Even the most determined optimist would have a difficult time surveying our political landscape today and feeling anything other than a rising sense of hopelessness. Throughout 2004, the country began turning against the president as Americans realized that the principal justification for the war in Iraq -- WMD -- was completely false, and that the war that the Bush administration repeatedly led us to believe would be easily and quickly resolved was, in fact, a brewing disaster. In 2004, the president's approval ratings steadily declined (PDF) as compared with the two prior years, but he was nonetheless reelected after an intense and frighteningly efficient Republican campaign.
Ever since President Bush's reelection, his approval ratings have descended even further, almost to historic lows. Most of the country has spent the last two years thoroughly dissatisfied, even disgusted, with the president and his party because of a mixture of ineptitude, corruption and deceit in virtually every realm. Yet now, Bush's political prospects have been gradually improving again as Americans are subjected to a relentless propaganda campaign of fear-mongering, underscored with the standard assault on Democrats as weak losers who are in cahoots with America's enemies. Iraq has all but disappeared from public view. In its place is one scary discussion of terrorism after the next.
There is a strong temptation to feel that if Americans allow themselves to be manipulated again in this manner -- if, after they spent the last two years thoroughly disgusted with the president, they maintain the stranglehold that Republicans so disastrously hold over all facets of our government -- then perhaps the country will deserve what it gets. The damage to our country from a Bush administration that is completely unchecked and unlimited for the next two years is hard to fathom, but if Americans choose that, they will reap the consequences of their choice.
That sentiment, unfortunately, is bolstered by the completely despicable -- and quite deliberate -- disappearing act of the Democratic Party at exactly the time our country debates some of the most profoundly important political issues of our time. News accounts of the "compromise agreement" reached by political leaders on the torture issue barely even mention Democrats at all. It is as though we do still have a two-party system, but the two political parties are the White House and congressional Republicans. Democrats are like some quirky little third party relegated to an afterthought and quoted almost as an act of charity.
But nobody did that to the Democrats. They consciously absented themselves from our political dialogue because they were afraid to take any position, and opted instead to anoint John McCain as their proxy. We literally don't even know the views of the Democrats on these interrogation issues because they haven't told us what those views are. Isn't that just unfathomable?
The Democrats have been and will continue to be equally mute and invisible on the warrantless-eavesdropping legislation. Recall that after the New York Times revealed that President Bush has been violating criminal law for the last five years by eavesdropping on our conversations without warrants, Sen. Russ Feingold wanted to have the Senate do nothing more than simply express the sentiment that the president ought not to violate the law. As Feingold explained when he introduced his censure resolution, if the Senate does nothing once it learns that the president is acting illegally, then it is, in effect, expressing its approval for presidential lawbreaking.
That's all Feingold wanted to do -- just have the Senate express its opposition to Bush's deliberate violations of the law. And yet only a small handful of Democratic senators supported him, while the rest either mumbled something about its being premature or outright attacked Feingold for introducing his resolution. Democrats were unwilling even to criticize the president for breaking the law when spying on Americans because they were afraid of being depicted as allies of the terrorists. That, of course, is same reason they chose to hide behind John McCain and Colin Powell rather than participate in any meaningful way in the debate over whether America should torture people.
With all those facts assembled, it is truly difficult to avoid indifference over the outcome of this upcoming election. But then one ponders what the next two years is likely to bring our country if the Bush administration continues to exercise full-scale, unchecked power over all facets of our government -- a Congress that rubber-stamps a war with Iran (if it is allowed to vote at all); a likely Supreme Court nomination to replace the 86-year-old John Paul Stevens, which would create an executive-power-worshiping majority on the Supreme Court for the next couple of decades; more presidential lawbreaking, and the further entrenchment of one-party rule. And then one realizes that indulging the desire to see the timid, meek, frightened, principle-less Beltway Democrats get what they deserve (still more defeat) is something that our country simply cannot afford if it is to have any hope of avoiding passing the point of no return, where both our national security and our national character are fundamentally degraded in a way that is irreversible.
The "opposition party" is literally missing, silent, mute and invisible. And yet the only hope for reversing or at least halting any of this is to have that same Democratic Party actually somehow win an election and provide some desperately needed gridlock and balance and investigative processes to find out what our government has been doing. That is about as bleak of a picture as one can imagine.