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*beat the devil* /by/ Alexander Cockburn

Alexander Cockburn on Campaign 2006--The Nation 11/20/06

*beat the devil* /by/ Alexander Cockburn


  The Message of Campaign 2006

[from the November 20, 2006 issue]

Is the half-hidden message of the 2006 campaign season that in the
presidential showdown in 2008 we'll have Senator John McCain running as
both a Republican and a Democrat? It would certainly sweep away any
remaining doubts that there is any difference between the two major
parties. And maybe it would open up some space for outside challengers,
assuming all vociferous opponents have not by that time been arrested
and stuck behind barbed wire in an internment camp.

What candidate would be more appropriate as the next Commander in Chief
than the mad ex-POW who now serves as Arizona's senior senator? McCain,
don't forget, was under consideration by his senatorial colleague
Democrat John Kerry to be his running mate in 2004 before Kerry picked
John Edwards, whose prime distinction is that he is married to Elizabeth
Edwards, the only Democrat I've seen in recent times to display any of
the qualities one might hope for in a Democratic presidential nominee.

McCain is obviously aware of his impending responsibilities as the
fusion candidate. As Congress prepared its craven assent to President
Bush's destruction of habeas corpus with the Military Commissions Act,
he was one of three Republican senators who raised a bleat of protest.
True, as is always the case with McCain, it was a very brief bleat, but
as against the complaisance of Democrats like Joe Biden (who chortled
that the Democrats would be happy to sit on the sidelines as the
Constitution thumped into the trash bin) this counts as a lion's roar.

Even the word "bleat" is a fierce overstatement of the noise raised by
any senator, including McCain, as Bush finally junked legal restrictions
on the role of the military in domestic law enforcement, a deed
consummated with his signature on the same day, October 17, that he
signed the Military Commissions Act, which permits warrantless
incarceration and torture of suspected terrorists.

Speaking of what is now Public Law 109-364, Senator Pat Leahy whispered
into the Congressional Record September 29 that he had "grave
reservations about certain provisions" of the bill. The language of
these provisions, Leahy said, "subverts solid, longstanding posse
comitatus statutes that limit the military's involvement in law
enforcement, thereby making it easier for the President to declare
martial law."

At least when the Military Commissions Act was striding through
Congress, the press did demurely note the fact, albeit without alarm
sirens, that habeas corpus is headed toward a display case in the
Smithsonian. The only story I've seen on the significance of Public Law
109-364 came from Frank Morales, on Uruknet, describing its license for
the President "to declare a 'public emergency' and station troops
anywhere in America, taking control of state-based National Guard
units...in order to 'suppress public disorder.'"

Does McCain's latest statement on the war in Iraq--a call for 20,000
fresh US troops to be sent there--square with the Democrats' position on
the war? The answer to this is, of course, that the Democrats don't have
a position on the war beyond the de facto one of trying to make sure no
peacenik candidates slip past the guard post supervised by Rahm Emanuel,
chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Like the American people overall, the majority of ordinary Democrats
want US forces to quit Iraq in the immediate or relatively near future.
This was not the posture of Democratic candidates, particularly in tight
races. Most of them have talked about withdrawal as a matter of many
months. The Democratic leadership would sign on to a McCain beef-up plan
in minutes, flailing away at Bush for the next two years for losing the
war. For the left position we'll probably have to wait for the
commission headed by James Baker or a mutiny by the generals, who are
aware--just as they told Representative John Murtha this time last
year--that the war is a bust and it's time to quit.

Campaign 2006 has shown us clearly enough that the outer limit of
popular sanction is the ability to lodge a formal protest on election
day. Such protest can have actual consequences only in the very few
remaining Congressional districts not gerrymandered into permanent
incumbency or rotted out with vote fraud. Mostly the voters seem to have
felt that both parties are pretty awful, but as the outfit that's been
running the country without opposition for six years the Republicans
deserve to get a kick in the pants.

The fact that this protest is purely formal is attested by the adamant
refusal of the Democrats to offer anything by way of substantive
alternative, beyond saying that Bush is an incompetent fellow. Indeed,
the substantive effect of Campaign 2006 has been to state in terms plain
enough for a simpleton to understand that resistance is futile, since
both Republicans and Democrats agree that the Bill of Rights is a dead
letter and that wars must go on, and jobs disappear, despite
overwhelming popular disagreement with such policies.

Pick a topic--the war, the economy, a 2 million-plus prison population,
the environment, the condition of organized labor, the Constitution. Can
you recall any Democrat this fall having said something on such a topic
suggesting that in the event Democrats recapture the House or the Senate
or both, anything of consequence might occur?

The week before polling day the /New York Times/ had a story about the
business lobby's plans to sweep away all irksome laws and regulations
passed in the wake of the Enron and WorldCom scandals. Did anyone cry,
"That's just the kind of corporate villainy we need the Democrats to
guard us from!" Of course not. It would be as unrealistic as to hope
that a Congress controlled in both chambers by Democrats would simply
vote to deny Bush the money for the war in Iraq.

As things stand in organized politics today a purely formal protest is
the most we can hope for, and the significance of this fall's campaign
is that no one has pretended otherwise.
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