I returned from Europe on Sunday, and I thought I'd be blogging this week about some extraordinary negotiations that I read about in a lengthy spread in Le Monde Diplomatique, a French weekly that addresses current affairs with a real sense of history. These talks between the EU and the governments of the United States and Canada are designed to create something called the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, which, as several articles explained in great detail, will be an unprecedented free trade zone within which governments lose most of their traditional power to regulate their economies. But I shall have save that post for later, because today's headlines provide more proof, not that it was needed, that both the United States and the world face a great crisis comparable in scope, thought very different in form, from the one that shook the world from 1929 through 1945.
Abroad, the big news, of course, is the threatened collapse of the Shi'ite dictatorship we helped bring to power in Iraq. Yes, the Maliki government has one elections, but the Dexter Filkins piece in the New Yorker that I linked here recently showed that its leaders have terrorist backgrounds and are using the same terrorist methods in power that Saddam Hussein did. The difference is that they have not been able to stand up effective security forces, which are collapsing in the face of a Sunni offensive that began in Syria and is now assuming control over one major city after another. With Iran, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia watching carefully, anything is possible now, including a regional religious war. How much of this catastrophe is ultimately the responsibility of George W. Bush is impossible to say, but at the very least, he accelerated the Sunni-Shi'ite conflict that seems likely to dominate the region for decades. The President, according to one very reliable source, did not even know that there was a Sunni-Shi'ite conflict in Iraq only months before the invasion. Although the US wars in Vietnam and Iraq were very different in origin, scope, tactics and scale, they are now linked by a bizarre chronological parallel. The major US involvement in South Vietnam started in 1961, led to heavy fighting four years later, began to de-escalate five years after that in 1971, led to an American withdrawal in 1973, and culminated in the collapse of the South Vietnamese government two years later. The invasion of Iraq took place in 2003, heavy fighting began about two years later and peaked in 2007-8, followed by an American withdrawal in 2010--and, it seems,. quite possibly, a complete collapse four years later. Things have moved a bit more quickly in Iraq, but with a similar result. And amazingly, American commentators and apologists now claim that Nouri al-Maliki had to be more inclusive, that the had to reach out to the Sunnis--the very things which were never going to happen, clearly, among any of Iraqi's three major groups. Afghanistan and Pakistan are both threatened by more violence as well, and there is no end in sight in Syria. Worse still, there is no major international effort to bring these conflicts to an end and create some kind of stability in the region.
On the home front, on Tuesday night, when I saw the Daily Kos email in my inbox reporting the defeat of Eric Kantor, I literally could not believe it. I thought it must be some kind of a joke--but it wasn't.
Since 2009 I have compared (not equated) the Tea Party and the Nazi Party--their tactics, their goals, and their impact. The Tea Party has drawn on the same kind of hate-filled propaganda that the Nazis did, albeit with somewhat different targets. Their allies in the media, like Hitler and Goebbels, have pioneered new propaganda techniques using new media, in this case, talk radio and 24-hour news channels. Like the traditional German conservatives who thought they could make use of Hitler, the Republican establishment has found that it cannot deal with the monster that it encouraged. And the propaganda of Limbaugh and Fox News--both of whom are crowing over Cantor's defeat--has taken on a life of its own. Listen for a few minutes. Any cooperation at all with the Administration, any vote that seems to endorse business as usual in Washington, is now grounds for suspicion and a potential purge. Congress will get more obstructionist, not less, as a result. Any move towards immigration reform is dead. Jeb Bush's potential presidential candidacy has just suffered a heavy blow.
Charles Blow of the New York Times presented some interesting data on Cantor's defeat today as well. He lost the election by a margin of about 35,000 votes to 30,000--but in 2012, he won re-election in the general election with 223,000 votes. The average Republican was too lazy to show up and vote in the primary; the average Tea Partier was not. This is what is pushing the Republicans relentlessly rightward, despite all the efforts of Karl Rove and company to try to keep them close enough to the center to win a national election.
Yet the critical differences between the Republican right and the Nazis persist. First of all, the Tea Party has never stood up armed militias marching the streets and beating up political opponents--partly because there is no comparable organized force on the left. Secondly and more importantly, unlike the Nazis, they have no positive program. They simply want to destroy modern government in the United States. Yet they may do so, if they can actually get into power. That is not all that likely. The demographics are still against them in national elections, and their candidates do not do well even at the state level. Hillary Clinton was undoubtedly one of the biggest gainers from Tuesday's vote. But as I have said many times, the rhythms of American politics guarantee that sooner or later the Republicans will come into office again, and there doesn't seem to be much hope of their regaining their sanity before they do.
There's a big reason why extremist Republicans keep gaining ground. Not only do they dispose of extraordinary profit-making propaganda instruments, but they are the only element in our political life pushing seriously for a vision of a new order. They are living in a fantasy world and have nothing to offer but disaster, but in times of crisis, simple allegiance to the long-standing status quo is not a very strong political position. The Democrats have become, above all, the party of the economic status quo, with very little that is new to offer. That is why they have not been able to mobilize their majority on behalf of a policy agenda. They have however managed to prevent anyone else from doing so.