The Bush Cult

This series was written in December of 2003.

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.

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 unraveled 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, however unintentionally.

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 Republican moderates 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.

3. The Development of Polarization 

With the “watchdog” press successfully muzzled (the inability of the press to get Iran-Contra onto the public’s plate proved it beyond all reasonable doubt), planners at HF, AEI, and the other conservative think-tanks were ready to move on to the next item on their agenda: the development of tactics targeted at marginalizing the impact of the left-wing and the dissemination of those tactics to the faithful and through them to the rest of the country. At the time, this looked like a much more formidable task than it actually proved to be.

Whatever their hopes or fantasies, conservative thinkers with even the slimmest of ties to political reality knew full well that Reagan’s success was predicated on his personal charm and the success of his everybody’s-Grandfather persona in pulling swing voters and center-right Democrats (the so-called “Reagan Democrats”) over the line to support him. They also knew that this support was thin, tentative, and probably temporary. The challenge was to find a way to lock in people not normally drawn to conservative causes like eliminating Social Security and corporate taxes or reversing the gains in environmental law and racial justice, the people who would otherwise desert the party when Reagan ended his second term.

In other words, they had to find a way to force the center to move to its right against its current will. Support for environmental controls on corporate activities, for example, was particularly strong, as they discovered when they had Reagan appoint James Watt as Interior Secretary. His violent restructuring of Interior policies to openly and brazenly favor corporate interests started a firestorm of protest that eventually drove Reagan to replace him and taught the extremists that they were going to have to move slower than they had hoped.

But conservatives–especially extremist conservatives–as a whole aren’t much given to changing their minds once they’re made up. They tend to characterize mind-changing in negative language, calling it “waffling”, disloyalty, betrayal, or a surrender of ideals. There was little chance, despite their setbacks, that they would ever consider altering their goals or compromising on their agenda except as a short-term tactic for the sake of appearances. To do that would be to show weakness to the enemy (defined even then as “anyone who disagrees with us”), or, as the conservative/corporate-speak of the day had it, to “show them your belly.”

And, true to form, they didn’t. Instead they set about laying off their more controversial stances (except abortion) and concentrated on identifying the conservative issues that played best with the non-conservative voters who had swung to Reagan. They found three: security, tax relief, and the economy, in that order.

Despite the fact that history couldn’t show a conclusive superiority in any of these areas on the part of either party–both had their ups and downs–voters believed for reasons of their own that on those three issues Republicans were better for the country than Democrats. Polls also showed that the conservative Achilles’ Heel was domestic policy. In that area, voters overwhelmingly preferred the Democratic agenda: protecting the environment, affirmative action, a woman’s right to choose, worker’s rights, and so on. The message was clear: get the voters focused on taxes and foreign policy; if they’re focused on Republican issues, then they’ll naturally focus on Republican solutions – and Republican candidates.

Again, the tactic worked. Reagan made his “evil empire” speeches and Republican strategists conceived the decade’s most brilliant red herring: Star Wars, an impossible scheme technically (and everybody involved knew it) but the kind of easy, superficially sensible pipe dream that the simple-minded Reagan would embrace whole-heartedly and that pervasive advertising techniques used since the 50’s had trained the American public to lap up with a spoon.

In the event, they didn’t exactly lap it up, but they took it seriously enough that it often drove domestic concerns off the front pages and served to keep public attention focused on a useless daydream for damn near 8 years while Republican domestic policies enriched Wall Street, began the dismantling of the Great Society, and allowed corporations to deliberately destroy the social contract that had held since the end of WWII, stealing pensions, blackmailing states into eliminating corporate taxes, adding millions to the unemployment rolls for the single purpose of raising the price of their stocks, breaking or minimizing the power of labor unions, and using the Federal govt as if it were their own private cash reserve. Heightening the tension of the Cold War and building up fear of a nuclear holocaust centered attention outside the domestic arena so effectively that social depredations at home went largely unnoticed by the general public until after Reagan left office.

Meanwhile, conservative efforts to hijack the media continued apace: the Mighty Wurlitzer and its echo chamber were growing, gaining in experience and expertise; conservative talk radio was becoming a political as well as a commercial force; a wave of mergers and consolidations were gradually putting all forms of media, from movies, tv and commercial radio to newspaper, magazine, and book publishing, under the control of a shrinking handful of right-wing tycoons like John Malone, Sumner Redstone. and Rupert Murdock; and direct pipelines from the media tycoons into the offices of conservative political figures like Newt Gingrich, Orrin Hatch, and Phil Gramm were solidifying a unity of purpose and message. They were all on the same page, and each thought they were using the other.

It was a perfect arrangement for all concerned–and a powerful one. A large chunk of the media became an arm of operations for a certain segment of the govt–that segment which agreed with the aims of the tycoons who owned the media–and would churn out information skewed to support the goals of that segment. In return, the segment would support the corporate aims of the tycoons, challenging, re-writing, or even eliminating laws and regulations that the tycoons found too restrictive.

The main question of this phase was, again, “How?” Now that control of the media was in their hands, how were they going to use it to best advantage to steer America in the direction they envisioned? The answer came in two parts: the 1988 campaign of Bush I, and Rush Limbaugh.

The 1988 Presidential campaign was in many ways a watershed for the conservative forces actively engaged in the effort to change America’s orientation. For one thing, they no longer had their Grandfather icon fronting for them. Instead, they had a patrician insider who was uncomfortable on television and had an unfortunate tendency to talk in clipped, unfinished sentences that were easy to ridicule and often hard to decipher. He had massive govt experience, including a disastrous stint as CIA Director the year after Nixon resigned, but little practical experience in anything but business. People, they found, liked him but couldn’t relate to him very well, nor could he reach across the Great Class Divide to them with any success.

Their new candidate was a long way from Reagan’s Granddad. Poppy Bush was more like the rich uncle you saw once a year at Christmas, the one who bought cheap presents and didn’t stay very long. He was OK, but you weren’t going to share your Christmas cookies with him, and you didn’t really notice when he left. Selling him was going to be a problem.

GOP strategists decided early on to use the same tactic against liberals that had been so successful in the attack against the press: George Sr would tar his opponents with the epithet “liberal”, using it as if it were a profanity he could barely stand to utter, and counter any criticism of his policies or statements not by defending or explaining them but by attacking his critics as “liberal elitists” and suggesting (without actually saying it) that their attitudes were un-American and/or idiotic. It was during that campaign that Poppy in fact turned “liberal” into a swear by refusing to say it: “liberal” became “the L-word”, and the “L-word” became a synonym for silly, impractical, devious, and un-American. Anyone who could take that claptrap seriously, Poppy seemed to be saying, couldn’t be trusted to run the country for that reason alone.

This time the tactic was only semi-successful. Poppy, after all, was a centrist, not a right-wing devotee of Reagan’s hardcore gospel, and when he tried to sound like one he came across looking like a robot lip-syncing previously prepared programming. But he undeniably struck a nerve, particularly with older white male voters disenchanted with the social changes of the last 20 years. They liked what he said even if they distrusted the way he said it, and if they didn’t exactly flock to his side, if their deepest desires weren’t set aflame with passion, if they didn’t show up at his rallies in overwhelming numbers, still they supported him and every single one of them would vote.

Poppy was helped immeasurably by the nomination of Michael Dukakis by the Democrats. The Duke, despite being the son of immigrant, working-class parents, came across looking and sounding more like a patrician elitist than patrician elitist Bush. His emphasis on his background cut so little ice with potential voters that Poppy could label him a “liberal elitist” and get away with it. In addition, the Duke was focusing his campaign on economic issues at a time when the false boom of the Reagan years had not yet begun to unravel (as it would between ‘88 and ‘90) and nobody was particularly feeling the need to change direction.

Duke’s concentration on the economy also left a yawning gap in Poppy’s strongest area: his expertise in foreign policy, including his pedigree as Reagan’s anti-Communist VP, Dutch’s right-hand-man in America’s on-going battle with the “evil empire”. Poppy’s media gurus figured they only needed one domestic issue if it was strong enough, and they settled on a natural: taxes. Massachusetts was called “Taxachusetts” by the rest of the nation, and though the perception was inaccurate even then (a dozen or so states had higher property and income taxes than Mass), it played well everywhere else.

So while newspapers reported on and Bush talked about other things, the campaign responsible for the ads and the Mighty Wurlitzer responsible for the spin pounded away at two simple themes: Dukakis was a member-in-good-standing of the Eastern Liberal Establishment (as if there was or had ever been such a thing); and Dukakis was a tax-and-spend liberal who wanted to do to the country what he had done to Massachusetts–tax it to death. This simple, two-pronged strategy was intended to marginalize Dukakis by getting voters to perceive him as marginal: an extreme figure outside the mainstream, somebody not sensible, not serious, not realistic–somebody “not like us.”

Politicians have used the “us vs. them” tactic from time immemorial. It knits followers together as a unit, bands them together to fight “outsiders” in an echo of human experience that goes back to the cave1. In a sense what Bush and his handlers were doing was just a slightly more sophisticated and extreme version of that oldest-trick-in-the-book. It was, that is, up until the Willie Horton episode.

The Willie Horton episode is enormously important in a way that went largely unnoticed at the time in the furor over its racial implications, for in hindsight its importance doesn’t lie in its viciousness (that was a natural extension of Republican campaign advertising tactics going back to Nixon and Roger Ailes) or its blatant playing of the race card (another natural extension of Republican campaign tactics that had evolved from Kevin Phillips’ “Southern Strategy”). Rather, its importance lies more in its subtle attempt to link a Democratic Presidential candidate with a convict.

The subliminal message in the Willie Horton ads was the identification of Dukakis with a murderer and rapist as if they were one and the same. Ostensibly an attack on the “liberal” philosophy of rehabilitating criminals by mainstreaming them back into society, the ads made every effort, both verbally and visually, to equate Horton and Dukakis as different sides of the same coin, fellow-travelers on the fringes of society. The undertones of the ads were less racial (though they were that, too) than they were anti-social. Who, after all, would release such a man unless he could identify with him? Normal people–you or I–would lock Horton up and throw away the key, but Dukakis freed him. The inevitable question in the viewers’ minds had to be: Why? Why would he do that? The answer embedded in the ads was, “Because they’re birds-of-a-feather. They’re both criminals.”

The fact that Horton was black mattered far less in this campaign than the fact that he was a murderer. It was the first time that any political ad of modern times had defined the “them” in “us vs them” in such an extreme manner that a political opponent could be described in terms formerly reserved for torturers and serial killers. It was a tactic designed not just to put Dukakis (and by extension, anyone who supported him) on the margins of society but to push him completely beyond the pale and into the Lands of the Outer Darkness, an ominous country no sane human being would visit voluntarily, a country with an eerie resemblance to the Biblical version of Hell.

The ads worked, and Dukakis’ poll numbers went into a nose-dive, especially in the South, from which they never recovered. Although the backlash created by the ads was significant, it was too late. The damage had already been done. GOP strategists took careful note: Don’t marginalize your opponents, shove them over the cliff. Make them Untouchables, characterize them as unclean, spawns of society’s lowest and most vicious dregs, agents of the Devil. Traitors.

It was breath-taking, the political equivalent of a gated community: a mile-high wall of barbed wire separating their political opponents from “ordinary people”, a wall that kept out the predatory animals of the Liberal Establishment and prevented them from eating you alive. And who did you have to thank for this protection? Why, the Saviors of the Right who saw the danger and built the wall, who else? So whose side do you want to be on?


But the backlash, while it came too late to help Dukakis, did accomplish one thing: it stopped the ads. They were pulled from circulation. That was a good thing for democracy but a bad thing for GOP strategists trying to get a handle on methods for turning the country around. They had a strategy–Divide and Conquer–but not the tactics to make the strategy work at a mass level.

Fortunately for them, there was Rush.

1. Mel Brooks put this age-old feeling into a nutshell as The 2000-Year-Old Man. Asked by Carl Reiner if they had national anthems back in the “old days”, Brooks replies:

B: We weren’t nations, we was caves. Every cave had its own national anthem.

R: Do you remember your cave’s anthem?

B: Of course! You don’t forget a national anthem in a minute.

R: Could you sing it for us?

B: Sure. (sings:)
“Let ‘em all go to hell,

Except Cave 76!”

4. The Destruction of a Presidency 

In an odd kind of way, Bill Clinton was made to order for Rush Limbaugh. Rush, the one-man nemesis of the counter-culture, made his reputation attacking feminists, liberals, gays, college professors, immigrants, the NEA, and anyone else to the left of Genghis Khan, by accusing them of saying things they’d never said but that his core listeners believed they would have said in public if it was safe and probably did say in private. But an argument could be made that, at least in the beginning, Limbaugh’s core listeners were a realtively thin slice of his audience; that the bulk of that audience was made up of people who agreed with some of his positions but not others, people who listened for the “entertainment value”, and people who disagreed with him almost totally but found his outrageousness entertaining or wanted to keep track of what he was saying in the (accurate) belief that he was mirroring the often unspoken but true feelings of the right wing in American politics.

What Limbaugh called “entertainment”, however, was (and is) in reality a particularly virulent form of propaganda which grew over the years from a simplified echo of core right-wing beliefs to structured demagoguery with a very definite purpose. As Mr. Neiwert, in an essay titled Rush, Newspeak, and Fascism (well worth a read in its entirety, you can download a .pdf version of the whole thing here), puts it:

Through most of the first decade of his radio career, his primary schtick has been to rail against the government and its supposed takeover of our daily lives. This anti-government propaganda has served one main purpose: To drive a wedge between middle- and lower-class workers and the one entity that has the real (if sometimes abused or neglected) capability to protect them from the ravages of wealthy class warriors and swarms of corporate wolves.

To that extent, Rush has functioned as he was meant to function by the conservative planners who first saw talk radio’s possibilities in shaping the political landscape: as a propagandist hawking their world-view on a daily basis in language so startling in its muscular simplicity and so larded with easily-labeled “enemies” that the meanest intelligence could grasp the message without having to work at it very hard. Rush took propaganda techniques known since the Second World War and honed to a fair-thee-well during Stalin’s reign and applied them in the US for the first time since Father Coughlin in the 30’s, and it was an approach that worked exceptionally well:

[T]here can be little doubt as to the effectiveness of Limbaugh’s propaganda: In the intervening years, it has become an object of faith, particularly in rural America where Limbaugh’s broadcasts can often be heard multiple times throughout the day, that the government is in itself evil, a corrupt entity, something to be distrusted and feared, and certainly incapable of actually solving problems.


Mind you, in Limbaughland, there are still “evil” people in government — but they’re all liberals. Indeed, the demonization of all things liberal has always been a component of Limbaugh’s routine. But now it has become his focus. And it is in that shift, taking place in a context of rising extremism, that he has become openly divisive, and truly dangerous.

Probably, but let’s not pretend that Limbaugh is advocating some new ideas that he invented. His attitudes have been main themes for the ultraconservative, corporate-based core constituency of the Republican Party since the end of the Civil War. All Limbaugh did was give it a loud, persuasive, modern voice, helped along by the conservative owners who put it on their radio stations several times a day, disallowed the airing of opposition voices, and then claimed that the public had “demanded” it.

At root, the extremes in any political orientation or philosophy are a mass of contradictions, and ultraconservatism is no exception. They like to think of themselves as daring risk-takers able to face challenges weaker citizens shy away from, yet in practice they pull every imaginable string to minimize or eliminate risk altogether, no matter who else has to suffer in the process. They tend to detest most those who most closely resemble them; they tend to project their own weaknesses, especially personal weaknesses, on those with whom they disagree; attracted by strength, especially the raw exercise of power in support of policies they favor, they tend to back explicitly anti-democratic foreign leadership–dictators, military juntas, self-appointed autocrats–in the name of “realism” and then attack them later for being too strong; and so on.

Ultraconservatives have always needed enemies. Where moderate conservatives want to conserve–to go slower, to make sure we aren’t throwing the baby out with the bath water–ultraconservatives respond to fear: of outside threats, real or imagined, of change, of anything or anyone different, and that response is anger. Ultraconservatives always over-react because their fear makes them inherently weak, unable to countenance compromise of any sort for fear that it might endanger them in some way. Fear is a powerful motivator. The stronger the fear, the higher the motivation. Ultraconservatives seek power as the only drug capable of calming their fear. The more power they have, the less frightened they need to be.

What are they so scared of? Losing their privileges, mostly. Rich ultraconservatives hate Communism and populism because both threaten to take the privileges which money buys for the rich by taking away the money. Poor ultraconservatives hate immigrants and blacks because they threaten to take away the few measly privileges that being native-born and white affords to the otherwise impoverished. To assuage their fear, both groups need to feel more powerful than what they’re afraid of, and privileges, however meager, prove that power. Take them away and weakness is all that’s left.

This is true of all extremes. Progressive radicals who want outside agencies like government to solve or mitigate problems that arise from personal weaknesses or lack of talent and/or capability are also reacting from fear. Seeking power or the protection of power is the universal human response of frightened people, and both sets of extremes need enemies in order to rally the troops that will provide the power or protection they need.

After the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of Communism in Soviet Russia, ultraconservatives found themselves deprived of the enemy that had energized them and provided their entrée to power for 3/4 of a century. There were plenty of others, of course, from feminists to homosexuals to immigrants to Robert Mapplethorpe, and Rush found–and hammered–all of them. But they were lacking a Demon.

There was Fidel, but he was a spent force as Demons go. Since the October Missile Crisis, no frightened Republican, try as s/he might, had been able to whip up much enthusiasm in the public for hating him. As a tiger, his teeth had been pulled.

There was China, which would have pleased the religious right, but demonizing China presented a problem: the core Republican constituency–corporations–were doing a lot of business in and with China nowadays. They were leery of antagonizing the whole country. Individual leaders, yes, but individual Chinese leaders did the NRC no good. They could whip up a frenzy over Godless Communist China, but who knew who Ziang-chi-min was? Who could even spell his name?

No, genuine Demons you could get the public to rally round were thin on the ground, no two ways about it. Without a personified, Grade-A, #1 Gen-u-whine Demon, generalized attacks on generalized targets like feminazis and abortion doctors lacked a core, a center, a focus of evil, and energizing the troops was difficult if not impossible without one. What to do?

Their seemingly insoluble problem was solved with the election of Bill Clinton. They hated the son-of-a-bitch. He was everything they despised–a Southern cracker, the Governor of a joke state known as a heaven of shantytowns and trailer-trash, an unrepentant womanizer a la JFK who exuded sex appeal at a level no Republican had ever reached or ever would, and he had won by stealing their issues–THEIR issues! Welfare reform, balanced budgets, free trade, deregulation. He was a travesty, a perversion of themselves, a mirror-image with charm and a populist appeal. Shameful, maddening, evil.

But the worst was his astounding political skill and his ability to forge coalitions out of unlikely partners: radical feminists and Southern housewives; homosexuals and mainstream Protestant churches; Democratic Democrats and–Horrors!–their own Reagan Democrats. The man was threatening to become another FDR, welding a lot of small groups with differing agendas into a single group with one over-riding goal: to keep Republicans out of power for another 50 years. It couldn’t be allowed. He had to be stopped.

Almost as soon as he was sworn in, Republicans began the process of trying to destroy his Presidency, and the beauty of their plan was that it would use the same tool that Democrats had forged to destroy Nixon: the Independent Prosecutor. This struck them as true balance, an eye for an eye: precise, equal Judgment and exact Exacted Revenge. There was a pleasing symmetry to it, a what-goes-around-comes-around inevitability.

Of course, there was the minor issue of what it was the IP was supposed to investigate to be settled yet, but they figured there must be something. After all, every politician has a skeleton or two in the closet somewhere. It was just a matter of finding his and smearing them all over the tube. They had the media, they had the echo chamber of the Mighty Wurlitzer. They would leave him nowhere to hide.

They began, naturally enough, with rumors, and they had a lot to choose from. Clinton had fathered a bastard black child, had been involved in a murder, had stolen money, had sold his support for legislation, had been involved in a number of shady business deals, had raised money illegally for his Gubernatorial campaigns, and so on. None of them could be proved, of course, but they could be investigated, that was the point. Throw enough smoke around and a gullible public was sure to believe that there had to be a fire somewhere.

They started with White Water, a land development deal on which Clinton had actually lost money. The charges were vague, the evidence suspect when it wasn’t completely cooked, and nobody understood exactly what crime it was Bill was supposed to have committed. But none of that mattered as long as it was being “investigated”.

A good beginning, and the very vagueness of it fed the right-wing-whacko rumor mill like fertilizer feeds geraniums. On the nascent internet, right-wing websites were freed from facts by the almost complete lack of them and cheerfully invented a raft of conspiracy theories woven with any slime-laden gossip that happened to come their way. Their creators presented their personal beliefs as proven fact without bothering to support their assertions, and–like gossip–story built upon story, repeated and expanded so often that each began to take on the patina of an incontestable history, like Columbus discovering America or Washington crossing the Delaware.

Which is where Rush came in. He took the tactics he’d devised to smear the left,
added to them the free-wheeling disdain for “facts” that he’d learned on the internet, and combined them into a simple, powerful strategy: Lie, early and often. Apologize for nothing, retract nothing, repeat everything endlessly, and tie it all to Clinton’s back.

His approach was the verbal equivalent of a gangland street-sweeper – he didn’t have the interest or the patience for a sniper. He sprayed his targets from every angle with any ammunition available, rock salt to buckshot, indiscriminately and without let-up. There was never a devastating charge but there were lots and lots and LOTS of smaller charges, and their sheer numbers were overwhelming. Disprove one and ten more arose to take its place; allow a little time to pass for the public to forget the one that had been disproved and he could bring it up again as if the debunking had never happened.

The think-tanks were awed. The Limbaugh strategy was brilliant. The opposition was always off-balance, always on the defensive, forced to answer accusations of imaginary crimes as if they were real, not once but over and over again. But Rush didn’t stop there. He began to tell his stories in a way that put Bill Clinton at their center like a spider sitting in the middle of its web spinning traps for innocent but unwary flies. Rush gave the ultraconservatives the Demon they’d been lacking, and that Demon’s name was Bill.

Who often obligingly performed for them: the infamous “tarmac haircut”, first waffling on and then abandoning his appointment of Lani Guinere, the constant attempts at compromise when a child would have known that compromise wasn’t possible, and of course the women–acres of them, one story after the other: Gennifer Flowers, Paula Jones et al. He didn’t seem capable of meeting a woman without trying to seduce her.

He fed into every ultraconservative stereotype of what liberals were, outdoing every previous contender for the title. Rush had a ready-made show almost every day. All he had to do was pick up a paper.

Maybe it was how easy it all was that led him–and the rest of the right wing–to keep upping the ante, raising the stakes. Clinton never fought back, just smiled and went around them. As Michael Feldman of PRI’s Wha’d’ya Know put it, “They’ve been dumping all this doo-doo on him and he just keeps smiling, smiling, smiling.” What does it take, they must have asked themselves, to get to this guy? And they set about finding out.

The nastiness of the rhetoric increased exponentially for the next eight years, fed by failure after failure to dent the armor of the Comeback Kid: Travelgate was nothing; Paula Jones went south after it was proved her testimony had been given to her by lawyers for the Conservative Law Foundation acting on orders from the CLF’s founder and funder, arch-conservative Richard Mellon Scaife; and the White Water investigation ate up 7 years and $$30 or 40MIL$$$ without ever proving a crime had been committed, let alone by Bill Clinton.

Despite these maddening failures, all during the ‘96 campaign right-wing pundits crowed that Clinton didn’t stand a chance of re-election. Fred Barnes said, “Bill Clinton will lose this election to any Republican who doesn’t drool onstage.” Unfortunately, the Republicans nominated ace hatchetman Bob Dole, an unlikeable hack who ran back to the Senate in the middle of his campaign so he could make a speech defending a corporate contributor who produced poison gas (look it up), and whose biggest contributors were tobacco companies. Clinton won. Handily.

In the end, ultraconservative Republicans were reduced to trying to impeach him over a sordid affair with an intern, and they failed spectacularly. But the failure did seem to inspire them to plumb new depths of degraded rhetoric. They called Clinton–the sitting President of the United States–”a douchebag”, “scum”, “slime”. Rush hinted often if he didn’t say it outright that Vince Foster had been murdered and that Clinton had ordered it, suggesting not-quite-under-his-breath that it wouldn’t be the first time if he had–a direct link to the Willie Horton meme. Democrats were liberals and liberals weren’t just wrong, they were murderers, traitors, the scum of the earth.

Between the extreme political attacks and the extreme and increasingly hostile rhetorical attacks, Clinton’s Presidency was crippled. A number of major initiatives, including proposed fixes for the health care and social security systems, were unceremoniously dumped and forgotten as the result of bitter right-wing opposition; the efforts in Somalia and Rwanda were cut short, leaving both countries in an uncomfortable limbo; environmental issues were ignored and some regulations weakened because Clinton couldn’t afford to fight about them; but most important of all, the coalition he had begun to put together during his first campaign never materialized and the Republicans–now solidly in the hands of extremist radicals like Tom DeLay, Newt Gingrich, and Trent Lott–won a majority in both houses of Congress.

Rush had shown them the way to spread the Gospel According to St Ronald and crush the opposition in the process. Their destiny was clear.

 5. The Militarization of America

    a. The Commander-in-Chief 

The stage was set: the strategy had been decided, the tactics developed, the audience trained, the secondary players cast and in place. The only thing the ultraconservatives (now calling themselves “neo-conservatives”, or “neocons” for short, in an attempt to de-fang the poor images the word “ultraconservative” carried like the excess baggage on an overloaded pack mule) were missing was a star. The scenario they’d planned was toothless without one.

It hinged–as all such scenarios have from before the time of Carthage–on the investment of belief and power in a single individual who would represent them and their ancient agenda in a way that the populace would accept even as his radical actions belied every soothing word he spoke. Much as they would have liked one of their own on the throne, experience had taught them that someone who was overtly a neocon–James Watt, Newt Gingrich, Tom DeLay, and so on and so on–alienated large segments of voters and drove them into the other camp.

A believer would be nice but more important was someone with a pleasant charm and nonthreatening manner, someone who could successfully project the image of The Guy Next Door, who embodied simplicity and certainty without looking too intelligent but who looked intelligent enough (Americans don’t like their candidates to be smarter than they are; look what happened to Adlai Stevenson), someone with the common touch, and–vitally important–someone easily swayed and not too inquisitive; someone who would, for example, refuse to read the newspapers for himself and be content with summaries prepared by neocon aides who could then make sure he never saw anything that might shake his faith in their agenda; someone who might announce his decision to launch America’s first pre-emptive war on the slimmest of pretexts by poking his head into a door and uttering those six immortal words, “Fuck it. We’re taking him out.” IOW, they needed a C-average John Wayne with an over-ripe sense of his own “destiny”.

I don’t have to tell you who they found.

He was perfect in more ways than one.

  • Even before 9/11, he saw himself as the one chosen by God to lead in a crucial time. In fact, he’d felt that way since his conversion to fundamentalism shortly after he turned 40.
  • He knew almost nothing about world affairs or international policy. Seeming bored by them, his attention would wander whenever the subjects came up.
  • He’d had a stormy relationship with his father and the process of differentiating himself from Poppy had pushed him far to the right and into the fringes of the neocon camp before he’d ever held an office.
  • When he did win office, it was as Governor in a state where the Governor was a figurehead whose duties consisted mainly of looking good on television and cutting ribbons to open highways and supermarkets.
  • His experience in business, such as it was, led him to identify corporate values with American values as if they were one and the same, so he already saw the world through the eyes of the corporate powerhouses who would be his sponsors and donors.

He was perfect alright, but then he almost lost.Much has been written about the arrogance and ruthlessness with which the right fought Gore’s win in Florida, from the paid Republican cadres that chased Election Commissioners from their own building yelling epithets and threats, to the SCOTUS reversing its oft-stated states-rights policies in order to force the election to Bush. But what hasn’t been mentioned much is the underlying desperation that motivated that ruthlessness.

The question that needs to be asked is, “What made the Republicans so desperate to win that they were willing to pull out all the stops, cross all the lines, violate all the rules, even the ones they had always before then respected?” The answer up to now, when one has been offered at all, was the standard–and not inaccurate–liberal line: “The right wing believes in winning at any price.” Well, yes, but why did this specific election bring all that out? It wasn’t as if they hated Gore with the same virulent intensity which they lavished on the Clintons. Their tone with Gore tended to be that he was his own joke. They dismissed him as “The ‘Inventor’ of the Internet” and “Mr Woodman”.

And yet they had clearly been making plans from the beginning to steal the election if need be. Katherine Harris’ orders to screen out as many black voters from the rolls as possible and to put voting sites in black precincts in places as difficult to find as possible were repeated throughout much of the South; absentee ballots were mailed to servicemen stationed overseas much earlier and in much larger numbers than usual in many states; the RNC had legal teams in every battleground state ready to challenge the election results if the vote was even moderately close and what I can only call “harassment teams” on call, ready to be shipped anywhere in the country to provide “public support” for RNC challenges (most of the paid Republican “demonstrators” in Florida turned out to be from other states). And all this despite polls that suggested fairly strongly–until the last few weeks of the campaign–that GW had a comfortable lead. Clearly something was up. What?

The culmination of their plan was what, the plan they’d been working on for 25 solid years, step-by-step, inch-by-inch putting the pieces together. They had both Houses of Congress; they had determined, defined, and framed the issues before the country in ways that favored them; and if they didn’t have the support of all the people, they had enough on their side to buttress the next phase. All they needed now was the White House and they could force the policies they favored on the country before it woke up to what was happening.

A business-friendly govt was only the beginning. They were going to re-make the world, starting with the Middle East, then moving on to Asia, Africa and finally the Americas. Papers they wrote for the Project for the New American Century (PNAC) laid out much of their plan in some detail, and the very title of their “project” gave away their intent: they were going to make the 21st century the American Century in the way that the 19th had been the British Century. They were going to expand American influence all over the globe, and with the fall of Communist Russia, there was no power left that could stop them. They were going to replace what they saw as a namby-pamby US with a muscular US unafraid to use its overwhelming military might to rule the world economy just as the Brits had, and the Romans before them.

To do all that, though, they must have a compliant President who was at least sympathetic to their attitudes and long-term goals. They’d seen during the Clinton years how little they could accomplish, even with effective control of the Congress, when the WH was in Democratic hands. But beyond that, the plan called for a strong identification with the American military by the American public, and the crucial link that forged that connection was the person of the President. They needed someone who looked and acted like a civilian but at the same time was credible as a military leader. He didn’t have to be smart and he shouldn’t be overtly martial. He needed to be charming, unthreatening–a man who would give every appearance of having been forced to a decision he was reluctant to make–but also very sure of himself and stubborn as hell, a man who would “stay the course” and not back down as Bush I had done.

For all these reasons and in all these ways, George W was perfect, the exactly right man at the exactly right time. The hardline neocons, heirs to the far-right radicalism of True Republicans since before the Civil War, had waited, hoped, evolved and planned for this moment for 150 years, and there was no way they were going to let it slip through their fingers. From their pov, the security of the Western World, perhaps the whole world, was at stake.

They were the only ones who knew how to halt the long slide down the slope of Liberalism, secularism and “diversity” that could only end in the destruction of everything they valued, and they were the only ones with the will to do what was necessary to reverse that slide and take America back to being the “shining City on the Hill” they imagined it had once been. For there was one last consideration: they were absolutely certain that a challenge was coming, that they were standing on the cusp of enormous change, change so profound that it would result in either their total annihilation or their total victory.

They couldn’t have said if you asked them precisely what that change was, only that it was huge and very, very close. Some thought it was the Biblical Armageddon, the seeds of which they saw in the continuous unrest of the Middle East. Some, especially those connected to the Militias, thought that The Revolt was at hand because the “people” were finally ready to throw off the chains of a “liberal” govt unresponsive to their demands. Others thought The Rapture was right around the corner, when God would come with a fiery sword to smite the wicked and take the virtuous up to Heaven to sit at his Right Hand. Still others thought that conditions were ripe for turning America into the first Western theocracy, a govt run directly by God, his orders fed through them, his representatives, his “transmitters”. But whatever The Moment was, it was coming, and the neocon faithful fully intended to be in control when it did.

That’s why they fought so hard for W, why they were prepared to overturn any applecart that was in their way, even if it belonged to them, why no trick was too dirty, no scheme too low, no maneuver too illegal to try. They had to win. Western Civilization was at stake, and this would likely be their last chance for a long time, maybe their only chance. Who knew when, or even if, this particular alignment of circumstances, beliefs, and personalities could be manufactured again?

Better to seize the day, to take full advantage of what they had built, what they had longed for, what they had prayed for. Seen in that light, stealing an election was a small price to pay. They would have paid more.

b. Militarizing America

In the first few months of the Bush II Administration they seemed to be floundering, mostly pre-occupied with cutting off American participation in every international treaty. The dogmatic unilateralism that was to poison the Second Gulf War and its aftermath was already apparent, made crystal clear when they pulled out of the International Children’s Rights Treaty at the request of global corporations who used children in their overseas factories.

They were certain enough what they didn’t want to do, and certain of what they did want to do. They were less certain of how to do any of it. The Middle East situation was imploding under Sharon’s hardline tactics, but W wasn’t interested. He talked to Sharon when Ariel called him but would promise him nothing. When Arafat requested his intervention, or at least that he take a phone call to discuss the Palestinian view, W couldn’t be bothered–he was on vacation.

The only initiative in which anyone could interest him was cutting taxes for the oligarchy–a Republican core-value since the day the income tax was instituted. That, he was willing and even eager to work on. Taking advantage of the traditional honeymoon and Democratic reluctance to anger their corporate donors, Bush and the hardline Pubs in the Congress rammed through a $$$Trillion$$$$ tax give-away to the richest 1% in the name of “jump-starting” the economy.

It was their only accomplishment in those early months, and for a while it looked to be their last–W had gone back to sleep. He was waiting for The Moment that his god had promised him when he was born-again, The Moment when the door to his destiny would be opened unto him and he would step into the role he was sure God had assigned to him as the Republican FDR.

On September 11th, 2001, The Moment came.

I was far less impressed than many others by the way he handled that tragic event. His seminal speech to the nation was larded with cliches and stock phrases, and his no doubt Rove-inspired instant use of the rubble for photo ops and promises he had no intention of keeping (his promise of $20B in aid to the city was quickly cut by Congressional Pubs to $5B and he even fought that as “excessive”, and his promise of Federal money to help pay police and firefighters and update their equipment never materialized at all) showed breath-taking cynicism at a level even Richard Nixon never stooped to.

But the worst part, to me, was his automatically militaristic response. Rather than treat this terrorist incident as a police matter in the way that the rest of the world had learned, quite successfully, to do, Bush proposed a military invasion of Afghanistan. He seemed to have little real understanding of the realities of global terrorism, preferring instead to cast the event as if it were Pearl Harbor: a sneak attack by another organized state rather than by a clearly independent terrorist group with ties to a number of different governments.

This lack of sophistication and his comfortable identification with simplistic and inaccurate analyses of the global terrorist threat was a direct result of the influence of neocon thinkers like Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz, Lewis Libby, and Gary Schmitt who for years have defined the problem almost exclusively with terms like “state-sponsored terrorism”, insisting that terrorism couldn’t be effectively fought without eliminating the regimes they believed were supporting those terrorists–and eliminating them by military means, by far their favorite response.

Other options, as we now know, were never seriously considered by anyone in the Bush Admin except Powell, and his views were roundly defeated in the first day or two after the attack. Perle even insisted that no other viable option was available, and that even if Gore had been elected he would have been forced by circumstances to the same actions, though “it may have taken longer”.

This is not the place to make the case that other Western nations who have suffered terrorist attacks have been very successful in treating such attacks as a police matter, systematically capturing and eliminating one terrorist group after another during the past 30 years, or that global terrorism finds its financing far more often from rich, sympathetic individuals than from govts whose assistance has usually been more symbolic than real. Whatever the weaknesses or inaccuracies in the neocon vision may be, what’s important here is that Bush bought into their belief that terrorism could be successfully fought militarily, and that he did so because it dovetailed nicely with the ultraconservative goal of getting people to identify the President more as the Commander-in-Chief of the US military than as the people’s civilian representative.

The invasion of Afghanistan began the process of militarizing America by allowing conservatives to begin defining every issue, domestic or foreign, in terms of its effect on “the global war on terrorism” (GWOT, in bloggers’ shorthand). It also gave the army of ultra-right commentators an excuse to ratchet up their vitriol, labeling anyone who criticized the war as an “appeaser”, a “leftie kook”, or even a “traitor” (the word that would later be almost universally applied by the far-right to critics of the Second Gulf War and by wingnuts like Ann Coulter to centrist Democrats and anyone else who disagreed with her extreme beliefs).

Naturally, discussion of that “effect” more and more began to center around the activities and needs of the Afghan forces and the potential aftermath of the invasion. Given the swiftness of the initial military victory over the Taliban, it might have ended there but for the ultraconservative planners for whom this was only the first step. The Taliban had no sooner retreated than Admin neocons were openly advocating an invasion of Iraq using the since-disproved excuse that Hussein was a heavy Al Qaeda supporter (the WMD argument had not yet reached the prominence it would later occupy as a rationale for war).

Ignoring the well-documented animosity between the secular Hussein and the fanatically fundamentalist wahhabism of Osama Bin Laden’s Al Qaeda, neocons harped on a fictional connection between the two as a way of extending American anger at Afghan terrorists and re-directing it toward the target after which they had been lusting since Bush I’s refusal to invade Iraq a decade before: the world’s second-biggest oil depository. Officials hinted for months that they had proof that Hussein was behind the 9/11 attack, laying the groundwork for a new invasion theater. They weren’t about to let “War” slip from its prominence as political rationale. It was their strongest weapon in the coming Congressional elections.

In an essay in last October’s Harper’s Magazine (not available online) titled, “We’re in the Army Now”, Kevin Baker pointed out that between March of 2001 and the off-year elections of 2002, Bush had spoken “either at a military facility or to a specifically military audience an astounding 45 times”, an early indication of where his ultraconservative handlers were heading. As Baker put it:

George Bush’s presidency has been from the beginning…a gung-ho, in-your-face approach to governance that has refused any hint of compromise and that has already brought about a seismic transformation of American politics. …[T]he swearing-in of the first truly Republican-controlled Congress to serve under a Republican president in almost 50 years [was] a stunning triumph achieved by an off-year election strategy that boldly repudiated the old notion that all politics are local and based its entire campaign on issues of national security–and on George Bush himself.

It was a strategy that depended in large part on deploying the military as a campaign prop. Bush stumped at military bases throughout the 2002 elections, blowing in dramatically on Air Force One to pump his latest tax cut or the Homeland Security plan… There was a tactical advantage to these venues–no American president over the last 70 years has been less comfortable with unscripted appearances before the general public, and by campaigning at military bases Bush’s handlers could assure that his crowds would always be restricted to jubilant, flag-waving supporters–but above all there was the opportunity for the commander in chief to interact personally with our men and women in uniform. He could throw his arms around their necks, shake their hands, hug them, dress up like them. Their physical presence and their…approval erased any remaining public memory of Bush’s own adroit dodge of the Vietnam War, or the fact that he may officially be a deserter to this day after going AWOL from the Air National Guard unit he managed to join during that war….

IOW, Bush had managed to successfully identify himself with “the most revered institution in the country”. Baker quotes a Gallup poll in which 76% of Americans claimed to have “a great deal of confidence” in the military as opposed to the next-highest category, religious leaders (45%), and way higher than their confidence in Congress (29%). “Americans,” Baker wrote, “now see the military as the last refuge of many democratic values in a society that seems ever more shallow and materialistic.” He’s right, and while the neocons can’t be entirely blamed for engineering that feeling, they are certainly guilty of exploiting it.

Why the emphasis on identifying with the military, aside from the obvious political reasons? Baker pointed, as I did earlier in this series, to the origins of the Republican Party:

For all their supposed conservatism, the Republicans have always been the true radical party in America. From its inception in 1854…the GOP [has been] a repository for all sorts of crackpot notions and secret societies–the Know-Nothings and the Sons of Sam and the anti-Masons, the Sabbatarians and the Prohibitionists. Their leading, shared characteristic, what brought them together as a movement in the first place, was their willingness to try to define for the first time just what a true American was–and to enforce that definition by the sword if necessary.From its inception, the GOP has been our party of blood and iron….

(emphasis added)

Explains a lot, doesn’t it? For 150 years the True Republicans have imagined themselves to be keepers of the True American flame, arbiters of what is or is not “American”, what does or does not constitute real “patriotism”, what will or will not be allowed to become part of the American landscape. Baker quotes Walter Karp from The Politics of War:

Republicans share a belief that their party is not a faction, not a group, not a wing, but a synonym for patriotism, another name for the nation.

Seen against this background, we can begin to understand that Ann Coulter’s insistent labeling of liberals and Democrats as “traitors” isn’t a mutation but the expression of a long-buried ancestral bloodline passed from John Brown to Newt Gingrich and Tom DeLay like an inherited gene, characteristic of the breed. Moderate Republicans are despised almost as much as liberals, more in some circles, precisely because they are viewed as having betrayed the core values of faith in the Republican mission by accepting conflicting views as at least worthy of serious consideration–blasphemy, in the True Republican dogma.

Their identification with the military also now makes perfect sense, for it is the military they will need to use to enforce their world-view on unbelievers, to punish the un-American, and to pursue their objectives abroad. However, none of that would be feasible unless the great body of American citizens could be trained to see the military as their direct representative, the unambiguous expression of their own majority will, the protector of their interests and the ultimate personification of American pride. And the easiest and quickest way to train the public to that belief was to invest them in a single symbol: the President as primarily Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces and only incidentally as the civilian leader of a democratic government. It was The Moment that made all that possible for the first time in American history.

For the first time, Republicans found themselves more or less in charge of the federal government at a moment when a stunning new foreign threat presented itself. They immediately embraced the crisis as their own, applying the sorts of radical remedies–both at home and abroad–they have often advocated in the past but have never been able to fully put into effect.

The famous flight to the carrier deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln was thus not merely an isolated photo opportunity seized for political advantage–though it was that, too–but a deliberate attempt to blur if not destroy the line between military and civilian rule that George Washington had established in the first years of the Republic by refusing to wear his uniform in public after he was elected. Washington was adamant in insisting that there be no confusion of roles–America was to be a democracy, not a de facto monarchy or a military state. As a student of Roman history, he was aware of the mischief, not to say destruction, that could be achieved when political figures also held military rank–or were perceived as such–and he rejected even the appearance of melding the two.

George W. Bush has instead embraced that melding, encouraged that confusion. And we have apparently gone along in the name of “supporting the President in a time of crisis.” With the passage of the PATRIOT Act, we are now well into the process of accepting the notion that the President can cancel the Constitution in the name of protecting us from external threats provided we trust him. It is our personal approval of Bush himself that has opened the door to True Republicans wanting to militarize American society, and reversing that trend will require discrediting Bush himself.

6. The Cult

The cult of personality is at least as old as Caesar but the roots go back even further to a time when people believed that the leader and the state were in fact as one, physically as well as metaphysically. The Egyptians believed that famine years were the result of some offense the Pharaoh had committed against the gods. In the Morte d’Arthur, King Arthur’s illness and despair causes droughts and crop failures; only when he recovers do flowers bloom again.

There is yet some ancient residue in all of us that still believes some version of this, or wants to, and there is some truth to it. Certainly a leader has more responsibility for the well-being — or lack of it — of his/her state than the average person since s/he is the one who makes many of the decisions that encourage one condition or the other. That we no longer believe in a physical link between the two doesn’t altogether destroy this conceit but only pushes it into a new form: identification. The leader represents the state, is its embodiment, encapsulates and personifies its philosophies, its people, and its hopes.

This is, of course, only slightly more true than the old belief in a physical link, but it remains a powerful fantasy with powerful attractions, not least of which is its simplicity. Follow the Leader is a much easier game to play than Figure It Out For Yourself. (In Radio On, Sarah Vowell reported Rush’s comment to his Dittoheads: “You can think about this or you can trust me. It’s easier just to trust me.”) Modern leaders from Stalin and Mao to Peron and Hafez Assad have used the shortcut of the Personality Cult either to remain in power or to extend their personal power. Hitler overtly attempted to bring back the ancient belief in its most raw form largely because he genuinely believed it to be true, and African dictators like Idi Amin and Robert Mugabe consciously played on old tribal mythologies around the power of chiefs and shamans to control their people. Even obviously democratic leaders like Lincoln and FDR had identification thrust on them when they weren’t deliberately seeking it. Charles DeGaulle put this belief most succinctly. “L’etat, c’est moi”: I am the State.

Through the years it has been a way for leaders to consolidate their forces and discourage their rivals. After all, it is much more difficult to attack one’s national identity than to attack a mere politician. Monarchies lasted centuries after they had outlived their usefulness in large part because the Royals were so integral to the political, religious, and economic fabric of their societies that most people could not envision the possibility that the country might be able to survive without them.

Nor could they — until the American Revolution — conceive of a social system which did not rest on the shoulders of a single, all-powerful leader: how could a nation be governed if there was more than one source of decision-making? It couldn’t, they thought. Take away the King and chaos was the only result you could expect. The Royals naturally did everything in their power to encourage that belief, and it finally took a colony 3000 miles and an ocean away from the Royal seat of power, a colony that had been basically governing itself for decades, to ask the question, “What do we need a King for, exactly?” Let alone to answer it with, “We don’t.”

But that was not the end of the line, only the beginning of the end, an end we haven’t yet reached. Democracy allows us to choose our leader but it doesn’t tell us what criteria to use when we make that choice. Unfortunately for the democratic system, the criteria of a “good leader” and the mental and emotional tools we use to decide what that means haven’t changed much in the last 1000 years.

We may no longer believe that a nation will wither and die if its leader gets sick, but we still vote viscerally — from the gut, not the head. Most of us admit, sheepishly or not, to going into the voting booth and pulling the lever based on sudden intuition or an overall impression that one or another candidate is “better” without any clear idea of what “better” means. In America 60-70+% of us don’t vote at all. Of the minority who do vote, fewer than a fifth do so on “the issues”, as many as half admitting that they still don’t know who they’re going to vote for as they’re walking into the booth.

Visceral voting relies on instinct for its conclusions in much the same way that our Cro-Magnon ancestors relied on instinct to tell them when a storm was coming or the game they hunted was going to move, and most instinct is the result of adding up subliminal environmental cues in order to reach a subconscious decision that we don’t fully understand. That works fine in nature but it’s a lousy way to pick a leader.

Instinctive visceral decision-making means we’re relying on external cues, mostly visual, that we’re not consciously aware of. Karl Rove knows this — his famous political dictum is that you set the stage for your candidate/politician “as if people will be watching the tv with the sound off.” Our ancient brain still insists on processing visual information as if it were real information that’s important to our survival when in fact we live in an age when visual cues are almost uniformly misleading and are often “managed” to present a consciously false picture.

Take, for example, that famous photo-op on the Abraham Lincoln.

  • The ship, within easy helicopter flight of the shore, was turned around so that the cameras would be facing the open ocean, making it look as if Bush had flown the jet a significant distance. Why? Because it was a visual representation of the Leader as a competent military man. Why did we need that representation? Because he’s no such thing. He ducked the last two years of his military service and excused himself from the war he was trained to fight while other men died in his place.
  • He allowed himself to be photographed on deck in a military flight suit even though tradition from the time of George Washington forbade Presidents, who were civilian leaders, from affecting military dress even in time of war. Why? For precisely the reason Washington rejected it: it undercut the civilian aspect of his office by confusing the two roles in exactly the way dictators like Hitler and Peron confused their roles by continually wearing military uniforms to which they were not entitled, and Castro is only seen in public in fatigues. By identifying himself with the nation’s military, he identified his person with the nation itself — a political move Washington thought harmful to both the office and the democratic values for which he had fought. Mr Bush patently does not share Washington’s unease. It should perhaps be noted that real military leaders who have later become President, like Washington, Jackson, Grant, Eisenhower, or even Bush I, never felt the need to play soldier while holding civilian power.

Each of these breaches of political etiquette is more significant than the “Mission Accomplished” banner that caused so much controversy later, for they suggest a deliberate attempt on Mr Bush’s part to conflate his role as C-in-C with his role as President in order to be able to argue that, like a General in battle, his orders are to be carried out without question and dissent is equivalent to treason. His supporters are already making that argument, as the earlier sections of this series made clear, and they have followed their words with actions whenever possible, even when it meant moving against other conservatives.

Building a cult of personality around a particular leader while at the same time promoting an endless war gives ultraconservatives the last two crucial pieces for their ultimate victory, the final goal for which they’ve been striving since the Civil War: one-party rule, a Soviet-style hierarchy constructed around a single authority-figure that admits of no opposition and stifles dissent. PATRIOT II (or Victory, as they’ve taken to calling it lately, another Orwellian title) steps up the process of making the Constitution irrelevant in the name of security and is one of the more obvious moves in that direction, but others continue to be developed. Only recently has come the revelation of FBI directives instructing their agents to be suspicious of anyone carrying an almanac: (via archy)

WASHINGTON — The FBI is warning police nationwide to be alert for people carrying almanacs, cautioning that the popular reference books covering everything from abbreviations to weather trends could be used for terrorist planning.

In a bulletin sent Christmas Eve to about 18,000 police organizations, the FBI said terrorists may use almanacs “to assist with target selection and pre-operational planning.”

It urged officers to watch during searches, traffic stops and other investigations for anyone carrying almanacs, especially if the books are annotated in suspicious ways.

For a security-mindset addicted to profiling, as all our law enforcement agencies are, conclusions this dumb are unavoidable and sure to grow more memos like this in the same way that oaks generate acorns or roses generate thorns — because it’s in their nature, they can’t help it. We are now about a quarter of the way down a road that leads to MKVD-style lists of acceptable books, acceptable pastimes, acceptable acquaintances. Why? Because the criteria of acceptability flows from the need to identify enemies of the leader and therefore of the state, and profiling is the tool they use to accomplish this end.

Thus the “Bush-haters” meme that has been making the rounds for months — a tactic developed by RNC campaign planners with the help of Heritage Foundation media experts — which is designed to even further distance voters from any criticism. All the arguments and violent language and threats in which the right-wing is increasingly engaged — critics are crazy, or irrational haters or traitorous liberals or unrealistic dreamers or much, much worse — has the divisive effect not just of creating an Us vs Them mentality, but of demonizing the “Them”. From the right-wing Free Republic website courtesy of South Knox Bubba:

***For the die hard and mentally diseased left wing maggots, I hold zero hope that they will ever wake up. They hate America and the rest of us as much as the al Qaeda thugs/terrorists. Many liberals and liberal organizations are funded by the Islamofascists. They are more closely linked to the Islamofascists than they are to the America we know and love.

***The left are terrorist helpers and they are the enemy within. The sooner they are stopped the safer we will all be. Start with the teachers.

***They are every bit as much are enemy as the communists!

***Part of the problem the ‘RATs [Freeper shorthand for Democrats–m] have, is that they have no credibility on defense, on security, on counter-terrorism. They’re wimps, they’re anti-American, so even if the attack on Bush works, it isn’t going to benefit the ‘RATs. The ‘RATs have put forward no solutions, like arming pilots, ending political correctness, so we can look at Muslims in this country or anything else that would be effective.

***They would be far better off if they worshipped and followed Christ instead on “Allah.” Now they are damned to hell.

***I think the U.S. could well be on the brink of a Christian renaissance that will rock the “Liberal” establishment to its decadent foundations and reverberate like an earthquake across the world.

***There is no separation of church and state in the Constitution. That concept is a Left wing contrivance to purge morality and Christianity from our country.

***The God-hating radicals wotk for Satan. They want no reference to God in America.

***Sure it’s been obvious that Demoncrats are traitors for a long time. The question now is how much longer can we keep telling ourselves that the reason Republicans don’t confront these enemies is that [we] are a) spineless, b) too civil, c) like to keep [ourselves] to a higher standard d) are too innocent and naive, c) believe that civility will win them the mainstream, and begin to ask ourselves the hard questions.

***The Rat party and it’s supporters are full of traitors.

***The Rat party and its bottom-feeding supporters are traitors by definition.

***They are traitors. They will do anything for political power, and the will weaken and destroy this country if we let them.

***And whenever a national socialist (liberal democrat) says, “Are you questioning my patriotism?”, the correct answer is, “No, because you are a traitor and a member of the party of treason, nothing less”.

***Republicans with guns will defend themselves and prevent the social masses who are city dwellers from leaving their tax boundaries and protect freedom. We can all dream.

***Finally, after years of suspicion and accusations, we not only found the smoking gun, we found the bullets, the target, the secret plans, and the conspirators plotting to politically assassinate a President who is guilty of protecting out nation from terrorists. Unmasked and caught red-handed, the modern Democrat is a traitor. They should be treated no differently than the Rosenbergs; tried in a court of law, convicted, and suffer the harshest punishment. Death by firing squad, preferably. On TV, if possible.

***Since treason is a capital offence, do you recommend execution of all democrats? Personally, I think we should keep a breeding pair around so we can show our children what nearly destroyed civilization.

***Time to bring back some old customs. Like hanging traitors. [ed. note: accompanied by a photo of a man swinging from the gallows with the U.S. Capitol building in the background]

***Whatever the reason, this should be the response for thier treasonous activity: Hanging [ed. note: followed by a long and graphic description of the hanging procedure from a correctional facility manual]

***The very public hanging of a select few would be a good place to start. [ed. note: accompanied by a picture of Tom Daschle and Al Gore with gallows in the background] (Note: “editor” [ed] is SNB–m)

And these are less than half the sample that SNB provided culled from pages and pages of comments. But that’s just the beginning. uggabugga offers this find:

Liberals – are you ready to defend yourselves? We found this message posted on Yahoo to be a good example of the thinking of a part of the electorate (and viewers of Fox News). It’s typical of the comments one hears from callers to right-wing radio programs, and while these people may be politically unreachable, their notions – or a diluted form of them -are definitely part of the zeitgeist. It makes one wonder if winning the Cold War was a good thing, because when the real threats have been dealt with, it’s inevitable that the search for enemies (that no longer exist) results in the creation of new enemies. That’s Manicheism for you. Anyway, here is the post. An excellent snapshot of the times.

by: pooplapants 01/01/04 10:05 pm
Msg: 626 of 852
7 recommendations

Communist’s are Socialists.
Liberals in America can’t wait to implement the latest Socialist idea.
Communist’s used the education system to indoctrinate the young.
Liberals in America use our once-objective institutions of higher learning to force-feed Socialist and Communist ideas to a largely unwilling audience.
Communist’s used propaganda and the media to obtain and retain power.
89% of Journalists in America admit that they only for Liberals.
Communist’s over-regulated businesses until they simply took them over.
Liberals in America have suffocated large and small businesses alike under a mountain of regulations and lawsuits.
Communist’s utilized slave labor in most facets of their economy.
Liberals in America have established and maintained a dependent poverty class.
Communist’s strove to set up a state religion, and jailed religious leaders who would not comply.
Liberals in America ridicule and expunge to the best of their ability all things religious, yet speak from the pulpit in churches where compliant ministers submit to their morally vacant ideas.
Communist’s replaced the Bible with Marxism.
Liberals in America took Bibles out of the classroom long ago – about the same time that drug use, teen pregnancies, violent crime and sexually transmitted diseases started to skyrocket – and SAT scores plummeted.
Communist’s killed 20 million people in concentration camps.
Liberals in America are responsible for 35 million deaths since Roe vs. Wade. At the same time, they have allowed 35 million immigrants to enter the United States.
Communist’s tolerated homosexuals and other sexual deviants who swore allegiance Stalin.
Liberals in America tolerate every morally bankrupt sexual persuasion on the face of the earth-as long as they vote for Liberals. Communist’s obeyed every order from The Kremlin, believing he could never be wrong.
Liberals in America do not believe in the concept of right and wrong – only what feels” good to each person.
Communist’s would often beat up, expel, jail or execute party members who disagreed with the leadership.
Liberals have virtually taken over one political party in America by demoting, persecuting and alienating all but the most Liberal members.
Communist’s erected a huge and cumbersome national health care system.
Liberals in America have repeatedly proposed national health care bureaucracies with organization charts that look like the schematic diagram for an Intel computer chip.
Liberals in America, particularly Liberal judges, and change the U.S. Constitution at will by “Finding penumbras”, and ignores those who insist that such changes require an amendment.
Communist’s set national educational standards to ensure that everyone absorbed the requisite amount of propaganda.
Liberals in America fight home schooling with a vengeance and continue to push for national education standards.
Communist’s thought that communism would last forever.
Liberals in America think that Socialism will rule the world forever, even though has failed each and every time it has been tried.

(Both quotes thanx to Tom Tomorrow.)

As David Neiwert (Orcinus) has pointed out time and again, the language of the right-wing when referring to anyone who disagrees with them has become and continues to grow more and more violent, exclusionary, and even what Neiwert calls “eliminationist”: language built around the intention to eliminate all opposition (as in the calls above to “hang the traitors”). None of this would be thinkable without the triumvirate of govt control, massive media support, and — most important — public identification with the military and its leader, the C-in-C, in a time of perpetual war. Of the three, the personality on which the cult is based is the easiest to affect — vote him out, and the structure is crippled for at least the next 4 years.

It may not always be so. There is no one on the Republican horizon (except Arnold Shwarzenegger, and they’d need a Constitutional Amendment to run him for President) who can replace Bush as the focus of the cult, and ultraconservatives know that. That’s why balloons have been quietly floated by the right suggesting that the Amendment limiting a President to two terms ought to be repealed. If Bush is elected to a second term and Republicans maintain their control of Congress and a majority of Governorships, don’t be surprised if that repeal suddenly becomes “urgent”. If there is a second terrorist attack, I think we can assume that the Amendment will be history.

If things go as the Bush Cult wishes them to, he could be the last President many of us ever see.

4 responses to “The Bush Cult

  1. Wow. I read the whole thing so I felt like I had to post a comment. I think Bush is going to declare martial law and suspend the elections. Something bad is going to happen, I’m certain of it. Bush isn’t going anywhere.

  2. Written in 2003? Man, you were prescient. My bet/fear is a nuclear strike on Iran mid October of this year, close enough to the election that something must be done w/o, of course, enough time to discuss it, let alone investigate. I don’t know who won the cold war but for almost twenty years I’ve known who lost – “We the People Of the United States of America”…

  3. Pingback: It’s Confirmed « Mick Arran

  4. Pingback: Against Minority Rule « Arranology

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