How does it become a man to behave toward this American government to-day? I answer that he cannot without disgrace be associated with it.
-- Henry David Thoreau
Every day it becomes clearer that Thoreau's answer is the only basis for a genuinely effective resistance to the accelerating depredations of the Bush-Cheney regime. Disassociation, boycott, filibuster, strike -- call it what you will, but the Gandhian tag might be the best: "non-cooperation with evil." The corruption and authoritarian tyranny that the regime has imposed on the nation are evil. The war of aggression it has launched against Iraq is evil. The war of aggression it is fomenting against Iran is evil. If you would not be complicit in evil, then you must not cooperate with it, and you must not acknowledge its power as rightful or legitimate (however powerless you may be to resist its application by brute force).
If there is to be any way out of the nation's death spiral into darkness, ruin and dishonor, this noncooperation must begin at the top. There is not enough time left now for a broad movement from the general public to rise up and force the ouster of these criminals. Naturally, any and all efforts to raise consciousness of the dire situation and mobilize the public against the regime are welcome and should continue. But even putting aside the mass lethargy and media-addled distraction and indifference that have characterized public reaction to the filth heaped upon them by the regime year after year, it is simply a logistical and organizational impossibility to put together the kind of unprecedented outpouring of street protest and civil disobedience it would require for a grass-roots effort to dislodge the regime in its remaining time in office. Yet in that time, the regime will have mired the nation so much more deeply in intractable evil that even the most well-intentioned successor will be left with nothing but monstrous choices between atrocious and somewhat less atrocious outcomes, with each decision drenched in innocent blood.
So while we can all hope and work to see such noncooperation and dissent spread throughout the general public -- a long-term cultivation looking toward the harvest of a better, more honorable society down the line -- the immediate evil embodied in the crooked Bush-Cheney regime can only be thwarted by action on the institutional level. As I've noted elsewhere, Thoreau's answer should be taken up by every person in public life, beginning with the senators and representatives in Congress. There should be noncompliance, nonrecognition of this illegitimate authority, disassociation from taking part in its workings. No Bush appointees should be approved; indeed, they have already shown their unfitness for office by agreeing to work under the criminal regime in the first place. All legislation offered by the regime should be rejected outright; it is dishonorable to treat with a faction whose unprovoked, unnecessary "war of choice" in Iraq has now killed more Americans than were murdered on 9/11. The only "negotiation" acceptable with such bloodstained wretches is settling the terms of their exit from power.
For above all, impeachment should be moved to the top of the congressional agenda. It should be the overriding, all-consuming priority of the people's representatives. For this is the inescapable, stone-cold truth: nothing, absolutely nothing but impeachment, will stop the Bush-Cheney regime from carrying out its criminal agenda.
We have seen in recent days some heartening moves toward restraining the regime. The effort led by Sen. Christopher Dodd to put a hold on legislation that would excuse the telecoms' complicity in Bush's illegal surveillance schemes is a welcome development. And as Jonathan Schwarz reports, MoveOn.org is launching a major public awareness campaign to try to head off a war with Iran. These are very small straws in a howling wind -- but then again, it only takes a few straws to start a fire. And as noted above, all efforts to put fetters on the regime should be encouraged. But the history of the past seven years has proved over and over and over again that the Bush-Cheney regime will simply ignore any attempt by Congress or the courts to limit its rapacious agenda and its exercise of arbitrary power.
Congress passes laws forbidding torture; Bush and Cheney ignore them. Congress issues subpoenas and demands documents for its corruption probes; Bush and Cheney ignore them. Bush's "signing statements" explicitly state that he will follow only those parts of the law that suit him. Congress could vote tomorrow that Iran cannot be attacked without a formal declaration of war, and Bush would attack whenever he chooses anyway, calling it an extension of the congressionally authorized action in Iraq, a "defensive" action to protect the troops. Congress can pass any law it wants, but if you have an executive branch that considers itself above the law -- as this one demonstrably does -- then it doesn't matter. As long as Bush and Cheney remain in power, their criminal enterprise will go on.
Thus impeachment is not a "distraction" from efforts to end the war in Iraq, or stop a new war with Iran, or quell the vast and sickening corruption of the regime. It is their prerequisite. And even if impeachment is "politically impossible in the present circumstances," as Bush enablers like the pusillanimous Nancy Pelosi likes to tell us, it should be shoved to the forefront of national debate nonetheless. Let us have a "constitutional crisis;" let us bring our festering sickness to a boil. Let's lay it all out, and let people declare once and for all where they stand. Are you for the republic, or do you hold with tyranny, torture and mass murder? Let's draw the line at last, and be done with all pretense.
But we know that what should be done will not be done. We see that the Democrats have taken impeachment "off the table." We see that far from stopping or curtailing the war in Iraq, Pelosi and the Democratic leadership punish those among their number who dare speak the truth: that Bush has indeed sent American soldiers to have their heads blown off for his amusement, for his aggrandizement, for his radical agenda of loot and dominion. We see that far from stopping the rush toward a new war with Iran they are instead abetting it, declaring their overwhelming assent to the deceitful casus belli Bush has offered. We see, with despair, that the national Democrats share the regime's radical agenda of endless militarism and hegemonic sway, differing only on a few points of style and decorum, and a desire to see more "competence" in Iraq and "future wars."
So, ironically, in the end it does come down to us after all. There's nothing left but that long-term cultivation -- person by person, moment by moment -- plowing on despite our utter abandonment by the national leaders and civic institutions that could have stopped or slowed the horror of the present and the horror to come. We will have to go through it now.
But in closing, I'd like to quote something I wrote a few weeks ago that sums up my feeling about where we stand and what we are called upon to do in this bleak historic hour:
Yet we must keep sounding the alarm, even in the face of almost certain defeat. What else is our humanity worth if we don't do that? And if, in the end, all that we've accomplished is to keep the smallest spark of light alive, to help smuggle it through an age of darkness to some better, brighter time ahead, is that not worth the full measure of struggle?