Thursday, March 24, 2005

Issues for the Democratic Party

For me there are two main questions facing the Democratic Party that must be resolved sooner rather than later. Sooner, because it is essential that we get past our internal differences so that the campaign against Bush and his radical extremists is won.

The first question is about War and Peace. Since Tolstoy the question has been whether or not war is avoidable, whether it is a matter of human free will or, as he eventually decides, it is a matter of historical determinism. In the Tsar's 19th century Russia Tolstoy observed at first hand the lugubrious and ponderous stupidity of government, so it is no wonder he arrived at his deterministic conclusion. Tolstoy was torn by the great tragedy of war, yet he saw little hope for avoiding it.

Tolstoy's answer is hardly satisfying. Historican determinism means that at any given time there are historical forces that create the necessity for either war or peace, and these forces will produce the human leaders to bring about one or the other, depending on which force is strongest.

Before him, Clausewitz had said that war is merely the carrying out of political relations by other means.

Neocons, the builders of the New American Century take a Clausewitzian view, hence the "preemptive war" against Iraq ... which as we know was really a war for the precious oil fields of the region. Bribing Sadam did not achieve what was intended, so kill him.

Liberals take a much more human centric view of things and believe that war or peace are essentially decisions based on (a) one's armaments (b) the threat to national security (c ) and the willingness of a citizens' army (and other armed services) to risk life to accomplish defined goals ... including anihilation of the enemy or simply repelling a ill-conceived attack on a national interest.

I put armaments first, because the lesson of the 1930's is that when you are disarmed, you tend to be more willing to appease than when you are armed to the teeth. When you are armed only with nuclear weapons, as from time to time the U.S. has been, then the narrower range of military responses conditions the overall decision. Armaments, what they are and how they are used are very important, but they are the result of prior decisions, not the decision of whether to wage war or seek peace.

Liberals sometimes get behind the eightball in Congress for prioritizing social programs ahead of armaments. This is a natural "mistake" when your country is the lone super power and when the armament in question happens to be a disinterred version of StarWars anti-missile missile defense system. But, the cases are not always so clear, so Liberals have to make up their minds that military strength is a high priority and deserving of their careful consideration. A peacenik attitude toward the Pentagon will simply antagonize the hawks and provide them with additional evidence that Liberals are pantywaist idiots.

Liberals can get behind armaments and bring to bear their acute sense of proportion, skill at logic, and good common sense. That's all that's needed. The military-industrial complex is a tough customer, but with good clear thinking we can control it. We just have to decide that it is not going away soon, especially if we ignore it.

Liberals are good at making decisions (b) about threats to the national security. Liberals are not good, however, about seeing threats to the national interest, since many of these interests are corporate interests abroad. A good Liberal leader should be able to enunciate a set of principles that simultaneously give corporations a clue about what they can expect in high-risk situations and give folks out there in the world, who might take pot shots at our "national interests," a clue about what we are ready to do to them in exchange for their hostile acts.

In a phrase, Liberals have also to explain how the principle of Collective Security works to to foster democracy elsewhere and how it relates to our own national postures on various fronts. Certainly, the point has been made that we will not give up our sovereignty to any other nation with whom we are "bound" in a treaty. But, we have done much inside of treaty organizations and done it well, ask anyone who understands NATO. Collective security is the Rule of Law in international affairs, pure and simple.

The question (c) of the will of the people to fight (or to experience hardship to avoid calamitous fighting) follows more easily from well-enunciated positions on (a) armaments and (b) threats to both national security and national interests. Still, Liberals have work to do here, as well. For one, Liberals should never forget that "eternal vigilance" is the price of freedom. Sometimes one gets the feeling that Liberals are effete, intellectual pantywaists. This is Republican propaganda, of course, but the idea must be dispelled, and not by hopping onto Republican bandwagons and into Republican wars!

I propose that the best way is honesty, that is, not to hang around in a war that was sold on false premises, and instead to break loose from the idea that we are stuck with the past and must do what it orders us to do. That is historical determinism! No, we should let our nation know that we will not wage war for natural resources, for corporate profits, for friends of the President, for any other reason but to defend our national security. No, we will not normally wage war to protect national corporate interests UNLESS that clearly and unequivocally is the same as our national security.

The other thing that the Democratic Party must do is this: every Democrat must pledge if elected to support major, radical, campaign finance reform. The token of this pledge will be that no donations to campaigns (or any other form of organization that works on the behalf of campaign issues and against opponents) will be accepted from corporations or the CEOs, CFOs, or any other officer of a corporation! PERIOD! We believe that Howard Dean can pull this off, and we challenge him to put his whole energy and organization into this fight to regain our democracy.

More toadying to the military-industrial complex for second best contributions, more whoring after funding for useless campaign promises and double-talk, and more hiding out from the tough issues will surely bring out third party candidates and will surely lose elections.

With military policy rationalized and properly directed and with campaign finance tilted in favor of democracy rather than against it, Liberals in the Democratic Party can hold up their heads and believe once again.