Giddy as Mikado schoolgirls, Democrats and their allies on the left are positively gushing over their election gains of November 7. In the US 'two-party duopoly, voters are restricted to shifting power from one side to the other to voice their dissatisfaction with government. And, to be fair, voters did their part, kicking out congressmen, senators and governors from coast to coast.
But hopes that this shift will lead to real changes in policy are, as Cosmo Kramer might say, "kooky talk." Everybody can enjoy the sight of a bully getting whooped, and the drubbing last Tuesday did indeed provide some emotional solace for those who thought Bush and his cronies could get away with anything at all. Still, this moment of schadenfreude gives way to more fundamental questions as it becomes clear that the torch has been passed from one side of the War Party to the other.
Liberal friends of mine remind me of the importance of such things as committee assignments in shaping the mechanics of wielding of power in Washington. I remind them, of course, that any populist resurgence has always come despite, not because of, the party in power.
Still skeptical of my skepticism, they force me to offer as evidence my own list of what will not happen in the wake of the Democrat takeover of congress. The troops will not come home from Iraq. Democratic Party victory architect Rahm Emmanuel spend considerable energy to ensure a largely pro-war congress, and despite a vocal minority (and the will of the people), there will be no quick end to the Iraq occupation, and war party leaders and enthusiasts will dither over definitions of "timetables" and "benchmarks" for years to come. Moreover, party leaders will put increasing pressure on so-called "progressive" democrats not to seem "irresponsible" in pushing for a quick withdrawal. Echoing Bush, they will concoct some "responsible" version of the pledge to "stay until the job is done." It's not for nothing that the original war resolution in the fall of 2002 was passed by a Democrat-controlled Senate.
Nor should the antiwar movement expect much help from the Democrats in preventing the insanity of attacking Iran. The slow drumbeat has begun, just as it did with Iraq, to manipulate public opinion and convince the US public that it is in our interest to engage in more senseless military adventurism. Barak Obama, the current darling of many progressive democrats, said in an interview at the time of the party's national convention in Boston that military action against Iran has to remain on the table. A resolution aimed at preventing just that was proposed in the House on June 20 of this year. The bill was aimed at preemptively closing the cash register on attacking Iran: no appropriation, the theory goes, no war. Gaining 158 votes, the resolution was far short of approval. Given the eagerness of the Democrats' leadership to work in a bipartisan matter, it is doubtful that the remaining 75 or so votes to ensure passage in the new congress would be forthcoming without massive pressure from below.
Speaker-in-waiting Nancy Pelosi has said categorically that "impeachment is off the table," claiming that democrats "are not about getting even." Typical of backroom, backslapping, backward leadership, this notion implies that political gamesmanship is the nexus of congressional oversight, not the rule of law and protecting the constitution from abuse by the executive. The war criminals of the administration will be allowed to take their chips off the table and go home, without accountability, without consequence, and with their pensions and freedoms intact after lying the country into a senseless and destructive war. Again, there is some glee in watching Ol' Rummy's departure; but letting Rumsfeld quit to start drawing his pension is a bit like letting Dr. Mengele just move to a new clinic.
Corporate money will not significantly be challenged, and will continue to control nearly all aspects of US life, especially when it comes to elections. Those who think otherwise haven't taken a peek at Democrats' balance sheets, which are as loaded with corporate campaign cash as their counterparts in the GOP. Meager reforms will leave the system almost entirely intact, and with the Democrats' imprimatur, it will cease to be an issue for the "left." As far as clean or open elections go, forget about it. Once the Democrats realize they can win, they won't have any sympathy for other political points of view trying to muscle in on their territory. In fact, they'll have less.
No one in the party leadership will convincingly challenge the sickeningly bloated war budget. I should probably have mentioned this first, since it is the kingpin of any people-oriented social agenda that may be on people's minds. As with the "mismanaging the war" critique, attacks on the biggest pork barrel in world history will be muted and targeted to appeal to the amorphous center scared to death by warmongering propaganda. We will be lectured that spending "smart" is better than spending more, and outrageously useless programs will be level-funded, have their toenails clipped, or actually have their funding increased. Again, self-described progressives will be redbaited from within their own party, and be told that their suggestions to spend less on defense than all other nations combined is counterproductive and "soft on security." Nothing else will change because, once the agenda has been reduced to squabbling over the scraps left over from the Pentagon's trillions, there's not much to talk about anyway.
It may go without saying, which is sad enough by itself, but there will be no groundswell among the political elites in favor of Palestinian human rights. Pelosi, who has dismissed the notion that the occupation may drive the conflict as "nonsense," certainly won't contribute to new thinking in this regard. Stuck in the worldview where Palestinians, instead of having real grievances, are simply another bunch of ragheads who just love to hate Jews, democrats' leadership will bring the US no closer to exiting the international doghouse. As Israeli planes buzz international positions in Lebanon and shell civilians in Beit Hanoun, most Democrats, like their Republican cohorts, will remain indefensibly, and criminally, silent.
I wish it were not so, and wish there were a high likelihood of history proving me wrong on any of these points. For those who ask how this can be, I can only quote Kramer again: "Oh, it be!" Call me a wet blanket. Call me late for dinner. But there are many who can read this list and agree with almost everything on it, and still hold out hope for change from the Democrats. I call that delusional.
Writer, singer, linguist and activist Daniel Patrick Welch lives and writes in Salem, Massachusetts, with his wife, Julia Nambalirwa-Lugudde. Together they run The Greenhouse School