Tuesday, September 05, 2006

John Dean: An Amazing Dialogue

One of the problems with blogs that have many posts per day and a quirky temperament is that really good stuff can slip past you. I missed a series of posts on Firedoglake about John Dean's, Conservatives without Conscience. The series is as good as blogging gets. Glenn Greenwald led off the discussion of Dean's book with these comments:
...Dean advances two primary arguments:

First, what is currently described as the "conservative movement" bears virtually no resemblance to the conservatism pioneered by Dean’s close friend, Barry Goldwater. The current movement has nothing to do with restraining government power or preserving historical values. Instead, it has embraced radical and historically unprecedented theories of presidential power and has morphed 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.


What excites, enlivens, and drives Bush followers is the identification of the Enemy followed by swarming, rabid attacks on it. It is a movement that defines itself not by identifiable ideas but by that which it is not. Its foreign policy objectives are identifiable by one overriding goal — destroy and kill the Enemy, potential or suspected enemies, and everyone nearby. And it increasingly views its domestic goals through the same lens. It is a movement in a permanent state of war, which views all matters, foreign and domestic, only in terms of this permanent war.

It is a movement devoted to the destruction of its enemies wherever they might be found. And it finds new ones, in every corner and seemingly on a daily basis, because it must. That is the food which sustains it.

I very much remember the John Birchers from my youth in Orange County, California; the last two paragraphs I quoted above resonate with what I remember, though a couple of Birchers I knew had a more 'creative' and intellectual approach (my early education was slowly learning to peel away their arguments). I haven't read Dean's book yet but I sense it may say more about followers than it does right wing authoritarian leaders like Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld who are, by any definition, a very strange cast of characters, but the insights I've seen mentioned clearly appear to be in the ballpark for both the leaders and followers.

Something to keep in mind is that John Kerry in 2004 turned out 9 million more voters than Al Gore in 2000; unfortunately, Bush's fearmongering turned out 12 million more voters in 2004 than he managed in 2000; fearmongering and creating new bogeymen worked very well for Bush in 2002 and 2004; it's still not clear that Americans fully see through the nonsense and it's important to understand this stuff.

The thread that follows Greenwald's review is excellent. The reader should pull up a chair, relax and read a while. The next post, a few days later, featured John Dean who answered questions inside the thread. And once again, the next day, Dean gave more of his time and answered more questions in yet another post.

In the threads, some bloggers made comments but I noticed several of them went on to comment further in their own blogs. Sara Robinson in a post on Orcinus decided to emphasize a response given by Bob Altemeyer, who was a major source for Dean's take on authoritarians and their followers; Altemeyer reminds us that even people on the far right are reachable if we are patient, but it's a tough task. People who consider themselves members of the reality-based community can expect several election cycles to get their message across. It would be a mistake for Democrats to think they can get far, like Bush, if they win a majority plus one per cent. There's work to do.

I'll try to keep a closer eye on Firedoglake; the Dean series is blogging and dialogue at its best.


Anonymous S.W. Anderson said...

I caught part of Dean's participation at FDL. It was very interesting, although I found it very long and a bit hard to follow.

From your Greenwald quote, this struck me as an odd statement:

"It is a movement that defines itself not by identifiable ideas but by that which it is not."

I think the ideas are painfully clear and well identified. Dean spelled them out succinctly in his previous book, "Worse Than Watergate," which is a terrific read.

Neocons, first and foremost, are about winning politically, whatever it takes. They are about rewarding the rich for being rich and punishing the rest. They are about transforming American society into the Latin American model wherein a wealthy, well-connected ruling elite forms a new nobility that's elevated above and isolated from the riff-raff. They are about exercising authority and demanding loyalty in the name of God and country.

They are also about eternal conflict with the looming threat du jour, finding in it ways to expand their power, cast off restrictions, reward their corporate patrons and bind to them plenty of hawkish and/or gullible citizens

12:30 AM  
Blogger Craig said...

S.W., your thought about mimicking the South American model is a good one but I wonder if Bush isn't also influenced by his friends, the Saudi oil sheiks, who have a similar medieval attitude. I've felt for a long time that Bush and his friends are trying to turn a significant part of America into a third world country. Katrina and New Orleans seemed to be pretty good proof.

2:13 AM  
Anonymous S.W. Anderson said...

I don't think Bush has consciously chosen a Saudi or Latin American model for the American future he's trying to create. I think he's at once too ignorant and naive to appreciate that his ideology, policies and politics inevitably lead to that kind of outcome.

1:11 PM  

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