Dean Takes Over

Blasted by the pundits, the Democrats' new party chair can't be all bad

Democratic pols are trying to get it up for Howard Dean, but they are very confused when the former Vermont governor and presidential candidate says he "admires" Newt Gingrich more than Bill Clinton, and that Christian-right big Ralph Reed "created a real success" with the right, and how "Clinton led the Dems into complacency and defeat."

The pros are mostly cautious. Asked about her worries, soccer mom surrogate Nancy Pelosi said, "No more worries . . . I know he will work very well with Senator Reid and with me. And we look forward to whoever the members of the DNC choose."

"He wasn't my first choice," said Joe Lieberman, somewhat resuscitated after receiving the Bush kiss. "I felt we needed a bridge builder at this point. But I will respect whatever decision the DNC makes. And if it's Howard, I'll go along."

Party time for Dean
photo: Matt Campbell/Sipa
Party time for Dean

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"It's a hell of a hoot. It's fun to shoot some people. I'll be right up there with you, I like brawling." - Marine Corps Lieutenant General James Mattis, on killing people in Afghanistan and Iraq, 2.1.05, San Diego, California, panel discussion

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John Kerry, with his usual dismissive diffidence, said, "He's going to be a spokesman in certain ways. Obviously the chairman has to go to the Jefferson-Jackson dinners and other things. Howard is going to be very good for the party. A lot of people are worried about it, I'm not. I think he's been out there in the country. He's listened to people. . . . He's a person who believes in grassroots."

For the right-wing media, Dean is a wet dream come true. "All I can say is, the Democratic Party is clearly endorsing doctor-assisted suicide!" snipped Kate O'Beirne on Capital Gang, adding, "If Howard Dean is the answer, what is the question? I guess the question is, How can we do more of the same? How can we look even weaker on national security, more out of touch and liberal on social issues? How can we express the depth of our anger and contempt at Republicans? Those must be the questions, if Howard Dean's the answer."

On Beltway Boys, Fred Barnes said, "Howard Dean couldn't manage his way out of a wet paper bag." Bob Novak added, on the Gang: "This is suicidal and lunatic by the Democratic Party, and that is an opinion shared by a lot of Democrats that I talk to. This man can't control what he says."

Margaret Carlson, however, called Dean a "lifelong centrist," and added, "He was head of the National Governors Association. He was a fiscal conservative. He was against the war, and he was portrayed as being left-wing, which he just is not. Then the right-wing media kind of portrayed him as an extremist, and then the mainstream media took the scream tape and turned him into kind of a nut. But I think he's transcended that since he's begun this. And even during the rest of the campaign, he was helpful, shrewd. He's been cheerful. He's not as down as the rest of the Democrats. And he can give a speech. He can talk. I think he is a great choice."


Bush's mandate from above

Sending to Congress the "tightest" budget ever, President Bush pushes on quickly to implement what he calls his election mandate. So far, he has transformed the Iraq war from a bust into at the very least a stupendous PR victory. As for Democratic qualms about the president's Social Security reform, it should be noted that numerous Democrats in Congress during the Clinton administration warmly debated the shape of a new system that involved private accounts handled by Wall Street. To date, Enron's 401(k) fiasco and its 2001 tanking on Wall Street have had remarkably little effect on politicians of either party. There is no move toward serious pension reform or tighter regulation of the mutual fund industry, which underlies the 401(k). Politicians of both parties read the ticker every day and enthusiastically pocket Wall Street campaign contributions.

All told, Bush is off to a good start, and he now is moving on to propose dramatic changes in our environmental laws, rewriting the Clean Air and Clean Water acts, along with the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act. Bush wants to relax ozone pollution laws and reduce pollution standards for SUVs, cars, and diesel trucks. He wants to legislate rules allowing corporations to hide damaging environmental information from the public. He would weaken and/or drop suits aimed at forcing coal-fired power plants to curb pollution and carry through on his promise to the oil companies to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. As for climate change, right-wing politicians in D.C. don't think the seas are rising and regard the scientists who warn of global warming as a bunch of lefty kooks.

What makes these Bush ideas truly salable, whereas before they often were viewed as isolated measures aimed at rewarding reactionary business interests, is the engine that drives Bush forward. It is an amalgam of conservative political ideology embedded in a theocratic shell. People might balk at a company ripping off the Alaskan wildlife refuge, but if they stop to think, and realize drilling has nothing to do with the grand scheme of things in which God will provide for us, why not just kick back and wait and see? Wait for what? Wait for the end times, when the Jews will either wake up and smell the coffee and become Christians or burn in hell and the good Christians will be raptured up to sit next to God and watch all the other miserable souls fester and burn. Oh, come on, you say, that's kook talk. Not to many of Bush's fundamentalist Christian supporters, it isn't. And there are a lot of them.

A recent Gallup poll says one-third of the American electorate believes the Bible is literally true. In 2002 a Time-CNN poll found that 59 percent of the people polled believe that the prophecies described in Revelation will come true. Quoting Grist, the online environmental site, Bill Moyers, in a recent speech on our dawning theocracy from which much of this is drawn, says, "Why care about the earth, when the droughts, floods, famine, and pestilence brought by ecological collapse are signs of the apocalypse foretold in the Bible? Why care about global climate change when you and yours will be rescued in the rapture? And why care about converting from oil to solar when the same God who performed the miracle of the loaves and fishes can whip up a few billion barrels of light crude with a word?"


Apocalypse pretty soon

Events in Iraq often seem confusing, but if set into the broader context of an end-times story, they make a lot of sense. Everyone knows Israel is getting ready for the second coming, and the Bible speaks of the importance of that great river Euphrates. Armageddon is just around the corner. Everything is right on track.

Considered from this angle, the political problems in the Middle East seem pretty puny. It may be true that by pumping up the Shia we will see a tightening coalition between Iraq and Iran—an eventuality we always sought to prevent. And once the Shia elsewhere see what's going on in Iraq, they may stage a serious revolt in, say, Saudi Arabia, our base for so many years. So what? From the biblical perspective these events don't amount to much.

As we ourselves embrace the scriptures we must realize Iraq also is moving toward theocracy, but of a Muslim sort.

Most importantly, since the victor in this recent election is not Allawi but the Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the future lies not so much in any evocation of a Western-style democracy grafted onto Iraq, but on the Ayatollah's interpretation of events and his vision of the way forward. He may keep Islam in the background for the moment, but there is little doubt he will push for an Islamic republic of some sort.

Even when Sistani rejects Khomeini's religious model for governing, "he is not proposing the kind of secularism that U.S. or any other Western politicians have in mind," Ehsan Ahrari noted in Asia Online earlier this week. "Under the Sistani model of separation of religion and politics, representatives of the grand ayatollahs . . . would play a highly visible and crucial role in framing the constitution, especially regarding the maintenance of Islamic identity. In fact, it can be argued that the entire involvement of Sistani since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq has been a perfect example of how the power of the marjaiah [the ayatollah's representatives] has been imposed on the mandarins of the secular superpower. It was Sistani who demanded speedy elections. He knew what the outcome of that election was going to be. When Bush balked about holding elections, Sistani demonstrated his power by calling on his followers to fill the Iraqi streets in protest. It was he who insisted that the United Nations should be brought back to conduct or to oversee the conducting of elections in Iraq. It was Sistani's refusal to condemn the U.S. presence in Iraq that kept the Shiite protest a minor problem for the Western occupying forces. Sistani's role in calming the firebrand rhetoric and activities of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr should not be underestimated. It was Sistani, once again, who issued a religious decree exhorting the Shiites to vote as a religious obligation."


Additional reporting: Nicole Duarte and David Botti

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