Water Man Spouts

Thursday, November 30, 2006

"The Rise of American Democracy" ...

"This book’s simple title describes the historical arc of its subject. Important elements of democracy existed in the infant American republic of the 1780s, but the republic was not democratic. Nor, in the minds of those who governed it, was it supposed to be. A republic – the res publica, or ‘public thing’ – was meant to secure the common good through the ministrations of the most worthy, enlightened men. A democracy – derived from demos krateo, ‘rule of the people’ – dangerously handed power to the impassioned, unenlightened masses. Democracy, the eminent Federalist political leader George Cabot wrote as late as 1804, was ‘the government of the worst.’ Yet by the 1830s, as Alexis de Tocquesville learned, most Americans proclaimed that their country was a democracy as well as a republic. Enduring arguments had begun over the boundaries of democratic politics. In the 1840s and 1850s, these arguments centered increasingly on slavery and slavery’s expansion and led to the Civil War.

"The changes were astonishing, but neither inevitable nor providential. American democracy did not rise like the sun at its natural hour in history. Its often troubled ascent was the outcome of human conflicts, accommodations, and unforeseen events, and the results could well have been very different than they were. The difficulties and the contingencies made the events all the more remarkable. A momentous rupture occurred between Thomas Jefferson’s time and Abraham Lincoln’s that created the lineaments of modern politics. The rise of American democracy is the story of that rupture and its immediate consequences.

"Democracy is a troublesome word, and explaining why is one of my book’s goals. A decade before the American Revolution, the early patriot James Otis defined democracy in its purest and simplest form as ‘a government of all over all,’ in which ‘the votes of the majority shall be taken as the voice of the whole,’ and where the rulers were the ruled. As fixed descriptions go, this is as good as any, but its abstractness, of course, begs explication. Since the Revolution, citizens, scholars, and political leaders have latched onto one or another aspect of government or politics as democracy’s essence. For some, it is a matter of widening political rights; for others, democracy means greater opportunity for the individual pursuit of happiness; for still others, it is more of a cultural phenomenon than a political one, ‘a habit of the heart,’ as de Tocqueville put it, in which deference to rulers and condescension for the ruled give way to the ruder conventions of equality. …..

"Democracy appears when some large number of previously excluded, ordinary persons – what the eighteenth century called ‘the many’ -- secure the power not simply to select their governors but to oversee the institutions the institutions of government, as officeholders and as citizens free to assemble and criticize those in office. Democracy is never a gift bestowed by benevolent, farseeing rulers who seek to reinforce their own legitimacy. It must always be fought for, by political coalitions that cut across distinctions of wealth, power, and interest. It suceeds and survives only when it is rooted in the lives and expectations of its citizens, and continually reinvigorated in each generation. Democratic successes are never irreversible."
--The Rise of American Democracy: Jefferson to Lincoln; Sean Wilentz; WW Norton & Co.; 2005

There was a discussion on the Democratic Underground earlier this week that questioned if that political discussion forum would have been created if Al Gore had won the presidential election in 2000. I found that both amusing and amazing, because the simple truth is that Al Gore did win. My favorite book on the topic is Vince Bugliosi’s "The Betrayal of America: How the Supreme Court Undermined the Constitution and Chose Our President." That title alone hints that the powers that denied President Gore his rightful office, and instead placed Bush and Cheney in power, posed a serious threat to our democracy.

The reasons why a small group of politically powerful people subverted the democratic process have become evident as this administration has continued to corrupt the Constitution of the United States in a manner that threatens the very foundation of the country. Perhaps no single issue is more important to this discussion than the administration’s invasion of Iraq. In a number of discussion on DU about that war, I have quoted from Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.’s "The Imperial Presidency," the 1973 classic that detailed how presidents throughout history have attempted to gain an unconstitutional level of power by abusing the office’s war powers.

Schlesinger notes that the Constitution provides for abuses of power by allowing the Congress to impeach those who break the law. In two recent essays that I have posted on DU, and quoted from both Schlesinger and John Dean’s "Worse Than Watergate" – which details several areas that Bush and Cheney are at risk of being impeached, should Congress respect the Constitution – a couple DUers have reacted by saying that what I am advocating in "dangerous." Thus, I think it is important to warn the weak-kneed hand-wringers that Sean Wilentz states openly that he believes Arthur Schlesinger Jr. changed the way in which historians approached the topic of democracy in America, and quotes him on how "future challenges ‘will best be met by a society in which no single group is able to sacrifice democracy and liberty to its interests’."
Few people would debate that the administration lied to the American public about the actual reasons they were going to invade Iraq. There were no WMDs, and the intelligence community had provided quality information to the administration. The Vice President and his ilk have politely been accused of "cherry-picking" the intelligence. The truth is they distorted it purposely, and lied to us. The proof of their criminal intent is found in their criminal attack on Joseph Wilson when he told us the truth.

The horrors of their invasion of Iraq are obviously found in that land. It’s the dead and wounded American soldiers, who were betrayed by this administration. It’s the unbelievable amount of damage done to the Iraqi people. It’s obscene, it’s evil, and it is as sinful as anything that is found in that Good Book that Bush so self-righteously thinks justifies his behavior.

A country cannot do what we have done in Iraq, and not have a reaction in its own land. We see that reaction in an organized attempt by that same small group that corrupted the 2000 election, to trample the US Constitution. As I have noted before, what the administration is doing today is no different than what was known as the Huston Plan in the Nixon era. It includes the domestic spying, and the attempts to deny Constitutional rights to segments of the population. The historic Ervin Committee Report details the criminal nature of this plan on pages 53-57. Read it, and see if it isn’t exactly what this group of misfits is doing.

The 2006 mid-term elections were a democratic response to the administration’s war in Iraq. Yes, there are other issues that were extremely significant in the elections, but the nation’s rejection of the Bush-Cheney war in Iraq was the single most important democratic statement. And what has been the republican response?

Rumsfeld is being replaced by Robert Gates, a criminal from the Iran-Contra scandals. The crimes of the Reagan-Bush1 administration were no less dangerous to our nation than was Watergate. In fact, these crimes were more dangerous, because while Watergate was a domestic series of crimes, Iran-Contra was international in scope.

There is also a James Baker III commission that was supposed to take an objective look at the US policy in Iraq, and to find potential solutions. Today we hear what most progressive democrats knew: the Baker commission is merely fronting for a long-term occupation of Iraq, in order to provide access to Iraqi oil reserves.

Gates is a criminal. It would be impossible for him to stop the Bush-Cheney crimes in Iraq. Baker fronted for the group that denied Gore his rightful office. He isn’t going to oppose the Bush-Cheney agenda now. And one need look no further than Gates’ and Baker’s friend Newt Gingrich, who has played an influential role as an advisor to VP Cheney – including on the operation to damage Joseph and Valerie Plame Wilson – who is running for the republican nomination for 2008. This week, Newt identified the 1st Amendment as a threat to our safety.

Wilentz and Schlesinger remind us that not only is democracy a process, but that anti-democratic actions are part of a process. In order for us to oppose the Bush-Cheney-Gates-Baker-Gingrich process, we must be active at the "rule of the people" level that some find so dangerous. I strongly urge progressives and democrats to write letters to Henry Waxman and John Conyers, and ask them to keep the process moving forward.

Our democracy depend upon our actions today. There is no greater outline of what those actions should include, than the 1st Amendment that Newt finds so threatening. We must use those powers provided by the Constitution to demand the Congress move towards impeachment proceedings. I’ve suggested we target VP Cheney, while others say we should target Bush, or both. I am comfortable with all of these positions.

We continue to have some say that we should not be talking about impeachment. It’s dangerous. Some continue to cling to the weak position that the impeachment advocates do not understand that we need investigations first. In fact, the pro-impeachment people understand the process better than the anti-impeachment friends. And more, we have a greater faith in that process. Prove it, you say? Easily: the anti-impeachment folk continue to hold tight to the "there aren’t enough votes" life jacket that barely holds their argument above the tide of pro-impeachment sentiment. There weren’t the votes when the process against Nixon began. But that didn’t stop those who trusted in the Constitution.

There weren’t the votes for civil rights when that process began. But those who trusted in the Constitution didn’t back down from doing what was right. There weren’t enough votes to stop the war in Vietnam, for that matter. But it didn’t stop those brave people who knew the war was wrong.

In his greatest speech, "A Time to Break Silence (aka Beyond Vietnam)", Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.told us that we "are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history there is such a thing as being too late. Procrastination is still the thief of time. Life often leaves us standing bare, naked and dejected with lost opportunity. The ‘tide in the affairs of men’ does not remain at the flood; it ebbs. …We must move past indecision to action."

Have faith in democracy. Act today.


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