undermined the reputation, if not, indeed, the capability of the U.S. military. It has done more to hasten the decline of American power in the world than anything in the past 100 years.

Besides the damage inflicted on America alone, Bush's war has dangerously destabilized the most incendiary region in the world, the Middle East, and has created the world's most fertile breeding ground for terror. His three "Axis of Evil" countries-Iraq, Iran, and North Korea-are immeasurably more threatening today than when Bush took office. North Korea, in particular, has acquired nuclear weapons in direct response to Bush's invasion of Iraq.

The wreckage on the economic front is almost as vast. Bush inherited massive budget surpluses but turned those immediately into massive deficits. While it took the nation 204 years to rack up its first $1 trillion of debt, Bush has added $3 trillion in only five years. The spiral of debt, driven by tax cuts for the rich, is out of control, even as the nation stands on the threshold of its 77 million Baby Boomers retiring, needing fiscal solvency more than ever.

Poverty is up 43% since Bush took office. More than five million people have lost their health insurance under Bush. Real median income has declined five years in a row, the first time since the Great Depression. Income inequality is the highest since the 1920s. More than a quarter of all manufacturing jobs have been lost since 2000. Oil costs more than twice what it did when Bush took office. These are the symptoms, not of economic might, but of decay, even collapse.

The trade deficit has exploded to over $800 billion per year requiring the sale each year of an equal amount of American assets to settle it. The U.S. must borrow more than $2 billion every day to pay for this breathtaking profligacy. It is China - our greatest strategic adversary - that loans us much of those sums. If China stops lending, the U.S. economy will utterly collapse. Never in our worst nightmares would we give our most threatening competitor such direct control over the nation's economic destiny. And, yet, that is where Bush's runaway debts have left us today.

On the environmental front, the world faces a potential catastrophe in global warming that is literally without precedent. Yet, far from taking even the most modest of precautionary steps, Bush denies even the existence of the problem and blunders on in his self- righteous arrogance, engorging his polluting friends and benefactors with the planet's environmental commons and making the problem perhaps irretrievably worse.

On the terror front, Bush was at best asleep at the switch on 9/11, an utter failure in defending the country against its greatest attack since the War of 1812. And this, despite being warned more than a dozen times of the approaching danger. He followed it up with the Patriot Act, the most dramatic rescission of civil liberties in the history of the nation.

Corruption is rampant, a de facto synonym for Bush governance. Lewis "Scooter" Libby is under indictment for lying to federal prosecutors. Tom DeLay is under indictment for laundering campaign contributions. Bill Frist is under investigation for insider trading. Randy Cunningham has been convicted in the biggest Congressional bribery case in the history of the country. Tens of billions of dollars have "disappeared" in Iraq, doubtless to find their way into future political black bag jobs. The windfalls to Bush's cronies in the weapons, logistics, and oil industries run to the tens of billions of dollars.

Bush's brazen and continuing campaign of illegal wiretapping poses a profound threat to the constitutional principle of checks and balances, the essence of the American form of government. It poses an equally grave threat to the right of the people to be free from harassment and unwarranted searches by the government, another fundament of the nation's founding ethos. Bush refers contemptuously to the Constitution as "a scrap of paper." It shows.

His other assaults on the America system of government began with the Republican theft of the election in 2000. Bush's brother had some 50,000 blacks removed from the voting rolls in the months before the election. While Florida blacks voted 90% for Al Gore, Bush "won" Florida by 534 votes. Only after the Republican-packed Supreme Court ordered a stop to the ballot counting was Bush declared the "winner." Still, had the full count continued, even with the removal of all the black voters, Al Gore would have won.

The Florida theft was followed up in Ohio in 2004, this time abetted by voting machines without audit trails, machines that were easily hacked by the private corporations that sold them and then used them to privately count the votes. Prior to the election, officials of the company operating the machines publicly declared they would "deliver Ohio" for Bush. And did they ever. A professional statistician from the University of Pennsylvania calculated the odds of an honest vote count at 250,000,000 to 1. No, we're not talking Zimbabwe or Uzbekistan. We're talking American presidential elections.

For this horrific - and still only partial - record of full-spectrum destruction, and despite the unremitting slavish adulation by the corporate media, the American people have decided Bush is callow, shallow, arrogant, bullying, dull, selfish, incompetent, and untrustworthy. By a margin of 2-to-1 they believe that the Iraq war was ill-advised and that it has failed. While Bush talks of tossing the turd to "future presidents" (note the plural), more than 60% of Americans want a plan for withdrawal.

Significant majorities believe Bush is not a competent steward in the war on terror, that his economic management has done more harm than good, that his illegal wiretapping must be held to account, that he is not a trustworthy person, and again, by almost 2-to-1, that he has taken the country down the "wrong track." It is impossible to find a president, Nixon included, who has inflicted more damage on his country and who is more deeply, viscerally despised by his own people.

Yet, despite all of these egregious failings of policy, this dripping smell-of-blood vulnerability in the polls, for all of this incomparable - indeed, unimaginable - legacy of devastation, there is not a single voice from the Democratic party that plausibly challenges Bush, his policy record, or Republican doctrine. How can that be?

The silence is beyond eerie. It is far beyond strange. It is almost surreal, as if we were living in a black and white movie without sound, trains of state plunging silently off of bridges of law into bottomless abysses of war, helpless damsels of the people tied writhing on the rails of justice awaiting ritualistic dismemberment by runaway locomotives of greed while the anxiously awaited hero-on-horseback somehow, inexplicably, fatally, never arrives.

Yes, yes, there are sporadic bleats of protest on one issue here, another there. They have to say something when the mikes are thrust into their faces, don't they? But the Democratic "leadership" are masters of media artifice, photogenic gurus of phony gravitas. There is the mock confrontation and the Kabuki theater play at challenging Bush - witness the staged challenge to Samuel Alito, humiliatingly transparent for being mounted only after it was numerically assured it could not actually succeed.

But where is the thundering anger at the destruction of the nation? Where is the outrage as our financial solvency is being destroyed, our moral standing defiled, our military broken, our sacramental precepts of governance strangled to death before our very eyes? Where is the righteous fury that must surely -surely!- attend such brazen plunder, such naked arrogation of power, such shameless, mocking deceit? Where is the leadership that will stand against such palpable treason? Where, in other words, are the Democrats?

They are nowhere to be found.

It is almost a parlor game to name a single national-stature Democrat to which the average American can attach ANY coherent stand on ANY major national issue. Hillary Clinton? A caricature of climbing, cautious calculation who would be wholly unknown and even more unknowable were it not for the serendipitous fact of her husband's celebrity. Hillary's line on Iraq is not that it was illegal, not that it shames everything America supposedly stands for, surely not that it must be ended, but literally, that it hasn't been done well enough. And now she's proving her national security bonafides once again by out hawking the manifestly failed, lunatic neo-con hawks on the invasion of Iran.

Joe Lieberman? A career consigliore for the pharmaceutical, insurance, and weapons industries, a Republican in drag, pathetically carrying water for Dick Cheney in the hope he might catch a few crumbs of power that fall from the Republican banquet table. Lieberman's take on Bill Clinton being serviced in the White House by a stalking intern? "The president's transgressions are too consequential for us to walk away and leave the impression that his behavior is acceptable for our nation's leader. On the contrary, they should be followed by some measure of public rebuke." His response to Russ Feingold's call for censuring Bush for his blatantly illegal, wholesale wiretapping of the American people? "I don't want to scold the president."

While there are a few courageous individuals willing to speak truth to power, they are exceptions that prove the larger rule. For every John Murtha calling for an end to the War in Iraq, there are a dozen Joe Bidens declaring, "I'm rooting for [Bush's] success." For every Russ Feingold calling for censure, there are hoards of fellow Democrats such as his neighboring state's Mark Dayton claiming such calls are "overreaching, grandstanding." For every Paul Hackett, true heroes of the War willing to challenge its morality at its core, there are phalanxes of Rahm Emanuels ready to stab him in the back and bring in "team players" who will robotically recite vapid, self-emasculating party catechisms.

In truth, Democratic party leaders will not, because they cannot, lead. Not a single one of them has the character, the courage, or the conviction to state simply what so many of the American people already know so well in their hearts: We are being ruthlessly lied to. We are less safe, not more so, as a result of our ill-conceived and botched military adventurism. Our economy is being stripped of its assets, given away piecemeal to wealthy insiders. In the place of past wealth, we are being shackled with unbearable debts for the purpose of binding us into servitude for generations to come. Our democracy and its hallowed Constitutional system of checks and balances are being dismantled before our eyes. The nation is dying.

The sad, apocalyptic truth is that the Democratic leadership has given up on America. Rather than reject the idea of empire, they embrace it. They might disdain inept execution by arrogant neo-cons but they do not begin to renounce the essential enterprise itself. They prattle on - Hillary-like - about how to do it better, more efficiently. They have resigned themselves and the country that we cannot compete in the world on the basis of hard work, discipline, industry, and ingenuity - the traditional paths to respect in the world, whether by persons or by nations. Instead, we are left to make our way in the world by raping, by plunder, by stealing the wealth of nations and people that are weaker than we are, not because it is right, not because there is any dignity or justice in it, but because we can.

The Democratic leadership has sold itself to the highest corporate and military bidders, offering its furtive political support to facilitate the looting of any assets, American or otherwise, that can be had for the taking. It is Democrats who make possible the retailing of "globalization" which is nothing so much as a blank check for corporate capital to arbitrage one country against another in its relentless pursuit of the cheapest labor and the weakest environmental laws. It was the Democrats who championed and pushed through NAFTA and the WTO.

It is the Democrats who similarly caved on Medicare, Roberts, Alito, bankruptcy, torture gulags, wiretapping, the immigration wall, tax cuts, and so much more. It is the Democratic leadership that speaks exultantly, rapturously, of "the magic of the market," and of "liberating the competitive spirit," all the while knowing that it means abandoning the American worker to the ravages of a bottomless spiral of downward mobility and inevitable immiserization. But rather than cast their traitorous acts as the regrettable betrayal they are, they spin their perfidy into yarns of opportunity, bolts of inspiration. Far from a broken nation, a bankrupt people, a lurking Stalinist regime, theirs is the more effective empire, the more efficient global economy, the kinder, gentler police state.

They are Potempkin "leaders", hired and sired from the same bank accounts as their Republican "adversaries," empty suits propped up by their corporate masters for the sole purpose of sustaining the illusion of opposition, but without any real intent to actually exercise it. They are political entrepreneurs, hawking their ability to round up the constituents and deliver the votes that will cheerily sell their own people down the drain. Their function in the political food chain is to occlude the fact of the corporate takeover of government, to pacify a restive public into quiescence that their democracy remains vital, that their interests are being looked out for, that their country remains their own.

In the waning years of the Roman Republic, as the nation was wracked by civil war within and by attack from without, Cicero wrote, "Anything more corrupt than the men and times of today cannot be conceived." Perhaps he was too peremptory. He then wrote to Julius Caesar, "The fate of the Republic hangs on the honor and steadfastness of a single man." There is no such man of honor, no such party of steadfastness in America today. Certainly not among the Democrats. The dogs are not barking. The donkeys are not braying. They know their masters. They know their place. We must look elsewhere for saviors.