It was about nine and a half years ago that I wrote the post reproduced below, about half way through the Obama Administration. Thanks to important reading about Communist strategy during the Vietnam War, I realized that the Republican Party was pursuing a long-term strategy of making it impossible for the federal government--their enemy--to function. I was reminded of it and moved to repost it by reports that two Republican Senators, Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley, are pushing the strategy to new heights--or rather, depths--in the Senate. Cruz is putting a "hold" on every Biden ambassadorial appointment to pressure the Administration to impose sanctions on European nations who have agreed on a new natural gas pipeline from Russia. Hawley is doing the same for every confirmable appointment to both the State and Defense Departments in an obviously vain attempt to get Secretary of State Blinken, Secretary of Defense Austin, and National Security Adviser Sullivan to resign because of the results of the withdrawal from Afghanistan. As a result, only one ambassador as been confirmed, nine full months into the Biden administration. Only 21% of State Department positions in Washington requiring confirmation have been confirmed.
68 years ago, Republican Senator Joe McCarthy tried to block President Eisenhower's selection of Charles Bohlen, one of our leading Soviet experts at the time, as Ambassador to the USSR. Bohlen had served in the American delegation at the Yalta Conference in February 1945, and Republicans had branded that meeting as a treacherous betrayal of the United States. President Eisenhower refused to be intimidated, however, and Bohlen was confirmed. McCarthy at that point was almost unique in his demagoguery, but Cruz and Hawley are Republican stars, past and future presidential hopefuls. I remember the day in the spring of 1961 when my father appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee after JFK had appointed him Ambassador to Senegal. Also present was a black academic, a Howard University professor of romance languages named Mercer Cook, who had been chosen as Ambassador to Niger. The committee approved both of them quickly. They had not had to fill out endless questionnaires about their financial situations in those distant days, and when the Senator chairing the hearing--Frank Lausche of Ohio, I believe--asked a single standard question as to whether they had any holdings that would create a conflict of interest, Cook replied, "Sir, I'm a schoolteacher," to general laughter. My father and Cook were typical of an almost new kind of ambassadorial appointment of which JFK made a couple of dozen--neither foreign service officers nor major campaign contributors, but simply Americans who had distinguished themselves in government, journalism, or academia, who knew foreign languages and history, and whom the new administration thought would be good advertisements for the country. They also included Edwin Reichsauer and John Kenneth Galbraith of Harvard, whom he appointed to Japan and India; William Attwood in Guinea; and General James Gavin in France.
No Republican sought to hold any of those choices up, because everyone agreed that the United States was engaged in a continuing struggle to preserve and extend our values around the world. No, we did not always wage it wisely, but it held us together and encouraged us to try to live up to our ideals, most notably with respect to civil rights. We have lost the sense of our nation as a common enterprise, the view that presidents from one Roosevelt to the next managed to develop, and another few decades of presidents managed to maintain. The same feeling enabled us to pass a series of lasting and effective domestic reforms, and to get rich Americans to pay their full share of the price of civilization. I hope that somehow we can recover some of that.
The extent of Republican success became even more apparent earlier this week in a New York Times story about a nationwide attack on the authority of public health agencies, a result of the COVID epidemic. These agencies were already underfunded when the epidemic began, and now threats have driven many of their leaders to resign, while Republican state and local governments cut back their authority. Like the Republican gun mania, this attacks one of the fundamental functions of the modern state. Quarantines and vaccines emerged centuries ago as essential weapons against disease, and now Republicans are taking them away where they can.
Here is the original 2012 post.
One of the most important readings about the Vietnam War that I have ever encountered is a chapter by the late Douglas Pike, a real authority on the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese, about dau tranh, or struggle, the philosophy behind the Vietnamese Communist revolution. Dau tranh, Pike explains, had two forms: military and political. Of the two, the political was far more important, and indeed, the Viet Cong always had several times as many active political workers as soldiers during the Vietnam War. Their mission was to rally their own troops and sow confusion among the enemy, doing whatever they could, in particular, to make the South Vietnamese government unable to function effectively. They also infiltrated that government at every level and tried to influence the views of enemy forces. Their goal, essentially, was to reduce society to chaos and allow the well-organized Communist Party to take over. The other day I raised some eyebrows in a small group setting by suggesting that the Republican Party has been practicing dau tranh for more than twenty years. It has now crippled government at all levels and has a good chance of reducing much of the United States to chaos in the next ten years.
Dau transh in its current form started with Newt Gingrich's all-out assault on the Democrats in the House of Representatives, whom he was determined to demonize in order to take away their majority. Grover Norquist's anti-tax pledge, now signed by almost every Republican in Congress and thousands more in state legislatures around the country, is another form of dau tranh. So, of course, is the ceaseless drumbeat of propaganda day after day, week after week, year after year, on Limbaugh, Hannity and the rest. So is the attack on the authority of the mainstream media, universities and scientists. Oddly, while this attack on government probably did more than anything to land us in our current economic mess, the mess also makes dau tranh more effective, because it undermines confidence in the government. Conservative Republicans have also waged long-term dau tranh within our legal system, using the Federalist society to develop a network of conservative lawyers and judges and packing the courts whenever they can. Jeffrey Toobin has analyzed the increasingly significant results of that effort in a series of articles in the New Yorker.
I was moved to write this post because I have to deal with dau tranh almost daily myself in managing this blog. One of my regular readers is a fanatical right-winger who probably posts 50 comments a week here, week in and week out. They are not really comments, for the most part--they are links to some piece of right-wing propaganda, often accompanied with personal abuse towards myself. I think I know who he is, although we have never met face to face, and I also regard him as the prime suspect for having put my name on the Obama=Hitler email which is still circulating, even though he denied it when we were both still on the same discussion forum. (He was kicked off the forum when his dau tranh and personal abuse went too far.) I warn, of course, on the blog, that abusive anonymous comments will be deleted, but he berates me for doing so nonetheless. The attempt to keep the extreme Republican view of the world in the foreground is a key element of Republican dau tranh, just as it was for Nazis and Communists.
The Republicans' real target is the idea that dominated the last century--the idea that human reason can design, and create, a better world. That is why Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson have been given places in their Pantheon of villains. I'm afraid they have sufficiently discredited that idea that it no longer dominates our political life, and might be disappearing altogether. Their lust for power is much, much greater than their respect for the truth. This is the threat the nation faces. Pike also argued provocatively in one of his books that there was no known counter-strategy to dau tranh, and I'm afraid he may have been right.