Outrage follows outrage, surrender follows surrender: Every day the unreality of our political discourse worsens, even as the reality on the ground grows more bitter and uncontainable. As we approach the anniversary of the Democrats' recapture of Congress -- an event that was supposed to mark the repudiation of the Bush administration's lawless, blood-soaked enterprise -- it is undeniable that the situation is actually worse now than before.
The prospect of a Democratic victory in 2006 was for many people the last, flickering hope that the degradation of the republic could be arrested and reversed within the ordinary bounds of the political system. This was always a fantasy, given the strong bipartisan nature and decades-long cultivation of greed, arrogance and militarism that has now come to its fullest bloom in the Bush administration. But desperation can crack the shell of the most hardened cynic, and no doubt there were few who did not harbor somewhere deep inside at least a small grain of hope against hope that a slap-down at the polls would give the Bush gang pause and confound its worst depredations.
One year on, we can all see how the Democrats have made a mockery of those dreams. Their epic levels of unpopularity are richly deserved. At every step they evoke the remarks of the emperor Tiberius, who, after yet another round of groveling acquiescence from the once-powerful Roman Senate, dismissed them with muttered contempt: "Men fit to be slaves." The record of the present Congress provides copious and irrefutable evidence for this judgment.
After 10 full months of Democratic command in the legislative branch -- 10 full months under the "liberal," "progressive," "antiwar" Democratic leadership -- where are we? The Iraq war, far from being ended or even curtailed, was instead escalated by Bush in the face of popular discontent and establishment unease: the first, and most egregious, Democratic surrender. Bush's illegal spying on Americans was not only not punished, it was formally legitimized by Congress, whose Democratic leaders are now hastening to give their telecom paymasters retroactive immunity for taking part in what they knew to be a massive criminal operation, as Glenn Greenwald has often noted here. The Military Commissions Act -- which eviscerated 900 years of habeas corpus, as even Arlen Specter admitted (before slavishly voting for the bill anyway) -- remains on the books, unshaken by the Democrats, despite all the cornpone about "restoring the Constitution" they've dished out for the rubes back home.
And now we stand on the brink of another senseless, useless, baseless war, this time with Iran -- a conflict that, as Juan Cole pointed out on Salon recently, is likely to make the belching hell of Iraq look like a church picnic. Dick Cheney's bellicose outburst Sunday in a speech to the Washington Institute for Near East Studies -- a reprise of many similar war dances he performed in the run-up to the unprovoked invasion of Iraq -- takes us one step closer to this new crime. But Cheney's assertions of Persian perfidy -- all of them unsubstantiated, and in the case of the nuclear program, refuted by the IAEA -- were simply the culmination of a remarkable bipartisan campaign of demonization in which the Democrats have actually taken the public lead, repeatedly castigating the administration for not being "tough enough" on Iran, and repeatedly vowing that "all options are on the table" against the mad mullahs: strong words indeed from the only nation on earth that has ever exercised the "nuclear option" against another country.
(And no one has limned the moral insanity of the new war fever with more power and urgency and eloquence than Arthur Silber. He has demolished the bogus arguments, exposed the true context and fatal delusions of the "debate" and proposed practical solutions to try to head off the coming disaster. Check out his work for a most unsentimental education about the realities of our time.)
The Democrats have already overwhelmingly -- and officially -- accepted the administration's arguments for war against Iran. The first on-the-record embrace came in June, on a 97-0 Senate vote in favor of a saber-rattling resolution from Fightin' Joe Lieberman. As I noted at the time:
"The bipartisan Senate resolution ... affirmed as official fact all of the specious, unproven, ever-changing allegations of direct Iranian involvement in attacks on the American forces now occupying Iraq. The Senators appear to have relied heavily on the recent New York Times story by Michael Gordon that stovepiped unchallenged Pentagon spin directly onto the paper's front page. As Firedoglake points out, John McCain cited the heavily criticized story on the Senate floor as he cast his vote."
It goes without saying that all of this is a nightmarish replay of the run-up to the war of aggression against Iraq: The New York Times funneling false flag stories from Bush insiders. Warmongers citing the New York Times stories as "proof" justifying any and all action to "defend the homeland." Credulous and craven Democratic politicians swallowing the Bush line hook and sinker.
To be sure, stout-hearted Dem tribunes like Dick Durbin insisted that their support for declaring that Iran is "committing acts of war" against the United States should not be taken as an "authorization of military action." This is shaky-knees mendacity at its finest. Having officially affirmed that Iran is waging war on American forces, how can you then deny the president when he asks (if he asks) for authorization to "defend our troops"? Answer: You can't. And you know it.
But even this was not enough. A few weeks later, there was a new resolution, carefully calibrated to mesh with the all-out propaganda blitz surrounding the appearance of Gen. David Petraeus on Fox News in September. (He also put in an appearance on Capitol Hill, it seems.) Once again, the majority of Senate Democrats voted with the monolithic Republicans for yet another Lieberman-sponsored measure, which effectively if not formally authorized military action against Iran by declaring the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard a "foreign terrorist organization" and tying it to attacks on American soldiers in Iraq.
Even the clueless Joe Biden -- last seen marshaling a measure advocating the partition of Iraq (also known as the "Ethnic Cleansing Act of 2007") -- gets it. He told George Stephanopoulos Sunday that Bush will seize on the resolutions exactly as predicted: "The president's going to stand there and say ... 'Ladies and gentlemen, as the United States Congress voted, they said these guys are terrorists. I moved against them to save American lives.'"
But Bush is not the only president -- or potential president -- who might seize on the Senate votes. Last week -- just a few days before Cheney's speech -- Hillary Clinton weighed in with a "major policy article" in Foreign Affairs that regurgitated the administration's unproven allegations against Iran as indisputable fact. This too is ominous stuff, coming from a strong front-runner who not only is leading in the opinion polls but is also way out in front among an elite constituency whose support is much more important and decisive than that of the hapless hoi polloi: arms dealers. Clinton has surpassed all candidates -- including the hyper-hawkish Republican hopefuls -- in garnering cash payments from the American weapons industry, the Independent reports. Obviously, these masters of war are not expecting any drop-off in profits if Clinton takes the helm.
And indeed, beyond her "all options" thundering at Iran, Clinton has vowed to do the one thing guaranteed to breed more war, more ruin, more suffering, more "collateral damage," more terrorist blowback: keeping American forces in Iraq, come hell or high water. Clinton's "withdrawal" plan calls for retaining an unspecified number of "specialized units" in Iraq to "fight terrorism," train Iraqi forces and protect other American troops carrying out unspecified activities. Is it any wonder that she's the apple of Lockheed Martin's eye?
But in fact, the "antiwar" plans of the other "liberal" candidates -- the "serious" ones, that is -- are remarkably similar. In other words, the Democrats are promising a permanent (or in the current weasel-word jargon, "enduring") U.S. military presence in Iraq -- which of course has been one of the primary war aims of the Bush administration all along (even before it took office). Credible analysis shows that up to a million people or more have been slaughtered in this ghastly enterprise -- and still the Democrats will not act to end it or, God forbid, try to remove its perpetrators from office. Instead they will keep the red wheel of death rolling toward the ever-vanishing horizon.
So this is where we've come to, one year after the people spoke at the ballot box, fighting through government propaganda, media distortions, pundit scorn, terrorist scares -- and the Karl Rove vote-skewing, vote-suppressing, vote-stealing machine -- to deliver a strong call for a new direction, for an end to war and torture and tyranny and corruption and lies. They believed -- perhaps for the last time -- that their vote might make a difference, that the "consent of the governed" might still retain some meaning.
What should the people believe now? What should they hope for from the system now? And what new nightmares await them in the second year of this perverse union between a power-drunk president and a cowardly, corrupted, complicit "opposition"?