Sunday, September 23, 2007

"The Big Con" -- Jonathan Chait reprinted in NY Times

Yet another book about how "American politics has been hijacked by a tiny coterie of right-wing economic extremists, some of them ideological zealots, others merely greedy, a few of them possibly insane."

Not a few of us were alarmed by this prospect in the wee hours of the morning on November 7, 2000. I actually remember where I was that evening, watching the returns. Hotel New York, I think it was -- on a visit to the Big Apple. Earlier that night, it was my pleasure to see Picasso's Guernica outside the Security Council meeting-room at the United Nations Building. One did not have to be prescient, or even of above-average intelligence, to see what kind of trauma likely was in store for the U.S. (and the world) if that idiot bumpkin from Texas and his criminal friends from his father's (and Reagan's, and Nixon's) administration(s), actually captured power. All it took was a little attention to history and to detail -- which, sadly, far to many Americans pride themselves in lacking.

While informative, a description like Chait's, coming at the end of George Bush's Presidency (he leaves office in 484 days and some-odd hours, according to the ubiquitous countdown clocks all over the Internet), merely describing the magnitude of the harm that already has been done, doesn't really seem to add much to the conversation other than to augment an already-formidable mountain of prose detailing the failings of what undoubtedly will be remembered as the most abysmal U.S. Presidency of all time. (At least, that is, it will be remembered as the worst, until proteges of Cheney and Rumsfeld and Gonzalez -- the people who occupy the positions that Rumsfeld and Cheney and Weinberger and others occupied back in the Nixon administration, not to mention the people who Monica Goodling has packed into the ranks of career prosecutors at Justice, and who other Goodling-equivalents have seeded elsewhere -- seize power yet again.).

Precisely because that mountain of prose will be ignored by most Americans, and remembered by too few, while far too many Americans will instead seek to have their nationalist enthusiasms and petty resentments validated (and exploited) by talking heads on television, it will not be long before the criminal cycle repeats itself all over again.

The American memory is short. Memories of the Nixon Administration and its crimes, both here and abroad, certainly did not prevent American voters from making the same mistake, and granting power to the same cabal, in 1980, and in 1984, and yet again 1988. And they did it again, more recently -- even despite the economic good-times and budget surpluses seen in the period leading up to the 2000 elections.

What is really needed, this time, is a persistent focus on un-doing the harm caused by the Bush administration, and on immunizing against a future resurgence against the "tiny coterie of right-wing economic extremists, some of them ideological zealots," who seized and held power for the last eight years.

The Bush "true believers" who hijacked the government in 2000, and engaged in eight years of systematic looting to benefit their corporate friends, also have spent at least the last four of those years making sure that the next generation of "true believers" has been well-positioned (and infiltrated into all levels of government) to wage ideological war against the next administration from within the halls of power. Bush's people already have pre-positioned the next generation of Federalist Society drones and Milton Friedman disciples, to re-take control of the government when the American people (with their short memories, and assisted by disinformation from television) get fed up with the 2008 crop of reformers, and buy in (yet again) to a bunch of phony focus-grouped promises.

John Dean was absolutely correct, in June 1973, when he explained that "there was a cancer growing on the presidency." In the intervening 34 years that same metaphorical "cancer" -- made up of a self-replicating ideological cadre of people pursuing a truly anti-democratic agenda -- has metastasized into something far worse.

If only information alone were enough to immunize American politics against frequent relapses. But that has proven demonstrably untrue.

Indeed, criminal prosecutions (of North, Pondexter, and Weinberger, most notably), or even the embarrassment of presidential pardons or commutations issued in an effort to prevent the truth from being revealed through criminal prosecutions (Weinberger, again; or Sccoter Libby; and even of Nixon, himself), have not been enough.

What is really necessary, in the marketplace of ideas, is a new and firm consensus that the phony corporatist ideology or Ronald Reagan, Milton Friedman, Dick Cheney, and George Bush has been thoroughly discredited -- that it has no more merit than the equally obsolete and discredited extremist notion of central planning (to the exclusion of free markets) as a core principle of social organization. Extremists and faith-based ideologues have no place in the halls of power, when the problems to be solved (poverty, environmental sustainability, human rights, privacy, and others) are both practical and urgent.

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