Democratic Underground

The Face of American Extremism
July 19, 2001
by Mark M. Eide

We on the left are fond of dismissing the resident as a dull witted fascist. There is an extent to which the caricature is accurate and an extent to which it is wishful thinking. The wishful thinking reflects our desire to believe that the great wrong of selection 2000 can be set right. The extent to which the characterization of George W. Bush as a fascist is accurate is also the extent to which he and his cronies have misjudged the nature of political extremism in America.

In my early years the left was ascendant. Democrats controlled the government. The Civil Rights movement had defied the powers that be in the south and was on the verge of a political, albeit socially incomplete, victory of stunning proportions.

Then came Vietnam. This misguided, immoral war unleashed the full anarchistic fury of the American left. For roughly eight years the nation was torn, largely along generational lines as it had not been torn for 100 years. In the end, despite our withdrawal from Vietnam, the left snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.

Perhaps it would be more accurate to say Reagan snatched victory from the jaws of defeat. I remember reading his political obituary in the Washington Post in 1976. For 1976 it was premature as his string of primary victories lay in front of him. Once he had bowed out at the convention in 1976 it was assumed that he would fade into oblivion. He didn't. While no true Democrats can applaud his policies, his political insight was shrewd. He is the architect of the only right wing revolution in American history and by noting and learning from the how of the Reagan revolution we can hope to apply those lessons to our own time.

First, Reagan skillfully used the media through his own radio program. Second, he presented a message that resonated with a generation that had achieved the political goals of its youth (civil rights and peace) namely "get government off our backs". Finally he gave the still restless baby boomers something to burn, namely the federal bureaucracy. Thus, did the 60s give way to the 80s, leaving the 70s as a strange four or five-year decade presided over by Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter. I came of age during this time and I can tell those who are younger and older that that the College Republicans sounded far more anarchistic than the Young Democrats. The Reagan message was getting through, though I had no clue what was happening at the time.

Those who would draw and apply these lessons to our own time need to realize that the activists of today need four things, the first of which will not be easily obtained. First and foremost we need media access. Then we need a message that will tap into the latent anarchistic streak that lies deep within the American soul. Then we will need an enemy and a target. The last two need not be completely identical.

The media access may well take more than one election cycle to secure. This cloud may well have a silver lining since the potential candidates remain uninspiring except in terms of their capacity to win. Securing power is not enough though. There must be momentum behind the message. There is money on the left and it may be possible to secure the media access in time to effect the next election. If we don't have media access in time it may not be an unmitigated tragedy.

As for the message there are many possible variations but it must be simple. I would suggest, "Give my country back!" This slogan can be directed at both the political and economic elites with equal force and with devastating effect.

As for the enemy and the target I would suggest that we don't want to get personal. As much as we hate him shrub should not be the enemy or the target. The American people are tired of the politics of personal destruction and the mindless mudslinging that attends every election. Watching the first debate I smiled and said, "Bush just lost" thinking that his personal attack on Gore, being the first, would send him to defeat. What I wasn't taking into account were Gore's sighs, probably because I shared the frustration and was sighing at the same time.

Barring the development of a groundswell for impeachment we should portray the shrub as a pawn of the corporate interests who are the real enemy. The dismantling of the corporate state through trust busting, enforcement of environmental legislation, and withdrawal from the globalization regimes such as WTO will provide a plan of action and provide ample opportunity for involvement after the election.

Then we will have to be on guard for the possible emergence of another Reagan. "The price of liberty is eternal vigilance."


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