Implication for the Long Run: Developments Last Week

John Turner

Bold Strategy

Paul Krugman is right in his column this morning in saying that waiting for bipartisanship in order to pass important legislation is the way to political stagnation. We need to look back to Franklin Roosevelt, who pushed the important legislation of the New Deal through in the face of bitter opposition. One of the finest political statements ever made in this country was Roosevelt's declaration in 1936, that he welcomed the hatred of those who wanted to use the general population for their own ends.

If latter-day Democrats had had the gumption to express equally bold truths, our country wouldn't be facing the dire problems that appear to envelop us. If John Kerry had said in 2004, I welcome the opposition of Karl Rove and Dick Cheney because they want to foist upon the American nation everything I detest, he would be president of the United States today. Great accomplishments do not come from mealy-mouthed speech. Too many of our current Democratic candidates fail to understand that, though there are signs that a few are beginning to learn.

It's time also for Democratic candidates to remind the people that no democratic republic can flourish unless the people develop a historical memory. The record of the past for at least two thousand years has shown us that people of economic privilege always combine politically to protect and advance their interests at the cost of the well-being of a majority of the people. If it's a certainty that a prominent political party will do that, which of our parties do the people think are carrying out that function? People can vote for whatever they wish, but at least they ought to know what they're voting for. And that has not been the case for a majority of the electorate in the last two presidential elections.

I hope the Democratic Party has the wisdom and the courage to select a candidate for 2008 who will remind us of the truths of history.

A Title Run Amok

I was glad to see Garry Wills's piece in the New York Times, pointing out that George Bush is not his commander in chief. He's not mine either. The Constitution says the president is the commander in chief of the military forces of the United States. So, if you're not in the military forces then you don't have a commander in chief. You wouldn't know it, though, from the way the title is being thrown around nowadays.

Wills believes that the term's erroneous use bespeaks a growing militarism in the country. Some people think we all become soldiers whenever the president decides to issue an order. This is not only nonsense, it's a subservience incompatible with being a citizen of the nation. If the president is our commander in chief then selecting him is the only democratic duty. After that we just sit back and do as he says. That, of course, is the way Dick Cheney and probably George Bush view the presidential function -- as a pure dictatorship during a term of office. After all, if the president were commander in chief of all the citizens he would also be the commander in chief of the members of Congress.

The desire to bow down, or, maybe, to see other people pressed down, is a continuing desire among humans. As long as it persists, tyranny will remain a threat. The genuflection inherent in the misuse of "commander in chief" shows us that it is not only among foreigners or followers of radical religions that sentiments hostile to democracy grow and flourish. In fact, they may find their most fertile soil among politicians who say they want to use commanding powers to spread democracy among the benighted.

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Harvard Square Commentary, Jaunuary 29, 2007