Thursday, March 29, 2007

Oh, Won't You Lay My Bags Upon the Funeral Fire and Sing it Again

Jim Henley points the way with match and kindling:
Change of party control of the White House and Congress is a necessary but not sufficient corrective to the last six years. Somehow there needs to be an explicit and formal repudiation of Practical Bushism: “preemptive” war, the “unitary executive” and the counterterror torture-state. This is a very big job for two reasons.

First, because all that power is alluring, especially if it looks like your side might finally get to enjoy it...We’re hoping a critical mass of the political class - people who have made pursuing and wielding power the center of their lives - will reduce the legitimate scope of the power they can hope to attain.

Second, because it means keeping the Republican Party out of power for a good long time. British Tories claim that Margaret Thatcher told associates in the 1980s that the Conservatives couldn’t hold power forever but needed to hang onto it until “Labor stopped being insane” -until Labor jettisoned what we might call “Scargillism.”

Similarly, the US Republican Party has become a deeply corrupt institution top to bottom. It’s not just George Bush and his retinue. It’s not just the human shields of the Congressional GOP. It goes beyond the think-tank eunuchs and “conservative” media cheerleaders to the most pathetic marchers in what’s left of the right-wing blogosphere, down to the poorest spellers in their comment sections: the Republican Party has spent a half-dozen years distilling itself down to an apparatus for justifying massive executive power wielded by and for a self-designated elect of “real Americans,” and declaring everyone outside the elect to be fair game. We can disagree on how the Republican Party reduced itself to nothing but cheerleaders for the prerogatives of its own leaders against the rest of us - I have my theories like anyone else - but the rot goes all the way down.

It will take a whole new cadre of Republicans to turn the party into something that deserves to be trusted with a meaningful share of American power. Those people don’t really exist yet. Put it this way:to the extent that they exist now, the “real Republicans” vituperate them and drive them off. You can see the dynamic whenever a formerly “reliable” blogger like John Cole or Der Commissar sets the Kool-Aid cup down and begins describing the jungle compound as it actually looks. You see it in the loathing for Chuck Hagel, who was all talk and no kissing until just this week. Behind George Bush is Alberto Gonzales. Behind Alberto Gonzales is John Yoo. Behind John Yoo are a dozen functionaries who think like him but whose names we don’t even know. In front of them all is a clown show of jesters and justifiers.

It’s a rotten bunch, and it’s a rotten bunch that has found every soft spot in the structure of American Constitutionalism and poked it out. It is pleased to have done so and, as the Stiftung explains, does not to this day question its rightness. What has to happen is thoroughly repudiating them and their works. A notoriously fickle electorate has to keep them at bay. An obviously venal opposition has to rebuild the cage of laws around itself rather than running joyously rampant. I don’t like our chances, honestly. If you want to maximize them, it means turning to Eve Tushnet’s maxim: “Politicians mostly do what they think they have to do.” We have to make them think they have to shore up what passed for delimited power if they want to keep their phony-baloney jobs.

While some may interpret Henley's post as a partisan screed - essentially calling for the end of Republican rule - this largely misses the point. It is not an end to Republican Party power per se that is needed. This, because far too many, if not most, Democratic politicians would happily don the vestments of, say, the "unitary executive" should that wardrobe become available.

Rather, what is needed is a fundamental and formal recasting of the limits of political power, a rethinking of the ethos and purpose of government, a broad demand for responsiveness and responsibility, as well as a re-assertion of Constitutional protections and liberties. The larger framework needs to be adopted by both Parties, not just the one. Yet it would be myopia in pursuit of faux "balance" to deny that the Republican leadership has run farther afield on such matters - they have been busier blazing trails, setting dangerous precedents and defending thus ill-claimed territory. These transgressions must be halted first and foremost before anything more ambitious can be attempted.

For this to occur, though, the Republican Party must purge its ranks (figuratively, not literally), search its soul and rediscover certain core principles that it has cast aside with a frivolity that belies the profoundness of the matters decided. This process should involve both a reconnection to previously established, though severed, philosophical moorings (small government anyone? fiscal responsibility?) as well as the establishment of a forward looking and new approach (some of the sins described above arise from certain features in the genetic code that should be reexamined).

Sadly, the only way to force such a catharsis and re-birth is through the pain inflicted at the ballot box. Politicians and political movements mostly yield to the prerogatives of one solitary, overarching incentive: elections and votes. Speak to them in their language. As Henley says, the offending political approach must be repudiated in stark electoral terms for all to see. Wherever the poison has spread, whatever the Party, make it costly.

The above discussion is not undertaken in pursuit of destroying the Republican Party. It is not death of the patient that is desired, but rather a return to good health. And through that good health, a better balance in the political realm - not domination by one faction or the other. Within such moments of intra-national hegemony lies the temptation of tyranny, and the means to satiate the urge. One Party rule is dangerous, and rigid conformity within one Party rule, even more so. The lack of a vigorous, fluid and active dialectic leads to unfettered power grabs, ideological and policy excesses, gaping analytical blindspots, rampant corruption and widespread dysfunction.

If anything, the Bush presidency should have taught us that. Let's just hope the voting public is ready to tutor those of our leaders that haven't yet caught up to speed.

Call it: No Politician Left Behind.

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