Before going on, let me state clearly that I am not writing a manifesto or a major interpretive work. I do not have the training, the knowledge, nor the hubris to think I could accomplish something like that. But I desperately want people to begin this important work, and I hope I can suggest some basic directions for such research and conceptualizing. The Bush administration may be coming to a close, and we may soon have Democratic control over the executive and legislative branches of government, but if we don’t recognize the Bush system and work to eradicate its most pernicious and destructive manifestations, we will continue to live with the effects, and the responsibility for the problems with become ours.
A word on terminology. For simplification and because I can’t come up with a better name, what I’ve been calling the Bush system I will call "Bush authoritarianism." I think authoritarianism explains a lot of the electoral appeal of the dead-ender 30% that will always stand with Bush. It also explains many of the underlying theories of executive secrecy and power. However, it does not include many of the features of fascist states, of governments run by fascists, in which the state is supreme, for the system pushed by Bush and his financial and ideological backers rests on substantial privatization of the public sector. This is crucial. Many people believe fascism is just a more extreme version of conservative politics. In fact, it’s a highly specific variant that existed mostly in Europe from the 20’s to the 40’s, with a few places—Spain, Portugal—keeping a form of fascism longer. Peronism in Argentina had a some similarities with fascism. But the essence of fascist states, the binding characteristic that existed in all fascist system, was that the state was supreme, or at least had primacy over all other institutions. A company like Blackwater, which takes money from federal tax revenues and provides military services for profit would most likely not exist in a fascist system. Instead, Blackwater represents the extension of a highly authoritarian force that’s an extension of the government, but it exists to turn a profit, and is ultimately not accountable to the federal government. Thus, there’s a form of plunder in which the state exists not to embody a national essence or nationalist strivings, not as a product of laws, but as a means of transferring wealth from the citizens to corporations and individuals largely free of the oversight to which citizens and elected officials are supposed to be able to exercise over government employees and the agencies of the federal government.
I will name this new system Bush Authoritarianism, although George W. Bush is not it’s originator and probably could not describe it with much coherence. In fact, it’s not a coherent ideology as much as a hodge-podge of ideas and movements that have been grafted together, mostly out of political expedience (primarily the need to secure financial and electoral support), greed, and zealotry. Most of these trends pre-date the ascension to the Presidency of George W. Bush. Some of these characteristics explain how the Bush administration came about, and others are an extension of the Bush coalition and the administration’s practice of governance.
This will be a multi-part essay. In future pieces I will describe Blackwater and show how it a product of Bush Authoritarianism. I will also discuss Blackwater CEO Erik Prince, using his family connections to the Amway empire to demonstrate the connections between not just the allies and elites of Bush Authoritarianism, but how many of the characteristics of Bush Authoritarianism fit together in its politics, ideology and system of governance.
Finally, the follow list of characteristics I think exemplify Bush Authoritarianism is by no means exhaustive. This is simply a list of characteristics I think should be part of any serious analysis of Bush Authoritarianism, and I hope are being examined and discussed by whoever does the serious analysis of Bush Authoritarianism that we so desperately need.
Bush Authoritarianism is a product of decades of building the radical right. The roots go back to the anti-communism of the 50’s, the Goldwater Movement, the creation of a web of think tanks and front organizations pushing radical attacks on regulation and political and legal accountability for corporations, the creation of the right-wing media network, cultivation of operatives and propagandists, and the marriage of the economic libertarian right with the religious right.
It draws support from and doles out favors to industries that "take" but don’t make, build or preserve—industries such as oil, mining, timber, etc—and low-wage industries hostile to labor unions.
Its politics are based on fear and atomization. It’s utopian in goals, dystopian in its assessment of actual risks and reality of the current world. And other than churches, it thrives on people not being connected through webs of solidarity, such as what often develops with members of labor unions.
It’s culturally and socially revanchist except on matters of race. In particular, it has not accepted much of the changes brought about by the feminist movement and the full entry of women in the workforce and the challenge to the male-dominated world. It plays to the losers of the culture wars, while providing them opportunities to exert power and enter cadre of elites.
Bush Authoritarianism is accepting of racial integration. Its opposition to things affecting racial minorities has more to do with electoral politics—because Blacks vote 90% or more Democratic—than with racial animus. Racial minorities can and are accepted in to the inner sanctums of power provided they don’t object to the ruling order and cultural values espoused by the neo-authoritarians. Blacks who attended prayer meetings before starting work at the Ashcroft Department of Justice would not have been seriously hampered in their careers.
It recognizes that the American electorate is center-left, clustered somewhat to the left of center on the political spectrum on economic matters, in the center but shifting to the left on social and cultural matters. Thus, it hides true intentions behind marketing-tested clichés, rhetorical obfuscation and intense official secrecy.
It espouses laissez faire capitalism, but the real focus is on substituting the public-sector with private sector, but with the private sector entities still paid for with public funds.
It fosters and thrives amid legal chaos and absence of corporate responsibility. One of the guiding ideologies of Bush Authoritarianism is a devotion to deregulation. This includes opposition to civil liability (including in foreign countries), classifying employees as independent contractors (to thus remove any legacy costs or lasting commitment to the employees), privatization of the public sector, the rise of companies that exploit supposed "special circumstances," such as wars, "national emergencies" that supposedly necessitate no-bid or secret contracts, declarations of civil emergencies (as during a natural disaster) and the like.
Its emphasis on government contracting is what one might call corporate socialism.
Tied to corporations shedding or avoiding legacy costs, but without government intervention in the marketplace to supply the social welfare goods which in almost every other country are provided by the state, including health care, child care, free higher education, etc.
Its foreign policy is imperialistic and jingoistic, and is marked by a rejection of international law. However, much of the foreign and military policy is pursued away from the public eye through privatizing personal risk and through preventing concurrent public sacrifice, thus putting off in to the future the financial costs and hiding the human and social costs.
It demonstrates a fealty—shared with mainstream establishment opinion—to neo-liberal trade policies as exemplified by NAFTA and CAFTA. Also labor market policies that are only at the extreme end of the neo-liberal economic consensus shared by much of the corporate and political elite (but rejected by huge swaths of the electorate).
It represents an attack on government, on the professional civil service, on government transparency, rules for contracting and promulgation of rules, a contempt for law, and a disdain for constraints on executive power and authority. It also seeks to eliminate accountability via official oversight through government financial auditing and oversight, hides flows of public monies to private entities, and rejects empirical benchmarks to assessments or controls of money flows and contracting.
It rejects relativism or the notion that different cultures have different values, hierarchies of belief, or notions of truth. It does not accept the notion of accommodation with or even embracing other cultures. Instead, other cultures are seen as something with which we are in conflict, and adversaries over which we must prevail. This will happen by the people who live within those cultural systems recognizing the superiority of our culture, or they will be suppressed and destroyed by force, as they are a threat.
As a bone tossed to both its regulation-hating industrial financial base and its religiously fundamentalist activist base, it rejects science and empiricism.
Exercising political power is often a stepping stone to power in the private sector. A new cadre of conservative elites not born to wealth is being created through appointments to government jobs that become portals to the private sector.
Human events are not preordained. With a few thousand more votes in Florida, George W. Bush may never have become President. Many of the features of Bush Authoritarianism had already become part of our social, political and economic landscape by 2001, and it’s likely they would have retained some of their power even had Al Gore become president. But had Gore become president, we wouldn’t have invaded Iraq, and knowing that Al Gore would have read the President’s Daily Briefing, if he had been told Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S., we may not have been successfully attacked on September 11, 2001. But without the full Republican control of government, we may not have had the backlash in 2006 that led to the Democratic takeover of the House and the one-vote margin (resulting in a virtual stalemate) in the Senate. And we might not have been primed, as we are now, to so quickly have the potentially major realigning election that John Judis and Ruy Texiera predicted in The Emerging Democratic Majority. Much of this new authoritarianism is highly dependent on the decisions of the executive branch, and without George Bush in office, it’s quite possible that mercenaries like Blackwater will see their revenue dry up as tasks that in the past were done by the military and other public sector entities are no longer done for profit, or no longer need to be done. So it’s not inevitable that these characteristics of life under the administration of George W. Bush will continue this way after the end of his presidency. But if we don’t identify and describe these characteristics, recognize that they are symptoms of a horrible dysfunction in our political system, and change course dramatically, even a Democratic landslide next November will not be sufficient to bring about the necessary changes to our nation, our world, and ourselves.
[Next week: Blackwater, the perfect corporate embodiment of Bush Authoritarianism]
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