Is the U.S. Heading toward a Bonapartis-style regime?

Jon Kofas writes:The following attachment and Bill Moyers article are critiques of U.S. foreign policy from the left. While they are important to consider, the more fundamental question for all of to consider is whether the U.S. has evolved so far from the ideal of Jeffersonian democracy to the degree that it is approaching ever so closer toward Bonapartism. I raise this question after listening to the president's "State of the Union" address, which was designed not to merely justify dogmatic positions adopted in the past four years, but to institutionalize a Bonapartist-syle regime in the same manner that FDR institutionalized the Keynesian state. I wonder what fellow-WAISers think about the structure of the regime  under this president, thatis, whether we are going through a phase, or more permanent institutional changes?
The 14 Defining Characteristics of Facism

There Is No Tomorrow, by Bill Moyers The Star Tribune
(i/30/05) (abridged)

One of the biggest changes in politics in my lifetime is that the delusional is no longer marginal. It has come in from the fringe, to sit in the seat of  power in the Oval Office and in Congress. For the first time in our history, ideology and theology hold a monopoly of power in Washington. Theology asserts propositions that cannot be proven true; ideologues hold stoutly to a worldview despite  being contradicted by what is generally accepted as
reality. When ideology and theology couple, their offspring are not always bad but they are always blind. And there is the danger: voters and politicians       alike, oblivious to the facts. Remember James Watt, President Ronald Reagan's first secretary of the interior? My favorite online environmental journal, the ever-engaging Grist, reminded us recently of how James Watt told the U.S. Congress that protecting natural resources was unimportant in light of the imminent return of Jesus Christ. In public testimony he said, "after the last tree is felled, Christ will come back."

Beltway elites snickered. The press corps didn't know what he was talking about. But James Watt was serious. So were his compatriots out across the country. They are the people who believe the Bible is literally true - one-third of the American electorate, if a recent Gallup poll is accurate. In this past election several million good and decent citizens went to the polls believing in the rapture index. That's right - the rapture index. Google it and you will find that the best-selling books in America today are the 12 volumes of the "Left Behind" series written        by the Christian fundamentalist and religious-right warrior Timothy LaHaye. These true believers subscribe to a fantastical theology concocted in the 19th century by a couple of immigrant preachers who took disparate passages from the Bible and wove them into a narrative that has captivated the imagination of  millions of Americans.

Its outline is rather simple, if bizarre (the British writer George Monbiot recently did a brilliant dissection of it and I am indebted to him for adding to my own understanding): Once Israel has occupied the rest of its "biblical lands," legions of the antichrist will attack it, triggering a final showdown in the valley of Armageddon. As the Jews who have not been converted are burned, the messiah will return for the rapture. True believers will be lifted out of their clothes and transported to Heaven, where, seated next to the right hand of God, they will watch their political and religious opponents suffer plagues of boils, sores, locusts and frogs during the several years of tribulation that follow. I'm not making this up. Like Monbiot, I've read the literature. I've reported on these people, following some of them from Texas to the West Bank. They are    sincere, serious and polite as they tell you they feel called to help bring the rapture on as fulfillment of    biblical prophecy. That's why they have declared solidarity with Israel and the Jewish settlements and backed up their support with money and volunteers. It's why the invasion of Iraq for them was a warm-up  act, predicted in the Book of Revelations where four angels "which are bound in the great river Euphrates will be released to slay the third part of man." A war with Islam in the Middle East is not something to be feared but welcomed - an essential conflagration on the road to redemption. The last time I Googled it, the rapture index stood at 144 - just one point below the critical threshold when the whole thing will blow, the son of God will return, the righteous will enter Heaven and sinners will be condemned to eternal hellfire.

So what does this mean for public policy and the environment? Go to Grist to read a remarkable work of reporting by the journalist Glenn Scherer - "The Road to Environmental Apocalypse." Read it and you will see
how millions of Christian fundamentalists may believe that environmental destruction is not only to be disregarded but actually welcomed - even hastened - as a sign of the coming apocalypse. As Grist makes clear, we're not talking about a  handful of fringe lawmakers who hold or are beholden to these beliefs. Nearly half the U.S. Congress before the recent election - 231 legislators in total and more since the election - are backed by the religious    right. Forty-five senators and 186 members of the 108th Congress earned 80 to 100 percent approval ratings from the three most influential Christian right advocacy groups. They include Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Assistant Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Conference Chair Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, Policy Chair Jon Kyl of Arizona, House Speaker Dennis Hastert and Majority Whip Roy Blunt. The only Democrat to score 100 percent with the Christian coalition was Sen. Zell Miller of Georgia, who recently quoted from the biblical book of Amos on the Senate floor: "The days will come, sayeth the Lord God, that I will send a famine in the land." He seemed to be relishing the thought.

 And why not? There's a constituency for it. A 2002 Time-CNN poll found that 59 percent of Americans believe that the prophecies found in the book of Revelations are going to come true. Nearly one-quarter think the Bible predicted the 9/11 attacks. Drive across the country with your radio tuned to the more     than 1,600 Christian radio stations, or in the motel turn on some of the 250 Christian TV stations, and you can hear some of this end-time gospel. And you will come to understand why people under the spell of such potent prophecies cannot be expected, as Grist puts it, "to worry about the environment. Why care about the earth, when the droughts, floods, famine and pestilence brought by ecological collapse are signs of the apocalypse foretold in the Bible? Why care about global climate change when you and yours will be rescued in the rapture? And why care about converting from oil to solar when the same God who performed the miracle of the loaves and fishes can whip up a few billion barrels of light crude with a word?"

Because these people believe that until Christ does return, the Lord will provide. One of their texts is a high school history book, America's Providential History. You'll find there these words: "The secular or socialist has a limited-resource mentality and views the world as a pie ... that needs to be cut up so everyone can get a piece." However, "[t]he Christian knows that the potential in God is unlimited and that there is no shortage of resources in God's earth ... while many secularists view the world as overpopulated, Christians know that God has made the
earth sufficiently large with plenty of resources to    accommodate all of the people." No wonder Karl Rove goes around the White House whistling that militant hymn, "Onward Christian Soldiers." He turned out millions of the foot soldiers on Nov. 2, including many who have made the apocalypse a powerful driving force in modern American politics.

RH: Of course Bush is too savvy to say this in his State of the Union Address, but was it in the back of his mind? Is this the US Middle East policy? It does not prove Bonapartism, since Napoleon had no such ideas, but the fact that US policies are now made largely in the Pentagon is a form of Bonapartism. But who is our Napoleon? Rumsfeld crowned with a cocked hat and riding a white horse?

Jon Kofas said: The president's "State of the Union" was designed not to merely justify dogmatic positions adopted in the past four years, but to institutionalize a Bonapartist-syle regime in the same manner that FDR,  Cameron Sawyer counters: Characterizing the current political direction of the U.S. as an institutional change is a convenient self-justification for Left.  But the result of this past November's elections, which handed solid control of the legislative as well as executive branch to the Republicans, is not institutional. Nor, indeed, were the results of a series of elections during the 1930's which routed the Republicans and gave F.D.R. a mandate to implement Keynesian economic policies.
But here the comparison with the FDR administration ends.  Because FDR's policy goals were far more sweeping, and were initially thwarted by the Supreme Court.  As a result, FDR did indeed take specific institutional measures in order to push forward his agenda, and he did not even shrink from proposals to increase the number of Supreme Court justices by fiat and pack the Supreme Court with members sympathetic to his agenda.  Similarly, FDR overhauled the national civil service and restructured the system of administrative decision-making.  In this he again tangled with the Supreme Court, wielding the Non-Delegation Doctrine, a legal precept which theretofore had (wisely!) limited the delegation of policy-making powers by legislatures to bureaucracies.  FDR won all of these battles and did achieve more or less permanent institutional changes, having swept away institutional barriers to interventionist, stastist economic policies, peculiar American protections of property rights, and a good part of American federalism to boot.  The power of the presidency was enormously increased, as well as the power of the federal bureaucracies.
The Bush administration has been incomparably more modest in its goals and in its methods.  It has not struggled with the Supreme Court and has not sought to change, in any material respect, the institutions of policy-making.  Its most significant institutional change has been the creation of the Department of Homeland Security which is a mere bureaucratic reshuffling of responsibilties without any larger significance, done, to boot, with a complete political consensus from left to right.  It is claimed that one unit of the executive branch, the Defense Department, is contributing more than usual input to policy-making.  So what?  This is not an institution of policy-making; it is internal to the executive branch, and the people get to change the executive branch every four years.  Furthermore, the people, even if they wanted to, cannot keep the same chief executive for more than two terms.  The idea that some internal process within one branch of government amounts to "institutionalized bonapartism" is absurd on its face.
But the main point of all of this is not that institutions are being changed, but that the people currently in power have supposedly strange religious beliefs which have supposedly alarming implications for policy.  It is even admitted that these "strange" religious beliefs are shared by a majority of the electorate.  So what does Mr. Moyers propose, concretely?  Disenfranchise voters who have religious beliefs he considers to be "strange"?  It seems that Mr. Moyers is dissatisfied with the results of democratic processes in this particular case; therefore for him it is "bonapartism" and not democracy.  The logical next step is to impose an "enlightened" dictatorship, the conscious or subconscious dream of many a leftish-thinking person.
This confusion of institutions and processes, on the one hand, with politics, on the other hand, is typical of the Left, which has internalized the Marxist dictum that in politics the ends justify the means -- that any means which brings "progress" in the Marxist understanding is justified.  From that point of view, institutions have no meaning as institutions; nor do processes of policy-making. For the Marxist, these are merely politics in another form; in other words, if a given institution produces a given result, it is good; otherwise, it is bad.  That is why we see the enthusiasm for democracy of leftish-thinking people to vary greatly depending on the particular results in particular cases.  Those of us who value democracy as an institution, and not merely for the results which it produces in particular cases, should be on our guard against such extremely pernicious notions.

Cameron Sawyer said: This confusion of institutions and processes, on the one hand, with politics, on the other hand, is typical of the Left, which has internalized the Marxist dictum that in politics the ends justify the means -- that any means which brings "progress" in the Marxist understanding is justified. John Heelan counters: If Cameron is correct in  his interesting thoughts, then it must come as a surprise that George H. W.Bush must also have relied on the Marxist dictum of "in politics the end justifies the means" when  pardoning those guilty of the Iran-Contra scandal, viz.: ""The common denominator of their motivation.... whether their actions were right or wrong.... was patriotism".   Thus it appears, in his view and in that of many others currently, any "means" is justified as long as the "ends" is "patriotic".

WAISers critical of President Bush asked: Is the U.S. Heading toward a Bonapartist-style regime? Bush fan Randy Black answers:Former President Bush simply relied on the U.S. Constitution regarding the Iran-Contra pardons. While he pardoned a few, others involved in the Iran-Contra scheme were not and served prison time.

Article 2 of the United States Constitution gives the President broad power 'to grant reprieves and pardons for offences against the United States.' Most Presidents grant hundreds of individual pardons during their terms of office, and a few, including Abraham Lincoln and Jimmy Carter, have granted blanket amnesties, another form of pardon, to a whole class of people. Pardons can be granted at any time, before or after a person has been convicted of a crime.

Thomas Jefferson, elected in 1800, pardoned all those convicted of violating the Alien and Sedition Acts enacted two years earlier. The Act expired in 1800, and was later found unconstitutional.

Abraham Lincoln, in 1863, and Andrew Johnson, in 1868, proclaimed amnesty for Confederate soldiers.

Andrew Johnson, in 1869, pardoned Dr. Samuel A. Mudd, the doctor who set John Wilkes Booth's broken leg after Mr. Booth assassinated President Lincoln.

Warren G. Harding, in 1921, pardoned Eugene V. Debs, a Socialist who was jailed for sedition, and dozens of others jailed under World War I sedition and espionage laws.

Richard M. Nixon, in 1971, commuted the prison term of Jimmy Hoffa, the former president of the teamsters' union, on the condition that Mr. Hoffa not resume union activities.

Gerald R. Ford, in 1974, granted a full pardon to Mr. Richard M. Nixon, who had resigned the Presidency because of the Watergate scandal.

Jimmy Carter, on the first day of his Presidency in 1977, proclaimed amnesty for those who evaded the draft during the Vietnam War. President Ford, earlier, had offered a more limited amnesty for the Vietnam War resisters.

Ronald Reagan, in 1989, pardoned George Steinbrenner 3d, the owner of the New York Yankees, who had been convicted on illegal contributions to Mr. Nixon's 1972 re-election campaign.

George Bush, in 1989, pardoned Armand Hammer, the chairman of Occidental Petroleum, who had pleaded guilty to making illegal contributions to Mr. Nixon's 1972 re-election campaign.

And then there were the 160+ pardons by Bill Clinton of convicted cocaine dealers, passing military secrets to foreign governments, tax cheats, bribing of a federal judge, securities and bank fraud, racketeering, bank robbers, firearms violations, campaign violations, and other assorted felons.

Numerous sources including:

RH: My! What a scoundrel Bill Clinton was!

Randy Black spoke of "the 160+ pardons by Bill Clinton of convicted cocaine dealers, passing military secrets to foreign governments, tax cheats, bribing of a federal judge, securities and bank fraud, racketeering, bank robbers, firearms violations, campaign violations, and other assorted felons".This caused me to exclaim: My! What a scoundrel Bill Clinton was! Cameron Sawyer explains: The obvious corruption of the Bill Clinton pardons is indeed shocking. But questionable pardons as a result of probably illicit deals, and even the outright sale of pardons, is a long American tradition.  Jimmy Hoffa, after Nixon's pardon, organized the Teamsters in support for Nixon's second campaign.  Armand Hammer, after Bush's pardon, made a very large contribution to the Reagan library.  The only president in recent memory who seems to have been really scrupulous about such things was Jimmy Carter.

For a reasonably even-handed, if florid discussion of this, see Alexander Cockburn's piece: Cockburn, of course, is a liberal, but is honest enough to tell the truth about the Clintons, while not sparing Republican presidents.

Power and corruption go hand in hand; corruption is merely using power for one's own gain, and seeking one's own gain is simply human nature.  A nation that has the power to limit the power of its rulers by means of democratic institutions ought to always be on its guard against opportunities for corruption.  The presidential pardon power ought to be eliminated, or reformed.

RH: All power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. unless you are touched by divine grace, as Carter was. Was devout Quaker Herbert Hoover? Born again Christian George W. Bush?

Miles Seeley says: I seem to be in disagreement with almost all of President Bush's policies. Nonetheless, I must agree with Cameron Sawyer in his analysis of how our government works and what changes have been made in the Bush administration. I wish the religious right and the neocons did not have the influence they do, and I wish the majority of American voters did not agree with them, but the election proved that they are giving the country what it wants (even if the election was pretty close, as so many are).

The Democrats have bumbled and stumbled along, and if they are to be returned to power they must revamp themselves. They had a message to deliver in the last election, but Kerry could not "connect", and Edwards was kept mostly on the sidelines. My hope, as a Democrat, is that Howard Dean can shake up a Democratic Party establishment that has lost touch with the people.

I think Dr. Rice was a terrible choice as SecState, but she seems to embrace every twist and turn of the Bush foreign policy even when it is dead wrong, as in Iraq. And Bush, in turn, seems to be just what the electorate wanted: a tough- talking, down-to-earth, "man of the people".  

Sometimes, when you get what you wish for, it all turns bad. We shall see.

Ronald Hilton 2004


last updated: February 28, 2005