This January we will begin deciding on our next presidential candidates, and we need to select them wisely. Hence, we need to remember how we got stuck with the likes of George W. Bush in the 2000 campaign and the following presidential elections. We don’t want anyone of his caliber ever again!
Everyone could blame the five usual suspects on the U. S. Supreme Court: William Rehnquist, Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, and, yes, even Anthony Kennedy and Sandra Day O’Conner. Many of us thought those last two would have known better, but they let us down. Seven years ago, in a disturbing 5 to 4 vote, they ended the re-count of the highly suspicious Florida vote and declared Mr. Bush to be the President-elect. Justice Scalia, Dick Cheney’s hunting buddy, admitted, “I was glad to be able to do it.” That statement only emphasized the partisan nature of the decision.
It is easy to also blame Ralph Nader. Had he not been on the Florida ballot in 2000 as a third-party candidate, those who voted for him would have almost certainly cast their votes for Al Gore. Nader ran for president partly because he didn’t think Al Gore was as strong on environmental issues as he needed to be. Whereas the former vice president went on to earn the Nobel Peace Prize for directing attention to global warming, the once great consumer advocate seems to have lost his reason. Mr. Nader’s third-party candidacy resulted in our getting a president more hostile to the environment than Ronald Reagan and probably the most consciously anti-environmental president in our history!
The neoconservatives’ use of religion was also important in getting Mr. Bush into office. The neo-cons are followers of philosopher Leo Strauss who believed that religion was needed to control the majority of the population so as to prevent individualism and dissent. He also believed that the leaders need not personally believe the religious views they professed – in fact, it was preferable that they did not.
A good example of this was the Republicans’ shameless appeal to the homophobic vote in the Election of 2004. Hardly anyone believes W. Bush or his campaign mastermind Karl Rove is personally prejudiced against gays. But Rove explained to the leader of the Log Cabin (gay) Republicans that his polls indicated that if they could get anti-gay marriage amendments on the ballots in key states, it would help get out the vote for Bush.
During a debate in 2000, Mr. Bush was asked which philosopher had influenced him the most. He quickly responded, “Jesus Christ.” He also liked to tell the story about how he turned his life around after a walk with Billy Graham. He said that Rev. Graham asked him, “George, are you right with God?” Mr. Bush claimed to have responded, “No, but I would like to be.” However, according to Billy Graham, that conversation never took place! Politically, though, it was a great story.
Ronald Reagan allowed the religious political extremists to take control of the Republican National Convention in 1984, but he only used them for political purposes. He would routinely demagogue their issues like anti-abortion and school prayer, but he never really pressed Congress to pass legislation or add amendments to the constitution to further their theocratic agenda.
Not so with W. Bush. He allowed Pat Robertson’s religious-political zealots to infiltrate the executive agencies. Hundreds of graduates from Robertson’s Regents University law school have been given political appointments throughout our government. One of them, Monica Goodling, was instrumental in the firing of nine U.S. attorneys that were not considered to be “loyal Bushies.” Mr. Bush also created what Representative Ron Paul called a “Department of Religion.” In deliberate violation of the principle of separation of church and state, the Office of Faith-Based Initiatives was set up to divert tax dollars to organizations run by religious groups.
Rudy Giuliani, who happened to be mayor of New York City on 9/11, and Mike Huckabee, who waged a personal war against obesity and won, are the current beneficiaries of Republican exploitation of religion. Pat Robertson has endorsed Giuliani, whom he apparently expects to continue most of Bush-Cheney’s neo-con policies. (Giuliani has the fanatical neo-con Norman Podhoretz as a top advisor, and it was Podhoretz who said he thinks he persuaded Bush to attack Iran before he leaves office.) Jerry Falwell, Jr., has endorsed Huckabee, a fundamentalist preacher who campaigns as a “Christian leader” with the requisite anti-women’s rights and anti-gay rights credentials.
Possibly the most blame for the Texas governor being inflicted upon us goes to a group of other Republican state governors. In alphabetical order they included the following: Edgar (IL), Engler (MI), Pataki (NY), Racicot (MT), Ridge (PA), Thompson (WI), Weld (MA), and Whitman (NJ). They all wanted to prevent the Republican nomination in 2000 from going to anyone in the House or Senate. The congressional Republicans had proved to be irresponsible and downright malicious in their mindless, obsessive hatred of Bill Clinton and their contempt for the will of the American people.
The governors hoped that picking a seemingly harmless, likeable nonentity like George W. Bush would prevent the sorry record of the Republican Congress from being a campaign issue. What they did not anticipate was how easily Vice President Cheney’s neoconservatives would mold Mr. Bush into a true believer in their dangerous agenda.
Fortunately, there are only three current Republican candidates who were among those villains in the Congress who voted to impeach President Clinton (Ron Paul) or who voted to convict him (John McCain and Fred Thompson). Since then, those three have made some effort at redemption. Although a party loyalist against Clinton, libertarian Ron Paul voted against the neoconservatives’ misnamed PATRIOT Act, the Iraq War authorization, and the anti-gay marriage amendment. A rock-ribbed Republican in spite of his maverick persona, John McCain publicly opposed Bush-Cheney’s un-American support of torture. And, while his vote to convict Clinton made it clear that actor Fred Thompson was not a real defender of our constitutional system, at least he’s played one on TV (Law and Order).
The Republican Party is controlled by a tripartite coalition: (1) the Neoconservatives, who essentially favor a dictatorship – an unchecked chief executive; (2) the Religious Political Extremists, who support a theocracy – rule by a particular religion’s beliefs; and (3) Wall Street, or Big Business, which wants to prolong its plutocracy – rule by the few who are wealthy. If we are to have any hope of changing the direction our country is going, we must select a presidential candidate who can successfully challenge those three groups – a task that won’t be easy. That coalition is determined to achieve its agendas, and it will do whatever it takes to remain in power.
by David Offutt
A version of this essay was published January 2, 2008,
in the El Dorado News-Times as a letter to the editor.