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Joseph A. Palermo Headshot

Why We Should Care: The Gagging of Democracy

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The Republicans are thrilled that even in the minority they can produce an approval rating of the Democratic Congress that rivals the new lows of President George W. Bush (29 percent and holding). They abuse the filibuster (a device they loathed a year ago) and deploy other parliamentary tactics to drive down the Congress's poll numbers. They are trying to put up a smokescreen to mask their own record of plunder when they controlled a one-party state, and generate a hopeless discontent that will lead voters to stay home in 2008.

The GOP is banking on two strategies: 1). Translate "Bush Fatigue" into "Congress Fatigue" by blocking meaningful progress on the Iraq occupation, social programs, congressional oversight, etc. (the timidity on the part of the Democrats plays into this); and 2). Keep the perpetual campaign mode going, (Karl Rove's M.O. all along), so voters focus on the horse race of the presidential candidates, and pay little attention to the Constitutional crisis Bush and Dick Cheney have created with their long list of impeachable offenses.

Fortunately, there are fissures developing within Republican ranks that could be healthy for the country. Regarding immigration, we get to see the true face of modern conservatism in their xenophobic and racist stand against the Mexicans. How else can one explain these loud yelps against "illegals" coming from Republican politicians like Colorado's Tom Tancredo who come from the lily-white suburbs? There is a bigoted nativist wing of the Republican Party that has deep historical roots. But there is also the corporatist wing that loves all of that dirt-cheap Mexican labor. This division is no different than during the last GOP heyday of the 1920s, when a nativist wing scared hell out of Protestant white folks that immigrants, like my grandparents who came from Southern Italy, would dilute their pure blood and spread papist domination.

Back in 1966, the Democrats lost 47 seats in the House of Representatives but still maintained a solid majority. Today, a swing of 15 seats is considered a huge deal. Decades of gerrymandering and identity politics have made it less the "People's House," and more the "People-with-Money's House." Entrenched incumbents rule, leaving only 2 or 3 percent of the seats competitive. That's not representative democracy, but some kind of centralized corporatist state.

What is to be done?

Somehow the money must be extricated from our politics. I do not care if Hillary Clinton has raised more money than Barack Obama or Rudy Giuliani. Should we just hand over the presidency to the candidate who raises the most cash? The corporate media, obsessed with the horse and money race, would love this outcome. How about publicly financed six-week campaigns with tight restrictions on television ads?

And we must break apart the media monopolies (or oligopolies if you like), through the enactment of aggressive new anti-trust laws and their attendant lawsuits. The media frame the debate: Who's ahead and who's behind? Who's "presidential? and who's not? It is time to reject this infantilizing of our political culture.

When the media continue to provide a platform for discredited neo-cons like Fouad Ajami and others to spout off about how to manage the conflicts in the Middle East, clearly our political discourse has been debased. Gee, I wonder what Richard Perle or Frank Gaffney thinks about attacking Iran? Or David Rivkin? Let's ask William Kristol for the hundredth time to explain to us why occupying Iraq is such a grand enterprise. Or let's hear Charles Krauthammer's views on immigration via NPR. Please, enlighten us.

By the time November 2008 comes around, my guess is that it will be among the lowest voter turnouts in American history. The primaries are far too early and bunched together. The campaign is far too long. The candidates are far too dependent on raising cash to pay for 30 second TV ads. And the political calculus is sure to change dramatically in the next year due to unforeseen events. Unless we aggressively attack the money drenching our politics and break up our Pravda-like media system, we will end up with Bushism without Bush.

Meantime, the smartest strategy for the Democrats is to show some courage and start impeachment proceedings against Bush, Cheney, Alberto Gonzales, Condoleezza Rice, and every other office holder who has committed high crimes and misdemeanors. The passion of the party's base would be stirred, and independent voters would at least see that the Democratic Party has the guts to stand up for the Constitution.

There is a loud chorus of "centrist" Democrats quaking in their boots about the possibility of spreading more ill will toward the Congress through impeachment. They wish to seek common ground with the extremists and fanatics that populate the Bush Administration. But now that Cheney has determined that his office is an "entity" where checks and balances do not apply, the Congress really has no choice but to remind Mr. Cheney that he is neither a god nor a king. It is time to impeach his ass.

The key question is: Should we compromise with these people?

Kurt Vonnegut didn't think so.

In A Man Without A Country, Vonnegut summed up the Bush regime this way (pp. 99-101):

George W. Bush has gathered around him upper-crust C-students who know no history or geography, plus not-so-closeted white supremacists, aka Christians, and plus, most frighteningly, psychopathic personalities, or PPs, the medical term for smart, personable people who have no consciences. . . .

And what syndrome better describes so many executives at Enron and WorldCom and on and on, who have enriched themselves while ruining their employees and investors and country and who still feel as pure as the driven snow, no matter what anybody may say to or about them? . . .

They might have felt that taking our country into endless war was simply something decisive to do. What has allowed so many PPs to rise so high in corporations, and now in government, is that they are decisive. They are going to do something every fuckin' day and they are not afraid. Unlike normal people, they are never filled with doubts, for the simple reason that they don't give a fuck what happens next. Simply can't. Do this! Do that! Mobilize the reserves! Privatize the public schools! Attack Iraq! Cut health care! Tap everybody's telephone! Cut taxes for the rich! Build a trillion-dollar missile shield! Fuck habeas corpus and the Sierra Club and In These Times, and kiss my ass!