Monday, January 16, 2006

Mark Crispin Miller, Christo-Fascism, and Bush's War on Democracy

A Buzzflash Interview:

The subversion of electoral democracy ... takes vast planning and tremendous effort, and a ton of laundered cash. In short, it has to be that movement's main concern; and I believe that it is Bush/Cheney's main concern, and that it is the main concern of the regime's most fervent backers.

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Well, Mark Crispin Miller is one of our favorite renaissance men filled with passion. Miller may be a professor at NYU, but if you transplanted his passion and stamina into the backbones of the Democrats in the U.S. Senate, you wouldn't have a silent coup taking place now in the United States. In his "J'accuse" book on the 2004 election, Fooled Again: How the Right Stole the 2004 Election & Why They'll Steal the Next One Too (Unless We Stop Them), Miller documents how the Republicans likely stole a second presidential election, just in a more subtle and complicated way than they did in 2000. To those who dismiss such claims as "over the top," BuzzFlash responds, if the Republicans stole the presidency in 2000 by hot wiring the Supreme Court of the United States, why wouldn't they do it again if they could? They would -- and they probably did.

This interview is being posted in two parts.

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BuzzFlash: Your book, Fooled Again: How the Right Stole the 2004 Elections & Why They'll Steal the Next One Too (Unless We Stop Them), makes a convincing case that Bush/Cheney stole the last election. It's not mere speculation, but a solid survey of appalling facts, all of them carefully documented. And yet there are a lot of people out there, many of them liberals, who seem unable or unwilling to accept the possibility that this administration would resort to vast election fraud.

But that view seems ever more absurd, as the Bush Republicans keep making flagrant moves to thwart democracy by rigging the electoral system to their own advantage. For instance, Bush has recently made two astonishing appointments to the Federal Elections Commission. One is Hans von Spakovsky, who helped Bush/Cheney steal the Florida election in 2000. The other is Robert D. Lenhard, the husband of Viveca Novak-the Time reporter who tipped off Karl Rove's lawyer that Matt Cooper, her colleague at the magazine, knew that Rove had outed Valerie Plame. So Rove went back to testify again to the grand jury, to tell them he had come across an e-mail that reminded him that he did meet with Cooper. So now the husband of this woman has been nominated to the FEC! What are we to make of such gross impropriety? Bill Clinton never could have got away with it.

Mark Crispin Miller: Let me begin by making a general point. When a movement tries to force an alien agenda on a democratic nation, it must devote itself full-time to that endeavor. The subversion of electoral democracy must be the movement's overriding goal, because it's very difficult to disenfranchise a majority. It takes vast planning and tremendous effort, and a ton of laundered cash. In short, it has to be that movement's main concern; and I believe that it is Bush/Cheney's main concern, and that it is the main concern of the regime's most fervent backers.

Because the US press refuses to go near the issue of election fraud, it's easy to assume that Bush & Co.'s subversion of the last election was just one of many dark endeavors. That assumption would be dangerously wrong. The subversion of American democracy is the primary interest of the Bush Republicans, whose vast electoral shenanigans were but a part of their ongoing program - a program not at all conservative, but anti-democratic and anti-republican.

So the appointment of those two party agents to the FEC is an especially brazen example of the Busheviks' subversion of American democracy. Of course, the right would say, and probably has said, that such a move is merely a pre-emptive strike against those evil liberals who would stack the FEC to further their nefarious agenda. But that would merely be the usual projective nonsense. Bush/Cheney's moves against the FEC are moves against the possibility of real American democracy. In this they are identical to the regime's deliberate placement of religious maniacs and corporate goons atop the entire edifice of federal power-slash-and-burn types running the Department of Interior and EPA, creationists and anti-sex fanatics running scientific agencies, and so on. Such flagrant strokes against the public interest are not motivated just by greed alone, but by a deeper animus against democracy itself - or, to be more accurate, against the whole program of the Enlightenment.

BuzzFlash: Is anything more brazen or cynical than such appointments?

Mark Crispin Miller: Brazen, certainly; but I am not convinced that it's entirely cynical. This is a faith-based movement, which means that we cannot just write off everything they do as mere manipulation by cynics who secretly know better. That some of them are Machiavellian there is no doubt, but there's a pathological component, an apocalyptic drive, that we ignore at our own peril.

What often seems to be mere breath-taking cynicism is, as well, a sort of self-delusion, or self-hypnosis, common to fanatical movements of all kinds, religious and otherwise. These are people who themselves are in the very audience they're always working to arouse. On some level they believe that, if they say something repeatedly and loud enough, it will not just make everybody else believe it, but it will actually make it true. It is that faith-based self-deception that makes the movement deeply frightening - and incomprehensible - to rational observers. There is no arguing with that mentality, which poses a far greater worldly threat than all the humanistic interests on Earth combined.

They respect no worldly powers other than themselves, and so they've set about the reconstruction of our government, to operate it wholly by themselves in their own interests. If it were up to them, there would be no special prosecutors. There would be no independent authorities capable of passing any judgment on them or of enforcing any rules that they would rather not follow. If it were up to them, there would be no parties but their own. It's staggering, but surely less astonishing than the refusal of "the liberal media" to give it the attention it deserves. The Bush regime could not do what it has been doing if there were the kind of blunt debate and spirited resistance that we have every right to look for in a rational democratic polity.

BuzzFlash: Bushevism is completely un-American: "I am the king. Therefore, I'm the law." It was precisely to reject such monarchism that the US was, as a republic, created in the first place.

Mark Crispin Miller: Absolutely right. The movement really wants to take us back to some time prior to the Enlightenment - back to an imaginary past predating the rise of capitalism itself (and, of course, the rise of socialism). That longing differentiates the hard-core members of the movement from the various corporate powers that are just trying to exploit the whole reactionary impetus for profit's sake.

Critics on the left, I think, are often prone to minimize the former, to read the entire crisis simply in economistic terms, and write the Christo-fascists off as mere fringe-dwellers whom the corporate powers are carefully manipulating. That critique is itself a rationalist projection, as such critics can't imagine, or won't accept, that irrational actors can wield power successfully, and for irrational reasons. In any case, those on the left who argue thus are not sufficiently informed. The Christo-fascist movement has its own agenda, and in realizing it has made tremendous progress (as it were) in Washington. Esther Kaplan's book, With God on Their Side, makes this quite clear, as does Stephenie Hendricks' important monograph, Divine Destruction, which explores the theocratic basis of Bush/Cheney's anti-environmentalism. Michelle Goldberg's also working on a book that I, for one, can't wait to read.

Theocracy aside, that authoritarian posture - "I am the king, and therefore I'm the law" - comes naturally to Bush himself. He gave a startling demonstration of his kingly attitude at his press conference last month, when a reporter asked him an entirely reasonable question: "If the global war on terror is going to last for decades, as has been forecast, does that mean that we're going to see, therefore, a more or less permanent expansion of the unchecked power of the executive in American society?" His Majesty was most annoyed: "First of all, I disagree with your assertion of unchecked power," he said, and then elaborated:

BUSH: Hold on for a second, please. There is the check of people being sworn to uphold the law, for starters. There is oversight. We're talking to Congress all the time. And on this program, to suggest there's unchecked power is not listening to what I'm telling you. I'm telling you, we have briefed the United States Congress on this program a dozen times.

This is an awesome responsibility, to make decisions on behalf of the American people. And I understand that. And we'll continue to work with the Congress, as well as people within our own administration, to constantly monitor a program such as the one I described to you, to make sure that we're protecting the civil liberties of the United States. To say "unchecked power" basically is ascribing some kind of dictatorial position to the president, which I strongly reject. I just described limits on this particular program, and that's what's important for the American people to understand. I am doing what you expect me to do and, at the same time, safeguarding the civil liberties of the country.

Clearly, Bush doesn't know what "unchecked" means, not just because he's ignorant, but because he cannot comprehend the notion of some entity beyond himself, some entity outside "his" branch of government, exerting any influence at all upon his actions. As far as he's concerned, it's his job, and his alone, to "safeguard" our civil liberties, just as it's his job to wage war against the Evil Ones. He thinks that "oversight" means that His Majesty tells Congress what he wants to tell them, and does so when he feels like doing it.

Such entirely voluntary notification, and the fact that His Highness's "people" have "sworn to uphold the law," amounts to "oversight" in Bush's universe. To point out that the Constitution has it otherwise would make no difference to this president, as he respects the Constitution just as much as respects the Congress, both being separate from the holy covenant of Bush and God.

Small wonder that the people of this nation never voted to elect or re-elect George W. Bush as president. He lacks a fundamental understanding of the principles on which the American republic was founded. He just doesn't get it. And he gets angry if you even question him, which is itself further disproof of his bizarre contention that his power is somehow "checked" by his own regal self-restraint.

Again, Bush gets away with such tyrannical absurdity because the press won't call him on it. Neither will the Democrats.

BuzzFlash: Let's talk some more about the silence of the press. Last year it was reported in the Boston Globe that one James Tobin, who was Bush/Cheney's Northeast campaign coordinator in 2004, was convicted of overseeing a phone-jamming operation in the 2002 elections in New Hampshire. Tobin's aim was to thwart the Democrats' get-out-the-vote efforts in four cities in the south part of the state. The conviction was reported in the Boston Globe and by AP, and that was it. The press ignored the story, even though it seemed to point to a far larger, deeper scandal. According to the Globe, the RNC was paying Tobin's sky-high legal fees - somewhere over $700,000 by August of 2005. By now, the total may well be a million dollars.

This is not a major story? The man who ran Bush/Cheney's re-election campaign in New England is convicted of election fraud for having violated voters' rights two years before, also in New England; and his sky-high legal fees are paid by the Republican National Committee, which is, these days, an arm of the Bush/Cheney White House. Why is this not a story? Officially it is as if it didn't happen.

Mark Crispin Miller: That's a good example of precisely the kind of evidence that the Republicans - and many Democrats, and the US media - keep telling us does not exist. There's copious evidence of systematic and deliberate fraud committed by the Bush Republicans in the last three elections. The press is only just now starting to concede the possibility that fraud played a large role in the first of them, in 2000. As for the substantial evidence of fraud by the Republicans in 2002 and 2004 - well, there isn't any, according to the Democratic Party and the media. Thus, on this issue, the prevailing view of the entire political establishment, the Fourth Estate included, comes directly from Bush/Cheney's talking points.

Here's another pertinent story that the press recently ignored - a story about 2004. A few weeks ago, it came out that ACORN [Association for Community Organizations for Reform Now] had prevailed in all three trials - two in Florida, one in Ohio - where they'd been sued for "voter fraud" by GOP-connected law firms. The last of the three cases was "dismissed with prejudice." This is highly significant, since ACORN's legendary criminality had long been trumpeted by right-wing propagandists as a veritable sea of evidence that all the fraud out there was Democratic handiwork. Nearly all the lurid propaganda tales of Democratic "voter fraud" concerned ACORN. Vented by a multitude of rightist pols and pundits, those tales ended up in countless mainstream news reports that airily referred to fraud committed "by both sides" in the 2004 campaign.

The point of such fake "balance" was, of course, to skirt the inconvenient fact that the season's vast election fraud was primarily the work of the Republicans. Indeed, even if the propaganda stories about ACORN were all true, there would still be no comparison between such trivial Democratic monkey business and the systematic and collective perfidy of the Bush Republicans.

In any case, those propaganda stories were not true. The GOP's failure to make a single winning case against ACORN is important, but that story has gone largely unreported by the US press - which, as Fooled Again makes clear, also has ignored the copious and specific evidence of vast election fraud by the Republicans, and of vast free-lance election fraud by party members at the grass-roots level. There is no evidence of anything remotely similar among the Democrats.

Let me note here that I do not regard this difference between the parties since 2000 as evidence that the Democrats are somehow morally superior to the Republicans. Hell, I'm from Chicago, like you! I know very well what Democrats have done throughout their history. Election fraud is nothing new, and has been rampant "on both sides" for quite a while. But since 2000 it's been the Republicans, and not the Democrats, who have gone in for massive fraud. Indeed, for this old native of Cook County, it's been quite a trip to see how the religious right has adapted certain of Mayor Daley's tactics from the Fifties and Sixties to their own theocratic project in the new millennium.

In 2004, the Democrats did not resort to fraud for the simple reason that they did not need to do that. Bush was such a polarizing figure and so broadly unpopular - and not just with Democrats, but with a number of Republicans as well - that the Democrats didn't need to fake a victory. They had more than enough votes to win, and I believe they did win. It was the Republicans' job to suppress that majority, and/or make it appear to be smaller than it was.

BuzzFlash: I'd like to go back to the Tobin case for a moment. I think it's significant that Tobin, who ran Bush/Cheney's re-election campaign in New England, was indicted for wrongdoing not in that race but in the one two years before. It was the off-year election in 2002 - the Senate race in New Hampshire. So, after the 2004 election, the RNC spends big-time on the legal fees of an operative who stood indicted of malfeasance only in the previous election.

Why does this not a raise a certain question in the press? No inquiring journalist has asked why the Republicans spent so much on Tobin's legal fees for a crime that he committed in 2002. Would it be improper to suggest that maybe Tobin also broke election laws in 2004, and that the party paid his tab because they wanted him to keep his mouth shut on the subject? Given all the loony speculations that the press was unafraid to air about Bill Clinton - the "murder" of Vince Foster, the secret signal Bill tried to send Monica through his neck-tie, etc. - why can such a question not be asked about the GOP?

Mark Crispin Miller: There's just one more good example of the mammoth double standard governing the coverage of domestic politics in the United States - the same big double standard that has governed our press coverage of US foreign policy since the start of the Cold War, as Noam Chomsky and Ed Herman have long noted.

Here's the way it operates. When it comes to the Enemy, the Other, we can draw whatever war-like inferences we like, make whatever dark associations we might feel like making, speculate as grimly as we may, without any need for evidence or historical background or even logic. So, for example, the fact that Saddam Hussein's Ba'ath Party and al-Qaeda are both Arab movements, and both Islamic (although only nominally so in the Iraqi case), means that we may freely argue that they partnered up against us on 9/11. Never mind that those movements were in fact at violent odds, and even though there wasn't a scintilla of real evidence that they were in cahoots, the theory is not just permissible but "evidence" of one's "realism." It's like the old theory that the Soviets were in collusion with Red China, or the view that Vietnam was China's cat's-paw, or, to bring the fiction home, that the anti-war movement in the Sixties was a Soviet operation. The enemy is seen not as a mere human entity, subject to accident and chance and human nature, just like us, but as a ubiquitous demonic force with special powers.

"The enemy within," to quote the title of Michael Savage's harangue, is also devilishly remorseless, sly and cunning, capable of staggering duplicity. Thus was Anita Hill the liar and shape-shifter in her conflict with Clarence Thomas; and thus the Clintons ran a terrifyingly efficient "slime machine" (and Jim McDougall was yet one more victim of Slick Willy's guile); and thus John Kerry faked the entire episode for which he got those medals. Thus "the left" is scheming to "destroy the family," "gay activists" are scheming to "recruit our children," and "liberals" scheme to "ban the Bible." About such superhuman Bad Guys there is no tale too tall, no allegation too preposterous, for the right to scream it out, and for the mainstream to parrot it, or let it go by without comment.

But as far as the doings on Our Side are concerned, such musing is beyond the pale, the height of tastelessness, ridiculous, anti-American, insane. "We" don't do anything like that. Only They - commies, Muslims, liberals, gays, Jews, blacks, intellectuals, felons, feminists - do that. And that includes not just the more outlandish speculations, but any dark inference, however rational.

"Yeah, so this guy was indicted for election fraud allegedly committed in 2002, and then went on to run the president's New England campaign in 2004. And the party paid his legal bills. So what? Doesn't prove a thing!" If it happened under, say, Saddam Hussein, or Clinton, its perfidiousness would be self-evident. But if it's alleged to have happened under Bush, our press harumpfs and rolls its eyes, our journalists all acting like defense attorneys. Clinton killed Vince Foster - but there was nothing strange about Paul Wellstone's death. North Korea's a police state - but It Can't Happen Here. The Democrats committed endless voter fraud (or such stuff happened "on both sides") - but it's completely irresponsible even to hint that Bush & Co. stole the last election. And so on. That double standard is in fact a signal feature - perhaps it's the defining feature - of the paranoid world-view, and yet it also marks the outlooks of innumerable non-paranoids throughout the government and media.

BuzzFlash: So, when it comes to troubling inferences about the Bush regime, the burden of proof is such that you can never meet the standard of the media.

Mark Crispin Miller: Exactly. And that's how this pathology gets normalized and universalized - because the press ends up basing its choice of stories and its treatment of the news on that distorted way of looking at the world. Because that world-view is not wholly cynical and calculated. It's tempting to believe that all the propagandists at the top know better, that they knowingly concoct their falsehoods so that other, dimmer folks will parrot them. That is a very tempting formulation both because it simplifies the situation and because it's deeply comforting to think that ultimately there are rational actors pulling all those strings.

But it is not so easy to distinguish between cynicism and sincerity within the minds of many leading propagandists. Certainly Karl Rove is cynical, and so is Tom DeLay. They're the types who say or do whatever they believe it takes to do the party's business. On the other hand, there is a genuine vindictive zeal with which the likes of Rove, DeLay and other poison-spewers hold forth. They are not clinically detached. In other words, the boundary line between cynicism and conviction is unclear even to them.

And as it is within such characters, so is it in the movement overall. For every William Kristol - who seems to be a largely sane and savvy far-right operator - there are many true believers, who are effective rabble-rousers, not despite their vehemence, but because of it. With, say, the Limbaugh brothers, Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity, Michael Savage and Ann Coulter, the zeal is not completely phony. David Limbaugh evidently does believe that there's a giant secular conspiracy against Christianity. O'Reilly evidently does believe that there's a plot to ruin Christmas. And, in my view (a lot of people disagree with this), Dick Cheney really does believe that there are, or were, "weapons of mass destruction" in Iraq, just as Bush really believes that he's on God's side, fighting "evil-doers" who otherwise would kill all Christians.

It's ultimately all about projection. All the malevolence that they decry, all the conspiratorial intent that they deplore, comes only and directly from within themselves. They are the ones conspiring to wipe out their enemies - who, in fact, aren't scheming to annihilate anyone. In the United States, there is no effort underway to torment Christians or to outlaw Christianity. There is some effort - not yet strong or spirited enough - to safeguard the worldly system outlined in the Constitution. That the Christianists perceive as an exterminationist design, because in typical paranoid fashion, they impute their own hostility to those whom they would happily destroy.

BuzzFlash: Let's turn to some other buried stories. Some weeks ago the Washington Post reported that the Georgia legislature had approved a new Jim Crow law, which was then signed by the governor. It mandates the purchase of state-issued i.d.s for all Georgians who would vote. The career attorneys in the Justice Department recommended that the DoJ file a brief against the new law because it violates the Voting Rights Act. The Bush appointees at the top of the department vetoed that suggestion, and so DoJ did not file suit over the Georgia law.

Mark Crispin Miller: Just as a point of information, what coverage did it get?

BuzzFlash: Very little. There was the Post article, and an AP story. It was all in just one news cycle.

Mark Crispin Miller: Well, "in for a penny, in for a pound." Or I guess we should say: "Out for a penny, out for a pound." The press, having decided to regard last year's election fraud as non-existent, is therefore obligated to regard ongoing election fraud as nonexistent, too.

Nationwide, with little fanfare, the party is continuing to do what it did on a grand scale in the 2004 election. Its goal is the permanent disenfranchisement of the majority, through both legal (or rather "legal") and illegal means - whatever it may take to turn the entire nation into Texas, where a rich white party illegitimately rules the roost. It's crucial that we put the Georgia situation in that larger context.

Georgia law - essentially the re-imposition of a poll tax - relates to the Republicans' intentions vis-à-vis the Voting Rights Act, which they intend to gut. That law's up for renewal - and the party is purporting to desire certain "improvements" in it, which should make us very nervous, because their aim is to "improve" the Voting Rights Act much as they attempted to "improve" Social Security. "Improve" is Bushspeak, or Orwellian, for "destroy." What the party wants is to excise certain provisions from the law, so that it can then be invalidated by the Supreme Court. Once the Voting Rights Act is kaput, the states like will be emancipated to pass ever more laws like the Georgia law: laws that then won't be repealed. Similar laws have been passed recently in Indiana and Arizona. All of this is meant to help ensure the party's permanent majority - or perhaps "dominion" is a better word.

Remember, that is the party's fundamental goal. It relates to efforts to extend the disenfranchisement of felons, which has proven an effective way to disenfranchise countless law-abiding Democrats. The party's also taking steps to make it harder for immigrants to vote - a way to further limit the Hispanic vote, which also tends Democratic. (Even the Cuban and Nicaraguan communities have been drifting from the GOP.)

The Supreme Court has been complicit in the strategy. Last year they refused to hear an appeal from plaintiffs from black Congressional districts in Virginia, who were trying to reverse the Bush Republicans' illegal gerrymandering of that state. We can have little hope of any difference in the rulings of Chief Justice Roberts and, should he be confirmed, Alito, whose main attraction for the right, I'd argue, is their staunch adherence to the segregationist position of William Rehnquist, who, as the press and Democrats have never adequately noted, made his bones, back in the early Sixties, trying to disenfranchise Hispanic voters in Arizona.

You connect those dots, and then connect them to the scandals now racking the GOP, because they also have to do primarily with election fraud. Tom DeLay's troubles stem directly from his close involvement in the party's efforts to subvert democracy through the construction of a permanent "majority." The gerrymandering in Texas, and the program to monopolize K Street, were both intended to help further weaken the electorate.

Although the national press has shied away from it, the "Coingate" scandal in Ohio also has everything to do with the Bush Republicans' crusade against democracy. It was all about laundering enough cash to cover the huge off-the-books expenses of election theft, not only in Ohio, but from coast to coast. In fact, I believe that we will soon discover that the whole vile web of bribery and kickbacks - and no doubt extortion - that is just now making so much news, was ultimately at the service of the party's anti-democratic plans.

So the Georgia law is quite significant, as is the status of the Voting Rights Act - as significant as the scandals currently rocking Washington. But there's been little coverage, as you note. And what finally could be more important than the preservation of American democracy. That the US press is AWOL on that fundamental issue indicates how far the Fourth Estate has fallen from the crucial task envisioned for it by the framers of our Constitution.

[Part 2 of this interview to follow ...]


Interview Conducted by BuzzFlash Editor Mark Karlin.

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Fooled Again: How the Right Stole the 2004 Election & Why They'll Steal the Next One Too (Unless We Stop Them), by Mark Crispin Miller (A BuzzFlash Premium).

Fooled Again: How the Right Stole the 2004 Election & Why They'll Steal the Next One Too (Unless We Stop Them), a BuzzFlash Review.

A Conversation With Mark Crispin Miller 12/13

Mark Crispin Miller Talks About the Last Stolen Election, the One in 2004 11/5

Mark Crispin Miller Examines Mainstream Media's Blind Eye Towards the Gannongate Sex Scandal - February 23, 2005

NYU's Mark Crispin Miller biography