06/29/2007 08:48 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Protesting Bush: If Not Now, When?

The Presidency of George W. Bush will go down in history not just as a disappointment, not just as an embarrassment, not just as a failure, not just as a fiasco. His will be seen, above all else, as having been an administration fraught with corruption and criminality. Surely the eventual verdict, bathed in the coolly discerning light of hindsight, will be devastatingly damning.

But we already know this. We need not wait for the Owl of Minerva to take flight in order to pass considered judgment on this administration. Bush and Company's record of gross incompetence is, by now, long and well documented. Their lawlessness is also, by now, a matter of public record. Their official agents have admitted, defiantly so, to several glaring violations of congressional law and of the Constitution. Very little of this unconstitutional behavior can be fully mitigated, let alone excused, by national security concerns or by originally good intentions thereto. Bush's policies have, in fact, fueled and exacerbated terrorist outrage at the United States rather than effectively combating, countering, and diffusing it. Worst of all, this Commander-in-Chief sent our men and women of the armed services into combat under false pretenses. Whatever the original conglomeration of ulterior reasons for that fateful decision to go to war, it has blown up in our faces. The human cost has been high, and we need not wait for a veritable day of reckoning to insist that those responsible be held accountable.

Pick your outrage: the Iraq War; Abu Graib; Guantánamo; torture; extraordinary renditions; signing statements; Enron; Halliburton; NSA domestic spying; Abramoff-gate; Plame-gate; Katrina-gate; Gonzales-gate; anti-environmentalism; spiraling deficits; the Supreme Court; etcetera. Bush, almost single-handedly, has poisoned the image of America the world over: We are seen as imperialists and hypocrites, not as democratic do-gooders and law-abiding freedom-lovers. Do we have any formidable allies left in the world who believe unshakably in the moral leadership of the United States? We have sunk so low that we're losing a global propaganda war against an underground network of killers who want the entire world to conform to some stone-age fantasy of theirs. How did this happen? And, more important, why do we put up with it?

I have been wondering for some time why we haven't seen the domestic outbreak of mass demonstrations and civil protests against the Bush regime. I well understand some of the reasons why such coordinated protests haven't yet emerged: Many folks gave Bush the benefit of the doubt for a long time after 9/11, and they especially didn't want to appear divisive at home while troops overseas were in harm's way. Others have pointed out that with the lack of a draft, and with limited media exposure to battlefield deaths and funerals, widespread indignation over this war has been slow in coming. Others have pinned their hopes on incremental and insider reforms: elections to change Congress, and then resolutions and investigations, and maybe eventually some tipping point will be tipped leading to impeachment. But the votes aren't yet there, the pundits counsel, so don't overplay your hand, and trust that the Madisonian system will be self-correcting in the long run, more or less.

Yet it's becoming painfully obvious that Congressional Democrats don't have the collective spine to give this administration its due rebuke and to set the country on a dramatically better course, sooner rather than later. Were I a betting man, I'd wager that the administration's strategy of stonewalling and delaying--while staying in office--will win out, and they will successfully kick the can of problems and the can of responsibility down the road for the next administration to pick up. Favorable polls don't seem to give the Democrats enough confidence to push the throttle forward. I should think they, along with some rebellious Republicans, need extracurricular cover and some pressure-group pressure. In short, people need to get out from behind their computer keyboards and take to the streets.

The point of a demonstration is to demonstrate: A group of concerned citizens steps forth into a public arena, physically exercising their inalienable freedoms of speech and assembly, and proclaims in effect, Take note of us. Realize that a significant number of us take strong exception to the current state of affairs. We want to register our convictions with an extraordinary display. We feel a sense of urgency. Conventional channels have in some way proved insufficient to the task at hand as we see it. Here we are: Even if you won't listen to us, you must heed our presence. As a countervailing body of principled democratic consent, we are laying claim to nothing less than our country's tacit Lockean charter. Something has gone dreadfully wrong, and we are taking the trouble to go outside our private homes and businesses, as we enter into the town commons in order to draw greater attention to what we see as a terrible injustice.

Civil protest is not the same as mob rule, and it has a longstanding and distinguished tradition from the very beginning of the American polity. It is not to be conflated with civil disobedience, though that, too, has a rather illustrious history in our republic. Old-fashioned organized protest--outdoors, shoulder-to-shoulder, face-to-face--does something more, I want to suggest, than can all the sound and fury that emanates from the digitized and mediated forms of communication that characterize our internet epoch. In fact, I want to submit that the current era of political blogging, for all of its salutary contributions to facilitating political discourse and information exchange under terms of mass democracy, has perhaps served as an unwitting impediment to certain old-school forms of political mobilization. The virtual world tends to preempt the non-virtual world, as if to obviate the latter. You rant and rave on your blog post about some affront to humanity, and sympathetic responders might agree wholeheartedly--and some spiritual transaction seems to have been effected between the parties involved. And then, maybe a web site pops up in order to generate signatures, which are then sent to Congress, and this accelerating activity is all very exciting, as indicated on, and one gains the sense that one has been in some way politically efficacious. But then I reflect back on the hard truth, maybe a mere coincidence but a troubling one nonetheless, that the worst Presidency in history has coincided precisely with the period of the greatest flourishing of blogging commentary heretofore, along with the fewest street demonstrations that we've seen in the last half century. Methinks that we bloggers might be overestimating our real-world influence. We become distracted and dazzled by the whiz-bang wizardry of it all, and so we continue diverting our energies into on-line activities, but we don't tend to take to the streets. Meanwhile, the administration gets away with murder, as it were, despite our scathing exposés. But maybe we've also been, in a way, asleep at the switch.

Marx's famous eleventh thesis on Feuerbach goes, "Philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it." Perhaps a similar critique, a comparable insistence on the difference between mere commentary versus effective action, could be updated and applied to contemporary on-line punditry: "Bloggers have only bloviated about the world, in various ways; the point is to change it."

What sayeth you? And what are we going to do about it? If not now, when?