The Political Battle over Modernity
Part IV: MORE WEAPONS IN THE NEOCON ARSENAL
We have spent some time analyzing the most effective tool used by the neoconservative movement, in their march to almost-total power ofer the government and institutions of American life. That trick -- almost never discussed in press or punditry -- has been to maintain a broad “big tent” coalition of wildly disparate (and even contradictory) interest groups. This has been achieved through deliberate inclusiveness, in contrast to increasing left-wing dogmatism and litmus tested exclusivity.
This impressive accomplishment is reminiscent of earlier political alliances built by Franklin Roosevelt. It has also involved an incredible dance of vagueness, abetted by a media that will not report on how little some of these interest groups are actually getting, other than lip service.
But it doesn’t stop there. Coalition-building was only the first of many GOP innovations -- weapons that were honed and sharpened during years spent hungry, in the political wilderness. A shortened, abbreviated list of other methods would have to include:
-- fomenting “culture war” as a function of religious identification, regional identification, rural-vs-urban identification, etc., taking advantage of every possible source of resentment.
-- mobilizing wealthy supporters to buy up crucial companies, gradually gaining control over most news media, radio outlets and manufacturers of most of the nation’s voting machines.
-- perfecting the art of state-by-state gerrymandering, in order to maximize every electoral advantage.
-- associating conservatism with Mother-Pie issues like patriotism, military readiness, preservation of the family, and childhood innocence.
-- systematically using Congressional appointments to fill the US military academies with entering cadets selected according to strict political and religious standards. (This one is obscure and possibly very dangerous.)
-- playing upon fear. Of foreigners. Of terror. Of technology gone out of control.
By combining these and other innovative techniques, conservatives -- (or rather, neoconservatives) -- have overcome the inherent disadvantage that they would normally face in direct debates over specific issues.
This particular point is an important one. As shown by public opinion polls, Americans tend to lean in modernist-progressive directions when asked -- in a neutral manner -- about particular policies, ranging from retirement to budgetary restraint, from energy research to science education, from labor law to conservation, from agriculture to border policy, from taxation to global warming, from teaching evolution in the schools to abortion, from excessive secrecy to civil rights, from foreign intervention to transparency and accountability in government. Consensus opinions on most of these issues generally swing neither left nor right... but do tend toward mildly progressive-moderate, with possibly a tilt toward “liberal.” One consistent example would be overall public support for budget balancing as a priority, instead of tax cuts for the wealthy.
Faced with an intrinsic disadvantage when it comes to the broad sweep of policy, the GOP has viewed it as vital that elections not be about these issues. Party leaders needed every one of the innovative methods that we are describing in this essay. Even so, the last two presidential elections were the closest in a hundred years.
What is clear is that today’s GOP knows how to turn narrow victories into overwhelming political power. By applying a wide range of techniques in a well coordinated manner, the far-right has taken over every branch of the federal government, as well as most of the press, eliminating any need for classic political negotiation.
Which raises another interesting point. Those who used to speak in praise of “divided government,” as a restraint on federal excess -- for example, during the Clinton Administration -- are now strangely -- and hypocritically -- silent, as every kind of exorbitant political indulgence is excused during the Republicans’ total monopoly of power.
One outcome has been the most passive US Congress since 1930. Despite the greatest pork barrel feeding frenzy in hiostory, in fact, rates of actual work on Capitol Hill have slowed almost to a dead stop. Most notably the committees assigned to supervise and investigate executive departments have waned into near complete torpor. Especially telling is the fact that President George W. Bush used his veto power less often than any other president in two centuries. So much for the virtues of “divided government.”
Most dangerously, members and supporters of the Bush Administration have also expanded the use of secrecy, to a degree never seen even during the Cold War, back when we faced the towering enmity of a mighty Soviet empire. What is the rationale for this unprecedented dive into shadows? The vague and amorphous threat of “terrorism” -- a foe that has killed fewer Americans in the last decade than routinely die of car crashes in a month.
This push for secrecy is, of course, what elites have always tried to achieve, in every previous society, but never so relentlessly in our democracy. One result; it effectively quashes almost all prospect of accountability.
==THESE CONSEQUENCES HAVE CAUSES==
While we may bemoan what all of this has done to our country, it is important to recall our central point in this article, which concerns political innovation.
And in that realm there can no longer be any doubt about neoconservative creativity and persistence. Their time in the wilderness left them lean and hungry, filled with energy and fresh ideas about how to wage effective political war.
If their opponents choose not to respect and learn from these accomplishments, well then, the neocons will happily take advantage of that, as well.
After successive electoral debacles in 1994, 2000 and 2004, are Democrats ready to perform a similar re-evaluation? Perhaps even readjusting their priorities and methods for a new century?
By all signs, the answer is no. Instead, we seem set for the same pattern, next election, that we have witnessed time and again.
...next... "Was Clinton Different? The exception to the rule of liberal self-destruction...
or return to Part 1: Ideas for Rescuing Modernity