Dismantling Democracy: The Republicans' Radical Warplan
By John Stauber and Sheldon Rampton
June 4, 2004
From the new book, Banana Republicans:
|Stauber and Rampton have done it again: The evil zeitgeist of the neocons is laid bare! Cover illustration by Tom Tommorow.|
How the Right Wing Is Turning America into a One-Party State
"I'm a uniter, not a divider," said candidate George W. Bush during his 2000 campaign for president. "I refuse to play the politics of putting people into groups and pitting one group against another." This promise to be a "uniter, not a divider" was a recurrent theme throughout Bush's campaign.
As Bush neared the end of his first term, however, evidence suggested that he had been just the opposite. The Republican party's hard right hold long-term objectives that are considerably to the right of mainstream public opinion, but they have managed to maneuver themselves into a position of control over nearly every branch of the American government.
During the 2000 elections, every Republican member of Congress received a free pamphlet, compliments of GOP Minority Whip Tom DeLay. The pamphlet, David Horowitz's The Art of Political War: How Republicans Can Fight to Win, came with an endorsement by Karl Rove, the senior advisor to then-candidate George W. Bush.
The Art of Political War argues that "Politics is war conducted by other means. In political warfare you do not fight just to prevail in an argument, but to destroy the enemy's fighting ability.... In political wars, the aggressor usually prevails." Moreover, "Politics is a war of position. In war there are two sides: friends and enemies. Your task is to define yourself as the friend of as large a constituency as possible compatible with your principles, while defining your opponent as the enemy whenever you can. The act of defining combatants is analogous to the military concept of choosing the terrain of battle."
"You cannot cripple an opponent by outwitting him in a political debate," Horowitz explains. "You can do it only by following Lenin's injunction: 'In political conflicts, the goal is not to refute your opponent's argument, but to wipe him from the face of the Earth.'"
Field Marshall Norquist
|Grover Norquist: What kind of man would use a metaphor like "drowning a baby in a bathtub?" The little guy on the left, standing next to Oklahoma Congressman Frank Lucas.|
Grover Norquist is another prominent leader in the conservative movement's political war. "I would call him our field marshal," said Horace Cooper, a former aide to House Majority Leader Dick Armey. Since 1992, Norquist has hosted Wednesday morning meetings in the DC office of his organization, Americans for Tax Reform to help leading conservative organizations coordinate activities and strategy.
George W. Bush began sending a representative to Norquist's meetings even before he announced his candidacy for president. "Now a White House aide attends each week," reports USA Today. "Vice President Cheney sends his own representative. So do GOP congressional leaders, right-leaning think tanks, conservative advocacy groups and some like-minded K Street lobbyists. The meeting ... is the political equivalent of one-stop shopping. By making a single pitch, the administration can generate pressure on members of Congress, calls to radio talk shows and political buzz from dozens of grassroots organizations."
Norquist's coalition advocates abolishing taxes, especially estate taxes and capital-gains taxes. They want to abolish minimum-wage laws, affirmative action, health and safety regulations for workers, environmental laws and gun controls. They also support cutting or eliminating student loans, state pension funds, welfare, Americorps, the National Endowment for the Arts, farm subsidies, and research and policy initiatives on global warming. Even popular programs such as Medicare, Social Security and education are targeted for rollbacks, beginning with privatization. Most members of the coalition are anti-gay and anti-abortion.
During the 1980s, Norquist assisted guerrilla movements backed by South Africa's apartheid regime -- Mozambique's RENAMO and Jonas Savimbi's UNITA in Angola. In his Washington office, a prominent photograph shows Norquist holding an AK-47 in Afghanistan -- a memento of the 1980s when he and other Reagan conservatives backed the mujahideen in their guerrilla war against the occupying Soviet army. (If it troubles him that the mujahideen went on to become the organizing base for Al Qaeda, Norquist has never said so publicly.)
The connecting thread between these foreign adventures and the conservative movement's domestic issues is the idea (also born in the Cold War) that all government is somehow like the Soviet bureaucracy and that government programs aimed at promoting the general welfare are therefore "creeping socialism." Norquist has declared that his goal is "to cut government in half in 25 years -- to get it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub."
According to journalist Elizabeth Drew, who profiled Norquist extensively in her book, Whatever It Takes: The Real Struggle for Political Power in America. "He has a long-term view, which is: the lower the revenues that the government takes in, the less spending it will be able to do, the less money will go to the groups that he sees as the base of the Democratic party and its power -- the teachers' unions, welfare workers, municipal workers and so on. This is a big, long-term war. It's total. It's Armageddon."
The Debate Club
Whereas Republicans see politics as a war, strategists for the Democratic Party tend to see politics as a debate. In their 2002 book, The Emerging Democratic Majority, John B. Judis and Ruy Teixeira looked at the growing influence of Democratic-leaning voter blocs -- minority voters, women and educated professionals -- and predicted that "Democrats are likely to become the majority party of the early 21st century."
Polls have regularly shown that a majority of Americans support the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision, which left the choice on abortion up to a woman and her doctor. More than 70 percent of Americans believe that burning coal, oil and other fuels is responsible for global warming. Roughly the same majority supports the Kyoto Protocol to limit greenhouse gas emissions. In a 2002 Gallup poll, more than half of respondents said they were concerned about water, soil and air pollution, damage to Earth's ozone layer and the loss of tropical rainforests. Majorities of 70 to 80 percent support higher pollution standards for industry, spending more money on solar and wind power, and stronger enforcement of environmental regulations.
Although terrorism and the war in Iraq have recently become significant public concerns, by far the most enduring concerns in opinion polls are the economy and jobs, followed by health care, education and national defense. If politics were simply a matter of debate over policies, Democrats would appear well-positioned to defeat their Republican rivals.
The Fight Club
Whatever advantages the Democrats might enjoy in theory, Republicans have achieved victory upon victory in practice. The 2000 elections gave the Republican Party the White House, a razor-thin majority in the House of Representatives and a 50-50 split in the Senate. By 2002, the GOP had consolidated its control of the House and achieve a majority in the Senate. It already controlled seven of the nine justices who sit on the Supreme Court. This gave the Republicans control of every branch of the federal government for the first time since 1932.
The 2002 elections, noted Denver Post reporter James Aloysius Farrell, "marked a tectonic and largely unheralded shift in the American political landscape. For the past half-century, Democrats dominated the state legislatures.... But when the dust settled after the 2002 elections, Republicans had emerged on top." Norquist celebrated this victory by telling Farrell, "We are trying to change the tones in the state capitals -- and turn them toward bitter nastiness and partisanship." He added, "Bipartisanship is another name for date rape."
At the end of 2003, Republicans held a 28-22 majority of state governorships and controlled more state legislatures than Democrats -- for the first time since 1952. Increased power at the state level has enabled Republicans to push through electoral redistricting in several states, further solidifying the party's power.
From 1995 to 2000, contributions to Republicans from the defense industry grew from 60 to 69 percent; from construction, 53 to 65 percent; energy and natural resource extraction, 53 to 65 percent; finance, insurance and real estate, 48 to 58 percent; healthcare, 48 to 65 percent; and transportation, 53 to 71 percent. The only business sector to buck the trend was communications and electronics, which increased its giving to Democrats slightly, from 58 to 61 percent.
With the same party controlling all branches of government, there has been minimal public debate over the policies of the Bush administration, even as it has launched two wars, reversed long-standing policies on worker safety and the environment, and cut taxes for the rich while 2.7 million private-sector jobs have been lost and the number of unemployed Americans has increased by more than 45 percent.
Although Republicans frequently complain about the "liberal bias" of the news media, the reality is that conservatives have become increasingly influential within the media, with overwhelming domination of radio talk-shows and a preponderant advantage on cable television, if not on the broadcast networks.
The Permanent Warfare State
For more than four decades, conservatives have worked to build a network of grassroots organizations and think tanks that promote conservative ideas. They have attacked from both the outside and the inside, building their own, unabashedly conservative media such as talk radio and Fox News.
They have built ideological alliances between industry, government and regulatory agencies. And although the entertainment industry may be more liberal than the tobacco or construction industries, Republicans have been more effective than Democrats at capitalizing on the ways entertainment has transformed politics -- the 2003 election of Arnold Schwarzenegger being a recent case in point.
Republicans understood that politics involves more than dominating the news cycle or influencing public opinion, and they have not hesitated to use hardball tactics in pursuit of power. Blacks and other minorities consistently vote Democrat, so Republicans developed techniques for suppressing voter turnout in minority communities and have used gerrymandering to marginalize minority votes.
Notwithstanding their stated aversion to "big government," conservatives have not hesitated to expand powers in precisely those areas that are most threatening to individual freedoms, through the USA Patriot Act and other measures that authorize spying on citizens and detentions without trial.
The likelihood that those powers will be abused has increased as the conservative movement threatens long-standing traditions of tolerance and diversity by accussing its ideological adversaries of "treason," "terrorism," and "un-Americanism." In sum, the direction in which the GOP is moving looks ominously similar to the "banana republics" of Latin America -- nations dominated by narrow corporate elites that use the pretext of national security to violate the rights of their citizens.
Horowitz Out-wits Clausewitz
David Horowitz's notion that politics is "war conducted by other means" inverts a statement originally made in 1832 by the German military theorist, Carl von Clausewitz, who stated that "war is merely the continuation of politics by other means."
In this original formulation, war was one among multiple methods by which competing nations might resolve their differences. Clausewitz's original statement allowed for the possibility that differences could be resolved peaceably, which he preferred. Accordingly, Clausewitz wrote: "No one starts a war -- or rather, no one in his senses ought to do so -- without first being clear in his mind what he intends to achieve by that war and how he intends to conduct it."
Standing Clausewitz on his head, as the Republican right has done, leads to radically different and dangerous conclusions.
If politics is merely the continuation of war, then war becomes the norm, and peaceful politicking becomes simply a temporary maneuver aimed at gaining battlefield advantage. The political arts of compromise, negotiation, dialogue and debate -- even culture itself -- become mere weapons with which to destroy your enemies. And since war is the norm, there is no need to worry about whether to start one. War already exists: the point is simply to win or at least keep fighting.
The metaphors that guide politics have consequences that affect us all. The notion that politics is a process by which a community governs itself leads to radically different consequences than the notion that politics is a form of war. One assumption leads to civil debate, negotiation and compromise. The other leads to incivility and a no-holds-barred approach that shreds moral restraints and institutional safeguards. Treating politics as war may be an effective way to win power, but it has rarely succeeded as a philosophy for wise governance.
This edited essay is excerpted, with permission, from Banana Republicans (Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penquin, May 2004).
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