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ICG Risk Blog - [ "No Nation Left Behind" program, Part 2 ]

"No Nation Left Behind" program, Part 2


Part 1

It is one thing to confront the trajectory of Pax America but it is quite another to realize that the timeline of the trajectory is much shorter than previously thought and that the obstacles that must be remedied to reverse the decline are vastly more difficult than I'd envisioned. Kevin Phillips' American Theocracy was the instrument of foreshortening, a capstone of what Phillips describes as an "inadvertent trilogy":

Phillips states his underlying thesis in American Theocracy that there "are the three major perils of the United States in the early 21st century. First, radical religion – this encompasses everything from the Pat Robertson-Jerry Falwell types to the attacks on medicine and science and the Left Behind books with their End Times and Armageddon scenarios. Second, oil dependence – oil was essential to 20th century U.S. hegemony, and its growing scarcity and cost could play havoc. And third, debt is becoming a national weakness – indeed, the "borrowing" industry in the U.S. has grown so rapidly that finance has displaced manufacturing as the leading U.S. sector."

While I was familiar with peak oil, unsustainable debt and offshoring, I admit to having been inattentive to the magnitude of the impact of conservative religion, or as Phillips puts it: "religion’s new political prowess and its role in the projection of military power in the Middle Eastern Bible lands—that most people are just beginning to understand. The rapture, end-times, and Armageddon hucksters in the United States rank with any Shiite ayatollahs, and the last two presidential elections mark the transformation of the GOP into the first religious party in U.S."

The realization that many of Bush43's most fervent supporters and perhaps some of those close to the levers of power in the US were detached from any sense of geopolitical reality and might well be willing to employ the US arsenal in support of religious goals was very unsettling:

End-times prophecy fueled a fifth dynamic at work as the forces for the Iraqi invasion gathered, because many Christian fundamentalists dismissed worries about oil or global warming out of belief that the end times were under way. The Bible lands were what mattered. Events were in God’s hands. Even Senator James Inhofe, the Oklahoma fundamentalist chairing the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, was reported saying, "I don’t believe there is a single issue we deal with in government that hasn’t been dealt with in the Scriptures," while declining to discuss his belief in the imminence of end times.

Partly as a result, GOP political strategists had no desire for a far-reaching debate on either global warming or peak oil. The religious right had its own rapture chronometers and apocalypse monitors reporting how many months, days and hours remained...

This true-believer endgame has been accelerating for many decades, especially since the creation of Israel satisfied the biblical prophecy of the Jewish return to Palestine. [The] growth during the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s in the numbers of Protestant fundamentalists, evangelicals, and Pentecostals was explosive. Many became Republicans and helped to give the GOP an increasingly religious coloration. Although the stunning sales of [Tim LaHaye's] Left Behind series grabbed most of the cultural attention, other books and videos during the late nineties [described] how Saddam Hussein was rebuilding Babylon, the citadel of evil. Still others pondered whether the antichrist was already alive and who he might be. (Saddam himself was a frequent choice.) Nearly one-quarter of Americans polled in 2002 even believed that the Bible had predicted the events of September 11, 2001! While these beliefs were surely a factor in Republican invasion planning, they are difficult for politicians to acknowledge—and they are especially tricky to discuss publicly, so they are instead quietly promoted in clandestine briefings or loosely signaled by phrases and citations that reassure the attentive faithful."

American Theocracy's complete chapter 4, Radicalized Religion, is compelling reading and fortunately available online. I recommend four reviews of American Theocracy: Michiko Kakutani's Tying Religion and Politics to an Impending U.S. Decline, Alan Brinkley's Clear and Present Dangers, Michelle Goldberg's Decline and fall and Stirling Newberry's Kevin Phillips' American Theocracy.

Unless you're a Left Behind reader or a troglodyte, you're likely aware that Phillips has come full circle, that he was the author of The Emerging Republican Majority (1969), that the underpinnings of that book contributed to Richard Nixon's 1968 victory and was the basis for waves of subsequent redistricting that cemented that victorious coalition. It is instructive to read Warren Weaver's 1969 review, The Emerging Republican Majority, in which he speaks of Nixon's pragmatism in evaluating a program, i.e., "Will it work?" as opposed to "Is it good or bad?" or "Is it liberal or conservative?" "[The] answer comes out not only "It did work" but "It will continue to work for some time to come."" "The Phillips doctrine thus amounts to institutionalizing Barry Goldwater's suggestion that the nation might be better off if its northeastern corner were sawed off and allowed to drift out to sea":

Because the Republicans are little dependent on the Liberal Establishment or urban Negroes--the two groups most intimately, though dissimilarly, concerned with present urban and welfare policies--they have the political freedom to disregard the multitude of vested interests which have throttled national urban policy. The GOP is particularly lucky not to be weighted down with commitment to the political blocs, power brokers and poverty concessionaires of the decaying central cities of the North, now that national growth is shifting to suburbia, the South and the West. The American future lies in a revitalized countryside, a demographically ascendant Sun Belt and suburbia, and new towns---perhaps Mountainside linear cities astride monorails 200 miles from Phoenix, Memphis or Atlanta. National policy will have to direct itself towards this future and its constituencies; and perhaps an administration so oriented can also deal realistically with the central cities where Great Society political largesse has so demonstrably failed.

I share Weaver's discomfort in the accuracy and implications of Phillip's research:

It is not a little depressing to read a serious 480-page book on politics based largely on the theory that deep divisive conflicts between black and white, Catholic and Protestant, Jew and Irishman, East and South are immutable, that such differences cannot be harmonized and that the politician should thus simply play upon them to his own advantage.

Almost equally disconcerting is the tacit assumption, in "The Emerging Republican Majority," that these divisions are all-controlling in a Presidential election, that the issues and the personalities and capabilities of the candidates count for nothing, that Americans vote only their blood line, church, neighborhood or caste.

Not much has changed, it appears, but then James Boyd's 1969 review, Nixon's Southern strategy 'It's All In the Charts', observed that, "By presenting a conservative image [the] Republicans can capture the votes of both the "projected" and "contingent bastions," and enough of the "battlegrounds," to stay in power for years, while ignoring the liberal Northeast." Phillips' political maps of 1969 are stunningly replicated in the 2004 election results.

Here are some snippets that caught my eye from the earlier parts of the trilogy:

Wealth and Democracy, itself rising from Phillips' The Politics of Rich and Poor (1990), dealt with the latest wave of corporatocracy (the phrase of currency for plutocracy), public and private corruption, wealth aggregation and tensions for democracy exemplified by the 1990s "technology mania and bubble, the money culture, belief that economic cycles were over, policies of market extremism, corruption and a politics ruled by campaign contributions." One could have been describing the run-up to the 1929 crash, the British South Sea Bubble and the Dutch Tulipmania, but that is Phillips' sidebar of cycles of excess and redress.

Phillips makes the point that "two greatest Republican presidents, [Abraham] Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt" held much dimmer views of the excesses of business than did the Republican Party of 2002. (Lincoln supported labor as superior to capital to the point that he evinced "strong support for labor unions and strikes." Roosevelt's attacks on corporations exceeded those of Lincoln, while he "specifically repeated and endorsed Lincoln’s oft-quoted remarks about labor being superior to and more deserving of support than capital.") As president, Nixon "supported national health insurance, income-maintenance for the poor and higher taxation of unearned than earned income." Phillips' opinion was that the current Republican Party had betrayed the Party of Lincoln even as it continued to praise Lincoln. No wonder the right began to treat Phillips as a forgotten zek.

American Dynasty looked at the family-based intertwined presidencies of Bush41 and Bush43 and the "four-generation interaction" with the US financial and political establishment that made these presidencies possible. In what Phillips calls the "perilous state of the American political system," American Dynasty examines themes that form the warp and weft of the Bush family: fundamentalism, political and religious, that gained strength over the 20th century, the morphing domestic importance "of different economic sectors and elites—from investment banking and oil to the military-industrial complex," and the 20th-21st century "emergence of the Bush family [along] a trajectory of American wealth and power."

General dynastic characteristics are identified and tracked, notably "continuities of policy and interest-group bias… [revenge seeking] against old foes as well as recalling longtime loyalists and retainers" and the "effect of biological inheritance." Specific Bush family characteristics are "repeated use of family influence in arranging or smoothing over difficulties in the military service of three generations of Bushes… involvement of four Walker and Bush generations with finance—in several cases, the investment side of the petroleum business… [family] ties to oil [that] date back [to] Standard Oil a century ago… [and] relationships between the Bushes and the CIA."

The Bush family embedment in the establishment cannot be overstated. It was the Bush family connection to the establishment that "made it possible to consider Bush for vice president in 1968, almost out of the blue." The family held its place in the financial firmament as it mirrored the "migration of the U.S. population and of political power" from "Episcopal church pews" to "fundamentalist religious alliances," even as family generated controversies never "gained critical mass." These events were placed within the 1980s aristocratic pretensions of taste, celebrity culture of 'rock star' CEOs, and "kindred winner-take-all ethos" that "helped to make dynastization of wealth and politics a turn-of-the-twenty first-century reality."

Phillips begins to examine the politics and geopolitics that rose from the post-Clinton "restoration psychology and fundamentalist theology" of Bush43, themes that he will expand in American Theocracy, the Bush family's shift of "its religious intensity," "a southern-dominated electoral coalition," the "precedent-shattering circumstance [that] the de facto head of the Religious Right and the president of the United States can be the same person," and the emergence of a US "crusader state" that satisfied religious fundamentalists as it brought profit to "important economic interests."

The "cultural harshness and fiscal regressivity" of Texanomics "obliged the family’s presidential office seekers to wear "kinder and gentler" policies and "compassionate conservatism" as velvet cloaking." In response to Clinton's moral lapses, Bush43 "began to emphasize and display unusual personal religiosity [casting] himself as the prodigal son, brought back to God after waywardness and crisis," increasingly using "such biblically inflected language about good and evil" that he "had virtually replaced evangelist Pat Robertson as the leader of the U.S. Religious Right."

Phillips makes the claim that in the wake of 11 September, "Americans slid toward another historical reversal: allowing the eighteenth-century republic to be re-conceptualized as an embattled twenty-first-century imperium." Phillips closes with a recounting of the founding fathers' fears of the US following European republics slide "toward great-family and dynastic leadership."

Part 3

Apocalyptic president
Even some Republicans are now horrified by the influence Bush has given to the evangelical right
Sidney Blumenthal
The Guardian
March 23, 2006

Excerpt: American Theocracy
By Kevin Phillips
TPMCafe Book Club
Mar 23, 2006 -- 01:03:25 PM EST

Kevin Phillips' American Theocracy
By Stirling Newberry
t r u t h o u t Book Review
Wednesday 22 March 2006

Religion and Politics
By Kevin Phillips
TPMCafe Book Club
Mar 21, 2006 -- 09:46:14 AM EST

Reaching Southern evangelicals
By Kevin Phillips
TPMCafe Book Club
Mar 21, 2006 -- 08:12:36 AM EST

Writing American Theocracy
By Kevin Phillips
TPMCafe Book Club
Mar 20, 2006 -- 01:20:23 PM EST

A Political Warning Shot: 'American Theocracy'
Interview with Kevin Phillips (AUDIO)
by Terry Gross
Fresh Air
March 21, 2006
Contains Chapter 4, Radicalized Religion, from 'American Theocracy' by Kevin Phillips

Phillips, Brinkley, and "Theocracy"
March 20, 2006

Tying Religion and Politics to an Impending U.S. Decline
New York Times
March 17, 2006

Decline and fall
Kevin Phillips, no lefty, says that America -- addicted to oil, strangled by debt and maniacally religious -- is headed for doom.
By Michelle Goldberg
March 16, 2006

American Theocracy: The Peril and Politics of Radical Religion, Oil, and Borrowed Money in the 21st Century
My Seattle Online
Posted on March 16th, 2006 at 1:19 pm

American Dynasty: Aristocracy, Fortune, and the Politics of Deceit in the House of Bush
by Kevin Phillips
Penguin, 2004
ISBN: 0143034316

Wealth and Democracy: A Political History of the American Rich
by Kevin Phillips
Broadway, 2003
ISBN: 0767905342

The South Sea Bubble
by Caroline Thomas
Student Economic Review, University of Dublin
Trinity College, 2003, Vol 17, p. 17-37

Fundamentally unsound
By Michelle Goldberg
July 29, 2002

Financial Crashes in the Globalization Era
Evan Osborne
The Independent Review, v.VI, n.2, Fall 2001, ISSN 1086-1653, pp. 165–184

The Queen of the Night
The Economist
October 31, 1998

Lone Star lawmakers are poised to shine on the Hill - Texas delegation to Congress has power and leadership - includes profile of Texas Congressional delegates
by Sean Piccoli
Insight on the News
March 6, 1995

Nixon's Southern strategy 'It's All In the Charts'
New York Times
May 17, 1970

The Emerging Republican Majority
New York Times
Sep 21, 1969

Gordon Housworth

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