The Huffington Post
What Karl Rove REALLY Had in Mind for a "Permanent Republican Majority"
Most of us, myself included, tend to take our democratic institutions for granted. They were there when we were born. They were there for 200+ years. The idea that the US could somehow no longer be a representative democracy does not resonate at the gut-level, even when events should demonstrate the vulnerability of our system.
Yet, twice in the last 4 decades, the US Constitution has come very close to extinction. Interestingly, and perhaps not surprisingly, each occurred in the setting of a war begun with a series of lies, and continued beyond the point when everyone knew the ultimate outcome would be unaffected, but was pursued just for the vanity of those in power.
The first was Nixon-Watergate-Vietnam. Barry Werth's excellent book, "31 Days", the story of the first month of the Gerald Ford Administration, is only the latest to indicate that the ONLY barrier to a coup d'etats was crusty, old, conservative Judge Sirica who knew he was being lied to by the Watergate burglars, and was insulted. He imposed the maximum sentence on the burglars, and then one (ex-CIA agent, James McCord) broke because he did not want to go to jail. [Scooter's commuted sentence shows that theyDO learn.] Without Judge Sirica, there would have been no John Dean, no special prosecutor, and no impeachment.
Otherwise, Nixon had his stonewall erected, and spoke prospectively about how he could "crush" the opposition after the '72 election. [Dallek's book, "Nixon and Kissinger", indicates that both realized they could start ending the Vietnam war in 1971, but wanted to wait so it would not impact Nixon's re-election chances---i.e., ~20,000 additional Americans lost their lives for Nixon's re-election]. Absent Sirica's pique, Nixon would have succeeded. Nixon's Gonzales, Attorney General John Mitchell, told the Watergate committee that their abuses were done because: "all we were trying to do is get the President re-elected". The danger to our Republic was not that sentiment, but that the Attorney General of the United States, a legal expert on municipal bonds, actually believed it was a sufficient justification.
What about Karl Rove, a man who had an early career job with Brown & Williamson tobacco company, learning how to sell something that no one, rationally, would buy, and being comfortable knowing that he was helping recruit 5000 children per week to start a life habit of smoking?
Rove's vision for a permanent Republican majority had little to do with winning properly run elections for the simple reason that there IS no Republican majority in free elections, and Rove knows that. To get a Republican majority and make it permanent, therefore, he had to 1) gain power; and 2) destroy the vitality of democratic institutions. He accomplished (1). It did not matter to him whether he used "Republican" policies to do that or not: just consider, Bush's only positive legacy will be the prescription drug law that, while terribly flawed, added an entitlement. True, he also lined pockets of his supporters, and that helped Rove's cause. Bush also tried to gain Latino votes by siding with Ted Kennedy, John McCain and others on immigration reform, while dissing his entire rightwing base.
They pushed the Iraq War in the fall of an election cycle to squeeze Democrats by providing as little time as possible to parry their lies [not that they may have acted differently if given more time], and then invaded Iraq while the inspectors were still doing their work fearing that no WMD might be found. The idea was to have a spectacular display of US military power (if you recall, Afghanistan, according to the greatest Sec'y of Defense in interplanetary history, did not have enough "high quality targets") to develop the popular support so the President could push through his domestic programs and grow executive power. The domestic agenda was to de-link financially people from government, so they would be weak and even easier prey for corporate manipulation.
Even that, however, would have been insufficient, Rove knew it, and had a comprehensive approach to a true takeover. As Judge Sirica showed, and as dictators such as Hitler, Chavez, Khomenei, Saddam, and others knew, the last bastion of democracy is a truly independent judiciary where an individual can take on the entire power of the government. So, Rove et al. planned to destroy that independence by appointing truly pedestrian people, who grew up in the "movement", to interpret the law against individuals, and in favor of the government and big corporations.
Rove's pretentions could not survive increased voter turnout. Hence, the attack against minorities and others who were trying to vote in non-Republican areas, and the firing of US attorneys who, apparently, had not received the memo that the rule of law was, as Attorney General Gonzales called the Geneva Conventions, "quaint". Dragging their feet on voting reform (despite the Baker-Carter Commission Report), and using non-paper trail machines, most made by rightwing Republican CEOs, they wanted to grab a majority where none existed. The districts in the '04 that had voting machines with no paper trail had greater divergences from the exit polls than those with paper trails.
For '08, they are trying to get California to eliminate its winner-take-all approach to divvying up electoral college votes, so that, instead of a Democrat winning 55 votes (about 20% of the total needed to win), might only get 35 and a Republican get 20. They NEVER quit. And, they care nothing about American traditions and the Constitution.
Another arrow in the Rove quiver was the radical rightwing media. Dangerous as it is as a purveyor of hate, of lies masquerading as scientific evidence, and the echo chamber that provides the imprimatur of legitimacy, it was not good enough. Hence, the move to allow more media concentration, fortunately foiled not by what John McCain called the largest outpouring of opposition he had ever seen (hang the people, they will become irrelevant anyhow), but by a judicial system that retained pockets of independence.
Still, that was not enough. Rove paid columnists to plant Administration propaganda, they provided certain "reporters" like Judith Miller unique access to what they called "facts" so they would be published as "scoops", preying on Miller's vanity as an ace reporter. She published the "information" they provided her in the New York Times, and then Administration spokespeople quoted the Times as an impeccable source for their opinions. Rove also went through the government, schooling people on how to use their power to help Republican candidates, a violation of law.
Perhaps the most pathetic, they insisted that any policy statement from the government mention George Bush favorably at least 3-times per page. It triggers visions of the wife of Romanian dictator Ceaucescu, who insisted upon being called "Doctor", and had her name included as co-author on scientific publications whose substance she knew nothing about.
They hired people for loyalty, not competence. In the regulatory agencies, they placed industry people so that not much enforcement would occur. They found young, recent college graduates, from places like Pat Robertson's "Regent University", to take high level positions (e.g., Monica Goodling), so they could guarantee unquestioned obedience to George Bush. People were recruited for the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq who had absolutely no expertise in anything, but on the basis of their opinions on Roe v. Wade, and how they felt about the Florida recount in 2000. That is how much Bush Rove and Cheney cared about Iraq.
In the meantime, they proceeded mostly in a stealth fashion with increasing claims of executive power, with attacks against opponents of such claims as unpatriotic and endangering the lives our citizens. With a lockstep Republican Congress for 6 years, who were easily lulled by power into abandoning their oaths of office ("supporting the Constitution of the United States"), there was no barrier to encroaching on the balance of power among the branches. As Bush removed more and more of our civil liberties, our Constitution was more and more under attack, and there were fewer effective responses.
(As an aside, for those who believe in a "unitary executive", I pose a single question: does the President believe that he could, if he wished, overrule the Federal Reserve, and set interest rates? That is, can Congress establish an independent agency, without control by the executive, or not? If the answer is the President could overrule, I suggest that today's Dow Jones Industrial average is in the stratosphere compared to what it will be if that answer were confirmed).
To bring this all together, there is the Department of Homeland Security. Note that the Administration resisted making this an actual Department---why? Because Dick Cheney understood that, as a Department, it would have to provide Congress information and testimony for oversight. Imagine what it could do as an "advisor" to the President, operating in complete secrecy. Fortunately, not all rightwingers "got it" at the time, and joined the chorus for creating a Deparment. Even Bush and Cheney could not rebuff that groundswell.
Immediately following World War II, many of the eastern european countries had democracies of sorts. But, the Communist Party, that was part of ruling coalitions, bargained for the internal security portfolios. They used that power to quell opponents, break up meetings, bully voters and voting places, manipulate the media, and paved the road for Communist, totalitarian dictatorships to take control.
Katrina, the Iraq War disaster, pockets of a remaining independent judiciary, the rise of the internet as alternative communications, corruption, and the recognition by the American people that their liberties, and their way of life was at stake, prevented the Rove plan from working.
But, it was close. Webb, Tester and McCaskill won by very small margins in their Senate races, if any had lost, Cheney would be controlling the Senate. [Remember, he is not part of the executive branch, an example of how they are willing to say absolute anything, no matter how preposterous, if they think that it will make the question go away]. Many of the Democrats who beat Republican incumbents won by very small margins; this showed the collective disgust for Bush et al. on the one hand, but the extraordinary power of incumbency on the other.
And, if Katrina had not struck when it did, if the US attorneys had acted in lockstep as had the Republican Congress rather than investigate Republican scandals, I am afraid that I am not confident that the media would have had the spine to reveal the truth about Iraq, or to ask the questions that this Administration assumed would never be raised. Given the small margins of victory, it seems to me more likely than not that Bush would have had a lockstep Republican Congress for his last two years, and Rove would have been able to pursue his multi-faceted attack on democratic institutions.
No, this was no ordinary attempt by a savvy political strategist to win elections by resonating with the majority of the American people. It was a partially executed, and nearly successful, plan to create a permanent majority by weakening to the point of irrelevance all potential challenges to the unaccountable exercise of power.
It is a familiar story, but not an American story.
Saturday, August 18, 2007
The Huffington Post