Democrats’ Year of Living Fecklessly By Robert Parry

Dandelion Salad

By Robert Parry
(A Special Report)
Consortium News
November 7, 2007

One year ago, the Democrats ended Republican control of Congress, stirring millions of Americans to hope that George W. Bush’s Iraq War and his assault on the U.S. Constitution finally would be stopped.

Twelve months later, many of those once-hopeful voters feel bitter disillusionment toward the national Democratic Party, which has surrendered in showdown after showdown with the weakened President, from continuing to write blank checks for the Iraq War to ceding more power to him for his surveillance operations.

The Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee couldn’t even put together enough of a united front to block Bush’s appointment of a new Attorney General who believes the President should possess nearly unlimited powers in wartime and who won’t say that the simulated drowning of waterboarding constitutes torture.

Though some voters have been surprised by the consistency of these Democratic cave-ins, the pattern actually started immediately after the surprising election results of Nov. 7, 2006, when Democrats won narrow majorities in the House and Senate.

Rather than escalate their political confrontation with Bush, the Democrats opted for a course of wishful thinking and empty gestures. Most importantly, the Democrats chose not only to keep impeachment off the table, but avoided any comprehensive investigation into controversial Bush policies.

There were no Fulbright-style hearings on the origins of the Iraq War; there were no broad challenges to the excessive secrecy that Bush clamped down around his constitutional violations in the “war on terror”; the best the Democrats could muster were scatter-shot hearings by Rep. Henry Waxman’s House Oversight Committee.

In short, the Democrats not only failed to mount a sustained challenge to Bush’s policies, they avoided any systematic hearings that would educate the American public about why Bush’s presidency has represented such an extraordinary threat to the Republic. They have acted as if the people simply should “get it” without any more information.

This Democratic tendency to de-value information – and a timidity toward real oversight – can be traced back to the 1980s when accommodating Democrats, such as Rep. Lee Hamilton of Indiana, sought to finesse, rather than confront, abuses of power by Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush during the Iran-Contra Affair and related scandals.

The pattern deepened in 1993 when Bill Clinton won the presidency and the Democrats still controlled Congress. At that point, they shelved investigations of Reagan-Bush crimes, including clandestine military support for Iraq’s Saddam Hussein, drug-trafficking by the Nicaraguan contra rebels, and still-secret dealings with Iran.

Clinton and the Democrats judged that the hard work of getting at the truth and exacting accountability was less important than wooing some moderate Republicans into hoped-for support of Clinton’s budget, health-care and other domestic priorities. [For details on this failed strategy, see Robert Parry’s Secrecy & Privilege.]

Consumers, Not Citizens

By their actions in the early days of the Clinton administration, the national Democrats revealed that they viewed the American people more as consumers eager for services than citizens needing honest information to fulfill their duties in a democratic Republic.

Clinton also apparently thought that his magnanimous gesture, especially in letting former President George H.W. Bush off the hook, would win reciprocity from the Republicans. Instead, they took the Democratic scrapping of the Reagan-Bush investigations as a sign of weakness and unleashed the emerging right-wing media against Clinton.

Despite catastrophic political results – losing control of Congress in 1994 and the White House in 2000 – the national Democrats learned few lessons from the Clinton debacles. In 2002 and 2004, they reacted to Bush and his “war on terror” gingerly and suffered more defeats.

Finally, in 2006, heeding an increasingly angry “base,” the Democrats adopted a tougher stance toward Bush and were surprised by their own success. Yet, even as congressional Democrats were picking confetti out of their hair, they were reverting to their can’t-we-all-get-along approach.

On Nov. 8, the day after the election, Bush announced that he was replacing Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld with former CIA Director Robert Gates. The Democrats hailed the move, thinking that it signaled a new assertion of control by the “realists” from President George H.W. Bush’s administration.

After all, Gates had worked for the elder Bush and was a member of the Iraq Study Group, which was planning to urge a drawdown of U.S. troops in Iraq. A Newsweek cover illustrated this thesis with a large Poppy Bush in the foreground and a smaller Sonny Bush in the rear.

A conventional wisdom took shape, that Gates gave up his beloved presidency of Texas A&M to undertake the thankless job of walking junior Bush back from the brink.

At, we published a series of contrarian stories about Gates, many drawing from CIA officers who had worked with Gates. They regarded him as the consummate bureaucratic “yes man” who operated with a burning ambition concealed beneath a mild-mannered persona.

In this view, Gates, one of the political casualties of the Iran-Contra Affair, had never gotten over his ouster from the center of Washington power. Not nearly as content with his life in “Aggie-land” as he led people to think, Gates saw his Pentagon appointment as possibly his last chance to return to the world stage.


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