Excerpt - Conservatives Without Conscience, by John Dean
Legitimizing Authoritarian Conservatism: The Ugly Politics of Fear
If George Bush had not selected Dick Cheney as his running mate in 2000, and if the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington had not occurred in 2001, authoritarian conservatism could not have surfaced in the executive branch with its current ferocious sense of purpose. When a president embraces a concept, though, it gains legitimacy throughout the federal establishment, as political appointees—those several thousand men and women who serve at the pleasure of the president, head up various departments and agencies, or work on the White House staff—follow their leader.
Without terrorism, George W. Bush would have likely been a one-term president; with terrorism as a raison d’être, Bush and Cheney’s authoritarianism has not been questioned seriously enough.
Think of the modern presidents who have governed our nation— Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush I, and Clinton—and the various crises they confronted—the Great Depression, World War II, the Korean war, the cold war, the Cuban missile crisis, the war in Vietnam, Iran’s taking of American hostages, the danger to American students in Grenada, Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait, the terrorist bombings at the World Trade Center in 1993, and Timothy McVeigh’s 1995 bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma. None of these presidents resorted to fear in dealing with these situations. None of these presidents made the use of fear a standard procedure or a means of governing (or pursuing office or political goals). To the contrary, all of these presidents sought to avoid preying on the fears of Americans. (It will be noted that Nixon is not included in this list because he did use fear in both his 1968 and 1972 presidential campaigns, and he continued to use this tactic once in office.)
Frightening Americans, nonetheless, has become a standard ploy for Bush, Cheney, and their surrogates. They add a fear factor to every course of action they pursue, whether it is their radical foreign policy of preemptive war, their call for tax cuts, their desire to privatize social security, or their implementation of a radical new health care scheme. This fearmongering began with the administration’s political exploitation of the 9/11 tragedy, when it made the fight against terrorists the centerpiece of its presidency. Bush and Cheney launched America’s first preemptive war by claiming it necessary to the fight against terrorism. . . .
Among the few who have spoken out against the politics of fear, no one has done so more forcefully, and with less notice in the mainstream news media, than former vice president Al Gore, who was the keynote speaker at a conference in February 2004 titled “Fear: Its Political Uses and Abuses.” Gore analyzed the administration’s continuous use of fear since 9/11 and expressed grave concern that no one was correcting the misinformation being fed to Americans by Bush and Cheney.
“Fear drives out reason. Fear suppresses the politics of discourse and opens the door to the politics of destruction,” Gore observed. “President Dwight Eisenhower said this: ‘Any who act as if freedom’s defenses are to be found in suppression and suspicion and troubling politics and policies fear confess a doctrine that is alien to America.’ But only fifteen years later,” Gore continued, “when Eisenhower’s vice president, Richard Nixon, became president, we saw the beginning of a major change in America’s politics. Nixon, in a sense, embodied that spirit of suppression and suspicion and fear that Eisenhower had denounced.”
Getting right to the point, Gore continued, “In many ways, George W. Bush reminds me of Nixon more than any other president.... Like Bush, Nixon understood the political uses and misuses of fear”. . . .