Tag Archives: American Shame

Remember, Remember, the Fourth and Fifth of November…..Argo, the Iran Hostage Crisis 33rd Anniversary Today, and Guy Fawkes’ Day Symbolism in the Confused Stew of Race, Religion, & Identity in the Western World

NOVEMBER 4: ONE OF THOSE DAYS THAT WILL LIVE IN INFAMY

Ben Affleck’s recent (excellent) movie Argo reminds us that on November 4, 1979, a mob of Iranian students breached the walls and “occupied” the American Embassy in Tehran, which they proceeded to hold for another 444 days until Ronald W. Reagan became took his oath of office as President, largely as a result of Jimmy Carter’s shame in not being able to resolve the crisis or liberate the hostages beforehand.  The feeling in this country and the world was that Carter would never go to war to defend American Honor, and that Ronald Reagan would, even though the best he ever really did was to invade the tiny island of Grenada to defend against about 200 Cuban medical students…..

Last month I attended a distinctly pro-Iranian lecture by Mark Weber at the IHR (Institute for Historical Realism) in Orange County, but Argo reminded me of how angry and personally offended I felt by the seizure of my country’s embassy in Iran.  The repeated presentation of the disgraceful history of the US & British subversion of Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh’s brief progressive democratic interlude in Iran is a stain on America’s honor, and Great Britain’s, which is hard to overcome.  Especially considering we allowed Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, and other distinctly anti-Democratic countries to nationalize and manipulate our oil markets in 1973 with little or no resistance at all.  “Argo”, along with last year’s “The Big Fix”  both start out with reminding us of Mossadegh, once Time Magazine’s “Man of the Year” (of course, so was Hitler, once, Time’s “Man of the Year”).  At his Imperial trial in Shah Reza Pahlavi’s courts of justice, Mohammed Mossadegh answered the charge of treason as follows:

Yes, my sin — my greater sin and even my greatest sin is that I nationalized Iran’s oil industry and discarded the system of political and economic exploitation by the world’s greatest empire. This at the cost to myself, my family; and at the risk of losing my life, my honor and my property. With God’s blessing and the will of the people, I fought this savage and dreadful system of international espionage and colonialism …. I am well aware that my fate must serve as an example in the future throughout the Middle East in breaking the chains of slavery and servitude to colonial interests.”

BUT WAS THE SHAH OF IRAN REALLY SO BAD?

I confess that, during my youth, at least in part because of my dearly departed Grandfather’s support and extreme enthusiasm for the Shah’s fabled “White Revolution”, I had intensely respected, even admired, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi for his work in westernizing Iran and for brining the U.S. and Iran close together as partners against World Communism.  The Shah’s policies sought to modernized Iran (making Iran more like Sweden, was his stated goal) liberated women from some of the harshest effects and constraints of Sharia Law, including a ban on the horrific practice of female circumcision.  

I went to a fairly unusual high school in Hollywood and there had the chance to learn the views several aristocratic (secular Muslim, Westernized) Iranian “foreign exchange” students who were very strong supporters of their King and Emperor.  Finally, I know that my grandfather’s positive views of the Shah were by no means unique to him, one of my best friends for most of the past 40 years has been one Helen Sorayya Carr, named after the Shah’s beautiful half-German Empress (Shahbanu) or Queen (Malakeh), named by her father Denzel Carr, a Professor of Linguistics at Berkeley, for the most ancient beauty Queen of the West (Helen of Troy) and the most modern beauty Queen of the East (Sorayya of Isfahan).  Obviously, and for many good reasons, that Shah or Iran was well-liked in the United States and Europe—he was “one of us” trying to assimilate his country with ours and trying to raise his population from the Middle Ages to the 20th Century…… Mark Weber in his speech had very little to say about the Shah…. 

But the portrayal of the Shah in “Argo” (or at least its portrayal of the spirit and causes of the Iranian Revolution) is that Reza Pahlavi was a tyrant on the level of, if not even worse than, Iraq’s Saddam Hussein.  There was no justice in the American invasion of Iraq, or the subsequent execution of Saddam Hussein and many of his regime’s top officials.  There is certainly no apparent justice in the fact that we supported the Shah but invaded Iraq to overthrown Hussein while all during this period we have done nothing but support the House of Saud and related regimes in Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Yemen, and the United Arab Emirates.

And of course, as Mark Weber correctly pointed out in his presentation at IHR, immediately after the overthrow of the Shah, Iraq and Iran went to war and at THAT time it seemed that the US could and should support Saddam Hussein as the Secular Muslim opponent of “Lunatic” Islamic Fundamentalism under the Grand Ayatollah Sayyed Ruhollah Mostafavi Musavi Khomeini.  Saddam Hussein seemed like the great beacon of progress and Westernization in the Middle East.

Isolation and Non-Interference are the Best Policies Available.  

It is very confusing to be a 52 year old Anglo-American and look at Iran and Iraq today.  I cannot do anything but regret that we ever violated President George Washington’s counsel in his Farewell Address that we stay clear of all foreign entanglements.  The bottom line is simply this: the United States has done no good at any stage by interference in the Middle East: we certainly did terrible injury by opposing Mossadegh and participating in his overthrow in 1953—there is simply no doubt about that.  We did no good by supporting the Shah of Iran afterwards, but frankly he was so rich from Oil, especially after 1973, that whether we supported him or not seemed quite irrelevant.  

One recurring theme in US-Middle Eastern Politics is that we (in the US) seem to put Israel First, no matter what it costs to do so.  Dinesh D’Souza strongly supported the pro-Israeli position in his movie “Obama 2016” which also made more than passing reference to Iran….and Obama’s seeming non-opposition to Iran, despite the continual beat of war drums throughout his Administration.  Mark Weber made the excellent case that the blindly pro-Israeli policies of the United States are extremely destructive to the future of our relationship with the Iranian people—UNDER ANY GOVERNMENT, PRESENT OR FUTURE—and of course, Ron Paul concurs 100% in this view, and it is for that reason that the pro-Israeli lobby in the US has all but banned Media coverage of Ron Paul and his successor Gary Johnson…..

We, the American people, should simply keep our noses OUT of other countries’ affairs.  Freedom is fundamentally the freedom to be left alone, and every sovereign country on earth deserves that freedom from interference by the US, Russia, China, the UK, or France—or an aggressive Iran or “Brazil” of the Future…

Separation of American Interests from foreign interests is consistent with maintaining real diversity in the world, and I am in favor of real diversity.  Iranians should develop Iranian culture as Iranians see fit, but they should mostly develop it in Iran, and yet I live in a city sometimes called “Irangeles” and find myself enlisted to assist in mediating constant bickering and civil disputes between Iranians and non-Iranians, but also between Jewish Iranians and Islamic Iranians (especially in Beverly Hills), and even between Iranian Jews and Non-Iranian Jews.  

It’s enough to make one wonder: where DID all the blonde California beach girls go?  How DID West Los Angeles become Irangeles after Iranians overtook and then outnumbered Armenians as the largest Middle Eastern Population in California?  “Middle Eastern Population in California?”—oh yes, there’s a large Mosque on Shaw Avenue in Fresno not far from Cal-State Fresno—although there’s still a monument to William Saroyan, Armenian-American novelist and Playwright, in a park in his native Fresno close to the courthouse……

Again speaking as a 52 year old American WASP, I cannot comprehend the religion of Islam at all.  I despise the Muslim oppression and suppression of women—I have known too many Egyptian women, in particular, who have been subjected to the almost unspeakably inhumane savage and brutal practice of female circumcision (which according to WHO reports results in approximately 10% fatalities).

I cannot believe that such practices (and worse yet, the “Muslim grooming” of young English and French girls) are not only being tolerated among immigrant populations in France, Great Britain and the USA but are actively condoned by the Archbishop of Canterbury in the name of “diversity” and “tolerance” and saying that adoption of some form of “Sharia Law” in the UK is all but inevitable.  I say: it is avoidable—just say no and vote Front National, BNP/English Resistance…. which is a good point to move over to another point about today’s dates:

A Day Which has Lived in Infamy (Justifiably or Otherwise) for 407 years now—Was the Protestant Reformation about anything important other than Nationalism and Autonomy from Rome?  (Probably Not….)

Tomorrow, on November 5, we remember that Guy Fawkes was a Catholic who wanted to blow up the Houses of Parliament in 1605, or so they say, because he wanted to oppose the final triumph of Protestantism in England embodied in the recent accession of Catholic Queen-of-Scots Mary Stuart’s son, James I and VII, to the throne of a finally united kingdom of what was not yet called “Great Britain”.  

The Gunpowder Treason and Plot, as described in the history books anyhow, has to be one of the lamest conspiracy theories ever.  How exactly, I would love to know, could Catholic, Jesuit (and therefore automatically suspect in early Jacobean London), co-conspirators LEASE strategically located space (i.e. make a written contract)  and then use this space solely for the purpose of managing to get 36 Barrels of Gunpowder into a strategic location to blow up the House of Lords at the Palace of Westminster in July, keeping them there until November 5, without ever being discovered?  And all this happened during a time of plague and pestilence in London?   And all of the participants were already well-known Papists suspected by the crown of treason?  

The history of the “Gunpowder Treason and Plot” stinks of being a Stuart-Crown initiated “false flag” episode like the explosion of the Battleship Maine, the Reichstag Fire, and of course, the most recent, 9-11-2001, as being a staged event to organize and inspire loyalty to an at best shaky oligarchy…..  James I & VII was considerably smarter than his son, Charles I, and much more likely to have ordered and pulled off a “false flag” attack that would define history for a long time to come….  So in retrospect now, I strongly suspect, as I have to admit I did from “Day 1” of the 9-11 business, that Guy Fawkes was just another Patsy, like Lee Harvey Oswald, made to take the blame for something that was carefully planned just to use him as a symbol to be burned in effigy every year just after Halloween—-“Penny for the Guy?”

V-for-Vendetta Revisionism?

The movie “V-for-Vendetta” that was filmed for the 400th anniversary of the Gunpowder Treason and Plot made the Patsy into a symbol of heroic resistance which appealed deeply to me and to many around the world.  The Guy Fawkes’ mask has turned the “Guy” into a symbolic of Patriotic resistance completely inconsistent with the historical reality, so that the revised myth of “The Fifth of November” as a great revolutionary people’s insurrection against oppression is just as phony as the original “False Flag” Jacobean cover story about a Papist Plot to blow up the House of Lords was…..

But what are the elements that the myths have in common?  Both the original theory of the Gunpowder Plot as “Compassing the Death of the King” and causing a major Catholic (counter-reformationist) insurrection in England and the “V-for-Vendetta” version both focus on religious identity and intolerance as key elements of statehood and established power.  “Guy” Fawkes was often ridiculed as “Guido” because he used allegedly used this Italianate version of his name in correspondence with Jesuit “co-conspirators”, in short, Guy Fawkes became the first “real Guido.”

And so it is, of course, just another ironic if little-known fact of history that the first Guido to make a name for himself was not an Italian at all but an Englishman: Guido Fawkes, a.k.a. Guy Fawkes.   There is, to be sure, no evidence whatsoever that the Real Original Guido wore Armani Exchange T-shirts and artfully distressed jeans or that he tended to strut and flex steroid- pumped up muscles.  (Modern ethnologists from New Jersey & Staten Island report that the call of the Guido is bellowing, and frequently slurred, invariably starting with the sound, “Yo,” followed all too often by some creative variation on an expletive beginning with the letter, “F”).

In V-for-Vendetta the disfavored religion is Islam and the disfavored ethnics or behavioral subgroups are Muslims and Homosexuals.   Ever since the movie came out, it has occurred to me that the Patriotic fervor of the anonymous, amnesiac character who wears the Guy Fawkes mask would (in the modern world) be shared largely if not predominantly by people who supported some version of the conservative “Norsefire” platform on which Chancellor Adam Suttler and his government stood.  But the use of Guy Fawkes’ image as a paradigm for revolutionary action and advocacy transcends right and left—the mask is as popular among members of the (mostly but not exclusively left-wing) “occupy” movement as well as the “We the People” anti-IRS tax protestors.

I suspect that Natalie Portman and the other luminaries who participated in the making of “V” would tell you that their movie is a paradigm in favor of multiculturalism and diversity—where everyone can be united “behind the mask” no matter what their ethnic or religious affiliation and/or origin.

But “Guy Fawkes’ Day” used to be called “Pope’s Day” as well as “Gunpowder Day” and it was a celebration of anti-Catholicism and Protestant Triumph.  I was born into a Southern Protestant family in which Catholicism was strongly frowned upon on one side and fairly strongly favored on the other, albeit under the rubric of “Anglo-Catholicism” and adherence to the notion of Jacobite Stuart monarchism and “Charles the Martyr” day on January 31. “Charles the Martyr Day” commemorates the admittedly unjust and more than slightly appalling execution of King Charles I and the equally unjust and more than slightly appalling “Commonwealth” of Oliver Cromwell.  Cromwell and his son created little more than a beetle-browed Puritan dictatorship with no long-lasting heritage or accomplishments.

Cromwell’s “Commonwealth” Dictatorship was replaced after a mere 11 year experiment by the Stuart Restoration of Charles II which shaped and formed “all the best” of England basically as it was to be until 1914.  The death of Charles II with tons of illegitimate children but not one single legitimate heir led to a Guy Fawkes’-like “Hiccup” in the formation of modern England, namely the reign of Charles’ brother James who was overthrown for trying to restore, for the last time in England, Roman Catholicism as the official religion.

Modern readers are reasonably suspicious of religion.  Even those of us (like me) who may be going to Church on Sunday have only limited confidence in any creed.  Philosophy and Science, including Anthropology and Evolutionary Biology, have taken a huge toll on what we can unquestioningly “believe” or not.  I love my Church—the Episcopal Church, part of the Anglican Tradition, but I do not believe in its embrace of multiculturalism AT ALL.  Rather, I love the fact that in the past, and especially in my past—my personal and family history—that Church embodies all that is AGAINST multiculturalism and globalism in favor of “Anglicanism.”  I would define “Anglicanism” as the English people’s worship of themselves, primarily, as being created in the image of God—how’s that for an anthropologically reasonable, post-Vatican II liturgically blasphemous explanation of my Church and my Faith?

The modern ethnocentric Anglican has to address the political correctness of multiculturalism.  I do so as follows: we must choose and define our own identities.   Not merely do we have the INALIENABLE right to do so, we MUST do so.  We must define our own identities and try to keep and develop them for our children for the sake of preserving real diversity in the world, for the purpose of FOSTERING more “micro-diversity” and hence “micro-evolution” in the world.  We must not shrink from our obligations.

England should NOT become a Muslim country, nor should Sweden or Norway or Denmark or the Netherlands or France or Greece.  I that sense, I stand by Chancellor Adam Sutler and “Norsefire.”  However, it is only by a “Guy Fawkes” like uprising” led by the BNP or “English Resistence” or “UKIP” or some group like that who can make it happen.

About the United States—what is this country and what should it be?  Los Angeles and New York (and up to a certain point, Chicago) are cities culturally dominated not by Muslims but by Jews, even if demographically Jews remain a minority.  Henry Waxman represents me in Congress (actually, he doesn’t represent anything about me, but I guess it’s more appropriate to say “I live in his Congressional District”).  I did not vote for him, but I have no confidence in Bill Bloomfield for whom I did vote.  (New York Mayor Republican Mayor Bloomberg endorsed Obama—I find this appalling, although I did not vote for Romney, I voted for Gary Johnson, the Libertarian Candidate (by mail, I sent my ballot in last Tuesday).   I might have written in one of several other candidates but the California Legislature has for the time-being at least all but outlawed write-in candidates and I have voted Libertarian more than any other party ever since I decided in 1992 never to vote Republican again after George H.W. Bush’s treason on both the tax question and the invasion of Iraq—-which some propose that we now follow by the Invasion of Iran…)

Of course, adding to the confusion about Iran, as noted, Ronald W. Reagan owed his election in no small part to President Jimmy Carter’s complete ineptitude in defending American honor around the world, especially in Iran.  And yet, 5 years into the Reagan Presidency, a good-looking Colonel named Oliver North was on all the Radio and Television stations defending his PURCHASE (with White-House approved fund) of ARMS FROM Iran for sale AGAINST U.S. Law to the Contras in Nicaragua.  Huh?  I almost decided never to vote Republican again after that.  Reagan knew that the Revolutionary Islamic Republic of Iran was the chief enemy of the United States after the Communist Soviet Union and China, and he was clearly authorizing this Colonel North to give “Aid and Comfort” to the Iranians by doing business with them, paying them for guns to a cause which Reagan personally supported, although the Congress of the United States had barred official support of it, namely the Contras (Anti-Sandinistas) of Nicaragua. And yet I made the mistake, as did many Americans, of voting for George H.W. Bush in 1988 and that led to the first U.S. invasion of Iraq (for the heinous crime of overthrowing the Kuwaiti monarchy??????) and my final defection from the Republican Party.  THERE WAS NO EXCUSE FOR OUR INVASION OF IRAQ in 1991 or in 2003, and THERE IS NO POSSIBLE EXCUSE FOR US TO INVADE IRAN NOW.

I for one unequivocally oppose all American adventurism and imperialism abroad.  I agree with Pat Buchanan that we are “A Republic, not an Empire”, and I hope that over the next few years we can restore the American Republic and work towards a restoration of American Identity—“Los Angeles”, not “Irangeles”—with no disrespect to the rights of the people of Iran to maintain their own culture and civilization as they see fit, and as they have done without Anglo-American assistance for most of the past 4,000 years since Susa, the Sassanians, and Persepolis….

REPUBLICAN CRIMES, REPUBLICAN CRIMINAL INTENT, AND THE POLITICAL AGENDA BEHIND IT ALL

Now, culminating the 8 year tragic-comedy, they “bail out” the totally fraudulent securitized mortgage industry, and how?  by spreading the funny money around a little farther….why?  Because this is George Bush’s last chance to avoid post-2nd term jailtime or oblivion by spreading around some money.  The mechanics of the bailout are quite uncertain—where is all this money going to go (all $850 billion?).  If it’s NOT going to homeowners threatened with foreclosure, where is it going?  Why is there a mortgage crisis at all?  If the system were working properly, “lenders” or “mortgage holders” could and would be relatively happy to end up with ownership of homes, right?  And if there were a gap of 3-6 months in re-renting a house or condominium, why should anyone care?  It is because the holders of the notes in securitized bundles are NOT able to foreclose, just as the mortgagees cannot negotiate with the real holders.  There is a gap, and this is the fraud: the gap is created by money-changing for no purpose.  There is no connection between buying a securitized mortgage and receiving money from the sale of property—the entire American economic system since George W. Bush’s daddy came to power has basically been one thing and one thing only: “printing money while on cocaine.”

One could almost believe, indeed, that the Republican party’s rock bottom rot over the past eight years was intended to make all kinds of perverse corruption more palatable, only because a large plurality, if not a majority of the American people believe that ANYTHING has to be better than what George W. Bush has given us.  There has never been a time since July 1, 1776, when it was harder to be “proud to be an American, [or to feel that] where at least I know I’m free.”  On the contrary, in the most punitively incarcerating nation in the world, we lock up 1% of our population in jail only to let the entire government be run by criminals.  And Obama is just another member of the super-elite criminal oligarchy—that’s why he’s got such a good chance of being President.  Ten years ago I would have said that McCain was NOT an insider, but he’s clearly sold out.  Ron Paul didn’t sell out and so they froze his votes at basically incredibly low, and incredibly consistently low, levels everywhere…. Oh, Cry, the Beloved Country!!!!  I’ve said it before and I’m sure I’ll say it again. 


 

 How conservative greed and corruption destroyed American politics

 

 

Abramoff, DeLay, Norquist, oh my! The spectacular misrule of the GOP was not an accident.

By Thomas Frank

Aug. 07, 2008 | Washington is the city where the scandals happen. Every American knows this, but we also believe, if only vaguely, that the really monumental scandals are a thing of the past, that the golden age of misgovernment-for-profit ended with the cavalry charge and the robber barons, at about the same time presidents stopped wearing beards.
I moved to Washington in 2003, just in time for the comeback, for the hundred-year flood. At first it was only a trickle in the basement, a little stream released accidentally by the president’s friends at Enron. Before long, though, the levees were failing all over town, and the city was inundated with a muddy torrent of graft.
How are we to dissect a deluge like this one? We might begin by categorizing the earmarks handed out by Congress, sorting the foolish earmarks from the costly earmarks from the earmarks made strictly on a cash basis. We could try a similar approach to government contracting: the no-bid contracts, the no-oversight contracts, the no-experience contracts, the contracts handed out to friends of the vice president. We might consider the shoplifting career of one of the president’s former domestic policy advisors or the habitual plagiarism of the president’s liaison to the Christian right. And we would certainly have to find some way to parse the extraordinary incompetence of the executive branch, incompetence so fulsome and steady and reliable that at some point Americans stopped being surprised and began simply to count on it, to think of incompetence as the way government works.

But the onrushing flow swamps all taxonomies. Mass firing of federal prosecutors; bribing of newspaper columnists; pallets of shrink-wrapped cash “misplaced” in Iraq; inexperienced kids running the Baghdad stock exchange; the discovery that many of Alaska’s leading politicians are apparently on the take — our heads swim. We climb to the rooftop, but we cannot find the heights of irony from which we might laugh off the blend of thug and Pharisee that was Tom DeLay — or dispel the nauseating suspicion, quickly becoming a certainty, that the government of our nation deliberately fibbed us into a pointless, catastrophic war.

Bad apples all around

So let us begin on the solid ground of these simple facts: This spectacular episode of misrule has coincided with both the political triumph of conservatism and with the rise of the Washington area to the richest rank of American metropolises. In the period I am describing, gentlemen of the right rolled through the capital like lords of creation. Every spigot was open, and every indulgence slopped out for their gleeful wallowing. All the clichés roared at full, unembarrassed volume: the wines gurgled, the T-bones roasted, the golf courses beckoned, the Learjets zoomed, the contractors’ glass buildings sprouted from the earth, and the lobbyists’ mansions grew like brick-colonial mushrooms on the hills of northern Virginia.

Democrats, for their part, have tried to explain the flood of misgovernment as part of a “culture of corruption,” a phrase at once obviously true and yet so amorphous as to be quite worthless. Republicans have an even simpler answer: Government failed, they tell us, because it is the nature of government enterprises to fail. As for the great corruption cases of recent years, they cluck, each is merely a one-of-a-kind moral lapse unconnected to any particular ideology — an individual bad apple with no effect on the larger barrel.

Which leaves us to marvel helplessly at what appears to be a spectacular run of lousy luck. My, what a lot of bad apples they are growing these days!

Corruption is uniquely reprehensible in a democracy because it violates the system’s first principle, which we all learned back in the sunshiny days of elementary school: that the government exists to serve the public, not particular companies or individuals or even elected officials. We Are the Government, insisted the title of a civics primer published in the earnest year of 1945. “The White House belongs to you,” its dust jacket told us. “So do all the other splendid buildings in Washington, D.C. For you are a citizen of the United States.” For you, young citizen, does the Post Office carry letters to every hamlet in the nation. For you does the Department of Agriculture research better plowing methods and the Bureau of Labor Statistics add up long columns of numbers.

The government and its vast workforce serve the people: The idea is so deep in the American grain that we can’t bring ourselves to question it, even in this disillusioned age. Republicans and Democrats may fight over how big government should be and exactly what it should do, but almost everyone shares those baseline good intentions, we believe, that devotion to the public interest.

We continue to believe this in even the most improbable circumstances. Take the worst apple of them all, lobbyist Jack Abramoff, whose astonishing career as a corruptionist has been unreeling in newspaper and congressional investigations since I came to Washington. Abramoff started out as a great political success story, a protégé and then a confidant of the leaders of the conservative faction of the Republican Party. But his career disintegrated on news of the inventive ways he ripped off his clients and the luxury meals and lavish trips with which he bribed legislators.

Journalistic coverage of the Abramoff affair has stuck closely to the “bad apple” thesis, always taking pains to separate the conservative movement from its onetime superstar. What Abramoff represented was “greed gone wild,” asserts the most authoritative account on the subject. He “went native,” say others. Above all, he was “sui generis,” a one-of-a-kind con man, “engaged in bizarre antics that your average Zegna-clad Washington lobbyist would never have dreamed of.”

In which case, we can all relax: Jack Abramoff’s in jail. The system worked; the bad apple has been plucked; the wild greed and the undreamed-of antics have ceased.

Misgovernment by ideology

But the truth is almost exactly the opposite, whether we are discussing Abramoff or the wider tsunami of corruption. The truth is as obvious as a slab of sirloin and yet so obscured by decades of pettifoggery that we find it almost impossible to apprehend clearly. The truth slaps your face in every hotel lobby in town, but we still don’t get the message.

It is just this: Fantastic misgovernment of the kind we have seen is not an accident, nor is it the work of a few bad individuals. It is the consequence of triumph by a particular philosophy of government, by a movement that understands the liberal state as a perversion and considers the market the ideal nexus of human society. This movement is friendly to industry not just by force of campaign contributions but by conviction; it believes in entrepreneurship not merely in commerce but in politics; and the inevitable results of its ascendance are, first, the capture of the state by business and, second, all that follows: incompetence, graft, and all the other wretched flotsam that we’ve come to expect from Washington.

The correct diagnosis is the “bad apple” thesis turned upside down. There are plenty of good conservative individuals, honorable folks who would never participate in the sort of corruption we have watched unfold over the last few years. Hang around with grassroots conservative voters in Kansas, and in the main you will find them to be honest, hardworking people. Even our story’s worst villains can be personally virtuous. Jack Abramoff, for example, is known to his friends as a pious, polite and generous fellow.

But put conservatism in charge of the state, and it behaves very differently. Now the “values” that rightist politicians eulogize on the stump disappear, and in their place we can discern an entirely different set of priorities — priorities that reveal more about the unchanging historical essence of American conservatism than do its fleeting campaigns against gay marriage or secular humanism. The conservatism that speaks to us through its actions in Washington is institutionally opposed to those baseline good intentions we learned about in elementary school.

Its leaders laugh off the idea of the public interest as airy-fairy nonsense; they caution against bringing top-notch talent into government service; they declare war on public workers. They have made a cult of outsourcing and privatizing, they have wrecked established federal operations because they disagree with them, and they have deliberately piled up an Everest of debt in order to force the government into crisis. The ruination they have wrought has been thorough; it has been a professional job. Repairing it will require years of political action.

Conservatism-in-power is a very different beast from the conservatism we meet on the streets of Wichita or the conservatism we overhear talking to itself on the pages of Free Republic. For one thing, what conservatism has done in its decades at the seat of power is fundamentally unpopular, and a large percentage of its leaders have been men of eccentric ideas. While they believe things that would get them laughed out of the American Sociological Association, that only makes them more typical of the movement. And for all their peculiarity, these people — Grover Norquist, Tom DeLay, Jack Abramoff, Newt Gingrich, and the whole troupe of activists, lobbyists, and corpora-trons who got their start back in the Reagan years — have for the last three decades been among the most powerful individuals in America. This wave of misgovernment has been brought to you by ideology, not incompetence.

Yes, today’s conservatives have disgraced themselves, but they have not strayed from the teaching of their forefathers or the great ideas of their movement. When conservatives appoint the opponents of government agencies to head those government agencies; when they auction their official services to the purveyor of the most lavish “golf weekend”; when they mulct millions from groups with business before Congress; when they dynamite the Treasury and sabotage the regulatory process and force government shutdowns — in short, when they treat government with contempt — they are running true to form. They have not done these awful things because they are bad conservatives; they have done them because they are good conservatives, because these unsavory deeds follow naturally from the core doctrines of the conservative tradition.

And, yes, there has been greed involved in the effort — a great deal of greed. Every tax cut, every cleverly engineered regulatory snafu saves industry millions and perhaps even billions of dollars, and so naturally securing those tax cuts and engineering those snafus has become a booming business here in Washington. Conservative rule has made the capital region rich, a showplace of the new plutocratic order. But this greed cannot be dismissed as some personal failing of lobbyist or congressman, some badness-of-apple that can be easily contained. Conservatism, as we know it, is a movement that is about greed, about the “virtue of selfishness” when it acts in the marketplace. In right-wing Washington, you can be a man of principle and a boodler at the same time.

The wrecking crew in full swing

One of the instructive stories We Are the Government brought before generations of schoolkids was the tale of a smiling dime whose wanderings were meant to introduce us to the government and all that it does for us: the miner who digs the ore for the dime has his “health and safety” supervised by one branch of the government; the bank in which the dime is stored enjoys the protection of a different branch, which “sees that [banks] are safe places for people to keep their money”; the dime gets paid in tax on a gasoline sale; it then lands in the pocket of a Coast Guard lieutenant, who takes it overseas and spends it on a parrot, which is “quarantined for 90 days” when the lieutenant brings it home. All of which is related with the blithest innocence, as though taxes on gasoline and quarantines on parrots were so obviously beneficial that they required little further explanation.

Clearly, a more up-to-date version is required. So let us follow the dime as it wends its way through our present-day capital. Its story, we will find, is the reverse of what it was in 1945. That old dime was all about service, about the things government could do for us. But the new dime is about profit — about the superiority of private enterprise, about the huge sums that can be squeezed out of federal operations. Instead of symbolizing good government, the dime now shows us the wrecking crew in full swing.

Our modern dime first comes to Washington as part of some good citizen’s taxes, and it leaves the U.S. Treasury in a payment to a company that has been hired to do work on the nation’s ports. Back in 1945, the government would have done the work itself, but now it uses contractors for such things. This particular contractor knows how to win a bid, but it doesn’t know how to do the work, so it subcontracts the job to another outfit. The dime follows, and it eventually makes up a worker’s salary, who incorporates it into his monthly car payment. From there it travels into the coffers of an auto industry trade association, which happens to be very upset about a rule proposed by a federal agency that would require cars to notify drivers when their tire pressure is low.

So the trade association gives the dime to a Washington consultant who specializes in fighting federal agencies, and this man launches challenge after challenge to the studies that the agency is using in the tire-pressure matter. It takes many years for the agency to make its way through the flak thrown up by this clever fellow. Meanwhile, with his well-earned dime, he buys himself a big house with nice white columns in front.

But this is only the beginning of the story. As we make our rounds of conservative Washington, we glimpse something much greater than single acts of incompetence or obstruction. We see a vast machinery built for our protection reengineered into a device for our exploitation. We behold the majestic workings of the free market itself, boring ever deeper into the tissues of the state. Ultimately, we gaze upon one of the true marvels of history: democracy buried beneath an avalanche of money.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

— By Thomas Frank Copyright ©2008 Salon Media Group, Inc. Reproduction of material from any Salon pages without written permission is strictly prohibited. SALON® is registered in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office as a trademark of Salon Media Group Inc.



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