I was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator and am now a journalist. I am the author of three New York Times bestselling books -- "How Would a Patriot Act" (a critique of Bush executive power theories), "Tragic Legacy" (documenting the Bush legacy), and With Liberty and Justice for Some (critiquing America's two-tiered justice system and the collapse of the rule of law for its political and financial elites). My fifth book - No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the US Surveillance State - will be released on April 29, 2014 by Holt/Metropolitan.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Do Bush followers have a political ideology?

Alexandra von Maltzan at All Things Beautiful has written a long and somewhat personal post expressing her "disappointment" in my blogging and in my political views. Scott "Big Trunk" Johnson at Powerline, in a post entitled "One Beautiful Thing," has announced that he "greatly enjoyed" her "disquisitions" (meaning her post about my blogging and my political views).

Reading Alexandra’s post, I learn that I have "sold out" due to my "blind loyalty to the liberal cause of sabotaging the Administartion (sic) with whatever means available at any given time." I’m "now simply dancing to the tune of the Daily Kos audience, and it is very disappointing to watch." Her primary argument in support of this theory is that I have "attempted to pulverize the talented John Hinderaker and Jonah Goldberg," that I hold "the brilliant Jeff Goldstein" to a "higher moral standard," and that I say unkind things about the "relentlessly talented and courageous Michelle Malkin." Seriously. That's because my "posts have become a barrage of personal attacks on conservative bloggers which were not present pre-love affair with Daily Kos, Atrios, Digby and Crooks and Liars ."

I want to leave the personal issues to the side and examine a few of the substantive issues raised (unintentionally) by Alexandra’s post. It used to be the case that in order to be considered a "liberal" or someone "of the Left," one had to actually ascribe to liberal views on the important policy issues of the day – social spending, abortion, the death penalty, affirmative action, immigration, "judicial activism," hate speech laws, gay rights, utopian foreign policies, etc. etc. These days, to be a "liberal," such views are no longer necessary.

Now, in order to be considered a "liberal," only one thing is required – a failure to pledge blind loyalty to George W. Bush. The minute one criticizes him is the minute that one becomes a "liberal," regardless of the ground on which the criticism is based. And the more one criticizes him, by definition, the more "liberal" one is. Whether one is a "liberal" -- or, for that matter, a "conservative" -- is now no longer a function of one’s actual political views, but is a function purely of one’s personal loyalty to George Bush.

One can see this principle at work most illustratively in how Bush followers talk about Andrew Sullivan. In the couple of years after 9/11, Bush followers revered Sullivan, as he stood loyally behind Bush, providing the rhetorical justifications for almost every Bush action. And even prior to the Bush Administration, Sullivan was a fully accepted member of the conservative circle. Nobody questioned the bona fides of his conservative credentials because he ascribed to the conservative view on almost every significant political issue.

Despite not having changed his views on very many, if any, of those issues, Sullivan is now frequently called a "liberal" (at best) when he is talked about by Bush followers. What has changed are not his political views or ideological orientation. Instead, he no longer instinctively and blindly praises George Bush, but periodically, even frequently, criticizes Bush. By definition, then, he is no longer a "conservative." As Sullivan put it:

OFF THE RESERVATION": Brent Bozell says I'm no "conservative." Label debates are silly. But I should say, for the record, that I favor the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, have been horrified by the incompetence of the occupation, but have been trying to make constructive arguments for how to win for quite a while now. Yes, I oppose the torture and abuse of military detainees. I'm a little stunned that this is now something that now requires one to be seen as a "liberal."

I support almost all of Bush's tax cuts (I support the estate tax) but also believe in balanced budgets and spending restraint (heretic!); I oppose affirmative action; I oppose hate crime laws; I respect John Kerry's military service; I believe all abortion is morally wrong and that Roe vs Wade was dreadful constitutional law (but I do favor legal first trimester abortions); I support states' rights, especially in social policy, such as marriage; I oppose the expansion of the welfare state, as in the Medicare prescription drug plan; I supported John Roberts' nomination and Sam Alito's; I believe in a firm separation of religion and politics, but I certainly take faith seriously and wrestle with my own. As regular readers know, I'm no fan of the far left. At some point, I have endorsed every single Republican president in my adult life.

All of that makes me a "liberal." Imagine what it now takes to be a "conservative" in Brent Bozell's eyes.

What it takes to make someone a "conservative" in Bozell's eyes is the same as what is required in the eyes of all Bush followers -- a willingness to support Bush's actions because they are the actions of George Bush.

We see the same thing happening to hard-core conservative Bob Barr due to his criticism of Bush's violations of FISA . Similarly, the minute a Senator with years of conservatism behind them deviates from a Bush decree on a single issue, they are no longer "conservative." George Voinovich became a "liberal" the minute he refused to support John Bolton’s nomination; John Sununu is now "liberal" because he did not favor immediate renewal of every single provision of the Patriot Act which Bush demanded, and Senators like Chuck Hagel and John McCain long ago gave up any "conservative" status because of their insistence on forming opinions that occasionally deviate from the decrees from the White House.

People who self-identify as "conservatives" and have always been considered to be conservatives become liberal heathens the moment they dissent, even on the most non-ideological grounds, from a Bush decree. That’s because "conservatism" is now a term used to describe personal loyalty to the leader (just as "liberal" is used to describe disloyalty to that leader), and no longer refers to a set of beliefs about government.

That "conservatism" has come to mean "loyalty to George Bush" is particularly ironic given how truly un-conservative the Administration is. It is not only the obvious (though significant) explosion of deficit spending under this Administration – and that explosion has occurred far beyond military or 9/11-related spending and extends into almost all arenas of domestic programs as well. Far beyond that is the fact that the core, defining attributes of political conservatism could not be any more foreign to the world view of the Bush follower.

As much as any policy prescriptions, conservatism has always been based, more than anything else, on a fundamental distrust of the power of the federal government and a corresponding belief that that power ought to be as restrained as possible, particularly when it comes to its application by the Government to American citizens. It was that deeply rooted distrust that led to conservatives’ vigorous advocacy of states’ rights over centralized power in the federal government, accompanied by demands that the intrusion of the Federal Government in the lives of American citizens be minimized.

Is there anything more antithetical to that ethos than the rabid, power-hungry appetites of Bush followers? There is not an iota of distrust of the Federal Government among them. Quite the contrary. Whereas distrust of the government was quite recently a hallmark of conservatism, expressing distrust of George Bush and the expansive governmental powers he is pursuing subjects one to accusations of being a leftist, subversive loon.

Indeed, as many Bush followers themselves admit, the central belief of the Bush follower's "conservatism" is no longer one that ascribes to a limited federal government -- but is precisely that there ought to be no limits on the powers claimed by Bush precisely because we trust him, and we trust in him absolutely. He wants to protect us and do good. He is not our enemy but our protector. And there is no reason to entertain suspicions or distrust of him or his motives because he is Good.

We need no oversight of the Federal Government’s eavesdropping powers because we trust Bush to eavesdrop in secret for the Good. We need no judicial review of Bush’s decrees regarding who is an "enemy combatant" and who can be detained indefinitely with no due process because we trust Bush to know who is bad and who deserves this. We need no restraints from Congress on Bush’s ability to exercise war powers, even against American citizens on U.S. soil, because we trust Bush to exercise these powers for our own good.

The blind faith placed in the Federal Government, and particularly in our Commander-in-Chief, by the contemporary "conservative" is the very opposite of all that which conservatism has stood for for the last four decades. The anti-government ethos espoused by Barry Goldwater and even Ronald Reagan is wholly unrecognizable in Bush followers, who – at least thus far – have discovered no limits on the powers that ought to be vested in George Bush to enable him to do good on behalf of all of us.

And in that regard, people like Michelle Malkin, John Hinderaker, Jonah Goldberg and Hugh Hewitt are not conservatives. They are authoritarian cultists. Their allegiance is not to any principles of government but to strong authority through a single leader.

It is hard to describe just how extreme these individuals are. Michelle Malkin is the Heroine of the Right Blogosphere, and she believes in concentration camps. As an avid reader of Michelle’s blog, I really believe that she would be in favor of setting up camps for Muslim-Americans and/or Arab-Americans similar to the ones we had for Japanese-Americans which she praises. Has anyone ever asked her that? Could someone? I don’t mean that she would favor interning them indefinitely - just for the next few decades while the war on terrorism is resolved.

And as excessive as the Bush Administration’s measures have been thus far -- they overtly advocate the right to use war powers against American citizens on American soil even if Congress bans such measures by law -- I am quite certain that people like John Hinderaker, Jonah Goldberg and Jeff Goldstein, to name just a few, are prepared to support far, far more extreme measures than the ones which have been revealed thus far. And while I would not say this for Jeff or perhaps of Jonah, I believe quite firmly that there are no limits – none – that Hinderaker (or Malkin or Hewitt) would have in enthusiastically supporting George Bush no matter how extreme were the measures which he pursued.

We have heard for a long time that anger and other psychological and emotional factors drive the extreme elements on the Left, but that is (at least) equally true for the Bush extremists. The only difference happens to be that the Bush extremists control every major governmental institution in the country and the extremists on the Left control nothing other than the crusted agenda for the latest International A.N.S.W.E.R. meeting.

And the core emotions driving the Bush extremists are not hard to see. It is a driving rage and hatred – for liberals, for Muslims, for anyone who opposes George Bush. The rage and desire to destroy is palpable. When John Hinderaker removes those tightly-wound glasses and lets go of the death grip he maintains on the respectable-corporate-lawyer facade, these are the sentiments which are always stirring underneath:

You dumb shit, he didn't get access using a fake name, he used his real name. You lefties' concern for White House security is really touching, but you know what, you stupid asshole, I think the Secret Service has it covered. Go crawl back into your hole, you stupid left-wing shithead. And don't bother us anymore. You have to have an IQ over 50 to correspond with us. You don't qualify, you stupid shit.

The rhetoric of Bush followers is routinely comprised of these sorts of sentiments dressed up in political language – accusations that domestic political opponents are subversives and traitors, that they ought to be imprisoned and hung, that we ought to drop nuclear bombs on countries which have committed the crime of housing large Muslim populations. These are not political sentiments, and they’re certainly not conservatives sentiments, but instead, are psychological desires finding a venting ground in a political movement.

It’s not an accident that Ann Coulter and her ongoing calls for violence against "liberals" (meaning anyone not in line behind George Bush) are so wildly popular among conservatives. It’s not some weird coincidence that the 5,000 people in attendance at the CPAC this last week erupted in "boisterous ovation" when she urged violence against "ragheads,’ nor is it an accident that her hateful, violence-inciting screeds -- accusing "liberals" of being not wrong, but "treasonous" -- become best-sellers. Ann Coulter has been advocating violence against liberals and other domestic political opponents for years, and she is a featured speaker at the most prestigious conservative events. Why would that be? It's because she is tapping into the primal, rather deranged rage which lies in the heart of many Bush followers. If that weren't driving the movement, she wouldn’t provoke the reactions and support that she does.

The combination here of rage and fear is potent and toxic. One of the principal benefits of the blogosphere -- with its daily posting and unedited expressions of thought -- is that it reveals one’s genuine underlying views in a much more honest and unadorned fashion than other venues of expression. For that reason, the true sentiments of bloggers often stand revealed for all to see.

And what I hear, first and foremost, from these Bush following corners is this, in quite a shrieking tone: "Oh, my God - there are all of these evil people trying to kill us, George Bush is doing what he can to save us, and these liberals don’t even care!!! They’re on their side and they deserve the same fate!!!" It doesn’t even sound like political argument; it sounds like a form of highly emotional mass theater masquerading as political debate. It really sounds like a personality cult. It is impervious to reasoned argument and the only attribute is loyalty to the leader. Whatever it is, it isn’t conservative.

This is one of the principal reasons I found the story yesterday of the DoJ’s criminal pursuit of the NSA leakers (including the Times) so serious. Fervent Bush followers have long been demanding that these leakers and the journalists involved in this disclosure be imprisoned, or worse. These demands are made despite the lack of any harm to our national security. They are motivated by one fact and one fact only – whoever disclosed the illegal NSA program harmed George Bush. And for that crime, no punishment is excessive.

If it now places one "on the Left" to oppose unrestrained power and invasiveness asserted by the Federal Government along with lawlessness on the part of our highest government officials, so be it. The rage-based reverence for The President as Commander-in-Chief -- and the creepy, blind faith vested in his goodness -- is not a movement I recognize as being political, conservative or even American.

A movement which has as its shining lights a woman who advocates the death of her political opponents, another woman who is a proponent of concentration camps, a magazine which advocates the imprisonment of journalists who expose government actions of dubious legality, all topped off by a President who believes he has the power to secretly engage in activities which the American people, through their Congress, have made it a crime to engage in, is a movement motivated by lots of different things. Political ideology isn't one of them.

UPDATE: For a glimpse of how actual conservatives quite recently used to think, one should read this article at, which decries the dangerous loss of liberty and privacy as a result of the Clinton Administration's use of a "secret court" (something called the "FISA court") which actually enables the Federal Government to eavesdrop on American citizens! Worse -- much worse -- the judicial approval which the Government (used to) obtain for this eavesdropping is in secret, so we don't even know who is being eavesdropped on! How can we possibly trust the Government not to abuse this power if they can obtain warrants in secret?

Conservatives used to consider things like this to be quite disturbing and bad -- and the eavesdropping then was at least with judicial oversight. Now, George Bush is in office, and all of the distrust we used to have of the Federal Government exercising these powers has evaporated, because we trust in George Bush to do what is best for us. He should not just have those powers, but many more, and he should exercise all of them in secret, too, with no "interference" from the courts or Congress.

That is why I say that whatever else these Bush followers are, they are not conservative. (h/t Stand Strong and aarrgghh).


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