The Republicans are still trying to recover. The Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) was signed into law by George W. Bush on October 3, 2008 – the great Republican project in barely-regulated free-market capitalism had ended in disaster – although Bill Clinton had started it with the repeal of Glass-Steagall and then the Commodity Futures Modernization Act of 2000 – where over-the-counter derivatives transactions between “sophisticated parties” would not be regulated as “futures” under the Commodity Exchange Act of 1936 or as “securities” under the federal securities laws. They would not really be regulated, and we all know how that turned out. Enron collapsed, and then everything collapsed in 2008 – no one had been regulating much of anything. On Tuesday, November 4, 2008, Barack Obama and Joe Biden easily defeated John McCain and Sarah Palin – America had had enough of this nonsense, and they’d had enough of Iraq too. That was a bad thirty days for the Republicans. That was rock-bottom.
That also shouldn’t have been a surprise. On November 7, 2006, the Republicans got wiped out in the midterm elections. They lost control of the House and Senate. Nancy Pelosi became the first female Speaker of the House, and the next day Donald Rumsfeld resigned as our dismissive and condescending Secretary of Defense. He’d no longer be at that podium rolling his eyes at reporters’ questions. Iraq was a mess, collapsing into civil war, and it never would recover. Bush and Cheney had said don’t ask questions, we’re going to war. Anyone who asks questions is on the side of the terrorists. That argument collapsed that month. Shrugging and accepting what those who were in authority said, as if it was true because they said it was true, wasn’t going to work anymore.
Authoritarianism took a big hit that month, and that did puzzle Republicans, and perhaps it still puzzles them. Authoritarianism is part of who they are. In fact, that year, John Dean wrote a book about the authoritarian impulse, and how conservatives found it hard to resist. That was Conservatives Without Conscience (a selected excerpt is here) – and the title is a play on the title of a book by Dean’s longtime friend, Barry Goldwater, the one from 1960, The Conscience of a Conservative – things had changed from the Goldwater days.
The best summary of the Dean book is from Glenn Greenwald here:
Dean contends, and amply documents that the “conservative” movement has become, at its core, an authoritarian movement composed of those with a psychological and emotional need to follow a strong authority figure which provides them a sense of moral clarity and a feeling of individual power, the absence of which creates fear and insecurity in the individuals who crave it. By definition, its followers’ devotion to authority and the movement’s own power is supreme, thereby overriding the consciences of its individual members and removing any intellectual and moral limits on what will be justified in defense of their movement.
One thinks of Donald Trump, but back then it was this:
Bush supporters want more spying, much more aggressive actions against investigative journalists and even domestic political opposition, more death and violence brought to the Middle East, more wars, and still fewer restraints on the President’s powers, to the extent there are any real limits left. To them, the Bush administration has not been nearly as extremist and aggressive as it ought to be in dealing with the Enemies. And that is to say nothing of the measures that would be urged, and almost certainly imposed, in the event of another terrorist attack on U.S. soil or in the increasingly likely event that our limited war in Iraq expands into the Epic War of Civilizations which so many of them crave.
Ultimately, as Dean convincingly demonstrates, the characteristic which defines the Bush movement, the glue which binds it together and enables and fuels all of the abuses, is the vicious, limitless methods used to attack and demonize the “Enemy,” which encompasses anyone – foreign or domestic – threatening to their movement. What defines and motivates this movement are not any political ideas or strategic objectives, but instead, it is the bloodthirsty, ritualistic attacks on the Enemy de jour – the Terrorist, the Communist, the Illegal Immigrant, the Secularist, and most of all, the “Liberal.”
Greenwald is a bit over the top there, but odd things were being said:
Supreme Court justices who rule against the President on national security matters are tyrants, traitors and pro-terrorist. Journalists who uncover legally dubious government conduct carried out in secret are criminals who should be imprisoned for life or hanged. Virtually every political opponent of the administration of any significance – Howard Dean, Al Gore, John Kerry, the Clintons – is relentlessly branded as a liar, mentally unstable, corrupt, seditious, and sympathetic to the Enemy.
And even those who devoted much of their adult lives to military service to their country (often in ways far more courageous and impressive than most Bush supporters), or even those who have been longtime Republicans and conservatives, have their characters relentlessly smeared and motives and integrity impugned as soon as they criticize the administration in any way that could embarrass the President – Richard Clarke, Paul O’Neill, the war-critic Generals, Joe Wilson, Scott Ritter, Wesley Clark, John Murtha, John Paul Stevens, and on and on and on.
Greenwald didn’t make that up. That was happening, and he explains Dean’s two main theses:
First, that what is currently described as the “conservative movement” bears virtually no resemblance to Goldwater’s conservatism, and has nothing to do with restraining government power or preserving historical values. Instead, it has transformed into an authoritarian movement which largely attracts personality types characterized by a desire and need to submit to and follow authority.
Second, because those who submit to authority necessarily relinquish their own conscience (in favor of serving the conscience of their leader and/or their movement) those who are part of this movement are capable of acts which a healthy and normal conscience ought to preclude. They can use torture, break laws, wage unnecessary wars based on false pretenses, and attempt to destroy the reputation of plainly patriotic and honest Americans – provided that they are convinced that doing so advances the interests of the authority they serve and the movement of which they are a part.
And now they can immediately deport eleven million people, in cattle cars, destroying families, without a second thought, and in August, 2015, Republican strategist Alex Castellanos noted this:
When a government that has pledged to do everything can’t do anything, otherwise sensible people turn to the strongman. This is how the autocrat, the popular dictator, gains power. We are seduced by his success and strength… As our old, inflexible government grows beyond its capacity to service a complex and adaptive society, and its failures deface our landscape, it creates demand for efficiency. Who can bring order to this chaos? Who has the guts and the strength to make the mess we have made work?
Then, the call goes out for the strongman. Who cares what he believes or promises? And with the voice of the common man, though he is anything but, the strongman comes and pledges to make America great again.
Mussolini promised to make Italy great again, and Mussolini made the trains run on time, damn it. And he didn’t take any shit form anyone. Many Americans thought he was the ideal leader way back when – in the thirties, in the middle of the Great Depression. Donald Trump will make America great again, even if the economy is not doing all that badly. All he has to do is say America is a mess. His new book is Crippled America:
The illegal immigrants have taken jobs that should go to people here legally, while over 20 percent of Americans are currently unemployed.
We’re going to open the gates to refugees from places like Syria, which is like extending a personal invitation to ISIS members to come live here and try to destroy our country from within.
Citizenship is not a gift we can afford to keep giving away.
And so on and so forth, and Jeffrey Tucker in Newsweek makes the obvious connection:
I just heard Trump speak live. The speech lasted an hour, and my jaw was on the floor most of the time. I’ve never before witnessed such a brazen display of nativist jingoism, along with a complete disregard for economic reality. It was an awesome experience, a perfect repudiation of all good sense and intellectual sobriety.
Yes, he is against the establishment, against existing conventions. It also serves as an important reminder: As bad as the status quo is, things could be worse. Trump is dedicated to taking us there.
His speech was like an interwar séance of once-powerful dictators who inspired multitudes, drove countries into the ground and died grim deaths.
Trump is Mussolini? Salon’s Conor Lynch has argued it isn’t all him:
The thing is that his style – full of race baiting, xenophobia and belligerent nationalism – is not unique to Trump; he is simply the most blatant and vocal about it. There’s a reason he’s leading in the GOP polls: the party’s base likes what he’s saying. The people are angry about illegal immigrants murdering white women (anyone who has followed Bill O’Reilly over the past week knows what I’m talking about), homosexuals destroying the tradition of marriage, and so on. Much like fascism reacted to modernity and social progress in the early 20th century, right-wingers are reacting angrily to social progress of the new century.
That means that they long for authority, traditional authority – the Tea Party folks want “their” county back – and they are appalled by those who ask logical questions about just whose country this really is. They don’t like questions, generally. This has been going on for more than a decade and now it has come to this:
The Republican National Committee announced Friday that it was suspending its partnership with NBC News for an upcoming presidential debate in February, moving fast as anger at CNBC’s handling of Wednesday night’s Republican forum boiled over.
In a letter to NBC News Chairman Andrew Lack, RNC Chairman Reince Priebus said that their relationship for the debate, scheduled for Feb. 26 at the University of Houston, was on hold “pending further discussion.”
The RNC has faced increasingly vocal — and active — dissatisfaction with the debate process from presidential contenders in the wake of Wednesday night’s face-off, with candidates and their campaigns complaining that CNBC conducted the debate in “bad faith” and asked questions in an attempt to spark infighting. “We simply cannot continue with NBC without full consultation with our campaigns,” Priebus wrote Friday.
In a statement, NBC News called the RNC’s decision “disappointing.”
“However, along with our debate broadcast partners at Telemundo we will work in good faith to resolve this matter with the Republican Party,” the network said.
That’s unlikely to happen:
The decision was generally praised by Republican campaigns, most of which have complained about the way the primary debates have been handled so far. Donald Trump even used his closing statement on Wednesday to take credit for negotiating a shorter debate time, so the candidates could “get the hell out of here.” Like several other barbs aimed at the CNBC moderators, it earned loud applause.
“The campaign supports the RNC’s decision to suspend the debate on February 26th due to the total lack of substance and respect exhibited during Wednesday’s night’s debate,” Trump’s spokeswoman Hope Hicks said Friday. “We look forward to pursuing alternatives along with the RNC to ensure candidates are given ample opportunity to outline their vision for the future of our country.”
Chez Pazienza tells the tale this way:
After supposedly being mistreated by the moderators of the last GOP presidential debate on that communist network CNBC – one of whom was the guy credited with actually starting the tea party – the Republican candidates will be getting a break from any future NBC torment. That’s because RNC chairman and impish Middle Earth creature Reince Priebus has now written to NBC to inform the network that the GOP will be severing all ties with it, which means the cancellation of the next Republican presidential debate. That debate was supposed to happen in February and be a joint venture between NBC/Telemundo and the National Review. Priebus says the National Review will still be involved, natch, but that NBC and its other properties won’t get another crack at the Republican contenders – whoever’s left at that point.
The reason for Priebus’s outrage: He says the CNBC people were mean to the Republicans on Wednesday. “While debates are meant to include tough questions and contrast candidates’ visions and policies for the future of America, CNBC’s moderators engaged in a series of ‘gotcha’ questions, petty and mean-spirited in tone, and designed to embarrass our candidates,” Priebus writes. He goes on to accuse the network of operating in “bad faith” and claims that he and the GOP candidates need to “ensure there is not a repeat performance,” which is why he’s exiling NBC from the February debate, with the alternative apparently being that the candidates and National Review editor Rich Lowry will just sit around a card table shooting the shit while a high school AV crew puts the whole thing up on YouTube.
Here’s one way to think of it:
There were some issues with the CNBC moderators the other night, but they mostly involved an inability control the debate and to keep things moving along. As for supposedly being unfair to the candidates and acting in bad faith in general – that’s just sour grapes. It’s whiny baby nonsense from a party that believes that any serious probing of its candidates’ ludicrous claims and proposals amount to “gotcha” questions.
Here’s another way to think of it:
Three of the GOP candidates for president are political neophytes and therefore deserve to be vetted more closely than those who’ve left a political paper trail that can be examined. They should expect this and their party should expect this. Add to that the fact that all three are spouting mostly lies and nonsense, with one guy, Donald Trump, not talking about policy at all other than to toss out a bunch of superlative adjectives ad nauseam and you’ve got a situation where tough questions need to be asked for the good of the country. …
So far they’ve complained about every one of the debates, even the one staged by Fox News Channel. The fact is that conservatives need that liberal media boogeyman to be able to hang their persecution complexes on, because they need to be the victims of a conspiracy to silence their way of thinking. They need a scapegoat to call out whenever their backward policies make no sense and their candidates are talking about deporting 11-million people – so they kill the messenger.
And there’s this:
Ted Cruz has suggested that a panel of conservative infotainment stars moderates the next Republican debate. “How about a debate moderated by Sean Hannity and Mark Levin and Rush Limbaugh?” Cruz suggested today. “Now, that would be a debate.” No, that wouldn’t be anything approaching a debate. It would merely be a forum in which nobody’s comment or proposal, regardless of how detached from planet earth, would be challenged…
But that’s what Republicans want now. That’s what they need.
That’s what Republicans want now? That’s what they’ve wanted since the day after September 11, 2001, the day that gave them leverage to demand that. But Reince Priebus did say this to NBC:
I have tremendous respect for the First Amendment and freedom of the press. However, I also expect the media to host a substantive debate on consequential issues important to Americans.
The two sentences cancel each other out. Slate’s Jamelle Bouie sees this:
Yes, the moderators asked sharp, policy-focused questions. They pushed outsider candidates like Ben Carson and Donald Trump to explain ambitious plans to cut taxes and remove unauthorized immigrants, and they questioned plans from more establishment candidates like Sen. Marco Rubio and Gov. Chris Christie. At the same time, the moderators couldn’t manage the candidates, who monologued, ignored requests, and largely drove the speed and direction of the debate.
Which is to say that Republicans were in control of the night. Still, they were angry. Sen. Ted Cruz won huge applause with a tirade against the moderators. “This is not a cage match,” he decried. “And, you look at the questions: ‘Donald Trump, are you a comic-book villain?’ ‘Ben Carson, can you do math?’ “Rubio did the same.” It was the week [Hillary Clinton] got exposed as a liar. … But she has her super PAC helping her out, the American mainstream media.”
They simply wanted to be in control of everything, as they should be, and they were stymied:
CNBC asked tough, fair-minded questions. It’s just that the candidates didn’t like them. Carl Quintanilla asked Ben Carson about his involvement with a company called Mannatech, which makes nutritional supplements. Carson has appeared in the company’s videos and ostensibly endorsed its products, which it claims can cure autism and cancer. It’s a real problem for his campaign and his image as a clean, honest figure. Yet Carson called the question “propaganda.”
Later, Quintanilla asked Rubio about his finances, from “a lack of bookkeeping skills” to concerns over his use of campaign and Florida Republican Party cash. Rubio’s response? “You just listed a litany of discredited attacks from Democrats and my political opponents, and I’m not gonna waste 60 seconds detailing them all.” But this is nonsense. These are serious questions about Rubio’s past, and they deserve an answer. The problem, put simply, is that the Florida senator doesn’t want to hear them.
You saw this again when John Harwood asked Rubio about his tax plan and its benefits for middle-class families. “The Tax Foundation, which was alluded to earlier, scored your tax plan and concluded that you give nearly twice as much of a gain in after-tax income to the top 1 percent as to people in the middle of the income scale,” he said. “Since you’re the champion of Americans living paycheck-to- paycheck, don’t you have that backward?” This is true, and less favorable analyses find huge benefits for the rich and comparatively small ones for everyone else. Rubio, however, didn’t answer the question. Instead, he made a different point entirely -“In fact, the largest after-tax gains are for the people at the lower end of the tax spectrum under my plan.” And conservatives – taking Rubio’s side – accused Harwood of lying.
It went on and on:
When Cruz went on his anti-media rant, it was following a substantive question about his rhetoric and approach: “Congressional Republicans, Democrats, and the White House are about to strike a compromise that would raise the debt limit, prevent a government shutdown, and calm financial markets that fear of—another Washington-created crisis is on the way. Does your opposition to it show that you’re not the kind of problem-solver American voters want?” Again, this wasn’t unfair. Cruz just didn’t want to answer it.
No one wanted to answer anything:
The problem isn’t that CNBC engaged in “gotcha” questions meant to “embarrass” the Republican candidates. It’s that any serious look is a fatal blow to GOP plans and proposals, which don’t deliver on promised substance. Trump can’t deport millions of immigrants; Carson can’t raise enough revenue to fund the federal government; and the “middle-class” tax plans of Bush, Rubio, and others shower most of their benefits on the rich.
Having friendly moderators won’t fix that, but if they get to choose the moderators, and the questions they’re permitted to ask, then things will be just fine – like they were in the Bush administration until the war in Iraq turned out to be a total disaster and then the economy collapsed. Then it was too late to ask the questions that should have been asked in the first place – which is the whole point of these debates. If that’s not the point, what is?
They don’t see that. The Republicans haven’t really recovered from the Bush years. An authoritarian movement which largely attracts personality types characterized by a desire and need to submit to and follow authority is an odd thing. Maybe there’s no fixing that, but maybe we should ignore them and carry on with our lively and contentious democracy without them. Maybe after all these years we’ve learned something. They haven’t.