What’s Left of the Republican Party?
Friends watching oversight hearings on CSPAN, from Warner Bros. Wizard of Oz.
As we watch daily hearings expose more horrors that define the Bush Administration, we are all groping for theories that explain what the regime has done to America and why the regime continues to command support from the core of the Republican Party. John Dean’s book, Conservatives Without Conscience, describes an authoritarian mentality that drives allegiance to the Bush/Cheney regime and accounts for Republican acceptance of expanding government intrusions into the private lives of individuals. Glenn Greenwald, in How Would a Patriot Act, carries the theme further, cataloguing the regime’s pervasive lawlessness and the theories behind it, while Sidney Blumenthal’s How Bush Rules provides further insights on the ruling mentality. Three recent essays seem to confirm and expand on the main hypothesis and further reveal the monster that confronts us and still controls much of our government.
First was last Sunday’s WaPo op-ed by Zbigniew Brzezinski, in which he confirmed George Lakoff’s warning about how the wording “war on terror” had undermined and created a “culture of fear” in America.
The “war on terror” has created a culture of fear in America. The Bush administration’s elevation of these three words into a national mantra since the horrific events of 9/11 has had a pernicious impact on American democracy, on America’s psyche and on U.S. standing in the world. Using this phrase has actually undermined our ability to effectively confront the real challenges we face from fanatics who may use terrorism against us.
The damage these three words have done — a classic self-inflicted wound — is infinitely greater than any wild dreams entertained by the fanatical perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks when they were plotting against us in distant Afghan caves. . . . [snip]
But the little secret here may be that the vagueness of the phrase was deliberately (or instinctively) calculated by its sponsors. Constant reference to a “war on terror” did accomplish one major objective: It stimulated the emergence of a culture of fear. Fear obscures reason, intensifies emotions and makes it easier for demagogic politicians to mobilize the public on behalf of the policies they want to pursue.
Brzezinski goes on to describe not only the disastrous impact on America’s interests and international standing but also the effect this has had on the American sense of self:
The culture of fear is like a genie that has been let out of its bottle. It acquires a life of its own — and can become demoralizing. America today is not the self-confident and determined nation that responded to Pearl Harbor; nor is it the America that heard from its leader, at another moment of crisis, the powerful words “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself”; nor is it the calm America that waged the Cold War with quiet persistence despite the knowledge that a real war could be initiated abruptly within minutes and prompt the death of 100 million Americans within just a few hours. We are now divided, uncertain and potentially very susceptible to panic in the event of another terrorist act in the United States itself.
Exploring how this fear mentality could have seized a Republican Party supposedly devoted to brave and rugged individualism, Glenn Greenwald dissects Thursday’s column by David Brooks, who unapologetically claims that the traditional conservative notion that liberty is best preserved through limited government is no longer valid. According to Brooks (Times Select), Republicans are therefore wrong to look to Goldwater or even Reagan as their guiding saints. No, now the defining goal is security, ostensibly to create the conditions for liberty, but increasingly a self-perpetuating goal in itself. Here’s just a snippet from Glenn’s article that deserves a full reading:
And it’s notable that Brooks specifically cites the limited-government views of Cato to disparage, since Cato itself has amply documented that there are few, if any, factions more hostile to limited government principles than the Bush-supporting right-wing movement that has dominated our country. As Cato’s comprehensive report concluded:
“Unfortunately, far from defending the Constitution, President Bush has repeatedly sought to strip out the limits the document places on federal power. . . . President Bush’s constitutional vision is, in short, sharply at odds with the text, history, and structure of our Constitution, which authorizes a government of limited powers.”
But neoconservatism — which is really what the right-wing pro-Bush movement has become — doesn’t believe in any of that, and Brooks’ column demonstrates that they are admitting that more and more explicitly. Instead, it touts a radical and authoritarian nanny-statism that seeks, at its core, to provide feelings of protection, safety, and moralistic clarity — “security leads to freedom” — all delivered by political leaders using ever-increasing federal government power and limitless militarism. Whether one believes in that radical and warped vision of the American federal government is, more than any other factor, what now determines one’s political orientation.
This is heavy stuff — an authoritarian regime, cynically feeding and exploiting the electorate’s fears in order to seize and retain increasingly unlimited power, while claiming to justify it’s growing infringement of personal liberties with the inherently contradictory notion that freedom can only be protected by an unchecked executive (and compliant legislature and courts). Under this theory, the entire premise of the US Constitution is not merely outmoded; it is dangerously wrong. Neoconservatives thus have every reason to undermine checks and balances, fair Congressional elections and the Bill of Rights — they all get in the way of preserving the “security” that “leads to freedom.” In short, Bush, Cheney, Libby, Rove — these are the ultimate patriots.
There’s only one missing piece to hold together the inherent dishonesty of the theory, and for that, we look to digby’s clarifying insights. Discussing the US Attorney scandal and the disillusionment of David Iglesias, now the victim of Swiftboating smears, digby writes:
At some point you have to look past the leadership and ask why people were so willing to follow them over the cliff. It wasn’t the system that failed — it was every single Republican (like Iglesias) who looked the other way because their boy was on top and they wanted to be in the winners circle. Many of them knew that something was very wrong and yet they said nothing. They need to think about that.
It’s kind of sweet that he’s lost his faith in Bush and the boys, but it’s an illness that goes all the way to the bottom. All he has to do is look at those local fellow Republicans who proudly swiftboated him today to know that the Republican party is rotten to the core. And the “philosophy” itself, such as it is, is part of the problem — all that talk about responsibility and independence and rule of law are just talking points. This is about loyalty to a party which, when you strip all the marketing away, really exists solely as opposition to its enemy. They hate liberalism. Everything is in service to that single animating idea and has been for a long, long time.
When Iglesias failed to go after the enemy regardless of the evidence, he became that enemy. It didn’t matter how much he agreed with the party “on paper.” All that mattered was that he wasn’t loyal, period.
So now we have some insight into what Kyle Sampson meant when he said: “The distinction between ‘political’ and ‘performance-related’ reasons for removing a United States attorney is, in my view, largely artificial.”