Face of American Extremism
July 19, 2001
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."