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Four More Years?

One of the main things I was trying to accomplish in my draft piece was shake loose an unwarranted sense of complacency that I detect across a broad swathe of the spectrum, encompassing those folks on the left who aren't fully embedded in tinfoil hattish talk of insipient fascism, to ordinary swing voter types, to cynics (mostly, in my personal circle, libertarians) who think getting all worked up about politics is kind of lame, to moderately conservative folks disquieted by some of Bush's conduct.

The notion here seems to be that because the Iraq War has been so misguided or because the deficit is so big, it stands to reason that Bush won't really do anything noteworthy in a second term. Besides which, maybe that'll be when the "grownup Republicans" step up and we're sure to have some investigations or whatever. Thus, if you think John Kerry is mildly ridiculous or you'd hate to see Michael Moore gloat or you think the Democrats don't really have great plans for fixing all these problems, it's really hard to see who you should vote for. Nick Lehman's article in the current New Yorker (not online) should go a long way toward dispelling such notions. I'll quote the conclusion:

In early 2000, writing about Bush in these pages, I said that he seemed to want to become President very badly, but that he did not seem to want to do a lot once in office. Boy, was I wrong! If the voters give Bush a second term, he would, it seems, govern with the goal of a Franklin Roosevelt-level transformation -- in the opposite direction, of course -- of the relation of citizen to the state and of the United States to the rest of the world. He would pursue ends that are now outside what most people conceive of as the compass points of the debate, by means that are more aggreessive than we are accustomed to. And he couldn't possibly win by a smaller margin that last time, so he couldn't possibly avoid the conclusion that he had been given a more expansive mandate.
That's just right, except, I think, for the Roosevelt allusion. This implies that Bush is moving us back toward pre-New Deal America which is a prospect that some might find appealing. The model of the Medicare bill and the general spending side of the administration tells us otherwise. Bush will impose huge, sweeping changes on what we know as the "welfare state" but he won't eliminate it or even streamline it. The point, though, is that big things will happen.

And not just big things; big, destructive things. He's been an extraordinarily bad president precisely because he has this love of huge, sweeping changes in pursuit of vague -- though often admirable -- goals but lacks some combination of the capacity and inclination to make these changes turn out in a reasonable manner. As Lehman's piece -- and many others -- have shown, this is not a matter of some "mistakes" having been made, but speaks fundamentally to the presence of an unsound decision-making process which involves intense infighting, listening only to a narrow circle of people, an unwillingness to seriously consider questions of feasibility, and a general dislike for the niggling details that make all the difference in the world. It's extremely hard to say exactly what Bush would do a second term because he only speaks in platitudes and generalities and than interprets success as a mandate for doing anything that can be plausibly construed as falling under one of those platitudes. Based on the record, though, you can see that nothing he tries to do in a big way will be done in a sound way. It'll be a big deal, our problems will get worse, not better, and there won't be anyone around to stop him.

October 13, 2004 | Permalink

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Comments

"The model of the Medicare bill and the general spending side of the administration tells us otherwise"

Sigh. Incremental reductions in benefits are a political loser, and the Republicans need to retain power. They, for example, do not have the votes to eliminate Medicare. They will not have the votes to eliminate Medicare until the choice is between eliminating Medicare and facing economic catastrophe. So they spend irresponsibly and profligately in an attempt to create that economic catastrophe. It looks like bad policy because they don't care about the policy, just about the spending. Or tax cuts. They do not believe the profligate pork of the Medicare bill is in any way good policy, save as politics.

Otherwise a very good post, tho I am in no mood to forgive the Lehmans and Joe Kleins and all the rest who claim George Bush fooled them in 2000.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Oct 13, 2004 8:31:56 PM

Mcmanus and me: Sympatico!

Including the last paragraph.

Throw in Andrew Sullivan. Screw him. Legalize same-sex marriage and then deport his ass.

Posted by: John Thullen | Oct 13, 2004 9:02:43 PM

You know what? I think Bush's decision making process is pretty simple. First he picks an enemy. Either its an external enemy like Saddam, Kim Jong Il, or Iranian mullahs (Osama didn't make the cut), or an internal enemy, like Gore or Krugman or Dean or the Clinton administration policies as a whole. Then, he does the exact opposite of what he thinks that enemy would want him to do, or what he judges would best chap the enemy's ass.

I think you could make a pretty good case that the Bushies initially discounted Al Qaeda and the problem of terrorism precisely because the Clinton administration urged them to take action on it. Obviously, if the Clinton administration thought Al Qaeda and terrorism was the top priority, then clearly it wasn't, and the *real* priorities were Missile-Defense, regime change in Iraq, and detente with the Russians. Have there been any cases where the Bushies praised and extended a Clinton administration policy or program? On any issue?

Any day I expect an article from Kaus or Easterbrook explaining that since this was in fact Bush's method of making decisions, Gore should have known this and should have kept his mouth shut, or deliberately taken the wrong position, so that Bush would do the opposite of what Gore said: "How could Gore have so selfishly kept his reputation for being right, when the country's future was at stake? What kind of sick narcissists are Al Gore and Paul Krugman, using 'reason' and 'evidence' to self-indulgently argue the correct position, and make the President look bad? How dare they? Have they no shame? etc. etc."

Posted by: roublen vesseau | Oct 13, 2004 9:25:51 PM

I'm not sure that observing signs of incipient fascism earns one a place among the tinfoil hat crowd. Small "f" fascism is an unfortunate yet fairly common dynamic that occurs when stresses impair groups and make them vulnerable to manipulation, and enterprising individuals have historically taken advantage of similar mass neuroses to create big "F" Fascism. Please don't flame me with all sorts of technical exceptions about this issue, space necessitates speaking in generalities.

Fascism is by definition the merging of corporate interests and the state at the expense of the individual. I think any casual observer to this administration's policies can hardly deny this trend in our own government. Perhaps the most flagrant example is the administration's defense of corporations offshoring jobs -- following right on the heels of huge tax breaks to corporations ostensibly to create jobs in this market. Add to this an unholy alliance with the religious right in exchange for morality legislation, and police-state tactics as witnessed at this summer's conventions and you have a recipe for creating what is for all intents and purposes a one-party security state. Sure, some of the names have been changed and it has a cleaner veneer than early 20th century Fascism, being all dressed up with flags and eagles and patriotic talk, but -- oh wait, they had that then too.

Thankfully it hasn't taken root, yet, but the near daily efforts by elements of this administration to push the boundaries and achieve it are hard to ignore. While my analysis of the reasons are probably less charitable than Matt's, four more years of this will surely not be good.


Posted by: Windhorse | Oct 13, 2004 9:58:37 PM

Well, it takes a village to raise an idiot. Why didn't we see any discussion of global warming in the debates? Why does it make you a 'leftwinger' to raise this question?

George Bush is a man who will always be able to say that he couldn't have done it alone.

Posted by: serial catowner | Oct 14, 2004 9:27:28 AM

I'm also not convinced that talk about incipient fascism puts you in the tinfoil hat crowd.

There was a discussion of Bushism and fascisim last night in a diary over at dailykos last night.

Not to toot my own horn (I did contribute to the debate), I was pretty skeptical at first about the comparison, but a number of really interesting points did come up. In the end, I think the jury is still out, but there are serious reasons to question the Bushies' commitment to democracy.

BTW, I disagree with Windhorse about the definition of fascism. I'll put it in a second post.

Posted by: litho | Oct 14, 2004 10:10:23 AM

Fascism is by definition the merging of corporate interests and the state at the expense of the individual.

This is a really common misconception of what fascism was all about, and it really misses the point of what makes fascism so powerful and dangerous.

The political philosophy behind fascism is corporatism, which a lot of people take as rule by corporations, and people seem to understand corporations simply as joint-stock companies. That certainly is the way the word is used in US English today -- almost always when we talk about corporations we mean something like IBM, Microsoft, Verizon or Enron.

The "corporation" referenced in corporatism, however, is a different entity altogether, something more like a self-governing association of individuals. In this sense, a social group like the working class organized into labor unions is a "corporation," as is the peasantry organized into peasant leagues, manufacturers in a Chamber of Commerce, lawyers in a bar association, etc.

Corporatists, like Marx, believe that social classes exist in society, they have competing and even contradictory economic interests, and that unchecked those contradictions will lead to chaotic conflict and possibly even revolution.

Unlike Marx, however, corporatists do not believe that chaos and revolution are inevitable outcomes of class conflict. To avoid those negative outcomes, the state can intervene and act as a mediator between competing social groups. For that mediation to be effective, all parties to the conflict should have direct and real representation in those institutions of the state that have a bearing on their particular area of economic interest. Labor unions, for example, should have guaranteed representation in the Ministry of Labor, peasants in the Ministry of Agriculture, etc. Their competitors should also have direct representation in those same institutions, such that the Ministry of Labor can mediate conflicts between workers and owners, and the Ministry of Agriculture can ease problems between peasants and bankers.

These points about corporatism help get us into the really dangerous aspect of fascism, which is the way fascists rely on mass mobilization to provide a base for their power. Corporatism, at least rhetorically, offers the oppressed a path out of oppression. It also gives people locally based institutions (think brownshirts) they can belong to.

The questions we asked over at kos last night had to do with whether Bushism realistically contains any elements comparable to that corporatist philosophy, and whether there was any comparable mass mobilization in the contemporary GOP.

We found there are some interesting points of comparison, though perhaps not enough yet to reach a definitive conclusion.

Posted by: litho | Oct 14, 2004 10:28:06 AM

roublen vesseau states "I think you could make a pretty good case that the Bushies initially discounted Al Qaeda and the problem of terrorism precisely because the Clinton administration urged them to take action on it."

Clinton may or may not have expressed terrorism as a problem, but he seriously failed to take action. I was ready to deploy to Afghanistan the week after the Cole was attacked, and Clinton did nothing. When this nation was attacked on 9/11, I thanked God that Gore had not won the election. Last night even Kerry admitted that the president did an outstanding job following the attacks. Some of Bushes highest approval ratings were not only in those early days following the attacks, but also during the major combat operations in Iraq. Nobody ever promised this would be quick and easy. This is tough stuff, the plan is working, but the people of this nation are use to instant everything. That desire for instant results was reinforced by how swiftly we took the country of Iraq, but resolve in the public has dropped because we are doing something harder now.

The President has a 76% approval from the troops in the field. The fact that anybody even bothers to ask soldiers for an opinion is a testimonial to the greatness of this nation, but more importantly, it shows that the people doing the hard work, support it and are not only willing to continue doing the hard work, but want to do it. It is not hard to find soldiers who want to go down range. I am going to go back, I want to go back, but I still hate the fact that I will miss Christmas again, my son’s birthday, and Valentines day, and that is just the start. But I will finish my son’s football season, I was here for my daughters birthday, and my anniversary. So, a soldier’s opinion may very by the day. Ask me if I want to be in Iraq on 17 January (my son’s birthday) and you may get a pissed off “No”. I suspect that the president will do even better than 76% from the troops when the ballots are tallied.

Posted by: Kevin | Oct 14, 2004 10:54:19 AM

Jeepers, times like this really make me wish for a viable third party, not because I'm unhappy with the existing alternatives, but because I'm a committed Democrat. MY and others make a compelling case that the next four years of a a Bush administration would take the country in a very dangerous direction, and I am pretty scared about that, too. But, regardless of who is elected president, the administration has messed things up badly enough in the last four years, that some pretty bad sh*t is going to go down in the next four, and I don't really want my party to be left holding the bag. Toss that in with the fact that the various factions within the Democratic party still seem like a bunch of disorganized chickens running every which way and more interested in preserving their current turf and stabbing other factions in the back than in beating Republicans or forming a coherent progressive vision (and I mean that in the sense that emphasizes the root PROGRESS, meaning things actually change for the better, rather than just trying to hold on to outdated protections and programs of the status quo). Taking this into account, I think it's a very real fear that 4 years of a Democratic administration could bring the intra party tensions to a boiling point, decimate the party, and convince nonpolitical Americans that we're an even bigger bunch of freaks than we thought. Then the Republicans come back in 2008 with a weakened (or non-existent) opposition and can pursue even more extreme policy avenues to hurt the country.

I really hope this is implausible, and I'd be thrilled if you could convince me, but at the moment I sorta wish there were a chance of Nader or some other freak being elected, because I really think that would be the best outcome for the Democratic party and the country as a whole, long term.....

Posted by: flip | Oct 14, 2004 11:14:31 AM

Thank you flip-

forming a coherent progressive vision (and I mean that in the sense that emphasizes the root PROGRESS, meaning things actually change for the better, rather than just trying to hold on to outdated protections and programs of the status quo)

I have said before, I am not a Republican, and this is what I keep waiting for from the Democratic party. I share some of the same views as many Democrats, but as a party, there are too many factions. I look for what I am voting for, not what I am voting against. What the Democrats give me is a vote against something. Vote against global warming, vote against war, vote against Bush...Whatever. I don't share the fear of four more years of Bush, but I would love to see a real alternative, with real answers. If I believed Kerry could exicute all the plans he has, I would consider him an alternative. But I don't believe him. A man who earnes over $5 million per year and has accountants who can make sure he pays in the neighborhood of 12% taxes, doesn't strike me as a man who wants to take the burden off the little guys.

My original point, flip - people like you who are looking for real change, not only from the other party, but across the board, give me hope in our political process.

Posted by: Kevin | Oct 14, 2004 11:35:07 AM

Another point on fascism. In college most of us learned that America has a liberal political culture; belief in individual rights, individualist, market oriented, etc. Such a culture is a poor foundation for building a fascist state.

BUT...

As Theodore Lowi points out (see his book The End of the Republican Era) not all American political culture is liberal. Liberal values dominated the Constitution, and the national government, but particularly in the South very different values dominated.

With civil rights and the enforcement of the liberal 14th Amendment on the cultures of the American South, this in many ways anti-liberal culture was challenged on its home turf. The immediate result was cutting the South free from the old Democratic coalition and its being up for grabs politically. Lyndon Johnson admitted as much when he signed civil rights legislation into law - that the South had been given to the Republicans.

Spiro Agnew and Dick Nixon saw the opportunity and went for it. As a result, a kind of conservatism fundamentally different from Goldwater's became firmly based in the Republican party. Its leaders have never shown the slightest interest in democratic values, deny the legitimacy of political opposition, and seem captivated by the prospect of wielding power on an awesome scale. That the national party rather than local hacks seems to have been involved in the deliberate collection and destruction of Democratic voter registration forms is excellent evidence of their willingness to go beyond the rules of democratic politics.

They also are from a political culture whose leaders perfected creating wedge issues based on race to keep potential opponents divided. They have transferred this tactic to a national level. Even national security has been treated as a wedge issue - and in the process the whole concept of legitimate dissent has been attacked.

As Lord Acton famously observed, power corrupts - and the long run at national power certainly corrupted the Democratic Party - but it was a corruption within a party holding broadly liberal values. In just ten years the Republican Party has become even more corrupt and ruthless - I would argue because their commitment to liberal values is far weaker.

The danger is whether they can mobilize their base - the illiberal part of American society - in a politically effective manner. They are certainly trying. Major terrorist attacks and the like might give that base enough momentum to create the foundation for a kind of facsist state: a "National Americanist State" as someone observed. The good news is that this anti-liberal political culture is a minority and is regionally based. The bad news is that resentment and anger can fuel enormous political energy, and has.

If they cannot fuel the kind of mass mobilization characteristic of fascism, they appear to be doing the next best strategy: building the first national political machine. Sinclair TV is a good example - they have financial problems that a Bush win might end through government contracts, so they will manipulate the media they own to try and attain that outcome. Who needs a state controlled media when the union of interests between state and business is as great as this? The Sinclair example is scarcely unique. The purpose of civil service - to stymie building a mational machine, is being undermined.

There is a scary difference between a national machine and a urban one. the urban one exists within the larger context of democratic constitutional rules, and that context provided security to some degree for political opponents. A national machine will not be nearly so constrained in its tactics to stay in power. Old PRC Mexico might be a model for Bus Incorporated USA.

So, I think that there are genuine fascists holding positions of power - Tom DeLay certainly has my vote here - and whether the US goes all the way in that direction, or simply has to deal with a fascist threat and fascist influence, is a matter that is still up for grabs.

If I am correct, there are policies that I think would effectively render them politically powrerless should Kerry win - but that is another matter.

Posted by: Gus diZerega | Oct 14, 2004 11:46:13 AM

a propos fascism and the present-day conservative movement (an appellation i picked up at the following links), it's possible that this arose in the aforementioned kos diary forum. nevertheless, in case it did not, the first four parts of a projected six-part analysis of what dave neiwert calls "pseudo-fascism," which he finds to be an emergent characteristic of current republican party machinations, can be found as follows:

Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV

although there is an underlying millenarian tone to his writings with which i am not entirely comfortable, they are thoughtful, well researched and sourced, and interesting. plainly, i recommend them.

as a first-time commenter, and a relatively new obsessive blogophile, i ought to thank you mr. yglesias, for maintaining this always interesting site and for attracting such a civil, thoughtful group of fans and commenters.

Posted by: joshua s. | Oct 14, 2004 3:53:23 PM

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