Is there any greater example of this than the vote, just a few weeks ago, on the "Military Commissions Act," the republic-killing measure that gave the president virtually unlimited, unchecked, unappealable powers over the life and liberty of every citizen? The Democratic "leadership" – now suddenly basking in media lionization – would not even mount a filibuster to defend the Constitution (not to mention the Magna Carta). Many Democrats actually voted in favor of ending the American Republic. (Harold Ford Jr. of Tennessee was one of these – and now he has reaped his reward: defeat. That's how it goes, Harold; you can make a deal with the devil, but he'll always cheat you in the end. You sold out the nation for nothing – and now Bob Corker, yet another feckless, faceless, money-grubbing tycoon will pollute the Senate chamber.) The MCA debacle was the last full measure of fear and servility from a group whose collective record is one long tissue of shame.
And yet, and yet…this is indeed a time – a brief, brief time – for celebration. For the fact remains that the Republican Congress is – as Matt Taibbi has detailed so forcefully – the worst in American history: corrupt, incompetent, dysfunctional, lazy, and ignorant almost beyond measuring. As often mentioned here, they are the very picture of the Roman Senate described by Tiberius, after they'd voted him yet another grovelling set of honors and powers: "Men fit to be slaves." The damage they have done to the nation, and the world, as the bootlicking handmaidens of George W. Bush and his militarist mafia is incalculable, and will go on producing foul repercussions for years, perhaps generations.
And so it is meet indeed that we praise the parting of these wretched fools from their dominance of the legislature. And even though Democratic control of one or both houses of Congress will certainly not usher in a new Golden Age of enlightened and noble governance, it would be churlish and wilfully perverse not to acknowledge that genuine benefits will accrue from the change. Giving subpoena power to Rep. Henry Waxman – one of the few Democrats who have served in opposition with honor, vigor and fire – is a mighty boon in itself, no matter how tepidly the Democratic leadership conducts itself in the months to come. Even though the Bush Faction has already promised a Nixon-style stonewall on every single investigation – and although Bush has already openly declared, in his "signing statements," that he doesn't feel bound to provide Congress with even routine information required by law – the probes launched by the new majority (or at least their bulldogs like Waxman) will doubtless produce many nuggets of truth from the Regime's mountainous slapheap of lies and secrecy.
And that's really all that we can expect at this point – or perhaps at any point. The Democratic leadership is a deeply embedded part of the Establishment; multimillionaires like our soon-to-be Speaker, Nancy Pelosi (who is probably richer than Bush) aren't going to seriously challenge the near-total domination of American politics and society by Big Business and wealthy elites. They may re-arrange the display a little, but they are not going to upset the golden applecart. So while we may see a slight goosing of the minimum wage, we will almost certainly not see a major rollback of the relentless rightwing assault on the rights, protections and well-being of working people and the poor. We can hope for some modifications of the bizarre and punitive prescription drug "reforms" imposed by the Bush Party; but we won't see anything resembling a national health insurance system, despite the majority of Americans in favor of one. We won't see a reinstatement of the safety net that was gutted, pre-Bush, by Democrat Bill Clinton. We won't see major reductions – or indeed, any reductions – in military spending from a party that has faithfully approved every cent of every "special spending bill" that Bush has submitted to finance his off-the-books wars. We won't see a lessening of international tensions from a crew that has spent most of the past year bashing the Bush Administration for not being bellicose enough in threatening Iran, and for not larding Israel with even more deadly weaponry to carry out its aggression in Lebanon and its increasingly frenzied decimation in Gaza. We will not see an immediate withdrawal from Iraq; at best, we will see a few tentative timetables based on unreal and unrealizable "benchmarks" produced by some grandly gassy "bipartisan agreement" based on the face-saving formulas of the "Baker Commission."
There is going to be no impeachment of Bush, even if the Democrats get hold of the Senate. There is going to be no criminal prosecution for the principal architects of the war crime in Iraq (and probably none of small fry either). There will be little or no rollback of the draconian strictures of the Patriot Act, which was overwhelmingly approved by the Democrats, or the many other measures – "national security letters," warrantless surveillance, etc. – introduced hugger-mugger by the "Unitary Executive." Indeed, we will be very lucky if the new Democratic leadership even revisits the Military Commissions Act.
So perhaps the best we can hope for is that Waxman and his fellow gadflies can use their new powers, for as long as they have them, to dig up as many fragments as possible of the dark truths behind the Bush Regime's crimes and incompetencies – so that these facts will at least be out there, they will be available for anyone who cares to know, just as the investigations of Iran-Contra, BCCI, and Iraqgate, for example, laid out the sinister character of the Bush Faction long before they returned to power in the Court-fixed election of 2000. Of course, the mainstream media ignored these past revelations during Bush's campaigns, but at least they were available to individual citizens. And with the internet, any new nuggets can be even more widely and easily distributed. (Assuming the corporately inclined Democrats don't ultimately cave in to the relentless assault on internet freedom by Big Business, that is.)
Naturally, the mainstream media will continue their years-long kid-glove treatment of the Bush Regime. Oh, they may be a bit more bold now; they may, occasionally, muster up the courage to call a lie a lie (or some more polite euphemism.) But for the most part, it will still be softly, softly with the Bushists, a reluctance to reveal their Beltway pals and inside sources as the fools and criminals they are. There will still the same cringing attempt to assure the greedy plutocrats, the hard-right haters of democracy, the putrid gasbags of hate radio and the sex-crazed cranks who call themselves Christians that the "liberal media" will continue to contort reality in order to produce a bogus "objectivity" that gives the lunatic fringe equal weight with reason, facts and common sense. (You can check out the obsequious wheedlings of ABC political news director Mark Helperin if you want to see the latter dynamic in action.)
Meanwhile, of course, you can be sure that every minute crumb of possible malfeasance, every atom of innuendo that can be inflated into an appearance of scandal, will be seized upon by a press now suddenly eager to flash its watchdog fangs at the newly powerful Democrats. And certainly, there will be plenty of corruption oozing from the nodes of patronage now available to the Democrats, and it should be remorselessly exposed. But, just as it's been since Ronald Reagan's presidential campaign, the vastly different levels of scrutiny that the media give to Republican and Democratic scandals (real or imagined) will be very marked.
Finally, we all must remember this: even if the Democrats were paragons of courage and wisdom, they will control only the legislative branch (or perhaps only part of it). The executive branch will remain firmly in the hands of the Bush Faction, a gang that has already shown its contempt for legislative oversight – even from its own sycophants – and has publicly declared that the president is essentially beyond the reach of law. In the openly stated view of the Bushists, Congress is a "quaint" appendage – like Tiberius' Roman Senate – fit only to ratify the arbitrary will of the Unitary Executive.
Also remember that the worst depredations of the first Bush Administration, the Reagan Administration and the Nixon Administration were all carried out with strong Democratic majorities in Congress (except for a brief period of Republican Senate control in the Reagan years). Even in "normal" times (if we have ever known such a thing), even with the opposition party in control of Congress, there is virtually no end to the mischief that the executive branch can get up to. Nixon and Reagan waged whole covert wars, killing hundreds of thousands of people, without the approval or input of Congress.
If anyone thinks the horrors of the Bush Imperium are somehow at an end – or will even be seriously impaired – by the results of yesterday's election, they have a harsh and bitter awakening to come.
But still – the political situation we have today is better than what we had the day before. In a period of such deep crisis in the life of the Republic, and (to draw on Noam Chomsky) in a system of power so massive and far-reaching, even a small change can mean very real benefits to a good many people. (And to many good people.) And in any case, we should raise a glass to the American people for standing up – amidst the hailstorm of lies and bullshit thrown at them – and giving George W. Bush a resounding slap in the face. Long may he stew in this great and well-deserved humiliation.