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Dems provide edge; dog bites man

By Michael J. Smith on Saturday November 12, 2005 11:32 AM

It's the old story: five Democratic senators -- including, of course, unspeakable Joseph Lieberman -- provided the margin of victory for an initiative to deny the protection (such as it is) of US courts to kidnapees held in the American military torture center at Guantanamo Bay. Crossing the aisle with Joe on this one were dependable Mary Landrieu of Louisiana (shown here with a child who seems appropriately frightened), plus three third-string players: Nelson of Nebraska, Conrad of North Dakota, and Wyden of Oregon.

It's an interesting pattern, worthy of analysis, how right-wing Democrats consistently provide the "edge" for measures like this. How do they get away with it, time after time? And why do people who hate measures like this -- people who consider this sort of thing deeply evil -- stay in the same party with repeat-offender war criminals like Lieberman and Landrieu? This mystery lies at the heart of how the American political system works. It's like an ingenious little bit of engineering -- an escapement, maybe, or a planetary gear -- that solves the most fundamental design problem of some complex machine.

The problem, as I see it, is how to make sure that people who aren't fully on board with imperial hubris and plutocrat rule keep playing the political game, but never win anything substantive. You want 'em in the system, pushing that rock uphill, trying to get liberals into Congress and ex-liberals into the White House; but you want to ensure that they never reach the summit and change anything important.

This is the Democratic Party's raison d'etre. And shuttlecock aisle-crossers like Lieberman are the crucial little bit of engineering that keeps it working according to spec. Any time the less enthusiastic imperialists get numerous enough, or nervous enough, to give the emperor a thumbs-down, the shuttlecocks do their thing. It's like two fairly evenly matched basketball teams -- the Reds and the Blues, let's call 'em -- but a couple of guys on the Blue team will always shoot a basket or two for the Reds whenever the Red coach wants 'em to.

Of course, the great question is, why do the other Blues stay on the same team with these guys?

Well, it wouldn't happen in basketball.

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