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Michael Brenner Headshot

For Whom Does the Bell Toll?

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Political suicide is never pretty. Suicide of a political party is especially ugly. Simultaneous suicide by our two parties is reason to wonder about the fate of the Republic. Republicans and Democrats seem to be in a contest to see whose demise will be announced first. The varied methods are appropriate to the personality of each.

The Republican party is in a rage so violent that it looks like a repeated, botched attempt at hari-kari. Overtaken by fits of passionate anger provoked by the tepid Barack Obama's presence in the White House, they are lashing out at whomever and whatever haunts a disturbed psyche. Madness for them means violation of every norm of civil political discourse. It means crossing the boundary between the real world and their fanciful, fearful world of ghosts and goblins. It means that those of reasoned and reasonable temperament place themselves hostage to the rants of crackpots. It means issuing permission slips to bigots, to haters, to simpletons of every stripe. If today's Republicans were a European party, the news stories would read: once again, the dreaded spectre of.....

The Democrats, typically, prefer a gradual, lingering death by self-inflicted means. It is all low-key, the political equivalent of a fatal stupor induced by small dosages of a slow working drug that allows the victim to exhibit signs of normalcy right to the end. Fittingly for Democrats, it is being administered by a supposed healer whose arrival on the scene had been heralded as bringing Messianic redemption to a deeply depressed patient long suffering from self destructive behavior. Somehow you sense that he himself will avoid the collective burial ceremony.

Let us speak frankly. The Democrats, by all objective measures, should be riding a wave that ushers in an era of dominance. An avowedly progressive program that conforms to the needs and the mood of Americans should be taking root. Instead, they are fretting, with good reason, over the prospect of serious Congressional losses to their suicidal opposition -- an opposition as leaderless, as rudderless and as reckless as an American party ever has been. It should be like 1934 rather than 1994.

2008 marked a popular reversion from failed Republican governance that single mindedly strove to impose a radical program on the nation. Its actions discredited it at home and abroad. Its legacy was two pointless wars and an economic collapse that harks back to the days of the Great Depression. Its plutocratic philosophy had pushed income disparities into the company of developing world kleptocracies. Its anti-government crusade wrecked large parts of the federal government as vividly demonstrated by its shameful performance on Katrina. It played fast and loose with our cherished civil liberties. If Obama were white and more aggressive, he would have garnered 56 or 58% of the vote instead of the 53% that undeservedly is celebrated as a great triumph.

Obama is the main reason for this perverse outcome. Yes, the Democratic party is riddled by those who have sold out to the powerful interests - to varying degrees. But it is Obama who enabled and empowered them by his diffident, above the fray attitude and by his own attachment to a conventionally defined conservative view of the country. An incredibly audacious man, he lacks conviction or courage. By nature, he leans instinctively in the direction of every established power center. His sharpest, most earnest attacks are directed at the people who worked to elect him. That is by now self-evident. He is at home with the Wall Street barons whose henchmen he appointed to every serious economic position, with the Pentagon where he embraced Bush's Secretary of Defense and then readily yielded to the stratagems of the Petraeus-McChrystal duo, with the intelligence agencies whose breath taking incompetence and arrogance he tolerates and most of whose leadership he gladly adopted from Bush, and with the health industry profiteers who reduced 'health care reform' to an oxymoron. Moreover, his clear preference is for a government not much more transparent than that run by the Bush cabal.

Obama's primary, compelling task was to overhaul the machinery government. A close look at the record reveals the sad truth that our change President has been constant in his dedication to only one big change in the White House -- its occupant.

So the hope, the expectation, the passion and the yearning for a better America drains away. We are in the process of blowing the opportunity of a lifetime -- the avoidance mentality of those who cannot bear to live without heroes notwithstanding. At the very least, we are stuck with the noxious status quo. And there is a good chance that the country's free floating anger, which Obama has been uninterested in channeling for good ends, will wind up bringing to power those who are the cause of it. The madcap Republican party may yet survive its suicide attempt to test the limits of how much ruin this country can stand.

Thank you, Mr. President.