David Mamet’s convoluted op ed in the LA Times makes the valid point that the Democratic Party is not only cowardly, but unlikely to benefit from its cowardice. But I think that the point is undermined by the assumption that, given different circumstances, we would have a different Democratic party, boldly bringing us peace and universal health care.
In LI’s opinion, this confusion of the Democratic Party with liberalism has no warrant. A far better way of examining both the Democratic and Republican parties is to view them as two factions of one Court – Court in the royal, Byzantine sense. To quote Warren Treadgold about factions in Constantinople:
“This lack of ideology has long been hard for modern scholars to grasp. For instance, most have looked for an ideological significance in the Byzantines' two factions, the Blues and the Greens, whose official function was to organize sports and theatrical events, mainly chariot races and performances in which women took off their clothes. The Blues and Greens also cheered on their own performers and teams, and sometimes fought each other in the stands or rioted in the streets. Persistent modern efforts to define the Blues and Greens as representatives of political, social, or religious groups have so conspicuously failed that they seem to have been abandoned. Now, however, without trying to distinguish Blues from Greens, Peter Brown has depicted their spectacles as solemn patriotic ceremonies. Yet such a generalization seems indefensible after Alan Cameron has shown in two meticulous and persuasive books, Porphyrius the Charioteer (1973) and Circus Factions (1976), that the Blues and Greens were interested primarily in sports and shows, secondarily in hooliganism, and not at all in ideology.”
The last sentence pretty much sums up the Republican and Democratic parties. They are parts of one thing, which I would call D.C. D.C. is concerned, above all other things, to service the industrial/service network through which politicians wash. That network has done well from the war, protects the caste system of health care in this country as one of the bigger moneymakers of all times, and is only really vivified by the idea of taking away some freedom from the average citizen in the name of morality or good nutrition. And we all know that steroids as used by ball players are much more interesting to Congress than who failed to help poor folks during Katrina.
Mamet’s notion that the Dems were all secretly against the Iraq war has to be the explanation for the persistent faith of anti-war proggish people in such party luminaries as Wesley Clark, whose doddering notions about remaining in Iraq until we are truly defeated there in 2020 are somehow read as withering critiques of the War. If you are really looking for a military general to get us out of Iraq, go for Colin Powell. If Hilary Clinton, by some quirk of fate, had been elected president in 2000, I am not confident that we wouldn’t be occupying Iraq right now. If Powell had been elected, I am pretty confident we would not be occupying Iraq right now. This isn’t to argue that Powell is a progressive. One has merely to look at his son’s rule at the F.C.C. to see what the father is about – Michael Powell’s rightwing deregulatory agenda was the most radical thing to be put in place in the D.C. sphere since, say, Clinton’s Commerce department was in town. Colin Powell is merely on that end of the D.C. Supreme Soviet that is more cautious about committing American troops.
The best metaphor for the Democratic party’s political behavior, to my mind, comes from the relation between the law and a corrupt policeman. The policeman’s perks depend upon a law that he is not enforcing – and to make the price of those perks higher, as well as to disguise his activity, the policeman will, sometimes, defend the law. In the same way, the Democrats, in order to get higher prices in the Lobby and Military industrial market for themselves and their friends and associates sometimes represent the generally progressive bent of their constituency. The effect of this is generally to put a premium on the two purposes that form legislative intention in D.C. – direct legalized bribery (coming in multitudinous forms, from the board seats scooped up by politicos after retirement or defeat to lobbying jobs, etc., etc.) to corruption (coming in the form of benefits for the associates of politicos).
Interestingly, the media has a name for legislative acts promoting bribery and corruption: they call it reform. If one remembers that simple rule, it makes it much easier to read newspapers.
PS – For a hilarious dose of DC-Thought, read today’s Washington Post editorial about flood insurance.
“LIKE A RICKETY house that was already falling down, the federal flood insurance program has been destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. The theory of the program is that people who choose to live in areas prone to flooding should pay for that risk by buying insurance; they should not expect taxpayers around the country to rescue them from their own recklessness. But the truth is that, after a disaster like Katrina, the federal government will bail everybody out whether they are insured or not; it's humanly and politically unthinkable to do otherwise. Because the likelihood of a federal rescue is so strong, there never was much incentive to buy insurance. The huge federal effort after Katrina will undermine the program further.”
This is from a paper located in a town that has diverted literally hundreds of billions of dollars to a useless and pernicious military industrial complex – a town that is a swollen parasite of federal money at every level – a town whose booms correspond on a one to one basis with federal spending levels. It is like Simon Legree lecturing about the evils of slavery. Only a clique as vainglorious as that represented on the Washington Post editorial page year after year would have the balls to lecture the rest of the country on sucking up federal dollars. Perhaps the editors should take a peak in the paper’s tech section, sometime, to see where Federal tax money is really going.
Although somehow I have my doubts that the irony will penetrate heads this fat.