“Pow! Bang! Boom! Zap!” So might read the complete and official transcript of the congressional floor debate staged over the resolution authorizing George W. Bush to retaliate with “all necessary and appropriate force” against last week‘s terror attacks. In case anyone got lost in the complicated syntax, Democratic Senator Evan Bayh spelled it out for the TV cameras: “There is no debate.”
Not that the Gentleman From Indiana lamented the absence of all political discourse. Not by a stretch. The loss of rational faculties by all of America’s political establishment seemed to delight the grinning senator — who last year showed up on the short list of Al Gore‘s possible VP picks.
Despite the swelling rhetoric about the indefatigably democratic nature of the American people, when the House and Senate endorsed the lurch toward war last week, the final vote looked more like returns from North Korea than from Nebraska. Five hundred eighteen votes for war, with one single lonely vote of dissent. “I am convinced that military action will not prevent further acts of international terrorism against the United States,” said Bay Area Congresswoman Barbara Lee.
Representative Lee, successor to the legendary Ron Dellums, may or may not be correct. But her position seems reasonable enough to have merited some debate, if not a deep echo.
This is the New America. The one about to fight the New War — as the Joint Media Command calls the Cruise Missile Jamboree that’s undoubtedly coming. And in the New America, we seemingly have no more use for politics-as-usual. Who needs any of it, when we can get all the policy debate, history, context and interpretation from CNN and MSNBC?
One of the most absurd and self-indulgent themes floated last week was that “Now, we are all Israelis.” Sorry. Americans, even after September 11, do not nearly confront the same level of uncertainty as Israelis. Nor are they willing to make the same level of sacrifice. Nor, for that matter, do the Israelis hold any sort of exclusive patent on suffering. (Ask the folks in the Gaza Strip about that notion.)
But we are witnessing what you might call the Israelification of American politics. The Israeli Labor Party, so often described as “dovish” in the American press, often finds no moral obstacles to serving as partner and enforcer in governments dominated by its right-wing rival the Likud Party.
Likewise, our own Democratic Party now accommodates to its new role as little more than a bevy of buzzing fleas on the feverishly wagging rear end of the Republican elephant. Dick Gephardt, the Democratic House minority leader, the same guy over whom local “progressives” were panting earlier this summer, has become perhaps the most effective on-air spokesman for the White House (certainly more powerful than the Chief Occupant himself). “There‘s no air and there’s no light between the president and the Congress, and between the Republican and Democratic parties,” intoned the courageous Gephardt. “We stand shoulder to shoulder.”
At this time of national emergency, and when 5,000 people are still entombed in the ruins of what can only be called a crime against humanity, it would be naive to expect some sort of acrimonious, partisan debate. But the real test of any political system is when it‘s put under stress. A democracy stinks if it doesn’t hold up in times of disaster, depression or war. When a superpower readies to flex its military muscle, when the security of its own population and that of other nations are about to be put in play, that‘s when we most need a vigorous give-and-take over the options available.
That bin Laden — or whoever else might be responsible for Bloody Tuesday — might remain one move ahead of us, and might be itching for our retaliation to justify the next blow against us, seems a possibility not worthy of a moment’s thought or reflection. Instead, one of the most prominent of Democratic “progressives,” New York Congressman Jerrold Nadler, flashed on the tube to inform us that our new enemies don‘t hate us for anything we have done or any policies we have backed. “They hate us because of who we are,” Nadler said, raising his hands in the air, as if motioning for the bombing runs to begin immediately.
This sort of swaggering self-justification is dangerous poppycock. (How satisfying it would be to see one of those rescue cranes digging at the WTC site take a minute’s break from its grim labors to swing around and extract the jabbering Mr. Nadler from the political stage.)
As the most incisive of Middle East correspondents, Robert Fisk, wrote in the Independent of London last week, Arabs do not resent or “hate” American democracy, as Nadler implies. Indeed, Fisk wrote, they “would rather like some of that democracy and liberty and freedom that Mr. Bush has been telling them about.” Instead, they get a claque of autocratic princes and kings and emirs backed by the U.S., a brutal Palestinian police force trained by the CIA, and an American-bankrolled Egyptian President Mubarak, who somehow wins every election with 98 percent of the vote (impressive in itself, but still a full point less than the war vote won by Bush).
But I digress. These are very complicated thoughts for simpletons like Gephardt and Nadler. They have had more pressing concerns to ponder than the trivia of international relations. In the name of some sort of cozy “bipartisanship,” the Democrats have been rolling over and silently and obediently approving the most partisan of Republican wish lists.
First, they rushed to approve an emergency $40 billion “down payment” not only on New York reconstruction, but also for radically increased military and intelligence spending. Now, they are set to move on without a whisper of debate — to pass legislation allowing phone and e-mail taps with unprecedented ease, a measure long demanded by the right. With no debate, the Democrat-controlled Senate rubber-stamped the nomination of former Ollie North networker John Negroponte as American ambassador to the U.N. — an appointment that just a short time ago the same Democrats had vowed to oppose.
What‘s next? Why not Bush’s reborn version of Star Wars? Just one day before the WTC attack, Democratic Senator Joe Biden dubbed the White House‘s faith in National Missile Defense as “theocratic.” Now, congressional Democrats are reported leaning toward approval, though none could argue that such a system would have done anything to block last week’s attack.
Turn the Souza marches blaring on the TV down for a moment and conjure up an alternative scenario. Imagine a Dick Gephardt or a Tom Daschle rushing to the Capitol Hill microphones on the Morning After. With the assembled press looking on, the Democratic leaders honor the dead, make the call for national unity, and warn that the days ahead may try the national character and spirit, that the culprits of the attack must be identified and brought to justice, and that we must examine how to best achieve that end. And then they say, with so many costly and uncertain sacrifices ahead, and with the whole country yearning to pull together and to pull equally, they are sure the White House and the GOP will place partisanship aside and will now join with them in immediately repealing the recent tax cut for the richest 1 percent of the American population.
Meanwhile, back to reality. Back to CNN. Back to the images of average people spending this last Sunday waiting patiently in line at Edison Field in Anaheim to give their penny collections to the Red Cross.