From Liberty Street: Working Things Out

John Turner

We now begin to have talk of bipartisanship. It was not possible before the election because George Bush with control of both houses of Congress had no interest in it. Now, however, if he expects to accomplish anything, he has to work with Democrats. The serious question, though, is not whether Bush should practice bipartisanship but whether the Democrats should.

Any sensible person knows that old feuds should not be maintained forever. However intense the animosity was it needs eventually to be laid aside in the interests of continuing life. But acknowledging that general truth does not answer the questions of when and how.

It is hard when remembering the images of George Bush in the fall of 2002 and the spring of 2003 to forgive and try to forget. We saw then ignorance and arrogance entwined, marching towards the useless killing of tens of thousands. And, then, we watched while the killing took place and the arrogance and ignorance did everything they possibly could to perpetuate themselves. And we know that if George Bush and Dick Cheney, et al, could have their way, ignorance and arrogance would still be just as much in the saddle as they ever were, pushing on towards additional killing. The election has not changed their hearts one whit. Furthermore, the question remains whether they have minds capable of change.

The president continues to prate of some fatuous "victory" he expects to achieve in Iraq. He cares nothing for the cost of it. Under these conditions, I don't know how much bipartisanship is possible, even if we had the emotional resources to want to work towards it.

There may be some limited areas where cooperation is possible. The most likely is a sensible immigration policy with respect to the people of Mexico. I don't think we should be so rancorous as to hold back because we don't want to give Bush any credit for achieving it.

On all other issues, however, the best policy probably is to work towards thwarting the Bush administration, recognizing that while he remains president no genuine improvements are likely to be possible. Perhaps some changes of tone towards the rest of the world will help slow the American descent towards universal contempt. It's not probable, though, that any genuine diplomatic negotiations will occur while Bush remains in the White House. If the new Democratic majorities can simply shut down the Bush initiatives for the coming two years, they will deserve the gratitude of the nation. I doubt there has been a time in our nation's history when a do-nothing Congress has been more needed.

Those of us who are not politicians and consequently free to say things politicians dare not say, need to introduce into the national dialogue the truth that what Bush and the upper ranks of the Republican Party want for the nation is not what most of the rest of us want. We are not in a situation where we are arguing about the best means to agreed upon goals. Most of us don't want to live in the country George Bush wants and we need, rather desperately, to make that clear to ourselves.

I'm more aware of that here in Florida than I would be at home. Despite the national turnaround, this state continues in a Republican direction, and all you have to do to see what that means is to get in your car and drive around. Reckless, ill-managed, sprawling, ugly economic development is everywhere. This is what Republicans call freedom -- despoiling nature, eviscerating the middle class, turning education into low-grade training, and becoming ever more viciously xenophobic. All this is done in the interests of a small percentage of the population which has managed to acquire some wealth and has no other desire than to amass more. I have called this the Wal-Mart nation and though some would say it's not fair to single out a corporation to symbolize descent into a cheap gaudy plutocracy, I suspect if you took a tour of the Super Wal-Mart on Route 17 in Wauchula, you might acknowledge that the characterization is apt.

With all this in mind, then, I think we should avoid petty hostility and desire for revenge, but we should not forget what the Bush administration has worked to do to the nation, and keep up our guard up accordingly.

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Harvard Square Commentary, November 13, 2006