Monday, May 22, 2006

Hobson's Choice

I got involved enough in this discussion with Pastor Dan (here and then here) that I thought I should address it a bit more fully.

First, the great thing about blogs is the freedom of discussion. But the great problem of blogs is that all discussion soon becomes polarized. This seems to be a fundamental problem of American culture, where politics and religion are sources of personal identity, and so we are never to speak of either one in polite company. Not because they are impolite topics, but because we cannot seem to stay polite about them. If I link to a post, for example (and I've linked to both of the above before) it isn't to approve or to snarkily disapprove of their content; it's to indicate the breadth of the possible discussion. But links in blogs usually mean either (a) "great stuff over here!" or (b) "can you believe these idiots would form such opinions, much less publish them?" So again, I'm going for (c) "what other people have to say about this."

Part of my issue with politics and religion is not the Jeffersonian one of keeping the two separated, or even the William O. Douglas one of keeping a wall between civic responsibility and the religious sphere. I certainly disagree with the reductionist and dismissive "religion is personal." Well, so is the political; why is one permitted in the public square, and not the other? But that just goes 'round and 'round. My problem with politics and religion is a theological one: the paradox of the crucified God, or the power of powerlessness, which conversely exposes the powerlessness of power. It is, for me, the great lesson of the crucifixion (and the problem of the atonement theory, in part, is that it allows the crucifixion to be a purely personal matter, which gets us back to the dismissal of religion from the public sphere because it is "personal.").

That's one issue, but here's the other. Pastor Dan argues that what he first wants is the (legal, let us emphasize) removal of the gang of idiots currently administering the laws and foreign policy of this country (I think the term he uses is "corrupt bastards and their stupid, malignant ideology," which is a more forceful way of putting it.) Here's my problem with that line of argument, and admittedly it's a pessimistic one, but: and replace them with whom?

Name a Democrat who upheld the UN Report on Guantanamo Bay and decried the torture and violation of every fundamental law and legal standard of Western civilization it represents. Tak your time, I'll wait.

Name one platform of John Kerry's campaign which indicated the "GWOT" would not only not be fought, but would be condemned as the idiocy and insanity it is and should be declared, even by people who are not Christian pacifists.

Name one Democrat who has asked the President: what the hell? You go to New Orleans twice for photo ops, and neither time does it look any different than it did in September of '05? Mr. President, just how incompetent and corrupt and worthless is your Administration?

Name one Democrat who has stood up and said: wiretapping Americans is illegal, unconstitutional, unnecessary, and we've seen no evidence that it even works.

I could go on, and on, and on. The Democratic response would be a variation on the Clintonian one: it isn't politically expedient; it would be political suicide to speak up against the GWOT; or national security; nobody really cares about New Orleans anyway; etc., etc., etc. And all of this would be excused as simply a "failure of leadership" in the Democratic party which could be corrected, if a "leader" could just be found, would just step forward.

But it isn't a failure of leadership, and it isn't a lack of vision. It's the status quo, and if the two parties represent anything, it's the status quo. There is no serious question but that the Republicans and the Democratcs represent two sides of the same coin, and it's naive to think one will correct what the other has destroyed. What did Jimmy Carter do to restore the shattered office of President after Richard Nixon? He was hounded and berated at every turn and replaced with Ronald Reagan, who was more congenial than Nixon but who presided over a White House just as determined to use Presidential power despite the law or the consequences. Was he punished for that? Did America disapprove? Who cried for Oscar Romero, for Maura Clarke, Ita Ford, Jean Donovan, Dorothy Kazel, or "all the martyrs of...Salvador?" Have we ever learned to restrict US military power? If so, when?

What will a Democratically controlled Congress do about Iraq? New Orleans? The NSA? Medicare? Health insurance? What would President Kerry, President Gore, President Feingold, do in 2008? Anything? Really change anything? Issue executive orders shutting down Gitmo? Repeal all the EO's Bush has signed, repudiate his "signing statements," order troops home from Iraq, seek rapprochemant with the UN? Really?

Because I see no evidence of it. I see no indication any candidate for President on a Democratic ticket, or even in a Democratic primary, would announce those steps. And why don't I? Because it is what is needed; not just less venial neo-conservatives in the Adminsistration, but a true repudiation of what Bush/Cheney has wrought. But it won't happen, because power doesn't work that way. A Democratic President might not exert as much power as George W. Bush has, but they won't work to retract those extensions of Presidential authority, either. They won't dismantle the NSA, destroy all the illegally obtained records, make heads roll, clean the corruption out of the Pentagon (NPR had a story this morning making it clear the torture practices were not "bad apples" at the prison level) , tear up all the contracts Bush has issued for "border security," start an investigation of Halliburton, and begin giving as much power and money as possible to Louisiana so they can rebuild the Gulf Coast and New Orleans.

It. Just. Isn't. Gonna. Happen.

Politically, and strictly politically, those are our choices: Tweedledee, or Tweedledum.

So now what?

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