Saturday, July 03, 2004

Steamrolled By the Bush Machine

Foreign Policy Mag is running a short editorial noting how easy everyone made it for Bush to have his way on Iraq. Thanks to Howard Dean and others, liberals are beginning to come back to life and have done a decent job of vilifying Bush. However, it should not be forgotten how many people rolled over and played dead in order for Bush to create all of the mayhem that we now need to clean up. Reading this column and thinking about it have brought to mind (again) a couple of internal conflicts that I frequently struggle with.

First, is the conflict between wanting to hold people accountable, and wanting to take back control from Bush and his cronies. This was thoroughly discussed here and elsewhere in the context of Howard Dean (and to a lesser extent Ralph Nader). The Democrats who voted for Bush's war should be held to account. But how can this be done without further aiding Bush and friends? In the presidential race Dean and Clark offered good opportunities for this, but both are now out of the picture. Additionally, in races for the House and the Senate, due to the way elections are structured it is nearly impossible to beat incumbents in the primary, leaving the only real opportunity to inflict penalties through the ballot box at the general election, at which point you would obviously be aiding Republicans in the process. In a strongly partisan environment, it seems that accountability goes out the window. A viable third party would certainly help in this regard..

My other conflict is also between principle and patisanship, but of a slightly different nature. Ideally there should be politicians who are pragmatic and moderate, but who still retain the courage of their convictions. In practice, there are vanishingly few of these people (Feingold and McCain are the only ones who pop into my head, and I think Dean could have been one as well). And with the increasingly severe problem of gerrymandering, these people will grow increasingly rare. More often the choice is between "moderates" who are spineless, calculating political hacks who will roll over to anything that polling supports on a given day, or fire-breathing partisan zealots, who can be counted on to oppose stupid things proposed by the other party, but who will never achieve anything useful through moderation and compromise with the other party. I'm generally fairly moderate myself, and I used to think I preferred the former, but having witnessed what these "moderates" did in the context of the Bush administration I've found myself wishing for more of the latter. But truthfully I despise them both. It makes me ever more worshipful of a Feingold, who has the courage to be the only person in the Senate to vote against something stupid, but the good sense to be cooperative and bipartisan to achieve important results. Unfortunately, like my other conflict, it leaves precious few good choices for voters to make. It is difficult for a person of principle to know what to do. Even more unfortunately it seems that on both issues, the trends are getting worse as time goes on.

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