Wednesday, August 10, 2011

❄ What We Know [II]:

❄ The Republican Party’s Nullification Project

Bruce D. Larkin


Links in this note:

[1] This introduction
[2] A reprise of my post in 2004
[3] Between 2004 and 2011
[4] Links to the eight PLAIN TALK posts of 2011; and
[5] Concluding Remarks.

The Republican Party, over the last twenty years, has fallen on hard times, been captured by garage bands, become a dissonant orchestra, led by mad conductors. John McCain, the Republican standard-bearer of 2008, in 2011 described the right-wing ideological stand during the debt ceiling negotiations as ‘bizarro’. But if you listen carefully, behind the cacophony you can discern some common rhythms. Republican strategy appears orchestrated. To what end?

The Republican aim is nothing less than to capture—and whenever in the minority, to undermine, obstruct and diminish—the US Constitutional system of governance. It is a nullification project. It amounts to an attempted coup d’etat, albeit in the guise of normal politics. In some respects it is a ‘soft coup’, a ‘quiet coup’, in that no physical violence, no military seizure, is contemplated. This is not Seven Days in May. But the object is as thoroughgoing dismantlement of civic politics as was achieved by the once-upon-a-time militaries of banana republics, overthrowing democratic governance by force.

A nullification project. Unlike the lawyerly calls for nullification—states’ declaring Federal laws unconstitutional—in the decades before and after the Civil War, this nullification project takes the form of political war against Federal political institutions. Citizens are the losers. The model for this nullification project is urban guerrilla war. More colorfully (even if the underlying story is apocryphal) it calls to mind workers’ throwing their wooden shoes, their sabots, into the machines of job-threatening industrialisation. Sabotage.

Of course, Republican Party voices would insist that this charge is outrageous. They would point to electoral successes, at the state and federal levels; to the historical legacy of their name; to the American commitment to a two-party system; to their professed dedication to the Constitution; and to declared policy objectives around which they have woven cloaks of plausibility.

Is calling this ‘nullification’ outrageous? In 1998 Hillary Clinton, prompted by tactics used to entangle Bill Clinton in what became an impeachment effort, famously declared that there was a “vast right-wing conspiracy” afoot. [Note 1] A favorite of the Republican Party, Grover Norquist, champion of the policy of ‘No New Taxes!’, said of government that “I don’t want to abolish government. I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub.”[Note 2] Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick: “the Republican strategy is to drive America to the brink of fiscal ruin and then argue that the only way out is to cut spending for the powerless.”[Note 3] And as the Great Extortion unfolded in the summer of 2011, Paul Krugman assessed that “In the long run, however, Democrats won’t be the only losers. What Republicans have just gotten away with calls our whole system of government into question. After all, how can American democracy work if whichever party is most prepared to be ruthless, to threaten the nation’s economic security, gets to dictate policy? And the answer is, maybe it can’t.”[Note 4] The New York Times came to a similarly pessimistic view, concluding editorially that “this episode demonstrates the effectiveness of extortion. Reasonable people are forced to give in to those willing to endanger the national interest.”[Note 5]

Let me be clear what I am not charging. I don’t believe that there is a secret cabal, meeting in some darkened room or in a boat offshore on one of the Great Lakes. I dislike conspiracy theories, which are almost always far from the mark. To repeat my contention: “The Republican aim is nothing less than to capture—and whenever in the minority, to undermine, obstruct and diminish—the US Constitutional system of governance. It is a nullification project.” Distill Republican initiatives, obstructions, false premises and lies: what is left is an assault on the Republic and on civic politics. That is the sense in which I speak of coup d’etat. They have declared Government the enemy, neglecting that it is the people’s government that they denounce. They seek nullification in a new guise but on a grand scale.

Unfortunately, Republican actions have practical consequences. The Tea Republicans can act in ignorance, recklessly, as their 2011 abuse of the debt ceiling, threatening the stability of both US and global economic performance, keenly illustrates.


[1] Introduction
[2] A reprise of my post in 2004
[3] Between 2004 and 2011
[4] Links to the eight PLAIN TALK posts of 2011; and
[5] Concluding Remarks.

It is only to keep this note short that I have not incorporated the full texts of the PLAIN TALK posts. Please exercise the links when you come to them in Part 4.

After Writing the Introduction I Saw This New York Times Editorial:


Race to the Right
Published: August 6, 2011

It is far too simplistic to blame the loose coalition of Republicans known as the Tea Party for the debt-limit debacle. It was not the Tea Party fringe of the Republican Party that dragged the economy to the brink — it was its center. The party has moved so far to the right that there is little difference between fringe and mainstream.

Through a combination of fear and fervor, Republican leaders in Congress and in the presidential campaign have lined up behind a radical new strategy in which all major decisions are made under threat — to shut the government in April, to implode the economy in July, to cut off money for the Federal Aviation Administration in August. Party leaders have said they will do this again and again, in perpetuity.

The Tea Party did not come up with this strategy. Although several of its elected members said they would never vote to raise the debt ceiling, it was John Boehner, the House speaker, who in May devised the fatal formula that President Obama would have to agree to cut more from spending than the amount of the debt-limit increase. This nonsense finally won the day. (Mr. Boehner was pilloried by Tea Party branches for raising the debt limit at all.)

In the House, there are only 60 members of the Tea Party caucus, and they were hardly a monolithic bloc. Last Monday, 32 of them supported the final debt deal and 28 voted against. To understand the Republican Party in the House, it is better to consider the Republican Study Committee, 176 fiscal hard-liners who make up two-thirds of the entire caucus (including many of the Tea Party members). Its chairman, Jim Jordan of Ohio, was one of the biggest obstacles to a deal and refused to support it.

It is this larger group that Mr. Boehner and his lieutenants fear the most. The Tea Party alone could not topple the speaker. But the Republican core could.

This rightward flood tide has also picked up most of the Republican presidential field. Considering what a clear triumph the final bill was for the Republicans, cutting $2.4 trillion in spending without a dime of new tax revenue, at least a few candidates would logically have supported it. Only Jon Huntsman, however, has spoken up for it. The rest said they found it insufficiently ruthless, fearing a primary loss if they seemed the slightest bit soft.

Mitt Romney took a stand, against the bill, only after it was adopted. He complained that it requires a committee that might possibly cut defense spending and recommend higher taxes, though the latter is very unlikely. He did not deny the possibility of a catastrophic default, as Michele Bachmann did, but had no ideas to offer about averting it without this deal. That is what it means to stand at the center of a party that would rather exploit threats than worry about their consequences. [Note 6]


Imagine: It is 2004 and GW Bush is Running for Reelection

In September 2004 I posted an entry on this blog titled “What We Know.”[Note 7] Regrettably, it is prelude to this post. A good way to approach today’s entry would be to click on “What We Know” and read those comments. Many concern the Iraq War, because it was at the heart of Cheney-Bush policy but never convincingly explained. For convenience I’ll recapitulate the headings of “What We Know” here, but only the headings:

9.11 took place on GW Bush’s watch.

GW Bush has squandered America’s reputation
for law, decency, and collaboration with allies, and squandered the sympathetic good will which flowed to America after 9.11.

Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, and elsewhere, the White House practiced torture—and may still.

❹; GW Bush won Congress’s 10-11 October 2002 Iraq war authorization by claiming there were threats to the United States which did not exist.
Daily Brief 2001.08.06
Daily Brief 2001.08.06
The White House deliberately prevented the UN inspectors from finishing their work in Iraq.

The 19 March 2003 attack on Iraq launched a ‘war of choice’, not a war of necessity.

The GW Bush war on Iraq is an illegal war.

Then—unsound ‘necessity’ and illegality aside—the war launched on 19 March 2003 was misconceived, a grotesque blunder of imagination, driven by senior officials now shown to have had no sense of Iraqi society, no sense how an invader and occupier would be greeted. In short, this was the work of ignorant men, and women, striving to impose their illusions on others in the name of desire.

GW Bush and Cheney-Rumsfeld policies [with respect to Israel and the Middle East] are in salient respects similar to those of Israeli Likudists, crippling any chance that the United States be a credible voice for democracy in the Middle East.

The White House is drawn magnetically to coercion and intimidation and secrecy, in ways and to degrees that threaten American constitutional freedoms and liberties.

These 10 points of 2004 reflect America’s preoccupation at that time with 9.11 and the Iraq War. Five months before “What We Know [I]” was posted the country was rocked by the Abu Ghraib disclosures and the revelation that on 6 August 2001—five weeks before 9.11—GW Bush was shown his Presidential Daily Brief prominently warning of Al Qaeda’s intention to attack US interests [Note 9] ... and did nothing. In this “What We Know [II]” I begin by pointing out that the Republican Party has failed to acknowledge the calamity of its policies under ‘Dick’ Cheney and GW Bush, the effects of which remain as threats to reasoned and accountable governance. The Republican Party machinery—policies and persons—were discredited by their own actions, but Republicans, largely the same figures who offered pablum and lies during the Cheney-Bush era, would now have us believe that they should be serious contenders for national office and the governance of America.

❄  BETWEEN 2004 AND 2011

The Unrenounced Legacies of ‘Dick’ Cheney and GW Bush

So what has become of the understandings of our circumstances in 2004, understandings that dominated our judgment of the Republican Party? In this section I will thicken our sense of what we know today.

The 9.11 attacks.

Since the morning of September 11th, 2001, neither the Cheney-Bush administration nor the Republican Party have acknowledged any responsibility for the failure to prevent the 9.11 attacks. But it was a failure ‘on their watch’. And there are at least three good reasons to believe that they could, and should, have been more alert, alert to the possibility of an outrage emanating from Al Qaeda, and alert to the specific possibility of the seizure of aircraft.

First: In December 2000, during the transition from the Clinton to the Cheney-Bush presidency, Condoleezza Rice was vividly introduced to the threat of terrorism, and by reports took in the seriousness of the threat.[Note 8] Second: We have the 6 August 2001 President’s Daily Brief, with its headline “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US.”[Note 9]

Why should the White House have known of the possibility that aircraft would be seized? Any person charged with responsibility for counter-terrorism or preventing an attack on US interests would be keenly and intimately familiar with the details of the Manila air plot (‘Bojinka’ plot).[Note 10]

Iraq War.

I’ve posted a chronological survey, with key cite and text references, as the page ‘The United States and the Iraq War 2003’ reachable via[Note 11] Here I’ll just remind ourselves of key Republican Party gifts to the American people.

[1] The Iraq War, an illegal war, was a ‘war of choice’. Iraq posed no threat to the United States. It was a ‘war of aggression’. Within the domain of the ‘legalist paradigm’, as Michael Walzer has explained it,[Note 12] the Iraq war was neither a response to attack nor otherwise justified. Asked by the BBC whether the Iraq War was “illegal”, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said “I have indicated it is not in conformity with the UN Charter, from our point of view, and from the Charter point of view it was illegal.”[Note 13]

[2] The Cheney-Bush administration won approval for the war on three grounds: [a] that Iraqi WMD posed a threat to the United States, [b] that Iraq was somehow complicit in the 9.11 attacks, and [c] that the Saddam Hussein government, because it was evil, should be removed (‘regime change’). There was uncertainty and speculation but no evidence of WMD, and no evidence of 9.11 complicity. All the king’s horses could not put this together into UN Security Council assent to war.

[3] Israeli leaders publicly urged the United States to war against Iraq.[Note 14]

[4] The White House obtained Congressional authorization to war against Iraq more than five months before beginning the war. That means that there was five months in which to demand evidence anchoring White House claims, but evidence—as distinguished from unprovable claims—was neither required nor supplied.[Note 15]

[5] Cheney-Bush refused to permit UNSCOM and the IAEA to complete their inspections, which would have shown that the claim of a WMD threat was unfounded.

[6] The war was extraordinarily costly, in lives, in US monies, and to Iraqi society.


Holding prisoners in Guantanamo not as prisoners of war, without charges, subject to harassment and interrogation that many judge to have been torture, and for some indefinite duration, contradicted America’s commitment to the rule of law.

Guantanamo was chosen, as it is outside the United States, so that prisoners could not avail themselves of US courts and due process.

Has Guantanamo been ‘unrenounced’ by the Republican leadership? Although they cornered Democrats in Congress by forcing a vote on the issue before the 2008 election, so that opposition to closure has a bipartisan veneer, blocking closure and so denying Obama a political victory is written on Republican cue cards. In the colorful argot of the day the Republican Party ‘owns’ Guantanamo and all it stands for.[Note 16]

Torture, unacknowledged ‘black prisons’ abroad, ‘extraordinary rendition’, extrajudicial assassination.

And the most horrific enormity symbolized by Guantanamo is torture.

Under the euphemism ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ Cheney-Bush authorized what is widely understood as torture (although that characterization is rejected by Republican Party apologists), some means used at Guantanamo, some elsewhere. Techniques included waterboarding, subjecting prisoners to painful positions, cold, sleep deprivation, threatening with dogs, and strange sexual insults. That US personnel were practicing these measures on prisoners was revealed in spring 2004, as photographs taken by US guards at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq were made public.[Note 17]

More facts have come out over time, but the classic articles on black prisons and ‘extraordinary rendition’ are those of the journalists who first exposed the practices, especially Dana Priest in the Washington Post.[Note 18] I won’t recapitulate their reports; they make out gruesome practices; and although one might think it an easy and uncomplicated moral choice to regret those practices, those with ties to the Cheney-Bush world have, with few exceptions, failed to make themselves heard.[Note 19] As late as November 2007 Republican presidential candidates Giuliani, Romney and Thompson “embraced some of the more controversial policies on the treatment of those suspected of supporting terrorism, backing harsh interrogation methods and refusing to rule out the use of waterboarding, a simulated drowning technique, on detainees.”[Note 20]

The ‘War on Terrorism’, Al Qaeda, and Afghanistan.

Cheney-Bush seem to have been bent on the ‘War on Terrorism’, which established Bush as a war president and was used to justify any number of extraordinary measures. It did not matter to the Republican Party that it isn’t possible to conduct a war against a tactic, or a disposition to use force.

Few objected to finding the perpetrators of 9.11 and preventing them from undertaking any further outrage. Oddly, Cheney-Bush chose to shift resources from Afghanistan to Iraq. Iraq was unrelated to the 9.11 attacks. Cheney-Bush had had their eyes on the prospect of war in Iraq from the time they took office in January 2001.

Both wars have seared the 2000s, with malign effects on the US economy, military, and standing.

The Great Recession:

Failure to exercise regulatory authority, leading to near-collapse of the housing market and banking, economic distress, and large-scale unemployment.

A number of economists and financial journalists have already published accounts to explain the onset of the Great Recession. After cutting through the underbrush I find four practices which might not have endangered the system if undertaken on a small scale, but which were instead pursued relentlessly and on a widening scale. Mortgages were written, for sums and on terms that promised growing default. Mortgages were ‘bundled’ into ‘collateralised debt obligations’ (CDOs) (and chancy loans were in many cases described as of high quality. New types of bonds were devised, called ‘synthetic CDOs’, of exotic underlying collateral, about which there was limited understanding. Then the buyers of CDOs protected themselves by buying insurance (‘credit default swaps’)—many of which were sold by financial institutions that never expected to be called to make up losses. In short, overextension, ignorance, hidden weakness, speculation, trip-levers and inability to meet obligations when called combined to threaten the entire imaginary structure.

Both Democrats and Republicans must share blame for dismantling the Glass-Steagall barriers to economic breakdown, barriers instituted in response to the Depression of the 1930s [Note 21] and abandoned for ‘deregulation’ in the 1990s. But there remained a regulatory regime, including the Securities and Exchange Commission. Were its powers employed effectively during the Cheney-Bush administration? Evidently not. The gravity of the Great Recession became clear when Lehman Brothers collapsed on 15 September 2008, but its signs had been growing through GW Bush’s last two years. The Great Recession has proven the most consequential of the Cheney-Bush legacies to Barack Obama. By the time the Cheney-Bush White House died, on 20 January 2009, its accounts were deeply in arrears, its house in disorder, and desperate economic futures in store for tens of millions of Americans.

Surveillance and abuse of Fourth Amendment protections against ‘unreasonable search and seizure’.

During the Cheney-Bush residence there was unprecedented expansion of White House power to intercept communications, revealing people’s actions and expressed thoughts. Exactly how far these capabilities were extended, and to what extent they have been carried on or even grown during the Obama Administration, we do not know: there has been no public admission just what is done.

First, recall ‘national security letters’. One among the many provisions of the ‘Patriot Act’ of 2001, passed in Congress in response to 9.11 but bundling law enforcement wish-lists of the previous decade, established ‘national security letters’ enabling the FBI to compel access to ‘papers’ without judicial review, and incorporating (in its initial form) the power to forbid persons to whom the ‘letter’ was directed not to reveal, not to their lawyer, or even to the owner of those papers, that they had been obtained. Subsequent revisions, responding to criticism, have modified the original texts but both ‘national security letters’ and a nondisclosure provision (which critics call a ‘gag order’) remain.

Second, prompted by the language of the Fourth Amendment, is about the test of ‘reasonableness’ in listening to, or reading, the communications of specific targeted individuals. Arguments in this strand often take the form of claiming that a target’s membership in some designated group—non-citizen, being abroad, ‘suspected of terrorism’—exempts the US government from Fourth Amendment obligations, or permits them to be met by some ‘reasonable’ method.

The Fourth Amendment states: The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Third—the least well understood—is to what extent domestic telephone and Net traffic is subject to routing through US intelligence agencies and, to the extent it is, just what is collected, how it is associated with individuals, to what extent it is shared, and whether and subject to what controls it may be retained. James Risen and Eric Lichtblau’s 2005 article title implies what was not known, though some suspected: “Bush Lets U.S. Spy on Callers Without Courts.”[Note 22] Risen later summed it up: “For the first time since the Watergate-era abuses, the N.S.A. is spying on Americans again, and on a large scale. The Bush administration has swept aside nearly 30 years of rules and regulations and has secretly brought the N.S.A. back into the business of domestic espionage.”[Note 23]

The horrors of 9.11 made it difficult for any advocates of the Constitutional protection against unreasonable search and seizure to successfully resist extensions of authority, which were championed by the White House and the Republican Party.

Refusal to address—or even acknowledge—the threat of climate change. And, more generally, dismissal of evidence and disrespect for scientific method and judgment.

We now know that the Cheney-Bush administration suppressed science-based judgments that were out of tune with its ideological dispositions. How do we know that? See Seth Shulman’s Undermining Science: Suppression and Distortion in the Bush Administration, which draws these threads together with great respect for evidence.[Note 24]

Attempt to shrink Social Security.

The Great Recession had two profound effects for savings—and therefore for the income on which retirees planned to depend. Monies in cash deposits, to earn perhaps 4% or 5% interest, saw interest rates fall toward zero. Monies invested in the stock market vanished: values fell, and in some cases fell precipitately.[Note 25] Retirees’ Social Security and ‘defined benefit’ pensions were largely intact; but retirees dependent on their investments, or on ‘defined contribution’ pensions, were hurt, and if they had made unwise or unlucky investments were savaged. [A ‘defined contribution pension’ is actually just a set-aside, though resultant income may benefit from favorable tax provisions, and the monies could be conservatively invested.] For retirees the consequences were dashed expectations and, for some, financial tragedy.

It’s in this context that Republican efforts to shift retirees’ money from Social Security into privately-held investments must be remembered. Do not forget these claims:

27 February 2001:

[Social Security] must offer personal savings accounts to younger workers who want them.

Social Security now offers workers a return of less than 2 percent on the money they pay into the system. To save the system, we must increase that by allowing younger workers to make safe, sound investments at a higher rate of return.”[Note 26]

28 February 2001:

Personal retirement accounts, which would be voluntary, would enable individuals to build financial wealth and security in a way that the current Social Security system does not. Personal accounts invested in safe private financial markets will earn higher rates of return than the traditional system and help workers enhance their personal savings and their freedom to retire. Ownership of a real financial asset without the political risk of future changes would mean more security for working Americans to build their own retirement assets, and to pass those assets on to their children.

A balanced portfolio of stocks and bonds can, in the long run, yield almost a 5.5 percent real rate of return. Even a portfolio of inflation-adjusted Government bonds yields a 3.0 percent real rate of return. Both are significantly better investments than those implicit in the current Social Security system, which, for many younger workers, could ultimately result in a negative rate of return.

This higher rate of return, through individually controlled investments in private debt and equity markets, is the key to the success of personal accounts.[Note 27]

2 May 2001:

Third, Social Security reform must offer personal savings accounts to younger workers who want them. Today, young workers who pay into Social Security might as well be saving their money in their mattresses. That's how low the return is on their contributions. And the return will only decline further -- maybe even below zero -- if we do not proceed with reform.

Personal savings accounts will transform Social Security from a government IOU into personal property and real assets; property that workers will own in their own names and that they can pass along to their children.[Note 28]

GW Bush pushed for privatization even after his reelection in 2004:

11 December 2004:

A crisis in Social Security can be averted ... we must tap into the power of compound interest, by giving younger workers the option to save some of their payroll taxes in a personal account, a nest egg they can call their own, which government cannot take away.[Note 29]

In 2008 candidate John McCain continued to flog the notion of ‘personal savings accounts’ as part of Social Security reform.[Note 30]

A site noted for non-partisan fact-checking rejected as untrue characterizing the call for ‘personal savings accounts’ as a proposal for privatization, suggesting that the fact-checker would not recognize a camel’s nose if he saw one.[Note 31]

Sarah Palin.

Had Sarah Palin been elected in 2008 and had McCain then become unable to serve, the Oval Office—the entire Executive Branch—would have been in the hands of an anonymous Republican Regency.

If Reader considers Sarah Palin to be qualified to be President of the United States, I probably cannot help you.

There are more than 233,000,000 adults in the United States.[Note 32] From among how many better-qualified than Sarah Palin could the Republican Party have chosen instead?

And what does choosing Sarah Palin tell us about John McCain’s judgment? And the judgment of the Republican Party cadres? Why do they take Michelle Bachman or Tim Pawlenty seriously? How do they conceive the Presidency and the nature of problems and opportunities that a President must confront?

I’ve previously posted, in my design blog, on ways in which the Republican Party threatens civil governance in the United States.[Note 33]


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How Do I View the Republican Party?
Tea Party, War Party, Grand Old Party

The War Party centers on those who were Party operatives before and during the Cheney-Bush era, or were shaped by that experience. Rove. Cheney himself, or his umbra. Those who succeeded in the 5-4 capture of the Supreme Court: the Federalist Society. Today this is where we could locate Beohner and McConnell.

So they are a War Party in two senses. They were advocates or go-alongs with the Iraq War and Afghanistan War of the Cheney-Bush period. They would cultivate identification with ‘national security’. But they are also at war with the Democratic Party, its base, and all those who benefit from its policies. They are at war with Nancy Pelosi and Elizabeth Warren. Some advocates for women’s issues charge them with a War on Women, and advocates for the poor with a War on the Poor. They are exclusionists: with cosmetic exceptions, their policies exclude women, African-Americans, Hispanics, Muslims, those born abroad, and every person in America who is growing a year older with each passing year.

The New York Times editorial quoted in Part 1 puts its eyes on the Republican Study Committee. The Times observed that

In the House, there are only 60 members of the Tea Party caucus, and they were hardly a monolithic bloc. Last Monday, 32 of them supported the final debt deal and 28 voted against. To understand the Republican Party in the House, it is better to consider the Republican Study Committee, 176 fiscal hard-liners who make up two-thirds of the entire caucus (including many of the Tea Party members).
[Note 34]

Those who are not Tea Party members are the group I have in mind when I think of the War Party.[Note 35] But when one looks at the declared purposes of the RSC,[Note 36] it is hard to see where the line lies separating the Tea Party from the other hundred-plus RSC members—if they actually test the bills before them by the criteria the RSC presents. What I see when I read their charter documents is a view of the world devoid of any sense of community, intrusive on the freedom of the individual to work together with friends and neighbors to enhance their own prospects and the life of their their towns and cities, repelled by ‘government’ which they mischaracterize and do not understand, and dedicated to the isolation of individuals and their families in ways which leave them unprotected from economic and institutional predators. Their vague commitment to a “strong national defense” does not tell us much about how they would make hard, realistic choices. They seem to wish a calculated anarchy, one in which the military and the corporations—and perhaps the churches—are the main social forces, and government their servant.

Perhaps they believe that they and their sources of ‘Party capital’ can better capture revenue streams if the citizenry is forced to make payments to private-sector corporations—for insurance, health care, education, transportation, financial transactions, pensions—than to support public goods and public resources. How else can one explain their systematic hostility to Social Security, a system that works and is not hostage to the vagaries of manipulation by financial houses? How else can one explain their rejection of efforts to provide 30,000,000 Americans with affordable health care? Calculated anarchy is not the Republic of free men and women, building community through mutual respect, that I have thought the American adventure was undertaken to pursue.

The Republican Study Committee is a group of 175 House Republicans organized for the purpose of advancing a conservative social and economic agenda in the House of Representatives. The Republican Study Committee is dedicated to: 

• a limited and Constitutional role for the federal government,
• a strong national defense,
• the protection of individual and property rights,
• and the preservation of traditional family values.

The RSC reviews each piece of legislation under consideration on the House floor using six guiding principles, printed on our "Conservative Check Card" and listed below:

1.   Less Government - Does the bill tend to reduce government regulations, size of government, or eliminate entitlements or unnecessary programs? 
2. nbsp;Lower Taxes - Does the bill promote individual responsibility in spending, or reduce taxes or fees? 
3.  Personal Responsibility - Does the bill encourage responsible behavior by individuals and families and encourage them to provide for their own health, safety, education, moral fortitude, or general welfare?
4.  Individual Freedom - Does the bill increase opportunities for individuals or families to decide, without hindrance or coercion from government, how to conduct their own lives and make personal choices?
5.  Stronger Families - Does the bill enhance the traditional American family and its power to rear children without excessive interference from the government?
6.  Domestic Tranquility, National Defense - Does the bill enhance American security without unduly burdening civil liberty?

The group has played a major role in key policy areas including budget, appropriations, taxes, education, Social Security reform, defense, deregulation, and general government reform. The Republican Study Committee is an independent research arm for House Republicans.[Note 37]

Perhaps the War Party consists of most of the Republicans in the House who are not member of the RSC, and a few who are. The remainder—what is left of the Grand Old Party—could be just a few dozen. Of the Senate, eight Republican senators are seeking reelection in 2012, none a Tea Party adherent; two are retiring. The others—37 by today’s count—will be closely watching whether the Tea Party’s ideology makes for winners or losers. Only three Republican senators attended the first Senate Tea Party caucus: DeMint (South Carolina), Lee (Utah), and libertarian Rand Paul (Kentucky).[Note 38]

The Tea Party draw, its appeal to people’s insecurities and inexperience, their uncertainties about their futures, rests on fear. “The bogeyman’ll get ya, if ya don’t watch out.” The seemingly bland planks of the Tea Party program—personal responsibility, individual freedom, stronger families, domestic tranquility, security—imply that government, ‘big government’, is the enemy. And it is true that unaccountable government can launch monsters, as the Iraq War and claims for the ‘unitary executive’ testify. But the government actions against which the Tea Party inveighs do not threaten to cause the harms they imply. Public schools do not make for weak families, domestic disorder, irresponsibility, or unambitious youths, nor does the Clean Air Act or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. What the everyday Tea Party supporter may be grappling with is that it is, in fact, ‘hard to build’: that the real ‘enemy’ they are confronting in their lives is the fact that building families, households, neighborhoods, communities, and complex public and private ventures is hard work, requiring initiative and judgment, and tolerating risk, ambiguity, and failure.

And as James Fallows’ observations, quoted below, make clear as glass: you cannot, in the same breath, argue against both public debt and public revenue, unless you are an anarchist, deliberately mischievous or seriously confused. Anyone inclined to the Tea Party has an obligation to the rest of us to understand that those two aims are incompatible, irreconcilable, contradictory. The rest of the world understands this. What they cannot understand is how so many Americans have been mesmerized by Tea Party populism.

Exclusion v. Inclusion

Exclusion A dark theme runs through the Republican Party project. I don’t want to leave this note without mentioning it, though it deserves more than these few lines.

One of the most revealing questions to ask about any human project is “does this make for inclusion, or exclusion?” Inclusion in US politics and society would mean: reducing unemployment, welcoming visitors, building an accessible and affordable health care system, granting status and security to immigrants, ensuring access to education, gender equality, respecting people without regard to ‘race’, ‘ethnicity’, age, or culture, and—in the longer term—trending to less inequality of income and wealth. The Gates Foundation motto—that “every person deserves the chance to lead a healthy, productive life”[Note 39]—is a well-composed ethical stance.

So we must ask again: what does opposition to Social Security, Medicare, and the Affordable Care Act mean? What does branding immigrants without status as ‘illegal immigrants’ mean? What do harsh and costly US visa requirements telegraph? What does it mean that the Tea Party and Republican Party fail to clearly reject racist and anti-foreign talk, including thinly-veiled renunciation of Barack Obama (birthplace, madrasa)?

And On a Positive Note

This note has drawn a blunt sketch of the ‘quiet coup d’etat’ being undertaken by the Republican Party. It’s a dismal picture, one which, as I noted at the outset, will be deemed outrageous by Republican agents and those with a romantic attachment to the Republican Party of once-upon-a-time. But how would I respond to the objection that this is ‘just politics’? That political parties always struggle with one another? That I have no alternative to offer?

I would respond that there is an alternative, one practiced day after day in legislative bodies around the world, in towns and villages, inside businesses large and small, and in every successful household in America. It is the alternative that, without romanticising, can be discerned in US politics of previous times. Think of Eisenhower, Kennedy, Carter. Certainly the Republican Eisenhower and the Democrat Kennedy were not gentle men. Their tactics were often tough and they fought party fights. But we can learn from them and from the Congressional legislators of their times.

How would I do it differently? Here are a few rules of thumb, maxims or guidelines for a fluid and capable political system:

¶  It is hard to build, and easy to destroy.

¶   The central term of politics is negotiation.

¶  The object of political negotiations is to find complementary projects that enable you, and your counterpart, to accomplish aims that each of you could not accomplish alone (as efficiently, as inexpensively, as quickly, as well, or at all).

¶  Quality matters. It is hard to build, and even harder to build well.

¶  Complexity demands collaboration. Big jobs, and modern skills, require working with others.

¶  Purpose matters. Finding others ready to take up a conversation about collaborating will be much easier when your purpose makes sense to them.

¶  If you use a position of advantage to force or induce your counterpart to incorporate, into his project, performances that he would not freely undertake if he were free and able to do so as part of a ‘fair deal’, you are engaged in coercive bargaining, not political negotiation.

¶  You can walk away from a proposal. But if the circumstances require that you and your counterpart come to some agreement—neither of you can simply walk away—then if you cannot come to joint language yourselves you must find an arbitrator and commit to the arbitrator’s judgment.


This is not a ‘paper’ in an academic sense. Instead, this documents how and why I consider the Republican Party’s apparent aims and strategies to be a threat to the Republic. It is not my aim to persuade Reader that this is so, but to explain what I have seen as I come to this conclusion, and to suggest that Reader compose his or her own characterization of Republican Party dispositions and strategies. For example, Reader might say that what disturbs Larkin is nothing more than the usual ambition for power, what we should expect from politicians, ‘just politics’.

Why am I interested in this? Certainly I have a liberal interest in participation, purpose, and accountability. I prefer the ‘civic script’, as against the ‘war script’.[Note 40] Since beginning college in 1950 I’ve been a student of the war question, and in the last 30 years have been increasingly focused on the project that nuclear weapons can and should be abolished.[Note 41] There are many within the Republican Party who understand that issue much as I do—they are typically flag-bearers of the Grand Old Party—but the Republican Party as an institution has been captured by others, who by and large do not share my concern that the risks of nuclear weapons in the armories of nations are far too great to be accepted as ‘necessary’. I see their penchant for slogans and ignorance to be dangerous impediments to the denuclearization project and, therefore, a threat to the most fundamental of ‘national interests’.

As I was writing this I was sharply reminded how much some Republicans prize, and seek to protect, retention of nuclear weapons. In the immediate aftermath of the ‘debt ceiling’ crisis at the beginning of August 2011, Michael Turner (R-Ohio), chairman of the Strategic Forces Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee, speaking about the supercommittee that was tasked to find further cuts, said

I am deeply concerned about the debt panel’s ability to make unrestricted cuts. These members will be under intense pressure to find savings in areas other than entitlements. During that process, they may make cuts to essential national security programs … Any additional cuts to [the National Nuclear Security Administration] would jeopardize our nuclear deterrent, and our defense posture.[Note 42]

Addendum: White House Infographic “US National Debt”

The White House issued a chart presenting its view how the national debt had grown since 2001,[Note 43] prompting James Fallows to comment: [Note 44]

Yesterday I mentioned the New York Times chart on sources of the budget deficit, which dramatized the contradiction many House Republicans prefer not to face. As the figures demonstrated, the Bush-era tax cuts, extended last year under Obama, were the biggest single policy source of deficit increase over the past ten years. Therefore you can be for reducing deficits, or you can be for preserving the tax cuts, but you cannot rationally be for both. Even though, as I pointed out, insisting on both is the current House Republican view.

Here is another chart to the same effect, released this afternoon by the White House. It is a more comprehensive accounting of the forces that turned the large projected federal surplus as of 2001 into the large structural deficits that are dominating our politics as of 2011. Thus it attempts to explain a $12.7 trillion negative swing in public finance -- from the $2.3 trillion surplus forecast by Bill Clinton ten years ago, to the $10.4 trillion total debt Barack Obama encounters now.

The chart is more comprehensive in including not just policy changes -- deliberate adoption and extension of tax cuts, spending on TARP and other programs -- but also the effects of external pressures and shocks, mainly the recession starting in 2008. See for yourself, and click for a more detailed view.

Debt Chart]



1 David Maraniss, First Lady Launches Counter-Attack,” The Washington Post, 28 January 1998.
2 This quote is widely attributed to Norquist and not, to my knowledge, denied. For example, Robert Dreyfuss, Grover Norquist: ‘Field Marshall’ of the Bush Plan,” The Nation, 14 May 2001.
3 Deval Patrick, “How Grover Norquist hypnotized the GOP,” The Washington Post, 30 June 2011. On Norquist’s pledge, see Americans for Tax Reform, “What is the Taxpayer Protection Pledge?”.
4 Paul Krugman, “The President Surrenders” The New York Times, 1 August 2011 [online 31 July 2011].
5 Editorial, “To Escape Chaos, a Terrible Deal,” The New York Times, 1 August 2011 (online 31 July 2011).
6 Editorial, The New York Times, 7 August 2011 (online 6 August 2011).

8 Barton Gellman, “A Strategy’s Cautious Evolution—Before Sept. 11, the Bush Anti-Terror Effort Was Mostly Ambition,” The Washington Post, 20 January 2002.
9 Declassified and approved for release, 10 April 2004. See full text, below.


9 Declassified and approved for release, 10 April 2004. See full text, below.
10 United States. National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States. The 9/11 Commission Report.

“In 1994, KSM accompanied Yousef to the Philippines, and the two of them began planning what is now known as the Manila air or ‘Bojinka’ plot—the intended bombing of 12 U.S. commercial jumbo jets over the Pacific during a two-day span. This marked the first time KSM took part in the actual planning of a terrorist operation.While sharing an apartment in Manila during the summer of 1994, he and Yousef acquired chemicals and other materials necessary to construct bombs and timers.They also cased target flights to Hong Kong and Seoul that would have onward legs to the United States. During this same period, KSM and Yousef also developed plans to assassinate President Clinton during his November 1994 trip to Manila, and to bomb U.S.-bound cargo carriers by smuggling jackets containing nitrocellulose on board. [Footnote 7 of original details sources. Pp. 488-489.]

“KSM left the Philippines in September 1994 and met up with Yousef in Karachi following their casing flights. There they enlisted Wali Khan Amin Shah, also known as Usama Asmurai, in the Manila air plot. During the fall of 1994,Yousef returned to Manila and successfully tested the digital watch timer he had invented, bombing a movie theater and a Philippine Airlines flight en route to Tokyo.The plot unraveled after the Philippine authorities discovered Yousef ’s bomb-making operation in Manila;”

Report, p. 147.

11 The survey contains key phrases and arguments and hot links to full texts.
12 Michael Walzer, Just and Unjust Wars (New York: Basic Books, 1977).
13 16 September 2004. UN News Centre.
14 Evidence on this point: “The Iraq War of 2003 and the Politics of Denulearization,” version of 21 October 2002, pp. 14-15.
15 The most elaborate display of claims to justify war was made by Secretary of State Colin Powell, in a ballyhooed appearance before the UN Security Council on 5 February 2003. After evidence came forward casting doubt on many elements of that speech, Powell was interviewed by Barbara Walters. ABC reported that “He told Walters that he feels ‘terrible’ about the claims he made in that now-infamous address—assertions that later proved to be false. When asked if he feels it has tarnished his reputation, he said, ‘Of course it will. It’s a blot. I’m the one who presented it on behalf of the United States to the world, and [it] will always be a part of my record. It was painful. It’s painful now.’ ” ”Colin Powell on Iraq, Race, and Hurricane Relief,” 20/20 (ABC News). 8 September 2005.
16 For a detailed account, see David D. Kirkpatrick and David M. Herszenhorn, “Guantánamo Closing Hands Republicans a Wedge Issue, The New York Times, 23 May 2009. Excerpts:

“Senate Democrats, who last week broke with their president to join a 90-to-6 vote against funds to close Guantánamo, faulted the White House for failing to provide political cover by reassuring the public that he had a clear plan for the prisoners. The Democrats left open the possibility of authorizing the money later this year, once Mr. Obama provides a detailed plan. …

“In July 2007, Mr. McConnell forced a vote in which even the fiercest Senate critics sided with Republicans in a 94-to-3 vote to declare that detainees should not be “transferred stateside into facilities in American communities and neighborhoods.” …

“Congressional Republican leaders, many of whom opposed closing Guantánamo all along, began strategizing about how to defeat Mr. Obama on the issue almost as soon as the campaign came to a close.”
17 A big part of the credit for bringing Abu Ghraib to public attention goes to Seymour Hersh. Seymour M. Hersh, “Torture at Abu Ghraib,“ The New Yorker, 10 May 2004. Hersh had twenty years earlier revealed the My Lai massacre, a shameful action by US personnel in Vietnam.
18 Dana Priest, “CIA Holds Terror Suspects in Secret Prisons,” The Washington Post, 2 November 2005. Priest won a 2006 Pulitzer Prize for her reporting on secret prisons and related issues. See also Alan Brinkley, “Black Sites,” The New York Times, 3 August 2008, , reviewing Jane Mayer, The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned Into a War on American Ideals (New York: Doubleday, 2008), and Jane Mayer, “Outsourcing Torture: The Secret History of America’s ‘Extraordinary Rendition’ Program, The New Yorker, Feb. 14 & 21, 2005. On ‘extraordinary rendition’, see Dan Bilefsky et al, “European Inquiry Says C.I.A. Flew 1,000 Flights in Secret,” The New York Times, 27 April 2006; and Raymond Bonner, “The CIA’s Secret Torture,” New York Review of Books, 11 January 2007.
19 On exceptions that testify to the rule, see Alan Brinkley, above, who writes: “Among the most courageous opponents of the use of torture was a small group of lawyers working within the Bush administration—conservative men, loyal Republicans, who in the face of enormous pressure to go along attempted to use the law to stop what they considered a series of policies that were both illegal and immoral: Alberto Mora, the Navy general counsel, who tried to work within the system to stop what he believed were renegade actions; Jack Goldsmith, who became the head of the Office of Legal Counsel in 2003 and sought to revoke the Yoo memo of 2002, convinced that it had violated the law in authorizing what he believed was clearly torture; and Matthew Waxman, a Defense Department lawyer overseeing detainee issues, who sought ways to stop what he believed to be illegal and dangerous policies.”
20 Marc Santora, “3 Top Republican Candidates Take a Hard Line on the Interrogation of Detainees,” The New York Times, 3 November 2007. “The only leading Republican candidate to condemn each of the practices outright has been Senator John McCain, a former prisoner of war who was tortured in a North Vietnamese prison.”
21 The Glass-Steagal Act (properly, the Banking Act of 1933) instituted the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and other legal measures against bank speculation and instability.
22 James Risen and Eric Lichtblau, “Bush Lets U.S. Spy on Callers Without Courts, The New York Times, 16 December 2005. Risen and Lichtblau were awarded a Pulitzer Prize for their reporting on this subject.
23 James Bamford, quoting James Risen, State of War: The Secret History of the C.I.A. and the Bush Administration (New York: Free Press, 2006).
24 Seth Shulman, Undermining Science: Suppression and Distortion in the Bush Administration (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006).
25 “It has been 513 calendar days since the stock market peaked on Oct. 9, 2007. Since then, the S.&P. 500 is down 56 percent and the Dow is off 53 percent.” Floyd Norris, Plunging Markets, Then and Now,” The New York Times, 5 March 2009.
26 GW Bush, address before a joint session of the Congress, 27 February 2001.
27 President’s Budget Plan: “A Blueprint for New Beginnings.” February 28, 2001.
28 GW Bush, Remarks by the President in Social Security Announcement, 2 May 2001.
29 GW Bush, President’s Radio Address, 11 December 2001.
30 Perry Bacon, Jr., “Candidates Diverge on How to Save Social Security”, The Washington Post, 8 July 2008: “McCain’s aides said he favors a bipartisan approach and is open to working with Congress on finding a solution to the long-term solvency of the New Deal-era program, indicating he could support an array of ideas such as raising the retirement age, reducing scheduled increases in benefits and allowing younger workers to put money they currently pay for Social Security taxes into personal savings accounts. President Bush floated a similar idea for private accounts in 2005, but polls found it had little public support.” Scaring Seniors”. 19 & 20 September 2008. “The ad also says McCain voted ‘in favor of privatizing Social Security.’ The term ‘privatizing’ could give the wrong impression. McCain does support creating government-managed accounts that would allow individuals to invest some portion of their Social Security payroll taxes in widely diversified stock or bond funds.”
32 US. Bureau of the Census. 2010 Census. Population 308,745,538 of which 24.3% were under 18.
33 My blog on Political Design is at Each of the posts PLAIN TALK [I] thru [VIII] linked here begins with this notice: ❄ This post, and other ‘PLAIN TALK’ posts on this blog, describe in plain language the current Republican Party aims and methods, which I consider a perverse exercise in political design. ❄


34 see [Note 6]
35 The RSC members are listed at
36 Republican Study Committee.
37 Ibid
38 David M. Herszenhorn, “THE TEA PARTY. Table Is Set for Three Senators,”The New York Times, 28 January 2011.
39 Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
40 Bruce D. Larkin, War Stories (Bern and New York: Peter Lang, 2001).
41 Designing Denuclearization (New Brunswick, New Jersey: Transaction Publishers, 2008).
42 Nuclear Threat Initiative. Global Security Newswire. Martin Matishak, “Lawmakers Warn Against Cutting Nuclear Arms Modernization Fund,” 5 August 2011. A spokesman for Senator Jon Kyl (R-Arizona) replied to a question from GSN that “Senator Kyl believes that modernization of our nuclear detrrenct should be fully funded.”
43 White House infographic:
44 James Fallows, “Another Chart That Should Accompany All Debt-Ceiling Discussions,” The Atlantic [online], 27 July 2011.


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