Category Archives: il duce!

Upside down

Who can point to the exact moment when the conservative movement took hold in the US? Forty-five years ago when Barry Goldwater published his manifesto Conscience of a Conservative is as good a marker as any to my mind. In that book Goldwater called for dismantling most of the activities of the federal government. The federal government, he said, “is a Leviathan, a vast national authority out of touch with the people, and out of their control”. By Leviathan he had in mind such things as Social Security, regulation of business, setting health, education, and safety standards. Repealing such laws would, he said, serve the interest of liberty which was in great danger.

Conspicuously absent from his list of threatened liberties was any mention of civil liberties. No mention of the civil rights struggle swirling around him or the rights of citizens to vote. No particular interest in protecting the freedom of speech or assembly or the press. No particular concerns about the right to a fair trial or to due process of law or the right of the people to be secure against unreasonable searches and seizures. No, although Goldwater ended his book with a ringing call to restore liberty, his concern with freedom was very thin gruel.

Conspicuously present in his book, however, was a concern with communists who, he said, needed to be controlled by an empowered government—particularly the military. Although the most recent president of his party had warned of the threat to freedom posed by a military-industrial complex, Goldwater was unconcerned.

Thus we have, in broad outline, the conservative movement. An unbridled enthusiasm for empowering the military; a general unconcern that civil liberties were in any way threatened; and a belief that Social Security and government regulation were the royal road to serfdom.

So how has that prediction turned out? Forty-five years later the results are in and it turns out conservatives had it upside down. Welfare states don’t lead to tyranny. Virtually every western democracy has had a welfare state for at least 75 years. Today these countries are about as far from an authoritarian state as you can get.

Meanwhile, the the military-industrial complex is in full bloom in Goldwater’s homeland, and conservatives, under the theory that the world is too dangerous for anything but commander-in-chief-government, have all but announced the end of constitutional government.


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Let the framing begin

If there was any question what the conservative campaign theme this year would be, there isn’t now.

“Be Afraid. Be Very Afraid.” But Republicans have the answer:

Cue soothing music, soft-focus on a young-family’s picnic in field; deep voiced narrator intones “Only one man can keep us safe in times like these” while the camera pans to John McCain surveying the field with an eagle-eyed gaze exuding steely resolve. Narrator: “While John McCain is looking out for us, Democrats are helping courts help terrorists.” Camera zooms out to reveal McCain watching, protecting, not just the family, not just the country, but the entire planet. Narrator: “Can we entrust this to out of control courts and bureaucrats?”

Or something like that. By the way, based on the “lets drill for oil everywhere” blitz that the GOP put on two weeks ago, I’d say the problem of high energy prices fits into the same theme pretty well:

“Concerned about high gas prices? Concerned that all your money is going to the Middle East? Don’t you think it’s time Democrats and their obstructionist friends in THE GOVERNMENT BUREAUCRACIES and in THE COURTS let us drill for oil offshore and in ANWR?

Never mind that bringing all that oil into the world market would have almost no effect on the price of gas. The media won’t report that dry analysis when they can get great sound bites and video by following around hysterical, fear-mongering, conservatives.

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There’s a ton of speculation about running mates for Obama and McCain these days, but realistically, isn’t the entire concept of a new VP a bit presumptuous? What reason do we have to believe that Cheney will leave office January 20, 2009? I understand it’s required by the Constitution, but Cheney hasn’t exhibited any particular interest in following the Constitution to this point.

The more I think about it, the more likely it seems that he will in fact stay in office, particularly if it’s President Obama taking the Oath next January. Cheney has always tossed the Constitution in the dumpster whenever he’s perceives a security risk and what could be more risky for the country than to elect a Democratic president? Particularly one who actually opposed the Iraq War? Cheney has called Democrats traitors numerous times. How could he possibly justify leaving office when his country desperately desperately needs him?

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Biden fights back

I see Joe Biden is out there fighting back against Joe Lieberman’s inane WSJ op-ed that he published last week. Biden published his own piece in the same venue. Among the highlights:

Mr. Bush has turned a small number of radical groups that hate America into a 10-foot tall existential monster that dictates every move we make.

Terrorism is a means, not an end, and very different groups and countries are using it toward very different goals. Messrs. Bush and McCain lump together, as a single threat, extremist groups and states more at odds with each other than with us: Sunnis and Shiites, Persians and Arabs, Iraq and Iran, al Qaeda and Shiite militias. If they can’t identify the enemy or describe the war we’re fighting, it’s difficult to see how we will win.

On George Bush’s watch, Iran, not freedom, has been on the march: Iran is much closer to the bomb; its influence in Iraq is expanding; its terrorist proxy Hezbollah is ascendant in Lebanon and that country is on the brink of civil war.

The Bush-McCain saber rattling is the most self-defeating policy imaginable. It achieves nothing. But it forces Iranians who despise the regime to rally behind their leaders. And it spurs instability in the Middle East, which adds to the price of oil, with the proceeds going right from American wallets into Tehran’s pockets.

In my humble opinion this is exactly what Democrats need to do. Take the attack to Republicans on foreign policy—it’s the GOP’s only strength and because of Bush’s bungling they are extraordinarily vulnerable. But to point out their incompetence is only step one. Step two, and this should probably be step one, is to call the GOP foreign policy what it is: aggressive nationalism. In many ways it is the opposite of traditional Democratic foreign policy that puts far more emphasis on international institutions.

Modern Republicanism has no use for international institutions–to put it mildly. They have contempt for the UN, the Geneva Conventions, and international law in general. They have repudiated no less that six international treaties since coming to power in 2001. They envision a world dominated by a supremely sovereign America—supremely sovereign in the sense that America is not held accountable to the rules that apply to other nations. This is a world that is indistinguishable from the world of imperial powers of centuries gone by. Not surprisingly it breeds resentment and suspicion around the world.

Liberals envision a different world in which nations do not fear reductions of national sovereignty in the interest of advancing human rights, nuclear non-proliferation, and the environment. It is a view consistent with democratic values and the rule of law. It is a forward-looking view, a global political framework for our inevitably global economy.

This is the great divide between liberals and conservatives on foreign policy—yet we seldom hear anyone make the case clearly on either side. Bush (and of course LIeberman in his recent op-ed) claim to be following in Truman’s footsteps, then they trash the very institutions Truman worked to create. Liberals for the most part ignore foreign policy as if they hope the subject doesn’t come up. Biden is showing the right spirit here, but he needs to call the GOP bluff not just on Iraq, but on their entire approach to America’s place in the world.

As an aside—isn’t it interesting that the conservative view of international governance mirrors their view of the national governance in America? A president above the law, accountable to no one.

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Green Lantern: the foreign policy

Conservatives in general, and George Bush in particular, seem to be convinced that there are no limits to what American military power can accomplish so long as we have the willpower to use it, and the fortitude to stay with it!!

What is the origin of that belief?

I’m reading Matthew Yglesias’ new book “Heads in the Sand” and I think he may have discovered the answer in a 1950’s comic book. Writing about the conservative approach to foreign policy, Yglesias draws the following analogy:

“The comic book character Green Lantern and his colleagues in the Green Lantern Corps, are equipped with a “power ring” that is said to be the ultimate weapon in the universe. The ring can, when fully powered, create objects or energy fields of any sort, subject only to the user’s will and imagination. Consequently, the main factor in the Corps recruiting is to find people capable of “overcoming fear” so as to be able to exercise maximum willpower in crisis situations.

As a premise for a comic book, this works well enough. … Unfortunately, since at least the wake of the Vietnam War, U.S. conservatives have tended to espouse a Green Lantern Theory of Geopolitics…

If the Lantern reminds you of someone, someone in the movies; it’s not a coincidence. A version of the theory, writes Yglesias

“…was expressed by John Rambo in the first film of the famous series when he said, “I did what I had to do to win, but somebody wouldn’t let us win.”

This explanation of the popularity of Bush/Cheney’s wingnut foreign policy sounds as plausible as anything to me.

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As Long as the Danger Remains

According to the NY Times President Bush vetoed a bill Saturday that “would have explicitly prohibited the [the CIA] from using interrogation methods like waterboarding…” They go on to observe that,

“as his presidency winds down he has made it clear he does not intend to bend in this or other confrontations on issues from the war in Iraq to contempt charges against his chief of staff, Joshua B. Bolten, and former counsel, Harriet E. Miers.

Mr. Bush announced the veto in the usual format of his weekly radio address. He unflinchingly defended the program… . “Because the danger remains, we need to ensure our intelligence officials have all the tools they need to stop the terrorists,” he said.”

In a way its nice that Bush has finally clarified for the American people what the conservative movement is about. For decades the rhetoric of conservatives like Goldwater and Buckley and Newt and Limbaugh and many others including Bush–has centered on a ringing defense of liberty: free markets, low taxes, rule of law and strict constructionists on the Supreme Court.

Now its clear that the rhetoric of freedom is a thin veneer, and you don’t have to scratch very hard anymore to find the core of conservatism in America: authoritarian government. It’s not just that Bush and his fellow conservatives display an affection for torture. It’s more their generalized contempt for law, and the elected body that passes those laws, Congress. When the GOP was in charge of Congress they couldn’t roll over fast enough to preserve, protect, and defend anything the president wanted to do. Now that the Democrats are in control, Bush just ignores Congress, asserting absolute authority as commander in chief.

Note that Bush doesn’t defend his actions by reference to a declared war, or even a military action. There doesn’t even need to be an emergency. As Bush describes it, his power will be absolute as long as the “danger remains”. Any guesses on how long that might be?

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The GOP delivers

If I were the chair of the Democratic Party there would be one rule, one goal: when people vote on 11/10/08–there should be one idea so deeply embedded in the public pysche that it has become an unquestioned truth: voting GOP means voting Bush.

This isn’t just a gratuitous attempt to tie the GOP to an unpopular president. Think about it. Bush could never have done what he’s done without the continuing support of the GOP.

To get this message across Democrats need a chant, a mantra; maybe it could be something like this:

When George Bush argued before the Supreme Court that he had the right to put American citizens in jail indefinitely, without recourse to courts, to family members or to attorneys—-he knew he had taken an extreme position and could only maintain it by demanding loyalty from his party. And the Republican Party delivered.

When George Bush decided to waterboard prisoners in violation of treaties the United States has ratified and laws it has enacted–he knew he had taken an extreme position and could only maintain it by demanding loyalty from his party. And the Republican Party delivered.

When George Bush used his 2004 election to try to deliver Social Security to Wall Street bankers-he knew he had taken an extreme position and could only maintain it by demanding loyalty from his party. And the Republican Party delivered.

When George Bush cut taxes for the wealthy in time of war, and increased the national debt by five trillion dollars, he knew he had taken an extreme position and could only maintain it by demanding loyalty from his party. And the Republican Party delivered.

When George Bush turned his back on the real fight against al Qaeda so that he could go on a grandiose nation-building enterprise in the Iraq, he knew he had taken an extreme position and could only maintain it by demanding loyalty from his party. And the Republican Party delivered.

And so on.

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