February 12, 2007
Democracy, Theory and Practice

Democracy is great in theory, but in practice The People are often wrong. And they’re pretty gullible, so it’s not unknown for them to be cheated. Then what?

Leadership and Democracy

Suppose you see the current situation as fraught with danger and the call as critical. In your opinion most of the decisions of the last couple of decades have been wrong, so wrong that they’ve led to the current problems. If someone doesn’t act soon to change that, we’re all in trouble. The People need someone to stand up and do the right thing, to help everyone realize the right approach. Of course most of them will criticize that person, but that’s symptomatic of the disease itself, which hopefully the right example, the right leadership, can modify. If only we could find someone with such strength…

And how would we recognize him or her? Partly, no doubt, by a willingness to separate from the herd and pursue the correct policy, prepared for the inevitable criticism. Strength under fire is vital for a real leader, and democracy needs leadership.

Don’t Go Well Together

Or maybe not. Perhaps it’s the whole leadership thing that keeps getting us in trouble. Jerry’s thesis, belatedly adopted recently by others less acute — that Bush has been something of a psychological captive to his father issues — is, I think, quite accurate. Everyone knows both Bush and Cheney skipped the Vietnam war despite their vocal support for it. Today they appear to agree that the perception of strength is vital, but they don’t seem to care a whit for the real thing. In this way, their positions have been consistent: they view themselves as towers of strength despite the facts. A rickety position at best.

I think the Vice President has perfected the art of selective belief, also known as cherry-picking the intelligence. This is a thing Americans understand, uncomfortably, much like they understood Clinton’s famous ability to compartmentalize. He really did feel your pain. Then he really did walk into the next room and sign a bill that screwed you. He wasn’t faking either one of them. This has been an important skill for statesmen for a long time; for example, here’s Gibbon mitigating the accusations that Constantine “used the altars of the Church as a convenient footstool to the throne”:

In an age of religious fervour, the most artful statesmen are observed to feel some of the enthusiasm which they inspire; and the most orthodox saints assume the dangerous privilege of defending the cause of truth by the arms of deceit and falsehood. Personal interest is often the standard of our belief, as well as of our practice…

The President, however, seems to be living in a fantasy much like Ralph Wiggum’s dreams in “Lisa the Vegetarian”: he’s a Viking. He knows Machiavelli’s answer to the question — Is it better for a Prince to be loved or feared by his people? — but he misses the true meaning. Probably he read about Machiavelli, or more likely saw a TV documentary. I believe it was in James Bamford’s A Pretext for War that I read the intelligence briefer’s velvet diss of Bush as a multimodal learner. Apparently they kept having to make the daily brief shorter and shorter, and eventually there might have been some PowerPoint involved.

Me and the VP, We’re Like This

It seems to me now that the model of leadership employed by the Vice President, and therefore by the President, involves some feelings I can identify with:

  • That things are headed very much the wrong direction
  • That disaster awaits us as a community, a polis, unless we make drastic course corrections
  • That many of the Americans who disagree with my point of view are seriously deluded, at best
  • Thus, when it comes to it, that my survival depends on other peoples’ failure

For example, if Dick Cheney succeeds in his designs, the Middle East will be on fire, terrorism will haunt the farthest reaches of the globe, the US heartland will learn what the intelligence community means by “blowback”, and we’ll all be in big trouble.

At least, that’s how it seems to me. Of course, no one really cares how it seems to me because my power to change things is limited. But if I believed these things at the same time I occupied a position of significant power, I can’t imagine not being tempted to exercise that power to save the Republic, if that’s what I had convinced myself was at stake. Ideology is often a cover for self-interest, and all power corrupts.

In sum, it’s looking like we need someone to point us in the direction of The Path. Of what, after all, does leadership consist? For instance, does a statement like this qualify?

“I would never have expected any president, if we knew then what we know now, to come to ask for a vote. There would not have been a vote, and I certainly would not have voted for it.”

Only slightly better than “We were never ‘Stay the course’”.

Diagnosis

It certainly seems that for different reasons Mr. Cheney and Mr. Bush both need to rebel against the Common Wisdom.

The President, as Jerry has long maintained, is still struggling with his father issues. The Vice President, on the other hand, has adopted a world view that appears to draw strength from criticism. Which makes sense in a sort of Seinfeldian way, but is highly suboptimal as a foreign policy strategy.

As much as I agree with most of the article, I have to disagree with the last bit from Maureen Dowd:

You must have a real talent for derangement to stay wrong every step of the way, to remain in complete denial about Iraq’s civil war, to have a total misunderstanding of Arab culture, to be completely oblivious to the American mood and to be absolutely blind to how democracy works.

To my mind the Vice President is quite aware of how democracy works, and feels it his duty to subvert those workings. But she’s right to say

Mr. Cheney has turned his perversity into foreign policy.

He assumes that the more people think he’s crazy, the saner he must be. In Dr. No’s nutty world-view, anti-Americanism is a compliment. The proof that America is right is that everyone thinks it isn’t.

This is not bipartisanship, it’s bipolarity.

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Posted by Chuck Dupree at February 12, 2007 01:37 AM
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Comments

I can’t believe you guys are going for the belief that Dick Cheney actually thinks the way he appears to do:

“I think the Vice President has perfected the art of selective belief”, I can’t believe I have read this.

Political ideas are so twentieth century; alongside lust for power. Believing that the Bushistes actually do stand somewhere on issues is inimical for our democracy: it is playing the same game as our daily media that have already fell for the fiction that this administration is indeed composed of real politicians rather than corporate puppets.

Dick does not believe in anything except making tons of money for him and his richest friends. Greed is his only ethos; the same is true as well for Dick’s “mini-me” – George W. Bush.

But this greed, in order to succeed, must be veiled under a political semblance, under a ideological program, in order to make us believe than this administration indeed has political beliefs. And what better tactic for making us believe that bushists do believe in political axioms and rhetoric than uttering outrageous ones – such as Dick Cheney's “we’re making magnificent progress in Iraq”, during his now infamous interview on CNN.

Please folks, don’t get fooled. The task is to oust, to try and to serve those oil and corporate Mafiosi their comeuppance; those gangsters who have successfully transformed the White House into a corporate emporium while painting it as the spearhead in the fight for democracy in the world. And, in order to do so successfully, our frame of mind must be to staunchly disbelieve anything these crooks might say, but also to understand that especially they, too, are not believing a bit what they are saying.

Posted by: Dante lee on February 12, 2007 1:52 PM

To posit the opponent as the fount of all evil is equally wrong, and equally repugnant, from both ends of the political spectrum. We are not all good, and They are not all bad.

Posted by: Chuck Dupree (Belisarius) on February 13, 2007 5:58 PM

I meant to add, "IMHO".

Posted by: Chuck Dupree (Belisarius) on February 13, 2007 7:29 PM

Cheney's main drive is not to money but to power, personal power. (Although money can be considered to be crystallized power). Both Cheney and Rumsfeld have spent their entire long (both are career bureaucrats and pols, although they'd hate to admit it) careers reaching out for and amassing power. Rumsfeld was even able to outmaneuver that old veteran powerseeker, Kissinger. Of the Rumsfeld-Cheney twins, Cheney ultimately proved to be better at the power game than his old boss and mentor, Rumsfeld. Cheney wormed his way into Boy Bush's confidence and got named to head the VP search team, which allowed him to dig into the past of every other candidate until he found enough dirt to kill them off. Leaving only him standing. And then, having slipped the Boy Bush into his hip pocket, only one man stood in his way. That was his old mentor Rumsfeld, who was in his dotage and could be gotten rid of just by letting him run loose in the Pentagon and Iraq till he tripped over his own dick. Cheney is an expanding cancer, or maybe a fungoid growth that spreads and spreads and spreads. Thank God he is mortal. I hope.

Posted by: CCRyder on February 13, 2007 8:53 PM
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