Over the dying summer. I have known No truce with Time nor Time’s accomplice, Death.
~ Wilfrid Scawen Blunt
What a surreal moment this faded end-of-summer 2005.
We are locked in an evil lost war of staggering costs. Some flail at the atrocity in a cause that seems equally lost. Most play on in the ebbing season’s sun, oblivious to reckonings.
In Washington rules the worst regime in memory. Yet it falls to a fiercely bereaved 48-year-old mother, camping beside a dusty ditch in Texas, to embody the conscience of the culture, at least until the media move on.
The regime in its outrage struts essentially unopposed in our supposed democracy. Protest rises powerless. The oblivious go uninformed, unled.
Ignorant of the issues, cravenly afraid of risking privilege for principle, hostage to corrupt advisors and a corrupted calculus of national interest, Democrats not only mistake the public mood and fail the minimal duty of opposition, but join the folly. From Hillary Clinton to Barack Obama, Capitol Hill barons to camp-following bloggers, they stand bravely for more fodder more efficiently fed to the calamity, huddling earnestly to the right of the most egregious right-wing aggression in our history. Add to the Iraqi disaster the defining debacle of our second intellectually and morally derelict party.
Even if Democrats poll to find courage convenient, as some surely will, it will do us little good. Like the odd rebel Republicans (Senator Hagel & Co., who exhibit, ironically, what conservatives always said about enlisting more integrity than the other side of the aisle), they will find this Presidency peculiarly, frighteningly immune to advice and consent.
There is quixotic talk about George W. Bush reprising Lyndon Johnson or Richard Nixon, variously undone by intra-party revolt, demonstrations, defection of the Establishment, scandal. I was in the White House when the “Wise Men” of postwar American foreign policy told LBJ that Wall Street as well as Main Street had deserted the Vietnam War. I was there later as Nixon sullenly, anxiously watched a million protesters engulf Pennsylvania Avenue. I saw those politicians, however grudgingly, however slowly, respond to reality.
We must be clear. Bush is no Johnson or Nixon. This president is not simply the least competent ever thrown up. He is also the most pathological. Every shred of evidence of the man and his rule, every witness, leak, and gesture reek of it. Freshman psychology students and amateur therapists smell it instantly. To quote a distinguished analyst who’ll remain anonymous for the sake of his Republican patients:
George W. is a narcissistic personality. He is self-referent. He sees things only from his point of view and by extension sees and represents the America that reflects it. He is able to create a seamless ball into which nothing else can penetrate. As with other narcissistic personalities, he lives his entitlement and grandiosity in his case even seeing himself as fulfilling God’s wishes on earth. He does not need to check any other reality. He knows that what feels right to him is right for everyone. The rules do not apply to him (college, the reserves, etc.) only to those who need rules to do what is right. Unlike Senator Frist, I tend not to diagnose in absentia, but with George W., all of us could go on and on.
On and on is how the pathology will be manifest in the torment of Iraq. It hardly matters how vested Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, the Generals, corporations, media claque, complicit Democrats. Bush is enough. The cowardice and blindness, craftiness and stupidity of the war policy, and of the whole myth-encrusted and corrupt mentality around it, will persist so long as Bush and all who used and accepted him remain in office.
Despite the seeming death of politics, we have never known a crisis and opportunity more political. The moment cries out for politics fought as never before.
Not for more wailing at how venally awful it all is, marveling at how the reactionaries did it, as if Churchill’s British spent the autumn of 1940 shaking their heads and endlessly writing one another about how it happened Nazis were at the gate. There is no time for that. The poet is right. For this generation of progressives, time’s accomplice is death senseless, generations-haunting death in Iraq, and all the other deaths of body and spirit inflicted by America’s misrule at home and abroad. What to do is plain.
Fight now. Fight everywhere. Take the battle first and foremost to where power lives.
Progressives must contest all 435 House seats and all 33 Senate seats up in 2006, along with every governor, legislator and local official not unequivocally against the war and more, everywhere a Republican or a compromised Democrat presumes to govern. Never mind Beltway braying that it’s not practical and a waste, the myth of non-competitive races reinforcing the one-party system. The point is to stop playing by the old rules. Like the RAF in 1940, we must take on even the impossible. In the underlying volatility of the American electorate, every challenge is a threat, every spark a potential burn clear. Politicians know this. No Democrat will face a primary challenge on the war, no Republican will face it in the general, without risk. No progressive will run without gain. No lesson will be lost.
The campaign everywhere is simple. Stop the dying. Stop the lying. In Iraq and beyond. About foreign policy, energy, jobs, and so much, much more.
To carry that message progressives have never been stronger, never so mobilized, conscious, savvy. If they are serious about spending their money to save the century, the new progressive donors will add to the strength by funding genuinely new policy thinking and answers to arm our candidates. From dealing at last with the scandal of our health care system to conducting at last a civilized foreign policy. From finding the tipping point in lifting the root oppression of campaign money to adopting non-lethal alternatives to guzzling away as if there’s no energy or environmental crisis, as if a global warming-unleashed hurricane were not now pounding away to ravage 25% of the nation’s oil supply off Louisiana, with more like it to follow.
None of this will happen in old ways and institutions under yesterday’s men. We will never have a chance to stop the dying and lying until we stop the irrelevant and self-indulgent, the jockeying and empty debating. Winning means unity, and unifying means ready sacrifice of credit, precedence, postage-stamp domains of power and prestige we substitute for serious politics. It is an ancient adage. We cannot lead without humility, govern a nation without governing ourselves.
Most important, our fatal attraction, we must go unseduced by the Democrats, who have made seduction and abandonment of progressives a lucrative career.
We can, of course, stand by wringing as the Democrats nominate Hillary Clinton and the Republicans Giuliani, McCain or some more transparent throw-back. We can easily go on blogging and bandaging in this half-mad twilight.
Or we can act as the free people our soldiers in the deadly sun of Mesopotamia, however deluded, misused or misled, think they are defending. We can take up the fight for them and more, street to street, door to door, with $20 bills or $20 million. We can turn weakness into strength, retreat into advance, defeat into victory.
We lost the invasion of Iraq and the election of 2004, not our souls. We lost battles. The war for the future America’s and the world’s is only beginning. But there can be no more waiting to fight. No truce with time nor its accomplice.
September 2, 2005