Re: Corruption, Elitism, And We Commoners
October 11, 2005
Re: Corruption, Elitism, And We Commoners.
From: Dean Lawrence R. Velvel
We live in grand political times. One after another, we learn of powerful figures in, or connected to, the ruling class of Republicans who either are pretty clearly crooks, likely to ultimately be shown to be crooks, or close to the line of crookedness. Do the names DeLay, Safavian, Abramoff or Frist mean anything to you? We learn of high Republicans who, it may well be shown, will do anything to savage opponents. Do the names Rove or Libby mean anything to you? And why did the prosecutor, despite taking heavy and continuous heat from the chattering class, keep Judith Miller in jail for three months? Does the Valerie Plame problem go higher than Libby and/or Rowe? Does it go to their bosses, at least to the one who has the word vice in front of his name?
We learn of high ranking Republicans who are incompetent or do not have a clue. Does the name Michael Brown resonate? How about the name Karen Hughes, the ignorant woman from Texas whose views were rebuked by middle eastern women when she told them what they should want? How about Condoleezza Rice -- currently a putative genius because she very articulately presents what passes for conventional wisdom, but who history will, I believe, treat quite differently because of her participation in truly stupid disasters and (almost total?) lack of original ideas.
And please, please tell me it is not true that Harriet Miers said George Bush is the most brilliant man she knows. (Maureen Dowd and Ellen Goodman say that, on his blog, David Frum claims Miers told him this.) The first question a Democratic Senator on the Judiciary Committee should ask Miers is whether she said this. If she did, and admits it, her nomination could be laughed out of court, so to speak, regardless of any admirable qualities she may and in fact seems to possess.
It is interesting that Maureen Dowd, herself obviously a woman, appears to feel that there is something sexual about Bush’s relationship with these three women, Hughes, Rice and Miers -- not sexual in the sense of intimate physical relationships, but in the sense of the women stroking his male ego by telling him how wonderful he is and by constantly doing for him.
The crookedness mentioned above shows that not for nothing has Frank Rich recently written, with regard to the pervasive corruption of our political class: "It’s not just Mr. DeLay, a.k.a the Hammer, who is on life support, but a Washington establishment whose infatuation with power and money has contaminated nearly every limb of government and turned off a public that by two to one finds the country on the wrong track." After further detailing the predations of Republicans, Rich added:
This is the culture that has given us the government we have. It’s a government that has spent more of the taxpayers’ money than any since L.B.J.’s (as calculated by the Cato Institute, a libertarian research institution), even as it rewards its benefactors with tax breaks and corporate pork. It’s a government so used to lying that Mr. DeLay could say with a straight face that the cost of Katrina relief could not be offset by budget cuts because there was no government fat left to cut. It’s the government that fostered the wholesale loss of American lives in both Iraq and on the Gulf Coast by putting cronyism above patriotism.
And, in a development that was surprising, at least to me, Jonathan Alter of Newsweek recently spoke of Tom DeLay, his colleagues, and their corruption in terms so harsh that one does not expect to see it in a national magazine that is not concededly partisan. Alter considers DeLay to be an utter scumbag, and does not think DeLay’s successor, Roy Blunt, is a whole lot better. Alter claims that, despite the rich history of Congressional corruption and scandal, the last ten years are "what historians will regard as the single most corrupt decade in the long and colorful history of the House of Representatives . . . . [T]he leadership of the House been hijacked by a small band of extremists bent on building a ruthless shakedown machine, lining the pockets of their richest constituents and rolling back popular protections for ordinary people. These folks borrow like banana republics and spend like Tip O’Neill on speed . . . . The 21st-century Radical Republican agenda is to enact the wish list of the tobacco and gun lobbies, repeal health and safety regulations and spend billions on shameless pork-barrel projects to keep the Republicans at the trough."
Meanwhile, of course, the dying in Iraq continues for no ultimate purpose. "You never want to say," says Bob Herbert, "that brave troops died for the mindless fantasies spun by a gang of dissembling, inept politicians. But what else did they die for?" What else indeed.
Combined with corruption we have Busher political cronyism and "rewardism" to a degree that conceivably is unprecedented, with the cronies and "rewardees" sometimes being people already mentioned here, e.g., Michael Brown, Karen Hughes, Abramoff, Condoleeza Rice, Cheney and, possibly, Miers (who, to the contrary however, may be a person of decency and substance -- one does not yet know enough to be able to tell). And let us not forget those two fools who helped foment disaster in Iraq, Paul Bremer and Jay Garner, or the cadre of evil political hangers-on lawyers who helped pave the road to torture-disasters but usually were amply rewarded: John Yoo, Jay Bybee, Jack Goldsmith, Mike Chertoff, Alberto Gonzalez, and Scooter Libby.
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What are our chances of getting out of this mess in the next election, in 2006, prior to which, Frank Rich says, "the voters can’t get into the game." Is Rich’s comment meant to imply that there could be change because of 2006? In the current state of affairs, the chances do not strike one as high that change will be brought by the 2006 election when voters can "get into the game."
One can begin with the fact that the criminal torture-conspirator-in-chief is not up for re-election. So he and his banal platitudes will remain with us (absent well deserved but exceedingly unlikely impeachment and conviction for the felony of deliberately violating the anti-torture statute (a conviction which would, however, give us, first, Cheney and then Hastert).) Moreover, because he is President, he will continue to be the cynosure of all eyes; our system has misdeveloped horribly in this regard because of what Andrew Bacevich has correctly called "celebrity worshipping journalists." (Bacevich used this phrase in his Introduction to his new book, The New American Militarism.) In this regard, in an editorializing (but correct) statement in what ostensibly was a news story -- editorializing in alleged news stories has for a few years been de rigueur at The New York Times -- Steven Weisman of that paper explained why Karen Hughes’ platitudes were rejected by Middle Easterners:
She addressed several policies, but in concise sound bites rather than sustained arguments. In American campaigns, such messages repeated over and over can have an effect because a presidential candidate dominates the news with every statement he makes, and if that fails to work, money can be poured into saturation advertising.
The news media is deeply complicit in this sound bitism and this situation regarding advertising: It carries every presidential sound bite -- over and over and over again -- regardless of how inane or platitudinous it may be, it desires and encourages the advertising because it makes a bundle off it, and, just to be certain in pursuing these directions, it generally fails to carry serious stuff that is longer or more complicated than two sound bites when such stuff is written or spoken by serious people who are not celebrities.
(By the way, the news media also has a very advanced case of narcissism. Viz., the recent continuous flap over the incarceration of Judith Miller. She was treated as a hero because -- as she herself later claimed upon her release -- she was protecting sources and without such protection the media will not learn and tell us of many evils, which will consequently go unchallenged and uncorrected. With its customary amnesia for anything that happened more than three days ago (not to mention first principles), the media lionized a woman who used sources -- the Chalabi crowd -- to write baloney about WMDs and other matters and to thereby play an instrumental role in convincing the public and Congress to go along with Bush’s desire to start his vicious war in Iraq. Her use of sources to propagate Busher propaganda and bring on war was so irresponsible that The Times itself has publicly apologized for its reporting. One only wishes the public had known and/or paid close attention to who her sources were and how irresponsible they were -- it is a shame, isn’t it, that some prosecutor didn’t throw her in jail in those days until she ’fessed up about her sources and their personal interests? Maybe we would have been spared the terrible war that this now-lionized reporter did so much to help bring on by irresponsible use of sources -- a fact the media forgets and ignores while praising her stance on secret sources. I say clap her in irons permanently, along with Bush, Cheney and the rest of their warmongering, noncombatant, remain-home-in-safety crowd.)
So 2006 can of course do nothing to rid us of the king of platitudes (who is the smartest man Harriet Miers ever met???). Can it, will it, cause a sea change in the composition of Congress, and, if it were to, would this make a difference? To me the answers likely are no and no.
People in Congress are entrenched -- this is well known. They have used money and privileges -- used them morally corruptly and sometimes legally corruptly -- to create a self-interested professional political class whose members only rarely can be dislodged. All of this is often commented upon. What is less well known and commented on is that the creation of a self-interested, morally corrupt, partisan political class was one of the evils feared by the founders, whom Bushers love to cite yet somehow ignore when, as is so often the case, the founders’ views and their own do not jibe. (The Bushers ignore the founders’ views regarding the creation of a self-interested, corrupt political class, the declaration of war clause, the irreligiousity of leading founders like Jefferson, Madison and Washington, and the role of the Senate in advising and consenting.)
Beyond the entrenchment of the political class, there is also the new solid south -- the now solid (and militaristic) Republican South which has long replaced the former solid south of the Democrats. The Democrats, I would think, should not expect to pick up a whole lot of seats down there.
For these reasons we are most unlikely to see big gains by the Democrats and a consequent change in the composition and control of Congress in 2006. Would such a change make a difference were it to occur? Only within limits, one judges. It is true that, if the Democrats were to gain control of even one house of Congress, it would become more difficult for the Republicans to enact some of the cockamamy domestic legislation desired by Bush and Cheney, especially legislation that rewards their fat cat friends and colleagues while hurting the rest of us. But what would the Democrats do about the war? They have been nothing but tagalongs, politically afraid to come right out and say -- too gutless to come right out and say -- "get out of Iraq now," although the reasons for "staying the course" which we have been hearing for years are nothing but a reprise of the same arguments during Viet Nam. (Things will be worse if we get out, other countries will fall into the wrong orbit, enemies will be emboldened, etc., etc. It’s all the same crapola, fitted into the middle eastern context 35 and 40 years later.)
In his recently published The New American Militarism, Bacevich quotes James Madison for a point that is equally true today:
"Of all the enemies of public liberty, war is perhaps the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of every other. War is the parent of armies. From these proceed debts and taxes. And armies, debts and taxes are the known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few . . . . No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare."
What Madison said -- what moved the framers as Lincoln later elaborated in one of his reasonably well known quotes -- has remained true for hundreds of years and is as true today as 200 years ago. But Democrats pay no attention lest they might lose an election. Electoral victories, and staying in office, mean a lot more to individual Democrats than doing the right thing or saving lives (especially since, as students of the subject have noted, so many Democrats -- unlike lots of Republicans, who have been or are successful in business or the professions -- have no life, no profession, no business, no job, no nuthin outside of politics).
Would a Democratic victory be meaningful for a different subject much in the news lately -- would it be meaningful with regard to appointments to the third branch of government, the judiciary? It’s dubious, since appointments to the Supreme Court are a horse that may be out of the barn for a few years into the future (but maybe not, since several Justices are or are getting up there in years) and since Dubya will still be making the nominations -- a fact equally as relevant to lower court nominations as to Supreme Court ones. The Democrats have shown that they lack the stomach to take on this problem if the Republicans come down hard on them (with the so-called "nuclear option," for example). Nor do they have the intelligence to understand or act on two simple truths.
The first of these truths involves a phrase that Bush, his intellectual cronies and his intellectual predecessors have been taking to the bank for a long, long time: "strict construction." Anybody who knows anything about constitutional law is aware that the phrase "strict construction" is pretty much meaningless. If the cop beats a confession out of someone, is it strict construction of the due process and self incrimination clauses to rule this unlawful because those clauses are otherwise a farce, or is it loose construction because the clauses don’t mention beating the crap out of someone? If people who speak against a war are thrown in jail -- which has happened throughout most of our history -- is it strict construction to rule this lawful despite the freedom of speech clause because that clause says nothing about speech that allegedly could undermine a war effort, or is it loose construction because allowing such punishment of wartime speech that could harm the country’s efforts undermines the purpose of freedom of speech? The basic underlying point here is that whether construction is strict or loose is in the political eye of the beholder -- is, so to speak, a construct based on one’s politics, not a constitutional derivation.
So why don’t the Democrats come right out and attack the use of "strict construction" for being what Bush and company use it as?: for being merely a politically attractive soundbite that is a current stand-in for politically and socially regressive policies. It is a stand-in, a code-word-phrase, as "states’ rights" used to be, for political positions such as limiting free speech, letting the President have wholesale power when it comes to deciding upon war and on how to act in war (vis a vis prisoners, for example), doing away with the right to abortion, cutting back on rights in the criminal procedure process, and doing whatever else the Bushers and their fellow travelers wish to do politically, socially or economically. But the Democrats lack the intelligence or, more likely, the political guts to say this even though it is true.
Then there is also the matter of elitism. The federal courts -- certainly at the Supreme Court and courts of appeal levels -- are an elitist group of people. (Six Justices went to Harvard Law School, while the rest also went to elitist law schools like Yale, Northwestern and Stanford). In this, the courts reflect the elitism that is rampant in the legal profession, especially in the law school world. And the Democrats have bought into this stuff as much as the Republicans. This elitism was recently illustrated paradigmatically by a comment made in an otherwise excellent newspaper article about Harriet Miers written by a famous law school academic of distinctly liberal persuasion who is extremely bright, writes beautifully, and is very accomplished. Commenting on the reasons that Miers should not have been nominated because she assertedly lacks the qualifications to be a Supreme Court Justice, the author, among other and sometimes quite reasonable reasons, said that Miers had gone to a law school "which is not even among the top fifty law schools in the nation." (Emphasis in original.) Imagine that -- a Supreme Court nominee who did not go to one of the law schools which an elitist profession calls elite. Did not go to a law school which the elite would even rank among the top fifty. How awful!!! No doubt the nomination should be withdrawn immediately by Bush and he should apologize for his gall -- and he a Yale and Harvard man, no less.
This kind of rampant elitism, which reserves powerful and prestigious positions for the few anointed of the earth on the claim that only they can be qualified -- only they, for example, can conjure the abstract thoughts, divorced from reality, that got us into and kept us in the Viet Namese and Gulf II wars, abstractisms, for instance, about falling dominoes, the entire Mideast rushing to repair to the standard of democracy, and the disasters to the U.S. of withdrawal from wars -- is one of the things which, I gather, bugs a lot of Republicans (justifiably), and bugs a lot of ordinary people too. Yet, as said, the Democrats -- themselves part and parcel of a morally corrupt elitist system that keeps a relatively small number of people in power forever, have bought into it entirely. So even a Democratic sweep in 2006 -- which, of course, will not happen -- would make little difference in judicial appointments because lots of Democrats will say, as three Democratic Senators (and The Washington Post) did say of Roberts, and as some are already saying of Miers, that nominees are people of quality, have held responsible positions in law firms or government, and should therefore be confirmed. Translation: The nominees are among the elite of society, so we’ll take them. Prior Democrat claims that they will not accept right wingers will go by the boards -- just wait and see.
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In a real way, what we are seeing in politics generally, and in appointments to the courts, is yet another in a historically recurrent series of reprises of what first occurred from about 1760 to 1783, then from 1783 to 1790, then from 1790-1800, then in the Jacksonian period, then in Lincoln’s day, and then again and again as in Theodore Roosevelt’s day, Wilson’s, FDR’s, and LBJ’s. We are seeing a battle between the followers of the likes of Tom Paine and (albeit he was a bit different from Paine) Thomas Jefferson, and the followers of Adams and Hamilton (notwithstanding that those two came to enmity). It all started when, very unusually, average working people -- farmers, mechanics, tradesmen, small businessmen -- began to politically and intellectually take umbrage in the 1760s against what Britain was doing. Lots of their "betters" got involved too, or at least ultimately got involved (John Adams, Jefferson, Washington), but to a major extent our Revolution was one from below, and was supported by the view that common people had the brains and temperament to be active in politics. This viewpoint towards common people reached its zenith in the phrases of the Declaration of Independence -- written by their "betters" -- saying that all men are created equal and are endowed with certain inalienable rights. After 1783 the idea that we common slobs could have talents competitive with those of our betters began to come under fire from those who, in Hamiltonian phrases, wanted the government to be the province of the rich, the wise and the well born -- who would, of course, use it to further the commercial interests of their own class, claiming all the while, and sometimes even with much merit, that this was also the way for the country as a whole to leap ahead economically. The dichotomy in views about the worth and ability of the common man was central to the split in the 1790s between the Federalists and the Jeffersonian Republicans, was an important driver in the Jacksonian period, was crucial to the thinking of Lincoln -- who saw the Declaration of Independence, with its great phrases of equality and inalienable rights, and not the slavery supporting Constitution -- as our fundamental document, and who therefore said at Gettysburg that we were dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal and that we were engaged in a battle to save government of, by, and for the people, was central to battles in the late 19th century, to Theodore Roosevelt’s fights and to the New Deal, and so on until our own day.
In our own day, however, we now have two party groups who are willing, and in at least one case are also ready and anxious, to screw over the little man. One is the Bush Republicans with their general corruption, pro big business corruption, and desire to be on the take to selfishly further their own careers and interests. The other are the Democrats, with their elitism -- an elitism which manifests itself in politics, in academe, and wherever Democrat opinion prevails -- and their desire, equal to the Republicans, to be on the take in order to selfishly prolong forever their own careers and presence in office.
The one kind of political group we do not have is any group or party devoted to trying to do what is right for the country and for the little guy, even if this means that members of the group may fall out of electoral favor, and may lose office (if they ever gain it in the first place). Unless and until we develop some sort of cadre of such people, we shall be in big trouble, because the present pervasive moral and legal corruption of our political system insures that we have a semi kakistocracy, a government in the hands of people who are venal, evil, dumb, or all of these. The founders, whom the Bush crowd falsely profess to worship because they have found ways to make this suit their purposes, feared exactly such a development. It is a horrid irony that the Bush crowd, which spuriously professes to worship the founders, are exactly what the founders feared.
It is for all these reasons and more that I say the time has come to emulate the Republicans of ’54 -- 1854. The time has come to start a new political party, one devoted to honesty, competence, considered thought and policy, and the welfare of the common man. One that is Lincolnesque in these regards, and one whose candidates -- no doubt to the laughing scorn of our "sophisticated" media who thinks victory is all -- think it far more important to stand for and do the right things than to win elections or hold office indefinitely. For, somewhat analogously to what I think Theodore Roosevelt may once have said about high office, if one wishes to achieve office and do good things, one has to act as if he or she in a sense does not care about attaining office. (It is not so different from a hitter or a golfer having to remain loose and not tightening up because he cares too much.)
Given the pervasive corruption, legal and moral, of our political class, a new party will likely have to be comprised of us commoners. For only we commoners are not locked into a "system that is fundamentally corrupt," as Bacevich has called it. So be it. If it were to happen, one might say Tom Paine lives -- in yet another time that plainly is trying men’s souls.*
*This posting represents the personal views of Lawrence R. Velvel. If you wish to respond to this email/blog, please email your response to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Your response may be posted on the blog if you have no objection; please tell me if you do object.