Friday, November 19, 2010
The Christian Right VIII 78
Synopsis of John W. Dean's Conservatives Without Conscience Chapter 4
Dean profiles examples of authoritarian politics, including former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and majority whip and leader Tom DeLay. They changed the character of the House of Representatives with extreme centralization, an ever-increasing tendency of bills to pass the House without amendments, one-party conferences to reconcile bills, no legislative hearings and abuses of appropriations bills. In early 2006, Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute and Thomas E Mann of the Brookings Institution, wrote an op-ed for the New York Times: “Over the past five years, the rules and norms that govern Congressional deliberation, debate and voting, have routinely been violated, especially in the House of Representatives, and in ways that mark a dramatic break from custom.” They noted, “We saw similar abuses leading to similar patterns of corruption during the Democrats' majority reign, but they were neither as widespread nor as audacious as those we have seen in the past few years.”
Dean notes that the removal of DeLay from Congress in 2006 “did not change the undemocratic and highly authoritarian nature of the House, notwithstanding promises by the new leadership to the contrary. The election of John Boehner of Ohio to DeLay's former majority leader post has changed nothing about the way House Republicans are conducting business. Boehner, like DeLay, has close ties to lobbyists; in fact, he once passed out money from the tobacco industry on the floor. Boehner has been part of the authoritarian power structure of the House for too long. All he offers is a fresh face and a more television-friendly manner.”
Dean asked Democrats during the 2004 presidential campaign why they didn't make an issue of the secrecy of Bush and Cheney. The answer he got was that secrecy was a “process” which they were convinced did not interest the voters. Robert Kutter reached the same conclusion, noting “Democrats are ambivalent about taking this issue to the country or to the press because many are convinced that nobody cares about “process” issues. The whole thing sounds like inside baseball, or worse, like losers whining.”
Dean also discusses the efforts to create a permanent Republican majority (which is almost an impossibility according to Kevin Philips in American Theocracy, the next book to be discussed on this blog), the corrupt lobbyists of K Street (correctly fingering Jack Abramoff, who would later be convicted), authoritarian conservatism in the U.S. Senate, the political ambitions of Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (which have since fizzled) and the authoritarian vice presidency of Dick Cheney.
Dean gives a withering and accurate summation of Cheney's career. “It is true that Dick Cheney has served at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue. He held positions in both the Nixon (and got out before Watergate) and Ford White Houses. He spent over a decade on Capitol Hill, first as a congressional aide, and later as a congressman from Wyoming who worked his way up the House GOP leadership ladder, before being named to a cabinet post, as Secretary of Defense (under Bush I). It is an exceptional government career. Cheney did not become the youngest White House chief of staff by accident; he did not become the number-0two leader of the House Republicans because of his mild manner; ad he did not serve as both chairman of the board and chief operating officer of the Halliburton Corporation because of his good looks. Cheney is an authoritarian dominator. He studies the landscape, and then figures out how to get the ground he wants for himself. He has demonstrated remarkable ability in making it to the top, most recently be selecting himself as vice president of the United States. What is always overlooked with Dick Cheney is how he performs when he arrives in his various jobs. The answer is, in truth, not very well. Cheney is surely proof of the “Peter Principle” (that people in a hierarchy eventually rise to the level of their incompetence).”
Dean doesn't stop there.
“Bad judgment is Dick Cheney's trademark. It was not George Bush who came up with the idea of imposing blanket secrecy on the executive branch when he and Cheney took over. It was not George Bush who conceived of the horrible – and in some cases actually evil-- policies that typify this authoritarian presidency, such as detaining “enemy combatants” with no due process and contrary to international law. I t was not George Bus who had the idea of using torture during interrogations, and removing restraints on the National Security Agency from collecting intelligence on Americans. These were policies developed by Cheney and his staff, and sod to the president, and then imposed on may who subsequently objected to this authoritarian lawlessness. It was Cheney and his mentor, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, who convinced Bush to go to war in Iraq, which is proving to be a protracted calamity....The issue of Dick Cheney's judgment must be raised because he is the catalyst, architect, and chief proponent of Bush's authoritarian policies. In fact, Cheney's authoritarian vice presidency has simply swallowed the president, and Cheney sought to take the office way beyond even Nixon's imperial presidency, which they had accomplished by the end of the first time.
Dean goes into the details of how Cheney sold torture to Congress. Then he terms the process of legitimizing authoritarian conservatism, “the ugly politics of fear.” Dean concludes his argument by discussing what's wrong with authoritarianism. He quotes Altemeyer: “Probably about 20 to 25 percent of the adult American population is so right-wig authoritarian, so scared, so self-righteous, so ill-informed, and so dogmatic that nothing you can say or do will change their minds. They would march American into a dictatorship and probably feel that things had improved as a result. The problem is that these authoritarian followers are much ore active than the rest of the country. They have the mentality of 'old-time religion' n a crusade, and they generously give money, time and effort to the cause. They proselytize; they lick stamps; they put pressure on loved ones; and they revel in being loyal to a cohesive group of like thinkers. And they are so submissive to their leaders that they will believe and do virtually anything they are told. They are not going to let up and they are not going to go away.”
Dean ends by saying that this does not represent the majority of Americans. He predicts that the next few national election cycles will define American I the twenty-first century, for better or for worse.
Note about Conservatives Without Conscience: Appendix B, the “Right-Wing Authoritarian Survey” by Bob Altemeyer of the University of Manitoba; and Appendix C, the “Social Dominance Orientation Survey” by Jim Sidanius of UCLA, are worth careful and reflective study.