Democrats & Liberals Archives

Congress and Their Sacred Trust

We no longer have the best Congress money can buy; we now have the worst Congress money can sell. It is not a subtle distinction. The difference between the Senators and Representatives of my youth and those lamely handing their power to the Administration today is more than just which party dominates our politics. The conservatives in those times were more than just shills for business and industry. They worked more for the nation than they did for their party. The liberals in those days tried to build a nation that used its resources to help those who needed a little help.

The conservatives in those days understood the need for principled choices made for the benefit of the nation. I really can’t identify the time of change but it came after Richard Nixon left office under the threat of a bipartisan impeachment proceeding. Nixon was a principled man when you compare him to Tom Delay, or any of a number of other congressional “leaders” in our government today. His crime in Watergate was one of those stupid things that winners do when they can’t get it out of their mind that they have crossed the line from loser to winner.

Nixon was far beyond the simplified politics of his early years by then. He was still reviled by those on the left of the nation’s political spectrum, but he was a political winner. He accomplished more in his few years than any President has since he took office. Reagan is pointed to as the man who won the “Cold War”, but Nixon did more to win that for us than the Great Figurehead ever could have. He stopped the Vietnam War. He actually rallied the nation behind his efforts to finally eliminate the folly of the domino theory from our national policy debate. He opened China. He negotiated critical parts of the treaties that kept us from nuclear war. He looked at the world as a place where economic engagement with our enemies was necessary and even desirable. We eventually became the nation whose currency was used to buy and sell oil worldwide. That was largely due to his Secretary of State Henry Kissinger’s ability to negotiate a solution to the world problem of oil market management. He accomplished that at a time when we had fewer friends in the Middle East than we do today. We have more to thank him for than we have to abuse him for today.

Even the best liberal social ideas of the 1960’s, racial equality and equal opportunity are being subsumed under a wave of lobbying today. This flood of unprincipled money flowing down the streets of Washington is eroding the foundations on which we built this nation. The lobbyists today write key portions of many of the bills that appear on the legislative calendar. They have no social and no real political agenda, just an economic one that is devastating to this nation’s political institutions. They want to own Congress each on their own issue. They negotiate more with one another than they do with their wholly owned subsidiary the House of Representatives. They represent industrial interests and nothing but those interests except when a vote is coming up that can uphold Congressional responsibility and limit Administrative power. You see, their money elects Presidents too. The Administration in office today is a conglomeration of leadership taken from two groups of corporations, the energy companies and the “Defense” conglomerates. They don’t have to be manipulated, they belong to those industries. It is always easier to deal directly with the Administration when it is possible. That is why the lobbyists help Congress give away its power, not for some conspiratorial folly but just because it’s good for business.

Unfortunately, to use a phrase that is becoming a cliché faster than any other in history, “that has left us standing between Iraq and a hard place”. The hard place is metaphorical today; it is the coming limits that plausible supply will place on oil production and thus oil consumption. The world supply of easily extracted oil is half used up today. We are discovering four barrels of oil for every ten that we use. This anemic discovery rate is centered in places in the world that will not be politically stable any time soon. Our ability to bring new oil discoveries on line is slowing at the very time when our use of oil is accelerating rapidly. The reason Iraq is important has always been oil. Sure we want a Democracy there, look how easily money moves our Democracy here at home. I try not to ascribe complex and confusing motives to people whenever possible. Most people see what they want and either they go for it or they don’t and if they don’t, they talk about it incessantly. Not much room for complexity in that simple a world view is there? Surprisingly a lot of complex things happen because of the simplest motivations. That is why the behavior of humanity is so difficult to predict accurately.

Today we are in Iraq because that is where the oil is, not because that is where the best prospect for Democratic reform in the Middle East exists. If you believe that Democracy is the reason for our entry into that nation in particular; then I have some stock in a bridge across the Hudson somewhere that I will gladly sell you. My great granddad bought it when he passed through New York on his way to the Midwest. It is still worth the paper it is printed on today. Gullible was not in the dictionary then, or evidently not in his French/English copy anyway. He grew more cynical and advanced in his amusement at humanities’ foibles as he grew older. That has passed down to me and I don’t buy the idea that the people of Iraq think we are there to save them from Saddam any more. They know that they have one resource that matters in the world today; it is their oil, not their democratic verve or their idealistic approach to government. Those have never been hallmarks of that Frankenstein’s assembly of parts that form that nation. It was not a nation born in revolution and conceived in liberty. It was born of the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, and conceived in Britain, France and the USA.

Our participation in that assembly, which violated several principles that Wilson Espoused after WWI, was because we wanted in on the expected oil bonanza there. Wilson, who was one of the great believer’s in Democracy’s ability to tame the savage beast of humanity, knew that Democracy wouldn’t work there. He went along with a cynical approach to establishing a nation there because the oil existed and the British, French and American oil company’s wanted political stability there. They wanted stability so they could bring oil out of the ground and sell it. Nothing terribly evil about that, except it took a bunch of tribal humans and crammed them all into a nation that was formed around them in order to pacify them. That has been a long and bloody story from the very beginning. If the Neocons had not been too busy conning themselves and us about the reason for this war, they might have noticed that war and bloodshed were constants in Iraq before Saddam entered the scene. The purpose of the government there has always been to suppress the exuberant tribal leadership’s tendency to kill off one another and a lot of their followers in the process. When government’s purpose has always been suppression as far back as the oldest person in a nation can remember what could possibly make them believe in our altruistic effort to build them a democracy? Not our troops armed to the teeth and ready to kill or be killed I assure you.

I would rather try to sell Santa Claus to a crowd of educated Iraqi’s than Democracy today. We are dealing with some very smart and exceptionally cynical people here. They have been suppressed so long that it is familiar territory. We cannot expect them to want to free their neighbors when they don’t believe that their neighbor wants them to be free. Something devastatingly simple is missing in the Neocons view of Iraq, clear headed cynicism. Not the bloody stupid kind of cynicism that leads you to lie to your own people about the reasons to use war to depose Saddam. But the simple honest cynicism that requires you to examine the motivating forces in a society that you are setting yourself up to administer. The babbling baboons of bureaucratic bungling running things in Washington can’t govern this nation without their lobbyist buddies writing their legislation for them. How could they possibly create democracy where suppression of your neighbor has been the dominant value of government for so long? That little oversight is why Iraq is a bloody mess today. Our lobbyists for major oil and defense industry companies are as much to blame as this Administration and the feeble Congress that gave its power away. We are to blame for letting them sell us a Congress that makes Richard Nixon look good, the worst Congress that money could sell. God bless you all and keep you safe and cynical enough to save this Republic one more time.

Posted by Henri Reynard at April 20, 2004 9:12 AM