July 12, 2006

John Dean: Honorary Member of the Society of the Shrill

John Dean, former White House counsel for Richard Nixon during the Watergate era, has been a powerful critic of the current Bush administration. As one who lived in a White House that was a study in the abuse of power, he has been diligent in documenting and exposing the abuse of power being carried out by the current administration. Last night he was on Keith Olbermann's show discussing his new book, Conservatives Without Conscience. C&R has a link to the segment.

And man, oh man, Dean's latest book is a stunner. Dean had been collaborating with the original uber-father of American conservatism, Barry Goldwater, before his death and he says that Goldwater was instrumental in helping him examine what went wrong with conservatism and how the Republican Party had been hijacked by something that was very different than the conservatism of Goldwater. What characterizes the Republican party today is that it is a deeply authoritarian movement that is blindly driving the country over a cliff.

On Olbermann, Dean discussed a massive study that has been conducted for some 50 years about the authoritarian personality - "about those who were inclined to follow leaders and those who jump in front and want to be the leaders." In this book, he reviewed the research and examined the current Republican leadership in how it has exploited the psychological triggers that are inherent in people to make them look towards authoritarian figures to protect them.

What Dean is trying to do is to awaken people about the extremism that is threatening to take down our country. Dean sees the same radicalism in today's Republican Party that Paul Krugman talked about when he wrote about Revolutionary Power. And his descriptions about the psychological impulses driving this movement are echoed in Eric Hoffer's The True Believer.

The Conservative movement with its fundamentalist preachers like Farwell and Dobson, its bomb-throwing radicals like Newt Gingrich and Grover Norquist, its corrupt and iron-fisted strongmen like Tom DeLay, its will to power adherents like Dick Cheney, is a fanatical and irrational movement that believes the ends justify the means.

Will Dean's warning be heard? Well, read the following review from Publishers Weekly and tell me what do you think?

In his seventh book, Dean, the former Nixon legal counsel whom the FBI has called the "master manipulator" of the Watergate coverup, weighs in with a rebuke to Christian fundamentalists and other right-wing hard-liners. A self-described Goldwater conservative (indeed, Goldwater had planned to collaborate on this book before his death), he rails against the influence of social conservatives and neoconservatives within his party. Suffused with bitterness stemming from the controversies in which he has been embroiled, Dean's book paints a thin social science veneer over a litany of mostly ad hominem complaints. Purporting to show that social conservatives and neoconservatives are, on the whole, demonstrably authoritarian, bigoted, irrational and amoral, Conservatives Without Conscience offers helpful hints such as "Conservatives without conscience do not have horns and tails," and evinces a telling fascination with politicians' shady book deals. Though there is clearly much to condemn in the policies and tactics Dean deplores, assailing everyone from French political theorist Joseph de Maistre to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist to the chairman of Yale University's conservative association as "Double High" social- dominance-oriented authoritarians undermines his journalistic credibility. Dean's lurid accusations may be entertaining, but they add little to the reasoned debate that Washington so sorely lacks today. (July 11) Copyright Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Those who see the monster that is the soul of today's Republican Party have a tough row to hoe in awaking the sleeping populace that has yet to be assimilated into the borg of the authoritarian personality and hasn't really figured out what darkness awaits; or those who refuse to believe that the forces in our society could be so close to the edge. Unfortunately, it seems to me that too many of the latter are those who continue to scold the netroots for being too doctrinaire and not playing nice with the Republicans. What they don't realize is that one of the reasons we are so shrill is because the cliff edge is so near. This is not your grandfather's Republican Party.

Posted by Mary at July 12, 2006 12:45 AM | Recommended Reading | Technorati links |

oh no.....ore wars

Israeli Airstrike Collapses Palestinian Foreign Ministry Building in Gaza City

Posted by: ferdinand at July 12, 2006 09:23 PM

yes, ferdinand, it is so incredibly depressing. So much madness, so little ability to stop the relentless march to war once more.

Posted by: Mary at July 13, 2006 08:50 PM

This halfway-secret study cited by John Dean sounds a little fishy to me. We don't have any more reason to believe this than we have to believe that Cheney's energy task force had elaborate debates about environmental quality, except that we like the result and John Dean is an honorable man. But honorable men, even veterans of the Nixon White House who have probably seen it all, can be hoodwinked.

How has it been kept secret for 50 years? A project with such blockbuster implications? Even the North Koreans' secrets come out faster than that.

Also, we know nothing about the quality of the study. If I can't read the thing and draw my own conclusions, I'd at least like to consult my prejudices about the likely skillfulness of the work. "Academics" covers a lot of ground. Which academics? Among social scientists, there's a rough hierarchy of quality of empirical work: psychology and economics at the top, then poli-sci, law (including law & economics), sociology and anthropology, in that order. And psychologists and economists aren't exactly infallible, themselves.

Who's funding the study? Ya gotta believe that for the funding to be renewed 50 times, the results are not uncongenial to the funder.

Finally, Dean's synopsis is not sufficient to put the theory to any use. Is a quarter of the population simply followers by nature, who would follow either Trotsky or Mussolini? Or are they natural conservatives? And are we divided into "blind obedientiaries," 23%, "free willies," 77%, or is it a continuum? What effect of desperate times? You know, desperate measures and all that.

Anyway, the 23% solution is certainly congenial, and does account for a lot of what we see -- why are football players more GOP oriented, but basketball players are not? Why do so many people listen to Rush Limbaugh every day? How did the white-trashy racist element of the former Confederacy dominate politics and race relations so long, with almost no defection? Etc.

Posted by: B Pentium at July 17, 2006 01:30 AM