Friday, November 12, 2010

The Christian Right Part I 71

“Frankly, when I started writing this book, I had a difficult time accounting for what had become of conservatism or, for that matter, the Republican Party. I went down a number of dead-end streets looking for answers, before finally discovering a true explanation. My finding, simply stated, is the growing presence of conservative authoritarianism. Conservatism has noticeably evolved from its so-called modern phase (1950-94) into what might be called a postmodern period (1994 to the present), and in doing so it has regressed to its earliest authoritarian roots. Authoritarianism is not well understood and seldom discussed in the context of American government and politics, yet it now constitutes the prevailing thinking and behavior among conservatives. Regrettably, empirical studies reveal, however, that authoritarians are frequently enemies of freedom, antidemocratic, anti-equality, highly prejudiced, mean-spirited, power hungry, Machiavellian, and amoral. They are also often conservatives without conscience who are capable of plunging this nation into disasters the likes of which we have never known.

“...I was familiar with the personality type from my years in the Nixon White House. We had plenty of authoritarians in the Nixon administration, from the president on down. In fact, authoritarian thinking was the principal force behind almost everything that went wrong with Nixon's presidency. I had had little contact with my former colleagues, or with their new authoritarian friends and associates, until the early 1990s, when they decided to attack my wife and me in an effort to rewrite history at our expense. By then I had left public life for a very comfortable and private existence in the world of business, but they forced me back into the public square to defend myself and my wife from their false charges. In returning, I discovered how contemptible and dangerous their brand of “conservatism” had become, and how low they were prepared to stoop for their cause.”

     -- John Dean, in the preface to his 2006 book, Conservatives without Conscience

A number of famous conservatives joined in promoting the book that attacked Dean's wife, and Dean
became deeply interested in why they would do so.

More from this preface:

Dean's original reason for writing the book was his respect for Barry Goldwater, an attendee of Staunton Military Academy in Virginia. Goldwater's son, Barry, Jr., and John Dean attended that school in the 1950s. In 1994, after the Republicans won control of Congress, Dean called Senator Goldwater to ask him for his opinion of the book campaign smearing him and his wife.

Goldwater had been listening to Liddy's attacks on Dean, and offered the opinion that no one would listen to such a fool. Goldwater added that he had been talking to John Rhodes (a former congressman and former House Minority Leader). He told Rhodes that Republicans in Washington should back off on this incivility as well as the attacks on Hillary Clinton.

“Why do you suppose they do this?” Dean asked.

Without hesitation he said, “It's these so-called social or cultural conservatives. And I don't know what in hell possesses them. I'd like to find out.”

Dean asked Goldwater for his thoughts on Christian conservatives like Colson, and their increasing presence in Republican politics, and he minced no words. “Goddamn it, John, the Republicans are selling their soul to win elections. Mark my word, if and when these preachers get control of the party, and they're sure trying to do so, it's going to be a terrible damn problem. Frankly, these people frighten me. Politics and governing demand compromise. They government won't work without it. But these Christians believe they are acting in the name of God, so they can't and won't compromise. I know, I've tried to deal with them.”

Goldwater agreed to write a book with John Dean, Conservatives without Conscience, but the senator's health declined and he died shortly thereafter. Dean completed the project himself for publication eight years later (in 2006).

Dean also writes in the preface: “Conservatives without conscience do not have horns and tails; if they did they would be easier to identify. Many of them can be quite pleasant, but at heart they are tough, cold-blooded, ruthless authoritarians. They are limited in their ability to see the world from any point of view other than their own, and they are narrow in their outlook.... Conservatism is not inherently moralistic, negative, arrogant, condescending and self-righteous. Nor is it authoritarian. Yet all of these are adjectives that best describe the political outlook of contemporary conservatism. I make these observations not as an outside, but as a conservative who is deeply trouble by what has become of a treasured philosophy. Conservatism has been co-opted by authoritarians, a most dangerous type of political animal...Why do they remain silent, or even defend a president who has shamed the nation forever by endorsing an unprecedented and unnecessary use of torture against our enemies? These questions have clear answers.”

[Next posting: How conservatives think]

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