An idea whose time had come
By Ted Rall
Clearing House" -- -- Live every day as if it were your last.
It's good advice. Modified for politicians: Treat every term
in office as if it were your last.
Republicans get political existentialism. When they campaign
for office, they promise to be uniters, not dividers. Once
they win an election, however, talk of bipartisanship
promptly sails out the window. They freeze out the
Democrats, elected representatives and constituents alike.
Rather than compromise to accommodate the millions who voted
against them, Republicans play to their right-wing base:
racists and Christianists. The GOP belligerently promotes
the most extremist items on its legislative wish list by
declaring their victory to be a broad manifesto for radical
change and wholesale rejection of the other side. They
nominate judges whose conservatism is far to the right of
the average Republican. Sure, they want to unite the
country--by forcing everyone to go along with what they
"Back in December 2000," recalls Lincoln Chafee, a
Republican senator from Rhode Island, "after one of the
closest elections in our nation's history, Vice
President-elect Dick Cheney was the guest at a weekly lunch
meeting of a small group of centrist Republicans." Many
people expected Bush, who'd received 48 percent of the vote
and had been anointed after a controversial Supreme Court
decision to halt the recount, to make good on his campaign
promises to reach out to Democrats in a spirit of
bipartisanship. But Cheney had something else in mind. "I
was startled to hear the vice president dismiss suggestions
of compromise and instead emphasize an aggressively partisan
agenda that included significant tax cuts, the abandonment
of international agreements and a muscular, unilateral
Cheney and Bush understood that they might only have one
four-year term to accomplish their goals. Knowing that they
might never get another chance, they insulated themselves
with a staff of likeminded ideologues and got to work at
remaking America in their image. Drawing on bluster and
hubris, they bullied Democrats into going along with the
transfer of the federal tax burden from the rich to the
middle class. Next they skillfully exploited Americans' fear
and anger following the September 11th attacks to attack
Afghanistan and Iraq. By 2004 they had eliminated civil
liberties that citizens of Western countries had enjoyed for
hundreds of years, emasculating Congress and the Courts to
create a "unified executive" form of government.
Most of the changes carried out by Bush's neoconservatives
during his first term--new tax rates, USA-Patriot Act, two
wars, pulling out of the Geneva Conventions, torture,
domestic eavesdropping--will probably remain in force for
decades. Their strategy of running roughshod over the
It helps to enjoy the complicity of the media. Whenever
Republicans win an election, mainstream pundits cite the
results as prima facie proof that the American people have
handed them a mandate to do whatever they want.
When Reagan won in 1980, Newsweek hailed his triumph as "an
idea whose time had come," "a rousing vote of confidence in
him and his politics," and posited that the results spelled
"nearly certain death for liberal causes." When Republicans
picked up seats in the 1994 midterm elections, House Speaker
Newt Gingrich drew upon media support to stampede Clinton
into a year-long "copresidency," resulting in welfare reform
and free-trade pacts.
When is a win not a win? When it's Democratic. When a
majority of Americans cast votes for the Dems, the results
are invariably interpreted by the media as a public desire
for moderation and bipartisanship rather than some "radical
left-wing agenda." Democrats are told to abandon their
campaign promises and ignore their liberal base. The pain
and divisiveness of the (Republican-ruled) past must be
healed by big-hearted (and soft-headed) Democrats. Democrats
don't get mandates.
The double standard isn't new. "For all the records it
broke," Time editorialized in 1996, "[Bill Clinton's
49-to-41 percent win] was a victory for studied modesty; for
a willingness to swallow his pride to preserve his power,
embrace his enemies to steal their ideas and march into
history as the first two-term Democrat since F.D.R., not
with great leaps forward but one baby step at a time. It
couldn't be clearer if they had spelled it out letter for
letter: voters elected a moderate Democratic President to
carry out a moderate Republican agenda."
For the first time since 1994, Democrats find themselves in
control of both houses of Congress. They picked up 28 seats
in the House and six in the Senate--a stunning sweep
considering that congressional redistricting has made it
more difficult to unseat incumbents. But the facts that a
lot more Americans voted Democratic than Republican and that
Bush's approval rating has hit a record low (31 percent)
don't mean much to the official media--or, it seems, to the
winning Democratic candidates.
Time's post-election cover story was called "Why the Center
is the Place to Be." The incoming freshmen representatives,
reported The New York Times (house organ of the
Clinton-style centrist Democrats) in its lead story on
November 12, "say they were given a rare opportunity by
voters, many of them independents and Republicans, who were
tired of the partisanship and gridlock in Washington."
"Now, they say, they have to produce...to find a bipartisan
consensus...to avoid the ideological wars that have so
dominated Congress in recent years, to be pragmatists, and
to change the tone in Washington after a sharply partisan
"They've set a bad example in not working with us," incoming
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said of the Republicans.
"We're not following that example."
Blech. The fools are already running for reelection.
The New New Democrats need to study the calendar. Two years
from now, they may well end up back in the minority, reading
passionate speeches no one will ever hear to an empty
chamber for the benefit of C-SPAN. Rather than triangulate
or moderate their views, Democrats should take that two-year
time limit seriously and go gangbusters, emulating Cheney
and Bush's balls-to-the-wall style to pass as much
legislation as they can before 2008. That means unraveling
as many GOP accomplishments as possible. Cancel the tax
cuts, close the torture camps, restore habeas corpus, get
the NSA out of our email, yank our troops out of Afghanistan
It's high time for vengeance. Impeachment is essential, to
cleanse our national soul, as a down payment of good will
toward the rest of the world, and because they did it to
Clinton for far, far less. And we need investigations--lots
of them. Special prosecutors ought to track down everyone,
up to and including Bush, who lied about WMDs in Iraq, chose
not to pursue Osama in Pakistan after 9/11, deliberately
withheld help that could have saved lives during the
Hurricane Katrina, and signed off on warrantless wiretapping
of American citizens. Law and order starts at the top.
At the same time, Dems ought to ram through such long
overdue (and popular) liberal agenda items as national
health insurance, pulling out of the failed NAFTA accord and
a big hike in the minimum wage. If any Republicans object,
do what they'd do: call them terrorists or traitors or some
other smear that forces them to sit down, shut up, and vote
Of course, there's an alternative. Bill Clinton wasted his
entire political career placing short-term victory at the
polls over achieving his political goals. Sucking up to
moderates and Republicans got him eight years in the White
House, but for what? He never signed a major bill that could
be described as liberal.
If they govern like there's no tomorrow, Democratic
lawmakers will be able to say that they represented their
constituents, who will have gotten what they voted for.
That's how democracy is supposed to work. Remember?
Ted Rall is the author of the new book "Silk
Road to Ruin
: Is Central Asia the New Middle East?," an in-depth
prose and graphic novel analysis of America's next big
foreign policy challenge. Visit his website.
© 2006 Ted Rall