Being Part of the Problem

Last Sunday: Liberal icons and the problem of bipartisan empire-building
By Robert Jensen
Mar 7, 2007, 11:51

In a political culture defined by a centrist-to-reactionary political spectrum, Paul Wellstone was a breath of fresh air when he brought his progressive politics to the U.S. Senate in 1991. His death in 2002 robbed the country of a humane voice on the national political stage.

I lived for a time in Minnesota and followed Wellstone’s career closely. The last time I saw him speak was December 1998 when I was part of a peace group that conducted a sit-in at his office to protest his support for a U.S. attack on Iraq and force a meeting to challenge the former anti-war activist’s hawkish turn. Yes, that’s right — a group sat in at Wellstone’s St. Paul office when he supported Bill Clinton’s illegal 1998 cruise missile attack on Iraq, which was the culmination of a brutal and belligerent U.S. policy during that Democratic administration.

It might seem odd to recall such a small part of contemporary history when the United States is mired in a full-scale occupation of Iraq, but there’s an important lesson in this little bit of history — one that’s is often difficult for many liberals and Democrats to face:

Illegal and immoral U.S. aggression is, and always has been, a bipartisan affair. Democrats and liberals are responsible for their share of the death, destruction, and misery caused by U.S. empire-building along with Republicans and conservatives. I mention the Wellstone incident not to suggest he and George W. Bush are equally culpable, but to make the point that even politicians with Wellstone’s progressive politics can be twisted by the pathology of power and privilege.

Precisely because we face such crucial policy choices in Iraq, the Middle East, and the world, we must remember that while W. and the neocons are a problem, they are not the problem. Sweep this particular gang of thugs and thieves out of office, and … what? A kindler-and-gentler imperial policy designed by Democrats is still an imperial policy, and imperial policies always have the same result: The suffering of millions — others that are too often invisible to us — in support of policies that protect the affluence of … us.

Name a politician at the national level today who has even come close to acknowledging that painful reality. Go ahead, think about it for a minute — I can wait.

I’m reminded of a meeting that a group of Austin activists had with our congressman, liberal Democrat Lloyd Doggett, as part of a national grassroots organizing effort in the late 1990s to end the punishing embargo on Iraq that the Clinton administration imposed for eight long years. Those economic sanctions were killing an estimated 5,000 Iraqi children a month, and it’s likely that as many as a million people died during the Clinton years as a result of this aspect of the U.S. policy of dominating the politics of the region. We asked Doggett — who had courageously spoken out against U.S. aggression in the past — to challenge this policy of his Democratic leadership, which he declined to do. One of us mentioned our opposition to this in the context of a larger critique of U.S. empire. Doggett’s response: “That was never my analysis.”

In other words, even though the United States has been pursuing imperial policies since it was founded — first on the continent it eventually conquered and later around the world — that wasn’t his analysis. In other words, his analysis was apparently to deny the reality of how the United States became the most powerful nation-state in the history of the world. In other words, his analysis required obscuring difficult truths, which might be called a … I’ll leave that sentence for you to complete.

Again, my purpose in pointing this out is not to suggest that there is no difference in the policies of Doggett and Bush, but rather to point out the disease at the heart of conventional politics in the United States: The willingness to lie about the history and contemporary policies that have made us the most affluent society in the history of the world.

The political elites of the United States of America are united in their acceptance of these historical fabrications and contemporary obfuscations. Whatever their particular policy proposals, they all lie about the nature of the system that has produced U.S. power and affluence. They all invoke mythical notions of the fundamental decency of the United States. And because of that, they all are part of the problem.

Read the rest here.

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