Ric Was Right

At the beginning and end of 2004, I wrote here that it would be the year that determined whether America would remain a democracy. The axis upon which that question turned was whether George Bush would receive a second term in the White House, but there was more to it than that. Through that year, I was able to see too many incidents pointing to creeping totalitarianism in our country.

Everyone was supposed to feel relief last year when the Democrats took control of both houses of Congress. Perhaps we were supposed to feel even better as we watched the Bush Administration and the Republican Party collapsing into scandals and incompetence in the months since.

I wish I could agree, but I can’t. I think we’ve swung so far into complacency and cowardice that we don’t realize how far gone we are. If we need evidence for that hypothesis, look no farther than the resolutions passed overwhelmingly in the House and Senate this week commending the American commander in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus, and condemning MoveOn.org for its New York Times ad. The ad asked if Gen. Petraeus, would become “Gen. Betray Us” by cooking the books for the Bush Administration in his testimony before Congress.

First, there’s the First Amendment. The Constitution? Freedom of Speech? Anyone remember that concept? (As I type this, all I hear are crickets. I hope it’s not a sign.) Whether one agrees or disagrees with the view presented in the ad, MoveOn’s members have a right to speak their minds.

Second, is it an outrageous notion to suggest a general might present a less-than-candid assessment of the situation in Iraq in testimony before Congress? As I recall, it was a former general’s (Colin Powell’s) less-than-candid assessment of the situation in Iraq in testimony before the UN Security Council that helped get us into this mess in the first place.

I have nothing against Gen. Petraeus, but anyone who jumps into a partnership with Bush/Cheney at this late stage has to expect questions about his or her integrity. The general is – or should be – a big boy, playing in a big league. He shouldn’t need Congress to fight his battles for him.

The tempest over the MoveOn ad reminds me of the contumely heaped not so long ago on Markos Moulitsas for referring to private security contractors in Iraq as “mercenaries.” How dare he? But now, after Blackwater shooters have left several Iraqi corpses scattered across Nisoor Square in Baghdad, it looks like Mr. Moulitsas was giving us a warning we should have heeded.

That incident and this are part of a long, inglorious string of gutter politics practiced by Republicans. There was the comparison of Georgia Sen. Max Cleland (D), who lost both legs and an arm in Vietnam, to Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein and of course, the truthless “Swift Boat” campaign against Sen. John Kerry (D-MA).

Now we have the Republicans, with their histrionic tears of “outrage” over the “Betray Us” ad, but days later, Rush Limbaugh called one of their own – Sen. Check Hagel (R-NE) – “Senator Betray Us” and all I hear about that is still those crickets outside my window.

On the other hand, we have the cowardly Democrats, far too many of whom caved in to the GOP bully tactics (including, I’m sorry to say, two of the three members of Vermont’s delegation).

It’s the craven behavior of the Democrats that has me worried for the future of small “d” democracy in America. They’re the party in power – supposedly – but they don’t have the courage to resist the worst jingoist bait.

If Congress really wants to pass resolutions commending a general’s testimony and defending him from unwarranted criticism, then they owe a long-overdue resolution to Gen. Eric “Ric” Shinseki, who before the invasion told the Senate Armed Services Committee it would take “several hundred thousand” soldiers to pacify Iraq.

For his honesty and patriotism, Gen. Shinseki was hooted and jeered at by the deputy secretary and secretary of Defense, Paul Wolfowitz and Donald Rumsfeld. Where are the Republican senators rushing to defend Gen. Shinseki’s honor? Where are the Democrats?

If democracy does survive in America, there will someday be a statue honoring Gen. Shinseki in Washington, DC. If democracy does not, expect a thousand statues of George Bush.

© Mark Floegel, 2007

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