Tuesday, June 28, 2005

What does Karl want?
I always try to qualify who the other side is when I rant about the decline and imminent doom of the republic. There are many Christians who are not theocratic nut cases. There are conservatives who are principled and honorable people. There are (or were) moderate Republicans. To spread these terms too wildly, is to help the other side by going along with there wedge strategy. By thumping on the word Christian, we make all Christians feel attacked, with the result that even those who agree with us oppose us out of self defense. It's a tactical choice. I want to be as specific as possible about who I'm criticizing--the most dangerous extremists--so I can isolate them and reduce their ranks to the smallest possible number.

Karl Rove practices the exact opposite tactical course. He tries to tar anyone who opposes his employer, on even the most benign of issues, as dangerous extremists, in order to eliminate all opposition in one swoop. While Rove is shocking in his vulgarity and recklessness, he is hardly the first practitioner of this kind of political rhetoric.

GOP, 1952.
In the 1952 presidential campaign, Richard Nixon pounded Democratic nominee Adlai Stevenson for earning a "PhD from Dean Acheson's College of Cowardly Communist Containment."

The McCarthyites' real enemies were not communists but the New Deal liberals who had dominated U.S. politics for 20 years. The McCarthy crowd was willing to divide the nation at a time of grave international peril if that's what it took to beat the liberals.

GOP, 1972.
It all reminds me of a line from a famous, or rather infamous, memo Pat Buchanan, then a White House staffer, wrote for Richard Nixon in, I believe, 1972 when their idea of the moment was what they called 'positive polarization'.

At the end of this confidential strategy memo laying out various ideas about how to create social unrest over racial issues and confrontations with the judiciary, Buchanan wrote (and you can find this passage on p. 185 of Jonathan Schell's wonderful Time of Illusion): "In conclusion, this is a potential throw of the dice that could bring the media on our heads, and cut the Democratic Party and country in half; my view is that we would have far the larger half."

And there you have it. Tear the country apart. And once it's broken, our chunk will be bigger.

GOP, 2005.
"Conservatives saw the savagery of 9/11 in the attacks and prepared for war; liberals saw the savagery of the 9/11 attacks and wanted to prepare indictments and offer therapy and understanding for our attackers," Mr. Rove, the senior political adviser to President Bush, said at a fund-raiser in Midtown for the Conservative Party of New York State.


"Has there ever been a more revealing moment this year?" Mr. Rove asked. "Let me just put this in fairly simple terms: Al Jazeera now broadcasts the words of Senator Durbin to the Mideast, certainly putting our troops in greater danger. No more needs to be said about the motives of liberals."

I'm sure someone could go through the old Southern Democratic party from the 1920s to the 1960s and find race baiting statements of equal vileness.

The problem with this kind of rhetoric is not that it is hateful and vulgar, though it is; the problem is that it is destructive. You don't say things like this about an opposition that you expect to need to work with in the future. You say things like this about an opposition that you want to destroy, root and branch. This kind of rhetoric aims at creating a one party state.

When the old Southern race baiters created a one party state in the South, they were somewhat limited by still being part of the United States. They always had to face the possibility that the federal government might intervene if they went too far. Ultimately that is what happened. Truman, Eisenhower, and Johnson, supported by congressional members from both parties, intervened in the Southern way of life and dragged them kicking and screaming into the twentieth century.

If someone succeeds in creating a single party state on a national level, either by destroying the union through the methods of Jefferson Davis and Pat Buchanan, or by eliminating all opposition everywhere, it will be the end of the United States in any meaningful sense of the word. With no meaningful counterbalance to one clique exercising unlimited power, we will become just another banana republic--a very powerful banana republic, but still a banana republic.

The United States is not a piece of territory, or a nation united by blood. The United States is a set of institutions and values. When those are gone, it won't matter if the name persists; the United States will be gone.

Let me return to my opening claim and clarify who I think is out to transform America into something, well, un-American. Do I think all conservatives want to destroy America? No.

Do I think all Republicans want to destroy America? No. Do I think the administration is out to destroy American democracy? This is where it gets harder. I think most of the people in the administration and their supporters in congress are greedy and clueless. They don't realize the effects of their actions. They are caught up in getting their way and really don't see that the institutional obstructions that they are casting aside are America.

Many corporate supporters of the administration are also clueless destroyers. They want to make as much money as possible with as little interference as possible. They want to get rid of regulation, taxes, workers' rights, and responsibility to the community. Some are outright crooks, but most aren't. They don't think their hurting anybody because they don't think anything is their fault. They manage to justify their insanity with pious words about the genius of the unfettered market. Most of them even manage to believe it.

The clueless destroyers are supported by world-class rationalizers. This is probably the vast majority of Republican office holders. They make a great show of agonizing over the extreme course their party is taking, but support it anyway. Someone said last year that we are one more big terrorist strike away from the death of the constitution. The rationalizers will express great solemnity after that strike as they vote to suspend the Bill of Rights, cancel all elections, and start arresting dissenters. They will be very sad that such actions are necessary.

A third group, and the most obviously bad, are those that know they want to destroy America and are working directly toward that goal. These people have always been around and have usually been regarded as the dangerous nut cases that they are. The most open are the fundamentalist Dominionists seek their own private Giliad. Grover Norquist hates the American way. So do the "constitution in exile" group. Other groups have a variety of causes to justify their hate, white supremacy, misogyny, national greatness, control, efficiency, and order. It's all fear and insecurity: "How dare people think thoughts unlike my own? How dare people want what I have?"

Oddly, I'm not sure where Karl Rove falls. Some days I think he's a true believer out to transform the country into the sort of state where those kids who were mean to him in high school won't be laughing any more. Some days I think he's an apolitical hack who will destroy anything for the sake of winning. I suppose the two aren't that different.

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