“Against stupidity the gods themselves struggle in vain.” – Friedrich Schiller
The military has an interesting acronym, BFI: Brute Force and Ignorance. The rule of thumb is that BFI does not get the job done. War is no longer two opposing groups coming to grips and bashing away at each other until one gives up.
Shock and Awe, like Blitzkrieg, was more than the application of brute force. It takes finesse and nuance to conduct a successful lightning campaign.
Politics is similar. The Founding Fathers set up an intricate system of government which abounds with nuance, a complex system of checks and balances to sustain it through trials and time. They could have come up with something simpler had they wished, but their labors have served us well for over two centuries.
Unfortunately, any structure, however strong, will give way to repeated battering. You cannot win a lightning campaign through BFI but as George W. Bush realized, if you have overwhelming strength you can dispense with finesse and just pummel your enemy into submission. He did exactly that for eight years.
And the system so lovingly constructed by Madison, Jefferson and others, fell under assault. Cracks are starting to appear.
Congress surrendered it’s authority to the Bush Administration, voluntarily emasculating itself. Only the judicial branch held up its end of the bargain and continued to function anything like intended, and the Bush administration signaled its intention to ignore the courts and to ignore the constitution whenever it wished. Suddenly, there were no brakes on the executive.
After eight years of running amok, conservatives seem suddenly beside themselves with the loss power. They are so eager to “take their government back” that they are willing to destroy it in the process through the application of brute force and ignorance.
George W. Bush was the proverbial bull in the china shop. He did not have any idea at all what diplomacy meant. Where Teddy Roosevelt advised speaking softly and carrying a big stick, Bush just carried a big stick, and he wanted a bigger stick than everyone else.
Cave-man style, speaking wasn’t an important part of the equation. Pummeling was. And his pummeling took place domestically as well as oversees. Across the ocean, the Old World recoiled in horror at his approach and at times, his behavior. Brute force toppled the regime of Saddam Hussein; it did not win America any friends.
To put it another way, the kings of the Bronze Age, without any oversight by way of public opinion, local or otherwise, indeed, without even a word for or concept of, “diplomacy,” behaved in a more responsible manner towards their neighbors than did President Bush towards ours.
President Obama, who understands diplomacy in the same way the Bronze Age Kings did — that the country is part of a larger community of nations — is accused of apologizing for America simply because he does not continue to beat everyone with the big stick.
Bush’s application of brute force tactics at home operated on the well greased machinery of fear. Fear was the currency of politics from 2001-2008. With control of Congress he steamrollered the cowed opposition when it was offered and proclaimed that the Constitution was “just a goddamned piece of paper.” The Constitution established our government, its powers and limitations. You cannot simply treat it like a set of “guidelines” or “suggestions,” and expect there to be no damage.
And he got away with it. Brute force and ignorance.
Bush is out of office now, his misrule terminated by time, but his politics remain. The Constitution remains a “goddamned piece of paper” to be ignored, to have parts removed or revised or reinterpreted according to ideological needs. The conservatives are still loose in the china shop, destroying it; America is the china shop.
Once upon a time, American politics operated with a level of subtlety that today is glaringly absent. Was an eight-year sustained attack on the Republic enough to destroy our system of government? It’s true that Bush wasn’t the first; it didn’t begin with him. There have been violations of the Constitution by the Executive before, including by no less a hero than Abraham Lincoln, who illegally suspended habeas corpus.
But the eight years of the Bush administration, followed by nearly two years of obstructionism, rejection, and the establishment of a virtual “government in exile” has been without precedent. Think about it: a government in exile implies a legitimate and an illegitimate government. The implication of conservative politics is that only their governance is legitimate and that the Democrats are usurpers. That paradigm does not allow for compromise, for compromise is now something dirty: collaboration.
The idea that only the Republican Party legitimately has American interests at heart is a dangerous one, and America is being beat to death with it.
The American political system assumes that all parties will behave responsibly and continue to try to govern the nation even through disagreement. For one party to completely withdraw from the process and insist on their status as “a government in exile during a time of political usurpation” is something the Founders never foresaw. They proceeded on an assumption of enlightened governance, but enlightenment, for today’s conservatives, is a liberal plot.
When President Obama entered office, his approach to politics was in accordance with the old paradigm. He assumed that the opposition would behave responsibly and reasonably. There would be rancor, but government would continue to function. Instead, the Republicans, despite their complete failure on Election Day ’08, decided to emulate George W. Bush. Lacking any but imagined power, they still proceeded on the assumption that they dictated policy.
They seemed completely ignorant of their loss of public support, of both the executive and representative branches, and operated on the assumption that they could still dictate policy despite their minority position. None of that mattered once they convinced themselves they were the legitimate government. And so they refused to compromise. They refused to talk unless it was to issue their diktat or to say “no.” And they said “no” to literally everything.
When they are not obstructing the functions of government, they simply make things up and bombard the American voter with lies. Tell a big lie and tell it often.
If confronted with undeniable, irrefutable facts simply ignore them and repeat the lie.
It didn’t win them the White House – or Congress in 2008, and it seems unlikely to reward them at the Midterms in 2010.
BFI may not get them back into power, but it can destroy the country.
Is it possible that Republicans believe their own propaganda, or knowing the truth that they do not represent the majority view of the country, they persist in the lie in order not to demoralize their base?
Friedrich Nietzsche wrote, “’I did that,’ says my memory. ‘I could not have done that,’ says my pride and remains inexorable. Eventually – the memory yields.”
Is this what happens to conservative thinking? Is the need for fact to fit to system so strong that even memory must give way? Something simply has to be true, and therefore is?
I wonder if, one day, a former Tea Party member will stand up, astonished at the destruction they have wrought, and like Madame Roland before the guillotine will cry, “Oh Liberty! Liberty! What crimes are committed in your name!”