June 25, 2008
Hans Off Our Elections!

Since I unflaggingly rag on the Democrats, it’s incumbent on me to praise when I see them do something praiseworthy. And they’ve managed to keep Hans von Spakovsky off the Federal Election Commission, so here’s a heartfelt Bravo! going out to the Democrats for that achievement. Since I read this in an AP article, I dare not link to it, though it was on the New York Times website; but I’m sure you can google up someone else’s article on the same topic.

Looking for Mr. Goodnews

It’s a small enough victory in some ways — I mean, considering

  • the war, in which most of the Democrats were complicitHans_von_Spakovsky.jpg
  • the economy, especially the housing meltdown, resulting from long-term as well as short-term policies, most of which had strong bipartisan support in Congress over the last several administrations
  • the environment, and preparation for disasters in general, problems for which Republicans are more responsible, but the Democrats haven’t been stars either
  • the cave on telecom immunity, plus previous caves on habeas corpus, extraordinary renditions, etc.
  • the inability to do anything about torture until the courts made Congressional action unnecessary

But it’s real, and it’s likely to have some positive effects on the honesty of the election. One might even dare to hope that the backbone shown in standing up against the Spakovsky nomination is a harbinger of things to come. In any case, it’s certainly a win to remove this smiling dirtbag from any office, organization, or assembly he’s in, or indeed near.

What can we learn from this?

The lesson appears to be that the Democrats can make a stand on principle, and succeed in forcing the White House to act (at a minimum) according to the law. In the end, the administration withdrew Spakovsky’s nomination as a means of returning the Commission to working order: there are normally six commissioners, there’ve only been two since the beginning of this year, and decisions require a minimum of four votes.

Now we might hope for the laws to be faithfully executed. McCain has been combining attacks on Obama for opting out of public election financing with open violations of the very same laws himself, and getting away with it because the FEC only has two members.

But is this really the lesson? McCain’s campaign is expecting a pile of public-financing bucks. Problem is, he can’t simply grab the money and run; there’s got to be a vote by the FEC. Which, you recall, requires four votes, which haven’t been available. So McCain may have to eliminate the campaign-finance law violations, but he’ll get $85 million to cover his transition costs.

The audacity of compromise

Maybe I’m too cynical, but I see in this saga not a harbinger of hope, and certainly not one of audacity, but one of compromise extended to the horizon. The Democrats won the day not by standing up for what was right and organizing support and holding fast to their beliefs, but by in effect holding hostage the public campaign-finance funds the McCain camp anticipates.

Not that I complain about extortion as political method; it happens all the time. In fact some form of extortion is pretty much basic tender in politics. What I’m trying to do here is puzzle out the behavior patterns of the party and see if anything can be done to influence it in positive directions.

What seems to have happened in the Spakovsky case is that the Democrats used their control of the money to force compliance. I’m fine with that strategy. I just want them to use that strategy when it counts. Which they haven’t in the past, and didn’t in this case. Democrats won this battle because the other side decided they wanted $85 million in public funds more than they wanted Spakovsky on the FEC. They changed plans, and the Democrats claimed victory.

The Obama revolution?

Here’s exactly what I’m afraid the Obama dream might become. The Democratic party has always fought internal battles with at least as much ferocity as it employed against the opposition. But since the Reagan administration brought what Obama has called new ideas into the White House, the Democratic party has synonomous with — well, I’ll spare you the invective and limit myself to “spinelessness”.

Which is bad enough when we’re talking about domestic issues like where the wealth goes and who gets education and health care and who goes to prison. California used to have an educational system that was the envy of most of the world, nearly free as far as your work and your smarts would take you. The point was clearly to educate as much of the population as possible.

Then came the Republican Revolution, much of it starting here, and our point is once again clear: we’re scared of everybody. We’re educating fewer and imprisoning more, and passing the savings on to the very rich. What savings, you say? There are no savings from educating fewer and imprisoning more? True. Thus we must create savings, which we do by changing the tax structure so that wealth flows up the ladder, increasing inequality and thus providing more work for the prisons. Synergy, I think they call it.

As Americans we have the God-given freedom to crucify ourselves on whatever cross of gold strikes our fancy. But when the Democrats’ spinelessness extends to complicity in criminal wars, that’s a different thing. Going by the peer-reviewed and apparently methodologically sound Lancet studies, about a million Iraqis have been killed one way or another by the American invasion, plus about five million “displaced”, driven from their homes, nearly half of whom have left the country.

If Mexico invaded the US, it would have to kill 11 million Americans and displace 55 million more to match these percentages. Such actions might be expected to leave a certain amount of disgruntlement behind. Thus blowback. Thus 9/11. Thus fewer civil liberties and greater concentration of wealth. Producing more disgruntlement, and so on. As I said a year ago, it’s a great business.

I suspect the best hope for maintaining the current structure of power and privilege (if that’s your goal) is to allow the insertion of a soul into the juggernaut of capitalism. Otherwise, our trajectory seems headed for something between another Depression and another Paris Commune.

My fear is that the Democrats are too heavily invested in the business of American Business to realize what’s going on: the business has morphed into a war machine, and is attempting to set itself up as a modern Colossus. This business model is bound to fail. The country must disinvest. The question that remains is whether the Democrats continue to resist the obvious necessity.

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Posted by Chuck Dupree at June 25, 2008 09:34 PM
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The business hasn't morphed into a war machine, as far as I can tell it has been a war machine continuously, and when one war ends they look around for another one to start or participate in.

As long as there is war anywhere, it is likely that our war-profiting corporations are involved. Our armaments on one or the other side, if not both.

We need a massive social transformation, not just a change of political parties. Hence my focus.

Posted by: Michael on June 26, 2008 1:18 AM

Whether the war would bankrupt the USA and UK depends on the value of the commodities that can be stolen from the Iraqi people. The value of the oil there has increased many fold since the war started. With oil likely reaching $200 to $300 a barrel with the advent of peak oil and high demand from India and China, the USA and UK may eventually make money from this invasion until alternative fuels are found. Especially if the USA and UK can find cheap oil while China, Japan, Korea, and India feel the oil shock, the economics might work in the favour of the USA and UK.

Posted by: Lee Passman on June 29, 2008 11:00 AM
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