Tom Watson, to whom I wasn't kind recently, quotes my vituperation and suggests it points to a condition not of indifference to Democratic victory, but of fear. "Now I'm fairly convinced we quake."
He writes and means as criticism:
Victory isn't good enough. A national mea culpa won't do it. Investigations and self-examination don't get it done. An over-the-horizon pullback from the Iraq morass is a half-measure. Incrementally more competent, in-touch, less doctrinaire leadership is merely an infield single. It's all not enough.To which I say: Not enough, and worse. This is the incompetence dodge, or the competence fallacy remixed. Watson has misread my writing. I don't believe that "incrementally more competent . . . less doctrinaire leadership" by Democrats is any more viable, desirable, or likely than an incrementally more competent, less doctrinaire war in Iraq. It is not the execution that I rail against, but the enterprise.
I'm not, of course, under any illusion that a vote for a third party, or an abstention from the vote altogether, will reverse a century of American imperialism. Not the the pieties of Wilson, the brutal war-happiness of Teddy Roosevelt, the nuclear insanity of Truman, the multi-administration genocide of millions of Vietnamese, the Latin American murderousness of Reagan, or the bombastic, dimwitted destruction of Iraq by our regnant dauphin. But the weak utilitarian argument that asks my affirmation for a Democratic legislature inimical to the current person of the president is just that: weak. In a recent post I made a point that I think bears repeating: the institutional Democratic Party was able to maintain unity to save, as the saying goes, social security, but they were unable to mount even a significant verbal opposition to the curtailing of habeas corpus. In the immortal words of Walter Sobchack: "These are our basic freedoms, dude." It is not that I'm immune to the tragedy of penury in old age, nor even the oft-repeated apocrypha about grandmas forced to dine on catfood, though I find the bathos of such anecodalism un peu tawdry. It's that compared to a mad charge on the very bedrock of our society, the legal foundation on which every other freedom we should hold was built, the so-called social security debate is a trifle. Defenders of the Democrats say: Well, the congressional Democratic leadership knew that there weren't sufficient votes to sustain a filibuster, so what was the point? I say: That's precisely the point. There weren't enough votes to sustain a filibuster. Consider that. Consider what that means: a payroll deduction more important than feedom from arbitrary imprisonment.
The Poor Man, whom I've also criticized on this point, replied that we should confine our rage to those thirteen Democrats who turned coat. That too is an evasion. If, as Democrats often argue, the two-party system is truly so implacable as to demand that we don't act as "spoilers," wasting our votes on so-called vanity candidates; if, in other words, we must choose one of two institutional parties because only the instutions of those parties have the collective power to actually affect change, then it's hypocrisy and more to say that we should praise the collectivity for its successes but only damn it in pieces when it fails. The Democratic Party either does or does not work in our interests, and if it can't or won't, then cut it off. Cut it out. Cut it down.
From the Democratic Party, I hear only the same tired proposals to make a kinder, gentler American imperialism, no less ludicrous than the "compassionate conservativism" promised by our little prince six years ago. It isn't a pledge to fundamentally alter our errant ways; it's a pledge to make them more palatable to the broad, boring people who don't pay very much attention. It's a promise to hide from view the cruel necessities of our debased policies to the rest of the world.
Tom Watson seems to be a good, intelligent man. So do many current advocates for the Democrats, who recognize their inherent weaknesses but have convinced themselves better a little than none, better now than never.
A kind smile on the way to the gallows is no antidote for the hangman.
UPDATE: First link fixed.