June 24, 2006
Where'd you go, Ohio?
The Democrats refuse to talk about election fraud because they cannot, will not, wrap their minds around the implications of what happened in 2004, and what is happening right now, and what will keep on happening until we, as a people, face the issue. In short, whatever clever-sounding rationales they may invoke (no doubt in all sincerity), the Democrats won't talk about election fraud because they're in denial, which is itself based on a lethal combination of inertia, self-interest and, above all -- or below all -- fear.
Such fear is understandable. For the problem here is not simply mechanical or technological, legal or bureaucratic, requiring that we merely tweak the rules and/or build a better mousetrap. Any such expedient will naturally depend on a consensus of "both sides" -- and there's the rub, because in this great clash the "other side" detests American democracy itself. The movement now in power is not conservative but radical, intent on an apocalyptic program that is fundamentally opposed to the ideals of the Enlightenment, on which, lest we forget, this revolutionary secular republic was first founded. The movement frankly disbelieves in reason, and in all the other worldly goods that every rational American still takes for granted: pluralism, checks and balances, "the general welfare," freedom, progress, the pursuit of happiness. For this movement, condom use is worse than death by AIDS, however many millions the disease may kill; the ruination of the planet should be hastened, not prevented, as it means that He will be returning soon; the "war on terror" is a matter not of geopolitics but metaphysics, as our national enemy is "a guy named Satan"; homosexuals should not be citizens, the US having been conceived as a "Christian republic"; and -- most relevant to this debate -- the movement's adversaries, which means all the rest of us, are not human beings with divergent interests but literal "agents of Hell," demonic entities against which any tactic, however criminal or sinful, is permissible, because they are likely to use any tactic, regardless of its sinfulness or criminality, to force their evil program on the Righteous Ones.
Of course, that theocratic bloc does not comprise the whole Bush/Cheney movement, which, at the top, is heavily dominated too by frank neo-imperialists, corporate profiteers, careerist sociopaths and livid paranoids compelled by the intense self-hatred typical of such perennial types as Richard Nixon and J. Edgar Hoover. Revolution tends to work by unifying the energies, or bile, of only roughly complementary interests. This revolution certainly is no pure upsurge of religious fervor, for its plutocratic animus is just as powerful, apparently, as its crusade to "Christianize" the world. However, while it would be very foolish to ignore the movement's secular agenda (i.e., the avarice and power lust of Cheney/Rumsfeld and their corporate cronies), it is just as foolish to imagine that the movement's theocratic program is mere smoke, calculated just to daze the pious masses so that Congress and Wall Street can rob them blind.
This theocratic program is no secret, as the conquest of the GOP has been the top priority of US Christianist extremists since the early Nineties. It was their aim to put George W. Bush in office, and then to keep him there, despite the will of the electorate; and having done so, they have rapidly transformed our government into an instrument of their crusade. "George W. Bush is our agenda!" as the Rev. Lou Sheldon, head of the Traditional Values Coalition, boasted candidly to Salon's Michelle Goldberg a few years ago. He had every right to crow. The executive departments and top federal agencies are now in theocratic hands, and this government pursues no policy, foreign or domestic, that has not been devised or vetted by the party's theocratic apparat. The government now generously subsidizes many theocratic groups that proselytize explicitly, pushing both their own creed and the interests of the Bush Republicans. And now that Congress too is full of theocratic militants (who seem to have no strong opponents), the Supreme Court is just one seat away from an entrenched majority as frankly hostile to the church/state separation as it is to voting rights for all Americans.
The power and fury of the US theocratic movement have been amply documented by a range of keen observers, including Esther Kaplan, Paul Craig Roberts, Kevin Phillips, Stephenie Hendricks, Max Blumenthal, Frederick Carlson, Katherine Yurica, Michael Lerner and Salon's Michelle Goldberg, among others, as well as in my own books Cruel and Unusual and Fooled Again. The threat has also sounded strong alarms on solid Christian grounds, in writings by Jim Wallis, John Danforth, Jimmy Carter, Davidson Loehr, Rich Lang and Bruce Prescott. (Of course, the theocratic program is explicit also in the oratory and writings of the theocrats themselves.) It now remains for us to face the crucial fact that this regime's miraculous "re-election" in 2004 depended heavily on the countless block-the-vote activities of theocratic true believers, who did whatever they could do, from coast to coast, to cut the Kerry vote and pad the Bush vote. That effort was essential to the regime's inexplicable political success. Of all the interests collaborating in Bush/Cheney's drive against democracy, the theocrats alone have a grass-roots constituency -- not large enough, by any means, to sway elections honestly, but large enough, and fierce enough, and with sufficient funds and discipline, to help Bush/Cheney disenfranchise the majority. Although the corporations and the neo-cons wield awesome clout, they have no grass-roots muscle. The theocrats alone can claim that necessary asset, and it has given them enormous power.
It is a terrifying development -- although not insurmountable, unless we let ourselves be blinded and/or paralyzed by fear. Since the last Election Day, that terror has silenced nearly every sector of what ought to be the opposition, including most top Democrats, the press, a lot of principled conservatives -- and outlets like Salon. In his dogged effort to explain away the massive evidence of fraud by the Republicans, Manjoo has based his case not on the facts but, finally, on denial -- as he himself made very clear in his review of Fooled Again. "If you want to improve how Americans vote, here's one piece of advice," he wrote:
"Don't alienate half the country by arguing, as Miller does here, that the president and his followers -- whom Miller labels 'Busheviks' -- think of their political enemies as 'subhuman beings' and believe they must 'slaughter' their opponents in the same way that religious fanatics slaughter their holy foes. Even if you believe this to be true, and even if it is in fact true, shut up about it; this sort of unhinged rhetoric can't help, and can only hurt, our capacity to solve the problem of voting in America [emphasis added]."
That an American reporter would make such a statement, and that any liberal magazine would publish it, suggests how thoroughly we have repressed all memory of what America was once supposed to mean. "Enlighten the people generally, and tyranny and oppressions of body and mind will vanish like evil spirits at the dawn of day," wrote Thomas Jefferson in 1816, in a spirit of scientific progress and republican self-liberation. "Even if it's true, shut up about it," Farhad Manjoo wrote in 2005, in the spirit of Bill O'Reilly.
As though we're ever going to make friends of that third (not "half") of the country with our virtuous moderation. When moderates--Democrat or Republican--lay down for the radical right, the radical right beats them over the head with a baseball bat, rolls them up in an old rug, and throws them off a cliff into the pounding surf below.
Posted by pk at 8:47 AM
June 21, 2006
It's the ideology, stupid
"Why Conservatives Can't Govern," by Alan Wolfe, Washington Monthly, July/August 2006
Eager to salvage conservatism from the wreckage of conservative rule, right-wing pundits are furiously blaming right-wing politicians for failing to adhere to right-wing convictions. Libertarians such as Bruce Bartlett fret that under Republican control, government has not shrunk, as conservatives prescribe, but has grown. Insiders like Peggy Noonan complain that Republicans have become--well, insiders; they are too focused on retaining power and too disconnected from the base whose anger pushed them into power. Idealistic younger conservatives bewail the care and feeding of the K Street beast. Paleocons Pat Buchanan and Robert Novak blame neocons William Kristol and Charles Krauthammer for the debacle that is Iraq. Through all these laments there pulsates a sense of desperation: A conservative president and an even more conservative Congress must be repudiated to enable genuine conservatism to survive. Sure, the Bush administration has failed, all these voices proclaim. But that is because Bush and his Republican allies in Congress borrowed big government and foreign-policy idealism from the left. The ideas of Woodrow Wilson and John Maynard Keynes, from their point of view, have always been flawed. George W. Bush and Tom DeLay just prove it one more time.
Conservative dissidents seem to have done an admirable job of persuading each other of the truth of their claims. Of course, many of these dissidents extolled the president's conservative leadership when he was riding high in the polls. But the real flaw in their argument is akin to that of Trotskyites who, when confronted with the failures of communism in Cuba, China and the Soviet Union, would claim that real communism had never been tried. If leaders consistently depart in disastrous ways from their underlying political ideology, there comes a point where one has to stop just blaming the leaders and start questioning the ideology.
The collapse of the Bush presidency, in other words, is not just due to Bush's incompetence (although his administration has been incompetent beyond belief). Nor is it a response to the president's principled lack of intellectual curiosity and pitbull refusal to admit mistakes (although those character flaws are certainly real enough). And the orgy of bribery and special-interest dispensation in Congress is not the result of Tom DeLay's ruthlessness, as impressive a bully as he was. This conservative presidency and Congress imploded, not despite their conservatism, but because of it.
Contemporary conservatism is first and foremost about shrinking the size and reach of the federal government. This mission, let us be clear, is an ideological one. It does not emerge out of an attempt to solve real-world problems, such as managing increasing deficits or finding revenue to pay for entitlements built into the structure of federal legislation. It stems, rather, from the libertarian conviction, repeated endlessly by George W. Bush, that the money government collects in order to carry out its business properly belongs to the people themselves. One thought, and one thought only, guided Bush and his Republican allies since they assumed power in the wake of Bush vs. Gore: taxes must be cut, and the more they are cut--especially in ways benefiting the rich--the better.
But like all politicians, conservatives, once in office, find themselves under constant pressure from constituents to use government to improve their lives. This puts conservatives in the awkward position of managing government agencies whose missions--indeed, whose very existence--they believe to be illegitimate. Contemporary conservatism is a walking contradiction. Unable to shrink government but unwilling to improve it, conservatives attempt to split the difference, expanding government for political gain, but always in ways that validate their disregard for the very thing they are expanding. The end result is not just bigger government, but more incompetent government.
Given the evidence, it's hard not to believe that anyone who disagrees is a fool, a liar, or both.
Posted by pk at 2:19 PM
June 12, 2006
Her pretty face is going to Hell
There's been a lot of chatter this past week, but I'm afraid it's going to be the slow and little-remarked slide into mere illegitimacy that marks the remainder of Ann Coulter's career. I'd hoped for a more immediate, brutal, and final smackdown from someone like...well, it's hard to say who could do it best without simultaneously muddying him- or herself. Heck, just writing about her makes me embarrassed that I've wasted the time.
Coulter's ingenius natural defense has been to be so gross and contemptible that no one with any brains or class wants to tangle with her. She's like the bully who mocks the class nerd, queer, or geek girl with such contorted, humiliating abandon that sensible bystanders start to wonder who has actually strayed farther from the social norm--but even the ones with popular clout are so appalled and weirded out that they don't want to intervene and become her next target. It's not worth trying to engage with such a shameless freak: destroying her isn't possible, and, short of that, she will always escalate beyond the reach of anyone else's dignity.
So her standing is upheld by brokers, promoters, and those whose status relies on her bold delineations and condemnations--all of them elevated and enriched by the attention she commands and the phony consensus she enforces with her intimidating and polarizing invective. When it has provoked the predictable outrage, her work is done. Hands are wrung, beards are stroked, but none dare call her irrelevant, for if she is CONTROVERSIAL, then by God she is NEWS!
And then Ann Coulter laughs. Oh, how she laughs! She laughs when she is alone, and she laughs with braying sycophants. She laughs with grinning hosts, and she laughs with worried pundits. She laughs in her limo, and she laughs over steak and champagne. She laughs herself to sleep, and she laughs over her coffee. It is all meaningless, a game, a machine fueled by her offensiveness, and when you are rich and thin and clever and blonde and POPULAR, or at least FAMOUS, there are always jerks and flunkies with whom you can savor the mirthless laugh of the damned.
She will laugh for as long as every one of those conditions applies, and when one or more of them ceases to--after a DUI, or perhaps a shoplifting incident, or merely a slow turning away--then she will stop laughing. So do not chew your knuckles over Ann Coulter. Instead, believe that her own private hell awaits her, if she is not there already. (*)
Posted by pk at 9:32 AM
June 7, 2006
As the president and Republicans in Congress spend time this week pushing a constitutional amendment on gay marriage that has absolutely no chance of becoming law, perhaps they ought to take just a moment to check out the latest Gallup Poll.
Gallup asked 1,003 Americans to say -- without any prompting from the pollsters -- what should be the "top priority for the president and Congress to deal with." Here is the complete tally of responses:
Situation in Iraq/war: 42 percent
Fuel/oil prices/lack of energy sources/the energy crisis: 29 percent
Immigration/illegal aliens: 23 percent
Economy in general: 14 percent
Poor healthcare/hospitals; high cost of healthcare: 12 percent
Terrorism: 4 percent
Education/poor education/access to education: 4 percent
Federal budget deficit/federal debt: 3 percent
Unemployment/jobs: 3 percent
Taxes: 3 percent
Social Security: 2 percent
International issues/problems: 2 percent
National security: 2 percent
Environment/pollution: 2 percent
Medicare: 2 percent
Foreign aid/focus overseas: 2 percent
Corruption/dissatisfaction with government/politicians/candidates: 2 percent
Poverty/ hunger/ homelessness: 1 percent
Ethics/moral/religious/family decline: 1 percent
Natural disaster relief/funding: 1 percent
Trade deficit/foreign trade: 1 percent
High cost of living/inflation: 1 percent
Unifying the country: Less than .5 percent
Judicial system/courts/laws: Less than .5 percent
Abortion: Less than .5 percent
Lack of money: Less than .5 percent
Gap between rich and poor: Less than .5 percent
Other: 1 percent
No opinion: 4 percent
Still looking for how many people say "Making a futile push for a constitutional amendment to stop homosexuals from getting married"? So are we.
Posted by pk at 8:40 AM