The Reich Wing: Bush-Era Conservatism as Reductio Ad Absurdum

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As the Iraq war ripens into the largest strategic catastrophe in our nation’s history, dead-enders among the Bu’ushist faithful confront a sobering question. No, that question is not how to extricate our nation from the Mesopotamian morass, but rather how to deal with internal dissent.

It’s really quite simple, sighed 35-year-old Hillary-Ann, a professional woman from California with sufficient disposable income to drop at least $1,200 to spend a week confined on a cruise ship with the editorial staff of National Review.

"Of course, we need to execute some of these people … [a] few of these prominent people who are trying to demoralize the country," she commented with languid indifference as she waded waist-deep in the Pacific. "Just take a couple of these anti-war people off to the gas chamber for treason to show, if you try to bring down America at a time of war, that’s what you’ll get. Then things’ll change."

There’s nothing novel about the kind of "change" desired by this fully indoctrinated member of the Reich Wing: For devotees of a certain variant of statist conservatism, seizing dissenters and shipping them off to gas chambers is old hat. What makes this off-hand expression of an authentically fascist sentiment so remarkable is the fact that it was typical conversational chatter among the 500 or so National Review groupies who took part in the cruise, according to British journalist Johann Hari, who tagged along incognito.

I would be inclined to dismiss Hari’s account as the dishonest fantasy of a Euro-Trash bien-pensant were it not for the fact that such sentiments are readily on display practically everywhere Bush-aligned conservatives feel comfortable to give expression to their deepest sentiments.

It is difficult to predict what will be the most significant "legacy" left by George W. Bush, assuming that word can be properly applied to the accumulated residue of lawless violence and official corruption that have typified his reign. Will it be metastasizing foreign hostility, and proliferating foreign conflicts? Will it be the collapse of the economy beneath the weight of profligate spending? Will it be the official adoption of such malapropisms as "terrists" and "nukular" as part of our long-suffering language?

My suspicion is that Bush’s most important and lasting contribution has been the creation of a purely limbic form of conservatism, in which the amygdala (that portion of the brain focusing on fear and related base emotions) plays the defining role in interpreting reality.

The movement has succeeded in validating the worst caricatures concocted by the likes of Theodor Adorno and Daniel Bell by reducing itself into an authoritarian cult. Obsessive fear and reflexive, tribal loyalty to the Leader/Protector are the defining impulses of contemporary conservatism. And until — perhaps I should say "unless" — President Bush and Crypto-President Cheney leave office in 2009, things will grow progressively worse as the regime over which they preside makes increasingly extravagant claims of extra-constitutional power.

Yesterday (July 19), the Bush-Cheney regime informed Congress that "A U.S. attorney would not be permitted to bring contempt charges or convene a grand jury in an executive privilege case." What this means is that Bush will forbid the Justice Department to pursue criminal contempt of Congress charges against four current or former White House officials who defied congressional subpoenas, as Bush instructed them. Neither Richard Nixon nor Bill Clinton — nor King George III, for that matter — ever ventured such a claim to complete immunity from legislative oversight, although Saddam Hussein probably did.

More frightening still is an executive order issued three days ago (July 17) in which Bush claimed the power to confiscate the property of political dissidents. No, that is not how the order’s provisions were described, but the powers adumbrated in that decree would permit such whole-scale expropriations.

Entitled "Blocking Property of Certain Persons Who Threaten Stabilization Efforts in Iraq," the order asserts that the president can seize control of financial assets and other property belonging to "any person determined by the Secretary of the Treasury, in consultation with the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Defense … to have committed, or to pose a significant risk of committing, an act or acts of violence that have the purpose and effect of … threatening the peace or stability of Iraq or the Government of Iraq; or … undermining efforts to promote economic reconstruction and political reform in Iraq … [or] to have materially assisted … such an act or acts of violence…."

Let’s leave aside, for now, the Soviet-style cant about "peace [and] stability" in occupied Iraq, a land where neither can be found.

What this executive order means, in principle, is that the property of anyone who materially "undermines" the war and occupation can be seized, without a trial or due process of any kind, on presidential order with the approval of three cabinet officials.

Yes, the order supposedly applies to those who would be providing direct material or financial aid to guerrilla fighters in Iraq, whether they are partisan patriots fighting to expel foreign invaders, sectarian fanatics, or opportunistic foreign terrorists.

But pay careful attention to the phrase applying those sanctions to those found guilty — once again, by presidential decree — of "undermining efforts to promote economic reconstruction and political reform in Iraq…." Wouldn’t this apply to people who participate in organized efforts to end the occupation? Yes, expropriating anti-war activists wouldn’t provide the same visceral thrill that would result from the spectacle of a few of them led away in chains to the gas chamber. But the Reich Wing can console itself in the knowledge that those whom the State would annihilate, it first expropriates.

William Norman Grigg [send him mail] writes the Pro Libertate blog.

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