The state of American electoral politics -- not so healthy

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Here are the first paragraphs of an Alexander Cockburn column, titled How the Democrats Blew It in Only 8 Months, in The Nation. (The full text is only available to subscribers.)

Led by Democrats since the start of this year, Congress now has a "confidence" rating of 14 percent, the lowest since Gallup started asking the question in 1973 and five points lower than Republicans scored last year.

The voters put the Democrats in to end the war, and it's escalating. The Democrats voted the money for the surge and the money for the next $459.6 billion military budget. Their latest achievement was to provide enough votes in support of Bush to legalize warrantless wiretapping for "foreign suspects whose communications pass through the United States." Enough Democrats joined Republicans to make this a 227-183 victory for Bush. The Democrats control the House. Speaker Nancy Pelosi could have stopped the bill in its tracks if she'd wanted to. But she didn't. The Democrats' game is to go along with the White House agenda while stirring up dust storms to blind the base to their failure to bring the troops home or restore constitutional government.

I was not one of the people jumping up and down with excitement when the Democrats took control of both houses last year, assuming this might be the kind of thing that would happen. The war in Iraq continues, Guantanamo is still open, the habeas corpus-destroying Military Commissions Act has not been repealed, and illegal wiretapping just got an added stamp of approval.

I find it maddening that, in a country with regular elections, we have this kind of rogue government. I still hear people talk about how the people (one could hardly call them citizens under that regime) of Nazi Germany were guilty of the crimes of their government, and use such thoughts to justify the attacks on civilians such as the firebombing of Dresden. I enjoy Alex Ross's music reviews in The New Yorker, but even he can say stupid things such as

I don't subscribe to the thesis that the Dresden bombings were a "war crime"; in the final balance, the Allies treated the Germans with abnormal civility.

 

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Gerhard Richter, Mustang-Staffel / Mustang Squadron, 1964
88 cm X 165 cm
Oil on canvas

 

Tell that to the people fleeing the burning city, huddled on the banks of the Elbe, who were strafed with gunfire from war planes. Here's an excerpt from Peter Schjeldahl's December 2005 review in The New Yorker of a Gerhard Richter show at Marian Goodman Gallery.

The great and sly German artist Gerhard Richter has inserted a rare note of political provocation into a large show of recent mostly abstract works at the Marian Goodman Gallery. It comes in a photograph of his well-known painting of Second World War P-51 Mustang fighter planes. Richter made the painting from an old photograph in 1964, during the early, Pop-art-influenced phase of his multifarious career. In greenish grisaille with a zone of reddish tint, eight of the sinisterly elegant war machines, bearing British insignia, appear to execute a shallow dive above indistinct farm fields. (Actually, they are flying level; the framing point of view has a rakish tilt.) The Mustang (which, perhaps not incidentally for Richter's present purpose, would share its name with the iconic American fun car) was a long-range craft that escorted Allied bombers over Germany. Mustangs played a murderous role in the February, 1945, firestorm attack on Dresden, strafing survivors of the initial bombing who were massed on the city's riverbanks. From some thirty miles away, Richter, as a boy of thirteen, witnessed the glow in the night sky of Dresden's immolation.

In another blog post, Alex Ross mentions that Hitler and his party never received more than 37% of the vote, so it's interesting that he views firebombing of cities that, by that point in the war, were filled mostly with old people, women, and children, as "civil."

America didn't exactly reject the Bush administration in 2004, when we had all seen the images of Abu Ghraib, and knew that they had no legitimate evidence of Iraqi WMDs. When Americans (Alex Ross is hardly alone) say the people of countries like Germany under the Nazis were guilty, what does that say about us?

[Gerhard Richter image from gerhard-richter.com]