Diatribes of Jay

This is a blog of essays on public policy. It shuns ideology and applies facts, logic and math to economic, social and political problems. It has a subject-matter index, a list of recent posts, and permalinks at the ends of posts. Comments are moderated and may take time to appear. Note: Profile updated 4/7/12

24 June 2007

An Open Letter to Republicans in Congress

Recent poll results are astounding. Only 29% approve the president’s performance. Only 23% approve Congress’. These are the lowest approval ratings in the history of polling.

As professional politicians, you know how indecisive voters are. They seldom form a decisive majority for anything. In presidential elections, 60% is a landslide. Virtually never does popular opinion approach three-quarters. Yet close to three-quarters now disapprove the president’s performance, and more than three-quarters disapprove yours.

If you want to know why, look in the mirror.

For the last seven years, you have followed the leader. You have shown extraordinary party discipline. Like lemmings, you have followed George W. Bush and Karl Rove unquestioningly over cliff after cliff. In the process, you have inflamed a bitter and mindless partisanship seldom seen since our own Civil War.

The most recent cliff is l’affaire Gonzales. The leader of our system of justice has been caught in several inconsistent statements. In sworn testimony, he has said “I don’t recall” over seventy times.

Do you think the people believe him? When they look at him, do they see a defender of justice or a petty criminal out of his league? Yet you vote, largely in party lockstep, to defeat a motion of no confidence in this caricature of a leader. Behind closed doors, you strive to maintain the executive privilege that weakens your own power, Congress’ power, and our nation’s democracy. For what?

The broadest cliff is the war in Iraq. Let’s leave aside your credulous belief in the premises for war, now all proved false. Let’s look at the future.

By now, we all know there are only two ways out of Iraq. The first is to follow John McCain and commit the troops and the resources—and bear the pain—that the job required from the beginning. The second is to wind down our combat role, relying on diplomacy, air power, control over materiel, and old-fashioned power politics to contain the damage. Yet you refuse to choose either of these practical options. You follow your leader blindly in insisting—despite four years of bloody refutation—that “resolve” alone can overcome reality.

Do you think that we are blind and deaf? Do we not see the faces and hear the names of those who bear the burden for us? Do we not know who they are—men and women from small towns, from minority groups, from immigrant families, all risking their lives to protect us blithe shoppers or to earn their spurs as Americans? Do we not know that less than a handful of your own loved ones have gone in harm’s way, while you allow these brave volunteers to be sent, by the thousands, into a meat grinder? Do you feel no sense of responsibility, no sense of shame?

The most insidious cliff is the one Karl Rove created. For most of a decade, you waged “culture wars” at his direction. You inflamed religious discord. You elevated abortion, homosexual marriage and public displays of religious zeal to central places in the national agenda.

You are not stupid. You have read history. You know how our wall between church and state has spared us the bloody pogroms and religious upheavals so common abroad. You know that these “issues” are matters of personal conscience, about which the federal government can do little or nothing. You know that they pale in importance when compared to real problems that Congress can do something about.

Yet you have followed Karl Rove’s lead in beating these false drums, and you have done so cynically for purposes of maintaining personal and political power. Do you really think the people do not see?

Then there is the cliff of earmarks. While in power you took an obscure but limited custom of private, secret appropriations and made it standard practice. Under your tutelage, earmarks grew from hundreds to thousands per year. When the Democrats took control of Congress, you had the chance to serve as loyal opposition and hold them to their promise of more honest government. Instead, what did you do? You demanded your share of the plunder. Now earmark requests total 32,000.

Finally, there is the cliff of energy policy. The Arab Oil Embargo of 1973 gave us clear notice that those who control the Earth’s chief oil reserves have values inimical to ours. Since then, our dependence on those fundamentally inimical forces has gotten steadily and predictably worse. So what did those of you in the Senate do? You voted to continue that dependence by subsidizing the oil and gas companies that ingrained it and denying start-up subsidies to the energy industry’s independent future. Your vote reflected cynical and venal capitulation to still strong but rapidly waning industrial power. At the same time, it showed blindness to historical trends worthy of an ostrich. It put you firmly on the wrong side of history.

When our Founders created Congress as a separate branch, they envisioned an independent source of power, composed of honest people who would think for themselves. In their darkest nightmares, they could not have imagined the depths of servility, ineptitude and corruption to which Congress has sunk today. As members of the party in power for all but one of the last seven years, you are responsible.

For most of those seven years, Congress has been the handmaiden of an imperial and deeply flawed executive. You have spent your days fundraising, meeting with lobbyists, and maintaining party discipline, with little thought for our Republic and its precipitous decline. You have taken solace in transient economic stability, while our ballooning deficit, massive trade imbalance, abject energy dependence, endless borrowing from Asia and plummeting national currency threaten a crippling economic crisis at any time.

You have not done your jobs. You have not led. You have not been serious politicians. Instead, you given us partisan games, bickering, “spin” and bumper-sticker ideologies. You have followed your party’s worst leadership, and you have pandered to your constituents’ worst instincts.

Even today, many of you decry fair treatment of undocumented immigrant settlers as “amnesty,” while 80% of the people recognize the absurdity of deporting or punishing so many. You have become so drunk with the power of demagoguery that you have forgotten how to think in practical terms.

You have permitted the most outrageous grab for executive power in our history. You have idly watched the systematic dismantling of our Bill of Rights. Sometimes, as in passing the so-called “Patriot” Act, you have aided and abetted it. You have emasculated your own institution—the product of over two centuries of thought, sacrifice and tradition. You have made it feckless and largely irrelevant.

The tragic irony is that you know better. The reporters who cover you constantly tell us that you think differently but just won’t say so in public. You won’t break with the herd. Party discipline, groupthink, and ingrained habits of demagoguery and partisan gamesmanship keep you from doing the right thing. Whom do you expect to save our Republic if you won’t? God?

You have not kept faith with your oath of office or with the American people. You have muzzled dissent from your colleagues. You have even silenced Chuck Hagel, who some time ago had his personal epiphany. And now you wonder why over three-fourths of us want to see your backs.

You may think the people do not see. But they do. As Abe Lincoln warned, “you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.” The polls agree. A reckoning is on the way.

There is still time for your own epiphany. You can yet begin the independent thinking and real leadership that our Constitution expects. You can start with immigration and Gonzales. You can abjure gamesmanship and get serious about preserving our Republic. You can begin the long struggle to restore our Bill of Rights. You can support an energy policy that will get us out of our hole, not dig us further in.

If you do not change your ways, you will suffer the verdict of history. It will say that you gave us all a hard push down the slippery slope of national decline. It will record that you did so for partisan and venal reasons. Do you want that to be your legacy? The choice is yours, and the hour is late.

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