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"But if the cause be not good, the king himself hath a heavy reckoning to make, when all those legs and arms and heads, chopped off in battle, shall join together at the latter day and cry all 'We died at such a place;' some swearing, some crying for a surgeon, some upon their wives left poor behind them, some upon the debts they owe, some upon their children rawly left. I am afeard there are few die well that die in a battle; for how can they charitably dispose of any thing, when blood is their argument? Now, if these men do not die well, it will be a black matter for the king that led them to it; whom to disobey were against all proportion of subjection." (Henry V, Act V, Scene 4)

Friday, November 10, 2006

Kevin Phillips says fasten your seatbelts, bumpy ride ahead

Kevin Phillips says fasten your seatbelts, bumpy ride ahead
by monkeybiz
Fri Nov 10, 2006 at 08:16:41 AM CST

Last night, I saw Kevin Phillips ("American Theocracy" and other works) speak not only about the themes of his latest book, but also about the mid-term elections, Robert Gates, and stressing the base. Phillips is a pleasure as a speaker, and is as erudite as his latest book suggests. He's also franker, funnier, and, if possible, more worried about what the next two years may hold.

Come on in for a rundown of how Phillips, a conservative thinker and the architect of the Southern Strategy, made a room full of Democrats, liberals, and progressives listen -- and laugh.

Phillips opened his talk by saying that he's still trying to sink his teeth into what happened in the elections, and said that it was "amusing to hear about the Administration's interest in bipartisanship." Equally amusing, he added, is the thought of Democrats getting along with Bush, "which would be kind of foolish [in terms of winning in '08] -- unless circumstances compel it."

He reiterated the conventional wisdom about mid-term elections being a six-year itch, and part of an historical pattern of rejecting the policies of those in power, but also noted that the Democrats successfully overcame the most effective Republican machine ever. He also said that this rejection by the voters was a big one, and that "even the Republicans feel that the animosity was decisive." The biggest immediate question, said Phillips will be how the opposition party (his term) and the Administration conduct themselves.

Phillips expects that even with Democrats in power in the house and Senate, Iraq will continue to hang over the Republicans' heads. Unless the Democrats screw up, he said. But when Bush leaves office, there will still be troops in Iraq and, he noted, the longterm bases they don't talk about. Rumsfeld's departure will not be enough to salvage the Administration, and Phillips finds the idea of hearings "fascinating." (No elaboration there, unfortunately.)

Economically, Phillips expects that the recession will have turned into a recovery by '08, making it harder for the Democrats to tap it as a political point. However, he foresees that the next two years will hold something messier, and deeper than other recessions, exacerbated by record levels of debt and borrowing.

"Gridlock will not be cheered," said Phillips. Bush will try to blame the Democrats, but larger dynamics will be at work against the Republicans, and "it's hard to see how Republicans don't get blamed for a very difficult coming two years."

At that point, Phillips launched into a discussion of themes from "American Theocracy," namely, that economic and political empires are eventually brought down by six factors: a sense of decay; religion run amok; the war against science, led by the faithful; global overreach; debt; and energy depletion. (For further discussion of his theses, go here, here, and here, for starters.) He ran through these as a matter of course, and spoke mostly without notes and with precision. The good stuff came as commentary on these themes. Of interest in the asides:

* Other world leaders have historically claimed that intervention in the Middle East wasn't about oil. They've been laughed at -- with the exception of Bush. "The press let him get away with that."

* The southern wing of the Republican party has not only dominated the Republican party, but has turned rogue.

* The financial sector is "running amok on debt."

* Peak Oil will be a real problem in the next two years. Where is the debate? There isn't any. The experts have discussions, but the major political parties don't, and neither Democrats nor Republicans have laid the groundwork for dealing with the issue seriously.

* Phillips may have authored the Southern Strategy, but he missed the changing redistribution of religious voters. Guiltier is the media, who avoid discussion of how religious beliefs influence geopolitical strategy and policy. After outlining Bush's sense that he's on a mission from God -- and a Duke University study of mental illness and the Presidency -- Phillips commented, "I'm thinking, here's this guy in Iraq because of a religious feeling of mission...I can't understand why the media doesn't get into some of this."

* Phillips can't see how to mobilize the incoming congress to do much of anything, as Democrats will do best if they stick to their course of letting the Republicans take the blame, and the Administration has no intention of changing its course. "We're not going to have an effective government," said Phillips, adding that the only thing that would disrupt this pattern would be a crisis.

* The first question Phillips took after his lecture had to do with changes to the system by which we elect representatives. He basically said that while there are real and pressing problems with how we elect office holders, the real issues (debt, Peak Oil) are too serious to waste time. "The American people rise to challenges," he added, "but they can't do what they don't know" -- and that neither politicians nor the press are helping get the big issues on the table.

* Asked whether there are tensions between old-style Republicans and the southern Republicans, Phillips answered that the tensions are breaking open but that the Democrats are ill-equipped to exploit them. "Democrats," he said, "don't know how to stress the Republican coalition." This is important -- he feels that in the wake of Foley and Haggard, many evangelicals and fundamentalists will feel like they did in the post-Scopes trial era: depressed. Democrats, liberals, and progressives will never convince them of anything, he argued, but should instead work to depress (NOT suppress) the vote. His prediction is that the fundamentalist/evangelical vote will turn out to be 6-8 points lower than in 2004. "You don't want goo-goo [translation: pie-in-the-sky] programs, you want the opposition's president to be a flaming moron!"

* Our manufacturing base is gone, lost to the growth of the financial services sector, "and you don't get the old stuff back." The world will seek our expertise less and less.

* Was Rumsfeld's compulsory plank walk a sign of the Administration's willingness to compromise? "Oh, NO," laughed Phillips, and stated that calling for Rumsfeld's head was a common campaign theme among Republican candidates. Rumsfeld had become increasingly irrelevant anyway, he added, "and when is the last time Rumsfeld's made a decision intelligently?"

* He had no kind words for George W. Bush tapping George H.W. Bush's brain trust, either, describing SecDef nominee Robert Gates as "an old retainer" and "one of the bagholders for Bush ineptness" in ever supporting Saddam Hussein.

* As for Condoleeza Rice? "She makes no difference anywhere... She looks like she's always posing for a Ferragamo shoe ad."

* Phillips acknowledged that civil liberties have taken a hit, but, in his words, "wars produce some of this stuff." [!] "It hasn't gotten too far out of hand. Bush would like more power, but he certainly doesn't deserve it."

* Asked about the racism evident in the Ford-Corker battle, and his role in developing the strategy that started it all, Phillips looked a little uncomfortable. He bordered on cryptic, and said that all he'd say was the following: "Harold Ford has a big mouth, and should have shut it. Corker baited him."

* On Cheney, as the God whose voice Bush hears: "Well, he's certainly not the sharpshooter of the west." He went on to say that Cheney obviously has a lot of influence over Bush, but essentially wouldn't know what to tell him as far as religion and politics.

* In closing, Phillips asserted that gutsy Democrats should take on Bush's assertion that God speaks through him, and whether that's a proper thing for any president to say. He sees the "God speaks through me" meme as a wedge issue that should be taken seriously, and not as a joke -- this kind of thinking, and the policies that flow from it, are a menace.

A good lecture, overall, and worth attending if only for the insight that this is the time to stress the Republican coalition. The way to attack its weakness is to question its strength, and the hubris of a man -- and an Administration -- on a mission from God.


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