Rummy misses the point: we're supposed to be the good guys, the beacon of freedom. Our message is supposed to work because it has moral force, not because we pay some Lincoln Group sketchballs millions to plant propaganda in Iraqi newspapers and not because the press here plays down revelations of American torture. If the Bush crew hadn't distorted the truth to get to Iraq, it wouldn't need to distort the truth to succeed there.
One of my oft-stated chief criticisms of the present administration is not simply that their aims are so divergent from my own views and desires but that they very studiously do not come clean about what those aims even are. On the contrary, they claim to be pursuing a populist agenda while in fact striving for radical ends. Regardless of what I'm told by the administration, my attempts to trace a trajectory into the future based on where we are now and where the administration policies are pointing (not to mention where we were six years ago) leads to a very dark place.
During my drive down South on Thursday I listened to a Public Radio interview with Catherine Crier, who has written a book which explores this very subject. Lest we immediately dismiss her as being a partisan hack, it's worth noting that she was elected as a Republican Texas State Judge in a past career life, and used to host a daily interview show on the Fox News channel, The Crier Report. She describes herself as a "fierce Independent" and states that her voting record reveals no strict party affiliation. Her book is called Contempt: How the Right is Wronging American Justice, and it deals in part with the administration's tactics and tendencies versus their stated goals. Lest I too strenuously endorse a thing I do not know intimately, I must reiterate that I've not yet read her book, and I may learn that she is not so congenial to me as she appeared in this interview. I don't know why she's not still a Republican judge nor why she's no longer hosting a show on Fox News (though I can't help thinking that there's little room there for political switch hitters). But regardless, the book has quickly nudged its way to the top of my to-read list.
She began the interview by talking about how the goals of the religious right, with whom our president is so notoriously allied, are blatantly anti-democratic, and about how the country, if these people were to succeed in the extreme makeover they desire, would emerge substantially changed, and in ways that are not really being talked about. They seek a theocracy, a weaving of their religious doctrine into the central fabric of government. Having succeeded in bringing the Executive and Legislative Branches of government under conservative control, they have now focused their indignant marches and voting drives on the Judicial Branch as the third and final leg of the sniper's tripod of religious hegemony. It is no mystery that the recasting of this third leg requires control of the first two to accomplish: the reworking of our culture requires basically overturning our current legal code, which cannot be done without government's complicity except by revolution.
I don't for a minute believe that this makeover is desired by the voting population at large. Indeed, I think most of us are unaware of this as a movement or pertinent topic of conversation. If it's not talked about, it's not per se what we are voting upon. We tend to go to the voting booths concerned about the war we *happen* to find ourselves in, and concerned about taxation and school spending and health care.
So this seems dire enough. But in the course of questions, it transpired that the assault on democracy by the religious right is not really the prime threat we're facing, serious though it may be. Her next point was for me a provocative and revelatory notion.
The real soul of the current administration's aims and tactics is not W, it seems, but Cheney. This is not in itself especially new, even if it's rather disturbing to contemplate. What I had never put together was that Cheney is not hell-bent on pursuing W's conservative Christian agenda. Indeed, Cheney doesn't give a shit about religious causes, certainly not in the way of the man-child W, who has used the religion as the uneducated sometimes do, as a shield of dogmatism to protect him from himself. Cheney is entirely more self-possessed than this. It is Cheney, not W, who represents the real power of the new conservatism--the money and the influence--and the real goals of the neocons are economic, not moral in any "born-again" sense.
The great triumph of the neocons has been to get the fringe of Jesus people to "carry their water," in her phrase, to cynically co-opt the fanaticism of the religious right for the ends of the economic right, ends which one can strongly argue are contrary to the goals and (non-religious) interests of that religious right (it's not the Alan Greenspans and Newt Gingriches who are manning the pro-life pickets or waving their hands in the air at a speaking-in-tongues revival, nor will they be the ones feeling the pain at shifting the tax burdens of the nation downward or at the radical cuts to social programs and education and welfare spending). These self-proclaimed pious Christians, handled in front of the cameras as the leading edge of the conservative revolution, are much more congenial to the voting public than the secret tactics of the super-wealthy white guys who have co-opted them, especially if we fail to look further ahead than the local with-us-or-against-us gay marriage ban proposal. The 80 or 90 percent of the population that claims some belief in the Judeo-Christian story will default to this camp when the issue is made to be Christian morality versus the implosion of society itself.
The "starve the beast" philosophy seeks to force us back to a pre-FDR interface between government and the people, and the tacit strategy is to bring us so firmly to our knees with debt (a goal toward which this administration has made really breathtaking and profoundly disturbing progress in five short years) that the only solution will be wholesale and radical reductions in federal spending. Voila. Again, it's not the starve the beast that's revelatory to me, however upsetting. It's the cynical use of what many people might see as the apple-cheeked goodness of the pious to gain a voting block that will enable them to reach a goal to which they're not admitting. I had not stopped to consider that the religious right I despise, and in whose flag our president wraps himself, might be but a remora on the back of a much bigger shark. I've always wondered how what I'm convinced is a fringe movement in terms of numbers could have gained the foothold they have; this helps explain it.
None of this is possible, of course--no matter who your allies are--if the voting public learns that the ultimate beneficiaries of the neocons' strategies are a very tiny percentage of the population, men who already constitute an elite club of the super-wealthy. So long as we can make the argument be about base morality and safety from terrorism, we will effectively shield prying eyes from the tumor growing deep within, until it bursts forth on the surface--far too late to stop the illness.
No one in the administration or in the swirl of the conservative wave in Congress talks openly about this, because it would be a one-way ticket out of office at the next election (which, if it's true, constitutes a revolutionary conspiracy). Looked at in this light, Maureen Dowd's quote above takes on a different hue. If nothing is what the administration is stating it to be, then we can see that the war doesn't match the justification because we're not talking about the real justification. The stated explanations are just a stall tactic, a smokescreen to distract us while they dig the hole they're going to throw us into.
Do we not believe that this is really going on? Is this just paranoid, liberal delusion? We have surpassed eight trillion dollars in national debt and haven't the slightest hope or even the stated goal of balancing the federal budget, to say nothing of beginning to repay this debt. On the contrary.
I'll close this depressing post with another quote, this from the NYT editorial 2/21/06 talking about the realities of the budget proposed by the current administration:
Over five years, veterans' benefits would be cut 13 percent, or $10 billion. Despite all the political talk about energy research and alternate fuels, $4.4 billion would be cut from energy programs. Environmental spending, including for national parks, would be cut 22 percent, or $28 billion; housing, fuel, child care and nutrition programs for the poor and elderly would lose 13 percent, or $24 billion. Topping this surreal concoction is a 13 percent cut — $53 billion — in education and job programs by 2011.
Political realists have already declared the budget dead on arrival on Capitol Hill. That's not enough. The administration's assault on domestic programs should stand as a permanent reminder of the folly of the $285 billion in additional upper-bracket tax cuts the president and the Republican-controlled Congress are aiming for across the next five years. Despite the budget fictions, the damage from the tax-cut mania will haunt future generations.
Even with these cuts, this budgetary proposal is seriously underfunded, and even then it does not account for war spending nor for funding for Katrina recovery.