Wednesday, May 14, 2003

COM: Reaming the Nation

BushCo Reams Nation
Good -- No WMDs after all, no excuse for war,

too late for anyone to care anymore. Ha-ha, suckers.
By Mark Morford, SF Gate Columnist, Wednesday, May 14, 2003
©2003 SF Gate

Ha-ha-ha oh man did we ever get smacked on that one. Conned big time. Punk'd like dogs. Just gotta shake your head, laugh it off. They reamed us but good, baby! Damn. Turns out it really was all a big joke after all. The war, that is. All a big fat nasty murderous oil-licking lie, a sneaky little power-mad game with you as the sucker and the world as the pawn and BushCo as the slithery war thug, the dungeon master, the prison daddy. You really have to laugh. Because it's just so wonderfully ridiculous. In a rather disgusting, soul-draining sort of way. See, there are no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. No WMDs at all. Isn't that great? What's more: There never were. Ha-ha-ha. Gotcha! No warehouses teeming with nuclear warheads, no underground bunkers packed with vats of boiling biotoxins, no drums of crazy-ass chemical agents that will melt your skin and turn us all into drooling flesh-eating zombies -- unless, of course, you count the sneering vat of conservative biotoxin that is, say, Fox News, in which case, hell yeah baby, we gotcher WMDs right here beeyatch. Go figure. Those lowly U.N. inspectors were right after all. Who knew? It was all a ruse. We've been sucker-punched and ideologically molested and patriotically sodomized and hey, what the hell, who cares anyway, we "liberated" an oppressed people most Americans secretly loathe and fear and don't understand in the slightest, even though that was never the point, or the justification, or the goal. Go team. But wait, is liberation of a brutalized and tormented people now the reason? The justification for our thuggery? That is so cool! So that means we're going to blow the living crap out of Sri Lanka and Sudan and Tibet and North Korea and about 47 others, right? Right? Maybe Saudi Arabia, too, second only to the Talilban itself in its abuse of women? Cool! As if. Ah, but screw the liberal whiny peacenik U.N. inspectors, right? Let's ask the U.S. search teams themselves, ShrubCo's own squadrons of biologists, chemists, arms-treaty enforcers, nuclear operators, computer and document experts and Special Forces troops who've been in Iraq for weeks now, searching frantically. Surely they've found something, right? Surely we can now prove that Saddam was fully intending to fillet our babies and annihilate Florida and poke the eyes out of really cute kittens on national TV for sadistic pleasure, right? Gimme a hell yeah! Whoops. Bad news. As The Washington Post reports, the 75th Exploitation Task Force, the very serious-minded group heading up all U.S. inspections in Iraq, the group absolutely certain it would immediately find steaming neon-lit stockpiles of WMDs piled right next to Saddam's personal stash of gay porn and Britney Spears posters and opium pipes, is coming home with its tail between its legs. Found nothing. Nada. Psychopatriots are a little nonplussed. Bush is merely "embarrassed." Peace advocates are sighing and drinking heavily. We have done this ghastly horrible inane hate-filled entirely unprovoked thing in the name of power and petroleum and military contracts and strategic empire building, our nation is numb and more bitterly divisive than ever and our leaders are not the slightest bit ashamed. But of course you're not the slightest bit shocked. You knew it all along. The WMD line was just a ploy that, tragically, much of the nation bought into like a sucker pyramid scheme after being pounded into submission with hammers of fear and Ashcroftian threats and bogus Orange Alerts and having their tweezers confiscated at the airport. And of course the capacity to be outraged and appalled has been entirely drained out of you, out of this nation, replaced by raging ennui and sad resentment and the new fall season on NBC. This is what they're counting on. Your short attention span. WMDs? That's so, like, last February. Hey look, the swimsuit model won "Survivor"! Because now it's all done. Like a bad trip to the dentist where your routine cleaning turned out to be a bloody excruciating root canal and 50 hours of high-pitched drilling and $100 billion in god-awful cosmetic surgery, now the bandages come off. Smile, sucker. We're at peace once again. Sort of. But not really. Don't you feel better now? No? Too bad. No one cares what you think. It's all over but the shouting. And the screaming. And the endless years of U.S. occupation in the Middle East, the quiet building of U.S. military bases in Iraq so we can keep those uppity bitches Syria and Egypt and Lebanon in line, forge ahead with the long-standing plan to strong-arm those damn Islamic nuts into brutal compliance with Bushco's bleak blueprint for World Inc. What, too bitter? Hardly. Should we care that Osama, the actual perp of 9/11, is still running around free? That terrorism hasn't been quelled in the slightest? That the Mideast is more of a U.S.-hating powder keg than ever, thanks to BushCo? That the economy is in the worst shape it's been in decades? Should we care that we just massacred tens of thousands of Iraqi (and Afghani) civilians and soldiers and suffered a little more than 100 U.S. casualties and have absolutely nothing to show for it except bogus force-fed pride and this weird, sickening sense that we just executed something irreparable and ungodly and karmically poisonous? Nah. Just laugh it off. Have a glass of wine, make love, go play Frisbee with the dog. Breathe deep and focus on what's truly important and try to assimilate this latest atrocity into your backstabbed worldview, add it to the list of this lifetime's spiritual humiliations, as you wait for the next barrage, the imminent announcement that we're about to do it all again. Steel yourself. Protect your soul. Because man, they reamed us good. Slammed this nation like a bad joke. Gotcha! Ha-ha-ha.

Mark Morford's Notes & Errata column appears every Wednesday and Friday on SF Gate, unless it appears on Tuesdays and Thursdays, which it never does. He also writes the Morning Fix, a deeply skewed thrice-weekly e-mail column and newsletter. Subscribe at

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Monday, May 12, 2003

COM: Rolling Back the 20th Century

Rolling Back the 20th Century
by WILLIAM GREIDER, [from the May 12, 2003 issue]

I. Back to the Future George W. Bush, properly understood, represents the third and most powerful wave in the right's long-running assault on the governing order created by twentieth-century liberalism. The first wave was Ronald Reagan, whose election in 1980 allowed movement conservatives finally to attain governing power (their flame was first lit by Barry Goldwater back in 1964). Reagan unfurled many bold ideological banners for right-wing reform and established the political viability of enacting regressive tax cuts, but he accomplished very little reordering of government, much less shrinking of it. The second wave was Newt Gingrich, whose capture of the House majority in 1994 gave Republicans control of Congress for the first time in two generations. Despite some landmark victories like welfare reform, Gingrich flamed out quickly, a zealous revolutionary ineffective as legislative leader. George Bush II may be as shallow as he appears, but his presidency represents a far more formidable challenge than either Reagan or Gingrich. His potential does not emanate from an amiable personality (Al Gore, remember, outpolled him in 2000) or even the sky-high ratings generated by 9/11 and war. Bush's governing strength is anchored in the long, hard-driving movement of the right that now owns all three branches of the federal government. Its unified ranks allow him to govern aggressively, despite slender GOP majorities in the House and Senate and the public's general indifference to the right's domestic program. The movement's grand ambition--one can no longer say grandiose--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. With that accomplished, movement conservatives envision a restored society in which the prevailing values and power relationships resemble the America that existed around 1900, when William McKinley was President. 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. These broad objectives may sound reactionary and destructive (in historical terms they are), but hard-right conservatives see themselves as liberating reformers, not destroyers, who are rescuing old American virtues of self-reliance and individual autonomy from the clutches of collective action and "statist" left-wingers. They do not expect any of these far-reaching goals to be fulfilled during Bush's tenure, but they do assume that history is on their side and that the next wave will come along soon (not an unreasonable expectation, given their great gains during the past thirty years). Right-wingers--who once seemed frothy and fratricidal--now understand that three steps forward, two steps back still adds up to forward progress. It's a long march, they say. Stick together, because we are winning. Many opponents and critics (myself included) have found the right's historic vision so improbable that we tend to guffaw and misjudge the political potency of what it has put together. We might ask ourselves: If these ideas are so self-evidently cockeyed and reactionary, why do they keep advancing? 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 ("Don't tread on me" was a slogan in the Revolution). But the true source of its strength is the movement's fluid architecture and durability over time, not the passing personalities of Reagan-Gingrich-Bush or even the big money from business. The movement has a substantial base that believes in its ideological vision--people alarmed by cultural change or injured in some way by government intrusions, coupled with economic interests that have very strong reasons to get government off their backs--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. The right's power also feeds off the general decay in the political system--the widely shared and often justifiable resentments felt toward big government, which no longer seems to address the common concerns of ordinary citizens. I am not predicting that the right will win the governing majority that could enact the whole program, in a kind of right-wing New Deal--and I will get to some reasons why I expect their cause to fail eventually. The farther they advance, however, the less inevitable is their failure. II. The McKinley Blueprint In the months after last November's elections, the Bush Administration rattled progressive sensibilities with shock and awe on the home front--a barrage of audacious policy initiatives: Allow churches to include sanctuaries of worship in buildings financed by federal housing grants. Slash hundreds of billions in domestic programs, especially spending for the poor, even as the Bush tax cuts kick in for the well-to-do. At the behest of Big Pharma, begin prosecuting those who help the elderly buy cheaper prescription drugs in Canada. Compel the District of Columbia to conduct federally financed school voucher experiments (even though DC residents are overwhelmingly opposed). Reform Medicaid by handing it over to state governments, which will be free to make their own rules, much like welfare reform. Do the same for housing aid, food stamps and other long-established programs. Redefine "wetlands" and "wilderness" so that millions of protected acres are opened for development. Liberal activists gasped at the variety and dangerous implications (the public might have been upset too but was preoccupied with war), while conservatives understood that Bush was laying the foundations, step by step, toward their grand transformation of American life. These are the concrete elements of their vision: § Eliminate federal taxation of private capital, as the essential predicate for dismantling the progressive income tax. This will require a series of reform measures (one of them, repeal of the estate tax, already accomplished). Bush has proposed several others: elimination of the tax on stock dividends and establishment of new tax-sheltered personal savings accounts for the growing "investor class." Congress appears unwilling to swallow these, at least this year, but their introduction advances the education-agitation process. Future revenue would be harvested from a single-rate flat tax on wages or, better still, a stiff sales tax on consumption. Either way, labor gets taxed, but not capital. The 2003 Economic Report of the President, prepared by the Council of Economic Advisers, offers a primer on the advantages of a consumption tax and how it might work. Narrowing the tax base naturally encourages smaller government. § Gradually phase out the pension-fund retirement system as we know it, starting with Social Security privatization but moving eventually to breaking up the other large pools of retirement savings, even huge public-employee funds, and converting them into individualized accounts. Individuals will be rewarded for taking personal responsibility for their retirement with proposed "lifetime savings" accounts where capital is stored, forever tax-exempt. Unlike IRAs, which provide a tax deduction for contributions, wages are taxed upfront but permanently tax-sheltered when deposited as "lifetime" capital savings, including when the money is withdrawn and spent. Thus this new format inevitably threatens the present system, in which employers get a tax deduction for financing pension funds for their workers. The new alternative should eventually lead to repeal of the corporate tax deduction and thus relieve business enterprise of any incentive to finance pensions for employees. Everyone takes care of himself. § Withdraw the federal government from a direct role in housing, healthcare, assistance to the poor and many other long-established social priorities, first by dispersing program management to local and state governments or private operators, then by steadily paring down the federal government's financial commitment. If states choose to kill an aid program rather than pay for it themselves, that confirms that the program will not be missed. Any slack can be taken up by the private sector, philanthropy and especially religious institutions that teach social values grounded in faith. § Restore churches, families and private education to a more influential role in the nation's cultural life by giving them a significant new base of income--public money. When "school choice" tuitions are fully available to families, all taxpayers will be compelled to help pay for private school systems, both secular and religious, including Catholic parochial schools. As a result, public schools will likely lose some of their financial support, but their enrollments are expected to shrink anyway, as some families opt out. Although the core of Bush's "faith-based initiative" stalled in Congress, he is advancing it through new administrative rules. The voucher strategy faces many political hurdles, but the Supreme Court is out ahead, clearing away the constitutional objections. § Strengthen the hand of business enterprise against burdensome regulatory obligations, especially environmental protection, by introducing voluntary goals and "market-driven" solutions. These will locate the decision-making on how much progress is achievable within corporate managements rather than enforcement agencies (an approach also championed in this year's Economic Report). Down the road, when a more aggressive right-wing majority is secured for the Supreme Court, conservatives expect to throw a permanent collar around the regulatory state by enshrining a radical new constitutional doctrine. It would require government to compensate private property owners, including businesses, for new regulations that impose costs on them or injure their profitability, a formulation sure to guarantee far fewer regulations [see Greider, "The Right and US Trade Law," October 15, 2001]. § Smash organized labor. Though unions have lost considerable influence, they remain a major obstacle to achieving the right's vision. Public-employee unions are formidable opponents on issues like privatization and school vouchers. Even the declining industrial unions still have the resources to mobilize a meaningful counterforce in politics. Above all, the labor movement embodies the progressives' instrument of power: collective action. The mobilizations of citizens in behalf of broad social demands are inimical to the right's vision of autonomous individuals, in charge of their own affairs and acting alone. Unions may be taken down by a thousand small cuts, like stripping "homeland security" workers of union protection. They will be more gravely weakened if pension funds, an enduring locus of labor power, are privatized. Looking back over this list, one sees many of the old peevish conservative resentments--Social Security, the income tax, regulation of business, labor unions, big government centralized in Washington--that represent the great battles that conservatives lost during early decades of the twentieth century. That is why the McKinley era represents a lost Eden the right has set out to restore. Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform and a pivotal leader in the movement's inside-outside politics, confirms this observation. "Yes, the McKinley era, absent the protectionism," he agrees, is the goal. "You're looking at the history of the country for the first 120 years, up until Teddy Roosevelt, when the socialists took over. The income tax, the death tax, regulation, all that." (In foreign policy, at least, the Bush Administration could fairly be said to have already restored the spirit of that earlier age. Justifying the annexation of the Philippines, McKinley famously explained America's purpose in the world: "There was nothing left for us to do but to take them all, and to educate the Filipinos, and uplift and civilize and Christianize them, and by God's grace do the very best we could by them, as our fellow men for whom Christ also died.") But the right employs a highly selective memory. McKinley Republicans, aligned with the newly emergent industrial titans, did indeed hold off the Progressive advocates of a federal income tax and other reforms, while its high tariffs were the equivalent of a stiff consumption tax. And its conservative Supreme Court blocked regulatory laws designed to protect society and workers as unconstitutional intrusions on private property rights. But the truth is that McKinley's conservatism broke down not because of socialists but because a deeply troubled nation was awash in social and economic conflicts, inequities generated by industrialization and the awesome power consolidating in the behemoth industrial corporations (struggles not resolved until economic crisis spawned the New Deal). Reacting to popular demands, Teddy Roosevelt enacted landmark Progressive reforms like the first federal regulations protecting public health and safety and a ban on corporate campaign contributions. Both Roosevelt and his successor, Republican William Howard Taft, endorsed the concept of a progressive income tax and other un-Republican measures later enacted under Woodrow Wilson. 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. III. The Ecumenical Right The movement "is moving with the speed of a glacier," explains Martin Anderson, a senior fellow at Stanford's Hoover Institution who served as Reagan's house intellectual, the keeper of the flame, and was among the early academics counseling George W. Bush. "It moves very slowly, stops sometimes, even retreats, but then it moves forward again. Sometimes, it comes up against a tree and seems stuck, then the tree snaps and people say, 'My gosh, it's a revolution.'" To continue the metaphor, Anderson thinks this glacier will run up against some big boulders that do not yield, that the right will eventually be stopped short of grand objectives like small government or elimination of the income tax. But they've made impressive progress so far. For the first time since the 1920s, Congress, the White House and the Supreme Court are all singing from same hymnal and generally reinforcing one another. The Court's right-wing majority acts to shrink federal authority, block citizen challenges of important institutions and hack away at the liberal precedents on civil rights, regulatory law and many other matters (it even decides an election for its side, when necessary). Bush, meanwhile, has what Reagan lacked--a Reaganite majority in Congress. When the Gipper won in 1980, most Republicans in Congress were still traditional conservatives, not radical reformers. The majority of House Republicans tipped over to the Reaganite identity in 1984, a majority of GOP senators not until 1994. The ranks of the unconverted--Republicans who refuse to sign Norquist's pledge not to raise taxes--are now, by his count, down to 5 percent in the House caucus, 15 percent in the Senate. This ideological solidarity is a central element in Bush's governing strength. So long as he can manage the flow of issues in accord with the big blueprint, the right doesn't shoot at him when he makes politically sensitive deviations (import quotas for steel or the lavish new farm-subsidy bill). It also helps that, especially in the House, the GOP leaders impose Stalinist discipline on their troops. Bush also reassures the far right by making it clear that he is one of them. Reagan used to stroke the Christian right with strong rhetoric on social issues but gave them very little else (the man was from Hollywood, after all). Bush is a true believer, a devout Christian and exceedingly public about it. Bush's principal innovation--a page taken from Bill Clinton's playbook--is to confuse the opposition's issues by offering his own compassion-lite alternatives, co-opting or smothering Democratic initiatives. Unlike Clinton, Bush does not mollify his political base with empty gestures. Their program is his program. "Reagan talked a good game on the domestic side but he actually didn't push for much," says Paul Weyrich, leader of the Free Congress Foundation and a movement pioneer. "Likewise, the Gingrich era was a lot of rhetoric. This Administration is far more serious and disciplined.... they have better outreach than any with which I have dealt. These people have figured out how to communicate regularly with their base, make sure it understands what they're doing. When they have to go against their base, they know how to inoculate themselves against what might happen." Norquist's ambition is that building on its current strength, the right can cut government by half over the next twenty-five years to "get it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub" [see Robert Dreyfuss, "Grover Norquist: 'Field Marshal' of the Bush Tax Plan," May 14, 2001]. The federal government would shrink from 20 percent of GDP to 10 percent, state and local government from 12 to 6 percent. When vouchers become universally available, he expects public schools to shrink from 6 to 3 percent of GDP. "And we'll have better schools," he assures. People like Norquist play the role of constantly pushing the boundaries of the possible. "I'm lining up support to abolish the alternative minimum tax," he says. "Has Bush spoken to this? No. I want to run ahead, put our guys on the record for it. So I will be out in front of the Bush Administration, not attacking the Bush Administration. Will he do everything we want? No, but you know what? I don't care." Americans for Tax Reform serves as a kind of "action central" for a galaxy of conservative interests, with support from corporate names like Microsoft, Pfizer, AOL Time Warner, R.J. Reynolds and the liquor industry. "The issue that brings people to politics is what they want from government," Norquist explains. "All our people want to be left alone by government. To be in this coalition, you only need to have your foot in the circle on one issue. You don't need a Weltanschauung, you don't have to agree with every other issue, so long as the coalition is right on yours. That's why we don't have the expected war within the center-right coalition. That's why we can win." One of the right's political accomplishments is bringing together diverse, once-hostile sectarians. "The Republican Party used to be based in the Protestant mainline and aggressively kept its distance from other religions," Norquist observes. "Now we've got observant Catholics, the people who go to mass every Sunday, evangelical Christians, Mormons, orthodox Jews, Muslims." How did it happen? "The secular left has created an ecumenical right," he says. This new tolerance, including on race, may represent meaningful social change, but of course the right also still feeds on intolerance too, demonizing those whose values or lifestyle or place of birth does not conform to their idea of "American." This tendency, Norquist acknowledges, is a vulnerability. The swelling ranks of Latino and Asian immigrants could become a transforming force in American politics, once these millions of new citizens become confident enough to participate in election politics (just as European immigrants became a vital force for liberal reform in the early twentieth century). So Bush labors to change the party's anti-immigrant profile (and had some success with Mexican-Americans in Texas). Norquist prefers to focus on other demographic trends that he believes insure the right's eventual triumph: As the children of the New Deal die off, he asserts, they will be replaced by young "leave me alone" conservatives. Anderson, the former Reagan adviser, is less certain. "Most of the people like what government is doing," he observes. "So long as it isn't overintrusive and so forth, they're happy with it." IV. Show Me the Money Ideology may provide the unifying umbrella, but the real glue of this movement is its iron rule for practical politics: Every measure it enacts, every half-step it takes toward the grand vision, must deliver concrete rewards to one constituency or another, often several--and right now, not in the distant future. Usually the reward is money. There is nothing unusual or illegitimate about that, but it sounds like raw hypocrisy considering that the right devotes enormous energy to denouncing "special-interest politics" on the left (schoolteachers, labor unions, bureaucrats, Hollywood). The right's interest groups, issue by issue, bring their muscle to the cause. Bush's "lifetime savings" accounts constitute a vast new product line for the securities industry, which is naturally enthused about marketing and managing these accounts. The terms especially benefit the well-to-do, since a family of four will be able to shelter up to $45,000 annually (that's more than most families earn in a year). The White House has enlisted Fortune 500 companies to spread the good news to the investor class in their regular mailings to shareholders. Bush's "market-friendly" reforms for healthcare would reward two business sectors that many consumers regard as the problem--drug companies and HMOs. Big Pharma would get the best of all worlds: a federal subsidy for prescription drug purchases by the elderly, but without any limits on the prices. The insurance industry is invited to set up a privatized version of Medicare that would compete with the government-run system (assuming there are enough senior citizens willing to take that risk). Some rewards are not about money. Bush has already provided a victory for "pro-lifers" with the ban on late-term abortions. The antiabortionists are realists now and no longer badger the GOP for a constitutional amendment, but perhaps a future Supreme Court, top-heavy with right-wing appointees, will deliver for them. Republicans are spoiling for a fight over guns in 2004, when the federal ban on assault rifles is due to expire. Liberals, they hope, will try to renew the law so the GOP can deliver a visible election-year reward by blocking it. (Gun-control advocates are thinking of forcing Bush to choose between the gun lobby and public opinion.) The biggest rewards, of course, are about taxation, and the internal self-discipline is impressive. When Reagan proposed his huge tax-rate cuts in 1981, the K Street corporate lobbyists piled on with their own list of goodies and the White House lost control; Reagan's tax cuts wound up much larger than he intended. This time around, business behaved itself when Bush proposed a tax package in 2001 in which its wish list was left out. "They supported the 2001 tax cuts because they knew there was going to be another tax cut every year and, if you don't support this year's, you go to the end of the line next time," Norquist says. Their patience has already been rewarded. The antitax movement follows a well-defined script for advancing step by step to the ultimate goal. Norquist has organized five caucuses to agitate and sign up Congressional supporters on five separate issues: estate-tax repeal (already enacted but still vulnerable to reversal); retirement-savings reforms; elimination of the alternative minimum tax; immediate business deductions for capital investment expenses (instead of a multiyear depreciation schedule); and zero taxation of capital gains. "If we do all of these things, there is no tax on capital and we are very close to a flat tax," Norquist exclaims. The road ahead is far more difficult than he makes it sound, because along the way a lot of people will discover that they are to be the losers. In fact, the McKinley vision requires vast sectors of society to pay dearly, and from their own pockets. Martin Anderson has worked through the flat-tax arithmetic many times, and it always comes out a political loser. "The conservatives all want to revolutionize the tax system, frankly because they haven't thought it through," Anderson says. "It means people from zero to $35,000 income pay no tax and anyone over $150,000 is going to get a tax cut. The people in between get a tax increase, unless you cut federal spending. That's not going to happen." Likewise, any substantial consumption tax does severe injury to another broad class of Americans--the elderly. They were already taxed when they were young and earning and saving their money, but a new consumption tax would now tax their money again as they spend it. Lawrence Lindsey, Bush's former economic adviser, has advocated a consumption-based flat tax that would probably require a rate of 21 percent on consumer purchases (like a draconian sales tax). He concedes, "It would be hitting the current generation of elderly twice. So it would be a hard sell." "School choice" is also essentially a money issue, though this fact has been obscured by the years of Republican rhetoric demonizing the public schools and their teachers. Under tuition vouchers, the redistribution of income will flow from all taxpayers to the minority of American families who send their children to private schools, religious and secular. Those children are less than 10 percent of the 52 million children enrolled in K-12. You wouldn't know it from reading about the voucher debate, but the market share of private schools actually declined slightly during the past decade. The Catholic parochial system stands to gain the most from public financing, because its enrollment has declined by half since the 1960s (to 2.6 million). Though there was some growth during the 1990s, it was in the suburbs, not cities. Other private schools, especially religious schools in the South, grew more during the past decade (by about 400,000), but public schools expanded far faster, by 6 million. The point is, the right's constituency for "school choice" remains a small though fervent minority. Conservatives have cleverly transformed the voucher question into an issue of racial equality--arguing that they are the best way to liberate impoverished black children from bad schools in slum surroundings. But educational quality notwithstanding, it is not self-evident that private schools, including the Catholic parochial system, are disposed to solve the problem of minority education, since they are highly segregated themselves. Catholic schools enroll only 2.5 percent of black students nationwide and, more telling, only 3.8 percent of Hispanic children, most of whom are Catholic. In the South hundreds of private schools originated to escape integration and were supported at first by state tuition grants (later ruled unconstitutional). "School choice," in short, might very well finance greater racial separation--the choice of whites to stick with their own kind--and at public expense. The right's assault on environmental regulation has a similar profile. Taking the lead are small landowners or Western farmers who make appealing pleas to be left alone to enjoy their property and take care of it conscientiously. Riding alongside are developers and major industrial sectors (and polluters) eager to win the same rights, if not from Congress then the Supreme Court. But there's one problem: The overwhelming majority of Americans want stronger environmental standards and more vigorous enforcement. V. Are They Right About America? "Leave me alone" is an appealing slogan, but the right regularly violates its own guiding principle. The antiabortion folks intend to use government power to force their own moral values on the private lives of others. Free-market right-wingers fall silent when Bush and Congress intrude to bail out airlines, insurance companies, banks--whatever sector finds itself in desperate need. The hard-right conservatives are downright enthusiastic when the Supreme Court and Bush's Justice Department hack away at our civil liberties. The "school choice" movement seeks not smaller government but a vast expansion of taxpayer obligations. Maybe what the right is really seeking is not so much to be left alone by government but to use government to reorganize society in its own right-wing image. All in all, the right's agenda promises a reordering that will drive the country toward greater separation and segmentation of its many social elements--higher walls and more distance for those who wish to protect themselves from messy diversity. The trend of social disintegration, including the slow breakup of the broad middle class, has been under way for several decades--fissures generated by growing inequalities of status and well-being. The right proposes to legitimize and encourage these deep social changes in the name of greater autonomy. Dismantle the common assets of society, give people back their tax money and let everyone fend for himself. Is this the country Americans want for their grandchildren or great-grandchildren? If one puts aside Republican nostalgia for McKinley's gaslight era, it was actually a dark and troubled time for many Americans and society as a whole, riven as it was by harsh economic conflict and social neglect of everyday brutalities. Autonomy can be lonely and chilly, as millions of Americans have learned in recent years when the company canceled their pensions or the stock market swallowed their savings or industrial interests destroyed their surroundings. For most Americans, there is no redress without common action, collective efforts based on mutual trust and shared responsibilities. In other words, I do not believe that most Americans want what the right wants. But I also think many cannot see the choices clearly or grasp the long-term implications for the country. This is a failure of left-liberal politics. Constructing an effective response requires a politics that goes right at the ideology, translates the meaning of Bush's governing agenda, lays out the implications for society and argues unabashedly for a more positive, inclusive, forward-looking vision. No need for scaremongering attacks; stick to the well-known facts. Pose some big questions: Do Americans want to get rid of the income tax altogether and its longstanding premise that the affluent should pay higher rates than the humble? For that matter, do Americans think capital incomes should be excused completely from taxation while labor incomes are taxed more heavily, perhaps through a stiff national sales tax? Do people want to give up on the concept of the "common school"--one of America's distinctive achievements? Should property rights be given precedence over human rights or society's need to protect nature? The recent battles over Social Security privatization are instructive: When the labor-left mounted a serious ideological rebuttal, well documented in fact and reason, Republicans scurried away from the issue (though they will doubtless try again). To make this case convincing, however, the opposition must first have a coherent vision of its own. The Democratic Party, alas, is accustomed to playing defense and has become wary of "the vision thing," as Dubya's father called it. Most elected Democrats, I think, now see their role as managerial rather than big reform, and fear that even talking about ideology will stick them with the right's demon label: "liberal." If a new understanding of progressive purpose does get formed, one that connects to social reality and describes a more promising future, the vision will not originate in Washington but among those who see realities up close and are struggling now to change things on the ground. We are a very wealthy (and brutally powerful) nation, so why do people experience so much stress and confinement in their lives, a sense of loss and failure? The answers, I suggest, will lead to a new formulation of what progressives want. The first place to inquire is not the failures of government but the malformed power relationships of American capitalism--the terms of employment that reduce many workers to powerless digits, the closely held decisions of finance capital that shape our society, the waste and destruction embedded in our system of mass consumption and production. The goal is, like the right's, to create greater self-fulfillment but as broadly as possible. Self-reliance and individualism can be made meaningful for all only by first reviving the power of collective action. My own conviction is that a lot of Americans are ready to take up these questions and many others. Some are actually old questions--issues of power that were not resolved in the great reform eras of the past. They await a new generation bold enough to ask if our prosperous society is really as free and satisfied as it claims to be. When conscientious people find ideas and remedies that resonate with the real experiences of Americans, then they will have their vision, and perhaps the true answer to the right wing.

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Friday, May 09, 2003

COM: By the Grace of God

The Other "F" Word:
"Chosen by the Grace of God"?
by BEN TRIPP, 05/09/03

You could fill your lederhosen with razor blades and ride a bicycle down some steps. You could administer yourself a boiling-hot clyster of Drano and minced cactus. You could irritate a pride of lions whilst bedecked in a ham waistcoat. But why take the easy way out? It's better to stand and fight. I refer to the deeply Sisyphean task of opposing the neofascist regime which has taken over the United States. There, I did it. I used the word 'fascist', which places me in that camp, even if the word was prefixed with the modifier 'neo' as in 'o neo f the worst ideas ever'.

It's been a long time coming, and not just because of Bob Dole's Viagra (humorous joke, get it? Long time never mind). For all its strenuous efforts, I could never give the Bush administration that much credit before. Fascism is such a heavy term, so loaded with images of greasy newsreel dictators in Sam Browne belts and tall boots. Too many commentators leapt on the 'Orwellian' and 'fascist' bandwagons too quickly into Bush's sic volo, sic jubeo term of office. After all, wasn't the WWI Sedition Act far worse than Ashcroft's Junior Inquisition? How about the McCarthy Era, when a ventriloquist's dummy nearly destroyed our nation's freedoms, just to deny Dalton Trumbo the screenwriting credit for 'Roman Holiday'? For a long time I couldn't quite slap the 'F' word, as fascism is coyly known among lefties, on Bush and his minions. No matter how naughty the Man Who Would be President might be, for my tastes he never hit that perfect Kafka note-- until recently. Him and his people weren't really fascists. Just execrable excrudescent assholes. But 2003 has changed all that.

These people are fascists, and they make Mussolini look like a mezzafinook. There is no component of American liberty of which they are unwilling to relieve us, and no aspect of American life upon which they are unwilling to relieve themselves. Where to begin? First, we must define 'fascism'. It is a term like 'love', about which it can be said that everybody knows exactly what it means, and nobody knows what they're talking about. Luckily I know everything and so can clear the matter up, particularly if I consult Mussolini's own diary, which I picked up on Ebay for a song (the song was 'That's Amore' as sung by Dean Martin). For those not fluent in Italian, I will paraphrase the definition before me in Il Duce's crabbed hand: Fascism is an extreme right-wing ideology which embraces nationalism as the transcendent value of society. The rise of Fascism relies upon the manipulation of populist sentiment in times of national crisis. Based on fundamentalist revolutionary ideas, Fascism defines itself through intense xenophobia, militarism, and supremacist ideals. Although secular in nature, Fascism's emphasis on mythic beliefs such as divine mandates, racial imperatives, and violent struggle places highly concentrated power in the hands of a self-selected elite from whom all authority flows to lesser elites, such as law enforcement, intellectuals, and the media. What a rush. Must buy Clara a new hat.

I couldn't have said it better myself. If we accept this general definition of fascism, we can be forgiven for rushing to the bedroom and throwing some clean underwear into a portmanteau ere catching the next train to Toronto. But we must stand our ground, however eroded it may be. Our freedoms have been undermined at home. Our nation has engaged in an outrageous military adventure overseas, the tissue-thin justification for which has disappeared completely, leaving America in the awkward position yclept 'hostile invader' by entities such as the United Nations (you remember them, those nice colored folks over on 39th Street?) Meanwhile our states have mostly gone bankrupt, the first tax cut during wartime since the 1840's more wealth for the wealthy- is in the works while corporate feudalism runs rampant, our ability to respond to authentic terrorist threats has been hobbled, the voting system has been co-opted by digital pirates in the Republican party, the electoral system in general is hostage to big money, our healthcare system is in meltdown, our national budget is so far in the red we have to import ink from China just to keep up; the prison population is exploding while our schools implode, civil rights are verklempt and vivisepulturated, our businesses are folding by entire sectors while the military-industrial complex thrives, and our environment is sinking into crisis with the North Pole melted and environmental regulation evaporating like so much ozone. Meanwhile, Jesus Christ is sleeping in the Lincoln Bedroom.

But because the American media has ceased to make its own news, relying instead on a kind of government-hosted charabanc tour for journalists, nobody is questioning this lunatic national retrenchment in a public forum- instead, we demonize Arabs and teenagers and black people and homosexuals and poor folks and drug users and anyone, God bless them, who has ever performed fellatio. And that's only the tip of the scheisseberg. These are all harbingers and symptoms and outcomes of fascism. But still, fascism is such an extreme notion. Once could argue that these many fresh hells are the result of simple criminal mismanagement, and for some time I have been so inclined (to argue thus, not to criminally mismanage. For the latter I'd need an MBA.)

What specific enormity cemented the notion of Bush and his cabal as 'fascists' in my mind? If I could sit out all of the above, surely nothing could compel me to apply the scarlet 'F' to these vendible quantum-larrikins and their erstwhile leader, the Ivy-League demagogue bogtrotter George W. Bush. I can tell you the very moment, and if you missed it, it's worth finding a dog-eared copy of the video and viewing it entire, although I caution you to keep a bucket handy- these images are too graphic for many American stomachs.

An aircraft carrier in the Pacific, about an hour from San Diego, California. You could row that far. A couple of jets on deck as props, lots of giddy sailors. Here comes an airplane! It lands in the accustomed manner. Out springs the Boy Prince, the Dauphin of D.C., the VIP of the GOP, George W. Bush in full military flight suit, with his ejector harness giving him the worst moose knuckle in presidential history. A bit of video for the election commercials just in case the Democrats don't all curl up and die on their own, what's the harm in that? I wish it was that simple. But what we really saw in that moment was a coup d'etat. The president isn't supposed to wear a uniform. He's a civilian. Rough Rider Teddy Roosevelt strapped on a pistol now and then and we've had generals who made president before. That Kennedy fellow was a war hero, too, and Bush Senior, the one who got elected, did his bit in the Pacific while Grampy Prescott was supporting the Nazis in Europe. But when they were president none of these men put on military uniforms. They understood that there are three sacred lines with regard to American democracy that can never be crossed: the line between privilege and power, the line between Church and State, and the line between civilian and military leadership. Cross any of them, and you're at fascism's doorstep. Cross two, you're on the threshold with your hand on the doorknob.

George W. Bush, son of unimaginable privilege, crossed the first line when he was selected to be president by the Supreme Court and accepted the job. He crossed the second line when he revealed his divine imperative, such as when (after the disaster of 9/11) he spoke of being "chosen by the grace of God to lead at that moment." (attributed by Tim Goeglein, deputy director of White House public liaison and a barrel of laughs at any party.) When George climbed out of that airplane in his shiny new war suit, he didn't just carry his own cute little self across the deck: son of privilege, chosen of God, and wearing a military uniform, he passed through the doorway from mere wickedness to fascism. Our struggle in the time ahead is to resist the urge to follow him.

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Thursday, May 08, 2003

COM: A Nation of Cowards

A Nation of Cowards
by Sidney Hall, Jr.,, Thursday, May 8, 2003

For a brief moment after 9/11, we recognized some genuine heroes in our midst, those who put their lives on the line to rescue strangers and those who put their own needs in back of the needs of others in the middle of tragedy. The celebration of this heroism may have become a little gaudy, but it was sincere. Since then we seem to have become a nation of cowards celebrating illusions. There is a president, who, in reaction to the devastation of 9/11, does not act with forbearance, curiosity to understand the root cause, and as a world leader. Instead he lashes out at blurry targets with more force than we were met with. This is not the act of a brave man. This is the act of a coward. There is a senator who sees his country yawing dangerously off course and, for the first time in its history abusing its power openly and shamelessly. The senator says nothing, though he knows better, because he is afraid of an emotional backlash if he engages in rational discussion. He is afraid he will lose the next election. This is the act of a coward. There is a citizen who is unable to think. He succumbs to fear, believes every scary story he hears, buys duct tape for his doors and windows, when a bit of thinking would tell him he is in more danger from getting into his car. This is the act of a coward. There is a journalist who knows there are young children dying in hospitals in Iraq, with their bodies horribly disfigured as the result of our country¹s doings, yet he will not show pictures of these children so that people can weigh the consequences of war for themselves. He shows pictures of massively-armed Americans and reports every ³coalition² news release as gospel truth. This is the act of a coward. There is an attorney general who is so scared by events that he is willing to subvert the very essence of what we would normally be fighting for. He wraps his subversive activities in a cloud of confusion. This is the act of a coward. There is a citizen who hangs a flag out on his house as a sign proclaiming that he cannot think, that it is enough to ³support our troops² whether what they are doing is right or wrong. This is the act of a coward. There is the soldier who fires into an oncoming vehicle carrying a family with women and children because he thinks they are coming after him. This is the act of a coward. There is another soldier who fires into a crowd of civilians when someone throws a sandal at him. Sure he is young, scared to death by the situation he has been unfairly drawn into, but he doesn¹t wait for a real reason to fire. This is the act of a coward. Another soldier trains the barrel of his tank on a hotel full of journalists and fires. This is the act of a coward. A soldier stands by while hospitals and museums are looted and anarchy descends on a great city. This is the act of a coward. Many of these are scared kids put into an impossible place. We should pity them, but that does not make them the heroes. There is a reporter who forbears to report how scared and unnerved these kids are, for fear he might undermine his president. This is the act of a coward. A member of the United States Congress goes into his cafeteria and renames French Fires, Freedom Fries, because he he is unable to take any criticism from another country, even the country that helped pave the way for American freedom. Is this the act of a brave man? No, this is the act of a coward. A scholar who advises the White House concludes that force and fear are the only way to end a cycle of terrorism that perpetuates itself because of force and fear. He does not even think about finding the reasons for the problem, or the solutions. This is the act of a coward. And the president comes forth smirking and swaggering, dressing in military garb and gloating. We have seen this from the worst of world leaders before, the Stalins and Hitlers, and though our president may not rise to the same level of evil, he resembles them uncomfortably. They are the leaders that did what they did and smirked and swaggered while they did it because they were essentially cowards too. We have, it seems, at last become a nation of cowards. Cowardice has woven itself right into the fabric of our lives. A nation of cowards‹except those who aren¹t, and there are many. And in the heart of every American there is a bravery waiting to emerge. If someone would come along who would call on that bravery, if another Martin Luther King came suddenly into our midst, you would see bravery flower everywhere overnight. We are, all of us, after all, just human. Sidney Hall, Jr. is a poet and publisher who lives in New Hampshire. He is the owner of Hobblebush Books and may be reached at

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COM: Loathing America

I loathe America,
and what it has done to the rest of the world
By Margaret Drabble, Daily Telegraph , (Filed: 08/05/2003)

I knew that the wave of anti-Americanism that would swell up after the Iraq war would make me feel ill. And it has. It has made me much, much more ill than I had expected.

My anti-Americanism has become almost uncontrollable. It has possessed me, like a disease. It rises up in my throat like acid reflux, that fashionable American sickness. I now loathe the United States and what it has done to Iraq and the rest of the helpless world.

I can hardly bear to see the faces of Bush and Rumsfeld, or to watch their posturing body language, or to hear their self-satisfied and incoherent platitudes. The liberal press here has done its best to make them appear ridiculous, but these two men are not funny.

I was tipped into uncontainable rage by a report on Channel 4 News about "friendly fire", which included footage of what must have been one of the most horrific bombardments ever filmed. But what struck home hardest was the subsequent image, of a row of American warplanes, with grinning cartoon faces painted on their noses. Cartoon faces, with big sharp teeth.

It is grotesque. It is hideous. This great and powerful nation bombs foreign cities and the people in those cities from Disneyland cartoon planes out of comic strips. This is simply not possible. And yet, there they were.

Others have written eloquently about the euphemistic and affectionate names that the Americans give to their weapons of mass destruction: Big Boy, Little Boy, Daisy Cutter, and so forth.

We are accustomed to these sobriquets; to phrases such as "collateral damage" and "friendly fire" and "pre-emptive strikes". We have almost ceased to notice when suicide bombers are described as "cowards". The abuse of language is part of warfare. Long ago, Voltaire told us that we invent words to conceal truths. More recently, Orwell pointed out to us the dangers of Newspeak.

But there was something about those playfully grinning warplane faces that went beyond deception and distortion into the land of madness. A nation that can allow those faces to be painted as an image on its national aeroplanes has regressed into unimaginable irresponsibility. A nation that can paint those faces on death machines must be insane.

There, I have said it. I have tried to control my anti-Americanism, remembering the many Americans that I know and respect, but I can't keep it down any longer. I detest Disneyfication, I detest Coca-Cola, I detest burgers, I detest sentimental and violent Hollywood movies that tell lies about history.

I detest American imperialism, American infantilism, and American triumphalism about victories it didn't even win.

On April 29, 2000, I switched on CNN in my hotel room and, by chance, saw an item designed to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the end of the Vietnam war. The camera showed us a street scene in which a shabby elderly Vietnamese man was seen speaking English and bartering in dollars in a city that I took to be Ho Chi Minh City, still familiarly known in America by its old French colonial name of Saigon.

"The language of Shakespeare," the commentator intoned, "has conquered Vietnam." I did not note down the dialogue, though I can vouch for that sentence about the language of Shakespeare. But the word "dollar" was certainly repeated several times, and the implications of what the camera showed were clear enough.

The elderly Vietnamese man was impoverished, and he wanted hard currency. The Vietnamese had won the war, but had lost the peace.

Just leave Shakespeare and Shakespeare's homeland out of this squalid bit of revisionism, I thought at the time. Little did I then think that now, three years on, Shakespeare's country would have been dragged by our leader into this illegal, unjustifiable, aggressive war. We are all contaminated by it. Not in my name, I want to keep repeating, though I don't suppose anybody will listen.

America uses the word "democracy" as its battle cry, and its nervous soldiers gun down Iraqi civilians when they try to hold street demonstrations to protest against the invasion of their country. So much for democracy. (At least the British Army is better trained.)

America is one of the few countries in the world that executes minors. Well, it doesn't really execute them - it just keeps them in jail for years and years until they are old enough to execute, and then it executes them. It administers drugs to mentally disturbed prisoners on Death Row until they are back in their right mind, and then it executes them, too.

They call this justice and the rule of law. America is holding more than 600 people in detention in Guantánamo Bay, indefinitely, and it may well hold them there for ever. Guantánamo Bay has become the Bastille of America. They call this serving the cause of democracy and freedom.

I keep writing to Jack Straw about the so-called "illegal combatants", including minors, who are detained there without charge or trial or access to lawyers, and I shall go on writing to him and his successors until something happens. This one-way correspondence may last my lifetime. I suppose the minors won't be minors for long, although the youngest of them is only 13, so in time I shall have to drop that part of my objection, but I shall continue to protest.

A great democratic nation cannot behave in this manner. But it does. I keep remembering those words from Nineteen Eighty-Four, on the dynamics of history at the end of history, when O'Brien tells Winston: "Always there will be the intoxication of powerŠ Always, at every moment, there will be the thrill of victory, the sensation of trampling on an enemy who is helpless. If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face - for ever."

We have seen enough boots in the past few months to last us a lifetime. Iraqi boots, American boots, British boots. Enough of boots.

I hate feeling this hatred. I have to keep reminding myself that if Bush hadn't been (so narrowly) elected, we wouldn't be here, and none of this would have happened. There is another America. Long live the other America, and may this one pass away soon.

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Wednesday, May 07, 2003

COM: Strong Must Rule Weak

Strong Must Rule the Weak, said Neo-Cons' Muse
Analysis - By Jim Lobe

WASHINGTON, May 7 (IPS) - Is U.S. foreign policy being run by followers of an obscure German Jewish political philosopher whose views were elitist, amoral and hostile to democratic government?

Suddenly, political Washington is abuzz about Leo Strauss, who arrived in the United States in 1938 and taught at several major universities before his death in 1973.

Thanks to the ”Week in Review'' section of last Sunday's 'New York Times' and another investigative article in this week's 'New Yorker' magazine, the cognoscenti have suddenly been made aware that key neo-conservative strategists behind the Bush administration's aggressive foreign and military policy consider themselves to be followers of Strauss, although the philosopher - an expert on Plato and Aristotle - rarely addressed current events in his writings.

The most prominent is Deputy Defence Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, now widely known as ''Wolfowitz of Arabia'' for his obsession with ousting Iraq's Saddam Hussein as the first step in transforming the entire Arab Middle East. Wolfowitz is also seen as the chief architect of Washington's post-9/11 global strategy, including its controversial pre-emption policy.

Two other very influential Straussians include 'Weekly Standard' Chief Editor William Kristol and Gary Schmitt, founder, chairman and director of the Project for the New American Century (PNAC), a six-year-old neo-conservative group whose alumni include Vice President Dick Cheney and Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld, as well as a number of other senior foreign policy officials.

PNAC's early prescriptions and subsequent open letters to President George W. Bush on how to fight the war on terrorism have anticipated to an uncanny extent precisely what the administration has done.

Kristol's father Irving, the godfather of neo-conservatism who sits on the board of the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) where a number of prominent hawks, including former Defence Policy Board chairman Richard Perle, are based, has also credited Strauss with being one of the main influences on his thinking.

While the Times article introduced readers to Strauss and his disciples in Washington, interest was further piqued this week by a lengthy article by The New Yorker's legendary investigative reporter, Seymour Hersh, who noted that Abram Shulsky, a close Perle associate who has run a special intelligence unit in Rumsfeld's office, is also a Straussian.

His unit, according to Hersh, re-interpreted evidence of Iraq's alleged links to Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda terrorist network and possession of weapons of mass destruction to support those in the administration determined to go to war with Baghdad. The article also identified Stephen Cambone, one of Rumsfeld's closest aides who heads the new post of undersecretary of defence for intelligence, as a Strauss follower.

In his article, Hersh wrote that Strauss believed the world to be a place where ''isolated liberal democracies live in constant danger from hostile elements abroad'', and where policy advisers may have to deceive their own publics and even their rulers in order to protect their countries.

Shadia Drury, author of 1999's 'Leo Strauss and the American Right', says Hersh is right on the second count but dead wrong on the first.

''Strauss was neither a liberal nor a democrat,'' she said in a telephone interview from her office at the University of Calgary in Canada. ''Perpetual deception of the citizens by those in power is critical (in Strauss's view) because they need to be led, and they need strong rulers to tell them what's good for them.''

''The Weimar Republic (in Germany) was his model of liberal democracy for which he had huge contempt,'' added Drury. Liberalism in Weimar, in Strauss's view, led ultimately to the Nazi Holocaust against the Jews.

Like Plato, Strauss taught that within societies, ''some are fit to lead, and others to be led'', according to Drury. But, unlike Plato, who believed that leaders had to be people with such high moral standards that they could resist the temptations of power, Strauss thought that ''those who are fit to rule are those who realise there is no morality and that there is only one natural right, the right of the superior to rule over the inferior''.

For Strauss, ''religion is the glue that holds society together'', said Drury, who added that Irving Kristol, among other neo-conservatives, has argued that separating church and state was the biggest mistake made by the founders of the U.S. republic.

''Secular society in their view is the worst possible thing'', because it leads to individualism, liberalism and relativism, precisely those traits that might encourage dissent, which in turn could dangerously weaken society's ability to cope with external threats. ''You want a crowd that you can manipulate like putty,'' according to Drury.

Strauss was also strongly influenced by Thomas Hobbes. Like Hobbes, he thought the fundamental aggressiveness of human nature could be restrained only through a powerful state based on nationalism. ''Because mankind is intrinsically wicked, he has to be governed,'' he once wrote. ''Such governance can only be established, however, when men are united - and they can only be united against other people''.

''Strauss thinks that a political order can be stable only if it is united by an external threat,'' Drury wrote in her book. ''Following Machiavelli, he maintains that if no external threat exists, then one has to be manufactured. Had he lived to see the collapse of the Soviet Union, he would have been deeply troubled because the collapse of the 'evil empire' poses a threat to America's inner stability.''

''In Strauss' view, you have to fight all the time (to survive),'' said Drury. ''In that respect, it's very Spartan. Peace leads to decadence. Perpetual war, not perpetual peace, is what Straussians believe in.'' Such views naturally lead to an ''aggressive, belligerent foreign policy'', she added.

As for what a Straussian world order might look like, Drury said the philosopher often talked about Jonathan Swift's story of Gulliver and the Lilliputians. ''When Lilliput was on fire, Gulliver urinated over the city, including the palace. In so doing, he saved all of Lilliput from catastrophe, but the Lilliputians were outraged and appalled by such a show of disrespect.''

For Strauss, the act demonstrates both the superiority and the isolation of the leader within a society and, presumably, the leading country vis-a-vis the rest of the world.

Drury suggests it is ironic, but not inconsistent with Strauss' ideas about the necessity for elites to deceive their citizens, that the Bush administration defends its anti-terrorist campaign by resorting to idealistic rhetoric. ''They really have no use for liberalism and democracy, but they're conquering the world in the name of liberalism and democracy,'' she said.

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