The Atlantic prints (part of) my letter!
I've been increasingly dismayed by the increasingly rightward editorial tilt of my first love in magazines, the Atlantic Monthly. But in the March issue they outdid themselves by publishing a piece written by one of their apparently recent hires, Ross Douthat. Now, Ross could be considered wet behind the ears; he's barely out of college and his chief claim to fame is that he graduated from Harvard and wrote a book about how screwed up Harvard is. It was raw meat for the wingnuts, who abhor the "elitism" of the place, and it appears they jacked him up on a pedestal and he's now settling into conservative punditry at, among other places, the once-proud Atlantic, where he's listed as both an Associate Editor and editor of the Letters column.
His opinion piece, entitled "It's His Party", isn't worth quoting, but its central premise can be stated something like this: "George Bush may be a corrupt, incompetent fuckup, but he sure has been successful. Wanta know how I know? Look how all the Republican Presidential hopefuls are sticking with his program. Why, they're even courting the religious right!" I kid you not.
This isn't just stupid, it's dishonest. I couldn't help myself, I had to respond. So I sent an actual, paper letter to his boss, figuring that in his dual roles as sage columnist and gatekeeper for the Letters section, there's no way Douthat would voluntarily print letters critical of his opinions.
I was pleasantly surprised to open the latest (May) issue and find my letter, right there on page 14. Well, actually, it was only part of my letter but I must admit that whoever condensed my 10 paragraphs into 3 didn't do a bad job of capturing the main gist of it. Douthat penned a response, but if I may say so, it was rather lame.
In case anyone but me would like to read the whole unedited letter, here it is (just for fun I've bolded the approximate parts that made it into print):
(Having learned that one of Ross Douthat's jobs at the Atlantic is editing the letters column, I suspect that criticizing his work may be a fool's errand, but here goes…)
One is left open-mouthed in astonishment at right-wing wunderkind Ross Douthat's willful misreading of the political legacy of George W. Bush ("It's His Party," March 2007).
The "successes" Douthat attributes to Bush seem to have taken place entirely at the polls: his party scored significant victories in the 2000, 2002, and 2004 elections. Let's review: 2000? Stolen, and Gore won the popular vote anyway. 2002? Public paralysis in the aftermath of 9/11. 2004? Kerry's fecklessness, Swift Boat lies, and Ohio voting abuses. And overlaying all three elections was the complicity of the media, which dutifully regurgitated the talking points of the richly endowed and superbly oiled Right Wing Noise Machine (a decisive advantage that Bush can't remotely take credit for).
All of it, however, pales in comparison to the elephant in Douthat's room: the one really big Bush "success" that merits not a single word in his article. That, obviously, is the President's abject sellout to corporate America's interests—and herein lies the key to Bush's real legacy (as well as to the propagandistic nature of Douthat's writing).
Nothing on the corporate wish list was too absurdly, criminally generous to embarrass Bush and the Republican Congress: Billions in subsidies for oil companies already earning record profits. Bankruptcy law "reform" that was a boon to credit card companies while showing no mercy to poor people with overwhelming medical bills. "Free trade" policies that subsidize the export of American jobs. Inviting industry executives to run the agencies that are supposed to regulate them, and letting their lobbyists draft the laws. Slashing the taxes of CEOs earning 400 times as much as their line workers. A massive handout to Big Pharma in the guise of a benefit for seniors. The list goes on ad nauseam.
In the near-absence of media scrutiny, it has taken most of the last 6 years for this sinister aspect of one-party Republican rule to sink into the consciousness of the electorate, but 2006 was a watershed year, marked by a new wave of populist candidates unafraid to address institutionalized corruption, and undeterred by Republican sniffing about "class warfare." To a large degree, the remarkable success of these upstarts was the product of a nascent progressive blogosphere, which not only recruited, educated, and fundraised for these challengers, but was able to quickly expose the lies and debunk the manufactured "scandals" that Republicans attacked them with. Virginia Senator George Allen wasn't the only comfortable Republican who woke up on November 8 to realize he'd been outmaneuvered by a scrappy Democratic neophyte.
This progressive resurgence was most dramatically on display in the Mountain West, where, from Montana's Jon Tester on down, Democrats made political hay out of the discomfiture of libertarian-leaning voters with Bush's policies. In fact, uber-blogger Markos Moulitsas (founder of DailyKos, the largest liberal blog site), contributed an essay to the libertarian CATO Institute's on-line magazine heralding the arrival of the "Libertarian Democrat"—who has come to realize that the biggest threat to personal liberty is unchecked corporate power, and who looks to government to guard against it.
This, then, will be the real legacy of George W. Bush: He exploited the threat of terrorism and pandered to the religious right's repressive social agenda to gain the votes of precisely those people most cruelly affected by his corporatist (not to say fascist) economic agenda.
This exposes, finally, the dishonesty of Douthat's argument. By pretending that, despite Bush's disastrous leadership, nothing is fundamentally wrong with the Republican program, he attempts to lend an air of inevitability to the party's continued domination of American politics. It's a transparent ploy by an ideologue anxious to convince himself that last year's drubbing at the polls was only a temporary aberration.
But the voters have belatedly realized that, under Bush, the Republican Revolution has gone irretrievably off the rails. 2006 was just the opening salvo. As the Internets (sic) continue to enable what Moulitsas has dubbed "people-powered politics," it will no longer matter that Republicans control the media (already, Bill O'Reilly is on his way to being marginalized, and Rush is having to play more defense than usual). A strong jolt of truth and transparency is aimed at the heart of the GOP. If the party survives the hit, it will likely be as a regional Southern entity clinging to a shrinking base of angry, uneducated religious extremists.
And they'll have the Decider to thank for it.