Revolution #56, August 13, 2006


This is not our Dance;
Let’s Step to Our Own Tune

On August 2, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales testified before Congress that “what we are considering now is a better product.” His new summer item: NEW RULES FOR TORTURE. Once again with the Bush crew, language sanitizes and anesthetizes. Gonzales said he wants to bring “clarity” to the Geneva Convention’s prohibition of torture, a regulation that he previously called “quaint.” What he is concerned about is the U.S.A. being able to continue a deadly, immoral, and illegal policy and practice of torture around the world—and he wants it legalized because he knows that he and the Bush administration have committed internationally recognized war crimes.

How have we come to a place where a serious discussion is held in government on the efficacy—not the immorality — of torture? How have we come to a place where such heinous considerations take on the deadening aura of business as usual? And how do we get to a different place?

There is a deadly dance afoot in official politics and political discourse in this country. A dance that is mind-numbing in its ritualized circular repetitiveness, yet it is a dance that is sliding perilously close to a precipitous cliff.  There are consequences in lives and for the future.

In early June, eight men were strapped in chairs with feeding tubes jammed up their nostrils by the U.S. military. Eighty more were refusing food, protesting the U.S. government holding them in purgatory in Guantánamo for 4+ years without charges. By mid-June, three had committed suicide. Rear Admiral Harry B. Harris Jr., in a stunning display of fascistic Orwellian logic, denounced the suicides as “asymmetric warfare” and proposed a criminal investigation of the detainees’ attorneys.

In early July, the U.S. Supreme Court, in the Hamdan decision, decreed that the Bush administration overstepped with their international torture and gulag setup, ruling that they had to get Congressional approval for their military tribunals and that the international law of the Geneva Convention couldn’t be summarily ignored.  This is what led to Gonzales’ appearance August 2.

For a moment after the Hamden decision, hope abounded in progressive circles that at last Bush’s criminal fascistic direction as symbolized in torture and detention might finally be reversed. Yet, within days the Bush administration was adamantly demanding Congress codify its policy — an option pointed to by the Court ruling. And now, the terms of official debate are about legitimizing torture and detention in ways that don’t come back to bite the U.S. military in the ass. If the current trajectory continues — very soon a very bad law will be passed.

This pattern is repeated in every sphere.  In response to broad outrage at the revelation of massive secret illegal NSA spying on Americans’ phone conversations, the administration strong-armed a “compromise” with the “moderate” Republican Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Arlen Specter.  A deal worthy of Tony Soprano, the proposed legislation would allow the illegal spying to continue, with the proviso that the government should get constitutional approval for the program from the secret rubber stamp FISA courts, although they could even avoid this, if they decide it would jeopardize national security. In addition, the right to all further judicial review will be eliminated. In sum, in exchange for being forced to get Congressional approval, Bush can continue secret spying on personal calls, maybe approved by a secret court, appointed in secret by Chief Justice Roberts, and even this can be circumvented in secret.

Some Democrats protested, some proposed alternate bills, but no one has called forward the people to refuse to go along with this. The expectation in Washington is that some version close to Specter’s compromise will pass. Dana Perino, a White House spokeswoman said: “This is the president and the Congress coming together to codify the capacity for future presidents to take action to protect the country.”

This is the process through which a radically new social order—the architecture and structures of fascistic social norms—are rapidly being bolted into place, with repercussions that could last generations, if not stopped.  It should be a familiar dance by now. Look back at the Patriot Act. Rammed through in the days after 9/11, before Congress even read it; within months, people came to oppose its police-state measures such as government looking into your library reading. Over 400 cities, towns, and states passed resolutions against it. Yet in early March 2005 Patriot Act II was cemented into law by a Senate vote of 89-10.

The dance is a basic four-step box pattern. The Bush Regime unilaterally “creates new reality” on the ground. The policy gets exposed or runs into obstacles. Then, some Democrats express outrage and complain that they should have been consulted and that they could have administered whatever the atrocity is, even better. Finally, the policy gets passed and codified into new law, and we move on to dance the whole four-step over again—now with even less room to move.

Listen to them—the Democrats tell you that this is what they are doing! In response to the Supreme Court Hamdan Decision, NY Senator Chuck Schumer—who is running the Democrats’ 2006 Congressional election campaign, said: “Had they come to Congress a few years ago on this issue, my guess is they would have gotten most of what they wanted.” No opposition to torture or secret incarceration without charges, trial, or representation from Mr. Schumer. We must break out of this box—or we will dance our way to the Death Camps.

What is so starkly revealed in the example of the Patriot Act is that there was, and today still is, ample broad opposition to the Bush program— enough to stop it, but that as long as this opposition remains harnessed to politics as usual, hoping for a Democratic victory in the mid-term elections so that then the Democrats will do something, which they will never do—the deadly dance will go on.

Remember a year ago when Roberts was nominated to the Supreme Court? The Democrats, including the leadership of the women’s movement, said to the horrified and angry people in their social base: we’re holding our powder, we’re going to really take them on with the next nomination. And then, as surely as the “left” foot follows the right, Alito was confirmed six months later without a fight. Yet if all the anger and hatred for this course can get harnessed and expressed through truly independent mass determined opposition to the whole program, then a whole new struggle for the world’s future will be afoot.

The logic of this dynamic is, quite literally, killing. Abortion is on the verge of being made completely unavailable to the vast majority of women and possibly totally illegal within a year or two. No problem, the Democrats will run anti-abortion candidates to build a majority and the women’s movement will keep quiet. And then? The Christian fascists will go after birth control and the Democrats’ “right to life” Roman Catholic senators will do what? Go against the pope?

If you seriously, honestly, think about everything that has changed since September 11, 2001: the laws; the governing norms—the separation of powers, the separation of church and state; how it is routine today that the leaders of both parties make obligatory visits to, and genuflect before, the theocratic fascist lunatics Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson; if you take on board that 1/3 of the U.S. Congress has top ratings from the most conservative, Christian Fundamentalist organizations —if you take all of this in, a picture emerges of just how far down the road to fascism we’ve traveled. These things add up and you can wake up one day and find that there is no ground left to stand on.

What has to change before we dance a different step to our own tune?

For one thing, people have to learn to turn down that invitation to the Democrats' midterm election prom. Why? Listen to Al Gore, current star suitor of progressives who desperately want to go to the dance, speaking to Rolling Stone about Iraq:

“We’re all, in some ways, lashed to the mast of our ship of state here. Because the little group at the helm should resign. You know, Rumsfeld and that whole gang have made horrible mistake after horrible mistake…”

Rumsfeld and his boss should resign, but the essence of Gore’s point, and the problem with Gore himself, lies in the first sentence, “We are all lashed to the mast…” We, who? Just what are the actual interests of the ship of the U.S. imperialist state in the Mideast and throughout the world? And what does that have to do with the people’s interest in ending the war, and not living in and perpetuating a new Rome? Like Ahab lashed to the whale, Gore and the rest of the Democrats will bind us thrashing about in a sea of trouble to save their ship.

People see the carnage and the danger of wider war from this conflagration and hope against what they are being told by all of the Democratic leadership that somehow, if in power, they would do different. But they and the Republicans are proceeding from a different set of imperatives. Seymour Hersh reported in the New Yorker that there is no pressure coming from the Democrats or anywhere else in official Washington that forcing Iran to capitulate was not ultimately worth the price of war.

The Democratic Party, like the Republicans, act in the interests of the system as a whole. Responding to the imperatives of a fast-paced global unfettered capitalism they all recognize the need to forcibly assert an unchallengeable empire. They agree and are both party to using the War on Terror as the rubric to advance this internationally, they agree that this requires tightening the home front, they agree that the social compact of the New Deal and the Great Society, with their array of social support programs, is over—it was, after all, Clinton who ended “welfare as we know it”—and that this requires a reassertion of traditional morality to salve and stupefy.

Yet, there are sharp differences between them. At the core of the Republican Party is a highly organized Christian Fascist movement determined to impose biblical literalism as law. Currently, these theocrats are in an uneasy coalition with the neo-con cadre such as Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Wolfowitz, who developed the Bush strategic doctrine of unilateral pursuit of empire— unrestrained by international law, treaty, or diplomacy. This strategic doctrine finds its echo in and is reinforced by the “theology” absorbed by millions of Christian Fundamentalists who read and believe in La Hayes “End Times.” Kevin Phillips in “American Theocracy” writes that “chaos in the explosive Middle East, far from being a threat, actually heralds the awaited second coming of Jesus Christ. Oil-price hikes, murderous hurricanes, deadly tsunamis, and melting polar ice caps lend further credence.”

The Democrats have no coherent program in answer. This is, first of all, because they are lashed to the same imperialist ship—they are not going to risk undermining U.S. global hegemony. Since 9/11 the top Democrats have been insisting that they could wage the “war on terror” even better. If your interest is securing strategic control of the Mideast to muscle out potential rivals, secure the resources under U.S. control, and bludgeon the Islamist fundamentalists and secure the region with completely pliant client regimes, then you want the Iraq war to succeed, and will only offer ways to conduct it better.

The Bush Regime sets new terms—advancing their international and domestic fascistic program, the Democrats find themselves with less and less ground to stand on—unless they are prepared to take on the whole direction, which they [a] are not, and [b] don’t intend to, since they are proceeding from the same set of necessities of empire. This is why, absent a mass struggle from below to STOP the whole direction of the Bush regime, even if the Democrats win in November, we will not.

At the current moment there are illusions that perhaps Bush is done, he is having to use diplomacy at this point to deal with Iran and North Korea. Time magazine has a cover with Bush’s cowboy hat on his boots with the headline: “The End of Cowboy Diplomacy.” But this too is a dangerous illusion. The very problems created by the Bush regime in Iraq and Afghanistan actually argue—from their perspective—for even more aggressive action;or else their whole strategic initiative could be lost. The very radical fascist changes that the Bush regime is trying to effect in the world and at home argues for a logic of continual offensive until victory.

A Bush spokesperson opined to Ron Suskind in the New York Times that the Bush administration creates its own reality.  That reality has already done great harm. It has also created a huge sea of people who deeply hate all that it is doing. This is the force that, as the World Can’t Wait call for October 5 puts it, can “decidedly break the paralysis that still grips much of American political life… breach[ing] the walls around us to say Enough!”

Making that break requires saying NO to the deadly dance and stepping out on our own.

There is time. Not all the time in the world, but time enough to save the future.

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