The Bush/Cheney Impeachment Papers

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Open Letter to Barack and Nancy: Why “Moving On” Is a Recipe for Disaster (1)

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Nancy Pelosi and the rest of the Democratic leadership have chosen not to bring the Bush Administration to account for any of its crimes because they consider it a risky political decision that could potentially backfire on them and cost them the election. One can certainly make a good argument that polls would tend to pretty strongly suggest otherwise, but even if one accepts their argument, there is a far deeper problem they’re ducking: the effect on the country.

Barack Obama backs Pelosi’s decision to take impeachment “off the table” for a slightly different reason (although we have to assume that Nancy’s reason carries a lot of weight with him). He is looking forward to his administration having massive problems to deal with in the wake of the worst presidency in American history. The last thing he wants to do is stir up partisan resentment that will make reforms more difficult (if not impossible) by alienating Republicans who might be disposed to work with him. One can certainly make a good argument that the modern conservative movement is so filled with heterodoxical extremists and unbending ideologues that any truly bi-partisan relationship is nothing but an unrealistic dream, but even if one accepts his position, there is a far deeper problem he’s ducking: the effect on the country.

This past June in The Nation, Corey Robin, in an essay on the way the Right has always followed and/or copied the Left, made the point that in the 1960’s Goldwater saw that conservatives, who were taking a beating as corrupt, mindless, corporate puppets had to prove that they had a “credo” of strict values that they lived by. To some extent, the late “values movement” came out of that perception.

Making privilege palatable to the democratic masses is a permanent project for conservatives, but each generation must tailor it to the contours of its times. In 1960, Goldwater’s challenge was set out in his book’s title: to show that conservatives had a conscience. Not a heart–he lambasted Eisenhower and Nixon for trying to prove that they were compassionate–or a brain, which liberals from John Stuart Mill to Lionel Trilling had doubted. Political movements often have to show that they can win, that their cause is just and their leaders are savvy, but rarely must they prove that theirs is a march of inner lights. Goldwater thought otherwise: to attract new voters and rally the faithful, conservatism had to establish its idealism and integrity, its absolute independence from the beck and call of wealth, from privilege and materialism–reality itself. If they were to change reality, conservatives would have to divorce themselves, at least in their self-understanding, from reality.

***

Goldwater learned from the New Deal. During the Gilded Age, conservatives had opposed unions and government regulation by invoking workers’ freedom to contract with their employer. Liberals countered that this freedom was illusory: workers lacked the means to contract as they wished; real freedom required material means. Goldwater agreed, only he turned that argument against the New Deal: high taxes robbed workers of their wages, rendering them less free and less able to be free. Channeling John Dewey, he asked, “How can a man be truly free if he is denied the means to exercise freedom?”

FDR claimed that conservatives cared more about money than men. Goldwater said the same about liberals. Focusing on welfare and wages, he charged, they “look only at the material side of man’s nature” and “subordinate all other considerations to man’s material well being.” Conservatives took in “the whole man,” making his “spiritual nature” the “primary concern” of politics and putting “material things in their proper place.”

This romantic howl against the economism of the New Deal–similar to that of the New Left–was not a protest against politics or government; Goldwater was no libertarian. It was an attempt to elevate politics and government, to direct public discussion toward ends more noble and glorious than the management of creature comforts and material well-being.

It was all a scam, of course, an illusion they were selling the country, but it worked. Goldwater used an imaginary victimhood of conservatives as the basis of a cry for justice and “balance” that struck a chord with Americans who thought of themselves, too, as victims. Modern conservatism began as a sort of Victims’ Support Group. Robin writes, “Conservatives have asked us not to obey them but to feel sorry for them–or to obey them because we feel sorry for them.”

Reformers and radicals must convince the subordinated and disenfranchised that they have rights and power. Conservatives are different. They are aggrieved and entitled–aggrieved because entitled–and already convinced of the righteousness of their cause and the inevitability of its triumph. They can play victim and victor with a conviction and dexterity the subaltern can only imagine, making them formidable claimants on our allegiance and affection.

But we need to understand why it took “aggrieved” conservatives 30 years to conceive of a solution to FDR, and 30 more years to put it into victorious operation. The answer is actually fairly simple. Roosevelt didn’t just rout the conservative movement of his time, he resolved all the issues of its enemies and absorbed them into his coalition, an alliance that lasted 60 years and could have lasted longer if the Democrats who followed him hadn’t become so lazy and complacent.

What Pelosi and Obama (and the rest of the DLC-style leadership) is proposing to do is skip over this step and leave the hatred, anger, resentment, and sense of massive injustices done by the Bush/Cheney Gang to fester inside the body politic for the indefinite future. They can say that they’re “moving on” but what they’re actually doing is moving past – with their eyes shut – hoping the whole thing will just go away.

Unfortunately, history shows us that as a policy of providing for future peace and stability, you couldn’t make a worse choice.

(to be cont’d)

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Written by Mick

August 13, 2008 at 2:20 pm

One Response

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  1. […] Open Letter to Barack and Nancy: Why “Moving On” Is a Recipe for Disaster (1) […]


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