Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice
In his Republican National Convention wrapup editorial Feel the Hate, Paul Krugman explains why the R's are so scary and hateful. When he says "[n]othing makes you hate people as much as knowing in your heart that you are in the wrong and they are in the right," I am reminded of Mark Crispin Miller's latest book Cruel and Unusual, in which he posits a theory of psychological projection to explain the right's irrational attacks on its political enemies. The hateful motivations you feel that your conscience can't accept get projected onto your enemy.
Right wing angerman's conscience also tells him that tax cuts are not the answer to every economic problem. It tells him that the president misled us into war with Iraq. It tells him that those in power are exploiting tragic events to grab more power and violate all tenets of fiscal responsibility. But rightwing angerman's ideological bias cannot accept these powerful truths. So he demonizes the enemy and projects the hate.
An example of this phenomenon can be found in the "flip flop" rhetoric of the right wing propagandists. Because Bush has been trapped by his own mistakes, inconsistencies and misdeeds (in Iraq, with the economy, against civil liberty and church/state separation), the only way to free him from the trap is to proclaim him a strong leader, forthright, stable, steady, who won't give an inch, waver or wobble. Kerry gets tagged with being the unsteady flipper. But let's look at examples of Bush's own flapjack policy turns (which can never be admitted by the intellectually dishonest true believers). In campaign 2000, Bush opposed nation building (see Iraq and Afghanistan). Bush said he'd bring partisans together and govern from the middle. Bush said he'd fight the war on terrorists, then attacked a country that had little to do with the terrorists. Bush flopped on his reasons for going to war in Iraq. Bush said he'd be compassionate and has been anything but. Says "mission accomplished" when it isn't. Says the war can't be won, then it can. Proposes programs then doesn't fund them properly. Claims to be a fiscal conservative then turns surpluses to deficits. Says you're safer, but you should stay afraid.
Looking back at the convention, I'm reminded of 1964 at the Cowpalace, when nominee Barry Goldwater said famously (in a tone that would be echoed last Wednesday by keynoter Zell Miller): "extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice." There you have in one line the theme of the Republican convention, circa 2004. We'll go to any extreme to protect the nation. We'll kill, maim, torture, strip, rape, detain, bomb, intimidate all enemies, real and perceived. Abu Ghraib and camp Xray are only the beginning. In 1964, Goldwater's ultra-right cold war threats gave people the willies and they flocked to the liberal Democrats, electing LBJ in a landslide. We must realize that the Republican party of today signifies the triumph of this Goldwater-style conservatism, which produced Ronald Reagan and a generation of attack dogs like Gingrich and Delay. In 1964, this was scary fringe stuff. Now it's national policy.
So when I look at the crazed Zell Miller evoking images of Goldwater and Lester Maddox, all but calling John Kerry a traitor for opposing the president, I start to wonder where that leaves us as a people. And I think we're approaching a tenuous moment. I'm not sure if this is going to be a sea change moment or a tumbling off the cliff moment. If it's a sea change, we're approaching the end of an era, the playing out of the old fashioned cold war Republican politics of the past: of Goldwater and Reagan, of J. Edgar Hoover and Jerry Falwell. It certainly seems like a tired and shopworn ideology: morally bankrupt, economically diastrous, w/ roosting chickens swaggering towards home. Now that the Republicans run the country, I don't get the sense that they really believe their rhetoric anymore. The gas tank's on E. They believe the rhetoric can get them elected, but when it comes to governing, it's purely a land and money grab. Pigs and chickenhawks at the trough, running up defecits, dolling out contracts, cashing out. When the facts belie the ideology, the string pullers govern cynically, leaving only the true believers to champion the cause. We might not be at that sea change moment yet; maybe it will take another 4 years of Republican dominance and many thousands more casualities to bring it on, until a clear majority will see through the charade and the left-liberal politicos will come up with a more coherent, plausible case for change.
The other possibility is that we're headed for the cliff. And that means the extremist ideology gets even more extreme, pushing our country over the edge, falling into financial default, economic crisis, wars on many fronts, and a government with an increasingly fascistic face: less democratic, more nationalistic, imperial, more irrational and theocratic, dominated by the cult of personality, the big lie, and a coopted media.
Is it the beginning of the end for right-wing extremism? Or the end of the beginning? Is this Act V or Act II? Honestly, I don't know. Let' just say like Krugman, I'm scared.