Column No. 80 By Steven Jonas, MD, MPH - October 13, 2005
To defeat an enemy, ancient Chinese military doctrine tells us, first know the enemy.
Consider the case of the Democrats vs. the Republican Party leadership. For many in the Democratic Party leadership, the first lesson, unfortunately, will have to be that the Republican Party now, under the leadership of the Bush Men, of the Republican Religious Right (RRR), of the Georgites, is the enemy. (Notice that I use the phrase, “Republican Party leadership,” not simply “Republicans.” For it is clearly the leadership who is the enemy, certainly not simply “Republicans.” Many Republicans fully and firmly support US Constitutional democracy, which the Georgites are out to destroy. Thus many rank and file Republicans differ from traditional Democrats only in degree, not kind.) Why, one might ask, is that so? Why must we now not deal with the Republican Party in the way that we dealt with them throughout the 20th century – as a party with whom we differed in degree, but not in kind?
The answer is that until the so-called Gingrich Revolution of 1994, we were dealing with a party that was, for the most part (with certain exceptions such as the McCarthy Era), committed to the Rule of Law, to US Constitutional Democracy, and to some significant role for the Federal government in the managing of the economy, the regulation and protection of the environment, and programming for the common good. (The groundwork for Gingrich’s bloodless coup within the Republican Party was laid by the Goldwater revolution. Remember that the convention that nominated Goldwater booed Nelson Rockefeller off the stage. He was a man who, today, probably could not get the Presidential nomination in the DLC-lead Democratic Party because he would be viewed as too “big government,” in the positive sense of government as the means for major problem-solving. The Reagan Presidency laid the groundwork for the country as a whole for the Gingrich Revolution.) For example, Richard Nixon, as paranoid and personally vicious and right-wing in the traditional sense as he was, presided over the largest expansion of Federal environmentalism the country ever experienced and actually introduced a program for national health insurance into Congress in the Spring of 1973, one that was similar in many ways to the Clinton Health Plan.
But now we have a President whose personal philosophy of good national policy was clearly established by the time he was a student at the Harvard Business School in the 1970s. It closely reflects the fundamental beliefs of the “neocons” who dominate the formulation in detail of Federal government policy under the Georgites (“President George Bush and the Gilded Age,” Yoshi Tsurumi, Professor of International Business, Baruch College, the City University of New York, March 1, 2004, http://www.glocom.org/opinions/essays/20040301_tsurumi_president
“At Harvard Business School, thirty years ago, George Bush was a student of mine. I still vividly remember him. In my class, he declared that ‘people are poor because they are lazy.’ He was opposed to labor unions, social security, environmental protection, Medicare, and public schools. To him, the antitrust watch dog, the Federal Trade Commission, and the Securities Exchange Commission were unnecessary hindrances to ‘free market competition.’ To him, Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal was ‘socialism.’ “
There is no evidence that George Bush has changed any of his views. However, do the particulars of the above list alone constitute the major issues that set apart the Georgites and traditional Democrats? Does the list by itself tell us why the RRR and the current Republican Party leadership must be considered an enemy that must be vanquished, not an opponent with whom we can compromise and work with if we are to deal with it effectively? Unfortunately, not.
What informs us that a compromise is not possible in part is the ideology underlying the list: according to Georgite ideology when it comes to dealing with issues of the economy, of the environment, of the health care delivery system, of education, of (somewhat) leveling the playing field, of doing anything to help people help themselves or helping people in desperate straits, government, whether Federal, state, or local, has no role to play. In the timeless phraseology of Grover Norquist (detailed in last week’s column), what the modern Republican Party stands for is what can be best described as “Bathtub Government.” In other words, for them the preamble to the Constitution, quoted at the end of last week’s column, is non-operative. This is what the Georgites are about. This is a major difference of kind, not degree.
The other major ideological concept establishing the RRR as an enemy that must be defeated is its construct of what the body of the Constitution itself actually means. This is a subject that I have discussed a number of times in this column from a variety of perspectives. I will not repeat here all of the arguments and all the details. (Interested readers can find them in last week’s column, in the recent one entitled “Let’s Hear it For Original Intent [Sept. 8, 2005],” and in my columns all the way back to “A Fire Bell in the Night, [March 4, 2004].”) For the Georgites, it’s “Constitution Optional.” (For Bush’s favorite Supreme Court Justice, “Original Construction” (sic) Scalia, there is something called “Natural Law” stand above the Constitution. Neither the term nor the concept appears anywhere in the document, but Scalia is sure that he knows for sure what it is and he brings it into play at whim or at will.) Thus under Georgitism, A.G. Alberto Gonzales can characterize the Geneva Conventions --- as treaties they are part of the Constitution --- as “quaint,” and advise the President that on his own authority he can ignore them.
Sens. John McCain and the Chairman of the Armed Services Committee John Warner, traditional right-wing, but not RRR Republicans, proposed an amendment to a defense bill requiring the military to abide by the Geneva rules. McCain is proposing another amendment that would establish the Army Field Manual as the standard for interrogation of all detainees held in Department of Defense custody. Cheney told them to desist on the grounds that such laws would “interfere with the authority of the President.” Such “authority” would allow the President to abide by the Constitution when he pleased and not to when he didn’t. This is what the Georgites are about. This is a difference of kind, not degree.
Next on the list of what the Democrats need to understand about the Republican leadership is the matter of Bush’s Supreme Court nominations. Much has been written about Roberts, his apparent life-long commitment to the principles of the RRR, and his unwillingness to answer any meaningful questions during his confirmation hearings. Much more important than that in understanding the Georgite approach to government and Roberts’ support for it are the following. In the 2000 election, as an attorney Roberts was a key advisor to the Bush Team on strategy and tactics in developing and implementing their plan for Grand Theft Election I (Florida). (Much has been written in TPJ and many other places on GTE I. For details on Grand Theft Election II (Ohio), see, for example, “None Dare Call It Stolen” by Mark Crispin Miller, Harper's Magazine, 0017-789X, August 1, 2005, Vol. 311, Issue 1863; and "http://www.nightweed.com/usavotefacts.html: 20 Amazing Facts About Voting in the USA,” by Angry Girl, Nightweed.com).
Then, at the time Roberts was being considered for nomination to the Court, he was a sitting Appellate Judge on the “Guantanamo” case challenging the government’s right to imprison permanently foreign nationals on American territory without charges, access to counsel, or trial. Both he and his interviewers knew of the situation. He voted to uphold the Georgite policy of ignoring the Constitution and doing what the President wanted to do.
So we now have as Chief Justice a man who helped Bush take office following an election he did not win and a judge who voted for the Constitution-busting Bush policy when he was being considered by Bush for a Supreme Court appointment. And oh yes, this new Chief has had exactly two year’s experience on the bench. This says volumes about the Georgite approach to the judicial branch of government and to Roberts’ as well. Do you ever wonder how all of those German judges and courts could have ended up supporting the Nazis? Just look at what is happening here. And on the day I am writing this, Bush nominates for the court a long-time personal lawyer of his who has no judicial experience whatsoever. But she is a long-time Bush crony who, if and when such issues as the outing of Valerie Plame come before the Supreme Court, is most likely to provide support for guess who? This is what the Georgites are about. This is a difference of kind, not degree.
In his column in The New York Times of Sept. 22, 2005, entitled "Voters' Remorse on Bush," the excellent left-liberal columnist Bob Herbert noted that along with everything else, the Georgites have shown that they are woefully incompetent at dealing with such major matters as the post-invasion reconstruction of Iraq and the consequences of both hurricane Katrina and The Great New Orleans Bush Flood of 2005. (Note that this section is adopted from my “Short Short Shot No. 10” posted at Michael Carmichael’s Weblog [http://planetmove.blogspot.com/].) Their incompetence in doing what the United States government has been expected to do since the presidencies of Theodore Roosevelt at the beginning of the Progressive Era and that of his cousin who established the New Deal may be part of what eventually brings down the Georgites.
However, to be competent at doing what the Federal government has done for most of the 20th century is not what the Georgites were selected to do by the powers that selected them. They have proven to be extremely competent in carrying out their true electoral mandate (whether or not that mandate was made widely known to the American electorate either by themselves or by the Democrats, and what it was not). And so, as readers of this space know very well, the Georgites have proven highly competent at moving toward achieving their true goals for Iraq (creating permanent US bases in the Western Iraqi desert and creating a US/Kurdish protectorate in the north so that the US oil companies can get their hands on what may prove to be truly enormous reserves); at providing the obscene tax cuts enacted for their rich supporters; ballooning the Federal deficit as rapidly as possible while cutting all non-military/non-selective-law-enforcement spending as much as they can; eliminating environmental and economic regulation to the extent possible; and perhaps most importantly, laying the groundwork for fascism by their ongoing offensive against the Constitution.
At the end of his column, Mr. Herbert says: "But the next time around, the voters need to keep in mind that beyond the incessant yammering about left and right, big government and small, Democrats and Republicans, is a more immediate issue, and that's competence." Mr. Herbert, I beg to disagree. The central issue is NOT competence per se. As I showed above, the Georgites are fully competent about plenty. The issue is what they are competent about. The Democrats cannot regain control of the Federal government by running on "competence." All the Republicans would have to do is say, a) we'll learn from our mistakes (as Bush is already saying, although not doing), and b) you made plenty of mistakes when you had power, as their Privatized Ministry of Propaganda is already doing 24/7.
It is fascinating that the Georgites have appointed so many clearly incompetent people to high-level positions in the Federal government. Even more fascinating is that despite the Mike Brown (FEMA/Bush Flood) disaster they continue to make such appointments (Sunday, Sep. 25, 2005, Time, “How Many More Mike Browns Are Out There?” by M. Thompson, K. Tumulty, M. Allen). Part of this is Bush’s well-known “middle-finger” approach to his office. But part of it goes along with the whole Georgite approach to government and governing. Bush excepted, these people are not dummies. They know that incompetent people will do incompetent jobs. (That may be one reason why George Bush, who never succeeded at anything he ever tried, except getting out of his National Guard obligations, was himself chosen to be the neocon’s President.) There may well be a method in their seeming madness. Let’s turn the people against “government” (except when it comes to controlling personal beliefs and behaviors, looting the Federal treasury for their rich friends, and all the rest) by showing them how lousy a job government does.
Thus, the central issues separating the Republican leadership and traditional Democrats do have to do with substance –- policy and underlying it ideology, not process --- that is competence. These issues have to do with what you are for and what you are against in foreign and domestic policy, what the role of government is and what it isn't, maintaining traditional American Constitutional democracy or not. These are the issues that should be primary for the Democrats, not the usual laundry-list of proposed Federal government programs that so often fills DNC fund-raising letters. These issues are what the Republicans don't want to talk about. Nevertheless, how the RRR acts on these issues, however, tell us exactly what the Georgites are truly about. This is a difference of kind, not of degree. These basic issues of governance and governing are what the Democrats have to get back to. If they do, they will win. If they don't, they won't.
Next week we shall begin to turn our attention to how the Democrats can confront and address these issues, so that the Party can play a part in turning our beloved country around before those of us who believe in the Constitution the way it was written can do nothing else but cry, for our beloved country.