Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Could this actually be true?

By Carol Gee

"Dems have upper hand on national security," was the headline from about a week ago at Politico.com. Written by Martin Kady II, this piece made me realize that I had probably better not give up on getting usable material from this website. (I had been getting discouraged, as my regular readers know, by what seemed like a Republican bias). The story begins with this amazing assertion which I quote:

By most accounts, Democrats should be feeling confident about winning the hearts and minds of voters when it comes to national security.

Whether it’s the Bush administration’s controversial surveillance tactics, interrogation techniques, the Blackwater security scandal or the stalemate in Iraq, Democrats have an easy message to sell voters: “We’re not them.”

For the first time since Sept. 11, 2001, polls show that Republicans have lost their historic advantage on which party Americans trust on national security.

And yet, there are these strong feelings of unease with this so-called good news still swirling in my head. That is because there are too many Democrats I cannot trust to make the right national security decisions. For example, Senator Hillary Clinton's vote on the matter of designating Iran's Republican Guards as a terrorist organization is still a puzzlement to many of us. And Senator Jay Rockefeller's support is shameful, for giving retroactive immunity to the supine telecom companies who for years helped (and still help) the administration illegally and secretly spy on Americans.

And I discovered the other source of my feelings of unease in a Tomgram, titled "The Bureaucracy, the March, and the War - American Disengagement," by Tom Engelhardt. He wrote this absolutely wonderful and thoughtful piece on the recent protest marches against the Iraq war. It is related to the beginning of this post, in my opinion, in the following ways based on his ideas which I emphasize. I quote, a bit more extensively than I normally do:

. . . over the years, unlike in the Vietnam era, the demonstrations shrank, and somehow the anxiety, the anger -- though it remained suspended somewhere in the American ether -- stopped manifesting itself so publicly, even as the war went on and on. Or put another way, perhaps the anger went deeper and turned inward, like a scouring agent. Perhaps it went all the way into what was left of an American belief system, into despair about the unresponsiveness of the government -- with paralyzing effect. As another potentially more disastrous war with Iran edges into sight, the response has been limited largely to what might be called the professional demonstrators. The surge of hope, of visual creativity, of spontaneous interaction, of the urge to turn out, that arose in those prewar demonstrations now seemed so long gone, replaced by a far more powerful sense that nothing anyone could do mattered in the least.

. . . Here's the strange thing: As we all know, the Washington Consensus -- Democrats as well as Republicans, in Congress as in the Oval Office -– has been settling ever deeper into the Iraqi imperial project. As a town, official Washington, it seems, has come to terms with a post-surge occupation strategy that will give new meaning to what, in the days after the 2003 invasion, quickly came to be known as the Q-word (for the Vietnam-era "quagmire").

. . . Meanwhile, the American people -- having formed their own Iraq Study Group as early as 2005 -- have moved in another direction entirely. On this, the opinion polls have been, and remain (as Mueller suggested they would), unanimous. When Americans are asked how the President is handling the war in Iraq, disapproval figures run 67% to 26% in the most recent CBS News poll; 68% to 30% in the ABC News/Washington Post poll; and, according to CNN's pollsters, opposition to the war itself runs at a 65% to 34% clip. As for "staying" some course in Iraq to 2013 or beyond, that CBS News poll, typically, has 45% of Americans wanting all troops out in "less than a year" and 72% in "one to two years" -- in other words, not by the end of, but the beginning of, the next presidential term in office. (The ABC News/Washington Post poll indicates, among other things, that, by 55% to 40%, Americans feel the Democrats in Congress have not gone "far enough in opposing the war in Iraq"; and that they want Congress to rein in the administration's soaring, off-the-books war financing requests.)

. . . The fact is: Attending a march like Saturday's is still, for me, something like an ingrained civic habit, like.... gulp.... voting, which I can't imagine not doing -- even when it has little meaning to me -- or keeping informed by reading a newspaper daily in print (something that, it seems, just about no one under 25 does any more). These are the habits of a lifetime and they don't disappear quickly. But when they're gone, or if they don't make it to the next generation intact, it's hard, if not impossible, to get them back.

Thus, the story about Americans' willingness to trust Democrats with national security, is tinged with bitter irony for me. Is it good news that Congress is willing to spend obscene amounts of money on making war? Do American liberals believe their expressed opinions can change the minds of Democrats? Is it a good thing for Democrats to reach consensus with Republicans on matters of giving up our civil liberties? Have Progressive young people given up on the government, letting a small minority of their peers do the fighting in the Middle East? Have older Progressives gotten cynical and bitter, turned off and no longer committed to doing their civic duty?

I hope the answer to all these questions is a "no." But I am not so sure. What do you think?

(Cross-posted at South by Southwest.)

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