by Charles Marowitz
(Swans - February 27, 2006) In his New York Times column of February 6, 2006, Paul Krugman castigated the Bush administration for gross, even deadly, inefficiencies citing specifically the disasters of the Iraqi offensive and the calamities perpetrated by FEMA. Although Republicans are flagrantly to blame for the consequences of recent policy decisions in those areas as well as the storms now gathering around the National Security Agency and the Abramoff scandals, Krugman didn't let the Democrats off the hook. "Not only are they a minority in congress, shut out of power; they're an undisciplined minority constantly facing defections from their own ranks on crucial issues. . . . The point," Krugman concluded "is that Democrats are largely winning the battle of ideas; on the issues, public opinion is shifting in their direction. But to take advantage of that shift, they have to overcome an image of ineffectiveness that is partly the fault of the news media, but largely the result of their own disunion."
Articles along similar lines, rallying the Democrats to become a viable alternative in the present malaise, have appeared in numerous outlets as the polls for President Bush have continued to descend, but all of this criticism evades the fundamental issue which is that even if the Democrats recover the Senate in 2008, their spinelessness will not prove equal to the tasks they will have to confront. They will "inherit the mess" in Iraq the way previous administrations have inherited the messes of their bungling predecessors. The Iraqi problem is too far out of control to be salvaged by any politician (John McCain included) and troublesome domestic issues like welfare and health care will be tossed backwards and forwards, as they always are, between the two political parties, both of which have a vested interest in maintaining a political system that secures their privileges and safeguards their insularity from the hoi polloi.
The overriding political problem facing America today is the inescapable realization that it is mired in graft, corruption, and endemic thievery -- of which the Enron and WorldCom scandals are only tips of the iceberg. A day doesn't pass that some capitalist institution or other -- a corporation or an insurance company, a trust fund or an accountancy firm -- is not indicted for criminal actions. Invariably, fines are exacted and some portion of stolen booty is forced to be returned, but there is very little legal retribution and few instances of the punishment truly fitting the crime. That is because it is tacitly accepted that criminality is a way of life in America and that the criminal class, which used to be thought of as bank robbers and con men, is now indistinguishable from members of the middle and upper-middle classes. The underworld has become the world and, in a rip-off culture, virtually everyone is busily perfecting tactics to get away with whatever they can.
Just as the atrocities associated with extreme Muslim fundamentalism can no longer be limited to the Middle East, so problems that have been endemic to the nation for a good half-century are beyond the scope of one or the other political party. In many cases, it is the party's neglect that has exacerbated them. We are approaching that point in our history when it has become apparent that a new political paradigm has to be created if we are to govern ourselves according to the precepts extolled by the Founding Fathers. We have reached that stage where we are obliged to qualify all the fundamental precepts which have gradually deteriorated and made nonsense of our Jeffersonian principles. We need a renewed Democracy, a replenished sense of freedom, a redefined notion of citizenship -- and, in my opinion, a new political movement that confederates moral conservatives, disillusioned Democrats, and that large horde of fed-up non-voters who see nothing out there worth advocating but who desperately yearn for the restoration of decency.
No such leader is on the horizon nor should we be looking for a leader per se. In the nineteen-thirties, when Germany was hungry for a leader to carry them out of their political morass, they came up with one who virtually destroyed their nation. Italy made a similarly fatal choice. It is not so much a leader per se that we need now, but the birth of a new consciousness, particularly among those who have washed their hands of party politics and whose creed is "a plague on both your houses." But plague is never limited to only two houses; invariably, it seeps into your own abode as well. It is fallacious to believe that one can blithely opt out of the political process and not increase the misery of the ordinary citizen.
The new consciousness doesn't happen on its own. Artists as well as politicians, journalists, teachers, and preachers are instrumental in bringing it about. It emanates from articulated gripes, fearless whistle-blowers and stubborn refuseniks; people who believe that change is possible so long as it stems from rational grievances that cry out for redress.
Since the onset of Republican imperialism, the overriding reaction to the nation's deterioration has been irony and satire. We get it constantly in our e-mails and our Websites, our movies, and even our best-selling books. We are very good at that and always have been. Debunking is part of our national heritage, but once we have scored a laugh or a snicker against the politicos that are ruining our country, it is the culprits who get the last laugh. They know that in exercising the freedom to put them down, there is very little danger in actually pushing them out. Their hold on power is never publicly proclaimed; it exerts itself in the hidden corridors of power; in the boardrooms and the mission controls. The wiseacres are not wise enough to realize that you can't topple enemies only by ridicule, but that you must fight fire with fire; power blocs with power blocs. Once one has satirized one's enemies, it is also necessary to defeat them.
I, like many others, feel the balance in America has shifted towards a kind of soft totalitarianism. Its earmarks are whittled-down freedoms of speech, incursions into civil liberties, and that general sense of dread which casts a pall over most of us after we read the daily papers or watch the evening news. But it is that same enveloping sense of despair that we have to transform into constructive energy. It is that very refusal to accept the overriding sense of gloom generated by current events that must be converted into the molecules out of which the new consciousness will spring. If it happens to enough individuals, it can happen en masse, and if it happens there, America still has a fighting chance in the new millennium.
A new consciousness could use some