According to Robert McNamara in the "Fog of War," the first lesson of life is, "empathize with your enemy." In order to understand the conservative movement's ascendancy in American politics, progressives should take McNamara's advice and try to view the world through the business lens of conservatives.
The public has gotten used to seeing advertisers ape news show formats in TV infomercials. So the Department of Health and Human Services must have been surprised when the General Accounting Office announced recently that they'd be investigating the department's use of the same techniques to promote the Administration's prescription-drug bill. The department sent out a video news release to extol the virtues of the bill, complete with fake reporters and a shot of President Bush receiving a standing ovation as he signed the bill.
If you've noticed conservative politicians sounding strangely pro-environment lately, it's not a coincidence. Rather, it's a campaign designed to reduce the political liability of right-wing candidates on environmental issues. Unfortunately, the campaign is strictly rhetorical -- it's not about changing policies but about changing language.
And that's where Frank Luntz comes in. Luntz, the boyish Svengali of conservative politics, made his name as a pollster who concentrated on identifying the words that would prove most resonant with the American public. Now, in his message book "Straight Talk," Luntz brings his dark arts to the task of helping Republicans package themselves as concerned about the environment without actually having to be concerned.
The recent Democratic primary, in which John Kerry first won in Iowa and then - riding a wave of publicity - prevailed just about everywhere else, has again raised questions about the nominating process. How fair, inclusive, and effective is that process? How can it be made more so? In 2000, the G.O.P. revamped its primary schedule, and as the Democrats contemplate a major review before 2006, it is worth considering the strengths and weaknesses of the current system.
"Aesthetic" is probably not the first word that springs to mind in a discussion of modern American conservatism. Dick Armey, aesthetic? Deregulation, aesthetic? How can that be? Aren't conservatives unresponsive to art, hostile to the artistic community?
The value of the U.S. dollar is a concept that can seem either too unimportant or too complex to bother with -- except, of course, if you're an American traveling abroad and thinking about exchange rates. But the remarkable weakness of the dollar right now, in the context of the ongoing globalization of finance, demands that we think seriously about the dollar's value on international currency markets. In late 2000, the U.S. dollar would have fetched €1.20 (Euros). Today it would buy you only about 80 Euro cents. That's a drop of about one-third. What does this mean?
In the wake of 9/11, ultraconservatives have used the concept of a War on Terrorism (WOT) – a “war” with no foreseeable end and hidden enemies lurking everywhere – to tighten control over the American public, undermine civil liberties, advance their own foreign policy agenda, distract attention from their own controversial domestic agenda, and intimidate the opposition.
We can expect terrorism to remain a dominant media story throughout 2004, and terrorism-related media-worthy events to be used in service of the political goals of the far right.
In the face of the media-dramatized WOT, it has been hard for dissenting voices to be heard. Opposition to conservative policies and actions, and to Republican candidates, is met by accusations that the opponents are unpatriotic or seek to put Americans at risk.
“The progress of science is not likely to stop with wiretapping,” Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis wrote in 1928, recognizing then that the telephone – still a relatively new technology – enabled new forms of “trespass” beyond any contemplated by the framers of the Constitution. Yet Brandeis’s prescience was not reflected in law until 1967, when the Supreme Court ruled in Katz v. United States that electronic surveillance fell under the “search and seizure” limitations of the Fourth Amendment.
The following year, the U.S. Congress enacted the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act, which included the first codified guidelines for electronic surveillance: namely, that the content of wire communications could be seized only in criminal cases, with a court order and probable cause, and that wiretapping could be used only as a “last resort” for the most serious crimes, and carried out so as to minimize interception of innocent conversations.
This article, written by the Communications Director of the Wisconsin Academy of Trial Lawyers and published in the Winter 2004 issue of The Verdict (v.27:1), draws upon the work of Commonweal Institute Fellow Dave Johnson in describing how the "civil justice system has come under a systematic, multi-dimensional assault spearheaded by right-wing foundations such as the Wisconsin-based Bradley Foundation."
Imagine the following political cartoon. A young boy, in bed in his cozy bedroom, a Dixie Chicks poster on the wall, clutches the top of his American flag quilt and looks fearfully toward the door, where his father (in cowboy boots) has just entered. "Daddy," the boy says, "I think there's a monster under the bed." Indeed, there it is: a huge snarling reptilian thing, all claws and teeth and scales, with the word "Deficit" scrawled across its loathsome length. "Aww, that's nothin' to fret about," drawls the father, "That's just the puppy I brung home for Christmas."
Too blunt, probably, and perhaps unfair -- but this whimsical scene does convey something of the dynamic that has emerged in American political discourse regarding the federal budget deficit. That dynamic consists, on the one hand, of a disingenuous, faintly paternalistic campaign to convince the public that a $500 billion dollar deficit doesn't really matter, and on the other hand, of the willingness of Americans, in their eternal optimism, to believe so.