Our Dangerous Drift Toward A 1-Party System

The Republicans are using the very liberties we espouse to foment a political monolith which advocates the suppression of free speech and independent thought in America. These men are, in fact, crafting a one-party, one-thought, one-idea system, where what we think and what we believe are dictated to us in daily talking points emailed from Washington. White conservative Christians, thirsting for “family values” and looking for the government to define them, have been bought lock, stock and Bibles by Karl Rove and his buddies. And that’s how the GOP stays in power: getting its message—line for line—to come out of the mouths of soccer moms; the admirable efficiency of the finely-tuned Republican machine often resonating with the rumble of tanks moving on Poland. The Black church simply must choose to become relevant again.

On August 11, 1984

President Ronald Reagan uttered what is now a famous but humorous gaffe prior to his weekly radio address. “My fellow Americans,” he said, not realizing his microphone was on, “I'm pleased to tell you today that I've signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes.” I didn't agree with his politics, and I thought his rhetoric was dangerous, I thought Nancy ran the country for eight years, and that he enjoyed being the actor reading off cue cards more than he did being the leader of the free world. But, on some level, I indeed admired him, if for no other reason than that he actually did believe in something and wasn't afraid to put those beliefs to the test. When terrorists blew up a Marines barracks in Lebanon, Reagan stood up and took the hit, refusing to lay off blame on the commanding officers. When the Iran-Contra scandal broke, Reagan chose not to cover it up, not to duck responsibility. He went on live TV and just took the hit. “If there is to be blame,” he said, “it properly rests here in this office and with this president. And I accept responsibility for the bad as well as the good.” An iconic figure, Reagan has been the template the Republican party has tried to replicate for many decades. President Bush has similarly been draped in Caesar's robes, but Bush, constantly denying responsibility and stubbornly sticking to tragically flawed polices while laying off blame everywhere he can, fails the character test. Efforts to paint Bush with the same brush as Reagan notwithstanding, I believe Reagan would have despised Dubya. He would have hated having his name mentioned in the same breath.

Reagan was the Anti-Nixon, the tortured, embittered and secretive self-loathing genius. Nixon was infinitely smarter and wiser than Reagan, but was crippled by deep emotional scars—insecurity and inadequacy—that drove him to ever increasing levels of risk and illegality. Consequently, George H.W. Bush, Reagan’s Vice President and successor, was the Anti-Reagan. While faithful to his president, George Bush clearly espoused radically different views on governing, at one point calling Reagan’s economic ideas “voodoo economics.” Nobody believed Bush’s political reversals once he joined Reagan’s ticket in a cosmetic effort to unify the party, and when Bush became president himself, he vastly disappointed America by not being the jolly Styrofoam cowboy Reagan had been. Rather, Bush was saddled with the dread consequences of Reagan’s affable disaffection with most facts. Reagan’s supply-side economics theory, the “voodoo” Bush had warned about a decade before, had created an unsustainable and false national prosperity. Reagan’s affable nature, his kind Uncle Fluffy-meets-John Wayne pre-packaging, was an easy sell to the American public. Bush, by contrast, was much more of an actual person. A president left with a real mess by Uncle Fluffy.

America punished Bush, whose ingenious and surgical prosecution of a Mideast war—one that could have left America economically crippled and politically despised—should have won him a Nobel. Bush’s patient and steadfast ejection of Saddam Hussein from Kuwait was a historic mix of diplomacy and military options, gathering some 34 countries into a powerful coalition that denied Hussein the kind of aggression that has historically led to global conflict. And he brought the troops him within a few short months.

But Bush’s 92 percent post-war approval rating couldn’t help him as the economy continued to crumble around him. Admitting the truth—that Bush was, essentially, paying the tab for Reagan’s voodoo economics—would have been politically disastrous. Reagan was, and remains to this day, a Republican demigod. Any attempts to put his presidency into real economic and political context are summarily resisted. Unable to defend himself from the charge of not being Ronald Reagan, enough of Bush’s conservative support split that a virtually unknown womanizing southern governor took the White House from him, an ignoble and bitter defeat for the last truly mature man to sit in the Oval office.

Bill Clinton’s presidency was a study of extremes. He presided over the greatest peacetime economic expansion since World War II. But he disgraced the office by cheating on his wife and then by lying to Congress about it. Telling the truth about his sexual contact with an intern would have been hurtful, embarrassing, and costly (Clinton was being sued by another woman he’d allegedly harassed, and denied such behavior in a deposition), but there would have been little if any legal consequences to it. By lying, Clinton gave the Republican-controlled Congress what it desperately wanted: a way to embarrass him and ruin his legacy by impeaching him.

Impeaching the sitting president is an act reserved for high crimes and misdemeanors. Clinton’s lying under oath certainly fit the misdemeanor description, but it was a real stretch. Anyone who had any sense of what was going on knew the impeachment was an abuse of power, using judicial process to accomplish a political goal. The Republicans used this tawdry business of Clinton's to accomplish what they couldn't do at the polls: destroy his presidency. And, astonishingly, the American public just sat back and watched them do it.

This marked the beginning of the new, darker and more ruthless Republican party. It is perhaps ironic to think that Clinton, our greatly flawed yet greatly beloved two-term Democrat, actually helped galvanize the Republican party. Their desperation to bring Clinton down, their bare knuckle abuse of power and their ability to browbeat Democrats into spineless sissies who actually stood with the Republicans like they were their friends, gave rise to the New Breed Republican. Having tasted blood, having abused their power and gotten away with it, having browbeaten the Democrats into sissies, a new, more ruthless, united front evolved. A beast that would steal two elections before systematically stripping American citizens of their rights and becoming the greatest single threat to American democracy in history.

Republican chest-beating about the rightness of the Clinton impeachment need look only to the present administration. Clinton lied about sexual contact with a college student. President George W. Bush lied about many, many things, not the least of which was our reasons for invading Iraq.

There now exist facts that tell us our president knowing lied to us, and deliberately sidestepped and short-changed diplomatic efforts in order to get the troops into Iraq within a predetermined operational window. This was a complete rush to war, a war the president had hoped to prosecute as nobly and cleanly as his father. But his own father warned against going into Bagdad and toppling the regime there, “If the international coalition that fought together in Desert Storm had exceeded the U.N. mandate ... if the United States had gone on its own into Baghdad, after Saddam and his forces had surrendered and agreed to disarm. The coalition would have instantly shattered and the political capital that we had gained as a result of our principled restraint ... would have been lost.”

Clinton’s lie cost him our respect. Bush’s lies cost, at this writing 2,307 American lives and a conservative estimate of 18,000 war wounded—lost limbs, eyes, hands. 33,489 estimated Iraqi civilians dead. All of it due to Bush’s obsession with Saddam Hussein and his advisors’ obsession with reshaping the Middle East into Western-style democracies (and making billions off of the oil in the process). Bush has spent $246 billion (at this writing) on the Iraq effort, which could have paid for 32 million children to attend a year of Head Start, bought 11 million students four-year college scholarships or built two million additional public housing units. All that money and all of those live lost, but there is no talk, none, about impeaching Bush. Or even censuring him for misleading the country to war.

Meanwhile, the Democratic party has, seemingly, fallen into the hands of dilettantes. There seem to be no deep thinkers, no brilliant minds, within the Democratic party. The Republicans have the brilliant Karl Rove, who masterminded dozens of brilliant sales campaigns and political maneuvers designed to make Bush’s bankrupt policies palatable to the American public and to hide the fact this is, hands down, the worst president in modern history. The fact that it has taken six years for major political voices to begin echoing that statement is a testament to Rove’s sheer brilliance and power. He is an amazing man and implacable strategist who has cleverly masked the emperor’s nudity for quite some time now.

It’s possible that, now faced with political challenges of his own, Rove’s distraction is central to the president’s spiraling popularity. An independent investigation into who leaked the identity of a CIA operative continues to eat towards the Vice President—who has tossed his chief of staff Lewis “Scooter” Libby under the wheels of the bus—but the true target of the investigation seems obviously to be Karl Rove. But, Rove is the Darth Vader of political warfare. You don’t even mention his name unless you’ve got the firepower to take him on. So the investigators are going at Rove in an oblique fashion, targeting (obviously) the Vice President. But the goal is Rove. Because, once they get Rove, they get Bush.

The real problem in America isn’t the Republicans, though. It’s the Democrats. The country was founded on a two-party system to protect us from suffering under a fascist dictatorship. The political process is supposed to be adversarial, by which means all views are represented and power is shared. But power really isn’t being shared. The Republicans are simply running the tables because the Democrats are horribly disorganized and ununified. Almost by definition, Republicans stick together. They are, at the end of the day, soulless liars who parrot the party line, no matter how transparently ridiculous it is. They behave a lot like communists in that the good of the party is more important than individualism or individual ideas, and they turn against their own who stray from the exacting standards of their political agenda.

Democrats, on the other hand, embrace free thought. Which is why there is less focus and less unity, as Democrats encourage a plurality of voices and ideas—principles this country was founded upon, but lousy political strategy. The Democrats have no voice. Have no agenda. They complain about the war but offer no real solutions or alternatives. Instead, they just wait for a political opening—selling port rights to the United Arab Emirates—only to find themselves cut off at the knees when Bush orchestrates a back-door recusal by the UAE. The Democrats are now sputtering on the Sunday shows with nothing but whiny complaints about a deal that’s been done away with with a minimum of political spoils for them.

The Republican threat of the hour is Senator John McCain, a likeable moderate and war hero with a great record. He is the political front runner and presumptive nominee, which is precisely why the Republicans must now eat him. Over the next year or so, the Republicans will draw McCain in closer, embracing him as a brother, and perhaps anointing him as Vice President when Dick Cheney conveniently steps down sometime next year (which, I guarantee, he will). This is a trap for McCain, who is the GOP’s worst nightmare: an independent thinker with political clout. They desperately need him to stay down on the farm in order for them to get Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist or perhaps even Florida Governor Jeb Bush elected, but they definitely don’t want McCain even delivering pizzas to the Oval office because McCain will not be led around by his nose the way Bush has been.

The smart money, now, is on the GOP nominating McCain and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. This would be a killer ticket and virtually impossible to beat, as it would suck the wind out of the seemingly inevitable Democratic Party nomination of New York Senator Hillary Clinton.

Huge political scandals have broken out, and now the White House and congressional spin masters are up to their ears patching up the leaky ship of state, delaying the trial of lobbyist Jack Abramoff—accused of massive and extensive bribery of Republican elected officials—until after the 2006 midterm elections. The FEMA tapes, released last week, revealed the president was, in fact, warned that the New Orleans levee system could possibly collapse, which exposed the president’s consistent denials that anyone could have foreseen the disaster as lies. The administration’s Boogie Man scare tactics—essentially painting all Muslims and Arabs as terrorists—backfired on the president in a major way, torpedoing a routine deal to have an Arab-owned company manage several ports in the U.S.—a deal even President Clinton said, recently, posed no threat to U.S. national security. But the White House has spent five years managing—note that word, managing—the terror threat: keeping us just scared enough to re-elect the president and to keep our attention off of the emerging revelations of the president’s incompetence and the vast corruption both in his administration and in Congress. There is, indeed, a lot for the Republican party to overcome between now and 2008, but they do have one thing going for them: there is, virtually, no Democratic party. The Democratic party is made up of largely People Who Are Not Republicans. That’s not the same thing as being a unified party that has actual ideas. They have no ideas. Hillary is their best idea at the moment, and she’s a terrible idea in that her Ice Queen persona fairly energizes the GOP faithful, and that she doesn’t have the political savvy to know when to keep her mouth shut. All Hillary had to do at Coretta Scott King's funeral was nod her head, smile, wave and sit down—she’d be half a dozen points up in the polls. Instead, her ego allowed her to follow Bill Clinton—something not even the sitting president wants to do—and she hurt herself, seriously, among her strongest and most loyal base—African Americans—who discovered, in a shocking moment of clarity, that Hillary is, in fact, not Bill.

Which isn’t to say we won’t vote for her, I’m sure many of us will vote for whoever the Democrats nominate, but, black America, statistically, does not watch the news. Many of us, however, watched the King funeral. Many of us have never heard Mrs. Clinton speak before the king funeral. She shouldn’t have spoken. Once she received the Rock Star anointing of the crowd—an extended standing ovation once someone shouted out, “Our next president!” —she should have sat down. There was nowhere to go from there, no political upside to her actually speaking. If the applause level after she spoke was less than the extended roaring standing ovation before she spoke, that would hang around her neck. If her speech was not highlighted during the evening news, that would land a telling blow to her stature. Both things were true. The applause after her remarks was nowhere near the riot that proceeded it, and most news broadcasts clipped Hillary's remarks as, well, unremarkable. She blew it. It was a politically arrogant thing to do, to expose how ordinary you are.

And it exposes a bigger problem: the political indifference of African Americans. Mind you, white America is just as indifferent, but in a different way. The red state-blue state thing has become so entrenched, our loyalties so tragically polarized, that, in large measure, people who think of themselves as Republicans are used to being told what to do and what to think. Meanwhile, people who identify themselves are Democrats tend to squabble among one another. That’s what makes the Republican party so hard to beat: they are a legion of lemmings; talking heads who, one after the other, say virtually the same thing. Flag-waving soccer moms talking about Bush’s “war on terror,” who actually believe operations in Iraq will actually protect us from being hit, 911-style, again.

The war in Iraq has absolutely, positively, no bearing on the networks that created the 9/11 attacks, other than that the war has provided them with millions of fresh recruits; homeless Iraqi orphans who will grow up hating us and waiting for a chance for revenge. The president has created millions more bin Ladens, millions more terrorists-in-training, by prosecuting his clumsy and unnecessary aggression against a state with no material connection to the 9/11 terrorists. He has spent, at this writing, $246 billion on the war, with no end in sight, while bin Laden remains at large.

It is disturbing and sad for me to see my local news anchors, here, parroting the GOP party line, referring to the Iraq war as the “war on terror” as though that were so, and coloring their flag-waving, antiseptic presentation of the war to this town of military families. They, and news affiliates like them all over the country, are simply extensions of the president’s propaganda machine. It is simply journalism at its worst. And that’s how the GOP stays in power: getting its message—line for line—to come out of the mouths of soccer moms. It’s like an invasion of Pod People, to hear Ma and Pa America speaking lines written by Karl Rove. They remind me of children taught to believe in Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy. They don’t read. They don’t inquire. They just do what they’re told. By the news anchors, the politicians. By their pastors.

The most frightening thing about these day and times is the emerging single-party system and how we seem powerless or at least unwilling to stand against it. I believe the way the Republican party has done business these past years has been in direct contravention to the spirit of the U.S. constitution, falling just short of fascism as the Republican party programs soccer moms and uses our own freedoms against us, most notoriously with the president's exploitation of the 9/11 attacks for his own partisan political goals. Republican meddling in key judicial decisions prompted former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor to warn that acceptance of such practice can give rise to an emerging “dictatorship” here in America, warning, “...we should avoid those ends by avoiding those beginnings.” Congress just renewed the dangerous and controversial Patriot Act which grants the president sweeping powers he'd not have if not for the looming (and, to some extent manufactured) terrorist threat. Under this Act, the president can designate anyone he chooses as an enemy combatant and then jail that person for an indeterminate length of time without charge or legal representation. For five years now, the president has run a secret domestic surveillance program, where he can install wiretaps without warrants and the administration has sued Google to force the giant search engine to turn over records of searches we've done, so the government can further look into our reading and viewing habits, financial transactions and personal correspondence.

These men are, in fact, exploiting these wartime powers to fuel a political machine, a one-party, one-thought, one-idea system. Challenges to the party line are not to be tolerated. Flourishing, as the National Socialist German Workers Party once did, in an open society, these men are ripping us off in broad daylight. Hiding nothing, they are systematically deconstructing the Constitution before our very eyes.

Black America seems to pretend all of this isn't about us. It's about somebody else. It's about White Folk. Any black person who doesn't understand the Pod People Rush Limbaugh co-opting of white America is a direct threat to our most basic liberties is ignorant beyond conception. The conservative climate in America is all about “family values,” which is code for “white family values.” It's all a yearning for Leave It To Beaver and Father Knows Best and the days when black people were neither seen nor heard.

Liberals Versus Conservatives
The rubbery, double-chinned, arrogant conservatives truly frighten me in their simple-ness, their ignorant parroting of the GOP party line. By any reasonably objective standard, most any debate between a conservative and a moderate or liberal will find the cogent argument, the more intellectual and logical argument, on the liberal side, while the conservatives tend to repeat practiced talking points and choose emotion over intellect. Even faced with irrefutable facts, conservatives will tow the party line, no matter how patently ridiculous the claim or how patently obvious the lie. They're in it up to their eyeballs and there's just no talking them down.

Liberals, by contrast, rarely enjoy the unity and uniformity that makes the conservatives such a palpable threat. Liberals do not wish to offend, do not wish to exclude. Conservatives, by their very nature, exclude anyone and anything that hasn't been cleared by Central Command. Liberals make room for a mosaic of voices and ideas. Conservatives know only one absolute truth—theirs. They make absolutely no allowance for the possibility that their are any number of rights and any number of wrongs. Conservatives see hard edges and hard truths. Yes and no. Liberals see Maybe.

By continuing to outfight and outsmart the Democrats and liberals, the conservatives will continue to snowball their movement until the country becomes, in effect, one party—the GOP. And what we say, what we think, will be issued from Washington in daily GOP talking points, while dissenting views will be presented, if at all, as extremist and negligible.

Which, by definition, is fascism.

Ironically, the only real way to take on the Republican monolith is for the Democrats or some third party to become a monolith in and of itself. Which is to say, the fascist tactics, the mind control, the rigid message control, the intolerance practiced with military fervor by the well-oiled GOP machine must me met, head on, with a machine of equal might. In other words, we’d have to begin practicing a form of fascism ourselves, policing our own message and rigidly maintaining our focus.

Which means we lose, anyway. We lose our plurality. We lose our diversity. We lose everything that is unique and wonderful about us. In order to slay the dragon, we become a dragon ourselves; matching cynicism for cynicism and hardening into the very thing we’ve united against.

All of which exposes the severe problem with the American ideal. In these days of fast-food news and information, evil men (and women) will use the very liberties we espouse to foment a monolithic agenda that the goes on to silence diverse voices and suppress the very liberties that allowed their agenda in the first place. It’s been said that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. It is likely that men in power will stop at nothing to retain that power—even compromising the very principles the nations was founded upon. The saddest and most tragic bi-product of Karl Rove’s brilliance is the suppression of free speech and independent thought in America, the admirable efficiency of the finely-tuned Republican machine often resonates with the rumble of tanks moving on Poland.

Democrats Versus Republicans
Sadly, the vast majority of us Church Folk are just unconcerned. We’ve got the Word Network on all day, watching one phony after another using God to line their pockets, before heading off to church where we do nothing, noting, but repeat ourselves week after week, and where Karl Rove’s name has, likely, never been mentioned. Which is, precisely, what the Republican party is counting on. They fully understand our rights under the constitution to be lazy and uniformed. While the Democrats play towards our nation’s ideals, the Republicans understand the true nature of the American people and play towards that nature. The Democrats always try and sell us hope. The Republicans always succeed by selling us fear. The Democrats think conceptually. The Republicans think practically and cynically. The Democrats want us to think for ourselves. The Republicans know that’s too much work, so they issue out talking points, telling us what we should think. And those talking points seem to be dictated by corporate interest groups, to whom the Republicans regularly and baldly sell out our national interests.

It's interesting to note that Reagan's 1984 Republicans enjoyed a laugh about bombing the Soviet Union. Bush's 2006 Republicans actually want to do it. Reagan's 1984 Republicans were freshly bruised from Vietnam and Watergate and those terrible lessons learned. Bush's 2006 Republicans are war hawks anxious to define American policy at the end of a gun. Reagan's 1984 Republicans brought down the Soviet Union. Bush's 2006 Republicans used the cover of an American tragedy to invade a sovereign country that has never attacked us in naive hope of (1) avenging Bush's daddy, (2) installing a western-style democracy, and (3) snatching the oil—and thus reducing our dependence on Saudi Arabia. It astonishes me how simple-minded and ridiculous Bush and his advisors were to actually think any of those three objectives could be reached, and, even more astonishing that they never imagined the quagmire they now find themselves stuck in, with, even more astonishingly, no exit strategy in sight. Reagan's 1984 Republicans are the older, wiser ghosts of Vietnam and Watergate Bush's 2006 Republicans arrogantly dismiss as over the hill and irrelevant, only to now find themselves embroiled in their own Vietnam and their own Watergate.

The common denominator between the eras is the clueless president. The difference being Reagan had Nancy and Ed Meese. Laura Bush seems very nice but I have doubts she advises the president in any material way, and Bush seems to wave off most any substantive advice his father has, while he's surrounded himself with politically greedy sycophants who already have their eye on Teheran. Much as we'd like to think of Reagan as the daffy buffoon, remember the Berlin Wall did come down largely as a result of his efforts. Name me one substantial positive or effective foreign policy objective President Bush has achieved in his six years in office.

Our secret weapon, of course, is the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit is like a spiritual Geiger counter that leads us towards truth and away from lies and danger. Most of us fall into diverse temptations and difficulties in our lives because we don’t involve God in our decisions. Oh, big ones, maybe, like a move or buying a house or something. But how many of us consult with God while we’re brushing our teeth? While we’re planning our day? Where would You like me to go today, Lord? What can I do for you today, Lord? How many of us pray to God to reveal truth to us? We pray for stuff. Please Give Me More Stuff. I don’t want more stuff. I want more wisdom. I want more truth.

If we would just stay in tune with the Holy Spirit, we would learn to recognize His voice when He is speaking. We would be more in touch with our instincts, with our conscience. Frankly, we’d cuss a lot less. We’d be a lot more patient with each other. And we wouldn’t embrace political messages we know for a fact are simply untrue. We'd have the wisdom to know when we were being lied to and the courage to do something about it. We wouldn't just sit there, Sunday morning, and ingest whatever talking points were emailed from Washington the night before to pastors who've been brainwashed and bought off.

Through Christ, we can put a stop to this. Through Him, we can protect ourselves and safeguard our future by protecting the very liberty the majority party is wire-tapping and locking away. They're not even hiding it; the pernicious and capricious repression of free thought, free speech and free enterprise is happening very publicly, the news blared from headlines and TV screens. But we could care less. we're unmotivated, uninformed, lazy. Our pastors are unmotivated, uniformed and lazy. Our churches are impotent self-parodies of the great and powerful institutions that once brought these powerful leaders to their knees and forced change in this country. Now, we are safely and routinely ignored.

The only people who can do anything about this is us. The only people who can put a stop to this is us. Me, you, them. But, first, we have to care enough to turn off the WB and BET and start reading, yes, reading. Reading, learning, growing. Asking the tough questions. Demanding the tough answers. Voting—not just our party lines but voting smartly and demanding results from our elected leaders or voting them out when we don't get them.

All of which requires a fundamental paradigm shift in Black America from a culture of observers to an activist culture. In other words, getting up off of the sofa. demanding more from our leaders, starting with the pastor. The church shouldn't be a perpetual re-run—the same circus every week, the same foolishness, the same gossip. But not one word about Dubai Ports World or the genocide underway in Darfur. We are so very much like children, accepting whatever our parents tell us as truth, completely uninterested in world events and having not much sense of our own responsibility to shape them. This is especially tragic in the context of the people who suffered and died in order that we could have the rights we are now casually allowing to be stripped from us. It's just as if we were all being publicly lynched, and none of us seem disturbed enough about it to even get off the sofa.

We can do better. We can put a stop to this. But we've got to find our voice. we've got to find our will. All of which begins at home and, most especially, at the church. The black church simply must choose to become relevant again. If we tapped into even a fraction of the power we, as Christians, as join heirs in Christ, have, we could derail this seemingly unstoppable force. We could ensure America remains a place where every voice is heard, where every dream can be realized.

Until we do, we'll continue to see our rights diminished and our voices silenced by people who are smart enough to know how lazy and dumb we are. All we need do to prove them right is nothing at all. Pick up the remote, turn on the WB. Giggle at Mo'Nique. while our brothers and sisters are summarily hanged in the street.

Christopher J. Priest
13 March 2006