Thursday, February 16, 2006

Why We Need Accountability NOW

We need accountability NOW. Seriously.

We need it because if we don't get it now--before the 2006 elections, and not after--then there is little hope left for the nation. I mean the American nation. Because I just don't see it.

No wait! I'm an optimist. Really I am. I think the Dems are actually doing well, and will roll to power in the coming years.

I believe that Progressive Dems like Ned Lamont and Ciro Rodriguez are going kick ass in their primaries.

And I believe that Dems in general are going to kick ass in 2006.

I believe that we will win the presidency in 2008.

So why am I so glum?

I'll tell you why:

Because the die has been cast, and our country has crossed its Rubicon.

I'm a student of the Classics. I studied Greco-Roman civilization from the time I was a little boy, and I know, in words of Shakespeare, "a little Latin and less Greek."

Like so many others, I see much of American history through the prism of the history of the Roman Republic (and, to a lesser extent, the abortive Greek democratic experiments). Allow me to give you a little history of the Romans:

In 509 BCE, the Romans threw off the rule of the tyrannical Etruscan kings, led by a man named Brutus. They instituted a Republic whose government, though never "one man one vote", nevertheless constituted a fairly representative sample of the population.
For hundreds of years thereafter, Rome expanded its conquests and influence, while at the same time granting greater and greater privileges to the common people and those that they had conquered (through the creation of "tribunes of the people", through the expansion of citizenship, and other gradually and increasingly progressive laws). The Republic was capable of self-policing, and the corrupt were generally exposed as such to the light of day and punished. Rome was run by rule of law.

The period that I find particularly telling is in the late 100s BC. At this time there was strong rebellious sentiment from the common man, which congealed into what can be reasonably called a progressive movement toward land reform and other poverty-reducing measures led by the Brothers Gracchi.

Eventually, however, both brothers were murdered, and the aristocracy came back to power and reinstituted the old orders.

During this time came the beginning of the end. Gaius Marius, a charismatic leader, man of the people, and successful general, first allied himself with the Gracchi and then turned against them, but nevertheless remained generally tied to the interests of his soldiers and the poor and disenfranchised (who were often one and the same.)

The leader of the aristocratic opposition was a man named Sulla, an evil beast of a man, who fought Marius tooth and nail.

The battle between Marius and Sulla was the first great civil war of Roman history, with Marius leading the "Populares" (Common-Man party) and Sulla leading the "Optimates" (the Aristocratic party). Marius and Sulla drove each other out of Rome by turns, killing hundreds (if not thousands) of each other's political enemies in secret and not-so-secret proscriptions.Eventually, Marius was killed and Sulla rose to power, only to die shortly thereafter in 78BCE.

Once they were both dead, there was peace--but the Republic was almost irrevocably broken. From that moment onward, though the Republic would limp on for about 40 more years (largely thanks to Cicero), it was clear that the Republic could no longer police itself.

It was clear that the Republic was irrevocably divided by the interests of the upper and lower classes. It was further clear that the internal structures of Roman law were not enough to counter the political might of individual men. Rome had become a state ruled not by laws, but by men. And the rise of Julius Caesar, Pompey, Crassus, Marc Antony, and finally Octavian (who would officially turn the Republic into an Empire) was not far behind.


And that's where we are today, folks. It's clear that we no longer live in a nation of laws.
We had a progressive groundswell (the '60s), followed by a counter-revolution, followed by INTENSE partisan battling.

The Vice-President is held to a different standard of legal investigation. The President breaks laws with impunity, and an investigation is blocked through the strongarming of his political henchmen. And the criminality continued to reach new, seemingly impossible heights.

And the only thing we can do about it is attempt to sweep them out of office and wipe the capital clean of their filth. Winning elections is the new big mantra here, so that we can actually get some real investigations and impeachment proceedings.

Well, that may be an answer, folks. BUT IT'S NOT A GOOD ONE.

Because that answer is no different from Marius coming in and ridding Rome of Sulla's stench. It may be better than the alternative, but it's terrible anyway. And it never lasts long, because when when political discourse falls into the lowest gutter, power changes hands quickly from one side to the other and back again.

But it's most terrible because when the only way to fix the corruption is by sweeping out the government, it means the nation is already on its way to death. It means that eventually some Julius Caesar is going to become strong enough to just do away with the Constitution and make America his regal playground.
That's why we need to demand accountability NOW, Democrats.

NOW. Not after the elections. NOW.

Because we need desperately to prove that the system WORKS. That the corrupt CAN be held to account without a massive purge.

Because if it doesn't--if they can't--then god help us all.


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