By Dr. Wilmer J. Leon III
t r u t h o u t | Perspective
Sunday 17 February 2008
Ideology is a closely held belief system that guides an individual, social movement or institution. It is a comprehensive view that society can be made better, and projects the vision of an individual or group's ideal concept of how to live in the world. When the abstractions of ideology are combined with practical and realistic applications, very positive things can happen. The Colonists believed in liberty, freedom and self-rule. They combined those ideologies and created an organized resistance to defeat the better armed and better financed British. It was people's commitment to freedom, equality and civil rights that gave them the strength to challenge the status quo and create the civil rights movement. The combination of an ideology and its realistic application defeated Jim Crow segregation and improved the quality of life for many people of color in America. Belief in a particular ideology is the glue that holds a group together.
The problem with ideologies is that by themselves they are not rational. They tend to focus on and confuse the imagery of the "should be" and "ought to be" with the practical "is." Without people who are able to inject pragmatism and tie logic and reason to an ideology, it can take an institution, group or country down some very perilous roads. This is why ideologues (people who profess ideologies) make terrible politicians and ideology can make for very bad public policy. Ideologues are so focused on the "should be" they fail to take into account the practical applications of the "how."
For the past seven years, fascist Republican ideologues have hijacked American politics and policy. The so-called Reagan Republicans or neo-conservatives have co-opted American domestic and foreign policy. At the same time, Christian social conservatives have controlled the parties' social agenda in an attempt to redefine American values.
Fascism can be defined as an authoritarian political ideology that considers the individual subordinate to the interests of the state. Some of the characteristics of fascism are nationalism, militarism, totalitarianism, corporatism, autocracy and religiosity. The following are a few practical examples of fascist tactics that have been implemented by the Bush administration and allowed to continue by the Democrats.
The fact oil/energy companies have had unchecked influence over American energy policy, while pharmaceutical and insurance companies are writing health care policy, is an example of corporatism. President Bush and Vice President Cheney's attempt to consolidate power within the executive branch through the implementation of the unitary executive theory is a clear example of autocracy. The invasion of sovereign nonthreatening nations and the use of unilateral foreign policy are good examples of militarism. This administration's ignoring the protections guaranteed by the Constitution through their attacks on civil rights and civil liberties, the suspension of habeas corpus, warrantless wiretapping, ignoring the FISA court, extraordinary renditions and torture are examples of totalitarianism.
After seven years of ideological babble such as "compassionate conservatism," "American internationalism," "ownership society" and "war on terror," Americans are beginning to focus on real issues such as home foreclosures, affordable health care, outsourcing American jobs, global warming and sky-rocketing energy costs.
The Christian social conservatives have been able to distract the public's attention away from real problems and focus their attention on politically irrelevant and divisive issues. Wedge issues such as gay marriage and abortion pale in comparison when you've lost your home, lost your job, can't afford to take your sick child to the hospital and can't afford to put gas in your car to get them there.
Paul Weyrich, head of the Free Congress Foundation, was quoted in the Christian Science Monitor as saying, "... Republicans traditionally stood for limited government, free enterprise, and a strong national defense. We added a fourth leg to that stool, which was traditional American values." What are these so-called "traditional American values" and who made people such as Weyrich, Pat Robertson, James Dobson, or any other self-proclaimed Christians the arbiter of such values?
When seeking clarity on American values and ideals, Americans should look to the documents upon which the country was founded. In the Declaration of Independence, ideology was combined with pragmatic application. The true ideological basis of the country is articulated as follows: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." The pragmatic manner to implement the ideology is stated as, "That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed ... "
We can also look to the preamble of the Constitution of the United States: "We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America." The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States are where the real traditional ideals of America are articulated.
Currently, the Republican Party finds itself engaged in an internal battle. Does it stick to the divisive ideology and wedge politics of its so-called Christian base as articulated by individuals named above? Do the Republicans hide behind the guise of Christianity while practicing the mean-spirited and heavy-handed brand of politics implemented by individuals such as former House Speaker Tom DeLay and current House Minority Leader John Boehner or move back towards the center, more in line with mainstream America?
While seeking the Republican presidential nomination in 2000 and trying to amplify his support among independents and moderates, Arizona Senator and current Republican presidential hopeful John McCain said evangelists like Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell were "corrupting influences on religion and politics," and said parts of the religious right were divisive and even un-American. Senator McCain also showed support for gay marriage by saying, "... I think that gay marriage should be allowed if there's a ceremony kind of thing, if you wanna call it that? I don't have any problem with that... " He also supported Roe v. Wade. In 1999, McCain told the San Francisco Chronicle, "I would not support repeal of Roe v. Wade, which would then force X number of women in America to [undergo] illegal and dangerous operations."
Now that he has come under attack by the socially conservative, evangelical wing of his party for not being conservative enough, Senator McCain is trying to mend fences and "heal the party" by flip-flopping on these clearly articulated positions. In 2006, he "kissed Falwell's ring" and delivered the commencement address at Liberty University. McCain now also supports the overturning of Roe v. Wade. Sounds like the "maverick straight talker" fell off of the "straight talk express" and is being forced to support positions that are out of step with the independents and moderates that have supported him for so many years.
This has nothing to do with Sen. John McCain. He is certainly not the only politician that has flip-flopped under the pressure of ideologues. Senator McCain is just the most recent example of the impact ideologues are having on the American political landscape.
The future of American politics and American policy is at stake. America is at a political crossroads. Are Americans going to continue to allow the politics and policies of this country to be hijacked by fascist neo-conservatives and right-wing evangelical ideologues, or will we choose to put this vocal, well financed, but relatively small group of ideological thugs in their rightful place?
Dr. Wilmer Leon is the producer/host of the nationally broadcast call-in talk radio program "On With Leon," producer/host of the television program "Inside The Issues With Wilmer Leon," a regular guest on CNN's Lou Dobb's Tonight, and a teaching associate in the Department of Political Science at Howard University in Washington, DC. Go to www.wilmerleon.com or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.