Friday, October 22, 2004

The Nation Nails It
I am not usually a huge fan of The Nation magazine. While its reportage is usually pretty solid, it's predictable and I find a number of its most prominent personalities, including Eric Alterman and Katrina Vanden Heuvel, self-righteous and whiny. (Call it my inner conservative manifesting.)

But when they're right, they're right. And in this otherwise unsurprising endorsement of John Kerry, they offer an exceptionally strong and perceptive summary of what's at stake this year:

It is always difficult while enjoying the comforts and privileges of taken-for-granted liberties to imagine that they could be lost; but the elements of Bush's misrule have plainly converged to form this threat. It is the wars of aggression designed to expand imperial sway abroad that produce the fear that fuels his campaign. It is the transfer of money from the poor or average majority to the rich few and corporations that cultivates the allegiance of the corporate chieftains who swell Bush's campaign coffers while at the same time helping to bring the news media, now owned mostly by large companies, to heel. It is the media that amplify his Administration's war propaganda while failing to expose the deceptions put forward as justification for war and puffing up the bubble of illusion whose creation is perhaps the Administration's top priority. And it is government secrecy and Justice Department repression and a right-wing judiciary that chills the dissent that tries to puncture the bubble of illusion. The upshot is a concentration of power in the Republican Party that has no parallel in American history, including the Gilded Age and the Nixon era.

It is not only all three branches of government that have fallen largely into the same hands; it is the corporations, the military (which tends to vote Republican) and, increasingly, the communications industry, which are either propaganda arms of the party, as in the case of Fox News and other outlets of the Rupert Murdoch media empire, or else simply bow to the pressure of Administration threats and popular anxiety.

And here's your two money grafs:

Even before Bush's selection by Supreme Court fiat in 2000, a dangerous pattern had asserted itself at the top levels of American institutional life. The Republican Party embarked on a process of using legitimately won power to acquire more power illegitimately. In the impeachment proceedings against President Clinton for lying to a grand jury about sex, the Republican majority in Congress abused its power in the legislative branch to try to strike down the leader of the rival executive branch. The attempt failed. In the election of 2000, the party in effect abused the judicial power to seize the presidency for itself, and this time the attempt succeeded. The deed was in fact a culmination of a long, deliberate (if not conspiratorial) campaign of politicization of the judiciary, pushed by right-wing legislators as well as such groups as the Federalist Society. In a series of reapportionment battles, notably the one waged by House majority leader Tom DeLay in Texas, the party used legislative power to entrench itself in that same legislature. Meanwhile, a web of think tanks and other institutions, supposedly independent but actually de facto instruments of the Republican Party, was created. They cooperated in vetting political loyalists for government posts and in flooding the news media with apologists for the party and its policies. Under DeLay's leadership, the Congressional Republicans, leaving no stone unturned, have sought to take over even the lobbying establishment of Washington by threatening firms that hire former Democrats to work for them.

The persistent theme of these policies and actions, domestic and international, is to acquire power--to seize it, to increase it and to keep it for good. A systemic crisis--a threat to the Constitution of the United States--has taken shape. At the end of this road is an implied vision of a different system: a world run by the United States and a United States run permanently by the Republican Party, which is to say imperial rule abroad, one-party rule at home. Somewhere along that road lies a point of no return. It is in the nature of warnings in general that you cannot know whether the danger in question will come, or be averted by timely action, or perhaps never present itself at all. But it's also in the nature of warnings that one must act on them before it is too late, and this is especially true in the case of threats to democracy.

This is the systemic perspective I've been waiting to see voiced somewhere. What we see from the Bush administration is no accident, and the same forces that produced this moment of great consequence will still be in place, waiting for another chance, even if we win on November 2.

On the other hand, the misdeeds and historical/constitutional transgressions of the right wing are opening eyes in some unexpected corners. I am adding to the permanent links this Bull Moose Blog, maintained by the unapologetic McCainiac Marshall Wittman. As he details here, the Moose has a vision for how to move toward a government of national unity that Democrats of my stripe, at least, will find quite compelling.

Even some of the true conservatives are turning away from the mutant strain of Republicanism--call it Big Government Conservatism, theoligarchy, or government-by-looting--championed by Bush, Cheney, DeLay, Rove and Norquist. Check out this American Conservative series on the bad choices faced by principled partisans on the right.

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