Bill Clinton is wrong. The anti-liberal democratic Movement comprised of various ideological strands poses a greater danger today than it did after his first calamitous year in office.
Three premises underlie the observation. First, the Movement’s necessarily amorphous political power is a separate and distinct phenomena from institutional presence. The common wisdom that the Movement is weak because of institutional losses misses the boat entirely. (Though to be fair, our best political commentators are just discovering in 2009 that the Movement was the parasite controlling the enfeebled Republican Party. We, Dear Readers, together explored those ramifications five years ago while Tweety was still giving DeLay ‘a happy finish’ under the desk).
Second, because the Movement never focused on institutionalized, governing existence until 2001, its permanent residence was and remains AgitProp. Priorities are to control the zeitgeist, frame ‘acceptable’ discourse, expand its perceived existential comfort zone from challenge. This state of being is true both for movements in the Old World after 1789 and ours in the New. Only understanding this primal state of origin allows one to see the Movement’s often mocked circular firing squad is internally an energizing purge in all sense of meaning. Casting out dissenters — or those painted as such — reifies the sense of self beyond just stifling cognitive dissonance. Humanity has not changed this ritual since Calvin’s Geneva.
The Movement is therefore from birth essentially negatory. What it perceives as creative impulses are inescapably destructive. All the ‘creation’ involves the repealing, the eradicating, the cleansing, the returning, the removing, the banning or the unleashing. Our political public so-called intellectuals ask ‘Why didn’t the Republicans [sic] propose solutions for X or do Y when they held all three branches, etc.?’ The very question screams they need a clue. The Movement inherently can not do so; it’s true animating impulses are unquenchable nihilism and destruction.
Those are easy words: unquenchable, nihilism, destruction. They are, however, precisely accurate. Many Movement intellectuals (real or imagined) at least pay lip service to Schumpeter’s book, Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy: from whence came the now-hackneyed phrase ‘creative destruction’. Like usual, most peddling the meme never read the book. But the phrase is now a bland short hand for Dow 36,000ism and ‘destruction is creative’. The subtext appropriately is as Martha says, ‘it’s a good thing’. Don’t be fooled. Creative impulses in the Movement can only result in destruction ultimately because its boundaries of secure identity require the absolute elimination of any perceived threat. So-called creative utopian constructs or proposals offered on the horizon require first a wasteland devoid of others. Simply put: it really is war without end.
The Continent’s rejectionist horror at liberté, égalité, fraternité from the 1790s onwards is reflected in many examples of similar socio-political phenomena. Like everything else, almost all of the American Movement’s animating impulses are imports. Albeit, often unknowingly. Often misunderstood. Americans today can learn alot from the Continent’s experience. Even a casual survey of the historical, political and philosophical record shows us that a movement is sui generis, unrelated to an organized, functional, nuts and bolts participatory political party or organization. This makes sense – it is born and is most comfortable in the Agitprop realm.
To manifest itself corporally, a movement must be both in and perceived as in action. AgitProp is a necessity. But so is public theater. Perception of siege married with action – often any kind of action – proves ‘they’ (the Movement) exist. This solipsism also explains why movements across time excel at public spectacle, ritual, theater and action. Examples literally fall out of history’s pages. Americans just have to look. Technology today has not changed the fundamentals. Glorification of technology, speed and action was the slogan for the Italian Futurists (precursors to the Duce’s appearance). The actual slogan was “Technology, Speed and *Violence*.” Many anti-liberal democratic movements in Europe, Eastern Europe and in the Americas openly embraced components of that futurism and technology. Technology precisely imparted ‘creation’, offered change (while simultaneously representing Threat ala American Taylorism). Public theater and action is also not only ceremonial. It creates random potential for creative destruction via potential destabilization of status quo actors. Which in turn galvanizes more action, speed and so on. Another reason that movements have encouraged random violence, street brawls, etc. as well as marches and parades.
So we see how action is the physical manifestation of communal participation. It’s hard but we should all try to remember that issues are not actually important. A given issue offers gravitational fields that will align and define. But the issues themselves are just manifestations, not the thing itself. The Movement always remains apart. And must to survive.
To make it less abstract, Movement action in 2009 — whether throwing tea bags in Fred Smith’s corporate foyer because they forgot to get a public dumping permit — or politically executing a deviationist is both inherently good and necessary. Anger is always the easiest emotional tool to manipulate. Its simple irrationality is the asset. Regardless if puzzling or risible to others. We are amazed that our American political ‘experts’ smirk and then get stupified when the Movement (via the Republican marionette) eschews ‘logical’ purposeful activity typical of a political pluralistic entity. They appear daily with polls showing this or that. Utterly missing the point that the action – rational or not – is first for the internal primary audience. How the Movement defines for itself coherence, clarity, hierarchy and communal belonging is the alpha and omega. The essential narcissism of that drama almost by necessity will be inherently irrational for those Outside. History shows this trajectory time and again across the globe.
Third, Democrats, liberals, independents, the wholly notional, non-existent American ‘Left’ [sic] no longer think in world historical patterns. History began yesterday. Books are hawked, not read. Or merely churned out, not considered. The overall American political community collectively assumes with vacant laziness that everyone plays the same game for the same stakes. Clinton today after everything still frames things so. Amazing.
Given the above one can see why and how a Movement so recently banished to the institutional political ‘grave’ still dominates Obama, liberals, the ‘Left [sic], MSNBC, etc. (As a simple content analysis statistical project, examine airtime ratios spent by non-Movement media rebutting Movement memes, defending themselves from spurious Movement press releases from a County Supervisor in Upper Lower Mississippi, etc., etc.)
Notice how much less time they devote to ‘objective factual stories’ or re MSNBC, advancing their own purposeful agenda? Pwned.
Broad assertions all. What do they mean in practical terms for comparing 1993 to 2009?
In 1993 Clinton actually had it easy. We know. We were there. The Movement by today’s standards was fairly compartmentalized. Technology obviously plays a role. But the strands within the Movement remained in 1993 a coalition rather than today’s intertwined, comingled, conscious and supremely self aware (and self-policing) presence. The classic example is the Neocons and their comparative isolation from and at the time noticeable discomfort with social conservatives (paleo) and religious, particularly evangelical populations. It was true elsewhere. Different disciplines targeted for penetration such as legal, etc. did not cross fertilize as well.
Moveover, the key to the 1993 Movement’s broad coalition was betrayal. By Herbert Walker Bush. Disdain and contempt for GHWB was close to Obama levels in many circles. Baker served as a two-fer. He assumed guilt for not letting ‘Reagan Be Reagan’. Ken Duberstein, then a respected figure of a still independent and viable Republican establishment, said it best — the wise course of action is to give lip service and maybe a 5% bone to the fringe. (Obama is taking a cue here). The Movement felt the Reagan Revolution was ‘stolen’ from them and buried by Herbert Walker Bush.
The Perot 1992 campaign is the case study. We were down there in Texas talking with John White about consulting on foreign policy related issues but did not sign on fully while Jordan and Rollins had their famous Hanoi Hilton eye blink ‘this is one crazed dude’ press conference. Until that crash, we were either surrounded by or fielding calls from or watching a literal Who’s Who of both the Republican *and* Movement elites determined to help Perot bury ‘the traitor Bush’. Read my hips. The Stupid Party. ‘F**k Bush’. Every day.
Sure Clinton was young. Unrelated to the National Security State. A Joe Klein 60s ‘weak’ Fleetwood Mac kinda guy (except for that backstabbing novel after the fact). And his wife pushed every emotional and psychological button possible. But Bubba’s real enemy in 1994 was largely himself. CNN and Larry King remained the sole ‘new media’ outlet for everyone. No Fox News. ‘Talk Radio’ was essentially Rush and is effect was akin to a 1960s AM transistor handheld.
The Movement took advantage of Clinton’s bumbling quickly after the fact. AgitProp masters often do. Rush made millions retroactively claiming he ‘led’ the charge. But the so-called Movement ‘national campaign’ in 1994, the Contract, all of that? Useless and irrelevant. After the fact spin. We say that having (a) been there literally; (b) knowing most the famous names you are thinking of right now regarding the Contract, some for 25 years – and dealing with them *at the time*; and (c) watching and even participating in the Movement activities long after 1994. The Class of 1994 may have had Sanfords sleeping in their offices, the Kasichs. But that wave also included centrists and non-Movement Republicans of all hues. 1994 was about American preference for divided government. Newt’s fundamental misreading of that with the shutdown and other blunders make it clear. 1998 was his tattoo you.
By contrast, the Movement since 1998 made two dramatic steps that led to the Warlord, authoritarian government, war crimes and fiasco. First, the various strands in some cases independently and others via networked agreement began a serious drive on gaining institutional control for itself. The broad penumbra ‘The Movment’ would no longer be a Duberstein supplicant. The parasite decided to devour the host. Its champions would be directly in place politically, legally, institutionally.
Morton Blackwell had long run a small cadre and campaign school for Kool Aid conservative activists. But after 1998 the cadre development became more structured as the Movement moved into chairs and desks at the RNC and other operational entities at State and local levels. We remember Grover telling us to our face in 1998 that Bush was The Man for 2000. Second, comingling began. Kristol the senior openly embraced and championed AgitProp solidarity with religious (especially Evangelical because their End Times eschatology and Israel) and social (in his mind) primitives. Reciprocity resulted in Neocon memes being championed by the Eagle Forum, etc. For Phyllis Schlafly types to run around with talking points essentially repeating Wolfowitz’ rejected Defense Planning Guidance from the hated GHWB Administration is an astonishing political achievement. And so on.
Along came Scalia, 500 votes and voilà. The Movement captured American government. And changed world history. Far more than Clinton did. Historians can debate whether the Movement could have dominated so thoroughly absent 9/11. But we recall the White House vetting and outreach from February 2001 — we went through it. The Movement secret handshake was already required. Moderates, squishes, co-habitationalists need not call. The Warlord’s first national address significantly was in August 2001 on Movement stem cell priorities. The pieces were all there, regardless of September.
World history also tells us an AgitProp movement almost always fails transitioning to actual governance. Governance requires facts. In non-totalitarian phases it requires at least acknowledging pluralism. Governance requires what can not be given – co-existence. All anathema to the Movement’s nihilism. Katrina did not have to be such a staggering catastrophe. That was personalities in place. But that an AgitProp regime bungled a empirical concrete task is the historical norm. It’s the reason why the Warlord’s tenure is defined by incompetence. Compare Bremmer’s CPA with Lucius Clay or SCAP in Tokyo. And so on.
Bartlett infamously admonished Suskind that the Warlord governed an Empire that creates its own reality, disdainful of the mere empirical. Many Americans were shocked. To students of history it’s unremarkable. Similar statements have been made by newly empowered AgitProp movement regimes across time.
The real damning aspect of 2001-2008? Not really the Movement itself. We’re still amazed that the American professional political and pundit class are just now in 2009 recognizing these truths. It’s true that Americans today remain politically (in theory and science), philosophically, and historically illiterate. Proof? Jon & Kate Plus 8. Gotcha.
Meanwhile, the Movement tasted global, corporeal, secular Power. Not just as in the House context of telling Dick Gephardt to shove it and kicking his ass in the Rules Committee kind of power. War Power, Man. Castrating the UN, illegal searching, warrantless wiretapping, unfettered by law-including-f**k-off-Geneva-Conventions kind of Power. As Keeanu Reeves might say, ‘Whoa! Power also made them supremely wealthy. The fiscal irresponsibility and destruction of the middle class has alot of fringe benefits. Many a McMansion, Lexus, Mercedes in D.C. are trinkets from that Power.
The Movement therefore experienced the collapse hinted at in 2006 and fully realized by 2008 vastly differently than 1992. Clinton’s analysis doesn’t take this into account either. The weak, ‘squish’ GHWB could not be blamed. The Movement controlled the Republican Party and all three branches of government. And failed. In a way they could not mask with AgitProp. Screaming ‘LaLaLaLaLa-I-Can’t-Hear-You’ wasn’t enough. Compounding the personal rejection trauma? Kicked to the curb by a 47 year old community organizer. A guy named ‘Barack’. Even Hussein in there somewhere. Existential safety zones melted down beyond Chernobyl.
The so-called ‘irrationality’ post election is *the exact point*. Existential obliteration elicits -no, demands – the irrational. Plus, the Revanchism is doubly personal. Many Movement types who became extremely wealthy under the Warlord faced unemployment, marginalization and privation. Normally the jobs go to the victor. Staffing, lobbying, media, across the board. They knew they didn’t have Rich Bond or Jim Baker or Ken Duberstein or GHWB to serve as November Criminals.
And whether at CPAC over coffee or at a lunch or meeting downtown, time and again we are told to our face the Movement will not renounce the Warlord. it is psychologically incapable of such regicide/self mutilation. The only option was to go full throttle. Unconstrained now after Obama’s victory, the Movement went to 11. This rump, ‘Leninist’ Movement can do so because of the purging. It brings agility and discipline — even if that discipline is to dog whistle nihilism.
The Movement doesn’t even bother masking disavowal of liberal democracy. It’s not a bug, it’s a feature! Divorce from consensual American politics, once a private matter, is now a public court filing. They will still play the liberal democratic game to retake power eventually, but as always as a means, not an end. And the morons and dupes that comprise the media and Democratic Party will — like a poorly scripted battered spouse — ignore the divorce and agree to re-marry. Everyone knows it makes good ratings.
Yet, ironically even in their nihilistic rage, the Movement still actually governs. By negative implication. By censoring options. By bluffing spineless Democrats into obeying wholly notional ‘bright lines’. By jamming violence, threats of violence and even assassination into unremarkable political discourse and memes. We’re stunned to admit it, but the Movement staunched the loss of jobs and their personal political and financial viability. They’ve successfully pushed back the normal imbalance of jobs, access and money under a unified government — Congress/Executive. A small victory you say? A testament to Democratic incompetence we say. And don’t forget day by day Obama still must deal with tens of thousands of civil service ‘left behinds’. And with each flinch, they get bolder.
The Movement is vastly more powerful as an AgitProp entity than 1993. That by definition means it itself is more powerful than 1993, contra Clinton. And it still somehow remains a governing force. We doubt they will retake the House this cycle. Even with Democrats determined to be losers once more. For reasons noted above the Movement has unique problems with systematic, concrete organizational existence. A tiresome trifle needed for retail ‘democratic’ politics. One side effect of draining the Republican Party Host so completely is that mere organizational infrastructure is a wreck. And a nettlesome ‘problem’ still decidedly secondary to indulging unfettered AgitProp exultation.
For now, it is enough to destroy. What more could a nihilist ask for?