Tuesday, April 29, 2003

Forward into the past
William Greider at The Nation has an excellent piece on the long-term reactionary goal of the Right.
The movement's grand ambition… is to roll back the twentieth century, quite literally. That is, defenestrate the federal government and reduce its scale and powers to a level well below what it was before the New Deal's centralization…. Governing authority and resources are dispersed from Washington, returned to local levels and also to individuals and private institutions, most notably corporations and religious organizations. The primacy of private property rights is re-established over the shared public priorities expressed in government regulation. Above all, private wealth--both enterprises and individuals with higher incomes--are permanently insulated from the progressive claims of the graduated income tax.

The right's unifying idea--get the government out of our lives--has broad popular appeal, at least on a sentimental level, because it represents an authentic core value in the American experience…. The movement has a substantial base that believes in its ideological vision… and the right has created the political mechanics that allow these disparate elements to pull together. Cosmopolitan corporate executives hold their noses and go along with Christian activists trying to stamp out "decadent" liberal culture. Fed-up working-class conservatives support business's assaults on their common enemy, liberal government, even though they may be personally injured when business objectives triumph.

George W. Bush does not of course ever speak of the glories of the McKinley era or acknowledge his party's retrograde objectives (Ari Fleischer would bat down any suggestions to the contrary). Conservatives learned, especially from Gingrich's implosion, to avoid flamboyant ideological proclamations. Instead, the broader outlines are only hinted at in various official texts. But there's nothing really secretive about their intentions. Right-wing activists and think tanks have been openly articulating the goals for years. Some of their ideas that once sounded loopy are now law.

He lays it out in considerable detail. Go read the whole thing.

The Bush revolutionaries have already made great strides in returning our foreign policy to the 1890s. And they have ensured that their changes are harder to uproot than mere policies, which, after all, can be reversed by the next administration. By debasing and wounding the institutions of late twentieth century multilateral diplomacy (the UN, NATO, and the Geneva Conventions), they have changed the very atmosphere in which diplomacy must be conducted. They have created such a vast store of distrust that no one will take us at our word for a long time to come. They have assured that future diplomacy will be carried out on a basis of Gilded Age imperial might. How can this be bad when we have all the might?

But international law was a young and fragile thing. The social and economic structure of the United States is more robust and layered and will be harder to warp. But here too they have made progress. They are dismantling social programs, starving agencies of funds, chipping at the wall of church-state separation, weakening public education, redefining key regulatory terms to make them meaningless, and giving up any federal responsibility for a social safety net. More is coming.

More dangerous than any single policy or tax give-away is the current effort to fill the courts up with extremists. So far, the congressional Democrats have shown admirable spine in standing up against the worst of the lot. However, they need to address the whole pattern of Bush’s appointments, not just the individuals. Unless they make an issue of the fact that Bush is only sending extremists for them to examine, the Right will start forcing them to pass bad judges so as not appear obstructionist. Passing bad judges while stopping the truly awful ones isn’t enough. We need to pressure Bush into sending good judges.

Perhaps the most important point Greider makes is that this isn’t the vision of one president or one administration. This revolution has been building strength for thirty years and looks decades forward in its strategy. To fight it we need to think and work on the same scale. We need to force discussion of the implications of their policies. We need to lay out for examination just what kind of an America they are trying to create and get people to ask, "is this what I want for my children and my own old age?" To do this we need more than one good presidential candidate for 2004. We need good Democratic candidates at all levels. We need moderate Republicans to fight for the soul of their party. We need a press corps that thinks the job of news is information and education, not entertainment. We need to push the center back to -- well, the center. We can no longer allow ourselves to get discouraged and mutter about running away to Canada. Besides, Canada won't be safe if they win. This is America; it's worth fighting for.

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