Author's Note: Approximately six million U.S. citizens live overseas,
most of them eligible to vote back home. Democrats Abroad has so many
active chapters all over the world that their ex-pat members have some
leverage in shaping Dem policy and a number wind up as delegates to the
National Convention. The largest German chapter is in Munich and they
have been kind enough to invite me, as a progressive blogger/public
speaker from the States, to meet with them during my occasional trips to
Germany when visiting my wife's family.
In the two weeks prior to my most recent DA talk, I had the occasion to
speak with numerous Germans and Austrians about their take on American
foreign and domestic policy. As on previous visits to other countries in
the past six years (Crete/Greece, Morocco, Italy, Thailand, Cambodia,
Laos), the virtually unanimous reaction of the locals was to commiserate
with me as an American with leaders as ignorant, reckless and
incompetent as Cheney and Bush. This attitude, voiced by everyone I met
on my recent trip to Europe -- from service providers to businessmen to
college professors to current officers and former employees of
multi-national corporations -- was expressed even before they learned my
political persuasion. The roof message above, photographed in Vienna,
seems to capture the general point of view.
As for my recent presentation to DA-Munich, the meeting room was packed
with activist Dems living and working in and around Bavaria's largest
city. These Democrats mirror the progressive, activist base back in the
States: They are politically savvy and deeply perplexed by their party's
timid leadership in Washington. Here are my brief opening remarks, with
a few updates:
Many of you may remember that the last time you had me here, a month or
so before the 2006 midterm elections, I said that it looked like the
Democrats could well sweep into control of the House and Senate, but, if
that happened, CheneyBush might react with even more criminality and
desperation. And that having majority control in the Congress would not
be an instant utopia for Democrats, but merely the first steps for a new
beginning. And that's pretty much what has occurred.
This evening, a little more than a year out from the next presidential
election and only a few months before the first primaries, I want to
talk about three overview subjects: 1) The imploding CheneyBush
Administration, and the dangerous actions of that cornered, wounded
beast. 2) The ongoing Iraq Occupation and the impending attack on Iran.
3) The positive and negative nature of current Democratic Party policy,
including some discussion about the leading contenders for the
My take is that of a blogger activist in the States; I'll be interested
to hear what the situation looks like from your perspective on the other
side of the pond.
1. DOWN IN THE BUSH BUNKER
The ranks of the Bush Bunker crew, the loyalists who still remain in
White House, are shrinking fast, especially with the departure of Rove,
Gonzales, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Libby, et al. The first-tier decision
makers left include Cheney, Addington, Hadley, and Bush; I don't include
Defense Secretary Bob Gates (as he's being frozen out by Cheney&Co.), or
Rice and Chertoff, who are basically toadies to their boss.
Given the catastrophe that is the war in Iraq (and the one about to
begin against Iran), along with the various corruption and sex and
policy scandals involving Republican stalwarts, and the enormous
unpopularity of Cheney and Bush -- given all those GOP negatives, one
would be tempted to say that things look rosy for Democrats going into
the November 2008 election.
But if we've learned anything in the past six-plus years, it's that the
CheneyBush crew do not give up easily, and are quite happy to continue
their smashmouth, in-your-face, big-lie brand of politics until someone
stops them. Given their bleak situation, they are worried, to be sure --
GOP members of Congress are especially anxious about being wiped out in
2008, but they are sticking with the Administration for now -- but
CheneyBush are not in any mood to give up and slink away.
Why? Partially because they realize their criminal culpability and wish
to remain outside the federal slammer. They continue to control
enormously powerful governmental forces to help protect themselves and
their friends and punish their enemies. I'm referring to their control
of the Judicial Branch, including the Department of Justice, the U.S.
Attorneys around the country, the courts they've packed with their
ideological brethren, and FEMA, the agency that would supervise martial
law if and when it were to be invoked. CheneyBush also still control
much of the mass-media, who either are ideologically in bed with them or
afraid to openly challenge the Administration on its behavior and
In terms of the military power center, there are scores of retired
generals and colonels, and currently serving officers, who snipe at the
Administration's dangerous and failed military policies; a few days ago,
Ricardo Sanchez who commanded the troops in Iraq in 2003-2004,
blistered Administration policy from the occupation then to the current
"surge" now. But CheneyBush still can count on the military services to
execute their orders, reckless or no.
THE ABANDONED DEM MANDATE
Now you may say that I'm ignoring a very real impediment to the
CheneyBush juggernaut: the Democrats, who defeated them handily in the
2006 midterm elections. Surely, one would think, the Democrats would be
able to use their considerable majority muscle to roll back one bad
Administration policy after another, and to make sure CheneyBush do
limited major damage in the next 15 months before they depart the
But the Democrats, who inherited a clear mandate for major change in the
midterm elections, especially on the need to get the U.S. out of Iraq,
have little to show for their victory. Several committee chairmen
(symbolized by Waxman, Conyers, Leahy, a few others) have conducted
important hearings and investigations. But in the main, this amounts to
Democrats nipping at CheneyBush around the edges, hardly ever
confronting their impeachable offenses frontally. Certainly, the
Democrats make a lot of noise, hold a lot of one-day hearings and the
like, but CheneyBush made a conscious political decision to simply
Executive Branch leaders are subpoenaed to testify or to provide
potentially incriminating documents -- but these officials simply do not
comply. The Democrats threaten them with, and then cite them for,
"contempt of Congress," but then choose not to enforce those contempt
citations. Time and time again, the Dems back away or roll over for the
Republicans, who by holding together in Congress create real
obstructionist problems for the Democrats.
Even so, the Dems allow their favorite bills to go down to defeat
(especially on the war) on the mere threat of a GOP filibuster,
without ever making the Republicans actually mount a filibuster, where
they would have to put themselves on the record attempting to defend the
indefensible. Similarly, the Democrats have within their power -- 41
Senate votes would do it -- to withhold war-funding for anything other
than bringing U.S. troops home, but the Dems don't even attempt such a
move. In short, the Democrats are mostly bark with no effective bite,
and they've taken their major weapon, impeachment, "off the table"; as a
result of all this timidity and embarrassing lack of progress, the
approval ratings for Congress are even lower than they are for Bush and
Cheney, especially so with rank-and-file Democrats.
2. THE PERMANENT IRAQ WAR
It seems plain that CheneyBush have no desire, and no intention, to
withdraw from Iraq. They aren't building that humongous new embassy and
those hardened military bases for nothing. Iraq is to be the staging
point for U.S. policy in the greater Middle East for a very long time.
Bush likens the mission and time-frame to U.S. troops remaining in South
Korea for more than half a century -- ignoring that South Korea in the
'50s had no insurgent rebels trying to force out the occupiers, no
religious and sectarian civil war raging, no American leaders talking
about a "crusade," etc.
Apparently, Bush figures that even though the U.S. can not "win" in
Iraq, it can't "lose" either. The U.S. eventually will pull back to its
massive bases inside the country -- where they will be sitting ducks for
rocket and mortar attacks -- and remain effectively in charge of actual
Iraq policy while it carries out its covert and overt actions all over
the greater Middle East.
It's entirely possible, indeed likely, that the U.S. -- perhaps in
coordination with its one dependable ally in the area, Israel -- will
attack Iran's military infrastructure and weapons labs sometime between
now and October of next year. All the signs point to that impending
attack, and the campaign has begun in earnest to "catapult the
propaganda" (in a manner eerily similar to U.S. actions prior to
attacking Iraq) and to provoke the Iranians into taking some action or
position that will outrage Americans into acquiescing to an attack on
Iran, devoid of any imminent threat to the United States. The Democrats
in Congress, incidentally, have done little or nothing to stem -- or
even seriously talk about -- this likely attack; several of their
leading candidates are on record as favoring an attack, should it come
to that. Indeed, more opposition seems to be coming from inside the
Pentagon than from Democratic leaders and candidates.
3. WHAT LIES AHEAD FOR DEMOCRATS?
So now we come to the future of our party, so filled with hope after
November of last year, so frustrating and irritating to so many in the
The Democratic leadership seems to be utilizing, to use a football term,
a "prevent defense" strategy. They see the Republicans imploding in one
scandal after another (sex, financial misconduct, political disasters),
see the war in Iraq going nowhere except into a political and civil-war
maelstrom, see the awful candidates the GOP is putting up (in one recent
GOP poll, "none of the above" won). They look at all this
self-destructive Republican behavior and seem to be saying: Why should
we stick our necks out with any major "offense" initiatives? Let's just
watch the Republicans' self-immolate and in November waltz into the
White House and grow our majorities in the House and Senate?
But with these "loyal Bushies," who are always on the offense, if you
only play "prevent" you run the very real risk of a catastrophic defeat
as events change on the ground prior to the election.
I think it's true that if present trends continue, the Democrats will do
very well in Senate and House races next November, and will extend their
control of the Congress, maybe even obtaining a veto-proof majority.
Theoretically, the Dems should take the White House as well. But, even
without considering major changes beyond their control that could affect
the presidential race -- such as an attack on Iran or major developments
in Iraq, or a real or invented "terrorist" incident at home, or a
successful manipulation of the Electoral College vote into
congressional-district voting in key states instead of winner-take-all,
etc. -- even without all that, the Democrats, as is their pattern in
recent years, could well snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
How could this happen? Let's look at just two things.
1. The activist base is so angry at Democratic leadership for its weak
or non-existent initiatives with regard to Iraq, Iran, Impeachment,
Domestic Spying, Torture, Habeas Corpus, etc., that it could well decide
to sit on its collective hands in November of 2008. Or bolt to the
Greens. Or help create a viable new third party, perhaps in
collaboration with the angered, frustrated Republican base -- those
centrists, moderates, libertarians and old-fashioned conservatives
appalled by the extremists who have hijacked their party and taken it
into dangerous foreign adventurism, who have stomped all over the
Constitution, who have created such outrageous deficits and debt. A
bi-partisan, populist "Unity" ticket, in other words.
2. I've been writing about this anger building in the Democratic base
for quite some time. Believe me, I'm not making it up. Just before we
left the Bay Area to fly to Munich, the following, highly typical
letter-to-the-editor appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle. I've seen
similar letters and commentary in a wide variety of newspapers and
websites; they speak for a huge chunk of disenchanted Democrats and
others who normally would be voting Democratic in '08:
Editor - ... As of today, I will vote for Sen. Barack Obama or Bill
Richardson [in the primary], because in my opinion, Sen. Hillary
Clinton is the best chance the Democrats have to lose the 2008
presidential general election.
If she is their nominee, hatred of her will motivate Republican
conservatives to vote and work to elect the Republican candidate,
whoever he is.
At the same time, Clinton is the most likely to drive a third party
candidate from her left to enter the race. The growing number of
independent voters includes disaffected Republicans and they, too,
would be more inclined to vote Republican if Clinton is the
Even though I strongly feel that the U.S. will be best served if a
Democrat, not a Republican, is elected President in 2008, I will
vote for a third-party candidate, even if it means the Republican
candidate is elected. I won't be alone in doing so.
JIM DICARLO San Francisco (9/23/07)
THE WOULD-BE NOMINEES
The candidates vying for the Dem presidential nomination are nothing
like the embarrassing lot the Republicans are putting up -- virtually
every one of the Democrats in the running would make a far better
President than any of the GOP hopefuls. Just look at these guys:
Giuliani (a shameless, authoritarian, monomanical liar), Thompson (a
bumbling, would-be Reagan), McCain (a total sell-out on the war), Romney
(a thoroughgoing, flip-floppping hypocrite trying to buy his way to the
presidency), etc. etc. But the fact that Hillary Clinton, Karl Rove's
preferred candidate, is running away with the nomination race is not
necessarily good news for the Democrats.
We now know that the Republicans have been preparing their smear
campaigns against Hillary Clinton, and John Edwards, for years. (Indeed, a
revealed how illegal actions were taken to smear Edwards in 2004.) Poll
after poll has demonstrated that there has been and will continue to be
a 40% block of American voters who loathe Clinton and would never vote
for her. So in order for Clinton to win, she has to hold on to the 40%
who reliably vote the Democratic ticket, and then win the moderates and
independents in the middle. This might be possible if she could hold
onto that firm 40%. But there is a huge swatch of the Democratic Party,
mainly from the dedicated activist base, who do not wish to support
Hillary because of her generally hawkish, wishy washy positions on the
war, her more-macho-than-you attitude on Iran, her lining up with
institutional forces such as with big pharma on the health-care issue,
and so on.
So, even though she may be highly intelligent, and has run an impressive
primary campaign to date, she simply may not be electable -- conceivably
putting Rudy Giuliani or another GOP Neanderthal in the White House --
and her selection could diminish any coattail influence she might have
on other races.
The general take on Barack Obama is that he's an exciting
candidate, bright, energetic, charismatic -- filled with good ideas and,
on occasion, not afraid to express them -- but not quite mature enough
as a national politician, with not much of an experiential record to run
on. He's certainly a positive, fresh new face, and will be a force to be
reckoned with in 2112 and beyond, but probably not this time out, unless
as the vice presidential nominee on someone else's ticket (Richardson/Obama?)
John Edwards has a long history as an effective anti-corporate
individual of conscience, and he's been quite effective staking out his
progressive opinions during this primary stretch. The Rove wing of the
GOP wants to take out Edwards early, as he's an effective populist
campaigner. It looks as if he might score big in the Iowa caucuses,
coming in first or second, and gain some momentum. But the media,
echoing the White House spin, has been largely ignoring his campaign or
treating him roughly.
As you can see, Obama and Edwards are battling for the same block of
voters -- the liberal-to-progressive, anti-war, anti-Clinton wing of the
Democratic Party. By splitting the energy, money and support, they
almost guarantee that Hillary will be the nominee of the party.
I haven't mentioned
Kucinich, Biden, Dodd, Richardson, Gravel
because, as intelligent and courageous as some of them have been --
especially Richardson on the war and Kucinich in a number of areas --
they've gone nowhere in the polls and probably stand little chance of
capturing the nomination.
THE FLUIDITY OF POLITICS
Things are fairly fluid politically right now. As I've written
previously, there is a potential opening for a third-party run, drawing
from the disenchanted wings of both the Republican and Democratic
parties. Is there a charismatic crossover candidate willing to take
advantage of that momentary opening to help mount a viable run for the
White House in 2008? If a strong third party candidacy emerged, which
major party would be most helped, the Republicans or the Democrats?
Could the Republican candidate slide by into the White House if too many
Democrats deserted their party to vote for this third-party candidate?
Might the chances for popular approval soar if that third-party were to
create a bi-partian "Unity" ticket, made up of a leading Democrat and a
leading, anti-war Republican. (Gore/Hagel?)
Finally, a longer-range thought. Even if a viable third party doesn't
get born this time out, the Democrats are ripe, as are the Republicans,
for a good, long, soul-searching debate about the future of the party.
Redefining the mission. Coming up with some philosophies of governance,
and foreign policies, we all can agree on. Developing policy statements
in various areas that are not just reactions to what the Republicans are
doing. Etc. Etc.
In short, the 2008 election may well turn out to be a watershed in
modern American politics, re-aligning the electorate in ways they feel
more comfortable with. We shall see.
THE Q&A SESSION
What followed those prepared remarks was a wide-ranging discussion of
U.S. domestic and foreign politics, everything from: whether Gore (now
Nobel Laureate Gore) will jump into the presidential ring -- there was
much enthusiasm among the DA crowd for the idea; the intricacies of
vote-tabulation and the likelihood of electoral fraud again; the
insanity of attacking Iran and why CheneyBush would take that route; the
possible genesis of Democratic wimpiness these days; the punishment the
Party leadership is preparing for several state Dem organizations such
as in Florida and Michigan for pushing their primaries way forward, etc.
But a good share of the conversation involved the frustration and
puzzlement they feel toward their wimpy Party leadership. And about the
Democratic contenders, especially whether anyone can stop Hillary.
And, of course, these DA members wanted to know my preferred candidate(s).
I told them that, for a wide variety of pragmatic and policy reasons, I
would prefer the Dem nominee not be Hillary Clinton; of the potentially
electable candidates, I am more favorably inclined to John Edwards, with
much to admire also about Bill Richardson and Barack Obama. Despite
their elitist ties and tendencies, any of these three would be somewhat
more progressive, anti-war, civil libertarian and more sympatico
than is Hillary.
But, if Hillary Clinton turns out to be the Dem standard-bearer in 2008,
then all we progressive, anti-imperialist Democrats will face the usual
moral dilemma next November. Clearly, there are significant differences
between the two parties. The question is: Will there be enough of a
difference between our candidates and those put forward by the
Republicans to justify yet again holding our noses and voting for the
lesser of two evils? I suspect the answer is yes, but we shall see how
the political drama plays out in the next six months.
Copyright 2007 by Bernard Weiner