Farewell, America

By Neal Gabler, billmoyers.com, November 10, 2016

Excerpt

No matter how the rest of the world looked at us on Nov. 7, they will now look at us differently.

America died on Nov. 8, 2016, not with a bang or a whimper, but at its own hand via electoral suicide. We the people chose a man who has shredded our values, our morals, our compassion, our tolerance, our decency, our sense of common purpose, our very identity — all the things that, however tenuously, made a nation out of a country… It turned out to be the hate election because, and let’s not mince words, of the hatefulness of the electorate. In the years to come, we will brace for the violence, the anger, the racism, the misogyny, the xenophobia, the nativism, the white sense of grievance that will undoubtedly be unleashed now that we have destroyed the values that have bound us. We all knew these hatreds lurked under the thinnest veneer of civility. That civility finally is gone. In its absence, we may realize just how imperative that politesse was. It is the way we managed to coexist… Who knew that after years of seeming progress on race and gender, tens of millions of white Americans lived in seething resentment, waiting for a demagogue to arrive who would legitimize their worst selves and channel them into political power? …This country has survived a civil war, two world wars and a Great Depression. There are many who say we will survive this, too. Maybe we will, but we won’t survive unscathed. We know too much about each other to heal. No more can we pretend that we are exceptional or good or progressive or united. We are none of those things. Nor can we pretend that democracy works and that elections have more-or-less happy endings. Democracy only functions when its participants abide by certain conventions, certain codes of conduct and a respect for the process. No more can we pretend that we are exceptional or good or progressive or united. We are none of those things.

The virus that kills democracy is extremism because extremism disables those codes. Republicans have disrespected the process for decades…they haven’t believed in democracy for a long time, and the media never called them out on it.

Democracy can’t cope with extremism…because ever since the days of Ronald Reagan, rhetoric has obviated action, speechifying has superseded governing…

Just as Trump has shredded our values, our nation and our democracy, he has shredded the mediaJust as the sainted Ronald Reagan created an unbridgeable chasm between rich and poor that the Republicans would later exploit against Democrats, conservatives delegitimized mainstream journalism so they could fill the vacuum.

Like Goebbels before them, conservatives understood they had to create their own facts, their own truths, their own reality. They have done so, and in so doing effectively destroyed the very idea of objectivity. Trump can lie constantly only because white America has accepted an Orwellian sense of truth — the truth pulled inside out.

Among the many now-widening divides in the country, this is a big one, the divide between the media and working-class whites, because it creates a Wild West of information — a media ecology in which nothing can be believed except what you already believe.

With the mainstream media so delegitimized… not having had the courage to take on lies and expose false equivalencies — they have very little role to play going forward in our politics. I suspect most of them will surrender to Trumpism — if they were able to normalize Trump as a candidate, they will no doubt normalize him as presidentFor the press, this is likely to be the new normal in an America in which white supremacists, neo-Nazi militias, racists, sexists, homophobes and anti-Semites have been legitimized by a new president who “says what I’m thinking.” It will be open season… if anyone points the way forward, it may be New York Times columnist David Brooks. Brooks is no paragon. He always had seemed to willfully neglect modern Republicanism’s incipient fascism (now no longer incipient), and he was an apologist for conservative self-enrichment and bigotry. But this campaign season, Brooks pretty much dispensed with politics. He seemed to have arrived at the conclusion that no good could possibly come of any of this and retreated into spirituality. What Brooks promoted were values of mutual respect, a bolder sense of civic engagement, an emphasis on community and neighborhood, and overall a belief in trickle-up decency rather than trickle-down economics. He is not hopeful, but he hasn’t lost all hope.

For those of us now languishing in despair, this may be a prescription for rejuvenation. We have lost the country, but by refocusing, we may have gained our own little patch of the world and, more granularly, our own family. For journalists, Brooks may show how political reporting…might yield to a broader moral context in which one considers the effect that policy, strategy and governance have not only on our physical and economic well-being but also on our spiritual well-being. In a society that is likely to be fractious and odious, we need a national conversation on values. The media could help start it….We are not living for ourselves anymore in this country. Now we are living for history.

Full text

No matter how the rest of the world looked at us on Nov. 7, they will now look at us differently.

America died on Nov. 8, 2016, not with a bang or a whimper, but at its own hand via electoral suicide. We the people chose a man who has shredded our values, our morals, our compassion, our tolerance, our decency, our sense of common purpose, our very identity — all the things that, however tenuously, made a nation out of a country.

Whatever place we now live in is not the same place it was on Nov. 7. No matter how the rest of the world looked at us on Nov. 7, they will now look at us differently. We are likely to be a pariah country. And we are lost for it. As I surveyed the ruin of that country this gray Wednesday morning, I found weary consolation in W.H. Auden’s poem, September 1, 1939, which concludes:

“Defenseless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.”
I hunt for that affirming flame.

This generally has been called the “hate election” because everyone professed to hate both candidates. It turned out to be the hate election because, and let’s not mince words, of the hatefulness of the electorate. In the years to come, we will brace for the violence, the anger, the racism, the misogyny, the xenophobia, the nativism, the white sense of grievance that will undoubtedly be unleashed now that we have destroyed the values that have bound us.

We all knew these hatreds lurked under the thinnest veneer of civility. That civility finally is gone. In its absence, we may realize just how imperative that politesse was. It is the way we managed to coexist.

If there is a single sentence that characterizes the election, it is this: “He says the things I’m thinking.” That may be what is so terrifying. Who knew that so many tens of millions of white Americans were thinking unconscionable things about their fellow Americans? Who knew that tens of millions of white men felt so emasculated by women and challenged by minorities? Who knew that after years of seeming progress on race and gender, tens of millions of white Americans lived in seething resentment, waiting for a demagogue to arrive who would legitimize their worst selves and channel them into political power? Perhaps we had been living in a fool’s paradise. Now we aren’t.

This country has survived a civil war, two world wars and a Great Depression. There are many who say we will survive this, too. Maybe we will, but we won’t survive unscathed. We know too much about each other to heal. No more can we pretend that we are exceptional or good or progressive or united. We are none of those things. Nor can we pretend that democracy works and that elections have more-or-less happy endings. Democracy only functions when its participants abide by certain conventions, certain codes of conduct and a respect for the process.

No more can we pretend that we are exceptional or good or progressive or united. We are none of those things.

The virus that kills democracy is extremism because extremism disables those codes. Republicans have disrespected the process for decades. They have regarded any Democratic president as illegitimate. They have proudly boasted of preventing popularly elected Democrats from effecting policy and have asserted that only Republicans have the right to determine the nation’s course. They have worked tirelessly to make sure that the government cannot govern and to redefine the purpose of government as prevention rather than effectuation. In short, they haven’t believed in democracy for a long time, and the media never called them out on it.

Democracy can’t cope with extremism. Only violence and time can defeat it. The first is unacceptable, the second takes too long. Though Trump is an extremist, I have a feeling that he will be a very popular president and one likely to be re-elected by a substantial margin, no matter what he does or fails to do. That’s because ever since the days of Ronald Reagan, rhetoric has obviated action, speechifying has superseded governing.

Trump was absolutely correct when he bragged that he could shoot someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue and his supporters wouldn’t care. It was a dictator’s ugly vaunt, but one that recognized this election never was about policy or economics or the “right path/wrong path,” or even values. It was about venting. So long as Trump vented their grievances, his all-white supporters didn’t care about anything else. He is smart enough to know that won’t change in the presidency. In fact, it is only likely to intensify. White America, Trump’s America, just wants to hear its anger bellowed. This is one time when the Bully Pulpit will be literal.

The media can’t be let off the hook for enabling an authoritarian to get to the White House. Long before he considered a presidential run, he was a media creation — a regular in the gossip pages, a photo on magazine covers, the bankrupt (morally and otherwise) mogul who hired and fired on The Apprentice. When he ran, the media treated him not as a candidate, but as a celebrity, and so treated him differently from ordinary pols. The media gave him free publicity, trumpeted his shenanigans, blasted out his tweets, allowed him to phone in his interviews, fell into his traps and generally kowtowed until they suddenly discovered that this joke could actually become president.

Just as Trump has shredded our values, our nation and our democracy, he has shredded the media. In this, as in his politics, he is only the latest avatar of a process that began long before his candidacy. Just as the sainted Ronald Reagan created an unbridgeable chasm between rich and poor that the Republicans would later exploit against Democrats, conservatives delegitimized mainstream journalism so they could fill the vacuum.

With Trump’s election, I think that the ideal of an objective, truthful journalism is dead, never to be revived.

Retiring conservative talk show host Charlie Sykes complained that after years of bashing from the right wing, the mainstream media no longer could perform their function as reporters, observers, fact dispensers, and even truth tellers, and he said we needed them. Like Goebbels before them, conservatives understood they had to create their own facts, their own truths, their own reality. They have done so, and in so doing effectively destroyed the very idea of objectivity. Trump can lie constantly only because white America has accepted an Orwellian sense of truth — the truth pulled inside out.

With Trump’s election, I think that the ideal of an objective, truthful journalism is dead, never to be revived. Like Nixon and Sarah Palin before him, Trump ran against the media, boomeranging off the public’s contempt for the press. He ran against what he regarded as media elitism and bias, and he ran on the idea that the press disdained working-class white America. Among the many now-widening divides in the country, this is a big one, the divide between the media and working-class whites, because it creates a Wild West of information — a media ecology in which nothing can be believed except what you already believe.

With the mainstream media so delegitimized — a delegitimization for which they bear a good deal of blame, not having had the courage to take on lies and expose false equivalencies — they have very little role to play going forward in our politics. I suspect most of them will surrender to Trumpism — if they were able to normalize Trump as a candidate, they will no doubt normalize him as president. Cable news may even welcome him as a continuous entertainment and ratings booster. And in any case, like Reagan, he is bulletproof. The media cannot touch him, even if they wanted to. Presumably, there will be some courageous guerillas in the mainstream press, a kind of Resistance, who will try to fact-check him. But there will be few of them, and they will be whistling in the wind. Trump, like all dictators, is his own truth.

What’s more, Trump already has promised to take his war on the press into courtrooms and the halls of Congress. He wants to loosen libel protections, and he has threatened Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos of Amazon with an antitrust suit. Individual journalists have reason to fear him as well. He has already singled out NBC’s Katy Tur, perhaps the best of the television reporters, so that she needed the Secret Service to escort her from one of his rallies. Jewish journalists who have criticized Trump have been subjected to vicious anti-Semitism and intimidation from the white nationalist “alt-right.” For the press, this is likely to be the new normal in an America in which white supremacists, neo-Nazi militias, racists, sexists, homophobes and anti-Semites have been legitimized by a new president who “says what I’m thinking.” It will be open season.

This converts the media from reporters to targets, and they have little recourse. Still, if anyone points the way forward, it may be New York Times columnist David Brooks. Brooks is no paragon. He always had seemed to willfully neglect modern Republicanism’s incipient fascism (now no longer incipient), and he was an apologist for conservative self-enrichment and bigotry. But this campaign season, Brooks pretty much dispensed with politics. He seemed to have arrived at the conclusion that no good could possibly come of any of this and retreated into spirituality. What Brooks promoted were values of mutual respect, a bolder sense of civic engagement, an emphasis on community and neighborhood, and overall a belief in trickle-up decency rather than trickle-down economics. He is not hopeful, but he hasn’t lost all hope.

For those of us now languishing in despair, this may be a prescription for rejuvenation. We have lost the country, but by refocusing, we may have gained our own little patch of the world and, more granularly, our own family. For journalists, Brooks may show how political reporting, which, as I said, is likely to be irrelevant in the Trump age, might yield to a broader moral context in which one considers the effect that policy, strategy and governance have not only on our physical and economic well-being but also on our spiritual well-being. In a society that is likely to be fractious and odious, we need a national conversation on values. The media could help start it.

But the disempowered media may have one more role to fill: They must bear witness. Many years from now, future generations will need to know what happened to us and how it happened. They will need to know how disgruntled white Americans, full of self-righteous indignation, found a way to take back a country they felt they were entitled to and which they believed had been lost. They will need to know about the ugliness and evil that destroyed us as a nation after great men like Lincoln and Roosevelt guided us through previous crises and kept our values intact. They will need to know, and they will need a vigorous, engaged, moral media to tell them. They will also need us.

We are not living for ourselves anymore in this country. Now we are living for history.

Neal Gabler Neal Gabler is an author of five books and the recipient of two LA Times Book Prizes, Time magazine’s non-fiction book of the year, USA Today‘s biography of the year and other awards. He is also a senior fellow at The Norman Lear Center at the University of Southern California, and is currently writing a biography of Sen. Edward Kennedy.

http://billmoyers.com/story/farewell-america/#.WLWQK_Sbyos.facebook

Right wing ideas and actions 2016

There’s a Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy Afoot, Fueled by Dark Money, By Eleanor J. Bader, Truthout | Book Review, April 3, 2016

Today’s GOP Might Be Most Dangerous Organization in Human History | by Noam Chomsky, by THE INTELLECTUALIST May 17, 2016

It’s so much worse than Trump: The history of the modern GOP is a history of racism, bigotry and dog whistles By Phillip Cryan, salon.com,  Apr 5, 2016 The party of Lincoln? Sure, in 1858. Today’s GOP wants to pretend Trump is an outlier. They should look in a mirror

 

 

Today’s GOP Is a Candidate for Most Dangerous Organization in Human History

Interview with Chomsky: By Amy Goodman / Democracy Now, May 23, 2016

“Both political parties have shifted to the right during the neoliberal period.”

In Part 2 of our wide-ranging conversation with the world-renowned dissident Noam Chomsky: “If we were honest, we would say something that sounds utterly shocking and no doubt will be taken out of context and lead to hysteria on the part of the usual suspects,” [Noam] Chomsky says, “but the fact of the matter is that today’s Republican Party qualify as candidates for the most dangerous organization in human history. Literally.” Noam Chomsky, the world-renowned political dissident, linguist and author, institute professor emeritus at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he taught for more than half a century, his latest book titled Who Rules the World?

To watch Part 1 of the interview, click here.  TRANSCRIPT  This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

NOAM CHOMSKY: … there’s a long history [re: Syria]. The basic—we don’t have a lot of time, but the basic story is that the United States, like Britain before it, has tended to support radical Islamism against secular nationalism. That’s been a consistent theme of imperial strategy for a long time. Saudi Arabia is the center of radical Islamic extremism… the spread of Saudi extremist Wahhabi doctrine over Sunni Islam, the Sunni world, is one of the real disasters of modern—of the modern era. It’s a source of not only funding for extremist radical Islam and the jihadi outgrowths of it, but also, doctrinally, mosques, clerics and so on, schools, you know, madrassas, where you study just Qur’an, is spreading all over the huge Sunni areas from Saudi influence. And it continues. Saudi Arabia itself has one of the most grotesque human rights records in the world… This is a very ugly story.

AMY GOODMAN: …the issue of the Republican Party and what you see happening there, the Republican establishment fiercely opposed to the presumptive nominee. I don’t know if we’ve ever seen anything like this, although that could be changing… What is happening?

NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, first of all, the phenomenon that we’ve just seen is an extreme version of something that’s been going on just for years in the Republican primaries. Take a look back at the preceding ones. Every time a candidate came up from the base—Bachmann, McCain, Santorum, Huckabee, one crazier than the other—every time one rose from the base, the Republican establishment sought to beat them down and get their own—get their own man—you know, Romney. And they succeeded, until this year. This year the same thing happened, and they didn’t succeed. The pressure from the base was too great for them to beat it back. Now, that’s the disaster that the Republican establishment sees. But the phenomenon goes way back. And it has roots. It’s kind of like jihadis: You have to ask about the roots.

What are the roots? The Republican—both political parties have shifted to the right during the neoliberal period—the period, you know, since Reagan, goes back to late Carter, escalated under Reagan—during this period, which has been a period of stagnation and decline for much of the population in many ways—wages, benefits, security and so on—along with enormous wealth concentrated in a tiny fraction of the population, mostly financial institutions, which are—have a dubious, if not harmful, role on the economy. This has been going on for a generation. And while this has been happening, there’s a kind of a vicious cycle. You have more concentration of wealth, concentration of political power, legislation to increase concentration of wealth and power, and so on, that while that’s been going on, much of the population has simply been cast aside. The white working class is bitter and angry, for lots of reasons, including these. The minority populations were hit very hard by the Clinton destruction of the welfare system and the incarceration rules. They still tend to support the Democrats, but tepidly, because the alternative is worse, and they’re taking a kind of pragmatic stand.

But while the parties have shifted to—but the parties have shifted so far to the right that the—today’s mainstream Democrats are pretty much what used to be called moderate Republicans. Now, the Republicans are just off the spectrum. They have been correctly described by leading conservative commentators, like Norman Ornstein and Thomas Mann, as just what they call a radical insurgency, which has abandoned parliamentary politics. And they don’t even try to conceal it. Like as soon as Obama was elected, Mitch McConnell said, pretty much straight out, “We have only one policy: make the country ungovernable, and then maybe we can somehow get power again.” That’s just off the spectrum.

Now, the actual policies of the Republicans, whether it’s Paul Ryan or Donald Trump, to the extent that he’s coherent, Ted Cruz, you pick him, or the establishment, is basically enrich and empower the very rich and the very powerful and the corporate sector. You cannot get votes that way. So therefore the Republicans have been compelled to turn to sectors of the population that can be mobilized and organized on other grounds, kind of trying to put to the side the actual policies, hoping, the establishment hopes, that the white working class will be mobilized to vote for their bitter class enemies, who want to shaft them in every way, by appealing to something else, like so-called social conservatism—you know, abortion rights, racism, nationalism and so on. And to some extent, that’s happened. That’s the kind of thing that Fritz Stern was referring to in the article that I mentioned about Germany’s collapse, this descent into barbarism. So what you have is a voting base consisting of evangelical Christians, ultranationalists, racists, disaffected, angry, white working-class sectors that have been hit very hard, that are—you know, not by Third World standards, but by First World standards, we even have the remarkable phenomenon of an increase in mortality among these sectors, that just doesn’t happen in developed societies. All of that is a voting base. It does produce candidates who terrify the corporate, wealthy, elite establishment. In the past, they’ve been able to beat them down. This time they aren’t doing it. And that’s what’s happening to the so-called Republican Party.

We should recognize—if we were honest, we would say something that sounds utterly shocking and no doubt will be taken out of context and lead to hysteria on the part of the usual suspects, but the fact of the matter is that today’s Republican Party qualify as candidates for the most dangerous organization in human history. Literally. Just take their position on the two major issues that face us: climate change, nuclear war. On climate change, it’s not even debatable… There’s been nothing this—literally, this dangerous, if you think about it, to the species, really, ever. We should face that.

AMY GOODMAN: And finally, Noam, you’ve just written this book, Who Rules the World? You’ve written more than a hundred other books. And, I mean, you have been a deep, profound thinker and activist on world issues… I’m wondering where you think we stand today, if you agree with—well, with Dr. Martin Luther King, that the arc of the moral universe bends towards justice.

NOAM CHOMSKY:If you look over the past, say, the roughly 75 years of my, more or less, consciousness, it’s—in general, I think the arc of history has been bending towards justice. There have been many improvements, some of them pretty dramatic—women’s rights, for example, to an extent, civil rights. It should be remembered that there were literally lynchings in the South until the early 1950s. It’s not beautiful now, but that’s not happening. There have been steps forward. Opposition to aggression is much higher than it was in the past. There’s finally concern for environmental issues, which are really of desperate necessity. All of this is slow, halting, significant steps bending the arc of history in the right way.

There’s been regression, a lot of regression… there are opportunities—they’re not huge, but they’re real—to overcome the—and I stress again—to overcome problems that the human species has never faced in its roughly 200,000 years of existence, problems of, literally, survival. We’ve already answered these questions for a huge number of species: We’ve killed them off.

Amy Goodman is the host of Democracy Now!, a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on more than 1,200 stations in North America. She is the co-author of The Silenced Majority, a New York Times best-seller.

Full text

In Part 2 of our wide-ranging conversation with the world-renowned dissident Noam Chomsky, we talk about the conflict in Syria, the rise of ISIS, Saudi Arabia, the political crisis in Brazil, the passing of the pioneering lawyer Michael Ratner, the U.S. relationship with Cuba, Obama’s visit to Hiroshima and today’s Republican Party. “If we were honest, we would say something that sounds utterly shocking and no doubt will be taken out of context and lead to hysteria on the part of the usual suspects,” Chomsky says, “but the fact of the matter is that today’s Republican Party qualify as candidates for the most dangerous organization in human history. Literally.”

To watch Part 1 of the interview, click here.

TRANSCRIPT

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. Our guest for the hour is Noam Chomsky, the world-renowned political dissident, linguist and author, institute professor emeritus at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he taught for more than half a century, his latest book titled Who Rules the World? Noam Chomsky, can you talk about what you think needs to happen in Syria right now?

NOAM CHOMSKY: Syria is spiraling into real disaster, a virtual suicide. And the only sensible approach, the only slim hope, for Syria is efforts to reduce the violence and destruction, to establish small regional ceasefire zones and to move toward some kind of diplomatic settlement. There are steps in that direction. Also, it’s necessary to cut off the flow of arms, as much as possible, to everyone. That means to the vicious and brutal Assad regime, primarily Russia and Iran, to the monstrous ISIS, which has been getting support tacitly through Turkey, through—to the al-Nusra Front, which is hardly different, has just the—the al-Qaeda affiliate, technically broke from it, but actually the al-Qaeda affiliate, which is now planning its own—some sort of emirate, getting arms from our allies, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Our own—the CIA is arming them. We don’t know at what level; it’s clandestine. As much as possible, cut back the flow of arms, the level of violence, try to save people from destruction. There should be far more support going simply for humanitarian aid. Those who are building some sort of a society in Syria—notably, the Kurds—should be supported in that effort.

These efforts should be made to cut off the flow of jihadis from the places where they’re coming from. And that means understanding why it’s happening. It’s not enough just to say, “OK, let’s bomb them to oblivion.” This is happening for reasons. Some of the reasons, unfortunately, are—we can’t reverse. The U.S. invasion of Iraq was a major reason in the development, a primary reason in the incitement of sectarian conflicts, which have now exploded into these monstrosities. That’s water under the bridge, unfortunately, though we can make sure not to do that—not to continue with that. But we may like it or not, but ISIS, the ISIL, whatever you want to call it, does have popular support even among people who hate it. The Sunni—much of the Sunni population of Iraq and Syria evidently regards it as better than the alternative, something which at least defends them from the alternative. From the Western countries, the flow of jihadis is primarily from young people who are—who live in conditions of humiliation, degradation, repression, and want something decent—want some dignity in their lives, want something idealistic. They’re picking the wrong horse, by a large margin, but you can understand what they’re aiming for. And there’s plenty of research and studies—Scott Atran and others have worked on this and have plenty of evidence about it. And those—alleviating and dealing with those real problems can be a way to reduce the level of violence and destruction.

It’s much more dramatic to say, “Let’s carpet bomb them,” or “Let’s bomb them to oblivion,” or “Let’s send in troops.” But that simply makes the situation far worse. Actually, we’ve seen it for 15 years. Just take a look at the so-called war on terror, which George W. Bush declared—actually, redeclared; Reagan had declared it—but redeclared in 2001. At that point, jihadi terrorism was located in a tiny tribal area near the Afghan-Pakistan border. Where is—and since then, we’ve been hitting one or another center of what we call terrorism with a sledgehammer. What’s happened? Each time, it spreads. By now, it’s all over the world. It’s all over Africa, Southeast Asia, South Asia, everywhere you look. Take the bombing of Libya, which Hillary Clinton was strongly in favor of, one of the leaders of, smashed up Libya, destroyed a functioning society. The bombing sharply escalated the level of atrocities by a large factor, devastated the country, left it in the hands of warring militias, opened the door for ISIS to establish a base, spread jihadis and heavy weapons all through Africa, in fact, into the Middle East. Last year, the—according to U.N. statistics, the worst terror in the world was in West Africa, Boko Haram and others, to a considerable extent an offshoot of the bombing of Libya. That’s what happens when you hit vulnerable systems with a sledgehammer, not knowing what you’re doing and not looking at the roots of where these movements are developing from. So you have to understand the—understand where it’s coming from, where the appeal lies, what the roots are—there are often quite genuine grievances—at the same time try to cut back the level of violence.

And, you know, we’ve had experience where things like this worked. Take, say, IRA terrorism. It was pretty severe. Now, they practically murdered the whole British Cabinet at one point. As long as Britain responded to IRA terrorism with more terror and violence, it simply escalated. As soon as Britain finally began—incidentally, with some helpful U.S. assistance at this point—in paying some attention to the actual grievances of Northern Irish Catholics, as soon as they started with that, violence subsided, reduced. People who had been called leading terrorists showed up on negotiating teams, even, finally, in the government. I happened to be in Belfast in 1993. It was a war zone, literally. I was there again a couple of years ago. It looks like any other city. You can see ethnic antagonisms, but nothing terribly out of the ordinary. That’s the way to deal with these issues.

Incidentally, what’s happening in Syria right now is horrendous, but we shouldn’t—useful to remember that it’s not the first time. If you go back a century, almost exactly a century, the end of the First World War, there were hundreds of thousands of people starving to death in Syria. Proportionally, proportional to the population, it’s likely that more Syrians died in the First World War than any other belligerent. Syria did revive, and it can revive again.

AMY GOODMAN: What about Saudi Arabia, both in the context of Syria, the U.S. relationship with Saudi Arabia, and how much control Saudi Arabia has over this situation, not to mention what’s happening right now in Yemen, the U.S.-supported Saudi strikes in Yemen? But start with Syria.

NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, there’s a long history. The basic—we don’t have a lot of time, but the basic story is that the United States, like Britain before it, has tended to support radical Islamism against secular nationalism. That’s been a consistent theme of imperial strategy for a long time. Saudi Arabia is the center of radical Islamic extremism. Patrick Cockburn, one of the best commentators and most knowledgeable commentators, has correctly pointed out that what he calls the Wahhibisation of Sunni Islam, the spread of Saudi extremist Wahhabi doctrine over Sunni Islam, the Sunni world, is one of the real disasters of modern—of the modern era. It’s a source of not only funding for extremist radical Islam and the jihadi outgrowths of it, but also, doctrinally, mosques, clerics and so on, schools, you know, madrassas, where you study just Qur’an, is spreading all over the huge Sunni areas from Saudi influence. And it continues.

Saudi Arabia itself has one of the most grotesque human rights records in the world. The ISIS beheadings, which shock everyone—I think Saudi Arabia is the only country where you have regular beheadings. That’s the least of it. Women have no—can’t drive, so on and so forth. And it is strongly backed by the United States and its allies, Britain and France. Reason? It’s got a lot of oil. It’s got a lot of money. You can sell them a lot of arms, I think tens of billions of dollars of arms. And the actions that it’s carrying out, for example, in Yemen, which you mentioned, are causing an immense humanitarian catastrophe in a pretty poor country, also stimulating jihadi terrorism, naturally, with U.S. and also British arms. French are trying to get into it, as well. This is a very ugly story.

Saudi Arabia—Saudi Arabia itself, its economy—its economy is based not only on a wasting resource, but a resource which is destroying the world. There’s reports now that it’s trying to take some steps to—much belated steps; should have been 50 years ago—to try to diversify the economy. It does have resources that are not destructive, like sunlight, for example, which could be used, and is, to an extent, being used for solar power. But it’s way too late and probably can’t be done. But it’s a—it has been a serious source of major global problems—a horrible society in itself, in many ways—and the U.S. and its allies, and Britain before it, have stimulated these radical Islamist developments throughout the—throughout the Islamic world for a long time.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you think Obama has dealt with Saudi Arabia any differently than President Bush before him?

NOAM CHOMSKY: Not in any way that I can see, no. Maybe in nuances.

AMY GOODMAN: What about what’s happening right now in Brazil, where protests are continuing over the Legislature’s vote to suspend President Dilma Rousseff and put her on trial? Now El Salvador has refused to recognize the new Brazilian government. The Brazilian—the Salvadoran president, Cerén, said Rousseff’s ouster had, quote, “the appearance of a coup d’état.” What’s happening there? And what about the difference between—it looked like perhaps Bush saved Latin America simply by not focusing on it, totally wrapped up in Iraq and Afghanistan. It looks like the Obama administration is paying a bit more attention.

NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, I don’t think it’s just a matter of not paying attention. Latin America has, to a significant extent, liberated itself from foreign—meaning mostly U.S.—domination in the past 10 or 15 years. That’s a dramatic development in world affairs. It’s the first time in 500 years. It’s a big change. So the so-called lack of attention is partly the fact that the U.S. is kind of being driven out of the hemisphere, less that it can do. It used to be able to overthrow governments, carry out coups at will and so on. It tries. There have been three—maybe it depends how you count them—coups, coup attempts this century. One in Venezuela in 2002 succeeded for a couple of days, backed by the U.S., overthrown by popular reaction. A second in Haiti, 2004, succeeded. The U.S. and France—Canada helped—kidnapped the president, sent him off to Central Africa, won’t permit his party to run in elections. That was a successful coup. Honduras, under Obama, there was a military coup, overthrew a reformist president. The United States was almost alone in pretty much legitimizing the coup, you know, claiming that the elections under the coup regime were legitimate. Honduras, always a very poor, repressed society, became a total horror chamber. Huge flow of refugees, we throw them back in the border, back to the violence, which we helped create. Paraguay, there was a kind of a semi-coup. What’s happening—also to get rid of a progressive priest who was running the country briefly.

What’s happening in Brazil now is extremely unfortunate in many ways. First of all, there has been a massive level of corruption. Regrettably, the Workers’ Party, Lula’s party, which had a real opportunity to achieve something extremely significant, and did make some considerable positive changes, nevertheless joined the rest—the traditional elite in just wholesale robbery. And that should—that should be punished. On the other hand, what’s happening now, what you quoted from El Salvador, I think, is pretty accurate. It’s a kind of a soft coup. The elite detested the Workers’ Party and is using this opportunity to get rid of the party that won the elections. They’re not waiting for the elections, which they’d probably lose, but they want to get rid of it, exploiting an economic recession, which is serious, and the massive corruption that’s been exposed. But as even The New York Times pointed out, Dilma Rousseff is maybe the one politician who hasn’t—leading politician who hasn’t stolen in order to benefit herself. She’s being charged with manipulations in the budget, which are pretty standard in many countries, taking from one pocket and putting it into another. Maybe it’s a misdeed of some kind, but certainly doesn’t justify impeachment. In fact, she’s—we have the one leading politician who hasn’t stolen to enrich herself, who’s being impeached by a gang of thieves, who have done so. That does count as a kind of soft coup. I think that’s correct.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to move back to the United States, to the issue of the Republican Party and what you see happening there, the Republican establishment fiercely opposed to the presumptive nominee. I don’t know if we’ve ever seen anything like this, although that could be changing. Can you talk about the significance—I mean, you have Sheldon Adelson, who is now saying he will pour, what, tens of millions of dollars into Donald Trump. You have the Koch brothers—I think it was Charles Koch saying he could possibly see supporting Hillary Clinton, if that were the choice, with Donald Trump. What is happening?

NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, first of all, the phenomenon that we’ve just seen is an extreme version of something that’s been going on just for years in the Republican primaries. Take a look back at the preceding ones. Every time a candidate came up from the base—Bachmann, McCain, Santorum, Huckabee, one crazier than the other—every time one rose from the base, the Republican establishment sought to beat them down and get their own—get their own man—you know, Romney. And they succeeded, until this year. This year the same thing happened, and they didn’t succeed. The pressure from the base was too great for them to beat it back. Now, that’s the disaster that the Republican establishment sees. But the phenomenon goes way back. And it has roots. It’s kind of like jihadis: You have to ask about the roots.

What are the roots? The Republican—both political parties have shifted to the right during the neoliberal period—the period, you know, since Reagan, goes back to late Carter, escalated under Reagan—during this period, which has been a period of stagnation and decline for much of the population in many ways—wages, benefits, security and so on—along with enormous wealth concentrated in a tiny fraction of the population, mostly financial institutions, which are—have a dubious, if not harmful, role on the economy. This has been going on for a generation. And while this has been happening, there’s a kind of a vicious cycle. You have more concentration of wealth, concentration of political power, legislation to increase concentration of wealth and power, and so on, that while that’s been going on, much of the population has simply been cast aside. The white working class is bitter and angry, for lots of reasons, including these. The minority populations were hit very hard by the Clinton destruction of the welfare system and the incarceration rules. They still tend to support the Democrats, but tepidly, because the alternative is worse, and they’re taking a kind of pragmatic stand.

But while the parties have shifted to—but the parties have shifted so far to the right that the—today’s mainstream Democrats are pretty much what used to be called moderate Republicans. Now, the Republicans are just off the spectrum. They have been correctly described by leading conservative commentators, like Norman Ornstein and Thomas Mann, as just what they call a radical insurgency, which has abandoned parliamentary politics. And they don’t even try to conceal it. Like as soon as Obama was elected, Mitch McConnell said, pretty much straight out, “We have only one policy: make the country ungovernable, and then maybe we can somehow get power again.” That’s just off the spectrum.

Now, the actual policies of the Republicans, whether it’s Paul Ryan or Donald Trump, to the extent that he’s coherent, Ted Cruz, you pick him, or the establishment, is basically enrich and empower the very rich and the very powerful and the corporate sector. You cannot get votes that way. So therefore the Republicans have been compelled to turn to sectors of the population that can be mobilized and organized on other grounds, kind of trying to put to the side the actual policies, hoping, the establishment hopes, that the white working class will be mobilized to vote for their bitter class enemies, who want to shaft them in every way, by appealing to something else, like so-called social conservatism—you know, abortion rights, racism, nationalism and so on. And to some extent, that’s happened. That’s the kind of thing that Fritz Stern was referring to in the article that I mentioned about Germany’s collapse, this descent into barbarism. So what you have is a voting base consisting of evangelical Christians, ultranationalists, racists, disaffected, angry, white working-class sectors that have been hit very hard, that are—you know, not by Third World standards, but by First World standards, we even have the remarkable phenomenon of an increase in mortality among these sectors, that just doesn’t happen in developed societies. All of that is a voting base. It does produce candidates who terrify the corporate, wealthy, elite establishment. In the past, they’ve been able to beat them down. This time they aren’t doing it. And that’s what’s happening to the so-called Republican Party.

We should recognize—if we were honest, we would say something that sounds utterly shocking and no doubt will be taken out of context and lead to hysteria on the part of the usual suspects, but the fact of the matter is that today’s Republican Party qualify as candidates for the most dangerous organization in human history. Literally. Just take their position on the two major issues that face us: climate change, nuclear war. On climate change, it’s not even debatable. They’re saying, “Let’s race to the precipice. Let’s make sure that our grandchildren have the worst possible life.” On nuclear war, they’re calling for increased militarization. It’s already way too high, more than half the discretionary budget. “Let’s shoot it up.” They cut back other resources by cutting back taxes on the rich, so there’s nothing left. There’s been nothing this—literally, this dangerous, if you think about it, to the species, really, ever. We should face that.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you think that President Obama has intensified this threat, I mean, now with the trillion-dollar plan to, quote, “modernize” the nuclear arsenal?

NOAM CHOMSKY: It’s a very bad step. And it’s not just modernizing the arsenal, which ought to be reduced. Worth remembering we have even a legal obligation to cut back and, ultimately, eliminate nuclear weapons. But it’s also something you mentioned earlier: developing these small nuclear weapons. Sounds kind of nice. They’re small, not big. It’s the opposite. Small nuclear weapons provide a temptation to use them, figuring, “Well, it’s only a small weapon, so it won’t destroy, you know, a whole city.” But as soon as you use a small nuclear weapon, chances of retaliation escalate pretty sharply. And that means you could pretty soon be in a situation where you’re having a real nuclear exchange, pretty well known now that that would lead to a nuclear winter, which would make life essentially impossible.

AMY GOODMAN: As President Obama heads to Hiroshima, do you think he should be apologizing for the only nuclear bombs, atomic bombs, dropped in the world, the U.S. dropping them, launching the nuclear age, on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in ’45?

NOAM CHOMSKY: I thought—I mean, I’m old enough to remember it. And that day was just the—maybe the grimmest day I can remember. Then came something even worse: the bombing of Nagasaki, mainly to try to test a new weapon design. These are real horror stories. The carpet—the bombing, firebombing of Japanese cities a couple months earlier was not that much better, Tokyo especially. We might even recall that there was what was called a grand finale in the Air Force history. After the two atom bombs, after Russia had entered the war, which ended any Japanese hope for any kind of—any hope that they had for any sort of negotiated settlement, after that—it was all over—after Japan had officially surrendered, though before it had been made public, after that, the U.S. organized a thousand-plane raid, which was a big logistic feat, to bomb Japanese cities to kind of show the “Japs” who was on top, and survivors, so like Makoto Oda, a well-known Japanese writer who recently died, reported that as a child in Osaka, he remembers bombs falling along with leaflets saying, “Japan has surrendered.” Now, that was not a lethal bombing, but it was a brutal one, a brutal sign of brutality. All of these events call for serious rethinking—yes, apology, but mainly serious rethinking of just what we’re up to in the world.

And remember that this goes on. Those were small bombs by today’s standard. If you look at the record since, since 1945, it’s an absolute miracle that we’ve survived. New examples are discovered all the time. Just a couple of months ago, it was revealed that in 1979, last Carter year, the U.S. automated detection systems sent a—determined that there was a major Russian missile attack against the United States. Protocol is, this goes to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, they evaluate it, goes to the national security adviser—Zbigniew Brzezinski at the time—and he notifies the president. Brzezinski was actually on the phone, ready to call Carter to launch a nuclear attack, which means the Doomsday Clock goes to midnight, on the phone when they received information saying that it was a false alarm, another of the hundreds, if not thousands, of false alarms. On the Russian side, there are probably many more, because their equipment is much worse. These things happen constantly. And to play games with escalating the nuclear arsenal, when it should be reduced, sharply reduced—I mean, even people like Henry Kissinger, George Shultz and so on, are calling for elimination of nuclear weapons. To escalate and modernize at this point is just really criminal, in my opinion.

AMY GOODMAN: What is your overall assessment of the Obama administration?

NOAM CHOMSKY: It’s about what I thought before he—before the 2008 primaries, when I wrote about him just based on the information in his web page. I didn’t expect anything. I expected mostly rhetoric and—you know, nice rhetoric, good speaker and so on, but nothing much in the way of action. I don’t usually agree with Sarah Palin, but when she was ridiculing this—what she called this “hopey-changey stuff,” she had a point. There were a few good things. You know, there were a few good things in the W. Bush administration. But opportunities that were available, especially in the first two years when he had Congress with him, just were not used. And some—it’s—by the standards of U.S. presidential politics, it’s kind of nothing special either way, nothing to rave about, certainly.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask you about the passing of Michael Ratner, Michael Ratner, the former head of the—or the late head of the Center for Constitutional Rights, the trailblazing human rights attorney, who died last week at the age of 72. I had interviewed Michael last year in Washington, D.C., at the reopening of the Cuban Embassy, after it was closed for more than five decades. And I asked Michael to talk about the significance of this historic day. This is an excerpt of what he said.

MICHAEL RATNER: Well, Amy, let’s just say, other than the birth of my children, this is perhaps one of the most exciting days of my life. I mean, I’ve been working on Cuba since the early ’70s, if not before. I worked on the Venceremos Brigade. I went on brigades. I did construction. And to see that this can actually happen in a country that decided early on that, unlike most countries in the world, it was going to level the playing field for everyone—no more rich, no more poor, everyone the same, education for everyone, schooling for everyone, housing if they could—and to see the relentless United States go against it, from the Bay of Pigs to utter subversion on and on, and to see Cuba emerge victorious—and when I say that, this is not a defeated country. This is a country—if you heard the foreign minister today, what he spoke of was the history of U.S. imperialism against Cuba, from the intervention in the Spanish-American War to the Platt Amendment, which made U.S. a permanent part of the Cuban government, to the taking of Guantánamo, to the failure to recognize it in 1959, to the cutting off of relations in 1961. This is a major, major victory for the Cuban people, and that should be understood. We are standing at a moment that I never expected to see in our history.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Michael Ratner. It was July [20th]. It was that historic day in Washington, D.C., when the Cuban Embassy was opened after almost half a century. If you could talk both about the significance of Michael Ratner, from his work around Guantánamo, ultimately challenging the habeas corpus rights of Guantánamo prisoners, that they should have their day in court, and winning this case in the Supreme Court, to all of his work, also talk about Cuba, Noam, something that you certainly take on in your new book, Who Rules the World?

NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, Michael Ratner has an absolutely fabulous record. His achievements have been enormous. A tremendous courage, intelligence, dedication. A lot of achievement against huge odds. The center, which he largely—it was a major—he ran and was a major actor in, has done wonderful work all over the place—Cuba and lots of other things. So I can’t be excessive in my praise for what he achieved in his life and the inspiration that it should leave us with.

With regard to Cuba-U.S. relations, I think what he just said is essentially accurate. In fact, it’s even worse than that. We tend to forget that after the Bay of Pigs, the Kennedy administration was practically in a state of hysteria and seeking to somehow avenge themselves against this upstart who was carrying out what the government called successful defiance of U.S. policies going back to the Monroe Doctrine. How can we tolerate that? Kennedy authorized a major terrorist war against Cuba. The goal was to bring “the terrors of the earth” to Cuba. That’s the phrase of his associate Arthur Schlesinger, historian Arthur Schlesinger, in his biography of Robert Kennedy. Robert Kennedy was given the responsibility to bring “the terrors of the earth” to Cuba. And it was—he in fact described it as one of the prime goals of government, is to ensure that we terrorize Cuba. And it was pretty serious. Thousands of people were killed, petrochemical plants, other industrial installations blown up. Russian ships in the Havana Harbor were attacked. You can imagine what would happen if American ships were attacked. It was probably connected with poisoning of crops and livestock, can’t be certain. It went on into the 1990s, though not at that—not at the extreme level of the Kennedy years, but pretty bad. The late ’70s, there was an upsurge, blowing up of a Cubana airliner, 73 people killed. The culprits are living happily in Miami. One of them died. The other, Luis Posada, major terrorist, is cheerfully living there.

The taking over of southeastern Cuba back—at the time of the Platt Amendment, the U.S. had absolutely no claim to this territory, none whatsoever. We’re holding onto it just in order—it’s a major U.S. military base—it was. But we’re holding onto it simply to impede the development of Cuba, a major port, and to have a dumping place where we can send—illegally send Haitian refugees, claiming that they’re economic refugees, when they’re fleeing from the terror of the Haitian junta that we supported—Clinton, incidentally, in this case—or just as a torture chamber. Now, there’s a lot of talk about human rights violations in Cuba. Yeah, there are human rights violations in Cuba. By far the worst of them, overwhelmingly, are in the part of Cuba that we illegally hold—you know, technically, legally. We took it at the force of a gun, so it’s—point of a gun, so it’s legal. I mean, in comparison with this, whatever you think of Putin’s annexation of Crimea is minor in comparison with this.

All of this is correct, but we have to ask: Why did the U.S. decide to normalize relations with Cuba? The way it’s presented here, it was a historic act of magnanimity by the Obama administration. As he, himself, put it, and commentators echoed, “We have tried for 50 years to bring democracy and freedom to Cuba. The methods we used didn’t work, so we’ll try another method.” Reality? No, we tried for 50 years to bring terror, violence and destruction to Cuba, not just the terrorist war, but the crushing embargo. When the Russians disappeared from the scene, instead of—you know, the pretense was, “Well, it’s because of the Russians.” When they disappeared from the scene, how did we react, under Clinton? By making the embargo harsher. Clinton outflanked George H.W. Bush from the right, in harsh—during the electoral campaign, in harshness against Cuba. It was Torricelli, New Jersey Democrat, who initiated the legislation. Later became worse with Helms-Burton. All of this has been—that’s how we tried to bring democracy and freedom to Cuba.

Why the change? Because the United States was being driven out of the hemisphere. You take a look at the hemispheric meetings, which are symbol of it. Latin America used to be just the backyard. They do what you tell them. If they don’t do it, we throw them out and put in someone else. No more. Not in the last 10, 20 years. There was a hemispheric meeting in Cartagena, in Colombia. I think it was—must have been 2012, when the U.S. was isolated. U.S. and Canada were completely isolated from the rest of the hemisphere on two issues. One was admission of Cuba into hemispheric systems. The second was the drug war, which Latin America are essentially the victims of the drug war. The demand is here. Actually, even the supply of weapons into Mexico is largely here. But they’re the ones who suffer from it. They want to change it. They want to move in various ways towards decriminalization, other measures. U.S. opposed. Canada opposed. It was pretty clear at that time that at the next hemispheric meeting, which was going to be in Panama, if the U.S. still maintained its position on these two issues, the hemisphere would just go along without the United States. Now, there already are hemispheric institutions, like CELAC, UNASUR for South America, which exclude the United States, and it would just move in that direction. So, Obama bowed to the pressure of reality and agreed to make—to accept the demand to—the overwhelming demand to move slowly towards normalization of relations with Cuba. Not a magnanimous gesture of courage to bring Cuba—to protect Cuba from its isolation, to save them from their isolation; quite the opposite, to save the United States from its isolation. Of course, with the rest of the world, there’s not even any question. Take a look at the annual votes on—the U.N. has annual votes on the U.S. embargo, and just overwhelming. I think the last one was something like 180 to two—United States and Israel. It’s been increasing like that for years. So, that’s the background.

As for Michael, Michael Ratner, his achievements are just really spectacular.

AMY GOODMAN: And finally, Noam, you’ve just written this book, Who Rules the World? You’ve written more than a hundred other books. And, I mean, you have been a deep, profound thinker and activist on world issues, for what? I mean, more than 70 years. You were writing when you were 14 years old, giving your analysis of what’s been happening. And I’m wondering where you think we stand today, if you agree with—well, with Dr. Martin Luther King, that the arc of the moral universe bends towards justice.

NOAM CHOMSKY: Actually, it was 10 years old, but not—nothing to rave about. If you look over the past, say, the roughly 75 years of my, more or less, consciousness, it’s—in general, I think the arc of history has been bending towards justice. There have been many improvements, some of them pretty dramatic—women’s rights, for example, to an extent, civil rights. It should be remembered that there were literally lynchings in the South until the early 1950s. It’s not beautiful now, but that’s not happening. There have been steps forward. Opposition to aggression is much higher than it was in the past. There’s finally concern for environmental issues, which are really of desperate necessity. All of this is slow, halting, significant steps bending the arc of history in the right way.

There’s been regression, a lot of regression. Things don’t move smoothly. But there have been bad periods before, and we’ve pulled out of them. I think there are opportunities—they’re not huge, but they’re real—to overcome the—and I stress again—to overcome problems that the human species has never faced in its roughly 200,000 years of existence, problems of, literally, survival. We’ve already answered these questions for a huge number of species: We’ve killed them off.

AMY GOODMAN: Noam Chomsky, world-renowned political dissident, linguist and author, institute professor emeritus at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he’s taught for more than 50 years. His latest book is Who Rules the World? This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman. Thanks so much for joining us.

 

Amy Goodman is the host of Democracy Now!, a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on more than 1,200 stations in North America. She is the co-author of The Silenced Majority, a New York Times best-seller.

 

http://www.alternet.org/election-2016/chomsky-gop?akid=14287.125622.Dmhf85&rd=1&src=newsletter1057028&t=12

Overview – Change/History

…the debacle of the last ten years didn’t just happen. And, yes, plenty of people did see it coming. Their warnings were ignored. What followed, then, didn’t “just happen,” but was the consequence of conscious choice…it is important to discuss and determine the causes of the various messes we find ourselves in The Uh-Ohs: A Decade of Conservative Failure by Terrance Heath

In or around 1978, America’s character changed…the institutions of American democracy, stronger than the excesses of individuals, were usually able to contain and channel them to more useful ends … In Washington, corporations organised themselves into a powerful lobby that spent millions of dollars to defeat the kind of labour and consumer bills they had once accepted as part of the social contract… what destroys morale below is the systematic corner-cutting, the rule-bending, the self-dealing…It is no wonder that more and more Americans believe the game is rigged…Once the social contract is shredded, once the deal is off, only suckers still play by the rules.   How American Society Unravelled After Greedy Elites Robbed the Country Blind By George Packer

The Long, Sordid History of the American Right and Racism

5 Christian Right Delusions and Lies About History By Amanda Marcotte, AlterNet, November 21, 2013 

 

Tom Foley’s passing recalls the bipartisan spirit of a bygone era

By Robert H. Michel, Washington Post, October 20, 2013

(Robert H. Michel, a Republican, represented Illinois in the U.S. House from 1957 to 1995. He was Republican leader from 1981 to 1995. Thomas Foley represented Washington in the U. S. House as a Democrats from 1965 to 1995 and was Speaker of the House from 1989 to 1995 when he was defeated for reelection during the Gingrich Revolution. Newt Gingrich, a Republican from Georgia, succeeded him as Speaker.)

Excerpt  

Speaker Tom Foleysaid it was a tragedy that our fellow citizens don’t see the full dimensions of the House, because “of all the institutions of public life it is in the Congress, and particularly in the House, where the judgment, the hopes, the concerns and the ambitions of the people are made for the future.” He said that members of Congress have a responsibility to ensure that the public sees what the institution means to our democracy.

It is a sad footnote to Tom’s death last week [October 18, 2013) that the Senate and the House of Representatives, the crown jewel of our democratic republic, are held in lower esteem by the public than at practically any time since those records have been kept.

Tom Foley’s stewardship of the House was a reaffirmation of what the Founding Fathers intended. He was a partisan, but he was fair, intellectually honest and decent. He was a master of legislative procedure and an excellent political strategist. His most important virtue, however, was his trustworthiness. His word was his bond. And in relationships between leaders, nothing is more important than trust…The House was truly a deliberative democratic body that day.

Tom had a natural affinity for the legislative process. He understood its politics, personality and distinctive culture. He was dedicated to preserving the institution, which he knew was being challenged by turbulent political winds and growing partisan stridency…This was during the ascendency of Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) and a stout legion of new members loyal to him. Tom knew that change required a delicate balance of resistance and accommodation, sound judgment, good temperament and, most of all, a healthy appreciation for history’s lessons about transitions in power…

Full text

Try as he might, Speaker Tom Foley could not gavel the House to order. It was Nov. 29, 1994, the last day of the 103rd Congress. I had just offered a resolution honoring him, and the speaker was being given a standing ovation for his 30 years of service. Our fellow members would not sit or quiet down.

It was a fitting tribute to a great public servant who assumed the mantle of leadership in the House at a difficult time.

Tom had just been defeated for reelection, and I was retiring. In an unprecedented gesture of goodwill and comity, Tom invited me to assume the chair on the speaker’s podium while he gave his farewell address. For the first time in 40 years, a Republican presided over the House, if only for a few minutes.

Tom’s remarks were eloquent. But one comment struck me then and came to mind again recently amid all the rancor and partisan brinkmanship our country can ill afford.

Tom said it was a tragedy that our fellow citizens don’t see the full dimensions of the House, because “of all the institutions of public life it is in the Congress, and particularly in the House, where the judgment, the hopes, the concerns and the ambitions of the people are made for the future.” He said that members of Congress have a responsibility to ensure that the public sees what the institution means to our democracy.

It is a sad footnote to Tom’s death last week that the Senate and the House of Representatives, the crown jewel of our democratic republic, are held in lower esteem by the public than at practically any time since those records have been kept.

Tom Foley’s stewardship of the House was a reaffirmation of what the Founding Fathers intended. He was a partisan, but he was fair, intellectually honest and decent. He was a master of legislative procedure and an excellent political strategist. His most important virtue, however, was his trustworthiness. His word was his bond. And in relationships between leaders, nothing is more important than trust.

When Tom became speaker, he suggested that we get together once a week to discuss matters before the House. One week, he said, I will come to your office, and the next you can come to mine. We did that regularly. We had disagreements over policy and we pushed and pulled politically, but the hallmark of our conversations was the trust underlying them. We could talk about anything, knowing that our discussions would remain private unless we decided otherwise. We had some very personal and delicate exchanges and never compromised their confidentiality.

The meetings themselves were a rarity in Washington. House Speaker Carl Albert and Minority Leader Gerry Ford used to park themselves on a bench just off the House floor and talk, but so far as I know the regular meetings Tom and I had in our offices have not been repeated since.

Tom and I last spoke four days before he died. We recalled one of the toughest tests of our relationship. It occurred in 1991 over Operation Desert Storm. It was important to President George H.W. Bush that Congress authorize military action over Saddam Hussein’s occupation of Kuwait. Rep. Steve Solarz (D-N.Y.) and I introduced a resolution authorizing military action. This was an agonizing decision for me, having served as a combat infantryman in Europe during World War II. Sending Americans into combat is always tough. Tom harbored personal reservations about military intervention, and a substantial number in his caucus strongly opposed an invasion. Allowing the resolution to go to the floor for open debate and a recorded vote took political courage and personal decency. The debate that ensued did the country proud. The House was truly a deliberative democratic body that day.

Tom had a natural affinity for the legislative process. He understood its politics, personality and distinctive culture. He was dedicated to preserving the institution, which he knew was being challenged by turbulent political winds and growing partisan stridency. As speaker, he had replaced Jim Wright (D-Tex.), himself a tough partisan who had been forced from office. This was during the ascendency of Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) and a stout legion of new members loyal to him. Tom knew that change required a delicate balance of resistance and accommodation, sound judgment, good temperament and, most of all, a healthy appreciation for history’s lessons about transitions in power.

Tom and I conversed many times publicly and privately after leaving Congress. In all of those exchanges, we agreed on how to govern, how to get decisions made and how to find reasonable solutions to difficult problems.

We were too conditioned by our personal and political upbringing to assume that we had the market cornered on political principle or partisan superiority. We knew, too, that there should always be a distinction, and separation, between campaigning for office and serving in office. We were pupils of the old school.

When we stood side by side at the speaker’s podium on the last day of the 103rd Congress, political adversaries but personal friends, we knew that we were icons of a bygone era. As we visited last week, almost 20 years later, I think we both felt good about that. We both took great pride in knowing we had made things happen. I hope the past turns out to be prologue, and I think Tom would have agreed.

Read more on this topic: Chris Matthews: Breaking the deadlock on Pennsylvania Avenue Eric Cantor: Divided government requires bipartisan negotiation Joseph A. Morris: Shutdowns have been frequent tools of policy. Just ask Reagan. Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein: Our fantasy is a Congress that gets stuff done

http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/tom-foleys-passing-recalls-the-bipartisan-spirit-of-a-bygone-era/2013/10/20/897201ca-39ab-11e3-b6a9-da62c264f40e_story.html?wpisrc=nl_headlines

Poll Conducted for Aspen Ideas Festival Shows ‘American Dream’ Unreachable for Most Americans 2006

US Newswire | July 6, 2006

Excerpt

…a new survey conducted by Dr. Douglas E. Schoen finds that a majority of Americans say they are not living the American Dream…Some of the key findings of the survey are as follows:– While 81 percent agree that America is the land of opportunity, the idea is not something that is being realized, it is simply an abstract concept. — Today, 61 percent of Americans say they are not living the American Dream.

Full text

Aspen, Colo., Jul 6, 2006 (U.S. Newswire via COMTEX) — With Americans having just celebrated their nation’s independence, a new survey conducted by Dr. Douglas E. Schoen finds that a majority of Americans say they are not living the American Dream. Dr. Schoen’s findings were presented at the Aspen Ideas Festival, a weeklong exploration of ideas across an array of timely topics that is being co-presented by the Aspen Institute and The Atlantic magazine.

Some of the key findings of the survey are as follows:

– While 81 percent agree that America is the land of opportunity, the idea is not something that is being realized, it is simply an abstract concept.

– Today, 61 percent of Americans say they are not living the …

http://business.highbeam.com/1208/article-1G1-147885220/poll-conducted-aspen-ideas-festival-shows-american

The Uh-Ohs: A Decade of Conservative Failure by Terrance Heath

Campaign For America’s Future, January 8, 2010

 Excerpt

…I hereby dub the past ten years “The Uh-Ohs: A Decade of Conservative Failure.”
…the debacle of the last ten years didn’t just happen. And, yes, plenty of people did see it coming. Their warnings were ignored. What followed, then, didn’t “just happen,” but was the consequence of conscious choice…it is important to discuss and determine the causes of the various messes we find ourselves in. (Even if we find along the way the fingerprints of some Democrats Who Should Have Known Better™.)
It was a decade during which conservatives controlled both Congress and the While House, and could thus enact much of their agenda.

…Conservatives turned a budget surplus we had then into the deficit we have now…. It was the predicted outcome of conservative policy decisions.
Conservatives shrunk the economy. Despite what Glenn Beck [9] and the rest of the conservative noise machine say, what happened to the economy didn’t just happen in the past year. And it didn’t just happen. It was the predictable outcome of conservative politicy decisions…

Full Text

“Stuff happens.” — Donald Rumsfeld on the looting of Iraq following the U.S invasion.
Forget about “the Aughts.” Never mind “the Naughts.” The decade just passed — and which promises to leave a lingering, bitter aftertaste — deserves a far better, more descriptive name. So for what it’s worth, I hereby dub the past ten years “The Uh-Ohs: A Decade of Conservative Failure.”
It’s as good as any of the others I’ve heard. Perhaps better. Here’s why.
Because despite the wisdom of Donald Rumsfeld, “stuff” doesn’t just happen. Despite what Joel Achenbach [1] seems to think, the debacle of the last ten years didn’t just happen. And, yes, plenty of people did see it coming. Their warnings were ignored. What followed, then, didn’t “just happen,” but was the consequence of conscious choice. And, despite what Matt Yglesias [2] seems to think, it is important to discuss and determine the causes of the various messes we find ourselves in. (Even if we find along the way the fingerprints of some Democrats Who Should Have Known Better™.)
There were plenty of messes. And, like the clean-up crew after a wild, drunken party, we’re still uncovering messes, some of which we can smell before we actually see them.
It was a decade during which conservatives controlled both Congress and the While House, and could thus enact much of their agenda. Thus, it was a decade of “uh-ohs” [3]
Uh-oh is an ubiquitous interjection or expression of dismay in the English language, usually said in anticipation of something bad about to happen, with the sly admittance of guilt that one may have caused something bad to happen, or perceiving that something bad has already happened.
From the economy to energy to security, the “Uh-Ohs” abounded.

Uh-Oh! Conservatives turned a budget surplus we had then into the deficit we have now. It’s true. Even the Wall Street Journal [4] had to acknowledge that the perhaps the biggest legacy of the Bush years is the huge deficit.
In other words, the deficit didn’t just happen, and it didn’t have to happen. It was the predicted outcome of conservative policy decisions.
Basically:
• Bush and congressional conservatives came into office with a $236 billion surplus [5] projected to last years into the future. They turned it into a $412 billion deficit, in just four years [6].
• Bush used the existing surplus (and the $5.6 trillion surplus projected over the next ten years) as justification for huge tax cuts for the wealthy [7].
• Even as the costs of the was in Iraq and Afghanistan spiraled skyward, Bush refused to pay the costs of waging two wars with tax increases [7] or other budgetary offsets.
• As a result, the government ran a deficit, and paid for some of its biggest expenditures with borrowed money.
• Ever “reality-based,” in 2007 the Bush administration predicted a $61 billion surplus by 2012 [8], but presented a 2008 budget that added $251 billion to the deficit [5].
Uh-Oh! Conservatives shrunk the economy. Despite what Glenn Beck [9] and the rest of the conservative noise machine say, what happened to the economy didn’t just happen in the past year. And it didn’t just happen. It was the predictable outcome of conservative politics and policies during their decade of “uh-ohs.”
• Bush and congressional conservatives who supported him, presided over the weakest economy in decades [10]. The number of jobs increased by only about 2% during the Bush years, and the gross domestic product grew at just a 2.1% annual rate.
• It was the worst decade for the stock market, which was down 26% from where it started in 2000 [11].
Uh-oh! It was the worst decade for jobs. Some 7 million jobs were lost (perhaps permanently), 14.5 million were left unemployed, and 6 million out-of-work adults became discouraged and stopped looking for works and are thus not even counted among the unemployed.
• Manufacturing fell to its lowest level in 26 years [12].
• By the end of the decade, the jobless rate reached a 26-year-high [13].
• There were 6.5 job seekers per job opening [14], by the end of the decade.
• ”One in five Americans are unemployed, underemployed or just plain out of work.” [15]
• Bush finished his term with the worst track record ever on jobs [16] since the government began keeping records in 1939.
• In fact, there’s been zero net job creation since December 1999 [17].
• The 10% unemployment rate isn’t expected to change in 2010 [18], and probably won’t return to pre-recession levels of less than 5% in the next six years.
This is just a beginning; a brief foray into a decade that was — but certainly didn’t have to be — filled with more items like those above. Such a decade, after all, deserves far more than one blog post.
Besides, we haven’t yet covered Iraq, Katrina, economic inequality, e. coli… With ten years of conservative failure to cover, there are definitely more “Uh-Ohs” to come.
Summary:
Forget about “the Aughts.” Never mind “the Naughts.” The decade just passed — and which promises to leave a lingering, bitter aftertaste — deserves a far better, more descriptive name. So for what it’s worth, I hereby dub the past ten years “The Uh-Ohs: A Decade of Conservative Failure.”
http://www.ourfuture.org/trackback/43689
• The Big Con
• An Economy for All
• The Uh-Ohs
Links:
[1] http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/12/26/AR2009122601822.html
[2] http://yglesias.thinkprogress.org/archives/2010/01/causes-of-the-financial-crisis.php?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed: matthewyglesias (Matthew Yglesias)&utm_content=Google Reader
[3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uh-oh_(expression)
[4] http://online.wsj.com/public/article/SB120183030007834031-_ODGkYMWSHHx1q_0YZJ5HF6ojK0_20090131.html
[5] http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/05/washington/05budget.html
[6] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gc6yFPoc0JU
[7] http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2001/02/24/national/main274334.shtml
[8] http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/02/04/AR2007020401174.html
[9] http://airamerica.com/really/01-05-2010/beck-obama-intentionally-collapsing-our-economy/
[10] http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/01/11/AR2009011102301_pf.html
[11] http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1942834,00.html
[12] http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/business/7706905.stm
[13] http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/business/8238358.stm
[14] http://www.epi.org/publications/entry/jolts_20091208/
[15] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/elizabeth-warren/america-without-a-middle_b_377829.html
[16] http://blogs.wsj.com/economics/2009/01/09/bush-on-jobs-the-worst-track-record-on-record/
[17] http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/01/01/AR2010010101196.html?wprss=rss_business
[18] http://money.cnn.com/2010/01/07/news/economy/jobs_outlook/index.htm
http://www.ourfuture.org/blog-entry/2010010108/uh-ohs-decade-conservative-failure

 

Reflections on Iraq tragedy

The Neoconservatives

The Bush Doctrine – ABM, Kyoto, and the New American Unilateralism by Charles Krauthammer, The Weekly Standard, June 4, 2001, Vol. 6, No. 36

The Real New World Order – The American and the Islamic challenge by Charles Krauthammer, The Weekly Standard  Vol. 7, No. 09,   November 12, 2001

Open Letter to the President A letter to George W. Bush about our nation’s defense budget. The Weekly Standard, January 23, 2003 

Chalmers Johnson on the fall of the republic By Chalmers Johnson, TomDispatch.com, September 9, 2003

The Project for the New American Century By William Rivers Pitt, Information Clearing House 02/25/03

Neocons and the Iraq War: Their view then and now 10 years later By Eric Black, Minnpost.com, March 15, 2013 www.minnpost.com/eric-black-ink/2013/03/neocons-and-iraq-war-their-view-then-and-now-10-years-later

Prince of Darkness Denies Own Existence by Dana Milbank, Washington Post, February 20, 2009 

The war

Context of ‘September 25-26, 2001: Neoconservative Commentator Kristol Advocates Regime Change in Iraq, Slams Powell’ HistoryCommons.org

It’s About A Lot More Than A “Goddamned Piece of Paper” by Steve Watson,  Capitol Hill Blue, December 12 2005

Bush Never Said “Mission Accomplished”by Reginald Dale, Center for Strategic and International Studies, March 19, 2013

Mission Accomplished - Speech on YouTube  

Cost/benefit of war

War Is a Force That Pays the 1 Percent: Occupying American Foreign Policy by: J.A. Myerson, Truthout | News Analysis, November 14, 2011

Iraq War Cost U.S. More Than $2 Trillion, Could Grow to $6 Trillion, Says Watson Institute Study By Daniel Trotta, Reuters 3/14/13 on

American Militarism: Costs and Consequences By Melvin Goodman, City Lights Books | Book Excerpt, Truth-out.org, 05 March 2013

Looking back

Democrats Share the Blame for Tragedy of Iraq War, 17 March 2013 06:59 By Stephen Zunes, Truthout | Op-Ed

Minnesota senators’ ‘No’ votes on Iraq War — and other 10th anniversary thoughts By Eric Black, MinnPost.com, March 19, 2013

10 Years After Iraq Invasion: Continued Myths, Hundreds of Thousands Killed by Andrea Germanos, staff writer, Common Dreams, March 18, 2013

10 years after Iraq War: What do we have to show for it? By Eric Black, MinnPost.com, March 14, 2013

Ten Years Later, Eyes Still Wide Shut on the Iraq War by Ray McGovern, Consortium News,  February 25, 2013

How the Bush Administration Sold the War – and We Bought It by Joe Wilson and Valerie Plame Wilson, The Guardian, February 28, 2013

The Worst Mistake in U.S. History — America Will Never Recover from Bush’s Great Foreign Policy Disaster By Peter Van Buren, Tom Dispatch , March 7, 2013

10 Years Later: Looking Back on the Iraq War So We Can Clearly Look Forward by Arianna Huffington, Huffington Post, 03/06/2013

Tony Blair should face trial over Iraq war, says Desmond Tutu by  The Observer,   September 1, 2012   – Archbishop Desmond Tutu has called for Tony Blair and George Bush to be hauled before the international criminal court in The Hague and delivered a damning critique of the physical and moral devastation caused by the Iraq war.

 

2012 or Never

By Jonathan Chait, New York Magazine, Feb 26, 2012

Republicans are worried this election could be their last chance to stop history. This is fear talking. But not paranoia.

Of the various expressions of right-wing hysteria that have flowered over the past three years—goldbuggery, birtherism, death panels at home and imaginary apology tours by President Obama abroad—perhaps the strain that has taken deepest root within mainstream Republican circles is the terror that the achievements of the Obama administration may be irreversible, and that the time remaining to stop permanent nightfall is dwindling away.

“America is approaching a ‘tipping point’ beyond which the Nation will be unable to change course,” announces the dark, old-timey preamble to Paul Ryan’s “The Roadmap Plan,” a statement of fiscal principles that shaped the budget outline approved last spring by 98 percent of the House Republican caucus. Rick Santorum warns his audiences, “We are reaching a tipping point, folks, when those who pay are the minority and those who receive are the majority.” Even such a sober figure as Mitt Romney regularly says things like “We are only inches away from no longer being a free economy,” and that this election “could be our last chance.”

The Republican Party is in the grips of many fever dreams. But this is not one of them. To be sure, the apocalyptic ideological analysis—that “freedom” is incompatible with Clinton-era tax rates and Massachusetts-style health care—is pure crazy. But the panicked strategic analysis, and the sense of urgency it gives rise to, is actually quite sound. The modern GOP—the party of Nixon, Reagan, and both Bushes—is staring down its own demographic extinction. Right-wing warnings of impending tyranny express, in hyperbolic form, well-grounded dread: that conservative America will soon come to be dominated, in a semi-permanent fashion, by an ascendant Democratic coalition hostile to its outlook and interests. And this impending doom has colored the party’s frantic, fearful response to the Obama presidency.

The GOP has reason to be scared. Obama’s election was the vindication of a prediction made several years before by journalist John Judis and political scientist Ruy Teixeira in their 2002 book, The Emerging Democratic Majority. Despite the fact that George W. Bush then occupied the White House, Judis and Teixeira argued that demographic and political trends were converging in such a way as to form a ­natural-majority coalition for Democrats.

The Republican Party had increasingly found itself confined to white voters, especially those lacking a college degree and rural whites who, as Obama awkwardly put it in 2008, tend to “cling to guns or religion.” Meanwhile, the Democrats had ­increased their standing among whites with graduate degrees, particularly the growing share of secular whites, and remained dominant among racial minorities. As a whole, Judis and Teixeira noted, the electorate was growing both somewhat better educated and dramatically less white, making every successive election less favorable for the GOP. And the trends were even more striking in some key swing states. Judis and Teixeira highlighted Colorado, Nevada, and Arizona, with skyrocketing Latino populations, and Virginia and North Carolina, with their influx of college-educated whites, as the most fertile grounds for the expanding Democratic base.

Obama’s victory carried out the blueprint. Campaign reporters cast the election as a triumph of Obama’s inspirational message and cutting-edge organization, but above all his sweeping win reflected simple demography. Every year, the nonwhite proportion of the electorate grows by about half a percentage point—meaning that in every presidential election, the minority share of the vote increases by 2 percent, a huge amount in a closely divided country. One measure of how thoroughly the electorate had changed by the time of Obama’s election was that, if college-­educated whites, working-class whites, and minorities had cast the same proportion of the votes in 1988 as they did in 2008, Michael Dukakis would have, just barely, won. By 2020—just eight years away—nonwhite voters should rise from a quarter of the 2008 electorate to one third. In 30 years, nonwhites will outnumber whites.

Now, there are two points to keep in mind about the emerging Democratic majority. The first is that no coalition is permanent. One party can build a majority, but eventually the minority learns to adapt to an altered landscape, and parity returns. In 1969, Kevin Phillips, then an obscure Nixon-­administration staffer, wrote The Emerging Republican Majority, arguing that Republicans could undo FDR’s New Deal coalition by exploiting urban strife, the unpopularity of welfare, and the civil-rights struggle to pull blue-collar whites into a new conservative bloc. The result was the modern GOP. Bill Clinton appropriated some elements of this conservative coalition by rehabilitating his party’s image on welfare and crime (though he had a little help from Ross Perot, too). But it wasn’t until Obama was elected that a Democratic president could claim to be the leader of a true majority party.

The second point is that short-term shocks, like war, recession, or scandal, can exert a far more powerful influence than a long-term trend: The Watergate scandal, for instance, interrupted the Republican majority at its zenith, helping elect a huge raft of Democratic congressmen in 1974, followed two years later by Jimmy Carter.

But the dominant fact of the new Democratic majority is that it has begun to overturn the racial dynamics that have governed American politics for five decades. Whatever its abstract intellectual roots, conservatism has since at least the sixties drawn its political strength by appealing to heartland identity politics. In 1985, Stanley Greenberg, then a political scientist, immersed himself in Macomb County, a blue-collar Detroit suburb where whites had abandoned the Democratic Party in droves. He found that the Reagan Democrats there understood politics almost entirely in racial terms, translating any Democratic appeal to economic justice as taking their money to subsidize the black underclass. And it didn’t end with the Reagan era. Piles of recent studies have found that voters often conflate “social” and “economic” issues. What social scientists delicately call “ethnocentrism” and “racial resentment” and “ingroup solidarity” are defining attributes of conservative voting behavior, and help organize a familiar if not necessarily rational coalition of ideological interests. Doctrines like neoconservative foreign policy, supply-side economics, and climate skepticism may bear little connection to each other at the level of abstract thought. But boiled down to political sound bites and served up to the voters, they blend into an indistinguishable stew of racial, religious, cultural, and nationalistic identity.

Obama’s election dramatized the degree to which this long-standing political dynamic had been flipped on its head. In the aftermath of George McGovern’s 1972 defeat, neoconservative intellectual Jeane Kirk­patrick disdainfully identified his voters as “intellectuals enamored with righteousness and possibility, college students, for whom perfectionism is an occupational hazard; portions of the upper classes freed from concern with economic self-interest,” and so on, curiously neglecting to include racial minorities. All of them were, in essence, people who heard a term like “real American” and understood that in some way it did not apply to them. Today, cosmopolitan liberals may still feel like an embattled sect—they certainly describe their political fights in those terms—but time has transformed their rump minority into a collective majority. As conservative strategists will tell you, there are now more of “them” than “us.” What’s more, the disparity will continue to grow indefinitely. Obama actually lost the over-45-year-old vote in 2008, gaining his entire victory margin from younger voters—more racially diverse, better educated, less religious, and more socially and economically liberal.

Portents of this future were surely rendered all the more vivid by the startling reality that the man presiding over the new majority just happened to be, himself, young, urban, hip, and black. When jubilant supporters of Obama gathered in Grant Park on Election Night in 2008, Republicans saw a glimpse of their own political mortality. And a galvanizing picture of just what their new rulers would look like.

In the cold calculus of game theory, the expected response to this state of affairs would be to accommodate yourself to the growing strength of the opposing coalition—to persuade pockets of voters on the Democratic margins they might be better served by Republicans. Yet the psychology of decline does not always operate in a straightforward, rational way. A strategy of managing slow decay is unpleasant, and history is replete with instances of leaders who persuaded themselves of the opposite of the obvious conclusion. Rather than adjust themselves to their slowly weakening position, they chose instead to stage a decisive confrontation. If the terms of the fight grow more unfavorable with every passing year, well, all the more reason to have the fight sooner. This was the thought process of the antebellum southern states, sizing up the growing population and industrial might of the North. It was the thinking of the leaders of Austria-Hungary, watching their empire deteriorate and deciding they needed a decisive war with Serbia to save themselves.

At varying levels of conscious and subconscious thought, this is also the reasoning that has driven Republicans in the Obama era. Surveying the landscape, they have concluded that they must strike quickly and decisively at the opposition before all hope is lost.

Arthur Brooks, the president of the conservative American Enterprise Institute and a high-profile presence on the Republican intellectual scene, wrote a 2010 book titled The Battle, urging conservatives to treat the struggle for economic libertarianism as a “culture war” between capitalism and socialism, in which compromise was impossible. Time was running short, Brooks pleaded in apocalyptic tones. The “real core” of what he called Obama’s socialistic supporters was voters under 30. “It is the future of our country,” he wrote. “And this group has exhibited a frightening openness to statism in the age of Obama.”

The same panic courses through a new tome by James DeMint, who has made himself probably the most influential member of the Senate by relentlessly pushing his colleagues to the right and organizing primary challenges to snuff out any hint of moderation among his co-partisans. ­DeMint’s book, titled Now or Never, paints a haunting picture: “Republican supporters will continue to decrease every year as more Americans become dependent on the government. Dependent voters will naturally elect even big-government progressives who will continue to smother economic growth and spend America deeper into debt. The 2012 election may be the last opportunity for Republicans.”

That apocalyptic rhetoric is just as common among voters as among conservative eggheads and party elites. Theda Skocpol, a Harvard sociologist, conducted a detailed study of tea-party activists and discovered that they saw themselves beset by parasitic Democrats. “Along with illegal immigrants,” she wrote, “low-income Americans and young people loom large as illegitimate consumers of public benefits and services.”

It’s easy for liberals to ­dismiss these fears as simple racism—and surely racism, to some degree, sways the tea party. But it is not just conservative white people who react fearfully when they ­see themselves ­outnumbered by an influx of people unlike themselves. Minorities do it. White hipsters do it. Recall the embarrassing spectacle of liberal panic, in the aftermath of George W. Bush’s reelection, when Kerry voters believed their country had been taken over by gay-bashing Evangelical Christians.

That the struggles over the economic policies of the last few years have taken on the style of a culture war should come as no surprise, since conservatives believe Obama has pulled together an ascendant coalition of voters intent on expropriating their money. Paul Ryan, the House Republican budget chairman, has, like many Republicans, cast the fight as pitting “makers” against “takers,” with the latter in danger of irrevocably gaining the upper hand. “The tipping point represents two dangers,” he announced in a speech at the American Enterprise Institute, “first, long-term economic decline as the number of makers diminishes [and] the number of takers grows … Second, gradual moral-political decline as dependency and passivity weaken the nation’s character.”

Of course, both parties make use of end-times rhetoric, especially in election season. What’s novel about the current spate of Republican millennialism is that it’s not a mere rhetorical device to rally the faithful, nor even simply an expression of free-­floating terror, but the premise of an electoral strategy.

In that light, the most surprising response to the election of 2008 is what did not happen. Following Obama’s win, all sorts of loose talk concerning the Republican predicament filled the air. How would the party recast itself? Where would it move left, how would it find common ground with Obama, what new constituencies would it court?

The most widely agreed-upon component of any such undertaking was a concerted effort to win back the Hispanic vote. It seemed like a pure political no-brainer, a vital outreach to an exploding electoral segment that could conceivably be weaned from its Democratic leanings, as had previous generations of Irish and Italian immigrants, without altering the party’s general right-wing thrust on other issues. George W. Bush had tried to cobble together a comprehensive immigration-reform policy only to see it collapse underneath a conservative grassroots revolt, and John McCain, who had initially co-sponsored a bill in the Senate, had to withdraw his support for it in his pursuit of the 2008 nomination.

In the wake of his defeat, strategists like Karl Rove and Mike Murphy urged the GOP to abandon its stubborn opposition to reform. Instead, incredibly, the party adopted a more hawkish position, with Republicans in Congress rejecting even quarter-loaf compromises like the Dream Act and state-level officials like Jan Brewer launching new restrictionist crusades. This was, as Thomas Edsall writes in The Age of Austerity, “a major gamble that the GOP can continue to win as a white party despite the growing strength of the minority vote.”

None of this is to say that Republicans ignored the rising tide of younger and browner voters that swamped them at the polls in 2008. Instead they set about keeping as many of them from the polls as possible. The bulk of the campaign has taken the form of throwing up an endless series of tedious bureaucratic impediments to voting in many states—ending same-day voter registration, imposing onerous requirements upon voter-registration drives, and upon voters themselves. “Voting liberal, that’s what kids do,” overshared William O’Brien, the New Hampshire House speaker, who had supported a bill to prohibit college students from voting from their school addresses. What can these desperate, rearguard tactics accomplish? They can make the electorate a bit older, whiter, and less poor. They can, perhaps, buy the Republicans some time.

And to what end? The Republicans’ most audacious choice is the hyperaggressive position they’ve adopted against Obama to sabotage his chances for a second term. Frustrated liberals, assessing the methods of the Republicans in Congress, see a devious brilliance at work in the GOP strategy of legislative obstruction. And indeed, Republicans very skillfully ground the legislative gears to a halt for months on end, weakening or killing large chunks of Obama’s agenda, and nurturing public discontent with Washington that they rode to a sweeping victory in 2010. At the same time, their inability to waver from desperate, all-or-nothing opposition often meant conservatives willingly suffered policy defeats for perceived political gain, and failed to minimize the scale of those defeats.

Take the fight over health-care reform. Yes, Republicans played the politics about as well as possible. But it was their hard line on compromise allowed the bill to pass: The Democrats only managed to cobble together 60 votes to pass it in the Senate because conservatives drove Arlen Specter out of the GOP, forcing him to switch to the Democratic Party. Without him, Democrats never could have broken a filibuster. When Scott Brown surprisingly won the 2010 race to fill Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat, Democrats were utterly despondent, and many proposed abandoning comprehensive health-care reform to cut a deal for some meager expansion of children’s health insurance. But Republicans refused to offer even an olive branch. Presented with a choice between passing the comprehensive bill they had spent a year cobbling together or collapsing in total ignominious defeat, the Democrats passed the bill.

Last summer, Obama was again desperate to reach compromise, this time on legislation to reduce the budget deficit, which had come to dominate the political agenda and symbolize, in the eyes of Establishment opinion, Obama’s failure to fulfill his campaign goal of winning bipartisan cooperation. In extended closed-door negotiations, Obama offered Republicans hundreds of billions of dollars in spending cuts and a permanent extension of Bush-era tax rates in return for just $800 billion in higher revenue over a decade. This was less than half the new revenue proposed by the Bowles-Simpson deficit commission. Republicans spurned this deal, too.

Instead the party has bet everything on 2012, preferring a Hail Mary strategy to the slow march of legislative progress. That is the basis of the House Republicans’ otherwise inexplicable choice to vote last spring for a sweeping budget plan that would lock in low taxes, slash spending, and transform Medicare into ­private vouchers—none of which was popular with voters. Majority parties are known to hold unpopular votes occasionally, but holding an ­unpopular vote that Republicans knew full well stood zero chance of enactment (with Obama casting a certain veto) broke new ground in the realm of foolhardiness.

The way to make sense of that foolhardiness is that the party has decided to bet everything on its one “last chance.” Not the last chance for the Republican Party to win power—there will be many of those, and over time it will surely learn to compete for nonwhite voters—but its last chance to exercise power in its current form, as a party of anti-government fundamentalism powered by sublimated white Christian identity politics. (And the last chance to stop the policy steamroller of the new Democratic majority.) And whatever rhetorical concessions to moderates and independents the eventual Republican nominee may be tempted to make in the fall, he’ll find himself fairly boxed in by everything he’s already done this winter to please that base.

Will the gamble work? Grim though the long-term demography may be, it became apparent to Republicans almost immediately after Obama took office that political fate had handed them an impossibly lucky opportunity. Democrats had come to power almost concurrently with the deepest economic crisis in 80 years, and Republicans quickly seized the tactical advantage, in an effort to leverage the crisis to rewrite their own political fortunes. The Lesser Depression could be an economic Watergate, the Republicans understood, an exogenous political shock that would, at least temporarily, overwhelm any deeper trend, and possibly afford the party a chance to permanently associate the Democrats with the painful aftermath of the crisis.

During the last midterm elections, the strategy succeeded brilliantly. Republicans moved further right and won a gigantic victory. In the 2010 electorate, the proportion of voters under 30 fell by roughly a third, while the proportion of voters over 65 years old rose by a similar amount—the white share, too. In the long run, though, the GOP has done nothing at all to rehabilitate its deep unpopularity with the public as a whole, and has only further poisoned its standing with Hispanics. But by forswearing compromise, it opened the door to a single shot. The Republicans have gained the House and stand poised to win control of the Senate. If they can claw out a presidential win and hold on to Congress, they will have a glorious two-year window to restore the America they knew and loved, to lock in transformational change, or at least to wrench the status quo so far rightward that it will take Democrats a generation to wrench it back. The cost of any foregone legislative compromises on health care or the deficit would be trivial compared to the enormous gains available to a party in control of all three federal branches.

On the other hand, if they lose their bid to unseat Obama, they will have mortgaged their future for nothing at all. And over the last several months, it has appeared increasingly likely that the party’s great all-or-nothing bet may land, ultimately, on nothing. In which case, the Republicans will have turned an unfavorable outlook into a truly bleak one in a fit of panic. The deepest effect of Obama’s election upon the Republicans’ psyche has been to make them truly fear, for the first time since before Ronald Reagan, that the future is against them.

http://nymag.com/news/features/gop-primary-chait-2012-3/

President Barack Obama, Editorial

New York Times, January 21, 2013

President Obama’s first Inaugural Address offered a clear and bracing vision for a way out of the depth of an economic crisis and two foreign wars. His second, on Monday, revealed less of his specific plans for the next four years but more of his political philosophy.

He argued eloquently for a progressive view of government, founded on history and his own deep conviction that American prosperity and the preservation… explain what it means in the broadest sense to be “we the people,” Mr. Obama’s most eloquent description of our common heritage…President Obama rejected any argument that the American people can be divided into groups whose interests are opposed to each other

He spoke only obliquely of the persistent gridlock in Congress, where he will face right-wing Republicans whose bleak agenda would weaken civil rights, shred the social safety net and block important programs that could help put millions of jobless Americans back to work. “We cannot mistake absolutism for principle, or substitute spectacle for politics, or treat name-calling as reasoned debate.  We must act, knowing that our work will be imperfect,” he said.

Instead, he took the fight to the people, laying out his principles and priorities: addressing the threat of climate change, embracing sustainable energy sources, ensuring equality of gays and lesbians, expanding immigration and equal pay for women….Throughout his first term, he clung to a hope of bipartisanship even when it became obvious that his Republican adversaries had no interest in compromise of any sort…With this speech, he has made a forceful argument for a progressive agenda that meets the nation’s needs. We hope he has the political will and tactical instincts to carry it out.

Full text

President Obama’s first Inaugural Address offered a clear and bracing vision for a way out of the depth of an economic crisis and two foreign wars. His second, on Monday, revealed less of his specific plans for the next four years but more of his political philosophy.

He argued eloquently for a progressive view of government, founded on history and his own deep conviction that American prosperity and the preservation of freedom depend on collective action. In the coming days, there will be no let up of political combat over the debt ceiling, gun control, national security and tax policies that can either reduce income inequality or allow such inequality to stifle economic growth and opportunity for all but the very wealthiest in this society.

But, on Monday, the president stepped back from those immediate battles to explain what it means in the broadest sense to be “we the people,” Mr. Obama’s most eloquent description of our common heritage.

“We have always understood that when times change, so must we,” he said, “that fidelity to our founding principles requires new responses to new challenges; that preserving our individual freedoms ultimately requires collective action.”

In every sphere of life — improving education, building roads, caring for the poor and elderly, training workers, recovering from natural disasters, providing for our defense — progress requires that Americans do these things together, Mr. Obama said.

That applies, he said, to “the commitments we make to each other — through Medicare, and Medicaid, and Social Security — these things do not sap our initiative; they strengthen us. They do not make us a nation of takers; they free us to take the risks that make this country great.”

President Obama rejected any argument that the American people can be divided into groups whose interests are opposed to each other. The choice is not “between caring for the generation that built this country and investing in the generation that will build its future,” he said.   “For we remember the lessons of our past, when twilight years were spent in poverty, and parents of a child with a disability had nowhere to turn.  We do not believe that in this country freedom is reserved for the lucky, or happiness for the few.”

He spoke only obliquely of the persistent gridlock in Congress, where he will face right-wing Republicans whose bleak agenda would weaken civil rights, shred the social safety net and block important programs that could help put millions of jobless Americans back to work. “We cannot mistake absolutism for principle, or substitute spectacle for politics, or treat name-calling as reasoned debate.  We must act, knowing that our work will be imperfect,” he said.

Instead, he took the fight to the people, laying out his principles and priorities: addressing the threat of climate change, embracing sustainable energy sources, ensuring equality of gays and lesbians, expanding immigration and equal pay for women. Disappointingly, the need for stricter gun controls was noted solely in a reference to the safety of children in places like Newtown, Conn.

On foreign policy, President Obama expressed with fervor a view of the role of the United States in a world that is threatened by terrorism on many continents. “We will show the courage to try and resolve our differences with other nations peacefully — not because we are naïve about the dangers we face, but because engagement can more durably lift suspicion and fear,” he said. “America will remain the anchor of strong alliances in every corner of the globe; and we will renew those institutions that extend our capacity to manage crisis abroad, for no one has a greater stake in a peaceful world than its most powerful nation.”

Mr. Obama is smart enough to know that what he wants to achieve in his second term must be done in the next two years — perhaps even in the first 18 months. Throughout his first term, he clung to a hope of bipartisanship even when it became obvious that his Republican adversaries had no interest in compromise of any sort.

Time is not on his side. It is pointless to wait for signs of conciliation from the extreme right, whose central ideology is to render government ineffective. He has gotten off to a good start by putting forward a comprehensive plan to tighten gun laws, despite outrageous propaganda against sensible controls from the gun lobby.

Mr. Obama acknowledged that there is much left to be done to shore up the economic recovery and invest in education and opportunities for the next generation. And, above all, he stressed the importance of the middle class to America’s economic survival. “Our country cannot succeed when a shrinking few do very well and a growing many barely make it,” he said.

It’s natural for a second-term president to be thinking about his place in history. There is no doubt that Mr. Obama has the ambition and intellect to place himself in the first rank of presidents. With this speech, he has made a forceful argument for a progressive agenda that meets the nation’s needs. We hope he has the political will and tactical instincts to carry it out.

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/22/opinion/president-obamas-second-inauguration.html?nl=todaysheadlines&emc=edit_th_20130122&_r=0