12/17/2005 02:07 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

A Ten-Step Program

Is Bush in a bubble? Is Bush a dry drunk? Is Bush a drunk drunk? Is Bush a narcissist? Is Bush an idiot? Is Bush a madman? Does Bush have an “Authority Problem”? Theories abound about why Bush does the things he does, but most of them assume that he is making mistakes that he could or would correct if he understood how misguided he was. On Monday, there was an editorial in the New York Times lamenting the apparent indifference of the Bush administration to the rebuilding of New Orleans, the levees in particular. On Tuesday, there was another editorial, excoriating the shameful behavior of the Bush negotiators at the Montreal conference on global warming. The gist of both editorials was that without national leadership, two chances are about to be lost--the chance to rebuild the city of New Orleans and the chance to mitigate the effects of global warming. Then at the end of the week, we learned that Bush has been wiretapping the phones of his own citizens--an impeachable offense. The Times writes as if it is possible still to alter the direction of Bush administration policy, but obviously it is not. The Bushies have a pattern and they stick to it in spite of every apparent reason to change course. It’s not as if we don’t know what pattern it is, and it’s not as if they haven’t advertised what the pattern will be--it is to break down the government so completely that it can’t be put back together again. Let’s take a look at the “mistakes” the Bush administration is said to have made, and, instead, ask ourselves if they are actually realized intentions:

1. Hobbling the government with debt by combining an expensive, prolonged war with perennial rounds of tax cuts.

2. Destroying the bureaucracy by making it impossible for neutral, expert, or objective bureaucrats to keep their jobs, replacing them with incompetents.

3. Destroying the integrity of the election system, state by state, beginning with Florida and Ohio.

4: Defanging the media by paying fake reporters, co-opting members of the MSM (why did the New York Times refrain from publishing stories unfavorable to the Bush administration before the 2004 election?) and allowing (or encouraging) huge mergers and the buying up of independent media operations by known conservative media conglomerates.

5. Destroying the middle class by changing the bankruptcy laws and the tax laws.

6. Destroying the National Guard and the Army by deploying them over and over in a futile war, while at the same time failing to provide them with armor and equipment.

7. Precipitating Iraq into a civil war by invading it.

8. Accelerating the effects of global warming by putting roadblocks in the way of mitigating its effects.

9. Denying healthcare and prescription medication to an increasing number of Americans, most specifically by ramming the prescription drug legislation through Congress, but also by manipulating Medicare and Medicaid so that fewer and fewer citizens are covered.

10. Encouraging the people in the rest of the world to associate the US with torture, military incursion, and fear, by a preemptive attack on a sovereign nation, by vociferously maintaining the right of the US to do whatever it wants whenever it wants, and by refusing to accept international laws.

Or, to put it another way, the Bush administration apparently wishes for and is working toward a chaotic Iraq, a corrupt American election structure with openly corrupt influence-peddlers like Delay and Abramoff in charge of policy, a world in which people suffer and die from weather-related catastrophes, a two-tiered economic structure in the US (with most people in the lower tier), and the isolation of the US as a rogue state from the other nations of the world.

How else are we going to interpret the satisfaction the President continually expresses in the results of his policies so far? As an example, when Bush said, “Heckuva job, Brownie”, outsiders generally assumed he was making a mistake--that he didn’t know what a bad job Brownie was doing. But let’s say that he knew perfectly well that Brownie had abandoned new Orleans to the forces of nature, and that THAT was the essence of the heckuva job he was doing. In the same way, many people assume that the administration is embarrassed that the extent of the American rendition gulag or the techniques of torture used at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo have gotten into the news along with the use of white phosphorus in Falluja, as if torture and rendition and white phosphorus were something that Bush does not want to do. But let’s say that torture and rendition are something that the Bush administration is happy to do, and doesn’t mind others knowing about. Likewise, many observers, let’s say Jack Murtha, for one, assume that the president does not want to destroy the army. But if the army is destroyed, then the services that the army provides at a relatively moderate expense to the taxpayer can be farmed out to companies like Halliburton. Let’s say that Rumsfeld, Cheney, and Bush have cast their lot not with the draft, or even the volunteer army, but with the mercenary army, which is more profitable, less subject to Congressional and public oversight, and, really, the appropriate army for a rogue state. And, with a mercenary army, there is no problem when a fallen soldier is sent home as a piece of freight. It is only citizen-soldiers who make the ultimate sacrifice out of patriotism. When we get rid of citizen soldiers, then we don’t have to respect them.

When Grover Norquist said he wanted to strangle the shrunken government in the bathtub, he was not kidding. He meant that the taxpayers and and voters would not be able to look to the government for any services whatsoever, but also that they would not have any control over the government does. The drowned and strangled government, having ceased to exist, would not only offer no benefits to citizens, it would offer no obstacle to those who wished to break the laws (for example against internal spying), because there would be no law to break. It is for this reason that the Bush administration pays absolutely no attention to the polls--they have already discounted the preferences of the citizens. When the government has been shrunk to nothing and drowned in the bathtub, the citizenry will be entirely powerless--that is the real goal, not an unintended consequence. Norquist and his fellow theorists understand perfectly that in a modern democracy, there are two competing modes of voting: there is “one person, one vote” and there is “one dollar, one vote”. They not only prefer “one dollar, one vote”, they want to entirely get rid of “one person, one vote”.

The outcome of such policies will be a dictatorship or a tyranny. Such policies cannot be reconciled with the US as we know it, or with the vision of the Founding Fathers. It is true that rogue elements have stolen elections before, as the slave interest stole the election in Kansas in 1856 by openly ferrying fraudulent voters across the river from Missouri, and then bullying the Congress into certifying the election in spite of plenty of evidence that the election was corrupt. It is also true that the public has been fed lies in the past so that they would support a questionable war (remember the Maine!). Corrupt administrations probably outnumber clean ones in US history. But the ten “successes” I cite above come together to present, I think, the greatest threat to the US since the Civil War. The US is not like much of the rest of theworld: France has always been France, and England has been England for many centuries, and Russia defined itself during the reign of Ivan the Terrible as Russia in contrast to the Tartars and Europe. Chinese history is, supposedly, the longest continual history of any people in the world, but the US is based on an abstraction--a certain set of ideas that divide up and share out power so that it does not become concentrated in the hands of a single tyrannical entity, either party or person. We are expected to participate as citizens in our government at the local, state, and national level, and our government has been expected, from the beginning, to be a shared enterprise, not an engine of power and wealth for a single oligarchic group. Our government was devised as a set of ideas about how to avoid kings, aristocracies, and tyrannies. If it fails at that, or is manipulated into producing tyranny, then we are no longer living in the US, we are living in a no man’s land, without an actual identity. This set of ideas, political techniques, and beliefs that holds together immigrants from every continent and every culture.

I began considering the possibility that what we see around us might indeed constitute success, as far as the Bushies are concerned, when I read in a post by Karen Kwiatkowski that three witnesses had confirmed that Bush referred to the Constitution as a “just a god damned piece of paper.” Then there was the article in The Guardian in which six American pundits were invited to reflect upon the meaning of the last five years of the Bush administration. Two commentators said interesting things. Howell Raines pointed out that four generations of Bushes and Walkers (since 1850) have shown a willingness to do anything for money and power, but no interest of any kind in the common good. R. Emmett Tyrell implied more than he stated when he maintained that the anger that people like me feel toward Bush is mere psychological projection, expressing “the need of the passing Old Order to have enemies.” What was striking in Tyrell’s section is his assumption that the Old Order (legal elections, citizen soldiers, healthy middle class, commonly agreed upon morality, laws, and regulations, useful beaurocracy) IS passing. He must know something I don’t know, because I had been thinking the country we used to have was still salvageable. In addition to these signs, though, we have several others, among them the fact that Bush and Cheney attempt to communicate only with their base (and remember, in “Farenheit 911”, Bush told a group of wealthy contributors that they WERE his base). Their base is fairly small and getting smaller, but they seem to have no desire, even when campaigning, to enlarge their base. It’s as if they know that the voters don’t matter, and, of course, according to the president of the Diebold Company, the voters don’t matter (see Avi Rubin’s post about voting machine certifcation).

In the face of the administration’s successes, it seems that it is the responsibility of the Democrats to save the republic, and to prevent the government from being shrunken and drowned, but they have been very lax about stepping up to the plate. With the nation beginning to wake up to the injustice and futility of bringing chaos to the Middle East, the most prominent Democrats choose to distance themselves from the citizens and to link themselves more tightly to the administration. Hillary Clinton, for example, refuses to denounce the war and takes up the issue of flag burning! John Kerry refuses to confront the probability that his honor was besmirched and his own election was stolen. The DNC takes the time to denounce the peace movement, even though the peace movement was right about the futility of the war. Bill Clinton seems to be of two minds. He’s willing to speak out about global warming, which is a plus, but every time he takes a stand about any other issue, he soon backpedals. How to understand this? Democrats outside of Washington widely infer that Democrats in Washington are simply cowardly or deluded, but it is also a possibility that they are in on the shift from what Tyrell calls the “Old Order” (democracy) to the “New Order” (what shall we call that?).

We normally think of American political thought running along a single continuum, from right to left, from, let’s say from the Ku Klux Klan to the American Communist Party. Most Americans fall in the middle. Moderate Republicans live next door to moderate Democrats, and the way moderation expresses itself shifts, and is expected to shift, from region to region. In an ethnically diverse country where ideas, and ideology, are important, Americans generally understand, almost without realizing it, that moderation is what holds things together. But American political thought runs along another continuum, too, not a continuum of ideas but a continuum of power. What differentiates various groups on this continuum from one another is their embrace or rejection of power as a goal in itself. Essentially ideological thought seeks power in order to achieve certain ideas; power-oriented groups use ideas in order to achieve power. In the conservative movement today, this split is evident--old-line conservatives distrust the Bush administration because small government, low debt, and isolationism are about circumscribing the power of government. Bush is about enhancing the power of--well, I almost said government. But any government is essentially a smoothly-operating bureaucracy. Bush is about enhancing the power of himself and his cronies and dismantling any countervailing entity. The Bushies are not shy about acting on their craving for power (as in the K Street Project) or about talking about it--”Permanent Republican control of the three branches of government.” In addition, Bush himself tends to express his desire for power when he’s joking about how it’s easier to be a dictator than a president, or how the Chinese sure know how to treat journalists. The only reason the Bushies are called “conservative”, as many conservatives will themselves tell you, is that the theorists of Bushism managed to graft themselves onto the Republican Party in the 1970s and 80s, when the Republican party was the party of disgruntled racists, fundamentalists, workers, and farmers left behind by Civil Rights, feminism, the sexual revolution, the end of the manufacturing sector, and the abandonment of a rural way of life. Many of the neo-cons are former leftist student radicals because when they were student radicals, power was what they wanted. They needed to be converted from one ideology (Marxism) to another (capitalism), but the essential goal--gaining power--remained the same.

If we add the power continuum, then, the American political scene starts looking like a coordinate plane. There is the x-axis, from left to right, and the y-axis, from bottom (power dispersing) to top (power consolidating). Institutions and entities that are power dispersing would be the Libertarian Party, the Novel, the blogosphere, and democracy itself. If we plot the Bush administration point, it would be at the top of the y-axis, but not necessarily very far right, in terms of small government, low debt, and isolationism. In fact, it is this apparent moderation in expressed Bush ideas that makes him seem relatively harmless to many Americans. But the ruthless drive for power of Bush and his cronies is really not about ideas, and in fact views ideas as a kind of trash, even, according to witnesses, the ideas expressed in the Constitution. the reason I never support any Bush policy, no matter how “moderate” on the surface is that every Bush policy is designed to enhance thepower of Bush and his cronies. The grab for absolute power must be resisted absolutely. No doubt the Democrats who are in sympathy with the Bush crowd are high on the power axis, too, at least in their own minds.

My point is not to psychoanalyze Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld. How they came to think as they do, and how things look to them are not actually very interesting. What is important is that average Americans come to comprehend how dangerous they are, and how destructive their plans are. Do they actually plan to disenfranchise everyone but their reliable base? Well, yes they do. Can they? If they have control of the electronic voting machines, they can. Do they actually plan for their associates and cronies to skim off vast quantities of the taxpayers’ money? Well, yes they do. Big Pharma, Big Oil, Big Ag, and the major war industries already are doing so, and they have taken plenty from the Indian tribes and foreigners, too Do they actually plan to let New Orleans, that blue spot in a red state, slip away? Looks like it. Do they actually plan to destroy the middle class? They are making good progress--poverty was up twelve percent last year, and the “booming economy” is strangely low on job growth, at least for Americans. The catalogue of their “successes”, or, as average Americans might term it, their “failures”, is pretty long. Given the sympathy the Democrats afford them, we can stop them in only a few ways, it seems--by constantly bearing witness to their crimes, and prosecuting them if and when we can, by never underestimating the ruthlessness of their motives and the enormity of their goal, by being immune to their habitual public relations tools: fear, accusations of betrayal, false patriotism, appeals to populist and religious resentments, use of political red herrings like gay marriage. Most important, we must make every effort to oversee and guarantee the credibility of our elections.

I also have a philosophical bulletin for the Bush crowd--the “Thousand Year Reich” doesn’t exist, and neither does “permanent Republican control of all three branches of government”, especially if that control is based on stealing elections. Power is the most ephemeral possession of them all because retaining power means exerting ever more control. Control, of course, operates according to the law of diminishing returns. When you threaten and then torture that first guy, it’s shocking and intimidating, not only to the guy himself but to everyone who hears about it. To maintain that level of intimidation, however, requires ever more threats and ever more torture, and pretty soon you have threatened and tortured, and even killed, hundreds (what’s the count on Iraqis who have died in American custody--121?) or thousands of people, and you are actually losing power because the very thing you thought you could toss out the window in your quest for power, namely morality, comes back to haunt you in the form of disgust (the disgust that others feel toward you) and common decency (that quality that others have retained and you have lost). The US has lasted this long, and survived and thrived because of power dispersal, not power consolidation. Which is not to say that the Bushies can’t do a lot of damage--they have and they can. The loss of our moral compass is devastating. The scattering of beaurocratic talent is a huge hidden cost of the Bush plan, as is the destruction of the volunteer army both as a military entity and as a population of young people who have been required to be ruthless themselves and to be ruthlessly preyed upon by the Iraqi insurgency. Our debts to the Chinese are a price we do not yet know the cost of, and our resistance to the idea of global warming might doom us all. Arousing the foot soldiers of the religious right, whipping them up with ideas of “the Rapture”, then arming them with weapons of mass destruction seems on the face of it to be a first class folly. And all for what? Life is short. Reputations are long.