Schadenfreude Is My Middle Name
by David Michael Green/ The Regressive Antidote
I’m not an angry man. But I am angry.
I’m not a bitter person. But, boy, am I bitter.
And I’m not generally given to vindictiveness. But, you know what? Right now I’m open to persuasion.
The Bush administration is now beginning an inexorable process which will change its status from the worst administration in American history to the publicly-acknowledged worst administration in American history. I, for one, couldn’t be more delighted.
That delight is only partly based on having been on the receiving end of their atrocities these last six years. And it is only partly based on the assurance that those gifts will keep giving for decades into the future, like a bad case of political herpes.
And that delight is also only partly based on their motivations and the scale of their transgressions. People who believe that the regressive right came to Washington to implement a legitimate ideology that just happens to be different from ours, or who believe that they meant well but, ironically, the first MBA president couldn’t manage his way out of an empty wading pool, even with the entire federal bureaucracy to assist him – such people fundamentally misunderstand this administration and the movement which they spearhead.
These are sociopathic predators – nothing more, nothing less – and we are foolish, to the point of acting as enablers, if we fail to call this what it is. This administration is a kleptocracy which came to town to grab everything it could grab, operating behind a hideously deceitful veil of generated fear and false security provision. Boiled down to its essence, this is little more than a classic protection racket writ large. Whether history will reveal that they manufactured 9/11, or purposely stood by and allowed it to happen, or simply screwed up the job of actually providing real national security, they in any case then milked that tragedy for everything it was worth, constantly sowing fear in the heartland, and offering the false promise of protection to a frightened public.
For all these reasons, they are surely getting what they deserve. But, finally, my delight in watching the long-deserved implosion of this American tragicomedy is also partly based on attitude. Never in my life have I seen such high-handed arrogance, such disrespectful condescension for the loyal opposition, such destructive shredding of the very core institutions of Western political culture, such cavalier disregard for the lives of anyone, including Americans.
No, I’m not generally angry, bitter or vindictive. But you rub your noxious garbage in my face for six (if not twenty-five) years and arrogantly dismiss me as an unpatriotic retread for opposing your transparent predations, then, yeah, I’m going to rejoice in your getting what you deserve. And, right now, I’m rejoicing. Right now, schadenfreude is my middle name.
The fun has only just begun, but nevertheless the wheels are already coming off the wagon. The dominoes are already falling, and Henry Waxman has only just begun to issue subpoenas. The water’s rapidly rising, and is now splashing the dirty faces of Karl Rove, Dick Cheney and even George W. Bush. We’re running out of metaphors to mix here, but fortunately not jail cells.
You wouldn’t want to face what they’re facing over the next twenty-one months under the best of circumstances. But you especially wouldn’t want to go there with your popularity in the toilet, your credibility so shot that even Republican senators are disbelieving you in public, a corrosive war that, at best, cannot possibly regain public support, and members of your own party seeing that their association with you, your arrogance, your screw-ups and now your scandals all roll up together into a giant freight train called the 2008 Express, rapidly steaming their direction.
Who will be left to throw Bush a rope when he’s finally going down? Trent Lott? No, they burned him, and something tells me he hasn’t forgotten. John Kerry? Maybe he’ll FedEx over some Band-Aids. Jacques Chirac? That’s Old Europe, people. Saddam Hussein? His rope is in use elsewhere.
So one by one they come down, and no one is even going after the big questions yet, like what happened before and during 9/11, what’s happened before, during and after Katrina, the failure of the Afghan war, and the marketing of the Iraq war. Whether we ever get to those or not, we can at least take pleasure in the just desserts already being served, and relief in the enfeebling of Bush and his destructive agenda.
Rumsfeld’s gone. Without question, forced retirement in failure to some corporate pastureland is far too good a punishment for him, even if he does carry the shame of being one of the few people on this planet moronic enough to get fired by George W. Bush. Nor is he necessarily out of the woods, either. If even the merest approximation of the truth ever makes it to a grand jury, Rummy will want to be investing in some very high-powered legal Dobermans. He’ll need them.
Scooter Libby is now gone, and while it’s true that his crimes greatly exceed his likely punishment, even assuming no pardon, it is something. And let us all laugh collectively at the absurd claims of the right, trying desperately to defend him. “Valerie Plame wasn’t actually undercover!” Well, except that she testified she was. And it was the CIA which had initiated the investigation in the first place, out of concern about having its spy networks exposed. “Libby had lots of important stuff on his plate and just didn’t remember!” Yeah, except that what he just didn’t remember was nine conversations with eight different people on the same subject. (Aren’t these the same people who vitiated Clinton for lying about consensual oral sex under oath? Did I miss something here? When did treason get to be the lesser offense?) No one on the jury believed Libby’s lies for even a second. Indeed, they all felt sorry for what was transparently a case of Libby taking a bullet for his boss, Dick Cheney.
Now comes Wolfowitz and Gonzales. I doubt either can last very long, particularly the former, who has more constituents than just the thumb-sucker at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, and whose staff is in outright mutiny against the head pirate. It’s breaking my heart, in a schadenfreude kind of way, to see Wolfie hoisted on his own petard, and now flapping in the wind of shame for a third week running. Given his evident insularity of breathtaking proportions (talk about not being able to take a hint!), he probably doesn’t have the decency to be embarrassed for himself yet. And even when he’s unceremoniously tossed overboard, it won’t begin to atone for the destruction listed next to his name in the Big Book of Death. (With apologies to Nathan Hale, I regret that Wolfowitz has but one life to give for all the ones he’s taken.)
But it is a start. After what we’ve been through, it’s amazing and unfortunate how little it takes to provide a measure of satisfaction. Just the same, the visage of European governments and World Bank staff (not exactly paragons of liberalism, either of them) growing nauseous from the smell of rotting predator is always encouraging. And seeing the great anti-corruption crusader indicted for practicing the crassest form of nepotism is only icing on the cake.
Then there’s Alberto Gonzales, for whom the oft-employed term ‘consigliere’ was always far too generous. Sure, the guy makes things happen for his boss, but he’s far more the simple soldier than the clever counselor in Bushland. And since nobody in that sad country is actually principled enough to be a soldier for any cause other than lining their own pockets, we ought to just identify this guy for the sycophant that he is, pure and simple.
But he also happens to be the highest ranking law enforcement official in the land, and if that doesn’t send shivers up your spine you might want to cut back on whatever is your self-medicating substance of choice. Silly Al put on such a show before Congress last week that even Republican senators were eying the political egress, wondering how they could possibly get the stink of Bushism out of their clothes and hair (as if they weren’t one hundred and ten percent culpable themselves, back when Bush walked on water).
No less than seventy-one times, Gonzales’s memory evaded him as he tried to recall the firing of key members of his staff, in the biggest credibility meltdown since… well, since the Libby trial. Imagine a guy who really had a memory that bad arguing the government’s position before the Supreme Court. “I’m sorry, your honor, I don’t recall which side of this case I’m on here.” “I’m sorry, your honor, I haven’t been able to keep all those amendments straight since I lost the cheat sheet I used on my law school finals.”
Perhaps we would have gotten some different answers if the attorney general was subjected to a little of his own justice. Perhaps a few days at Guantánamo would have changed his tune. Maybe the rigors of a torture program he once claimed it was “quaint” and “obsolete” to oppose would stimulate his memory.
But, of course, his absurd testimony was all just dandy for the one guy besides Gonzales himself who could put an end to this embarrassment. Bush’s take was that “the attorney general went up and gave a very candid assessment, and answered every question he could possibly answer, honestly answer”. Bush concluded that Gonzales’s testimony had “increased my confidence in his ability to do the job”.
This last line in particular is just the most recent example of the utterly juvenile content of regressive politics, and the sheer contempt with which we in the body politic are held by these folks. As if Gonzales’s lies to Congress had anything whatsoever to do with Bush’s assessment of him. As if Bush was sitting there watching the television, hoping his attorney general would set the record straight, explain why all of this is not a scandal, and win back his job on the basis of his commitment to good governance. As if the president actually thinks Gonzales told the truth on Capitol Hill. As if that is what he wanted him to do. I don’t remember a looking glass, but surely there must have been one along the way somewhere.
On top of all the injuries of the Bush administration, these childish rhetorical turns only add insult in the sheer contempt they demonstrate for we owners of American democracy. Maybe for the thirty percent of Americans who still support this guy, it works. Maybe for the sheep who are so willfully naive that they let their pastors tell them what to believe politically, it’s okay. But for the rest of us with our very own brains, this is politics that wouldn’t be fit for a sixth grade civics class.
Rumsfeld, Libby, Wolfowitz, Gonzales, DeLay, Brown, Ney, Abramoff, Cunningham and more. Bush, Cheney and Rove are unquestionably next. Even if they are lucky enough to survive the next couple of years in office, they will be damaged goods to an extent we’ve never seen before, reviled and despised, first a joke and then too destructive to any longer be funny. The clock is now actually their only friend. If they had 41 months left to go, rather than 21, I have no doubt whatsoever there would be impeachments. As it is, we may be stuck with them for the duration.
Which is not necessarily such a bad thing. The longer these guys are around (within severe limits, of course), the more thorough a job they do in discrediting themselves and their regressive politics. Let the revelations drip out, one by one, corroding the foundations of their destructive project. Let them stew in the very acids they themselves have injected into American democracy. It is not enough just to destroy Bush, because there will always be more Bushes (starting with a real one – Jeb). It is Bushism itself – the entire regressive political project – which must be beaten into irrelevance, so that it never resurfaces to bring us this ruin again. And at the moment, no one – not the press and not the Democrats – is doing a better job of destroying regressivism than the regressives themselves.
I’m not an angry person, but if it sounds like I’m angry now, I am. I’m furious for the lies which have been told. I’m indignant about the manipulation of our best instincts as a society by the world’s most cynically destructive government this side of the 1930s. I’m outraged that probably a million people are now dead in order to satisfy the personal insecurities of one individual who is the most powerful amongst us, but at the same time also the weakest, the worst and the most emotionally bankrupt.
I’m irate that my country has become hated in the world, known now for its human rights violations, its arrogant disdain for the institutions of international cooperation, and its practice of cheap pretext-driven invasions of sovereign states of the sort that was already becoming morally inexcusable back in the nineteenth century. I’m enraged that my country is seen as the most hypocritical on Earth, calling for democracy abroad while undermining it even at home, ranting on and on about terrorism while protecting terrorists from justice, railing about weapons proliferation in other countries while building new classes of nuclear warheads and leading the process of weaponizing space, yet another frontier of our physical environment to be turned into a battlefield.
I’m ashamed that it was not already embarrassing enough that my country, five percent of the world’s population, produces twenty-five percent of its greenhouse gases, but that our government then also had to scuttle even the wimpy Kyoto attempt at remedying the problem, all the while lying to us about the disaster itself.
I’m incensed at the fiscal, environmental, governmental and moral mess that we are leaving to our children. We are saddling them with our debts instead of trying to advantage the next generation, like every generation prior has done, and this government’s policies are responsible for that. We are leaving them a planet which will be wracked by the effects of global warming, and this administration is responsible for that. We are bequeathing to them an America which is deeply divided and widely hated, and that is the legacy of the Bush government.
So, yeah, as a matter of fact, I’m pissed.
Three things happened on the same day this week. The first was that the stories of the two most visible faces of the Iraq war were exposed as complete, and completely intentional, lies, manufactured for the purpose of selling the war. Army Ranger Bryan O’Neal told the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, “I was ordered not to tell” the family of Pat Tillman the truth about how he died by friendly fire. Indeed, Tillman’s uniform was immediately burned and other evidence destroyed, so that a tale of his heroic death in battle with the enemy could be fabricated, complete with the awarding of a Silver Star.
Meanwhile, Private Jessica Lynch testified to the same panel that her heroic story was also manufactured, as were the lies about the abuses of the Iraqis holding her, people who in truth tried to help her and to return Lynch to her unit. “Tales of great heroism were being told. My parent’s home in Wirt County was under siege of the media all repeating the story of the little girl Rambo from the hills who went down fighting. It was not true.” To this day, Lynch says, “I am still confused as to why they chose to lie and tried to make me a legend“. Perhaps I can help here. Can you say “Old Shoe”? Does Robert DeNiro have to walk onto the set to get the American public to realize just how wholly fabricated everything about this war has been?
Everything, that is, but the death and destruction, which has been all too real. The second thing that happened that day was that nine more Americans were killed in Iraq, and twenty more seriously wounded. We don’t ever get to know how many Iraqis are consumed in Mr. Bush’s Mesopotamian conflagration (for the same reason we couldn’t be told the truth about Tillman and Lynch), but based on the best and most scientific research on this question, a reasonable estimate is that about 685 are killed every day. Not a bad day’s work for a contemporary Caligula, eh?
And the third thing that happened that day, while the administration’s lies were being exposed, and while those lies harvested their inevitable grinding, grim reapings yet again, is that the very same people who brought us this deceit and destruction continued their campaign to annihilate the remnants of American democracy through the use of yet further Orwellian rhetoric.
“What’s most troubling about Senator Reid’s comments yesterday is his defeatism”, said America’s vice-president. “It is cynical to declare that the war is lost because you believe it gives you political advantage. Leaders should make decisions based on the security interests of our country, not on the interests of their political party.” The president added that the he was disappointed in Congressional Democrats for using the spending bill to make “a political statement”.
It would not be possible for Cheney’s assertions to be more polar opposite from the truth. It would not be possible for him to be more culpable of doing exactly what he accuses the Democrats of doing, for we know for a fact that much of the purpose of this fabricated war (or, at least, the quick and successful war they thought they were fabricating) was to make Bush and his GOP machine invincible in the context of domestic politics, so he could ram through predatory legislation like his raid on Social Security. And we know that the war has in fact been extremely damaging to the security interests of the United States. And we know that when Bush says that, because he will veto a bill it is therefore a “political statement”, he’s actually desperately trying to intimidate Congress into abdicating its voice on policy questions, to prevent them from forcing him to demonstrate before the public the very obstinance he seeks to hide.
All this in one day.
So, yeah, you’re damn right I’m angry. My question is, what in the world is wrong with anyone who isn’t?
And you’re damn right that I get a little thrill from seeing the slightest punishments meted out to the greatest of our criminals. Even if good news hadn’t been so entirely rare these last six years, it would be appropriate.
For these are not ordinary fools, and this is something that Americans haven’t really begun to appreciate yet. If these folks were mere bunglers with proper intentions, I could forgive them. If they were true patriots who simply believed fervently in a different ideology than mine while all their policy ideas turned out to be wrong, I could even forgive that.
But they are none of these things, and the measure of that is to be found precisely in the inversion of truth which is at the core of regressive politics as practiced by Bush, Rove and their fellow predatory kleptocrats. In the marketplace of ideas, lies don’t have to be told to sell policies. In the domain of good governance, memories don’t have to be conveniently erased in order to cover up incompetence and malfeasance.
And this, ultimately, is why I am so angry. These aren’t boobs who couldn’t shoot straight, though they are that as well. And they aren’t true believers of a stupidly destructive ideology suitable only for the most emotionally stunted amongst us, though they are that too. Instead, fundamentally, they are simply greedy marauders who have come to plunder America for all it’s worth.
If they were Russians, or Chinese, or Muslims, our response would be to hate such imperialist exploiters accordingly, and to seek their destruction expeditiously. But because they are Americans, and because they have ironically expropriated all the historic symbols of American patriotism, and because they have so massively and cynically exploited one of the greatest tragedies in American history, and, especially, because the magnitude of their crimes is too existentially debilitating for most Americans to permit themselves to comprehend – because of all these things, we merely revile them, rather than hating them and destroying their movement.
But that is our mistake, and it has already become a lethal one for so many innocent victims of the regressive machine. It’s time for this to stop, and it’s time for us to label this chapter in our history for what it is.
We have a word for Americans who sell out their country for their own profit.
They are traitors.
And we have a word for what these traitors do when they betray our country, our values and our Constitution to pursue their agenda of personal aggrandizement.
It’s called treason.
(David Michael Green is a professor of political science at Hofstra University in New York. He is delighted to receive readers’ reactions to his articles ( mailto:email@example.com ), but regrets that time constraints do not always allow him to respond. More of his work can be found at his website, www.regressiveantidote.net . “Dark of Heartness, Part I: A Journey Into the (Reputed) Soul of Conservatism” can be found here.)