by Charles Marowitz
(Swans - September 26, 2005) As the criticisms of the President and his war-mongering cabinet grow from day to day, it swells into a predictable litany. Columnists such as Frank Rich, Maureen Dowd and Thomas Friedman, and a bevy of strident voices from the Internet continue to condemn the administration's lethal inefficiency and lament the dire human cost of America's War on Terrorism. We ask each other "Did you read so-and-so on Bush's latest fiasco?" or the true story behind some shameful new development regarding Halliburton or Iraqi elections and somehow we persuade ourselves that by sharing media dissent, we are dissenting. But in fact, we are merely echoing the opinions and outrage that reverberate from voices preaching to the converted.
More horrendous than the news coming out of the Middle East or the monitored corridors of Washington D.C. is the realization that there is no political leader on the horizon who can lead us out of this morass. Our appointed leaders have disgraced us and, as we "slouch towards Bethlehem," there are no Wise Men to guide us. What we silently, occasionally vocally, pine for is a true leader -- a Leader Of The Opposition.
The rise and rapid fall of Ross Perot in 1992 was evidence of the fact that a national upsurge could alter the balance of the two-party system. Perot was obviously not the "leader" who could bring about this shift of power, but merely the fact that he could get as far as he did is proof that the American people, the majority of whom abhor partisan politics and do not trust its standard bearers, can be roused if the right buttons are pushed. If a Leader Of The Opposition could emerge who appreciated the nation's cynicism about electoral democracy and articulated the truths that millions of Americans feel but dare not express, a powerful new force could be unleashed in the country. A levee, if you will, so well fortified that it could resist the most powerful storms the elements might raise against it.
Early in the election of 2004, many felt Howard Dean might prove to be such a leader, but when he amalgamated himself into the Democratic National Party, he abandoned all hope of leaving a mark on American history -- other than the echo of his "barbaric yawp" (which Walt Whitman would have appreciated, although I doubt Dean would have won his vote.) For many years, Ralph Nader seemed to be a voice in the wilderness, which, if it were allowed onto the mainland, could become a rallying point for many Americans who responded to his mordant critique of the condition of the republic. But hubris and alienation from realpolitik scotched that aspiration.
At the present time, there is no one on the landscape who even vaguely fits the bill. Hillary and her politic caution only confirms the fact that she is more concerned with preserving the system than changing it.
Whether she succeeds or fails, it will be "politics as usual." Senator John Edwards, being the "also ran" in 2004, automatically assumes he is entitled to a second try, but attractive as he may be to the swooning, female population, he has obviously had a charisma bypass. But the need for a Leader Of The Opposition still bubbles in our blood and tantalizes our imagination. What kind of Leader would that be?
There are certain strict requirements for such a Leader. He/She has to accept the inescapable truth that the Democrats, because they are rooted in the mire of partisan politics, are more concerned with regaining control of the Congress than they are attacking the evils that have been inflicted upon the populace. He/She would have to recognize that nothing less than a clean sweep and a new start would actually make a difference to the nation; that it is the two-party system itself -- now become an oligarchy -- which is solidifying the rot in the body politic.
He/She would have to acknowledge the fact that the enemy of the working and middle classes is the indomitable might of the corporations and that corporate greed and congenital theft have become the true enemies of promise in America. It would not be enough merely to spout anti-corporate rhetoric in order to shame the Halliburtons, Enrons, and World-Coms of the world, but to initiate legislation that would dismantle their power and foster a return to the anti-monopolistic, trust-busting frame of mind that exemplified the reign of Teddy Roosevelt and which, over the years, has been steadily eroded by one Congress after another. A true Leader must openly declare that "free enterprise" means the removal of the capitalistic tyranny that enables large companies to grow even larger so that smaller companies are forced from the playing field; that so long as globalization is driven by profits and accelerates unemployment in our own country, it cannot be considered a panacea, but only a scourge.
The Leader Of The Opposition must reaffirm a principle that this administration has severely undermined: the separation of church and state. What Osama, Bush, Sharon and the leaders of Middle Eastern nations like Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq all have in common is the veneration of deities -- of one stamp or another. Almost every crisis we are embroiled in at the moment is, to one degree or another, a "holy war," and that is because God and Country have been fatally combined instead of being emphatically separated. The Leader Of The Opposition, accepting the fact that it may alienate large numbers of the religious Right and Left, must have the gumption to declare forcefully that not one star in the American flag stands for obeisance to a deity.
The Leader Of The Opposition must try to restore humanism to the social order; must not only condemn the officially-sanctioned brutalities of Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo but publicly excoriate the architects of a policy that promotes and maintains torture as a casual modus operandi. He/She must reaffirm the value of individual life whether it be of prisoners denied judicial process or hurricane victims allowed to perish because they are too poor to flee to higher ground.
The Leader Of The Opposition must reaffirm the sanctity of the Bill of Rights, oppose and repeal any and all legislation that restricts the exercise of free speech, but must go further. He/She must proclaim that dissent is part of an American's birthright, created when the republic was first formed and to be safeguarded even in the worst of times; even when it appears that curtailing it may appear to "serve the common good," because democratic principles once "amended" or "set aside" dilute the Constitution and subvert the democratic basis of what we keep telling ourselves is a "free society."
The Leader Of The Opposition must acknowledge the vulgarization which has swept through the nation like Katrina washed through the Gulf states; a vulgarization which is constantly paraded in our so-called "reality" shows where wealth is worshipped and cynicism and cruelty are confused with entertainment; where non-entities are artificially inflated to the status of "stars" because they appeal to our sadism and pander to our lowest animal instincts. Yes, the Leader Of The Opposition must widen his/her brief so that he/she deals not only with politics but with culture, realizing that it is the patterns and practices of culture which ultimately condition the protoplasm of politics; that what we read, view, and ingest determines what we believe, how we ultimately act, and what conditions the ethical tenor of our society. Cultural artifacts, no matter how appalling, are not there to be legislated against, but staunchly protected, and part of that protection is the right and duty of critical Americans to rail against their decadence.
Seeing how oligarchies transform into dictatorships in which the Wealthy and Influential become the hidden forces behind legislation and ultimately exert social control, the Leader Of The Opposition must establish that the most important diversity in the nation is not so much ethnic as political; that a profusion of parties, each exercising their right to express differing opinions through media-channels not biased or dominated by a few special interests, will invigorate rather than emasculate the democratic spirit; that an abundance of minority opinions and outlets through which these opinions can reach the citizenry, are the best guarantees we have against demagogues and dictators; that a wide variety of different opinions provides the perspective with which a nation can determine the most sensible and most efficient ways, to govern itself.
The Leader Of The Opposition must boldly declare war against the powerful lobbies -- medical, legal, industrial and corporate, that are paid to fashion laws that logroll their interests at the expense of powerless people who oppose them. Ombudsmen, free from partisan associations, should be given the power to impose penalties and institute legal actions.
The protection of the ballot box and the formulation of legislation that prevents the richest Americans from securing political office which is simply bought and paid for must be one of the Leader's highest priorities. So long as wealth is the determining factor in local and national elections, our senators and representatives will be the toadies of affluent and manipulating masters. The shibboleths of democracy will constantly be espoused but they will have less and less meaning. Decent and well-intentioned men and women will cease to run for office; the cynicism surrounding elected officials who owe their existence to shadowy figures from business and industry that monitor their words and actions will further alienate the electorate.
The deeply-rooted belief that American democracy is bogus and "bought" will become even more widespread and debilitating.
The Leader Of The Opposition would have to repair the fences demolished by the present administration. He/She would have to realize that globalization is not a hierarchy with the United States at the pinnacle and all the other nations ranked beneath it. Ecology is an international concern and so is environment, and the Leader would have to insure that we join the protocols of foreign nations in order to be able to rely on them when things got too tough for America to handle on its own; a situation which has already come about and which can only become more untenable in the coming years.
Can anyone dispute the fact that France, Germany and many others in Europe were right in resisting America's blind leap into the Iraqi war?
In retrospect, doesn't our resentment against the French and our "freedom fries" appear pathetically spiteful, one of the many wrongheaded decisions from that jumbled and confused period? The more we alienate our European partners, the more alienated we ourselves become as a nation -- and the weaker. The Leader will appreciate the somewhat hyperbolic wisdom of Oscar Wilde's words that:
"If we are tempted to make war upon another nation, we shall remember that we are seeking to destroy an element of our own culture, and possibly its most important element. As long as war is regarded as wicked, it will always have its fascination. When it is looked upon as vulgar, it will cease to be popular. The change will, of course, be slow and people will not be conscious of it. They will not say 'We will not war against France because her prose is perfect,' but because the prose of France is perfect, they will not hate the land. Intellectual criticism will bind Europe together in bonds closer than those that can be forged by shopman or sentimentalist. It will give us the peace that springs from understanding."
Overly idealistic perhaps, but a worthy objective. The Leader will encourage interaction with Europe, not simply because it is useful for trade and international treaties, but because there are cultural treasures there which enhance our own; because the decadence we used to associate with the Dark Ages has now intruded into our own time and we are sorely in need of a Renaissance. We find it shameful to admit, but the fact is we need the "civilizing influences" of Europe if we are ever to free ourselves of the political and religious dogmas that taint our minds.
From where will this idealized Leader spring? If the major political parties cannot field him or her, from what wilderness or backwater will the Leader emerge?
Potential leaders are visible understudies, conspicuously in the background ready to step forward when duty calls, but we have virtually no one to call on. There are the obstreperous grandstanders like Frist and Hillary, Edwards and McCain but they are tainted with the debts they owe to their partisan supporters. They are too much "in the system" to effectively evolve the dramatic alternative we need to change it. Their strongest credentials are merely the vigor with which they brashly present them. They are the hucksters of American politics and we recoil from them even as some desperate inchoate desire tries to convince us they may be capable of cleaning up the mess. No, the Leader Of The Opposition must come from the heart of the opposition itself -- as Churchill did -- someone whose "outsiderness" clearly signals that he or she already stands for the principles we would exchange for the lack of principle that now guides us.
It was generally bruited that the 2000 presidential election was the most important of modern times. Because it was botched and decided by the Supreme Court and not the populace and has produced the quagmire in which we are all embroiled, the next election becomes even more decisive, for whoever becomes the next president of the United States will have to dig us out of a pit which is glutted with the dead of war, terror and natural disasters; a country alienated from its traditional partners and more divided than it was even during the Great War between the States.
If ever we needed resurrection, we will need it in 2008 -- assuming, of course, there is anything left to resurrect.