Since the 2008 election, prominent conservatives, both in and out of office, have made their alternative to “the political establishment” alarmingly explicit. They now take views on nearly every domestic issue that, by definition, are profoundly reactionary. Glenn Beck declares he “hates” Woodrow Wilson for initiating the Federal Reserve system, while Rick Perry calls Social Security a failure and a “Ponzi scheme” and would like to abolish the income tax. Both Perry and Michele Bachmann proudly declare their wish that all Americans convert to their sort of triumphal Christianity. Before 2001, most conservatives hoped to roll back certain parts of the Great Society—although not Medicare or the Civil Rights Act. Now, an increasing number would like to repeal nearly everything government has accomplished, with popular support, during the entire twentieth century. The GOP majority in the House of Representatives seems eager to begin that mighty task.
The hypocritical Right has thus been succeeded by a hysterical Right. There is no room in this vitriolic camp for such thoughtful Bushian conservatives as David Frum and Michael Gerson, much less Sam Tanenhaus, an admiring biographer of Whittaker Chambers and William F. Buckley. David Brooks, who once said his task as a columnist for the New York Times was “to explain Red America to Blue America,” seems entirely disgusted by national politics and has taken refuge in neuropsychology.
In her recent reflections on 9/11, Former Director General of MI5 Eliza Manningham-Buller remarked that “terrorism is resolved through politics and economics, not through arms and intelligence”; that it is fundamentally unhelpful to declare war on terror, which will always exist in some form; and that the attacks were a crime and need to be thought of as such. On which anniversary of the attacks will these obvious truths be widely acknowledged?
This is one of those don’t-associate-me-with-those-bad-leftist pieces: Bhaskar Sunkara, Ten Years Later: The History of Possibility 09/08/2011. He makes an interesting juxtaposition between the anti-globalization protests in Seattle in late 1999 and Muslim terrorism-related event:
A common sentiment among those who took part in the movement is that of a historical moment cut short. The Islamist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon fostered a domestic environment that allowed American troops to be deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq. The “anti-globalization” movement receded from view, but before long street protests returned. The build-up to the Second Gulf War saw history’s largest demonstrations. But now the Left was on the defensive. “Anti-imperialist” rhetoric was resurrected, Students for a Democratic Society was reborn, but the anti-war movement proved no more able to stop war than the “anti-globalization” movement was able to end capitalism. ...
There were signs, even then, that the future would not be kind to the Left. In December 1999, while broken storefront windows were still being swept up in parts of Seattle, Ahmed Ressam was arrested around eighty miles west of the city. He was found with an impressive cache of explosives, weapons he loaded into the trunk of a rental car and planned to use to bomb Los Angeles International Airport. At the dawn of the millennium, some socialists looked forward to the resurgence of the Left, but this may have always been reaction’s moment.
This seems an odd sentiment for the editor of an online journal called Jacobin. But that’s material for other articles.
What I’ll say here is that it comes off as an oddly cynical reading of the real shifts in American politics in the 2000s. However much a disappointment the Obama Administration has been to partisan Democrats, the political developments that took place from the October 2002 authorization for war on Iraq, one of the historic low points in our political system’s history, to the election of Barack Obama as President in 2008, the public gave expression to a real democratic resistance against the policies of the Cheney-Bush Administration. That isn’t changed by the fact that Obama has governed in a far more conservative manner than his campaign presented him.
Did those developments constitute a “resurgence of the Left” in Sunkara’s sense? If we define “the Left” as rioting anarchists, which seems to be his sense of it, then no, it didn’t. But in the sense the term is commonly conceived in US politics, it did. It’s hard to see how he can conclude from those developments that “this may have always been reaction’s moment.”
To the consternation of liberals and civil libertarians, the Obama administration has extended many of these policies—“extraordinary renditions” of prisoners for torture abroad included. But perhaps even more disturbing than America’s out-sourcing of torture are the legal doctrines now stoutly defended by the Obama administration for concealing the true extent of the new authoritarianism of the American state.
The ideals of open government, of a public and legislative approach to security and to war, and of the unjust persecution of even a small number as the persecution of us all, can only spur so many. For a brief time, when he took office, Obama appeared to be one with these ideals: he abolished official torture and closed CIA prisons abroad. But he quickly gave up on shutting down Guantánamo and has embraced the permanent suspension of habeas corpus, an official policy of assassination, and the continued use of extraordinary rendition.
The national security state, grown alongside our wars declared and not, is not an election issue. A Beltway consensus has emerged in favor of preserving its new tricks, and there’s no doubt that a new Republican president would have fewer scruples about legality than the current president does.