Saturday, November 15, 2003

Radio Free Orcinus

For those interested, I'm scheduled to be interviewed on the radio Sunday morning by Ian Masters of KPFK 90.7 FM in Los Angeles. We'll be talking about the recent discussion of "Creeping Fascism".

Masters, whose Pacifica Radio show enjoys a broad listenership, is one of the best broadcasters in the business when it comes to examining media issues. I'm very flattered to be on the show.

If you want to hear it live, you can play the Webcast by going to KPFK's Web site. I'm scheduled to go on the air at about 11:40 PST.

Hatred, anger, and the 2004 election

All of the hand-wringing currently circulating among the pundit class about the rising tide of "Bush hatred" misunderstands the nature of what really is happening. They mistake anger for hatred -- though in the case of conservatives, it's fair to say that the confusion is intentional.

Anger, for the most part, is a righteous and largely rational thing -- it arises from genuine grievances, and is typically a response to outrages of some form or another. Hatred, on the other hand, is an irrational thing; it comes from deep in the soul, and is usually an expression of some deep-seated imbalance on the part of the hater. Naturally, if anger is allowed to fester unaddressed long enough, it can easily mutate into hatred. But they are distinctive in nature.

We can all recall the Clinton hatred of the 1990s: wild accusations that he planned to enslave America in a "New World Order," that he'd had Vince Foster murdered, that he ran drugs out of the Mena airport, that he had fathered a black "love child," and on and on and on. As Bob Somerby recently observed on the topic, this wasn't just emanating from the fringe elements of the right, though it certainly had a significant audience there; this was coming from supposedly mainstream conservatives inside the Beltway, and it was broadcast throughout mainstream media. This hatred was grotesquely irrational, especially considering that Clinton was a political moderate by any lights whose policies on many fronts (international trade, welfare reform, balancing the budget) presented victories for conservative ideals.

Of course, the same conservatives who engaged in this lunacy -- projectionists that they are -- have a habit of accusing liberals of the very behavior in which they themselves avidly participate and foment. Thus they have now invented the "Bush hatred" meme, suggesting that liberals who attack Bush are the moral equivalents of themselves. ("I know you are, but what am I?" is the essence of these charges.)

But, as I have argued at length previously, the majority of this "hatred" is predicated on real policies and real actions by both Bush and his administration. This is not hatred: it is anger -- real, righteous and well-grounded anger.

Anger can be a healthy thing, especially if it is based on solid reasons and real grievances. Anger over real injustices motivated the American Revolution, the anti-slavery and civil-rights movements, and women's suffrage. History is replete with righteous anger.

Anger only becomes unhealthy hatred if it festers. And one of the ways it can fester is if the grievances underlying them are dismissed out of hand as irrational -- not just by the perpetrators of the injustices, but by the supposed allies of the victims.

This is what is happening currently to the critics of the Bush administration who are angered over his war policies, his mishandling of the economy, his pillaging of the environment, his crass cronyism, his multitude of lies, his gross hypocrisy. Any one of these is reasonable cause for anger -- and when piled one on top of the other, it becomes a real mountain of anger. But to hear the hand-wringers of the pundit class chatter, you would think these causes are no different than New World Order conspiracy theories.

The most egregious case of this is Nick Kristoff's recent New York Times column:
Liberals have now become as intemperate as conservatives, and the result — everybody shouting at everybody else — corrodes the body politic and is counterproductive for Democrats themselves. My guess is that if the Democrats stay angry, then they'll offend Southern white guys, with or without pickups and flags, and lose again.

This nonsense has already been well-limned by Somerby, who points out the ludicrousness of Kristoff's comparisons. And Kristoff, nominally a liberal himself, is only one of many from the left side of the aisle wringing their hands in such fashion; another example is David Kusnet's attack on Howard Dean in Salon, in which he describes the kind of election-year blueprint now being tailored by the GOP:
This strategy serves four goals: portraying Bush as the unifying leader that he could have become after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Diverting attention from his own high-risk policies. Painting his eventual opponent -- especially if it's Dean -- as the real extremist and a hothead as well. And blaming Bush's lack of legislative accomplishments on the Democrats' refusal to work with a president they despise.

It is indeed apparent that conservatives are making "Bush hatred" the centerpiece of their 2004 election strategy. But what is especially silly about warnings like Kusnet's is that Republicans are going to attack any Democrat in similar fashion, regardless of who it is. The only productive counterstrategy is not to defuse or muffle the very real anger out there, but to emphasize its rational content -- and thereby help make it spread. As the bumper sticker says: "If you're not outraged, you haven't been paying attention."

Unsurprisingly, conservatives continue to play up the "Bush hatred" theme, including David Brooks' latest New York Times column, in which he attempts to advise liberal presidential candidates to chill out. Well, I don't know about the rest of you, but I do find such advice from oh-so-thoughtful conservatives -- George Will likewise makes a habit of advising liberals how to behave -- extremely helpful. It's a very handy reverse barometer of exactly the kind of strategy that liberals should pursue.

In this case, muffling the anger and playing "nice" is effectively unilateral disarmament in the face of naked aggression. Liberals did not invent or even foment the nastiness of the current political climate -- it has been foisted upon them by a decade's worth of panting, raving, frothing conservatives whose power-mad agenda has become all too clear now that they control literally every component of the federal government. It is not far afield from the advice often given to Jews back in 1932-35 to lay low, play nice, and not upset the applecart in Germany.

I don't often use Holocaust analogies, but given the increasingly violent and hateful nature of the attacks on liberals -- and the increasingly apparent fascistic tendencies of the opposition -- it is becoming all too apt.

The most disturbing aspect of this trend, as I described in the above post, is the clear emergence of an eliminationist agenda aimed at liberals, replete with all kinds of rhetoric fomenting violence against them. (One example I failed to mention was this one.) The past few days have provided even more examples of this behavior.

One of the most noteworthy recent cases (as Jesse at Pandagon explored recently) was Mark Byron's bizarre Turner Diaries-like fantasy about running mass assassinations of liberal Democrats:
A paramilitary organization calling itself the Christian Liberation Front changed the balance of power in Washington by a pair of brutal attacks this afternoon. A force estimated at about 200 CLF commandos stormed the Supreme Court building, killing 35 people, including five Supreme Court Justices. At the same time, a contingent of 1,000 CLF paramilitaries attacked the Hart Senate Office Building, where a Senate Democratic Caucus meeting was being held. Approximately 50 people were killed in the attack. Once the commandos had seized the building, they systematically killed Democratic senators from states with Republican governors.

A similar fantasy recently appeared among the comments at Little Green Footballs, responding hysterically to Ted Rall's admittedly lame satirical column, whose purpose clearly flew right over the heads of the troglodytes who post there:
"Dear Recruit:

Thank you for joining the American resistance forces. You have been issued an illegal bolt-action rifle, a drum of improvised explosive material and an address where you can pick up supplies of ammunition and fuses. Please let your cell leader know if you require additional materiel for use against the authoritarian left.

You are joining a broad and diverse coalition dedicated to one principle: freedom for America. Our leaders include generals of President Bush's secular government as well as fundamentalist Christians.

We are Christian and Jew and atheist, white and black, Anglo and Hispanic, native and immigrant, Democrat and Republican. Though we differ on what kind of future our country should have after liberation and many of us resented Bush, we are fighting side by side because there is no dignity under the brutal and oppressive jackboot of the People's Coalition Provisional Authority headed by the terror-apologist and traitor, Ramsey Clark or their Vichyite lapdogs in the media, the academic community, and the elitist corporate foundations.

Because we destroyed our weapons of mass destruction, we were unable to defend ourselves against Iranian nuclear terrorism.

This was the Left's plan all along.

Now our only option is guerilla warfare: we must kill as many Leftists as possible at a minimum risk to ourselves."

And then there was this charming and oh-so-hilarious essay at IMAO:
So what do we do with these idiots who annoy us?

Mass slaughter you say?

No, though we can easily do that, we need to find solution more tolerant, such as showing them the errors of their ways. …

Carefully Explain the Errors in Their Logic: They think Bush is like Hitler, so show them the difference. Have them wear a sign in front of the Whitehouse saying, "I hate the government." and then have them wear the same sign in some country like Syria. Maybe they'll understand the difference in the moments before death.

The author goes on to explore other methods, such as forcing liberals' hands into a fire, administering shock therapy, breaking their kneecaps, and punching them in the face. Commenters at the site go on to recommend machine-gunning liberals and forcing them into slavery.

As I observed last time, this kind of violent eliminationism is a core component of fascism, especially in the context of Richard Falk's definition of the term as "an ultranationalist ideology that views its enemies -- internally and externally -- as evil and subject to extermination or extreme punishment."

These are not mere jokes. They describe an underlying attitude about the writers' fellow Americans that not only demonizes them, but reduces them to subhuman level, prime targets for violent elimination. The authors may think they are publishing mere jokes, and perhaps in their own minds, they are. But they have a concrete real-world effect -- because inevitably members of their audience (particularly the more hate-filled and mentally unstable types) will eventually act them out. Recall, if you will, that William Pierce often protested that The Turner Diaries was a mere work of fiction; but that did not prevent either Robert Mathews or Timothy McVeigh from attempting to enact its blueprint.

But as Falk also warns, this kind of rhetoric, and the resulting behavior, has a flip side: Hatred inspires hatred, violence inspires counterviolence. Eventually the provocations from conservatives will inspire a response in kind. This means we are treading into extremely dangerous territory.

Contrary to Kusnet's thesis, I think it's clear that Howard Dean's candidacy is an important sign of a healthy response. As Falk puts it:
[I]f the Democratic Party in the United States doesn't elect a candidate who will challenge these policies, I think it would lead an increasing number of people to become disenchanted with normal politics and be more inclined to feel that the only way change can come about is by more extreme political tactics, which in turn would lead the government to feel justified in expanding its powers of control over the citizenry.

Liberals' anger is mounting so rapidly that there is indeed a real danger of it teetering into irrational hatred. This is already beginning to bubble up, and it in fact can be found among commenters on left-leaning blogs (see, for instance, some of the vicious comments catalogued by Keith Berry in his comments after a post about Barbara Bush), though no liberal bloggers have yet waded into Mark Byron, Rottweiler or LGF territory.

Moreover, liberals are now so angry that they are itching for a fight, and will almost certainly pounce on any serious provocation. If violence comes their way, there is certain to be counterviolence.

Somehow, I expect, conservatives and hand-wringing pundits will find a way to blame it all on liberals. And that's all the pretext the Bushites will need.

Anger at Bush is a healthy sign. But liberals must find a way to continue to channel that anger in a constructive direction. If we become haters, like the conservatives who are fomenting violence against us, we ALL will be lost.

Thursday, November 13, 2003

The hate-crimes fight

Via Talk Left, the Washington Times is reporting that Orrin Hatch has finally relented and is now on board with Sen. Ted Kennedy's federal hate-crimes bill, titled the Local Law Enforcement Enhancement Act.

I've previously discussed why this bill could and should play a key role in the 2004 campaign, partly because it serves as an effective counterpoint to the GOP plans to make gay marriage a "hot button" issue. The GOP's handling of the legislation to date comes down, at its core, to the argument that crimes are a form of free speech. Republicans contend that there is no need to crack down on people who commit crimes against gays -- and the reality is that most Americans no longer believe this.

The Times report lays out the opposition's familiar arguments:
Opposition remains strong among some Republicans, though several of those who have been the staunchest opponents in the past declined to speak on the record about the measure drawn up by Mr. Hatch and Mr. Kennedy.

They are concerned that the bill would violate free-speech rights and give the Department of Justice free rein to step over local authorities to prosecute many types of violent crimes.

Then perhaps they should read the language of the bill, which states explicitly:
No prosecution of any offense described in this subsection may be undertaken by the United States, except under the certification in writing of the Attorney General, the Deputy Attorney General, the Associate Attorney General, or any Assistant Attorney General specially designated by the Attorney General that--

(1) he or she has reasonable cause to believe that the actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, or disability of any person was a motivating factor underlying the alleged conduct of the defendant; and

(2) he or his designee or she or her designee has consulted with State or local law enforcement officials regarding the prosecution and determined that--

(A) the State does not have jurisdiction or does not intend to exercise jurisdiction;

(B) the State has requested that the Federal Government assume jurisdiction;

(C) the State does not object to the Federal Government assuming jurisdiction; or

(D) the verdict or sentence obtained pursuant to State charges left demonstratively unvindicated the Federal interest in eradicating bias-motivated violence.

And then we get the familiar argument that the laws create "thought crimes":
"It actually punishes someone for what he thinks," said one Senate staffer whose boss opposes any form of the legislation. "That's pretty scary."

In reality, punishing a person more harshly for what is in their minds is a standard feature of criminal law, since it directly affects culpability. Bias-crimes statutes recognize, like a myriad criminal laws, that motive and intent can and should affect the kind of sentence needed to protect society adequately -- that is, after all, the difference between first-degree murder and manslaughter. Intent and motive can be the difference between a five-year sentence and the electric chair.

Attempting a sort of zero-sum analysis that makes the outcome (in the case of homicide, a dead person) the only significant issue in what kind of sentence a perpetrator should face (the death sentence vs. a prison term) would overthrow longstanding legal traditions of proportionality in setting punishment, effectively eliminating the role of culpability -- or mens rea, the mental state of the actor--as a major factor. Or, as Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes famously put it: "Even a dog distinguishes between being stumbled over and being kicked."

Moreover, this particular Republican argument against the bill actually argues against any hate-crimes law whatsoever. Someone needs to ask these same Republicans if they wish to overturn all of the nation's hate-crime laws now.

The truth, however, is that Republicans oppose this bill for one reason only: Because it expands the categories of bias motivation to include sexual orientation. As one source told the Times:
"With this bill, the federal government officially condones [the homosexual] lifestyle," said another Senate staffer.

The hard fact is that homosexuals are not granted any kind of protected or "special" status by including sexual orientation in hate-crimes laws. The federal and state laws dealing with these acts all are built around a basic concept: providing longer and tougher sentences for crimes in which certain kinds of bias are the motive. Racial, religious, and ethnic biases are universally addressed in both federal and state laws; some states also include gender, sexual orientation, or disability.

The laws, as such, are universal for all citizens. Any race, any religion, any ethnicity, and any sexual orientation would be protected under this hate-crime law. There are no "designated groups" -- rather, there are only categories of bias. The laws are focused on the motive of the criminal, not on the group identity of victim. Their purpose is less to protect any "groups" than to focus approbation on a recognizable social pathology in its expression as a crime.

They arise out of a basic reality: Bias-motivated crimes create more harm than the parallel crimes that they resemble. They are not intended to victimize merely the actual subjects of the crime, but the entire community that is the object of the criminal's bias. A swastika scrawled on a synagogue wall is not mere graffiti -- it's intended to threaten and intimidate all Jews within its reach, to "send a message" and "keep them in their place." At the same time, studies have shown that hate crimes are more likely to cause great physical harm to their victim -- and the long-term psychological effects are far greater, resembling often the trauma associated with victims of rape.

In this sense, these are very like laws against terrorist acts -- they recognize that the motive underlying the crime can cause much greater damage beyond the mere crime itself, and so deserves stiffer punishment. For that matter, they are structured similarly to anti-terrorism laws as well. They don't create new crimes; instead, they give prosecutors, judges, and juries the ability to punish (with longer sentences) only those acts that are already crimes. In the case of terrorism, the requisite motive is the desire to force political or social change; in the case of hate crimes, it's a desire to harm anyone belonging to the group against which the criminal has a bias.

These kinds of laws simply guarantee that any citizen, regardless of sexual orientation -- straight, gay, lesbian, or transgender -- will see society able to bring the full force of the law against anyone who threatens violence against them merely for their sexual identity, perceived or otherwise.

The existence of laws against such crimes essentially recognizes their reality as a social pathology -- a reality underscored by the statistics showing that violence against gays and lesbians constitutes the second-most common kind of hate crime.

At least Orrin Hatch has, in his own words, finally "grown up" and recognized the reality that most Americans do not believe in refusing recognize violent gay-bashing as a kind of hate crime. It is unlikely, however, that many of his colleagues will -- particularly those in the House.

Look for history to repeat itself here: The bill will almost certainly pass out of the Senate. And then it will be poleaxed by Tom DeLay and Co.

[See my previous posts on hate crimes here and here.]

Creeping Fascism

It is becoming increasingly difficult to avoid the conclusion that conservatives, subtly but unmistakably, are fomenting violence against liberals for the 2004 election. And if they succeed in doing so, America will be facing what has always been considered unthinkable here: a serious manifestation of fascism.

Regular readers, and those who've plowed through "Rush, Newspeak and Fascism", know that I've discussed at length the steady drumbeat of right-wing extremist memes that have increasingly pervaded mainstream conservatism for the past decade, and these constitute the main signs of the creep of fascism, all under the guise of "normal" politics. While the Republicans now running the country are clearly corporatist conservatives and not fascists, they also appear to be the kind who, if pressed, would align themselves with the thuggish and violent elements that are one of the real earmarks of fascism. Such an alliance would mean the real empowerment of these extremists -- and once empowered, they will be impossible to control.

I concluded previously that it seemed likely that any manifestation of fascism was some ways off, perhaps as long as a generation, if these trends were left unchecked. Now it appears that the timetable is moving much faster than that -- and countervailing forces are so far slow in coalescing, in no small part because of the utter, Stalinist ruthlessness of their opponents.

The most recent, and troubling, harbinger of this trend was reported yesterday in the Boston Globe, which detailed the Republican plans to demonize Democrats as essentially treasonous and disloyal in the 2004 election:
The strategy will involve the dismissal of Democrats as the party of "protests, pessimism and political hate speech," Ed Gillespie, Republican National Committee chairman, wrote in a recent memo to party officials -- a move designed to shift attention toward Bush's broader foreign policy objectives rather than the accounts of bloodshed. Republicans hope to convince voters that Democrats are too indecisive and faint-hearted -- and perhaps unpatriotic -- to protect US interests, arguing that inaction during the Clinton years led to the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Of course, this meme has been floating in conservative circles since well before the Iraq War broke out -- it is, after all, the explicit thesis of Ann Coulter's fraudulent screed, Treason: Liberal Treachery from the Cold War to the War on Terrorism (for more on that, see this post). Coulter's book is itself clearly extremist in orientation, since much of its subtext is devoted to rehabilitating the deservedly broken reputation of Joe McCarthy. And like so much proto-fascist thinking, its worldview is decidedly dualistic, posing everything in black and white, good and evil, us and them. This is, as I have pointed out, a politics specifically designed to attract followers who are, in Erik Erikson's famous formulation, part of a "totalist" mindset -- which is to say, avid participants in a totalitarian society.

The same kind of dualism is explicit in the Bush team's strategy:
"The president didn't lay out a doctrine of preemption for political purposes," the senior administration official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said. But, the official added: "The reason you focus on [preemption] politically is because it is a clear distinction. There is no fuzziness. There is no place you can compromise on that: Either you're for it, or you're against it."

It is likewise clear that the core meme -- that liberals are disloyal to America and thus traitors -- is penetrating mainstream conservatism at all levels. It is now a commonplace of letters to the editor, such as this one [scroll down] in the Wednesday Post-Intelligencer, from a Puyallup resident named Dorothy Hyatt, ostensibly about the recent CBS movie about Ronald Reagan:
I hope Democrats and media Bush-haters will now get out of their rut of aiding the enemy by repetitive claims of Bush "lies" to get us into war and the imagined "failure" in carrying out reconstruction of Iraq.

… The frustrated outrage of the left-wingers in the Democratic Party, media and their Hollywood pals only confirms the cold-blooded heartlessness and hate-filled actions of this segment of our country. They feel no happiness at the liberation of Iraqi citizens. They have no conscience about encouraging the daily deaths of our service men and women by disparaging how this war is being carried out.

These accusations were common during the runup to the invasion of Iraq, particularly among counter-protesters drummed up by the Republican Party. But it has been a constant theme among prowar types in their attacks on critics of the administration, such as this piece in the Bay Area-based ChronWatch:
Now, the liberals are doing it again. In their desperation to show that Bush is ''bad,'' they are giving hope to the forces of evil. The Baathists are saying, ''Kill a few more American soldiers, guys, the liberals are rapidly losing heart and blasting Bush. Accelerate our campaign. It’s working. I knew we could count on the weak-kneed liberals to help us drive the Americans out.''

This is ludicrous, of course. Baathists or other insurgents in Iraq are likely paying little attention to Bush's critics, or much of anything in American media, since both their access and their interest is limited, as is the level of "inspiration" they are likely to get from such news in any event. What is far more likely to hearten the enemy in Iraq is the continued blundering by the Bush team, clearly in well over their heads, as the violence in Baghdad and elsewhere ratchets up incrementally and irrevocably, leaving our forces increasingly exposed to attack.

Arguments like those posed by conservatives have little or no real basis in reality. What they are about -- their sole purpose, in fact -- is to intimidate and silence the administration's critics.

Rhetoricians like Gillespie, Coulter, Rush Limbaugh and the rest like to believe that they are only playing hardball politics, hoping to knock out their opponents, without recognizing that this kind of rhetoric has real-life consequences when it is embraced by the populace at large. Just as Limbaugh fervently denied that he and the rest of the right-wing radio haters had anything to do with Oklahoma City, today's conservatives will piously pretend they are not inciting violence. But the reality is that this kind of hatred inevitably plays out in unpredictable ways, many of them violent indeed.

Consider, for instance, the recent offering from Kathleen Parker:
Miller is not alone, though some are more sanguine when it comes to evaluating the roster of contenders. Here's a note I got recently from a friend and former Delta Force member, who has been observing American politics from the trenches: "These bastards like Clark and Kerry and that incipient ass, Dean, and Gephardt and Kucinich and that absolute mental midget Sharpton, race baiter, should all be lined up and shot.

This is not mere hyperbole; it is an exercise in eliminationism. As Buzzflash recently observed, talk like this is part of an increasing trend in conservative rhetoric: Pat Robertson wishing to "nuke" the State Department, Bill O'Reilly saying Peter Arnett should be shot, Coulter wishing Tim McVeigh had set off his bomb at the New York Times Building, John Derbyshire wishing for Chelsea Clinton's demise. Unsurprisingly, the same kind of talk is now heard on the "street" level, and it often pops up on talk radio. As we learned in Oklahoma City, eventually this kind of "hot talk" translates into all-too-real tragedy.

What is becoming increasingly clear is that conservatives are less and less inclined to rely on "intellectual" or political exchanges, and are turning more to an eliminationist strategy that seeks to demonize liberals and make them social outcasts -- and concomitantly, acceptable targets for violence because of the "damage" they cause the nation through their ostensible treason.

Already, this eliminationism is manifesting itself in the nation's military, where anyone deemed insufficiently supportive of the Bush administration is likely to face recrimination. The most prominent example of this is the way Sgt. Robert Ferriol, a former Marine Corps intelligence analyst, was drummed out of his job recently for daring to dissent from the party line. Many more soldiers are quietly reporting that they are simply keeping their views completely under wraps, since the consequences are becoming plain for them. Here's how Ferriol described it:
I honorably served my country for eight years in the United States Marine Corps; providing honest intelligence analysis and collecting countless awards and promotions throughout my career. I was also a leader and mentor to scores of young men and women. In those eight years, I sacrificed more of myself for this country than most men and women ever will in their lifetime. But, thanks to the zeal and quick judgment of this individual, I am no longer serving our beloved country. His forecast was correct. Following his letter to DoD, I was brought up on charges of "Disloyal Statements" under Article 134 of the UCMJ (Uniform Code of Military Justice). Not because anything I wrote was disloyal, but because of my political views and how they differ from Mr. Simpson and others like him. The unfortunate aspect of this is not my demise, but their inability to understand or accept the opinions of others as different from their own. Nonetheless, I was forced to retain an attorney and undergo weeks of scrutiny before being cleared of the charges. I was, however, never allowed to work in Intelligence again; forced to separate the Marine Corps over threats that I would not be allowed to reenlist. Never mind the fact that there is not one single negative mark on my entire eight years of service (the letter incident was considered "hush-hush" so not even that made it on my record), or the fact that every one of my superiors stood up for me during this time, praising my abilities and loyalty to this country. None of that mattered; only my "liberal beliefs."

At the same time, the Republicans in power are proceeding to eliminate Democrats from any kind of hold on power in Washington, part of a transparent drive to make them at best a permanent minority party, if not obliterated altogether. The intent, it is clear, is to create essentially a "one-party state."

This is unprecedented in American history, of course -- and in fact, the Republicans' ruthlessness is delving all kinds of fresh depths. The most recent instance of this was the White House announcement that Democrats would no longer be able to inquire about how it spends our tax dollars:
The Bush White House, irritated by pesky questions from congressional Democrats about how the administration is using taxpayer money, has developed an efficient solution: It will not entertain any more questions from opposition lawmakers.

…"It's saying we're not going to allow the opposition party to ask questions about the way we use tax money," said R. Scott Lilly, Democratic staff director for the House committee. "As far as I know, this is without modern precedent."

Norman Ornstein, a congressional specialist at the American Enterprise Institute, agreed. "I have not heard of anything like that happening before," he said. "This is obviously an excuse to avoid providing information about some of the things the Democrats are asking for."

Just a few days before that, the House subcommittee that oversees the distribution of "pork" to congressional districts announced that Democrats would no longer be eligible to obtain funding for projects in their districts:
Rep. Ralph Regula (R-Ohio), who chairs the subcommittee that controls spending on education, health and jobs programs, recently stunned Democrats by announcing plans to reject every "earmarked" project they are seeking in the final, compromise version of the bill, which funds the departments of Education, Health and Human Services, and Labor.

… Hoyer said: "To tell the 130 million people represented by Democrats that they are shut out from getting health and education projects is consistent with the undemocratic, autocratic, confrontational process that's being followed by House Republicans."

Thus the eliminationist strategy is both figurative and literal. On the political level, it means driving liberalism from the halls of power permanently. On the real-life level, it means driving liberals themselves from polite society.

The proto-fascist nature of this strategy could not be more clear, especially considering that eliminationism was a central feature of fascism's last major manifestation.

Ed Bishop at the St. Louis Journalism Review recently had an excellent piece remarking on this trend (since replaced, but Google's cache still works):
A frightened press: how ultra-conservative commentators intimidate mainstream media

Bishop reached largely the same conclusions:
I'm not saying the Bush Administration is fascist, far from it. I think it is operating well within the mainstream of small-"l" liberal democracy. But that's not the case for the administration's propagandists, for Limbaugh and other right-wing radio and television commentators. They are promoting a kind of American fascism. To put it bluntly, Limbaugh's rhetoric is fascist.

Limbaugh and his ilk have gone beyond the legitimate conservative arguments-that, in the long run, in most cases, individual effort is better than collective effort; that the marketplace foresees and adjusts to economic and social problems better than governments do; and that a weak federal government is best for the general welfare. They have become propagandists for much more, for things that can only be described as fascist.

To make sure we're on the same page here, I'm going to get pedantic for a minute: Fascism is a form of totalitarian government whose hallmarks are a leadership that cannot be questioned, aggressive nationalism, racism, close ties to capitalist elites and the absence of legal due process.

The hallmarks of fascist propaganda are half-truths, lies, appeals to patriotism, and verbal bombast and threats that seek to cut off debate and cower opponents. This propaganda counts on the acquiescence of good people in order to succeed.

I'm afraid there is a growing trend in America's mainstream press to give that acquiescence, to accept the narrow boundaries of debate set by people like Limbaugh and Ann Coulter, who recently wrote a book called "Treason," in which she said all liberal members of the Democratic Party were traitors.

To prove their patriotism-to prove they're "good Germans"-many people at mainstream news outlets have moved beyond the center in their analysis and news presentation to a kind of self-conscious, flag-waving, looking-over-their-shoulder conservatism.

It isn't only journalists who are observing this trend. Academics, particularly those with real working knowledge of the components of fascism, are seeing it too. Of particular note was this recent interview with former Princeton professor Richard Falk, who defines fascism as "the convergence of military and economic power on behalf of an ultranationalist ideology that views its enemies -- internally and externally -- as evil and subject to extermination or extreme punishment."

Falk explains:
Certainly the people who are the architects of these policies would reject my analysis, and probably sincerely so. They think they're doing something else: it will all be done in the name of democratization. It's a very deceptive and confusing style of political domination, because it pretends to be the opposite of what it is.

It's very difficult, because the methods and the mentality of those who are controlling and developing this kind of politics of domination are such that they have no willingness to accommodate their adversaries. So there's no room for politics, in a way. And that makes it . . . it almost certainly drives the conflict toward a collision of extremes.

It is now appearing inevitable that this collision will occur in 2004 -- particularly if Democrats make a serious run at unseating Bush.

Sunday, November 09, 2003

Manifestly Unfit: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush

[Beginning an extended series]

Introduction: Behind the Desk

On the weekend before Election Night 2000, Saturday Night Live opened its weekly broadcast with a remarkable skit -- remarkable, mostly, for its eerie prescience. Don Pardo explained to the audience, SNL hoped to provide "A Glimpse of our Possible Future":
Announcer: And now a Message From the President of the United States: George W. Bush.

[open on the Oval Office -- beer cans on desk, socks hung on the lamp, a barbecue grill burning on his desk ]

Voice of Advisor: Mr. President, get out there!

President George W. Bush [played by Will Ferrell]: [from under his desk ] No! No, you can't make me! You're gonna yell at me again!

Voice of Advisor: Mr. President!

President George W. Bush: [peeks out from under his desk] No! I don't want to go out, it's too hard!

Voice of Advisor: You're on, Sir!

President George W. Bush: Awww ... [jumps up and takes his seat] Hey, America! So, how we all doing out there, huh? Yeah, not so good. I broke the Hoover Dam. We had that war thing happen. But I mean, who ever heard of a Civil War, anyway? What is that? [grabs a pair of binoculars, unscrews the lens, then pours alcohol from it into his mouth] I have missed you, ol' buddy! [ pours it into his barbecue grill ] Whoo! I think we can agree, Americans, that these have been a difficult first two years of my presidency..

Voice of Advisor: You've been President for two weeks!

President George W. Bush: Really? Oh, man! I told you, this is hard! Okay, listen. I'm just gonna get this Address thing over with. As we assess the State of the American Union today, we have reason to hope, because ... [ takes out a map which shows California and Florida as islands, Texas in Communist Mexico, and the Great Lakes on fire ] Holy crap! When did all this happen?! Wow ... the Great Lakes are on fire -- even I know that's not good. [ laughs ] Okay, America, we got a lot of problems. I ain't gonna lie to you. But with the help of Vice-President Dick Cheney..

Voice of Advisor: You killed him in a hunting accident!

George W. Bush: Okay, fine! Not a problem. 'Cause I've been working hard, I got a plan that's gonna solve all of it -- from the deficit, to foreign relations, to that hole in the sun. Two words, America: Ostrich Meat.

Voice of Advisor: [ disgusted ] Oh, come on! [ exits Oval Office ]

President George W. Bush: No, no, wait, wait! Hear me out. You see, everyone gets an ostrich, and then you eat the ostrich, then you raise the ostrich. That way, no more ostriches! We are trying to get rid of all the ostriches, right? Anyone? [ ball of fire erupts outside ] Aw, screw! That big tit building is on fire again -- damn! Alright, sorry, folks ... I gotta take care of this ... [ stands up ] Come on, Blue! Here, boy! [ an ostrich ambles forward ] You all go on ahead without me. And, in the meantime, "Live, from New York, it's Saturday Night!"

Americans will be forgiven if, on reviewing that particular tape, they do not laugh. Barring its comic exaggerations, the skit's portrait of America under George W. Bush's rule has only differed in degree from the reality that has come to pass in the ensuing years:

-- A nation under attack from international and domestic terrorists, the threat of whom went blithely ignored by Bush, who was too eager to build a missile-defense system, and too eager to dismiss his predecessor's anti-terrorism work, to be bothered with the dire warnings that crossed his desk in the months and weeks before the attack.

Indeed, had the skit shown the Pentagon (rather than the Capitol) in flames and Bush hiding behind a desk, calling for his aides to get him aboard Air Force One on a flight to Nebraska … it would have been even more prophetic -- not to mention that it also would have been more accurate than the "official" version proffered by White House propagandists recently. (We'll discuss Bush's actions on Sept. 11 and afterward in detail later.)

-- An economy that has transformed, in the space of three short years, from the most robust in American history to one of the worst since the Depression, fueled in no small part by a federal budget that has gone from a historic surplus to record-breaking deficits. From an all-time low 3.9 percent unemployment, we have almost overnight created 9 million jobless Americans, sending the unemployment rate soaring to 6.4 percent by July 2003.

Bush's answer? No, not "ostrich meat," though it might as well be. Instead, the nation has been treated to the unending mantra: "Tax cuts for the rich." In fact, ostrich meat would have the distinct advantage of not actually deepening and prolonging the budget deficit and, by extension, the nation's economic malaise.

-- We have invaded a sovereign nation under false pretenses -- the most notable being that the war in Iraq is somehow an extension of the "war on terrorism", or a response to the attacks of Sept. 11, though the Bush administration's claims of an imminent threat posed by Iraq's supposed possession of weapons of mass destruction has proved the most damningly false. In the process, we have frittered away the widespread international sympathy and good will that followed Sept. 11, and have displaced it with widespread fear and loathing. Most notably, we have inflamed and deepened the radicalization of the Muslims world, where the hatred that inspired the attacks burns even brighter now.

The purpose of this war was not, as the administration sold it, part of the "war on terrorism"; nor was it, as some critics argue, about oil or electoral politics (though these factors undoubtedly enhanced the strategy). It was about establishing global American hegemony, or as the neo-conservatives who dreamed it put it, a "new American century." The formal name of this policy is the "Bush Doctrine," though what it really represents is a radical change in American foreign policy, a rejection of the diplomatic model built up through years of Cold War battles. And it was forced upon the nation by a president who lacked any kind of popular mandate (indeed, he had failed even to win the popular vote in the 2000 election) outside of the exigencies of Sept. 11, which the Bush administration gleefully wielded as a club for denouncing Democrats who questioned his actions.

The nation's reward for all this is a military caught up in a quagmire in Iraq that leaves them sitting ducks in a rapidly deteriorating and hostile environment. Whatever "exit strategy" the Bush administration may have had for departing Iraq was built on a fantasy of well-hailed conquering heroes whose sources turned out to be as reliable as the claims of nuclear capabilities. And of course, American taxpayers are being asked to foot the bill for this misadventure, to the tune of (at least) $87 billion -- while Bush's plans for a $100-billion plus tax cut for the rich remain intact.

-- Not only have we failed to capitalize on any of the opportunities presented by the attacks of Sept. 11, we have failed to address any of the serious challenges raised by the event. Instead of forging the kind of international unity that clearly is the only effective long-term response to terrorism, Bush's unilateralist arrogance has isolated the United States in the world community and made the environment for cultivating terrorism even more volatile. And at home, instead of leading the nation in making the kinds of real sacrifices that would reflect a thoughtful response to terrorism, he has proceeded as though the only costs Americans should expect to shoulder in the "War on Terror" are mounting national debts and the lives of our soldiers.

Nowhere is this more evident than in Bush's abysmal failure to mount a serious energy campaign that would reduce the nation's dependence on foreign oil sources, particularly those in the Middle East. Bush's entire program in this direction has been to pus for opening the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge -- whose total resources would do little more than dent foreign demand for a few short years, none of them soon. In the meantime, Bush has done nothing to genuinely encourage alternative energy sources, and contravened efforts to reduce American consumption of oil, rising by the tankful as SUVs increasingly crowd the freeways. And what energy policy he has put forth has only contributed to the nation's problems, including last summer's massive power blackouts.

-- Not only have efforts to improve environmental values in America come to a screeching halt, but the quality of both the American and the global environment has been quantifiably degraded -- and the nation's ability to slow the long-term degradation of both has been significantly harmed. Bush's handling of the ANWR -- which typifies both his overt willingness to sacrifice our national treasures for a quick buck, and his gleeful exploitation of the Sept. 11 attacks in pursuit of his own agenda -- was only the tip of the iceberg, so to speak. The litany of the Bush administration's attacks on the environment is both exhaustive and damning.

Perhaps the action -- or rather, inaction -- that most typifies Bush's disastrous approach to the environment has been his handling of the global-warming phenomenon. After spending most of his campaign and the first two years of his Oval Office tenure denying that the problem even existed (a la Rush Limbaugh's typically hallucinatory assertions), the administration did a stark about-face and admitted that global warming indeed is real. However, the Environmental Protection Agency's report said that -- even though the phenomenon is certain to destroy many of the nation's natural resources, particularly forested areas, alpine lakes, glaciers and wetlands -- no serious steps were warranted outside of "voluntary" efforts by corporations to reduce carbon-dioxide emissions, and typified those looming disasters as requiring mere "adjustments" on the part of Americans. A couple of days later, Bush dismissed the report as the work of "the bureaucracy."

-- Americans' civil rights have come under steady attack, both from the Justice Department in its post-Sept. 11 response to terrorism, and from the White House's legal broadsides against a number of key components of the nation's system of civil and minority rights. Again, the administration has openly exploited the Sept. 11 attacks to pursue this right-wing agenda. The notorious Patriot Act has come under substantial scrutiny in this regard, but of equal if not greater concern has been the White House's assertion of "enemy combatant" status for terrorism suspects, and its use of military tribunals for American citizens suspected of terrorist activity.

While Bush's assaults on affirmative action have also been well observed, what has gone largely unremarked is the extent to which the Bush White House has pursued a number of initiatives seemingly aimed at overturning many of the gains in civil rights made in American society since the turn of the last century -- from attempting to overturn the Miranda Warning to appointing judges who are openly hostile to the concept of privacy rights. At the same time, Bush has demonstrated the deepest contempt for Americans' free-speech rights by creating "First Amendment zones" that have forced critics of his administration into fenced-off areas far removed from his appearances -- while Bush himself has studiously ignored any of the voices of protest raised against his war policies.

-- As a consequence of all these disasters, the nation, rather than being more united, is now more divided than it has been at any time since the Vietnam War. Bush's self-description as "a uniter, not a divider" has turned out precisely to be an inversion of reality. A recent poll found that the nation remains deeply polarized, even more than it was before Sept. 11.

Instead of using the role handed him by the 2000 election -- recognizing that he lacked a mandate, and reaching out to his opponents by stressing moderation in his politics and compromise in his policies -- Bush has veered sharply to the right in nearly every facet of his administration. Instead of using the tragedy of the Sept. 11 attacks to bring the nation together in a healing process, Bush has chosen to exploit nearly every aspect of his agenda under the aegis of his "war on terror," and at the same time has demonized any political opponent who has questioned his policies as treasonous and "un-American," sympathizers with the "evildoers."

The record is unmistakable: George W. Bush's presidency has been an unmitigated disaster from nearly the day he took office, and it has compounded exponentially with every week the man occupies it. Even if he is defeated in 2004, Americans will be paying the price for his spectacularly misbegotten ascension to the nation's highest office at one of the most critical junctures in history for years, perhaps even generations, to come. Which makes the thought of him winning election for the first time, thereby handing him another four years in which to deepen the problems beyond the point of recovery, even more chilling.

Bush's tenure to date has comprised three of the most tumultuous and divisive in American history, and his responsibility for the chaos is inescapable. The image of Bush ducking under his desk while the Capitol burns behind him may have been funny in November 2000, but in November 2003, it is all too real.

Viewers may remember that in contrast, the same Saturday Night Live skit also showed "our possible future" under President Al Gore: A schoolmarmish Gore lecturing Americans on economics, while Bill Clinton wanders in and out of the picture. Annoying, tedious, boring.

If only we had been so lucky.

Next: Inauguration Day and Illegitmacy