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God's Own Party
April 2, 2006 9:53 AM   Subscribe

Former GOP senior strategist Kevin Phillips wrote the political Bible of the New Right, The Emerging Republican Majority. He coined the term "Sun Belt." He voted for Reagan twice and still considers himself a staunch Republican. But now Phillips, the author of a new book called American Theocracy, is warning that the party of George Bush and Karl Rove ("W brand Republicans," in the phrase of GOP pollster Jan van Lohuizen) has become "God's own party" -- the champion of a convergence of "petroleum-defined national security; a crusading, simplistic Christianity; and a reckless credit-feeding financial complex." Phillips also cautions that the W-brand party's "sense of how to win elections comes out of a CIA manual, not out of the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution." [Phillips was also discussed here.]
posted by digaman (27 comments total)

 
And yet Reagen certainly had no trouble courting the religious right. What part of "petroleum-defined national security; a crusading, simplistic Christianity; and a reckless credit-feeding financial complex" doesn't apply to Reagan?
posted by Astro Zombie at 10:12 AM on April 2, 2006


From the article:

"Phillips notes that Americans have the opportunity to dethrone the Bush dynasty at the polls in 2004.

That is if the electronic software is not rigged in favor of the monarchy."

So lets hope that doesn't happen then.
posted by Sk4n at 10:19 AM on April 2, 2006


How about this... ANY organizing stucture which emphasizes party loyalty, distrust of any outsiders, and seeks to bring in religious zealots cannot go ANYWHERE except bad places. It's automatic. Like saying if you drop something, it will fall and hit the ground. Thoughtlessness + Paranoia + God == Evil.

I don't care who's doing it, for what cause, or why.
posted by InnocentBystander at 10:23 AM on April 2, 2006


Election administrater!!! please hope us!
posted by srboisvert at 10:24 AM on April 2, 2006


The statement Sk4n posted is not from Phillips' article, but from the Buzzflash intro to an interview with him in the secondary link. Just sayin'.
posted by digaman at 10:25 AM on April 2, 2006


Have a look, if you care to, at a clip of Phillips talking with Lou Dobbs, via Crooks and Liars. Very worrying stuff.

(Thank God btw that it’s just the fringe groups charting a course for a future of Blood and Fire.)
posted by washburn at 10:32 AM on April 2, 2006


Is this more of the "W isn't really a conservative!" brand bullshit Republicans seem to be falling back on now his numbers are sinking?
posted by Artw at 11:57 AM on April 2, 2006


And yet Reagen certainly had no trouble courting the religious right. What part of "petroleum-defined national security; a crusading, simplistic Christianity; and a reckless credit-feeding financial complex" doesn't apply to Reagan?

I actually think this is an interesting question. Certainly the overall social conservatism is of the same cloth, and Reagan certainly provided the mold from which the Republican Party of today is cast. One thing that's obviously different is the abrupt, head-spinning abandonment of principled fiscal conservatism, which was such a key part of the Republican Revolution of the 80s and 90s that it's hard to imagine a Republicanism without it. And yet here we are. From a foreign policy aspect, Reagan was a classical Realist. The Bush II boys, though, are neo-conservatives, and whatever sops they throw to the Realists, they operate on a Messianic, missionary internationalism that harks back to Wilson more than anything (see: Walter Russell Meade). The old-line Republicans may not be isolationists, strictly, but they at least see foreign policy in Jeffersonian terms as an adjunct to democratic institutions. The Jacksonian revenge fantasists, energized by an underlying evangelical bent, and an aggressive neo-conservative conquering-civilization purpose, have wrought an unrecognizable character for the US.

Looking at it from another angle, the Republican Party of today is no longer "big tent" in the way that it struggled to be in that era. Ask any GOP congressman who's had to go against the party agenda -- the backroom pressure politics and strongarming is intense. At the same time, the party enforces ideological purity with an army of supposedly "empowered" citizen agitators.

But then, this leads to an interregnum problem, which is probably where Phillips comes into the room. They haven't anointed a successor, and they're not sure they have one who will be the vessel for this new "Bushism". Certainly at some level the volunteers for taking over the Iraq mess aren't lining up the way you'd (not) expect. So the party is facing an existential crisis of identity. I think Phillips may simply be one expressino of htis internal turmoil.
posted by dhartung at 12:11 PM on April 2, 2006


they operate on a Messianic, missionary internationalism that harks back to Wilson more than anything

Well maybe. But I don't see Bush trying to establish any League of Nations.
posted by washburn at 12:23 PM on April 2, 2006


Artw, Bush *isn't* a conservative -- at least in the areas of fiscal responsibility and government intrusion into the life of the individual. There's nothing "bullshit" about that charge -- it's stone truth that more self-described conservatives need to think about.

And as far as the overall theocratic transformation of the GOP goes: Once, the supposed "maverick" John McCain was willing to challenge religious extremists like Jerry Falwell, who McCain called "an agent of intolerance" in 2000. Now that McCain is kissing Bush's butt so hard someone should lend the man a Chap-Stik, Fallwell is just fine with him.
posted by digaman at 12:39 PM on April 2, 2006


One thing that's obviously different is the abrupt, head-spinning abandonment of principled fiscal conservatism ...

The difference is less than you think. As bad as the Bush record is, Reagan presided over a much larger increase in the national debt as a percentage of GDP. As much as Republicans talk about fiscal conservatism I think you have to go back to Goldwater to find anyone who actually walked the talk. When modern Republicans talk about fiscal conservatism they really just mean that they oppose Social Security and other social welfare programs.
posted by JackFlash at 2:58 PM on April 2, 2006


As bad as the Bush record is, Reagan presided over a much larger increase in the national debt as a percentage of GDP

I also think that it's important to mention that it took a Democratic president to put us back in the black.

Is this more of the "W isn't really a conservative!" brand bullshit Republicans seem to be falling back on now his numbers are sinking?

I do think it's a chickenshit move on the part of the Repubs. After all, they were more then happy to claim him as their own back when his approval rating was above 50%. However, I think that the claim has merit. Probably a more accurate way to depict the struggle is Neocons vs. Paleocons.

I see Neoconservatism as kind of a virus. They really don't have all that much in common with the Paleocons, and their policies aren't really of a piece with the history of the Republican party. I think that the Republican party was ripe for being taken over by these creeps, so that was the party that they chose to infect.
posted by Afroblanco at 5:34 PM on April 2, 2006


The Jacksonian revenge fantasists

Ha!
posted by homunculus at 6:06 PM on April 2, 2006


For more lessons Bush learned from the CIA & applied to his governing methods, read Truth from These Podia: Summary of a Study of Strategic Influence, Perception Management, Strategic Information Warfare and Strategic Psychological Operations in Gulf II by Col. Sam Gardiner, USAF (Retired). Also available in HTML.
posted by scalefree at 7:04 PM on April 2, 2006


When modern Republicans talk about fiscal conservatism they really just mean that they oppose Social Security and other social welfare programs.
posted by JackFlash at 4:58 PM CST on April 2 [!]


It's disappointing the rank and file conservative can't see this. I've had some life-long conservatives talk to me recently about how they can't believe the debt has skyrocketed under a republican. It's like they truly don't understand how it happened, like it is some sort of mystery.

Of course, then they continued on to say how we "can't afford" to do stuff like rebuild New Orleans or to tackle the coming healthcare crisis.

There's a giant elephant in the living room wearing combat fatigues. They still can't see the elephant, but they are noticing strange footprints in the carpet. At least that's a start.

Maybe.
posted by Ynoxas at 7:13 PM on April 2, 2006


article last week by Jacob Weisberg in Slate:

The Erring Republican Authority: 'Kevin Phillips is wrong about everything. Why is he taken so seriously?'

I haven't read the guy, but Jacob Weisberg does not seem to esteem.
posted by greggish at 7:13 PM on April 2, 2006


And yet Reagen certainly had no trouble courting the religious right. What part of "petroleum-defined national security; a crusading, simplistic Christianity; and a reckless credit-feeding financial complex" doesn't apply to Reagan?

Did Reagen start any long-term wars? I don't remember any, but I was only eight when he left office. He sure did ring up a lot of debt, but unlike Bush, he was at least willing to raise taxes when he found out deficit spending didn't actually work.

The crazy thing is, Reagen didn't really run the government either, and the same people who ran the Reagan presidency run the bush one. Odd, eh.
posted by delmoi at 7:39 PM on April 2, 2006


It continues to amaze me how hard it is for so many people to realize that Bush really believes his religion literally. So many in American society seem unable to comprehend the reality of that, of having a president of the United States who believes that there really is such a thing as End Times, and the sky will open up with fire etc. etc. and Jesus will come again, literally. In person.

Probably from the sky.

He really believes that all of that is going to happen.

When I consider the reality of that, and all of the influence that belief manifests in not only his day to day decision making, but in his entire reality in every possible way, much of what he does and says makes perfect sense. Of course he doesn't give a shit about debt or dwindling manufacturing bases or any other "real" trivialities--he knows the bigger, really real Truth and that's where his fealty lies.

And he (and/or those around him) runs the US, with pretty crushing influence. Constitution? He has a higher authority. Morality, compassion? He's in service to a greater good than other people. Service to the people of the republic? His service is to God and his only son, Jesus Christ.

Until more of the rest of us in the United States wake up to this reality--because it's here, folks--GWB and insane assholes like him will continue to use our country--our culture, our influence, our weapons, our money, our legacy, our children--for their own twisted, delusional aims.

And of course, as a bonus, he's either A) profoundly naive and is being manipulated and taken advantage of, which is why greedy, ultra-selfish motherfuckers have free reign alongside the really jesus-y people, or B) he's a greedy, ultra-selfish SOB himself, and was the perfect messiah for the Republican party's confluence of smug, self-righteous, self-serving religiosity and amazingly, boundlessly greedy ultra-capitalists with little moral compass.

That's how I see it, anyway.
posted by LooseFilter at 9:16 PM on April 2, 2006


**No offense intended to the genuinely religious, my immediate family included. But I would hope that you are already offended by the bizarre, fantastical, violent perversion of the religion taught by Jesus currently in circulation, too.
posted by LooseFilter at 9:19 PM on April 2, 2006


And yet, consistantly, Americans will rate athiests as the people for whom they would least likely vote.
posted by Afroblanco at 9:36 PM on April 2, 2006


Sorry, gregish, that Weisberg hit-piece is an embarassment to both Slate and Weisberg. He's not three sentences in before he's trashing Phillips for citing statistics, and as the piece barrels forth in a self-righteous fury, it critiques Phillips for being brainy, having a wide field of cultural references, and so forth. It's anti-intellectualism delivered with a bargeload of the sort of adjectives that lazy writers throw at their subjects: "pompous, pedantic," "Phillips has still less of a clue," "illogical, dizzying screeds," and the rest of the panoply of scorn. Unfortunately for Weisberg's argument, Phillips' books are excerpted on the Net, and there's nothing illogical or dizzying about them. And a few citable facts are welcome after all the frenzied spin of the last few years.
posted by digaman at 9:49 PM on April 2, 2006


dhartung: You say:
One thing that's obviously different is the abrupt, head-spinning abandonment of principled fiscal conservatism, which was such a key part of the Republican Revolution of the 80s and 90s that it's hard to imagine a Republicanism without it.

Reagan was, up to Bush II, the most financially irresponsible President in US history. Check this graph and see the debt spikes.

The Republicans since Reagan have always claimed to be financially responsible, but only Bush I and the combination of the Republican congress and the Clinton administration can really be said to have been financially responsible.

Perhaps the difference with Bush II over Reagan is simply that Congress is now Republican controlled and does the same crazy things as the President wants.

Equating the new (i.e. post Nixon) Republican Party with financial responsibility is like equating Shane Mcgowan with sobriety.
posted by sien at 10:46 PM on April 2, 2006


No politician up for reelection is fiscally responsible. People only like you if you give them money, not take it away.

Let me amend that -- no politician up for reelection is fiscally responsible in a way that effects his or her constituency.

One possible way of solving this might be not allowing reelection of politicians. They get one term, and that's it. Some might ask "but what if he's a good at the job?" I would suggest that such jobs are not so difficult that out of a population of 300 million we couldn't find a sufficient number of qualified candidates.

In truth, this probably wouldn't completely solve the problem, because there are other rewards for politicians who give money away (like cushy CEO positions in companies that benefitted from such giveaways). This would be harder to address.
posted by moonbiter at 11:45 PM on April 2, 2006


In theory, running a deficit every year is OK as long as the growth of the government's income is higher then the intrest on the debt
posted by delmoi at 12:50 AM on April 3, 2006


I think that the reason why people wonder why conservatives would support huge budget deficits or social controls, like bans on abortion etc. if they are for "small government" or are "fiscal conservatives" is that they misunderstand the nature of conservatism, especially "movement conservatism." The conventional wisdom is that liberals are for "big government" while conservatives are for "limited government." The conventional wisdom misleads a lot of political watchers and the general public.

Generally, the goal of conservatism is to keep the powerful in charge, while the goal of the Left is to put different people in charge. Liberalism in the United States is a mild form of Radicalism in that they want to keep the current political structure and those generally in charge but strive to spread the power to a wider range of people, and in the United States power is closely related to money.

(I understand that the above is a gross simplification, and that politics is a lot more nuanced than that, but to properly make the argument would take a lot more time and space than I have here. Hence this post is very brief and simplified, but I do believe the general point stands.)

Accordingly, the conservatives support "more government" when it suits the interests of the currently powerful, and they support "less government" when it supports the interests of the powerful. For instance, at the beginning of the American republic, the conservatives, represented by the Federalists like Hamilton and Adams, supported an activist government because it helped the powerful at the time. The Jeffersonians, the liberals, wanted to limit government because they saw it as benefiting only the powerful.

For some current examples, among many, many others, one can look at women's rights and race relations, and government spending. Conservatives generally have always opposed expanding women's and black's rights because white males have held the power, so giving more power to those groups will dilute the power of white males as a group. Conservatives will oppose government spending if they see it as redistributing wealth from the powerful to the less powerful. However, they have no problem with government spending if it enhances their power, such as spending on the war in Iraq that goes to secure oil profits and reconstruction money going to big firms. This is another reason why established religion is so often associated with Right politics; it tends to try to preserve the social order "as is."

So when most conservatives, especially on the talk shows etc., say that Bush is not conservative, they themselves either buy the line that conservatives are for "small government" and liberals are for "big government," or they are trying to perpetuate that myth to the general public.

I think, though, that some of the internecine warfare among conservatives in the United States has to do with the fact that a growing minority of conservatives, like Kevin Phillips, see the conservative elites acting in a short sighted, self-destructive manner.

Even though I would consider myself liberal, I don't think there's anything wrong with traditional mainstream American conservatism per se. Social stability is a good thing, and sometimes change can happen too quickly and knock a society off kilter. (Many times, we can't have it all right now.) One of the strengths of American politics over the last 215 years is its ability to flex and change elites (indeed, to include new members in the elite) relatively peacefully and at a pace that allows our society to be stable enough to prosper. (Of course, some say it changes too slowly, especially for backs and women, for example--a point with which I generally agree, which is why I am a liberal.)

However, the current dominant brand of conservatism, especially "movement conservatism," motivated basically by short-sighted greed, threatens to freeze the current elites into place. Part of the method of doing this is using religion to organize and legitimize this freezing. Indeed, I believe that part of the point of Mr. Phillips' book, as well as his previous 2-3 books is that the current Republican conservative governing coalition is doing just that.

I think many conservatives such as Kevin Phillips are becoming worried that, more than at any other time in our history, this freezing is starting to take place, and they don't think it's good for the country. (I certainly don't either.) This distortion is causing movement conservatives to politicize common problems, like the environment, that should transcend politics in order to satisfy their greed. A common theme is Mr. Phillip's work is that this sort of thing has happened to other nations before, and it caused stagnation and fall from hegemonic power for the involved nations.

In a previous book, I believe it was "Wealth & Democracy" (I'm not sure), Kevin Phillips made the point that after WWII, Great Britain's elites lost much of the wealth they had accumulated as a result of the backlash against their similar policies from before WW1. He carries that forward and worries that conservatives will lose a lot more in the long run under the current regime than if they had just followed more balanced policies.

So when conservatives talk about "big government Democrats", or political commentators wonder why supposed small government politicians advocate seemingly big government solutions, read in between the lines and see who is actually benefiting.
posted by JKevinKing at 1:21 AM on April 3, 2006


Thank you, JKevinKing, for an astute analysis. By way of amplifying your central point--and elaborating on the debt spike graph Sein linked to-can anyone find a link that details the transfer of wealth under the Regan administration? The NY Times once ran a very clear picture of the massive shift of wealth (in % of GDP) that took place while Reagan was at the helm. This was the dagger to the heart of the once thriving middle class.

Yes. Conservatism is all about the rich getting richer. Why actually work to earn a living? Let your money do it!! What part of the L-curve do people not understand?
posted by ahimsakid at 11:03 AM on April 3, 2006


“Is this more of the "W isn't really a conservative!" brand bullshit Republicans seem to be falling back on now his numbers are sinking?” -posted by Artw

Some of us have been saying that for quite some time.

“Yes. Conservatism is all about the rich getting richer.”
-posted by ahimsakid

I disagree. Bit of an oversimplification there.

“This distortion is causing movement conservatives to politicize common problems, like the environment, that should transcend politics in order to satisfy their greed.” - posted by JKevinKing

I agree in general. In some particulars I differ. Conservatives have, in the past anyway, supported environmental measures. Back then it was called conservation.


“What most offends and angers Phillips is the threat that the imposition of the Bush dynasty on America poses to democracy itself. The American rebellion in 1776 represented the creation of a nation built on the foundations of a government elected by the people, not determined by the restoration to power of corrupt bloodlines.”

John Adams - John Quincy Adams, hello?
No one has the majority in the vote - JQA cuts a deal with Henry Clay who got the least votes, gets his support and names him as Secretary of State?
"Old Hickory" calls BS on the corruption, hello?

The more things change...
posted by Smedleyman at 3:51 PM on April 3, 2006


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