Chapter 4 is the final chapter of John Dean’s book and is entitled “Troubling Politics and Policies of Our Authoritarian Government.” Dean opens this chapter with a harsh indictment of the Bush/Cheney administration:
While authoritarian conservatism was growing in force in Washington for a decade before Bush and Cheney arrived at the White House, their administration has taken it to its highest and most dangerous level in American history… The changes in policies and procedures that have taken place because of authoritarianism are quite dramatic.
Dean believes that Bush/Cheney could not have accomplished all that they have without the complicity of the legislative branch; in particular, the House of Representatives. He points to two people who specifically led the charge to institute authoritarianism in the House: Newt Gingrich and Tom DeLay.
In his dispassionate style, Dean lays out the backgrounds on Gingrich and DeLay and how they came to control the House. Although both men left under less than auspicious circumstances, the House today is a reflection of their personalities. Gingrich operated under the rule that the “politics of perception was everything” and is said to have come up with these words for Republicans to use when describing Democrats: “sick, traitors, corrupt, bizarre, cheat, steal, devour, self-serving, and criminal rights.”
DeLay was even worse than Gingrich. He used his fundraising prowess to funnel cash to candidates. Dean says “Delay’s office became something of a concierge, and DeLay a consigliere, for the new House Republicans.”
DeLay ruled the House with an iron first, employing tactics not ever seen before. Dean points to his use of extreme centralization in the writing of bills, prohibition on amendments to bills, one-party conferences, no legislative hearings, and prodigious use of earmarks. Dean chastises Democrats for not complaining about these and other abuses, claiming that no one cares about process issues and that it is inside baseball. I agree with Dean and resent the paternalistic approach of the Democrats.
It was not enough to get Republicans elected, however. Creating and maintaining a Republican majority became possible via redistricting. The Economist, in a September 2004 article, says the use of computers made the process “more refined”:
By gerrymandering to cram Democrats into a smaller number of super-safe seats [primarily in urban areas] while spreading Republicans into a large number of ‘designer districts’ which they win by 55-60%
And we are all aware of the redistricting done in Texas by DeLay. Can there be any doubt that the redistricting process needs to be changed?
Another piece to the Republican majority was the K Street Project. Dean gives a lot of background on how this came to be, including the names of some of the players which are now all a part of our vocabulary: Jack Abramoff and his old friend, Grover Norquist. The stories of the antics of these two which Dean relates are demonstrative of the nature of Double Highs and are well worth a read.
In the Senate, authoritarianism has not yet taken hold but it is growing. Case in point is the filibuster. Dean gives an interesting background of how filibusters, which became a part of Senate rules in 1856, have been used as well as the cloture vote, which ends filibusters and became a part of Senate rules in 1917. He gives background on the Mansfield proposal, which became the modern filibuster rules. The threat of the use of the so-called nuclear option was only diffused when the Gang of 14 came together. This group’s agreement is set to expire with the 109th Congress, in January 2007.
Dean spends some 11 pages discussing Vice President Dick Cheney, none of it flattering. Interestingly, he thinks Cheney, the most powerful Vice President ever, is proof of the Peter Principle. He says that Cheney often exercises bad judgement, such as convincing Bush to go to war, to detain prisoners without due process, to engage in torture, to issue signing statements, to spy on Americans. Cheney remains, however, the force behind the presidency.
As Bush proceeds with his second term, we have had some six years to observe him. It is abundantly clear that he is a mental lightweight with a strong right-wing authoritarian personality, with some social dominance tendencies as well. Bush’s leading authorities are “his gut,” his God, and his vice president. Cheney, it appears, knows how to manipulate the president like a puppet, and handles his oversized ego by making him believe ideas or decisions are his own when, in fact, they are Cheney’s. While Bush does not appear to be a Double High, the vice president is a classic Double High, including – among other things – by his “go fuck yourself” dismissal of those with whom he disagrees. Cheney is the mind of this presidency, with Bush as the salesman. Bush simply does not have the mental facility or inclination for serious critical analysis of the policies he is being pushed to adopt.
Bush and Cheney use fear as a basis for everything from tax cuts to social security. They present the public with “worse-case scenarios” and are rarely challenged on this. Republicans don’t challenge them because it helps them win elections. Except for Al Gore, the Democrats remain silent. And the media has their own reason for not challenging it: fear sells. With the sole exception of Nixon – another user of fear – Dean says that all modern presidents avoid the use of fear (Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush I and Clinton), even though they faced various crises during their tenure. Fear “takes reasoning out of the decision-making process,” Dean says, and we can expect to see it used even more in election years, such as 2006 and 2008.
Dean has laid out a compelling case on what authoritarianism is doing to our country. Bob Altemeyer, the researcher he relied upon, says that only few RWAs become aware of their behavior and change it.
“Probably about 20 to 25 percent of the adult American population is so right-wing authoritarian, so scared, so self-righteous, so ill-informed, and so dogmatic that nothing you can say or do will change their minds,” Altemeyer told me. He added, “They would march American into a dictatorship and probably feel that things had improved as a result. They have the mentality of ‘old-time religion’ on a crusade and they generously give money, time and effort to the cause. They proselytize; they lick stamps; they put pressure on loved ones; and they revel in being loyal to a cohesive group of like thinkers. And they are so submissive to their leaders that they will believe and do virtually anything they are told. They are not going to let up and they are not going to go away.”
Reading this book has been an enlightening journey. I have a new-found respect for true conservatives and a tremendous sense of sadness for the neo-cons, trapped as they are in their right-wing authoritarianism. The manipulation of RWA followers by their Double High leaders is nothing short of despicable. But the reality is that the taking over of our country by these egomaniacs is not just the fault of the RWA followers; it is our fault, too. We – liberals, moderates, and conservatives – outnumber them tremendously and we have stood by and let this happen by not participating as we should in the process. They understand that – and have taken advantage. It is now time for us to take back our country from the crazies.
“Democracy is not a spectator sport.”