Monthly Archives: November 2003

“True” Republicans

Reponse to a Comment

Ken Miller takes legitimate issue with my use of the phrase “True Republicans” in the two posts (so far) dealing with the origins and development of the Cult of Personality that has built up around Bush. I was going to answer in Comments, but the Haloscan program has a limit that forced me to cut my response into little pieces, which is annoying. However, since Ken’s comment may well reflect a more general response, I thought it would be appropriate to put both his comment and my answer here, so that they could be seen in their totality by anyone who has read the posts.

Here’s Ken’s original comment:

I enjoyed reading your essay here and enjoy your comments on reject your use of the term “True Republicans”. Bush reflects the philosophy and platform of the Texas Republican Party which includes planks to: withdraw from the UN, cancel all UN treaties; abolish the IRS and replace the income tax with a sales tax and return to the gold standard. These are not “True Republican” policies–they are extreme right wing ideas that suggest their authors have not been to college.

I am concerned about Bush lies and will not vote for Bush because of them. But we have to remember, Lyndon Johnson lied, Nixon lied, Reagan lied and Clinton lied.

By the way, who would you consider to be a “True Democrat”:
Thomas Jefferson
Franklin Roosevelt
Harry Truman
John F. Kennedy
George McGovern
Jimmy Carter
Mike Dukakis
Bill Clinton
Hillary Clinton
Al Gore
Howard Dean
Dick Gephart
Joe Lieberman
Kenneth William Miller II

Here’s my response, uncut:

Ken Miller says, “I reject your use of the term ‘True Republicans’.”Would you prefer “Root Republicans”?

The point I was trying to make was that Neiwert’s idea that the current crop of Republican radicals are some kind of aberration just isn’t accurate. They–and yes, the Texas Republican Party that spawned them–are overt expressions of fundamental Republican values that have been covert since the 20’s. All that’s happening now is the re-emergence of those fundamental values into the open.

Until Nixon–and even for a while after, though with reservations–I, too, thought that the Republican Party had matured in the Depression just as the Democratic Party had. I thought that the Republican Party had moderated if not abandoned its extremes and were representing an important point of view from rational and defendable, even admirable, core beliefs around the protection of individual initiatives and choice, fiscal responsibility, finding a balance between the needs of business and the needs of society as a whole, and smart, careful foreign policies. I often disagreed with them about specifics, but even then I thought their perspective was valid and important to hear. I voted for people like Ed Brooke, Sargeant and Weld in Mass and Lowell Weicker in Conn, and would cheerfully have voted for people like Arlen Specter, Bob Michel, Warren Rudman and Henry Hyde (prior to the Impeachment idiocy) had I lived in those states. I was enormously proud of the fortitude, honesty, and courage of moderate Republicans like Howard Baker during the Watergate hearings. They stuck by their principles and refused to play the partisan game: what Nixon had done was wrong, and they weren’t going to pretend it was right or defend it just because he happened to be in their own party.

But what has become clear over the past 25 years is that I–and others, including moderate Republicans themselves–were just plain wrong, fooled by a moderate Republican bubble that was a defensive response to FDR’s coalition, not a legitimate maturation. Personally, what proved that to me was Henry Hyde’s shameful performance during the Impeachment hearings. I had been a big fan of Hyde’s before that. I believed that he was a man who put the country’s interests above his own when necessary, that he had enormous integrity, admirable principles, and a strength of character second to none. To watch him turn into nothing more than another political hack at the behest of whacko extremists like Newt Gingrich, Dick Armey and Tom DeLay was a gut-wrenching experience for me. I still haven’t gotten over it. I felt like I’d been kicked in the stomach by a mule. That was the moment when I realized–or more accurately perhaps, accepted what I had been in the process of realizing since Reagan: that the Republicans of the Robber Barons were back, in force, and that moderates were going to lose all influence in the party; if they didn’t knuckle under as Hyde had done, they’d be out. Like Jeffords, like Weld, like Weicker, like dozens of others. The Barbarians were past the gate: they had invaded the city and were now in charge. And the moderates had let it happen; they hadn’t even put up the shadow of a fight to protect what they had believed and built since Eisenhower.

In retrospect, it’s now clear that the extremists have always been there, waiting and plotting for their chance to take over again, and that the moderates were never able to amount to more than cover for them. There are lots of good people, moderates, left in the Republican Party, but they have little or no national influence and, frankly, if they don’t resist the onslaught of the Barbarians with more fortitude than they’ve shown so far, their days are numbered; they will be eliminated one-by-one as the Barbarians solidify their hold and replace them with extremists. I’m sorry, but that’s the way it is.

The moderates can still stop the extremists–contrary to appearances, they outnumber extremists in the Congress and in the local party machinery–but so far, although there have been rumblings of protest, they’ve largely come to nothing. The extremists have to be challenged within the party, and they’re not, nor is there any sign that they will be. Not yet, anyway. I live for the day when Henry Hyde will find his balls again, stand up on the floor of the House, and say what you just said–that the Bushies are extremists who represent the whackos of the Texas Republican Party, not the vast majority of moderate national Republicans. I live for it, but I don’t expect it to happen. And as long as the moderates are willing to let the extremists call the shots and run the show, I can’t give them respect and I won’t give them support.

“I am concerned about Bush lies and will not vote for Bush because of them. But we have to remember, Lyndon Johnson lied, Nixon lied, Reagan lied and Clinton lied.”

Yes, but to protect this or that program, initiative, or policy. Bush is the first since Nixon to use lies as an everyday tactic, and even Nixon told the truth occasionally. Bush hasn’t told the truth about ANYTHING at any time, before or after his (s)election. His speeches are chains of platitudes laced with lies and his programs have Orwellian DoubleSpeak names that mean the opposite of what the programs are actually intended to do. It’s almost pathological.

As for who I would consider a “True Democrat”, it depends what you mean. There are 2 distinct and quite different source groups–before and after FDR.

If you mean in the same sense that I was using “True Republicans”, ie, those who represent the original Democratic template, then I would have to point out that the Democratic Party was created in the shape it would maintain for most of the next century in the early 1800’s as a party that existed to defend slavery. By that definition, the last True Democrat was probably George Wallace, altho Zell Miller sometimes comes awfully close.

If you mean in the current sense of “Democrat”–the post-Rooseveltian paradigm the party has maintained for the past 60 years as the party of the working class and the disadvantaged–then I would probably choose Adlai Stevenson, Harry Truman, Jimmy Carter, and/or Lyndon Johnson.

Further comments are certainly welcome,. but be aware that the program limit is 1000 characters (roughly, 2 long paragraphs).

Hardly suitable for a long-winded SOB like me….

What Drink Am I?

What I am: Going for the classic choice, none can go wrong with a classy Long Islander!
Congratulations! You’re a Long Island Iced Tea!

What Drink Are You?
brought to you by Quizilla

This can’t be good…..

(By way of Randy at Beautiful Horizons)

The Cult of Personality 2: The Source of Polarization

Neiwert’s post goes on to argue that the intemperate language from the right-wing over the past 20 years has now reached a fever-pitch. He noticed the first signs of it not long after the SCOTUS selected Junior:

What I observed over time was that none of my conservative friends would seriously defend Bush v. Gore but would switch subjects or revert to a “get over it” kind of response. None would acknowledge that there were perfectly good, perhaps even patriotic, reasons not to get over it. None would acknowledge that, were the shoe on the other foot, they too would be seriously outraged — and I mean long-term outrage.

And so the feeling grew on my part that they neither were being honest nor being, at base, civil in its core sense. Maybe I was wrong to feel this way, I don’t know; but I felt it. I tried not to let it show, but it was there. And it was a wedge in our friendships.

He’s quite right: so blatant was the theft that there were only two possible responses for partisans: outrage that people they believed in would act this way, or denial. In overwhelming numbers, they chose denial. Why? Because, as Neiwert explains, the ground had been prepared in advance. They had been set up for that response.

For the past decade liberals have been increasingly subjected to a brand of conservative ridicule that has explicitly blamed them for every one of society’s ills, and it has come relentlessly and from every quarter of the increasingly politically dominant conservative sphere. Now that rhetoric is reaching a violent pitch — and if Oklahoma City should have taught us anything, it was the consequences of spreading this kind of hate. Much as conservatives like to argue that liberals are guilty of the same thing, there really is no parallel to this on the left, at least not since the early 1970s.

What relatively mild incivility that liberals now exhibit is comparatively minuscule in proportion and prominence. Liberals have in fact been, by comparison, the picture of civility, especially since Sept. 11. Remember all those Democratic votes for Bush’s war initiatives and the Patriot Act. Remember that there still has been no serious investigation of the causes of Sept. 11, in no small part because the White House has refused to cooperate — but also because neither Democrats nor moderate Republicans have collected the political will to get it done, and done right.

Too civil, perhaps. Neiwert’s argument is that 9/11 boosted right-wing rhetoric, already plenty nasty and getting nastier, to the level we see now:

It is in the last of these failures — painting dissent as treason — that the president, his administration and the accompanying pundits (or rather, the choir of sycophants) all have affected us all personally, and badly. Because that view has become the worldview of mainstream conservatives in all walks of life. It’s manifested itself not just in nationally prominent scenarios like the attacks on the Dixie Chicks and other entertainment folk, but in other smaller and lesser-known ways, too, like the way conservative officers are driving liberal soldiers out of the military. The clear message in these cases: Dissent is disloyalty.

Even conservatives who have dared dissent have been drummed out of “the movement.” The Stalinism inherent in this mindset was vividly on display, I thought, when longtime conservative Philip Gold of The Discovery Institute announced he was opposing an attack on Iraq — for reasons, I should note, that were almost identical to mine, and which I think have proven prescient — and he was promptly dropped from the Institute (which has, it must be noted, increasingly come under the influence of Christian Reconstructionist Howard Ahmanson in recent years). It should be noted, too, that Gold has been forced to reach the same conclusion as I: that “conservatism has grown, for lack of a better word, malign.”

Most of all, the prevalence of the “dissent is treason” meme has affected how ordinary people relate to each other, in profoundly negative ways.

I have heard all kinds of anecdotes about interpersonal alienation over Bush and his handling of the “war on terror.” Some of these involve family members, others longtime friendships. One can only imagine what scenes will erupt from the coming Thanksgiving and holiday seasons too. For myself, it is not profound, but noticeable: invitations to traditional camping and fishing trips not issued; letters ignored; cold and brusque treatment when we do get together. A decided lack of communication and a clear sense of rejection.

And it’s too plain why: I and my fellow “Saddam-loving” liberals are all traitors. They know, because Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter and everyone else out there has told them so. Indeed, these right-wing “transmitters” have been pounding it into their heads for years now, and it’s reaching fruition.

While laying out the behaviour and its consequences clearly and eloquently, Neiwert doesn’t identify the source of this campaign. Maybe he doesn’t know it. Maybe he doesn’t even know it was a deliberate campaign, but it was.

After Goldwater ignited the sleeping core of True Republicans, they tried to attach themselves to Richard Nixon, whose credentials as an anti-Communist crusader with few scruples and an instinct for punching below the belt they found attractive. But Nixon, who had played dirty in every campaign for every office he’d ever sought and basically gotten away with it, got caught in ’72, though too late to prevent his winning re-election.

It’s important to remember and to understand what happened next because it is the fuel that feeds the fire under True Republicans and their determination to turn back the clock and destroy liberalism once and for all. But not just liberalism — moderate Republicanism as well, for it was not the liberals who nailed Nixon’s coffin lid down, it was Republican moderates who would not countenance his undemocratic, un-Constitutional actions, specifically and most crucially, Howard Baker.

Nixon’s use of the CIA to affect the break-ins of Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist’s office in an attempt to find damaging material they could use to stop his publication of the Pentagon Papers and of the Watergate Hotel offices of the Democratic National Committee were meant to be covered, should they ever become known, by the twin moated-castle-keeps of National Security and Plausible Deniability. Both these protective mechanisms, however, broke down under intense scrutiny by the nation’s press, particularly the Washington Post. As the cover-up unravelled fed by daily revelations in the press that brought the story closer and closer to the very top, Nixonian partisans, most of them radical right-wing conservatives, grew increasingly angry at the furor over what they considered “trivial” incidents.

But that anger was as nothing compared to the anger they felt when moderate Republicans joined liberals in decrying Nixon’s Consitutional abuses. They felt betrayed, stabbed in the back by their own people. At first Baker’s repeated questions–“What did the President know? and when did he know it?”–promised cover, the protection of Plausible Deniability: if the President didn’t know what his aides were doing, he was off the hook. What they failed to see until it was too late was that the questions were a two-edged sword: if the President did know, then he was quite firmly on the hook–a hook Baker had fashioned.

As the evidence mounted up that Nixon was directly involved (and involved early on), as Dean testified against his boss and the WH tapes were first discovered and then played on national television, the defection of the moderate Republicans that True Republicans had put in place, they thought, as a matter of expediency grew to epidemic proportions, a rout. Baker’s questions had become the criteria by which Nixon’s guilt had to be judged, and the verdict was becoming inescapable.

What liberals saw as the unmasking of a high crime, Nixonian conservatives saw as a vendetta by the “Eastern Liberal Establishment” that had never liked Nixon and was panting to take him down on any pretext. Where liberals saw a profoundly anti-democratic President willing to trash the Constitution for the petty purpose of furthering his own career, conservatives saw what they called the political “assassination” and “crucifixion” of a great statesman and towering presence in American history for a single, unacceptable reason: that he was a conservative anti-Communist. They never forgave Baker or the other Republican moderates (who were the ones who went to see Nixon and convinced him to resign) for joining the “liberal establishment” and betraying their President. They never took the charges against Nixon seriously and didn’t see how anyone else could, especially other Republicans, unless they were hellbent on finding an excuse to destroy a political adversary and didn’t much care how flimsy that excuse was.

Sound familiar? Liberals — and other ordinary folk — with no sense of their own history have been asking for a decade the question, “Why do conservatives have such a hatred of Bill Clinton?” It seemed way out of line, what with Clinton pushing a center-right agenda. Why should they hate somebody who was supporting some of their own policies and even making them law when conservatives had been unable to do so (in the same way that Nixon could go to Communist China when no liberal could)?

The answer is simple enough but it lies in the past: Clinton was their worst nightmare: a Rooseveltian coalition-builder who stole their issues and was threatening to forge a series of new Democratic alliances that could keep them out of power for another 50 years. He couldn’t be allowed to succeed. If he did, the progress True Republicans had made under the witless but attractive conservative icon Ronald Reagan would vanish like morning fog. But even better, taking Clinton down would avenge the “liberal witch-hunt” that had, in their view, destroyed Nixon. True Republicans like revenge for wrongs real or imagined. They never forgive and they never forget. Clinton was payback.

The destruction of the Clinton Presidency wasn’t by any means an improvised affair. After Nixon was forced to resign, hard-right True Republicans were determined to see that what happened to him could never happen again — at least, not to a Republican — and they began a series of meetings and conferences to devise a strategy. At the center of the plotting were conservative think-tanks like The Heritage Foundation and The American Enterprise Institute, whose ultra-conservative members had already begun to lay out the elements that would be needed for them to prevail.

Item 1 on the agenda was an attack on the “liberal” press that had been so instrumental in Nixon’s downfall. The press had to be neutralized, taken out of the equation. How to do it? Easy, said the lawyers of the HF: when a witness’ testimony can’t be disproved in court, you attack the witness directly. You cast doubt on his credibility, expose the dirty linen in his personal life, characterize his professional life as incompetent or corrupt, connect him to questionable activities and unappetizing associates, interpret everything he has ever done in the worst possible light and force him to defend himself against charges irrelevant to his testimony. Muddy the waters but keep the charges simple enough that the jury won’t have to think too much to understand them. And the beauty of it was that the witness wasn’t on trial so you didn’t have to prove any charge you made; all you had to do was “suggest” strongly enough to put doubts in the minds of the jury. Spiro Agnew had had some success — though it was brief — in keeping the press away from reporting his construction swindles using this tactic, famously labeling the press “nattering nabobs of negativism”. What they needed was to do that, only more, bigger.

But “How?” was the question. It would take forever to replace enough of the liberal reporters and editors in the nation’s newspapers to make a difference. Not necessarily, came the reply. The reporters and editors may be overwhelmingly liberal, but the owners are not. Forge alliances with them, convince them that their papers aren’t “fair” to conservatives, that they’re overbalanced with too many liberals, that conservative voices are stifled. Urge them to provide more “balance” by hiring conservative commentators. Let the liberal reporters report the news, but let the conservative commentators interpret it.

It was a good strategy but it needed a lot of repetition to succeed with the public. It needed a drumbeat that was always the same and never stopped. It needed constancy and consistency. It needed to be treated like Madison Avenue treated the selling of a product: ads all day every day, all playing variations on the same theme until it was part of the air the consumer breathed. And so the echo chamber of the Mighty Wurlitzer was born.

The first real test of this strategy came, oddly enough, not in the 1980 campaign but in the early years of Reagan’s presidency when he made statement after statement that was untrue, everything from the bogus anecdote of the “Welfare Queen” to the bogus science of “trees pollute”. When reporters called him on statements clearly disconnected from reality, conservative pundits responded that the “biased liberal press” was picking on him over simple, unimportant mis-statements, that the “biased liberal press” was unfair and out of control, that the “liberal press was biased” against any and all conservatives and that the “bias of the liberal press” made them untrustworthy.

By 1984, it seemed impossible to say the word “press” without prefacing it with the phrase “biased liberal”, and the tactic of the meme was born. Without proof — with the proof in fact going in the other direction — the echo chamber had, by simple but pervasive repetition, convinced the American public, a public that only 10 years before had been celebrating the press as the last bastion of truth and the only institution left that could keep politicians honest, that that press was actually full of prejudiced liars and liberal partisans twisting the truth to advance a hidden agenda. It wasn’t a fancy or complicated tactic. It was as simple as the most primitive kinds of brainwashing techniques, and it worked like a charm.

Confronted with the spectacle of Reagan’s appealing “everybody’s grandfather” character being “unfairly” bashed by a “biased liberal press” before he’d even done anything, the American public reacted by bashing the press. Letters poured in excoriating the papers who were “picking on” Reagan, there were boycotts, sales slumped, and talk radio emerged as the antidote for all that “biased liberal” poison. At first driven by a preponderance of conservative Libertarians (Alan Berg was an anomaly, almost unique in the business), talk radio was soon the almost exclusive province of far-right conservatives, for whom it was tailor-made. The more outraged — and outrageous — they were, the more fun they were to listen to.

When Rush Limbaugh first appeared in the late 80’s, even liberals listened to him, tuning in just to hear what crazy thing he’d say next. Nobody then took Rush very seriously; he was treated like the entertainer he always insisted he was. At the time, I was the only one I knew who thought Rush and his Dittoheads represented a real threat to the political discourse of this country, and even progressives who disliked Rush insisted that I was over-reacting.

But I had been watching, and I could see the elements of the overall strategy being put into place. The press had blinked at the fierce reaction to their reporting of Reagan’s constant gaffes and had stopped reporting them; newspapers were backing away from reporting any story critical of an extremely popular Presidential Image; more people were getting their “news” exclusively from television, soaking up pap carefully edited so as not to offend as if it were the real thing; talk radio was pounding away at the same conservative themes day after day after week after week, their screeners making sure that callers opposed to the conservative line never got on the air to express that opposition; and conservative media owners were enlarging their empires and exerting more control over the daily content of their news departments at the same time that they were cutting staffs and salaries to, in one fell swoop, increase their profits and decrease opposition to their new policies in the press room.

It wasn’t a pretty picture. It was frightening. I was watching the destruction of a diverse press and its replacement by a dumbed-down press corps chasing sexy but meaningless stories for the sake of the bottom line and endlessly parroting the views and beliefs of its owners without much regard for little things like truth or the public good or its role as a check-and-balance on political skulduggery. The Fourth Estate was being gutted, turned into a vat of irrelevant, toothless mush right before our eyes, and nobody seemed to notice, let alone care.

The travesties of the press orgies around OJ, Brittany Spears, Laci Peterson, et al didn’t happen by accident.

to be continued….

The Cult of Personality 1: The Nature of True Republicanism

In a long and more personal post than he usually indulges in, David Neiwert of Orcinus lays out his journey from mainstream Idaho-conservatism to a sort of liberalism-by-default, convincingly pegging the change in his own attitudes to the changes in conservatism over the last quarter-century:

Working-class values, and my belief in blue-collar virtues — like integrity, decency, hard work, honesty, common sense, and fair play — all were quite deeply ingrained. When I was younger, I really believed that conservatism best embodied those values.

Over the years that morphed, especially as I worked as a newspaperman (beginning in about 1976, when I was just turning 20). I was confronted innumerable times with realities that conflicted with my old preconceptions. I came to know hard-working Democrats who had the highest integrity and greatest decency (people like Frank Church and Cecil Andrus). I got to know Republicans who were prolific liars of the lowest integrity (like George Hansen, Steve Symms and Helen Chenoweth). And, of course, I got to know scumbag Democrats and honest Republicans as well, people who jibed with my old worldview. But it was obvious that the old construct was not really valid.

What became especially clear was that — even though I had always believed, and still do, that upper-class and urban liberals are prone to a phony compassion that only extended to various victim classes, rather like a parlor game, often rationalized with a tortuous intellectualism — conservatives likewise were fond of wrapping themselves in my old-fashioned, working-class values (along with the American flag, of course) while utterly undermining the ability of ordinary, working-class people to make a decent living and obtain equal opportunity.

Conservatism, especially in the past 20 years, has come less to represent those old-fashioned values, and instead has become a watchword for rampant, unfettered corporatism. Republicans in Idaho particularly were fond of gutting my state’s heritage — letting “free enterprise” pollute our streams, wipe out fish runs and wildlife habitat, destroy the forests in which I used to hunt and fish — while proclaiming they were doing so in the name of “liberty.” They weren’t the party of the little people, despite their pose, which so many people I knew bought into. They were the party of the fat cats who bellied up to the public trough, trashed our lands, and walked away fatter and fancy free.

Mr Neiwert seems here to be blissfully unaware that what he is describing has been the GOP agenda since the days of the Robber Barons 130 years ago. Whenever the Republicans have been in control, they have encouraged the rape of resources (the Republicans who controlled Maine in the 19th century allowed logging interests to clearcut the entire state, for example) and the unfettering of business to the point where corruption, fraud, and even murder were condoned to a degree we would find hard to believe even now.

The rise of moderate Republicanism began after Teapot Dome when a reaction set in against the revelations of a naked corporate rapacity so arrogant, so unbridled, that it thought nothing of reaching into the White House itself and buying a President. What I will call the standard GOP agenda had to be brought under control and modified to blunt the animosity Teapot Dome had ignited among ordinary voters or the GOP wasn’t going to survive the backlash.

The election of FDR in ’32 was a repudiation of Republican policies (which were widely seen as the prime cause of the Stock Market crash and the Depression which followed) that was to herald a sea-change in American politics. By the beginning of the Second World War, the GOP had lost not just the White House but the Congress as well, at least in part because they had fought Roosevelt’s Lend-Lease program, which aimed to help Britain defend itself from Hitler, by offering a platform of Isolationism and warm words for the German leader which were not remembered fondly when he declared war on us.

At that point, moderation was solidified as the only acceptable strategy – GOP isolationists and extremists were being thrown out of office after office. The election of Eisenhower – a moderate centrist – which regained them the Presidency served to confirm the strategy, but they never really forgot their roots. They compromised only because they had no choice.

To be personal for a moment, I grew up in conservative New Hampshire and well remember the burning hatred that surfaced among them whenever Roosevelt’s name was mentioned – and that was 20 years after his death. Nor was the hatred confined to the generation which had lived under him. Fathers passed their hatred of the New Deal and its creator to their sons like an heirloom. As the South has never forgotten or forgiven the Civil War, conservatives had clearly not forgotten or forgiven the man they blamed for “socializing” the US and destroying their party in the process. Even then they dreamed of reversing everything Roosevelt stood for: “socialized medicine”, Social Security, Welfare (called “Relief” in the Depression), unemployment insurance, all of it.

I was lectured over and over again about how these things were “anti-American”, Communist-inspired “perversions” (a word the John Birch Society was particularly partial to using about Roosevelt personally as well as his policies) of “their” Constitution, despicable “invasions of privacy” (which turned out to mean, when you questioned them, govt “interference” with business) that would destroy the fabric of America and the American promise.

Their hatred rarely seemed to have any bounds. They fantasized about military rebellion against what they interpreted as a “Communist takeover” of their govt by “Soviet-backed” liberals, seeing any move to weaken the Second Amendment as an obvious attempt at disarming them and preventing their ability to raise armies of opposition. They talked about seceding from the Union – not necessarily peacefully – if they didn’t get what they wanted. A common statement you might hear from any of them was, “We should have killed that son-of-a-bitch (FDR) when we had the chance.” And they meant it.

At first I dismissed them, as did everyone else, as a fringe group of whackos. But as I got to know more of them, I discovered that they were supported – quietly but steadily – by people who sounded, in public at least, like moderate centrists who would be appalled at the excesses of, say, the Birchers. The dichotomy between the public and private statements of “moderate” Republicans at that time was extreme, a gulf so vast it couldn’t be explained except by hypocrisy and political expediency. For a while (I was young) I became convinced that every moderate Republican was really a closet Bircher plotting in secret to overthrow the “Liberal/Communist Conspiracy”.

Of course that wasn’t true. Some moderate Republicans were legitimate moderates, not radicals; as time went on and the extremists were no closer to their goals, perhaps most of them were legitimate. But the strain of GOP radical idealism I noted then remained just under the surface all during the 60’s, given new life by the twin towers of Viet Nam and massive social change. By Nixon’s second term, plans were already afoot in the radical wing to win back the govt, and their goals had not changed one whit in the intervening 30 years: to reverse Roosevelt’s Communist Programs and Johnson’s Great Society extension of them, and to once again make corporations safe from democracy and democratic “interference”.

So where Neiwert sees a moderate GOP that “morphed” into a radical, intemperate beast–

I’ve become much more concerned about conservatism, largely because it has itself morphed from a style of thought, like liberalism, into a decidedly ideological movement. One never hears of a “liberal movement,” while the “conservative movement” proudly announces its presence at every turn. Conservatism has become highly dogmatic and rigid in its thinking, allowing hardly anything in the way of dissent — indeed, it is nowadays practically Stalinist itself, especially in the way it punishes anyone who strays from the official “conservative” line.

–I see a GOP that is simply returning to the core philosophy and goals it had to abandon for practical reasons of survival, jettisoning a “moderation” it never really embraced except as a tactic. The evidence for this can be shown by the periodic outbreaks of Republican attempts to come out of the closet: 1948, when they were beaten back by Truman’s relentless exposure of their greed and arrogance; the early 1950’s when Joe McCarthy and Richard Nixon tried to destroy the Democratic party – and liberals of any kind – by “proving” that they were Communists; and 1964 when they chose Barry Goldwater as their standard-bearer and for the first time since WWII declared their intentions in the wide open spaces of a national campaign. What Niewert rightly decries is not an abberation, however, but the re-emergence of the GOP’s long-stifled Prime Agenda.

The radical right-wing extremists have not “hijacked” the party, they’ve just come out of hiding and re-assumed their rightful place: in the open, as representatives and advocates of the true Republicanism that has been underground for 100 years. Like locusts, they may not have been visible but they were there all the time, waiting for the right time to emerge.

to be continued….

Liberalism and the Military Aren’t Mutual Antagonists

There were a couple of things I wanted to cover today, but then I ran across this brilliant essay in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, and it drove everything else out of my mind.

It was written by a woman named Mary Kay Clunies-Ross, and it ought to be required reading. (One of the reasons I like the SPI is that it has a real nose for good writers who aren’t journalists–or even writers, to speak of–but have something important to say, and SPI is willing to let them say it.) As an Army wife (her husband is serving in Iraq), she makes a persuasive case for melding left-wing strengths with military goals:

I do a lot of things other Army wives do. I watch the news obsessively or not at all. I pray a lot more than I used to, and I try to be nonchalant about the danger my husband is in. Sometimes I cry in the middle of the day. When someone else’s soldier dies, I am relieved, then guilty for being relieved and then not guilty or relieved, just sad. The grief is something we carry as a group. And while the “No Iraq War” signs in my neighborhood comfort me, so do the American flags.”Do I contradict myself?” Walt Whitman once wrote. “Very well then, I contradict myself. I am large; I contain multitudes.”

Whitmans’ quote describes all the interesting people I know; all the great books, the worthwhile movies, the inspiring leaders. It also describes the essential element of our national character. For better or worse, this country is racially, economically, culturally and philosophically diverse. So if we are going to be the Johnny Appleseed of democracy, we need to give our military the benefit of our national diversity.

We need to give Army uniforms to hippies.

OK, maybe not all the hippies. But there’s a big chunk of Leftish America that could contribute to the military and the military could gain by having them.

As a liberal married to the Army, I believe the separation between the political left and the military is maintained at great peril. And that peril comes not just to those two groups, but to the nation and global security as a whole.

Nation building is the primary objective of our foreign policy, and it will be for some time. While most Americans, including the president, fear the “entangling alliances” of nation building, too bad. Nations must be rebuilt because broken nations are dangerous. And the United States has to do it because a) we have the most to lose, and b) we’re the only ones who can.

It’s also inevitable that the military will continue to be the first and largest American presence in any broken country. In order to show the world a kinder American face, the left must seize the opportunity to help create security in places where there has only been tyranny and oppression.

The Pentagon has long tried to avoid such missions, with the plea that “We’re not trained to nation-build.” But there are people trained to do exactly that, and the Pentagon should start finding ways to recruit them and put them to work.

There’s a lot more. It’s beautifully-written, thought-provoking, and passionately eloquent. Read the whole thing. Spend some time thinking about what she says. It will be time better spent than it might be pondering my clumsier and less penetrating chickenfeed.

We could all stand to learn the lesson she teaches here.

Judy Miller Takes a Holiday…and Works

Judith Miller, who earned a reputation as a BushCo shill by trumpeting Ahmad Chalabi’s fantasies on behalf of Perle and Wolfowitz in the months leading up to the Second Gulf War, hasn’t been seen much in the NYT since the blogosphere blew the whistle on her. When she has appeared, it has been as the junior member of a team. The Times apparently felt it necessary to re-train her as an actual journalist. Smart of them. I would have canned her sorry ass.

But now she’s back and writing on her own again, only not in the news section; in Arts: she’s reviewing a book by Sir John Keegan, a British military historian.

Keegan’s book, which seems to rely heavily on the 19th century (Britain’s Golden Days of Empire), advances the idea that intelligence isn’t really all that important in warfare, at least not compared to overwhelming military force:

“War is ultimately about doing, not thinking,” writes Sir John, the author of 16 other books about war and military tactics, including the instant classic, “The Face of Battle.” In his latest offering, “Intelligence in War” (Alfred A. Knopf), he insists again and again, “Only force finally counts.””Decision in war is always the result of a fight, and in combat willpower always counts for more than foreknowledge,” he argues. “Let those who disagree show otherwise.”

A thesis like that would seem tailor-made for a Bushie to use as justification for the pre-emptive war in Iraq, but surprisingly Miller doesn’t take the bait this time. She actually does her homework (something she consistently failed to do when reporting the neocon/Chalabi version of history previously) and talks to more up-to-date experts for a bit of balance:

Bruce Hoffman, director of RAND’s Washington office and a terrorism analyst, said that although Sir John analyzed the role of intelligence in countering Al Qaeda, most of his examples were drawn from 18th- to 20th-century wars rather than 21st-century conflicts. “Keegan is largely right on the role of intelligence in conventional wars,” Mr. Hoffman said, “but he is not right about counterinsurgencies in any century, when intelligence is the sine qua non of success.” Modern wars, he argued, are not fought only with military tools. “So intelligence has a very different role today. You can no longer fight, much less win them just with military strength.”Mr. Hoffman maintained, for instance, that poor intelligence on the radical jihadists and pro-Saddam Hussein loyalists who are killing both Iraqis and American soldiers today “is one of our major problems in Iraq.”

Roger Cressey, the former chief of staff to President Bush’s Critical Infrastructure Protection Board and a former director for transnational threats at the National Security Council under President Bill Clinton, agrees, noting that America is being forced to fight modern wars under far greater constraints than ever before. “Intelligence isn’t particularly important if you have a scorched-earth policy or are spending a lot of time in the Soviet archives,” Mr. Cressey said. “But if you are trying to win hearts and minds by killing as few civilians as possible, good intelligence on, say, where insurgents, as opposed to noncombatants, are located, is hugely important.”

Good point.

Sir John is concerned about the Western reliance on high-tech intel-gathering, and while his suggestion that it can be dispensed with entirely may be a bit loopy, he isn’t wrong about its weaknesses:

In the war against terrorism, good intelligence may be extremely hard to obtain, particularly against Al Qaeda. A “coalition of like-minded but separate groups” despite its name, which in Arabic means “the base,” Al Qaeda is a diffuse target, and one that has thus far been fairly resistant to America’s high-tech, electronic surveillance prowess, he says. The United States, he warns, will have to rely on old-fashioned spies rather than gadgets. But in this regard the America he so obviously admires is decidedly weak.On this point Edward N. Luttwak, a maverick defense analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, shares Sir John’s concern. For all its electronic surveillance wizardry, the “humint” or human intelligence needed to combat Al Qaeda’s terrorism is not America’s strength, Mr. Luttwak argues. “Overhead technical means of collection do you no good,” he said. “And Al Qaeda members have learned how to evade intercepts. Humint over the past years has yielded virtually nothing. It doesn’t suit Americans.”

“To be a case officer you have to be a poet,” he continued. “You need to romance and seduce. You need to be able to learn Urdu in six months.” Woefully short of language skills, many American intelligence officials, “can’t even ask for a cup of coffee.”

Some of us have been saying for years that the official preference for gadgets and the corresponding starvation of programs aimed at training intel agents for running on-the-ground networks was a huge mistake. Noticing the flaws of high-tech intel-gathering isn’t new outside the higher levels of the IC, but inside those levels raising these questions has just begun for almost the first time since the days of the U-2 spy planes. Satellites and wireless interceptions are fine as aides, but they’re of little use in penetrating the minds of enemies who don’t have armies to shift around and who may be smart enough to either encrypt their communications or use low-tech means that aren’t subject to electronic eaves-dropping.

Most of this one-note-Johnny dependence on electronics is the result of an even more basic mistake: the concentration of resources on the Soviet Union and Cuba to the exclusion of all other considerations during the Cold War. That concentration gutted our intel capabilities in every other area of the globe for so long that networks in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and Latin America simply faded away for lack of attention. Efforts in those regions tended to circle around the identification of “Communist” insurgencies (which were often not Communist at all but populist uprisings as in Chile and Nicaragua) and the propagation of pro-American or pro-govt propaganda (which rarely had any effect at all on the populations at which they were aimed, good, bad or indifferent).

We relied on the Israelis for our Middle East intel, on our connections with Latin American dictatorships for intel in that area, and on military juntas in Asia. Our concentration on the Soviets didn’t allow either the time or the money to develop our own intel resources, which left us at the mercy of the private agendas of “allies” whose interests were not always synonymous with our own. They fed us what they wanted us to know, and we based our policy decisions on that totally skewed information.

It isn’t all that much better now, but if we’re beginning to re-examine our assumptions about the efficacy of electronics, this can only be good.

And for a change, Ms Miller may actually have helped that discussion. Will wonders never cease?

Werewolves of London

On Lydon’s BBS a while ago, I responded to the posting of an article in the Jewish magazine Forward which stated that at least 2 members of a group of young men who had been seen in an alley “celebrating” while videotaping one of the planes that crashed into the WTC on 9/11 had been identified by the FBI as agents of Mossad. Despite dismissing the report of a “celebration” and the charge in a British newspaper that the incident might show that the Israelis knew ahead of time both the date and target of the attack, anonymous trolls (they’re almost always “anonymous”; we call them “mice” for short) instantly accused me of anti-Semitism for accepting the FBI’s conclusion and then proceeded to call me a series of other foul names for attacking the “celebration” and claiming that Mossad knew ahead of time that the attacks were coming, both of which I had specifically cast doubt on or outright debunked.

The right-wing attack-dogs of the GOP have pioneered the tactic of labeling anyone who criticizes a Bush policy as anti-American or a Sharon policy as anti-Semitic. The jingoist “patriots” of LimbaughLand have cheerfully accepted and spread this nasty strategy for so long that it’s almost an article of faith for them–they now believe their own propaganda. Certainly it functions well in cutting off debate on questionable policies–at least, it does as far as they’re concerned. Once you say something–anything, really–that allows them to call you a traitor, all hopes of rational discussion are over. I mean, what can you say to a traitor? What could he say that you might need to listen to? Nothing. And that’s the name of the game for the Bushies and the radical right wing that supports them: stifle the criticism, cut off the debate.

Andrew Sullivan and Glenn Reynolds, the two most influential of the right-wing bloggers, have made this tactic a centerpiece of their approach; Ann Coulter has written a whole book equating Democrats with traitors; and various members of the Bush Administration themselves–most notably Rumsfeld and Cheney–have resorted to the tactic freely and often on national tv whenever questions are raised about their decisions.

So it didn’t surprise any of us when Bush-buddy Blair mimicked the tactics of Junior’s minions and slammed the quarter-million protestors in London by calling them anti-American. Mother Jones reports that:

Blair denounced “resurgent anti-Americanism” and called on Europeans to use Mr. Bush’s trip to drop their caricatured view of United States policy. British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw echoed his remarks last week and described criticism of George W Bush’s state visit to Britain as “fashionable anti-Americanism”.

But it apparently came as something of a surprise to the Brits, who aren’t used to this sort of thing. George Monbiot, writing in the Evening Standard (available online at, sounds both bemused by the charge and a trifle angry:

Those of us who oppose George Bush’s policies are often accused of being “anti-American”. It’s an odd charge. No one suggests that people who don’t like Tony Blair are “anti-British”. It seems to be an attempt to discredit us by suggesting that we are motivated not by reasonable political objections, but by an old and visceral contempt for an “upstart nation”.But perhaps the gravest of the charges we can lay against George Bush is that he is himself an anti-American. His style of government stands at odds with everything we were led to believe the United States of America represents. There is first the question of his election. The evidence that the electoral roll in Florida was rigged in order to exclude black voters appears to be compelling. The conduct of his party both during and after that election appears to be a grotesque insult to the nation which invented modern, Jacksonian democracy.

Then there is his assault upon civil liberties. The Patriot Act he pushed through Congress erodes many of the freedoms the American constitution appears to guarantee. In the offshore prison camp of Guantanamo Bay, Bush appears to have built his own Bastille, in which people are jailed indefinitely without charge or trial. George Washington and Thomas Paine must be turning in their graves.

But the greatest of all his offences against American values is his construction of what looks very much like an imperial project. If the US stands for anything in the popular imagination it stands for national sovereignty and self-determination. It tore itself away from a grasping empire – our own – and declared its opposition to all subsequent attempts to bend sovereign peoples to the will of a distant nation. It came to the rescue of its old imperial oppressor when our own sovereignty was threatened by Hitler, and ever since then we have identified America as the champion of those nations which struggle against occupying powers. But now Bush has invaded and conquered a sovereign nation and installed in it a regime scarcely distinguishable from the old European colonial authorities.

What we have been enduring the past couple of years must finally be called by its right name: a Cult of Personality, the “L’etat, c’est moi” religion of “The Leader Can Do No Wrong”. Bush and his supporters have cut through democratic platitudes about govt ruled by the people straight to a Stalinist identification of the Leader as the State. For them the two are synonymous–to criticize one is to criticize the other since they are one and the same.

Monbiot is onto something here: Bush and the Bushies are profoundly anti-American in outlook and actions. The Cult of Personality suits dictatorships just fine but is at root virulently antagonistic to the plurality and diversity of democracy–so antagonistic, in fact, that it is virtually impossible for the two to co-exist. Even DeGaulle eventually learned that.

Monbiot ends his essay with a plea for protestors to “flood the streets”:

This week, Tony Blair will be showing Bush around town much as an imperial prefect might have led the Roman emperor around a newly-acquired domain. We cannot depose this new emperor (it is even doubtful whether his own citizens can do so), but we can show him that his policies, and our government’s submission to them are unwelcome here.It is sometimes easy to forget, in the midst of a furious crowd, that all our liberties were acquired not through polite representation, but by means of insurrection and protest – from the Boston tea party to the demonstrations of the suffragettes. When the governing powers lose sight of the people, protest is often the only means of reminding our leaders that we still exist. It is messy and troublesome, but it is often all we have.

Our purpose is to show the American people that even the people of the nation Bush regards as his closest political ally reject his policies. Nothing could be more damaging to a man whose credibility is already gravely challenged at home. Let us peacefully flood the streets of London on Thursday, not because we hate George Bush’s country, but because we love the values it is supposed to embody.

Reports suggest they’ve followed his advice. May we do likewise when our chance comes.