Saturday, December 31, 2005

Hope for a better 2006


The half-empty side of my personality is ending this most dreadful year on a downbeat note.

Relentlessly on message (who cares if that message is a lie?), the Bush Administration has bounced back in the polls, looks likely to win its battle to swing the Supreme Court further to the right, and responded to the uproar over domestic spying by aggressively investigating the press and its unnamed sources, a move that if successful will further dampen the already muted criticism of this administration's outrageous usurpation of power.

The half-empty side of my personality reminds me that this is the year to renew my passport, a document my German-born father always warned his sons to keep current.

And then I repeat to myself the words I told my younger daughter time and again as she grew up: "Look at the glass half-full, not half-empty." So let me end the year by trying to practice that advice.

If 2005 was filled with bad news, from the escalating bloodshed in Iraq to the devastation of New Orleans, it showed signs of being a year of reawakening. No less a pillar of traditional news than the New York Times, the newspaper liberals chastised for buying into administration claims that there were weapons of mass destruction behind every sand dune in Iraq, published an editorial a week ago headlined "Mr. Cheney's Imperial Presidency." The lead read: "George W. Bush has quipped several times during his political career that it would be so much easier to govern in a dictatorship. Apparently he never told his vice president that this was a joke."


Next week, a member of the Massachusetts congressional delegation is holding a town meeting in America's birthplace, Lexington. The topic: domestic spying. And he's sharing the stage with the state director of the ACLU. Wow 2.

Then there's the filibuster that forced the president to sign a short-term extension of the Patriot Act. It succeeded in large part because several conservative Republican senators broke ranks with their party to voice concern about the sweep of the act and its potential to intrude into the lives of law-abiding Americans. Wow 3.

The next month will tell us much. We'll discover whether Samuel Alito, whom I fear more for his rubber-stamp views in support of presidential power than for his potential opposition to Roe v. Wade, is the next justice of the Supreme Court. We'll find out whether Jack Abramoff cuts a deal with prosecutors and sings -- loud enough all signs indicate to take down a row of Republican congressmen with him. Most importantly, perhaps, we'll find out to what extent Congress is willing to put partisanship aside to demand that the President of the United States stay within the law.

I admit that I'm less than confident. But that's the half-empty side of me speaking. The half-full side counts the growing list of Republican senators willing to speak out on select issues such as torture and invasion of privacy. There's McCain, Hagel, Stowe, Chafee and Collins. More recently Specter, Craig and Sununu have also made some noise. Can more traditional conservative voices such as Warner or Domenici be far behind?

I confess: I don't trust Republicans. In politics, you are, in a sense, what you earn -- or just take -- in the tens of thousands from lobbyists. But then, I don't trust Democrats for the same reason. Still, even elected representatives must occasionally have a conscience. They, too, must have studied about the Founding Fathers, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights -- all that stuff we learned every three years from fifth grade social studies on.

Perhaps 2006 can go down as the year in which responsible leaders of both parties found common ground to roll back or at least stop the unbridled expansion of presidential power. Perhaps the Senate Democrats will build on the newfound resolve that allowed them to sustain the Patriot Act filibuster so that they will demand legislation that explicitly forbids the internal spying and the suspension of the due processes of law that have become trademarks of this administration. And if not, perhaps someone in the Democratic Party will have the guts to call openly and forcefully for President George W. Bush's impeachment.

This is supposed to be a time of year for predictions. But the world of politics has me baffled. Will 2006 leave the glass of democracy half-empty, or worse, drink it further dry? Or will it begin to replenish that glass, recognizing that much of its content evaporated over the last five years while we as a country fixated, often in fear, on a president wrapped tightly in the flag that's supposed to represent the values we're ostensibly fighting for?

In small ways, each of us will help answer these questions in 2006. I for one, plan to start my new year by attending that Lexington town meeting on domestic spying. And when I stand to ask a question, I'll spell my name out loud and clear -- in case any spies from the administration are there taking notes.


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Blogger Michael Corcoran said...

Great piece Jerry.

I had (and still have) similar feelings about 2005 and wrote a very similar year-end piece as well.

While I am very distrusting of establishment politicians, I did note some positive events: Congress holding strong on the Patriots Act; Bush getting caught spying; Sheehan rallying the anti-war crowd; some prominent Democrats finally using the word withdrawel when discussing Iraq -- it had been as off-limits as Janet Jackson's breast until public opinion shifted; and the general sense that people are fed up with the bullshit that goes on in Washington.

Granted the Democrats put themselves in this position largely. Their compliance enabled the war, the patriot act etc...

And granted, the Abramoff scandal showed where many politicians priorities lie.

But in some way all of the bad things -- the war, the intrusive civil-liberty-shredding legislation, the scandals -- may have woken up an apathetic unaware public.

And that might -- we hope -- make 2006 the year where we woke up, and made some real substantive changes to save our flailing democracy.

We hope.

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