Saturday, October 6, 2007

Merciful Mongols

John W. Dean, former White House legal counsel to Richard Nixon, was on Countdown with Keith Olberman yesterday to talk about the latest revelations about US government-sanctioned torture. Now, it stands to reason that he didn't do such a great job counselling Nixon on legal matters, or at least his counsel wasn't heard. He was one of the Nixon minions referred to in this quote by the good Doctor Gonzo:
Nixon was so crooked that he needed servants to help him screw his pants on every morning. Even his funeral was illegal. He was queer in the deepest way. His body should have been burned in a trash bin.
(Read Hunter S. Thompson's entire obituary for Nixon, if you haven't yet, and bear in mind that the legacy of George W. Bush will be such that he will make Nixon look saintly by comparison.) Dean did jail time, but with a greatly reduced sentence, for his many crimes in connection with Watergate; his sentence was cut back because he turned witness for the prosecution and spilled the beans on Nixon and the Plumbers, and revealed the existence of the White House tapes.

Anyway, Dean has since declared himself an "independent" and has become a darling of the progressive camp in the US, especially since his book "Conservatives Without Conscience" was published. In this work, he charges that the Republican Party has been shanghaied by right-wingers with authoritarian personalities.

In the interview with Olberman on Countdown yesterday, Dean made some interesting points (check out the video at Crooks and Liars). After discussing the recently revealed existence of a new, shameful torture memo from the Bush/Gonzales Justice Department, Olberman and Dean talk about the Republican/conservative tendency to believe that reality can be adapted to their own requirements merely by choosing the right words to describe it: "We're not doing it cause we say we're not doing it"; or even "this is not torture because [the Bush administration] are not the kind of people who torture".

Dean points out that this is not just a matter of deficient perceptions, but that the White House is trying to change the laws that ban torture and other violations of the Geneva Conventions. He calls on Congress not only not to approve these changes, but to extend the Statute of Limitations on such crimes from five to ten years, in order to highlight the fact that "indeed, these are real laws". Of course, that would be very bad news indeed for Gonzales, Rumsfeld and other war criminals who are now or have been involved in policymaking and ordering prisoners to be beaten, waterboarded, and otherwise tortured.

But Dean goes on to make another critical point that is often missed and rarely, if ever, mentioned in the traditional media outlets:
Well, let me tell you, one of the thoughts in conservative thinking and circles today is that they felt very bad when Ronald Reagan left office with a 60 per cent approval rating. They thought: "That's just a waste!" They want their president to not be loved, to not be particularly respected. They want him to drive their agenda. And so Bush, as he heads on down with these kinds of policies that are being revealed, is doing exactly what the core of his party wants him to do. So, I don't... it may get down to single digits, and then he won't "die rich", so to speak.
So much for bipartisanship; what the Democratic Party needs in order to emerge from its present doldrums (and historically low approcal rates for its members of Congress) is the balls to push for flat-out partisanship in progressive issues.

Another example of this kind of Republican thinking can be found in the reasoning underlying Bush's veto against the State Children' Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) on Wednesday. Bush has argued that state support for children's health insurance would put the US budget on a slippery slope towards Communism. This program would be financed through higher taxes on tobacco. So, while SCHIP would be very efficient in providing healthcare for poor children, it would violate at least three mainstays of Republican ideology: No state-funded healthcare; no new taxes; and avoidance of anything that could hurt the tobacco industry, wherever possible.

Again: so much for bipartisanship. Bush's posturing as a fiscal conservative is all the more ridiculous considering he has blown the biggest budget surplus in the nation's history on an illegal war. Note: the US defense budget for FY2007 was increased by 7 per cent to US$439.3 billion, about 13 times the amount that the SCHIP bill would have cost. Look up "Starve the Beast" on Wikipedia for more on the thinking behind this strategy.

What does all of this have to do with the latest torture memo? The overall picture makes a mockery of the concept of "Compassionate Conservatism". It is just a shell of a phrase, a propaganda label used to sell policies that are not conservative in the Goldwater tradition and certainly not compassionate. What "Compassionate Conservatism" does is alliterate; no more and no less. As a catchphrase, it may serve its purpose among lazy thinkers. As a label for current White House policies, it is about as thoughtful, and appropriate, as if Ghengis Khan had promoted his conquest of the West as "Merciful Mongolism" - merely adding insult to injury.

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