Sunday, May 11, 2008

Buying a Car, Buying a President: the Road Before Us and the Audacity of Moral Truth

If you were buying a car and the auto salesman told you "This car’s great, there’s only one problem: you can only steer it every four years, in between it's out of your control," what would you think?

Wouldn’t you look at the salesman and think he was crazy? Wouldn’t you go looking for another form of transportation?

The car that we’re in right now – the Bush and Cheney mobile - is a death trap.

Many people are checking out the new models, hoping they can trade in Bush and Cheney for a better car: the Obama, the McCain or the Clinton. They’re kicking the tires, checking out the interior, looking under the hood. The car lot is full of balloons and banners, promising all kinds of things.

The problem is: these new models are also not subject to being steered but every four years.

At least, that is, if you believe the version of politics that many people do in which the people’s political role is exercised exclusively in the electoral arena and via the ballot box specifically.

As an impeachment activist put it recently:

“This period before the election is when our power to cause accountability via impeachment is at its strongest. Our power will diminish nearly to zero after the election. The individual Congressmen will after the election have no reason to fear us.”

What kind of “democracy” is it where the people have no power after Election Day and where they only have power in the months leading up to the next Election Day?

If this is the case, what kind of political system do we have, really?

This isn’t power “of, by and for the people.”

This is “offend, buy off and force the people.”

Contrary to popular belief, public officials do not mainly worry about their constituents’ votes. They do, of course, want to gain and hold onto office, but they know that the constituency they must please first and foremost is a) their party’s leadership and b) the mass media. If they don’t please their party’s leadership and the mass media, then it doesn’t matter how popular they are among their constituents, they will either be severely marginalized or their political career will be outright extinguished.

When impeachment activists lobbied Congress this past fall and winter, senatorial and house staff told them that their legislators already knew that the people wanted impeachment: members of Congress weren’t supporting impeachment because they “were listening to their party’s leadership.”

Hearing from more and more of their constituents within the framework of lobbying isn’t changing politicians’ minds. These “representatives” continue to tell us transparently false things such as that impeachment is “reserved for extraordinary circumstances” and “I haven’t seen any impeachable offenses.”

If these august leaders can’t see that Bush and Cheney have committed towering crimes that far exceed the standards for impeachment and actually constitute crimes deserving of trials at the Hague for war crimes and crimes against humanity, then why would these same perspicacious and sage leaders be woken up by constituents’ redundant entreaties?

If the torture of innocents isn’t sufficient grounds for these public officials, these leaders of the people, to be stirred into action, if illegal, immoral, and unjust wars - based on lies - that have killed 1.2 million Iraqis and thousands of Americans to date aren’t enough, if the intensifying threats and obvious moves to the launch of yet another unjust and immoral war, this time on Iran, based again on lies, and likely to provoke a worldwide firestorm of unpredictable ferocity, aren’t enough, if the debacle of Katrina and the sight of Americans bodies floating face down in the flood waters and a legendary city in ruins isn’t enough, if the express and felonious violation of FISA with warrantless spying on all of us seven months before 9/11 isn’t enough, if the White House’s refusal to even accept Congress’ subpoenas for White House staff and Vice-President Cheney to testify before Congress isn’t enough, then what pray tell, would be enough?

When Vichy* Nancy Pelosi declared that “impeachment is off the table,” she was giving the Bush regime the green light to do whatever they pleased because she was telling them that the one Constitutional remedy for holding the White House accountable would not under any circumstances be used.

This is like going into a fight with another boxer and saying ahead of time, “I will not use my best punch against you. I will not try to knock you out. Now let’s fight and see who ends up winning!” Which fighter would you put your money on?

When the people confine themselves to lobbying and threatening to not vote for someone as their sole bargaining chip, they are likewise saying that they will not do the one thing that public officials do actually fear and will actually respond to: when the people go beyond politics (and business) as usual, embracing and gladly expressing their independent power to create a political atmosphere and dynamic in the society where their sentiments and demands are something to be reckoned with!

As long as the relationship between public officials and the people remains one in which the people restrict their actions to that of appealing to public officials, the people will be relinquishing the heart and soul of their real power.

In Michael Moore’s film “Sicko,” an expatriate American living in Paris, trying to explain why social programs and job benefits are so superior in France to that of the U.S., says: “In France, the government fears the people. In America the people fear the government.”

Governments in France fear the people because the people are willing, seemingly at the drop of a hat (or beret in their case), to take to the streets and demonstrate.

The people of this country will forever be held in the thrall of the powers-that-be unless and until we free ourselves of the mistaken belief that our only role is to vote every four to six years for our representatives. As our earlier quoted impeachment activist interprets it, the people’s power “drops to zero” after an election.

Demonstrating at the DNC

In response to World Can’t Wait’s statement that demonstrating in Denver at the August 2008 Democratic National Convention would not principally be to “pressure Congress,” this same impeachment activist said: “If our purpose is not to be ‘pressuring congress,’ what on earth could it be? Demonstrating for the sake of demonstrating?”

Demonstrating isn’t merely an expressive exercise – although what would be wrong with that? What could be wrong with the people showing how they feel and voicing their minds? How could that be a waste of time? Isn’t this the people’s right?

The people acting as an independent political force on the scene, the popular will being exercised and expressed in material and symbolic form - these are extraordinarily powerful and all too infrequent events. In the 1960s, the ubiquitous peace symbol, long hair and protest music were signs of a society-wide repudiation of the policies and practices of those in power.

When President Nixon began withdrawing U.S. troops from Vietnam in 1969, he didn’t do it because he wanted to - precisely the opposite. He wanted desperately to continue to prosecute that war. He had had, in fact, plans to use nukes on Vietnam, plans that he quashed when he saw the size of the anti-war demonstrations on October 5, 1969, the Vietnam Moratorium, when two million people around the country - on a weekday - walked out.

Nixon was forced to withdraw from Vietnam by the fact that the Vietnamese people were winning the war, U.S. troops were increasingly refusing to fight and even killing their own officers, the anti-war movement in the U.S. and abroad was determined, powerful and massive, and the credibility of the government was perilously low, with people more likely to believe the anti-war movement than their own government. (At one point in the Sixties, a national survey of college students found 80% thought some kind of revolution was needed.)

Civil rights for blacks were not won through the election of compassionate and liberal politicians. Civil rights were paid for by sweat and blood in the face of insults, rocks, police dogs and billy clubs, fire hoses, tear gas, fists, bullets and bombs. They were won through the powerful grassroots struggle of blacks and their allies in the streets, at the lunch counters, in the buses, in the schools, in Church, and everywhere, demanding change and refusing to accept anything less. They were won in the songs of the times, the attitudes of people in everyday life, folks raising their chins and steeling their nerves: the brave actions of those who risked their lives – with some losing their lives - to fight for change. They were won in spite of those in the White House and Congress who didn’t want to make concessions, but who were forced to do so lest much greater upheaval and even revolution ensued instead.

Greater equality for women was won not through saviors on high in the Democratic or Republican Parties. It was won through the mass struggle of women and their male allies who refused to allow the oppression of women to continue on the level of everyday life and due to their willingness and daring to breach conventions and insist on radical change. Women said: "No, I will not be Harriet to your Ozzie!"

The Eight Hour Day, unions and work safety laws weren’t secured through the sympathy of liberal politicians. They were secured through the determined and heroic struggle of workers and their allies striking, picketing, sitting in, a willingness to stand up in the face of intimidation, beatings and even murder, in the face of machine guns and 2 x 4's, demanding recognition, the right to organize, and the right to a safe working place.

Social security, welfare, unemployment compensation and other New Deal measures didn’t come into being because FDR was such a grand fellow. (Indeed, he did what he did because the very system of capitalism was in danger of being toppled: “I wish that capitalists would see that what I am advocating is … really in the interest of property, for it will save it from revolution.” (The American presidency by Alan Brinkley, Davis Dyer, New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1994 at p. 277).)

The New Deal came into being because the people in the thousands, hundreds of thousands and millions pitched tents in protest on lawns, marched in the streets, spoke out and sat in, refusing to accept the status quo and the faint promises and threats from on high. And because there were supporters for this internationally and there was a rival, genuinely socialist country in the world at the time that the U.S. imperialists had to compete with and deal with.

Consider how bad things are becoming as the New Deal is systematically being dismantled by both major parties under the aggressive leadership of the GOP and the right wing more generally. Imagine how much worse things would have been if the New Deal had never even happened.

Imagine what America would look like today if workers had never fought for the eight hour day, never battled for a union and for what became the New Deal, anti-Vietnam war activists hadn’t fought to end that war, blacks had decided never to leave the back of the bus, and women had accepted that the bedroom and the kitchen were where they belonged.

Imagine what America will become – as bad as it has already become - if the intolerable tyranny and fascistic moves of this government are allowed to continue.

“These Are The Times That Try Men’s Souls.” (Tom Paine)

The Democratic Party and especially its leadership are not colluding with the Bush regime because they are unaware of what the White House is doing and what it is planning. If they were that credulous and stupid, then they shouldn’t be in office in the first place! Nancy Pelosi knew in 2002 that the Bush White House was waterboarding and torturing prisoners. She also knew that they were carrying out warrantless wiretaps on all Americans. She said nothing then, and since ascending to the House Speakership, has done nothing about these egregious activities.

The Democratic Party is complicit in these towering crimes because they are playing the same murderous and cynical game that the GOP is playing: profits over justice, empire above the people and at all costs.

Legislators are privy to more grisly details about what the Bush regime is doing than the rest of the country. Yet they are steadfastly refusing to act against the moral monsters in the White House. Their failure to act now will go down in history in infamy.

Senators Obama and Clinton know – and knew for years - that torture was and is going on and they know - and knew - that innocents are being indefinitely detained and murdered, but they have not and will not call out these practices and act to end them. This has been their responsibility to put a halt to, legally and morally - and within their power - as members of Congress.

When Bush admitted to ABC News on April 11, 2008 that he approved of torture, the candidates for president did not call for Bush and Cheney’s immediate resignations. Instead, they continued to carry out a sleight of hand trick in which they hope to fool the people into thinking that “change” will come about when one of them takes office in 2009. These same pretenders to the throne could have and should have stopped the torture and illegal, immoral wars, through, if necessary, filibuster, for the last seven years.

For those who might say: “But if they had done so then their political careers would be over,” I have a question: "So?"

Is this the measure of a leader, someone who dodges doing the unmistakably moral, legal and right thing? If they did these things as senators, what do you think any of them will do as president when they have the whole empire to defend?

Torture is the most grotesque, barbaric and immoral act that any person can do to another human being. It is, in certain respects, even worse than killing someone. Yet this is what this government is doing and defending.

How can anyone of conscience know that this is happening and not do everything in their power to stop it immediately?

How dare the Democratic candidates for president tell Iraqis, Afghanis and Americans that we must wait another eight months to see any of this brought to a halt!

What kind of world do we now live in where torture is an accepted and openly practiced policy? What kind of world is it when one of the major candidates for president – Hillary Clinton - threatens to “obliterate” a country – Iran - that does not pose a threat to us and she is not immediately condemned as a warmonger?

What kind of world is it when the most liberal candidate left in the race – Barack Obama - threatens to bomb Iran and Pakistan
and who refuses to hold torturers to account NOW? When Obama speaks of bringing us all together, he means Americans. He doesn’t mean Americans and Iranians, Iraqis, Afghanis or Pakistanis. To Obama, Americans and Empire come first and any one who gets in the way of that, well, they can be bombed with impunity.

We don't need the "Audacity of Hope." We need the audacity of moral truth.

How dare Obama speak of hope and change when atrocities are being committed in our names everyday and he can't see them because the White House's paint shines too brightly in his eyes. The White House should be repainted blood red if truth be told.

A Different Path, A Different Future

Look beneath the pretty paint job on these cars and see them in their essence. If we are to wrench a different future from the hands of these criminals and co-conspirators with criminals, then the people must act and declare it now that we will not go down their road to hell.

The DNC in August 2008 in Denver is where the Democrats will try to convince the American people that they are the one and true way ahead in the face of the monstrosities of the Bush regime.

This is a lie. It must be exposed as a lie. As the World Can’t Wait’s Call puts it – “That which you will not resist and mobilize to stop, you will learn - or be forced - to accept.”

What will YOU accept? Will you accept it that torture may go on for at least the next eight months? Will you accept it that a war on Iran will be permitted over the next six months? Will you accept the pittance, misdirection, lies and commission of crimes against humanity that the Democratic Party and the GOP are purveying?

The whole world is watching. What will it see? What will YOU do? What kind of world will you live in?

For those who continue to fear the government: take heed of what history instructs us. Those who are driven by fear will come to no good ends. You will be and are being run roughshod over by those who know no other than brutality and who have no regard for truth, facts or justice. They will make you sully yourself in shame as you participate in crimes against children, women and men who have done no wrong and intend you no harm.

Those who, despite their fear and despite their worries, gather themselves and stand up to fight for what is right, no matter what comes, will have the eternal gratitude of present and future generations.

For those who fear the reactions of those around you: remember two things.

First, in the moral vacuum created by the two major parties and mass media in this country, your actions to openly declare for another way will visibly and materially impact those around you. The majority of people will perk up and be gladdened by what you have done. Your willingness to step forward will break the ice and help others to step forward themselves.

Second, the criminals in the White House are more unpopular than any gang in polling history. You have lots and lots of company, but individual people need to shatter the illusion of invincibility by those in charge.

Declare it now. Spread the Resistance. Wear Orange Daily.

Fly the NO TORTURE banners at your places of worship.

Shut down the military recruiters in your town.

Be in Denver in August 08.

Let us demonstrate for another world and another way.

Let it not be said that we stood by in infamous silence while atrocities were committed in our names.

--
*I owe the very apt comparison of Pelosi to Vichy France to Sophie de Vries.

2 comments:

freeesia said...

I loved this article Dennis. You really spelled it out well and made me re-evaluate how I thought about the impeachment issue. This article explains explicitly the enormity of the problems we face as a country and as a people. Our system is broken and while seeds of resistance are spreading not nearly enough people are coming forward yet to voice their dissent. I believe that we may be actively working on this for a while, that unless a wave of consciousness hits in a big way soon we may be in this work for the long haul. Of course the tide could change in an instant and I hope it does. Many people who are opposed to what this government has done over the last 8 years, (really what is a culmination of many years of effort on the part of those in power), these people are either being distracted by the elections or are feeling dis-empowered for one reason or another, or are so distracted by the trials and tribulations of daily life - which are getting harder for economic reasons for the most part, that they are not taking the extra step needed to break out of their usual routines and ways of living to stand up for what they know is right. It is articles like yours and the actions of a few that continue to grow the movement and encourage people that this is the time to break out of their routines and become active.
Thank you Dennis.

Dennis Loo said...

Times of great difficulty are also times of great opportunity; they are opposite sides of the same coin. I would rather that it were otherwise and that the terrible crimes being committed were not happening and that we could effect the changes needed without having to confront these horrors.

But we cannot choose the time and place of the fight when the terrain now belongs to our adversaries.

So they have chosen this fight and it is up to us to decide now if we will engage or we will run and hide or pretend that the storm clouds that are overhead and on the horizon are really just bright sunny skies.

As you say, too many people are being seduced into the elections circus and too many feel powerless or distracted. The key missing ingredient here is the presence and influence of a competing, legitimate leadership. We have to fashion this on the fly. An absolutely critical component of it are the actions of individuals like yourself who decide to step forward and declare themselves for another road. This will in turn impact those around you and help to create a different dynamic.

Our adversaries are doing despicable, indefensible things and they can only continue to do them in the shadows. Soon, however, if they are not stopped, they will emerge increasingly from the shadows - as they have already begun to do - into the daylight, carrying out their egregious acts increasingly openly and relying increasingly on intimidation and less and less on deception and misdirection.