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“Appealing To Fear In The Name Of Security”: Marco Rubio Wants To Scare Americans Into Voting For Him

The 2014 midterm was the election of fear, and offered a likely foreshadowing of the strategy the Republicans will use to try and win the White House in 2016. In the midterms, the GOP stacked up impressive victories by brilliantly stoking a nightmare vision of an America about to be overrun by Ebola patients, anchor babies, and ISIS assassins. In their quest to replace Barack Obama, Republican presidential hopefuls are making the starkest possible case that security is the primary issue, eclipsing all others.

Yesterday, Marco Rubio announced the new theme of his campaign: “The fundamental problem we have in America is that nothing matters if we aren’t safe.” According to Rubio, “The world has never been more dangerous than it is today,” which means “the economic stuff” has to take a backseat to national security. Rubio’s emphasis on safety echoed a remark made by his rival Chris Christie the same day: “You can’t enjoy your civil liberties if you’re in a coffin.”

These statements are startling in the all-or-nothing choices they offer. Without security, “nothing matters.” If we don’t have security, we’ll be in a coffin. This black-and-white language negates the possibility that security is one value among others, that it needs to be balanced against competing values such as liberty or peace. It’s hard to imagine cruder appeals to fear.

And by appealing to fear in the name of security, they only ensure they’ll get less of what they say they want.

While some political leaders have relied on fear-mongering since time immemorial, the specific national security based anxiety voiced by Rubio and Christie has a particular lineage. According to George Mason historian Peter N. Stearns in his 2006 book American Fear, “American culture launched a really distinctive approach to fear only in the twentieth century: There was no long legacy of public fearfulness. Indeed, current standards are particularly striking in their contrast with nineteenth-century norms, which quite explicitly called on Americans, at least American men, to face fear directly and stare it down.”

Stearns locates the origins of fear culture in modern American politics in the Cold War. His argument is in keeping with findings of many historians that the very idea of “national security” as a pre-eminent goal crystallized in the early days of America’s rivalry with the Soviet Union, when Secretary of State Dean Acheson said it was necessary to “scare the hell out of the country” in order to shore up support for an anti-communist foreign policy.

In his 1974 work The Logic of World Power, historian Franz Schurmann argued the Cold War consensus was based on “a new ideology” and “the key word and concept in that new ideology was security.” For Schurmann, part of the power of the concept of security was that it encompassed domestic economics as well as foreign policy. Social Security, after all, was the cornerstone of the New Deal. The promise of “national security” as a foreign policy goal was that it would bring the same type of peace of mind that Social Security gave to citizens.

In practice, the excessive weight given to security produced not greater calm but more fear. The search for absolute security could brook no opposition, so the enemy became not just Stalin’s USSR but the idea of communism, leading to a global crusade abroad and an ideological purge at home. As the conservative foreign policy analyst Robert W. Tucker noted in his 1971 book The Radical Left and American Foreign Policy, “By interpreting security as a function not only of a balance between states but of the internal order maintained by states, the Truman Doctrine equated America’s security with interests that evidently went well beyond conventional security requirements.”

The hair-trigger overreactions of the early Cold War were revived after 9/11, when policymakers once again launched a global war on the grounds that it was needed to ensure security on the home front. The best articulation of the post-9/11 culture of fear—and the concomitant willingness to do almost anything to secure an impregnable level of safety or security—can be seen in the 1 percent doctrine as articulate by Vice President Dick Cheney: “If there’s a 1 percent chance that Pakistani scientists are helping Al Qaeda build or develop a nuclear weapon, we have to treat it as a certainty in terms of our response.” In effect, Cheney was calling for the United States to become one giant safe space, even if it meant massively overreacting to threats abroad.

Because of the language of security originated in the New Deal, the earliest critics of this discourse came from the political right. Throughout the early Cold War, Ohio Senator Robert Taft, the stalwart of the Republican right, warned that America was becoming “a garrison state.” In his libertarian classic The Road to Serfdom (1944), F.A. Hayek argued that, “nothing is more fatal than the present fashion among intellectual leaders of extolling security at the expense of freedom. It is essential that we should relearn frankly to face the fact that freedom can be had only at a price and that as individuals we must be prepared to make severe material sacrifices to preserve our liberty.”

Hayek was of course writing about the economic realm, but his insistence that security needed to be balanced against liberty applies just as well to foreign policy. If Rubio and Christie had any interest in moving beyond the politics of fear, they could do well to read that earlier right-wing thinkers warned that the idolatry of security brings not safety but unending jitters and a loss of liberty.


By: Jeet Heer, Senior Editor, The New Republic, May 19, 2015

May 20, 2015 Posted by | Chris Christie, Fearmongering, Marco Rubio, National Security | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Cry Of The True Republican”: As Seen By A “Genetic Republican”, Today’s GOP Is A Virulent Strain Of Empty Nihilism

I am a genetic Republican.

Five generations of Tafts have served our nation as unwaveringly stalwart Republicans, from Alphonso Taft, who served as attorney general in the late 19th century, through William Howard Taft, who not only was the only person to be both president of the United States and chief justice of the United States but also served as the chief civil administrator of the Philippines and secretary of war, to my cousin, Robert Taft, a two-term governor of Ohio.

As I write, a photograph of my grandfather, Senator Robert Alphonso Taft, looks across at me from the wall of my office. He led the Republican Party in the United States Senate in the 1940s and early 1950s, ran for the Republican nomination for president three times and was known as “Mr. Republican.” If he were alive today, I can assure you he wouldn’t even recognize the modern Republican Party, which has repeatedly brought the United States of America to the edge of a fiscal cliff — seemingly with every intention of pushing us off the edge.

Throughout my family’s more than 170-year legacy of public service, Republicans have represented the voice of fiscal conservatism. Republicans have been the adults in the room. Yet somehow the current generation of party activists has managed to do what no previous Republicans have been able to do — position the Democratic Party as the agents of fiscal responsibility.

Speaking through the night, Senator Ted Cruz, with heavy-lidded, sleep-deprived eyes, conveyed not the libertarian element in Republican philosophy that advocates for smaller government and less intrusion into the personal lives of citizens, but a new, virulent strain of empty nihilism: “blow it up if we can’t get what we want.”

This recent display of bomb-throwing obstructionism by Republicans in Congress evokes another painful, historically embarrassing chapter in the Republican Party — that of Senator Joseph McCarthy, chairman of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, whose anti-Communist crusade was allowed by Republican elders to expand unchecked, unnecessarily and unfairly tarnishing the reputations of thousands of people with “Red Scare” accusations of Communist affiliation. Finally Senator McCarthy was brought up short during the questioning of the United States Army’s chief counsel, Joseph N. Welch, who at one point demanded the senator’s attention, then said: “Until this moment, Senator, I think I never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness.” He later added: “Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?”

Watching the Republican Party use the full faith and credit of the United States to try to roll back Obamacare, watching its members threaten not to raise the debt limit — which Warren Buffett rightly called a “political weapon of mass destruction” — to repeal a tax on medical devices, I so wanted to ask a similar question: “Have you no sense of responsibility? At long last, have you left no sense of responsibility?”

There is more than a passing similarity between Joseph McCarthy and Ted Cruz, between McCarthyism and the Tea Party movement. The Republican Party survived McCarthyism because, ultimately, its excesses caused it to burn out. And eventually party elders in the mold of my grandfather were able to realign the party with its brand promise: The Republican Party is (or should be) the Stewardship Party. The Republican brand is (or should be) about responsible behavior. The Republican party is (or should be) at long last, about decency.

What a long way we have yet to go.

By: John G. Taft, Op-Ed Contributor, The New York Times, October 22, 2013

October 24, 2013 Posted by | GOP, Republicans | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“How Soon We Forget”: Bob Dole As A Tribune Of Civility Is Laughable

So now we’re supposed to fall in love with Bob Dole: the enfeebled old solon went on Fox News this week and said his beloved Grand Old Party should be “closed for repairs” for having abandoned civility and comity, and for lacking “ideas.” All right then; let’s give Bob Dole half credit. It is true that Bob Dole was on the Republican side of the hyphen for plenty of pieces of bipartisan legislation (never mind that many of those laws were awful—like “Bayh-Dole,” the 1980 law that let universities patent, and thus privatize, their publicly financed inventions). But let’s also call it half bullshit. All in all, Bob Dole was much more an architect of the Republican Party’s culture of hyper-partisan nastiness than a tribune of civility.

Once, when LBJ was thundering toward his 1964 landslide, megalomaniacally rolling up road miles to defeat as many incumbent Republicans as possible, he told the reporters traveling with him, “You all know a bit about the Republicans in Congress, and there must be at least a few of them that you think deserve to be defeated. Give me some names and either Hubert and I will try to get into their districts in the next few days and talk against ’em.” After they got over their shock, one piped up proposing that Dole kid, the young congressman out of Kansas: he was a nasty man, a hatchet man—a traducer of the civility of Washington. Which was largely how Bob Dole rose in Republican counsels. How soon we forget.

It’s one of those ineluctable patterns in American political culture. As I wrote in 2004 upon Ronald Reagan’s death: “each generation of nonconservatives sees the right-wingers of its own generation as the scary ones, then chooses to remember the right-wingers of the last generation as sort of cuddly. In 1964, observers horrified by Barry Goldwater pined for the sensible Robert Taft, the conservative leader of the 1950s. When Reagan was president, liberals spoke fondly of sweet old Goldwater. Nowadays, as we grapple with the malevolence of President Bush, it’s Reagan we remember as the sensible one.” As, thus, does Robert Dole: in today’s Republican Party, “Reagan wouldn’t have made it.”

And now, like clockwork, Bob Dole volunteers Bob Dole as the cuddly one, thereby basking in the pundits’ lionization of Bob Dole. Bob Dole!

Rick Perlstein is not buying it. Bob Dole, who in 1971 when Richard Nixon expanded the Vietnam War into Laos, called Democrats who protested to Nixon publicly (but not Republicans who did the same thing privately) “the new Chamberlains in what they hope will be another era of appeasement,” saying George McGovern has went “as close as anyone has yet come to urging outright surrender.”

The next year, as Nixon’s Republican National Committee chair, Bob Dole eagerly stood up on his hind legs for the Watergate-plagued president, then peed on Woodward and Bernstein: “For the last week, the Republican Party has been the victim of a barrage of unfounded and unsubstantiated allegations by George McGovern and his partner-in-mudslinging, the Washington Post…McGovern appears to have turned over the franchise for his media attack campaign to the editors…who have shown themselves every bit as surefooted along the low road.”

Others can add their greatest hits from their own personal Wayback Machines. Meanwhile, let’s count down for another Bob to bob forth with some blathering about Bob: Bob Woodward. It can’t really be long.


By: Rick Perlstein, The Nation, May 31, 2013

June 3, 2013 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Untempered Individualism”: Conservatives Used To Care About Community

To secure his standing as the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, Mitt Romney has disowned every sliver of moderation in his record. He’s moved to the right on tax cuts and twisted himself into a pretzel over the health-care plan he championed in Massachusetts — because conservatives are no longer allowed to acknowledge that government can improve citizens’ lives.

Romney is simply following the lead of Republicans in Congress who have abandoned American conservatism’s most attractive features: prudence, caution and a sense that change should be gradual. But most important of all, conservatism used to care passionately about fostering community, and it no longer does. This commitment now lies buried beneath slogans that lift up the heroic and disconnected individual — or the “job creator” — with little concern for the rest.

Today’s conservatism is about low taxes, fewer regulations, less government — and little else. Anyone who dares to define it differently faces political extinction. Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana was considered a solid conservative, until conservatives decided that anyone who seeks bipartisan consensus on anything is a sellout. Even Orrin Hatch of Utah, one of the longest-serving Republican senators, is facing a primary challenge. His flaw? He occasionally collaborated with the late Democratic senator Edward M. Kennedy on providing health insurance coverage for children and encouraging young Americans to join national service programs. In the eyes of Hatch’s onetime allies, these commitments make him an ultra-leftist.

I have long admired the conservative tradition and for years have written about it with great respect. But the new conservatism, for all its claims of representing the values that inspired our founders, breaks with the country’s deepest traditions. The United States rose to power and wealth on the basis of a balance between the public and the private spheres, between government and the marketplace, and between our love of individualism and our quest for community.

Conservatism today places individualism on a pedestal, but it originally arose in revolt against that idea. As the conservative thinker Robert A. Nisbet noted in 1968, conservatism represented a “reaction to the individualistic Enlightenment.” It “stressed the small social groups of society” and regarded such clusters of humanity — not individuals — as society’s “irreducible unit.”

True, conservatives continue to preach the importance of the family as a communal unit. But for Nisbet and many other conservatives of his era, the movement was about something larger. It “insisted upon the primacy of society to the individual — historically, logically and ethically.”

Because of the depth of our commitment to individual liberty, Americans never fully adopted this all-encompassing view of community. But we never fully rejected it, either. And therein lies the genius of the American tradition: We were born with a divided political heart. From the beginning, we have been torn by a deep but healthy tension between individualism and community. We are communitarian individualists or individualistic communitarians, but we have rarely been comfortable with being all one or all the other.

The great American conservative William F. Buckley Jr. certainly understood this. In his book “Gratitude: Reflections on What We Owe to Our Country,” he quotes approvingly John Stuart Mill’s insistence that “everyone who receives the protection of society owes a return for the benefit.” With liberty comes responsibility to the community.

Before the Civil War, conservatives such as Alexander Hamilton and Henry Clay believed in an active federal government that served the common good. This included a commitment to internal improvements (what we now, less elegantly, call infrastructure), public schooling, and the encouragement of manufacturing and science. Clay, an unapologetic supporter of national economic planning, called his program “the American System,” explicitly distinguishing his idea from the British laissez-faire system. (The Club for Growth would not have been pleased.)

Abraham Lincoln, for whom Clay was a hero, built upon this tradition, laying the foundation for our public universities by backing the establishment of land-grant colleges.

Civil War pensions — the first great social insurance program and a central Republican cause — were supporting about 28 percent of men 65 and over by 1910. In 1894, the program’s most expensive year, the pensions accounted for 37 percent of federal spending. Sounds like a massive entitlement program, doesn’t it?

And the first American version of socialized medicine was signed into law in 1798 by that great conservative president, John Adams. The Marine Hospital Servicefunded hospitals across the country to treat sailors who were sick or got injured on the job. There is no record of a mass campaign to repeal AdamsCare.

Mr. Conservative himself, Robert A. Taft, a Republican senator from Ohio and Senate majority leader, urged federal support for decent housing for all Americans in the 1940s. Dwight Eisenhower created the interstate highway system and established the federal student loan program in the 1950s.

More recently, Ronald Reagan never tried to dismantle the New Deal and acknowledged, sometimes with wry humor, the need for tax increases. He was acutely alive to the communal side of conservatism. Nearly all of the pictures in his 1984 “Morning in America” commercial — one of the most famous political ads in our history — invoked community: a father and son working together, tidy neighborhoods, a wedding, young campers earnestly saluting the flag. Reagan spoke regularly not only of the power of the market and the dangers of Soviet communism, but also of the centrality of families and neighborhoods.

George W. Bush, who promoted “compassionate conservatism,” built on old progressive programs with his No Child Left Behind law, using federal aid to education as a lever for reform. And he added a prescription-drug benefit to the Medicare program that Lyndon B. Johnson pushed into law.

In other words, until recently conservatives operated within America’s long consensus that accepted a market economy as well as a robust role for a government that served the common good. American politics is now roiled because this consensus is under the fiercest attack it has faced in more than 100 years.

For most of the 20th century, conservatives and progressives alternated in power, each trying to correct the mistakes of the other. Neither scared the wits out of the other (although campaign rhetoric sometimes suggested otherwise), and this equilibrium allowed both sides to compromise and move forward. It didn’t mean that politics was devoid of philosophical conflicts, of course. The clashes over McCarthyism, the civil rights revolution, the Vietnam War, Watergate and the Great Inflation of the late 1970s remind us that our consensus went only so far. Conservatives challenged aspects of the New Deal-era worldview from the late 1960s on, dethroning a liberal triumphalism that long refused to take conservatism seriously. Over time, even progressives came to appreciate some essential instincts that conservatives brought to the debate.

So why has this consensus unraveled?

Modern conservatism’s rejection of its communal roots is a relatively recent development. It can be traced to a simultaneous reaction against Bush’s failures and Barack Obama’s rise.

Bush’s unpopularity at the end of his term encouraged conservatives, including the fledgling tea party movement, to distance themselves from his legacy. They declared that Bush’s shortcomings stemmed from his embrace of “big government” and “big spending” — even if much of the spending was in Iraq and Afghanistan. They recoiled from his “compassionate conservatism,” deciding, as right-wing columnist Michelle Malkin put it, that “ ‘compassionate conservatism’ and fiscal conservatism were never compatible.”

That would be true, of course, only if “fiscal conservatism” were confined to reductions in government and not viewed instead as an effort to keep revenue and spending in line with each other, which was how older conservatives had defined the term.

Obama, in the meantime, pitched communal themes from the moment he took office, declaring in his inaugural address that America is “bigger than the sum of our individual ambitions.” The more he emphasized a better balance between the individual and the community, the less interested conservatives became in anything that smacked of such equilibrium.

That’s why today’s conservatives can’t do business with liberals or even moderates who are still working within the American tradition defined by balance. It’s why they can’t agree even to budget deals that tilt heavily, but not entirely, toward spending cuts; only sharp reductions in taxes and government will do. It’s why they cannot accept (as Romney and the Heritage Foundation once did) energetic efforts by the government to expand access to health insurance. It’s why, even after a catastrophic financial crisis, they continue to resist new rules aimed not at overturning capitalism but at making it more stable.

For much of our history, Americans — even in our most quarrelsome moments — have avoided the kind of polarized politics we have now. We did so because we understood that it is when we balance our individualism with a sense of communal obligation that we are most ourselves as Americans. The 20th century was built on this balance, and we will once again prove the prophets of U.S. decline wrong if we can refresh and build upon that tradition. But doing so will require conservatives to abandon untempered individualism, which betrays what conservatism has been and should be.

By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, May 24, 2012

May 25, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


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