Hi, Senate Democrats--
How are you? I'm okay. I had a cold but it's mostly gone. Now I have a rash, which has migrated from my thighs to my arms. Don't worry, I just made a doctor's appointment.
Anyway, here's the thing:
Right now, if you read many of the liberal and progressive blogs, you're seeing yourselves roundly excoriated, denounced, and vilified for shilly-shallying on the Russ Feingold censure resolution. Your temporizing, your having-to-think-about-it, your supporting-it-in-spirit- but-having-doubts- in-terms-of-its-practicality, your flapping-like- frightened-pigeons- in-the-opposite-direction- from-it are drawing the contempt and ire of an admittedly *highly select* minority of intelligent, thoughtful, patriotic, wise, witty, sexy, fabulous citizens.
For which, my sincerest faux condolences. Of course, some of you "don't read those things" while others "don't really care what the fringe says," and so on. Fine. Although, really, not fine, because you ignore or minimize them at your peril, since those of us thus vilifyingly blogging provide the only emotional energy, new ideas, and sheer team spirit you're going to get, and more than you deserve.
Still, let's pretend that your marginalizing or ignoring what the most committed of your constituents are saying is not a dereliction of responsibility (or a cowardly lunge at self-protection), but stems from good, hard-nosed, real-world smarts. You know what's what and we don't. You're Out There, on the front lines of the political struggle. We're In Here, at home, playing with the dogs and tapping out invective and preaching to the choir.
And yet, in spite of our differences, I think we can agree on one thing, which is that I'm going to recount my favorite episode of Hill Street Blues in order to make a devastatingly instructive point.
Cast what is left of your mind back to the show in which the cops at the Hill Street precinct agreed--perhaps for charity; I don't remember--to play a team of gang members in a basketball game at a local school. The presence of hoop-whiz Officer Bobby Hill (played by actual U.C.L.A. varsity starter and Kareem-teammate Michael Warren) promised to cinch it for the cops. But, again for reasons that escape me, Hill couldn't start. Probably he was off being a police officer, for some silly reason. So the boys in blue hit the floor without their star, and found themselves confronting a scrappy, physical team of street thugs who had some skills--not to mention a willingness to commit flagrant fouls years before we all knew what "flagrant" meant. Sportswriting *is* fun, like they say.
The cops were down big-time at the half--or was it as the third quarter ended?--when Hill finally got back to the gym, suited up, and said, stirringly, "Let's play some b-ball." (I demand credit for remembering this verbatim twenty years after the only time I saw it.) Hill led the cops to within one point of the opposition with mere seconds left on the clock. Someone took a shot for the cops. The ball hit the rim--and then started revolving around and around in it in that maddening, will-it/won't-it way.
If a gang player swiped it off, the "goaltending" call would have given the cops the game, so the only thing all ten players on the court, and the guys on both benches, and their coaches, and the refs, and the loudly partisan crowd in the stands, and the tens of millions of us at home, could do, was watch.
The clock ran down to zero. The ball kept spinning around in the hoop. Naturally, I thought, "it will fall, and the good guys will win by one." Well, someone in the stands thought that, too, because just as the ball was about to fall, a gang-team fan stood up, produced a revolver, and BLASTED THE FUCKING BALL TO SHREDS.
Game over. More or less. And a brilliant piece of television.
What does this mean to you, the Democrats edging toward the door in flight from Feingold's motion? It means this:
1. Good plays by the rules, within a narrow compass. Evil will do whatever the hell it can think of (and thinks it can get away with) to achieve its ends. In the opera buffa/nightmare that Karl Rove and his goose-stepping Rockettes have made of our politics, you are the Good. Alas. The Republicans are Evil. They have no interest, desire, or (by now) ability to play by the rules. They have been lying, suppressing, intimidating, smearing, and misrepresenting everything in sight since five jokers on the Formerly Supreme Court gave Junior the presidency in what was just the first parade float in an unending cavalcade of hypocrisy that persists to this very day. Therefore, you cannot expect them to 'fess up, be good sports, accept the fact that the ball is going to fall through the hoop, and call Bush to account--in, say, a Judiciary Committee hearing. Why? Because they've been corrupted: by money, by power, by piety, by greed, by self-righteousness, and by ideology, as well as by money and power and money.
2. Evil never says, "Okay, pal, ya got me. I admit it: I'm Evil. Bwah-ha-ha, etc." Most of the time it doesn't think it's Evil to begin with. It does what it does--commits flagrant fouls, lies to the press, diagnoses Terry Schiavo based on some holiday snapshots, etc.--because "it has to, to survive," or "it's entitled" or because "everybody does it, so why should I go without?" or because "Leo Strauss said it was okay to deceive the masses because we're the elite and they're idiots incapable of governing themselves, which--talk about luck!--happens to jibe with our agenda of turning the government over to corporations." And, of course, even Hitler thought he was doing the right thing. So why should it agree to "bipartisan" cooperation and limitations on something it really, really wants? Which is everything it even casually wants.
3. Like a man obliterating a basketball rather than lose the game, Evil will destroy the very conditions of its existence rather than accept defeat. The fact that the Republican Party, in the current lingo, "is allowing the President to act unfettered by Constitutionally-mandated oversight" and "has caused Congress to abdicate its checks-and-balances responsibility vis a vis the Executive branch" should surprise no one. Of *course* they have. This is who and what they are. If the odious Dennis Hastert and the repellent Vice-President could call for a vote on a motion to outlaw the Democratic Party, how many GOP members of the House and Senate do you think would actually vote against it?
That's why you should support Feingold and shove his censure motion down the throat of any administration shill (e.g., Sen. Wayne Allard, R-CO) who, in that dependable demagogic right-wing way they have, equates it with giving aid and comfort to "the terrorists." You can't beat them at their corrupt game. The natural selection at work in the Republican Party has created a generation of monsters. Sure, eventually they'll destroy their habitat--and ours-- and become extinct, but until then you might as well defend what's right.
Am I not being fair? Am I exaggerating? Am I tarring them (and you) with too broad a brush or indulging in cheap cynicism? Then answer the following questions and I'll leave you alone:
a) If my description is inaccurate, how did things get so awful?
b) How much worse do they have to get before you acknowledge that you're the opposition party and act accordingly? How many more thousands have to die in Iraq or New Orleans, how many hundreds of billions of dollars more have to be squandered? How big does the deficit have to get so rich people can get richer? How many more lies does the President have to tell?
c) Why did twenty of you (i.e.,
and Ron Wyden)
vote to censure Bill Clinton for lying about a blow job, but can't bring yourselves to do the same to George Bush for illegal wiretapping--let alone lying us into an unnecessary war? (Thanks to Bill at Liberal Oasis and Jane at Firedoglake for that stirring role call of honor.) To quote the hotheaded McCarthyite senator in the movie version of Advise and Consent, "Do you think it's FUNNY? Do you think the American people think it's FUNNY?"
d) There is no d. We don't need a d. Just answer a-c.
And one more thing: some say your disapproval of Feingold's actions is based on tactics. He's "grandstanding for himself" instead of "coordinating with the leadership," and therefore he's indulging in what is doomed to be an empty and futile gesture.
Please. You're Democrats--with a scruple-free adversary and a servile press, what has "tactics" gotten you in the past five years except political defeat, legislative impotence, and Samuel "I Heart Jim Dobson" Alito?
Try to grasp the fact that, no matter how blamelessly constrained you are by the realities of power in D.C., out here (where the voters live) you look like a bunch of well-dressed Oompa-Loompas. Even if you're not. Even if you work hard every day to make the best of what you've got. (Although, of course, you don't. Like everyone in Congress, you work hard some of some days to make the best of what you've got. You spend most of the time raising money. We'll deal with that later.)
You're playing the game *along with* the Republicans, who will be happy to do likewise until they perceive a threat, at which point they'll shoot the ball to tatters and then blame it on you. You're playing their game.
We need you to play our game. We need you to play *against* them. We're consumed with anger and frustration and indignation and disgust out here. Have you any idea how much energy that puts at your disposal? Or at least at Russ Feingold's disposal?
That's it. Please get back to me, and the American people, asap, so we know whom to vilify next.
Follow Ellis Weiner on Twitter: www.twitter.com/EllisWeiner