Archive for January 12th, 2006

Well, You Said You Wanted An American-Style Democracy…

The NYT editorial page is on a roll today. First they nail Alito to the wall with a nice rundown of some of his biggest red flags, and challenge allegedly “moderate” Republicans to take heed. Briefly:

“EVIDENCE OF EXTREMISM” (Praise of Bork; membership in the racist, sexist Concerned Alumni of Princeton)

“OPPOSITION TO ROE V. WADE (1985 memos; refusal to give Roe v. Wade same level of deference as Roberts did)

“SUPPORT FOR AN IMPERIAL PRESIDENCY” (“Unitary executive”; warrantless wiretaps a-okay)

“INSENSITIVITY TO ORDINARY AMERICANS” (Consistently rules against women & minorities, and in favor of corporations)

“DOUBTS ABOUT THE NOMINEE’S HONESTY” (Reneged on promise to recuse himself from cases involving mutual fund in which he had holdings; claims to not remember his membership in CAP; claims to have not really meant what he said in 1985)

Next they express concern about how the head of Iraq’s fundamentalist Shi’ite party (which is firmly in control of Iraq’s government) has backed away from his promise to allow significant changes to the Iraqi constitution, thus assuring the Sunnis of an opportunity to improve their standing in post-Saddam Iraq:

Mr. Hakim’s latest position is a prescription for a national breakup and an endless civil war. It is also a provocative challenge to Washington, which helped broker the original promise of significant constitutional changes. On the basis of that promise, Sunni voters turned out in large numbers, both for the constitutional referendum and for last month’s parliamentary vote. Drawing Sunni voters into democratic politics is vital to creating the stable, peaceful Iraq that President Bush has declared to be the precondition for an American military withdrawal. The most unacceptable defect of the new constitution for Sunnis is its provision for radically decentralizing national political and economic power, dispersing it to separate regions.

In a quirk of geology, most of Iraq’s known oil deposits lie under provinces dominated by Shiites or Kurds, while the Sunni provinces of the west and north are resource-poor and landlocked. Iraq as a whole is rich enough to support all of its people relatively comfortably. But a radically decentralized Iraq would leave the Sunnis impoverished, aggrieved and desperate, driving them into the arms of radical Sunni groups in neighboring lands.

Although Sunnis are a minority in Iraq, they are an overwhelming majority in the Arab world. An irreconcilable split between Iraq’s Shiites and Sunnis would leave the Shiites even more dependent than they are now on Iran and American troops.

Constitutional changes are needed in other areas as well, especially in regard to women’s rights and the overly broad prohibitions against former members of Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party. But decentralization is the most dangerously explosive issue right now. Mr. Hakim seems perversely determined to inflame it.

In my view, these two editorials reflect two sides of the same coin: They both show what happens when political parties represent nothing more than the naked pursuit of power instead of sincere competing visions of the country’s best interests. Republicans, even moderate ones, are willing to confirm a dishonest right-wing extremist to the Supreme Court because he’s a member of “their team” and can be counted on to always distort the Constitution in their favor; Shi’ites are willing to court civil war and regional isolation rather than cede any power to the Sunnis.

I have to wonder, if the political situation in this country became so volatile that the Republicans had to choose between, say, outlawing the filibuster, and the possibility of outright civil war, what decision would they make? I also have to wonder if the Iraqi Shi’ites would be making this same power play if our own ruling party showed any signs of accommodation to its opposition. My gut feeling is no, but just as the U.S. can no longer credibly condemn torture and civil rights abuses, the arrogance of our own ruling party makes it very difficult to demand more enlightened behavior from their Iraqi counterpart.

You may have noticed, I am a little ambiguous about whether the emphasis on party power over national well-being is a uniquely Republican character flaw. I wish I could say that it was, but in the world of elected officials I’m just not so sure. I see a lot of Democrats who are unwilling to rock the boat by opposing obviously damaging legislation or presidential nominees, which suggests to me that the safety and security of their own butts trumps the safety and security of anyone else’s. At the voter level, it’s a little harder to say. I don’t think I’ve encountered any liberals who are more concerned with power than America’s well-being, but it is unfortunately not possible to preserve or enhance that well-being without power.

If pressed, I would say that most Democratic supporters view power as a means to an end, whereas most Republican supporters view power, with its attendant opportunities for self-enrichment, as an end unto itself. And for the many Republican fans who are not personally being enriched, they seem to derive enormous satisfaction from simply being on the winning team.

(Just a side thought: Ya know, this country will be a hell of a lot healthier when voters and media stop viewing politics as just another sport…)

3 comments January 12th, 2006 at 12:40pm Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Favorites,Iraq,Judiciary,Media,Republicans,Wankers


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