October 05, 2003

Your daily political scuttlebutt

Posted by Curt at 01:22 PM in Politics | TrackBack

Far be it from me to start up a colony of Iraq commentary here like bean plants in a cabbage patch, but have no fear, my sentiments are actually rather simply stated: what the fuck? I think it must have been about a month ago that I stopped trying to defend the Bush administration from lying about this entire business. I still think that that is an unfair accusation, because one cannot lie about what one does not know: the government cannot be proved liars for being of the opinion that Iraq had WMD's when they could not know that they did not exist, just as they could not be applauded for telling the truth had WMD's actually existed. So while they may be exonerated of the charge of actually lying, this is becoming an increasingly meaningless distinction as they increasingly prove themselves guilty of an equally dishonest moral hypocrisy. It is one thing to launch a war on a false premise, it is another to continue to repeat over and over and over that that premise has been validated or at least not invalidated long after everyone else on the face of the earth has realized its falisity. That they continue to repeat this mendacity about WMD's and al-Qaida agents in Iraq, etc. indicates that they have realized what one journalist called the diminishing consequences of repeating falsehoods, or as Hitler called it, telling a lie 100 times until it becomes the truth. And interestingly, while I was intellectually against the war from the beginning, insisting on the sanctity of nation-states, the unjustifiability of unprovoked invasion, etc., in my heart I always felt that, principle and consistency be damned, a great evil had been removed from the earth by our soldiers and a great service rendered to Iraq. Would the Bush administration simply stop the disingenuity about nukes, terrorists, and the rest and simply emphasize this side of the matter, I think a surprising number of people would find ourselves morally compelled to see the justice of that. Of course, Tony Blair has essentially been making that argument for months, and he is being politically buried in Britain, so perhaps not. Still, I do believe in his argument to an extent, despite my suspicion of idealists, while Bush's is clearly an absurdity. Now that Afghanistan and Iraq have been liberated I don't see any clear reason why Bush ought to continue in office any longer; I think he was brought into office under bizarre circumstances, like Churchill in 1940, to manage those wars, and just as the people of Britain did not want Churchill to remain in office afterwards to block de-colonization, I don't think Bush will serve the world well in the much messier affairs of reconstruction and negotiations with other nuke-wielding states. Well, perhaps he would serve some good as a place-holder in office blocking Democrats from rescinding the tax-cuts and instituting a state health-care system, but after a year and a half of continuous lying and scandals, that is no longer sufficient compensation, and in any case if Congress remains under Republican control there is nothing a Democratic president can do to pass these measures.
Which brings me to one other point. While it may seem ridiculous to talk about a president's ability to block legislation as a principal legislative asset, that is in fact technically his only legislative asset. It seems to me that ever since Roosevelt each successive president has presented himself more and more as a legislative activist, so now even a seeming Reaganite like Bush can preside over the greatest expansion of the government under any president since Roosevelt, because the public seems to have the false impression that a president, like a king, can enact their own legislation. They can of course propose legislation, but so could my grandmother if a Congressman would sponser it. Granted, a popular president can apply considerable political pressure on Congress, and cause fools like John Kerry to make, well, fools of themselves for years afterwards by trying to justify voting on issues in ways that they later regret, but their only actual power lies in vetoing legislation. I don't understand why Congressmen/presidential candidates can get away with creating the impression that they will somehow be able to propose legislation in some mystically effective way that they could not have in Congress. If someone like Dick Gebhardt wanted a national health-care program, he could have sponsered a bill at any point in the last 14 years and summoned his cohorts to vote for it. Granted it would have been headed for an inevitable veto, and as president he probably would not veto his own legislation, so in that sense a president has the ability to not stand in the way of his ideas being passed, but I feel that the increasingly regal tone that the executive branch has assumed in recent years stems largely from the public's tacit investiture of increasing legislative authority in the White House.

p.s. One final point about Iraq. One of the many reasons why this talk about reconstruction, while noble (aside from the crony capitalist contracts being doled out), is so futile is that the accepted standard of reconstruction seems to be Germany and Japan, whose reconstructions constitute two of the greatest economic miracles of the capitalist epoch. Aside from peculiarities of culture and the fact that Japanese and Germans were not continuing a guerrilla-warfare campaign against the reconstructors, Iraq is not a fifth as socially or economically developed as either Germany or Japan. Even at its modest peak Iraq was still only a relatively prosperous third-world country, and that was two decades ago. Of course some infrastructure was damaged during the war, although the much greater damage seems to be that qualified personnel are either too underpaid or too associated with the old regime to get back to work, but essentially the United States would have to annul 20 years of deterioration to make the country a functional state again. Why the administration would stake its credibility on such an unlikely achievement escapes me.