Notes on the Atrocities
Like a 100-watt radio station, broadcasting to the dozens...

Monday, January 12, 2004  


A day after Paul O'Neill made startling observations about the Bush administration, Christie Whitman ostensibly joins him, complaining in the Times that moderates aren't welcome in the GOP. Meanwhile, the Post published a story today about Grover Norquist (who equated victims of the holocaust with victims of government taxation), describing how his empire was built on autocracy.

For those who do not cooperate, Norquist plays enforcer. Democrats are "bad guys," but errant Republicans are "evil"....

When Alabama Gov. Bob Riley (R) tried to pass a state tax increase, Norquist helped defeat it. "We're going to keep him on life support," he said. "We'll put him in a freezer, as an example."

(In her article, Whitman ultimately toes the line. After a few limp critiques of conservatives, she derides liberals for attacking Democratic moderates. Zell Miller, that great "moderate" Dem, garners her sympathy. Read the Norquist piece first, then see if you can guess why Whitman wimps out.)

Within the Republican Party dissent is not only discouraged, but harshly punished. This has allowed the GOP to become a juggernaut of power over the past 3 years. Politicians don't question the Party, the media don't question the Party, and no one listens when liberals question it. The upside for autocracy is pretty obvious.

Meanwhile, liberals love dissent. We encourage people to exercise their heterodox views, to demand their voice in the process. Democrats, nominally liberal, have been plagued by dissent, weakening the Party to the point where they couldn't even block the Medicare bill earlier this year. The downside of dissent is pretty obvious.

But at a certain point, negatives and positives start going sideways. Autocracy is only good so long as the people at the bottom regard their lot as being better wid ya than agin ya. The GOP is pushing the envelope. Dissent is bad until the autocrats overplay their hand and the dissentors start looking like the reasonable ones. Democrats--and Howard Dean in particular--are starting to sound reasonable to a lot of people.

George W. Bush will be elected if the autocrats stifle dissent among their ranks. This Paul O'Neill news is huge--but only in the historic, real sense. In the political sense, it may be about as important as the 16 words, the Plame outing, or any of the policy initiatives that will reap real catastrophe (tax cuts, deficits, the Iraq quagmire, "Clear Skies," packing the courts, logging the Tongass, etc. etc. etc.). As long as the face of the establishment--that's the administration, the House, Senate, statehouses and state legislatures--continue to tell the same lie, then the political reality will be another four years of Bush.

If the "16 words" or Plame scandals demonstrate anything, it's that facts don't matter--so long as no one believes they do. On the other hand, once the dissentors start dissenting, look out. Trent Lott told a group of good ol' boys that it would have been a good thing if a senator had been elected President. It cost him the majority leadership. Bill Clinton dropped his drawers in the Oval Office and got impeached. But Bush can lie to America about war and suffer no ill effects.

The election probably depends as much on whether the GOP can stifle dissent for 10 months as it does on who emerges from the Democratic side. During those months, Republican members of Congress are going to have to have to make a calculation: am I better wid 'im or agin 'im? With mounting deficits, skyrocketing spending, collapsing employment, and a vast army of boomers headed for retirement, that's going to be a tough call.

posted by Jeff | 12:29 PM |
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