A couple of years ago, Bob Altemeyer of the Univerity of Manitoba wrote an online book based on his 40 years of psychological research into the mind of authoritarians. He didn’t think the book had any commercial value so he offered it for free on his website under the title, The Authoritarians. John Dean cited Altemeyer’s work in his book Conservatives Without Conscience. I highly recommend both books but if you have to start somewhere, try Altemeyer’s book. It’s based on a lot of research but it is written in a highly accessible conversational style and is chock full of fascinating details about what makes these people tick.
I only bring this up because Obama’s position on the FISA debate has brought out something deeply disturbing in his followers. Obama says he will support the House compromise but not necessarily Telecomm immunity. (I have my own thoughts about this but I’ll get to that in a minute.) Glenn Greenwald has a scathing post about Obama’s capitulation but what Glenn says about Obama’s followers is even more severe. From Greenwald’s Obama’s Support for the FISA Compromise, Glenn has this to say:
The excuse that Obama’s support for this bill is politically shrewd is — even if accurate — neither a defense of what he did nor a reason to refrain from loudly criticizing him for it. Actually, it’s the opposite. It’s precisely because Obama is calculating that he can — without real consequence — trample upon the political values of those who believe in the Constitution and the rule of law that it’s necessary to do what one can to change that calculus. Telling Obama that you’ll cheer for him no matter what he does, that you’ll vest in him Blind Faith that anything he does is done with the purest of motives, ensures that he will continue to ignore you and your political interests.
Beyond that, this attitude that we should uncritically support Obama in everything he does and refrain from criticizing him is unhealthy in the extreme. No political leader merits uncritical devotion — neither when they are running for office nor when they occupy it — and there are few things more dangerous than announcing that you so deeply believe in the Core Goodness of a political leader, or that we face such extreme political crises that you trust and support whatever your Leader does, even when you don’t understand it or think that it’s wrong. That’s precisely the warped authoritarian mindset that defined the Bush Movement and led to the insanity of the post-9/11 Era, and that uncritical reverence is no more attractive or healthy when it’s shifted to a new Leader.
The excuse that we must sit by quietly and allow him to do these things with no opposition so that he can win is itself a corrupted and self-destructive mentality. That mindset has no end. Once he’s elected, it will transform into: “It’s vital that Obama keeps his majority in Congress so you have to keep quiet until after the 2010 midterms,” after which it will be: “It’s vital that Obama is re-elected so you have to keep quiet until after 2012,” at which point the process will repeat itself from the first step. Quite plainly, those are excuses to justify mindless devotion, not genuine political strategies.
I recommend the whole piece. Greenwald is brilliant when it comes to constitutional issues. But what I think he touches on here is what some of us witnessed in the very early manifestation of Obama mania for brutal suppression of dissent and unquestioning loyalty towards the Obama personality that is reminiscent of the early Bush years. And I think the reason we are seeing this is because some of the Freepers and Little Green Football fanatics moved to the Democratic party. Whether this was due to some Rovian design or whether it was the inevitable migration of an evolving demographic is unclear to me. I picture these new Democrats as the same type of people who ran Enron like they did in the documentary, The Smartest Guys in the Room. They seem to share many of the same characteristics. They are like salesmen with testosterone poisoning, ultracompetitive and not particularly wedded to one political philosophy or another. The party power structures exist to them as a means to acquiring what they want, whether it is deregulated markets or wealth or unfettered liberty.
Some Obama followers, not all, are the double high kind of authoritarians that Altemeyer talks about. They are both vulnerable to authoritarian indoctrination while at the same time, perfectly capable of manipulating the system and individuals for their own personal gain. This is who has taken over the Democratic party. For those of you who still believe that is OK to straddle the fence and be both supportive of the party but object to the way that Obama has managed to comandeer the party mechanisms for his own advantage, I would strongly caution you that this is not the case. If you do not now take a stand and push back with all your might, you will not have a party that will represent you in the future. Obama and his handlers are not benevolent despots. And this is not an insurmountable situation. You have the power, now, and in the worst case scenario, at election time, to make a difference. As Edmund Burke once said: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
PUMAs can not do nothing.
Now, I don’t know about you but I have my own criteria as to what would have been the correct response to the FISA debacle. If I were King of the Forest, I would make sure that our constitutionally guaranteed civil liberties were protected. The proposed bill would have to be structured in such a way that new surveillance techniques would not infringe upon them. As for telecom immunity, I’m a more practical individual. There is a lot of room here for negotiation. The power is in the hands of Congress to compel the telecomms to compromise on more market competition. If we punish the telecomms with class action lawsuits, the only people who will benefit will be the lawyers. The average customer will not likely see a big payoff. What are you going to get? A check for a $100 or a credit for your next month’s phone bill? You, I and the fencepost know this is the all too typical result. BUT, what if you could force the telecomms to allow ala carte programming on your cable system or infrastructure improvements or mandatory guidelines for better customer service? What if you could forbid big telecomms from bidding on newly available radio spectra or force them to open their networks to your favorite cellphone? Wouldn’t this be better than decimating them and sending potentially thousands of their workers to the unemployment lines? And so what if some of them *did* take a hit? Wouldn’t their workers benefit from the increased competition as well by having more new start up companies to work for?
(If you want to know what Hillary has to say about FISA, here are her last statements I could find on the subject from back in February, 2008. In summary, she co-sponsored Dodd’s bill and says she will support a filibuster if the bill that comes before her infringes on a citizen’s right to privacy and civil liberties. This, more than preventing retroactive telecomm immunity, is the correct stance.)