The wrong withdrawal: Mass dysfunction sparks a disturbing trend

Things are so dysfunctional in both state and federal politics right now that even my most politically wonkish friends are, in their own words, “shutting down” because they can’t take it any more. Unfortunately, the inability of our elected officials to effectively lead is causing more and more of the citizenry to withdraw from the political process altogether and, with a shrug of their shoulders, simply say “Adios, amigos” to it all.

At the federal level, the Bush administration is coming apart right before our very eyes. This week, a gray and shaky George W. Bush begged the nation to “be patient” with the war in Iraq. Using all the same old tired rhetoric, excuses and lies we’ve heard a bazillion flag-draped times before, the president tried once again to rally support for the biggest mistake this country has made in 40 years.

But the Bush-Cheney warmongering rap just doesn’t work anymore. No one in this country believes we’re “exporting democracy” to the Middle East—or that we’re even fighting terrorism anymore. Bush, perhaps having given up on those big themes, now says we’re merely trying to “stabilize Baghdad” so Iraqis can take control of their own country.

And what do the Iraqis think? Well, in a poll conducted by news stations from the United States, Britain and Germany, about 80 percent of Iraqis have virtually no confidence in U.S. forces—a number that jumps to an astounding 100 percent in Baghdad itself. More than half have had a friend or relative hurt or killed in the violence and 86 percent are concerned that someone in their household will be victimized in the future, which probably explains why more than half now think attacks on U.S. forces are justified.

Even the guy who gained worldwide exposure for smashing the statue of Saddam Hussein four years ago, Kadhem al-Joubouri, told the British newspaper The Guardian: “I really regret bringing down the statue. The Americans are worse than the dictatorship. Every day is worse than the previous day.” His comments are echoed by nearly 60 percent of his fellow Iraqis who believe life in Iraq is worse now than it was under Hussein.

The war in Iraq is now, undeniably, a total disaster. Unfortunately for Bush, so is the rest of his administration. Last week Valerie Plame testified against the administration before Congress. A former covert CIA operative, Plame’s identity was revealed by the Bush administration as political retribution because her diplomat husband said the administration lacked credible evidence that Iraq was trying to buy uranium for bombs.

Meanwhile, an investigation into the politically-motivated firing of federal prosecutors by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales moved the Senate to vote 94–2 to end the Bush administration’s ability to fill U.S. attorney positions without Senate confirmation—a scummy provision that was tucked into the so-called PATRIOT Act. Next up are Congressional subpoenas for presidential strategist Karl Rove and former White House counsel Harriet Miers, whom Bush tried to appoint to the Supreme Court.

Closer to home, the Montana legislature continues to wallow in fiercely partisan battles that seem, like a model train set, to go around in circles endlessly while actually going nowhere. If there’s any light at the end of the tunnel, it perhaps came from Senate President Mike Cooney, who says now that most of the budget bills are out of the House and in the Senate, they will begin to look at the substance of the bills and not just their form. Given the general sublimation of substance to form we’ve seen for the last 70 days of House squabbles, Cooney’s words bring at least a glimmer of hope to a populace that’s more disgusted with the session every day.

Gov. Brian Schweitzer, meanwhile, seems content to peddle his coal development plans to a national audience from various podiums in Washington, D.C. Unfortunately, Schweitzer has likely set a new and dubious record for a governor being out of state during a legislative session. If leadership that promised to bring both parties together was what we were expecting or hoping for, well, it just didn’t turn out that way, did it? And mores the pity.

One of my politically astute friends recently asked: “When it’s so bad that you honestly feel the world is owned and controlled by a very few, that essentially everything we hear is lies, and that most everyone is merely a pawn trapped on a prison planet…what’s the sane response? Armed revolution that actually amounts to suicide? Denial? Drugs and booze? Referential lashing out (beat the dog)? Or ‘work within the system?’ That’s the funniest, saddest, most ironic of all, wouldn’t you think?”

I sure don’t have answers to his questions. The system seems broken—or at least in a state of major disrepair—so working within it doesn’t seem like a viable option. Revolution, the constitutionally guaranteed right of the people to depose our government when it’s intolerable, seems equally impossible given the draconian turn our laws have taken under Bush and the Republican Congress. Denial is the place where the president and his advisers live, for what that’s worth. Turning to drugs, booze and random violence seems to be what’s left—which is perhaps why we have the highest percentage of our population in prison of any “free” nation, and why our own governor says we’ll be needing another $100 million for correctional facilities because of pending prison population increases.

Never given to particularly trusting politicians, Americans now find themselves with more reasons than ever to bolster that sentiment. And the more citizens turn away from the political process, the worse it gets. One thing we don’t have to worry about, however, are the special interests (Halliburton’s billions in no-bid contracts come to mind) who will always be there to feed from the public trough. Rest assured, no matter how bad it gets, you’ll never hear those leeches say “Adios, amigos.”

Helena’s George Ochenski rattles the cage of the political establishment as a political analyst for the Independent.
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