In politics, as on the stage, some things go together like rama lama lama ke ding a de dinga dong — and when they do, you should think “grease,” as in grease the wheels for business as usual. And when you hear politicians singing about how the American people are tired of the lack of civility on Capitol Hill, you can start typecasting freely: The characters are most likely Republicans who (a) recently lost an election, and/or (b) are trying to railroad an issue near and dear to their donors’ hearts through Congress without any telegenic debate.
What makes their posturing so entrancing is that these are the same cats who, following the 2004 elections, vowed to renominate 20 (count ’em: 20) ultra-conservative judges who were unable to make it through the Senate confirmation process the first time around. These are the same bad actors who changed the House ethics rules so that Tom DeLay — a politician nicknamed “the Hammer” with equal parts fear and admiration for his willingness to bust donkey and moderate-elephant balls alike — could retain his leadership position after he was indicted for campaign-finance fraud (they changed it back following some rather uncivil public outcry). This is the troupe whose lead thespian sent Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates on a worldwide tour that may star Egypt and Afghanistan but promotes an unmistakeable subplot: Iran is next.
I really don’t want to drop a “Great White Way” pun here, but it’s nigh unavoidable, and the administration has enlisted the usual supporting suspects for this latter-day Manifest Destiny production. A year ago, Alexander Cockburn’s Counterpunch.org reported that Fox News misrepresented an internal poll and reported that 60 percent of Americans would approve of airstrikes on Iran to prevent it from developing nuclear weapons — omitting a nuanced but pivotal “if diplomacy fails” caveat. More recently, Fox used the presidential “surge” press conference to push an anti-Iran agenda. On the Fox News Sunday following Bush’s address, Chris Wallace kept his interview with Vice President Dick Cheney tightly focused on Iraq’s neighbor, finally asking him, “Can you pledge, before you and the president leave office, you will take care of the threat of Iran?” He didn’t even say “please.”
The president, meanwhile, has asserted that he doesn’t need Congress’s approval — or voters’ or taxpayers’, either — to send 20,000 more troops to Iraq. This unilateral blunderbussing doesn’t strike me as terribly civil or bipartisan, but you can bet right-wing Republicans and pundits will accuse Democrats of obstructionism and bad manners if they successfully mount a resistance. Which they should do, with their eyes firmly planted on last November’s election returns. Because while it’s debatable whether the voting public values cross-aisle hand-holding more than an increase in the minimum wage and affordable health care (actually, it’s not debatable, but for the sake of politeness, we’ll just nod and smile for the moment), the American people have made it clear at the voting booths and in numerous polls that they want a change of policy in Iraq that includes a responsible exit strategy.
This is where “fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me” comes into play. Surprisingly little public shock has accompanied California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s recent proposals to limit the state’s CO2 emissions and provide health-care coverage to every resident forty-niner. Timing is, of course, everything, and you expect a professional actor — even a dependably ham-fisted actor — to have it down pat, along with the ability to upstage rivals. Which is exactly what the Terminator did when he took ownership of two issues that by all rights belong to the Democrats. How did this happen? To oversimplify a little, the Democrats listened to the Republicans a decade ago and failed to fight for Clinton’s proposed overhaul of the U.S. medical industry. Then they let the Republicans shout them down with claims that Global Warming was a tree-hugger fiction, even when the evidence was overwhelmingly on their side. Now, moderate Republicans are cashing in on issues their own party actively suppressed until the public outcry grew louder than the sound of corporate cash registers.
Now that Democrats once again have the upper hand in Congress, neo-cons and the Religious Right have wasted no time warning that Pelosi’s First 100 Hours initiative will turn off voters because it is not bipartisan or fair play, but Democrats listen to these double-standard-bearers at their own peril. Voters want action on a range of crucial issues that affect them and their families on a daily basis, from Iraq to fair wages to health care, and if that requires some verbal combat in the hallowed halls of Congress or among the chattering classes, I feel certain we can stomach it. We might even shout for an encore.
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