Editorial: A Few Rays of Sunshine Pierce the Fog

By Becky O’Malley
Tuesday November 21, 2006

We drove to Sacramento on Sunday afternoon, through a dense tule fog which made seeing the road a dicey proposition. The fog lifted just as we came into town, and was still gone when we came back to the Bay Area. The trip seemed a bit like the current political perspective.  

This year those who feel the weight of the world on their shoulders have some things to be thankful for this Thanksgiving. It appears that the majority of the winners in the national election are people who understand that the war on Iraq was a big mistake, and that the elected representatives are going to make a good faith effort to figure out what to do now. Not, of course, that naysayers can’t still find plenty to worry about, since what to do is still not a whole lot clearer than I-80 in a tule fog. The easiest prediction is that even if the U.S. troops pulled out next week Iraq would face a civil war which would last for many years.  

Also, it’s not guaranteed that the Congress of the United States of America currently has enough power to effect a rapid withdrawal even if it wanted one. The contractor corporations are so entrenched in Iraq that getting them out will take years. If you believe Lewis Lapham’s cynical suggestion that the real purpose of the Iraq invasion was not to liberate Iraq but to provide a way of transferring taxpayers’ money to corporate pockets, the job is still not 100% done. There’s a lot more money to be made, and the profiteers are tenacious.  

U.S. contractors have built immense detached bases in Iraq with all the American amenities (even Burger Kings). These are well-positioned to control access to the vast pool of oil on which Iraq sits. They won’t be easily abandoned, even if Baghdad and Basra proper become increasingly unappealing to the occupying forces.  

And milking the military is a new American tradition in many areas. A friend relays a story from a young relative who has joined the Air Force. Everyone in his group is now required to carry a cell phone, and there’s only one approved vendor, which is now making out like, well, bandits. 

But perhaps the new Congress will be able to figure something out.  

Recent accounts of the election of the House majority leader demonstrated primarily that a lot of reporters can’t find much to do in Washington but are reluctant to leave town to look for better stories. Old pols are well aware that taking a fall on behalf of a friend once in a while is how you make more friends for the future. Loyalty counts for a lot. As a second-generation professional politician, Nancy Pelosi clearly believed that it was important to recognize an old ally by supporting Murtha’s candidacy for majority leader, but that’s not the same thing as saying that she cared deeply whether or not he actually got the job. 

There was also a lot of Washington chat in the big media about new Democratic electees being almost as conservative as the Republicans they replaced, but when you do the numbers that’s just not true. This is especially apparent when you sort out those who do disagree for religious reasons with the standard liberal position on matters sexual, notably abortion and marriage, with new senator Robert Casey in Pennsylvania a prime example. His views on abortion didn’t affect his condemnation of the Iraq war or his campaign to repeal high-end tax cuts.  

One area where it should be possible to fix things fast is the accumulated assaults on human rights and civil liberties which were rushed through over the summer at the behest of the Bush administration. Most of those should simply be repealed as of early January. Civil liberties organizations should be working right now on a minimum laundry list of changes that must be made to restore the traditional rights of Americans and internationally recognized human rights. No Democrat, no matter how conservative the district, was elected on a platform of supporting Bush’s assault on habeas corpus. 

Newly elected congresspersons might be tempted to buy into the Rahm Emmanuel version of political correctness: that being as much like the Republicans as possible will keep you in power. There are two good counter-examples to that misguided belief: Tammy Duckworth’s loss in Ohio, where she was injected by Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in place of someone who almost won in 2004 and could have won this time, and Jerry McNerney’s California race, where he needed to beat the conservative DCCC candidate in a primary before going on to victory in November.  

So how do we keep the Democrats from blowing it between now and 2008? Making sure that Howard Dean stays on as national chair will help—though undoubtedly someone’s plotting at this very moment to knock him off, since a lot of people hate winners. Getting to know all the new people in Congress and supporting them when they do the right thing will help a lot.  

We’ve been getting a lot of robot-mail at the Planet from some organizations which are still pushing impeaching George Bush, but it’s hard to see why that would be a good idea. Our lifetime political hero, John Conyers, has shifted gears in the wake of the unexpected Congressional victory and dropped his call for impeachment. That seems like an eminently sensible recommendation from a canny old fox who knows his turf. It would be a big marketing mistake to turn Dubya into a victim, which would only provoke his addle-brained base to rally round in sympathy. Much better he should be encouraged to keep on looking like a fool, as he has lately. That way he won’t have enough prestige to appoint a successor—and most one-time Republican presidential hopefuls took a beating in the recent election.