The Republicans are radicals, not conservatives

The party has forgotten that change, if necessary, should be incremental and practical.

It's not Ted Nugent's fault that he is clearly a born whack-job, but we can hold Republicans accountable for tolerating the Motor City Madman's rhetoric of violence.

Nugent told supporters of the National Rifle Association recently that he'd "be dead or in jail" if President Obama were re-elected. Nugent and his right-wing apologists have since denied that he was making any kind of threat to the president's life. The Secret Service evidently felt otherwise and paid a visit to the well-known gun fetishist.

Nugent has come out in support of GOP frontrunner Mitt Romney. When asked, Romney condemned violence generally without referring to Nugent. The Secret Service concluded that the rock musician best known for singing "Cat Scratch Fever" had no intent to assassinate anyone.

Well, that's good to know, but what was the context of his little chat? Something about Obama being a criminal, that his administration is evil, and that conservatives need to "chop their heads off." Yeah, sounds about right.

For the record, I enjoy gutter-sniping and trash-talk. It's deliciously lowbrow and a grand tradition in American oratory. The theatricality of the Nuge is part of his appeal, too. But Romney is a presidential candidate. That he seems unwilling to distance himself from Nugent suggests he and the GOP are so accustomed to the rhetoric of violence that they are inured to radicalism when it's in front of them.

US Rep. Barney Frank has said Democrats aren't perfect, but Republicans are nuts, conceding that voters have a less than ideal choice but Dems are at least functional. Yet "nuts" is only half right. Since 2008, and especially since 2010, the GOP has become extremist, so much so that its current state challenges the very notion of "conservatism."

A dominant tone in the rubric of conservatism is preservation: maintaining and protecting whatever a community has valued over time. In the US, that has meant tradition, civic institutions, family, marriage and Christianity, among other cultural norms. Moreover, conservatism is method for dealing with modernity. If change is needed, let it be incremental and practical.

But conservatives like US Rep Paul Ryan, author of a budget proposal endorsed by Romney, want to move rashly and radically to tear down widely-valued institutions like Medicare. Debates over its merits were settled long ago, but Ryan, as if he were a revolutionary waiting to blow up the current system, seeks to decimate Medicare by privatizing the entitlements that every American pays for.

The GOP vision isn't just radical; it's obliquely socialist. I'm not talking about the good kind of socialism, which the GOP is historically hostile to. I'm talking about a brand of socialism in which the government interferes with markets for the benefit of the one per cent: tax loop holes, corporate giveaways, tax cuts, etc. Noam Chomsky once wryly said that capitalism is a great idea that no one has bothered to try yet. The corporate socialists would never allow it.

Worse is that the GOP appears to want everyone who is not rich and not a corporation to believe in its free market gospel. That's why the House cut funding for food stamps. Freebies make people lazy. That's why GOP leadership is threatening to make those who earn the least pay more in federal income tax. That's only fair to the rest of us. Meanwhile, there's no place in America for a millionaire's tax. Let's not start annoying the job creators, OK? 

So what we have is a party of radicals bent on using the power of the government to redistribute wealth upward. Of course, the GOP hasn't been alone in its obsession. Democrats are to blame too. But that's largely because radical Republicans have pulled the center of the political spectrum far to the right, so much that tax cuts seem always sensible while tax hikes are always treasonous.

We are so far to the right, so terrified of irritating business, that 2,700 corporations, including Nissan, Sears and Goldman Sachs in effect tax their own workers. Twenty-two states have subsidies programs in which huge corporations keep money that would have been levied by the state for public sector purposes. But instead of going to roads, schools and fire departments, about $5.5 billion (over 20 years) has gone straight into corporate coffers.

David Cay Johnston, of Reuters, wrote: "These deals typify corporate socialism, in which business gains are privatized and costs socialized. They also mean government picks winners and losers, interfering with competitive markets."

Like I said, not the good kind of socialism. That would never be tolerated. When a moderate president like Obama says the GOP wants to "impose a radical vision on our country," he's right. But that's when someone like the Motor City Madman will get crazy and call him a socialist.

John Stoehr is a lecturer in Political Science at Yale University.

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is introduced by Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan. Photograph: Getty Images.

John Stoehr teaches writing at Yale. His essays and journalism have appeared in The American Prospect, Reuters Opinion, the Guardian, and Dissent, among other publications. He is a political blogger for The Washington Spectator and a frequent contributor to Al Jazeera English.

 

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Erdogan’s purge was too big and too organised to be a mere reaction to the failed coup

There is a specific word for the melancholy of Istanbul. The city is suffering a mighty bout of something like hüzün at the moment. 

Even at the worst of times Istanbul is a beautiful city, and the Bosphorus is a remarkable stretch of sea. Turks get very irritated if you call it a river. They are right. The Bosphorus has a life and energy that a river could never equal. Spend five minutes watching the Bosphorus and you can understand why Orhan Pamuk, Turkey’s Nobel laureate for literature, became fixated by it as he grew up, tracking the movements of the ocean-going vessels, the warships and the freighters as they steamed between Asia and Europe.

I went to an Ottoman palace on the Asian side of the Bosphorus, waiting to interview the former prime minister Ahmet Davu­toglu. He was pushed out of office two months ago by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan when he appeared to be too wedded to the clauses in the Turkish constitution which say that the prime minister is the head of government and the president is a ceremonial head of state. Erdogan was happy with that when he was prime minister. But now he’s president, he wants to change the constitution. If Erdogan can win the vote in parliament he will, in effect, be rubber-stamping the reality he has created since he became president. In the days since the attempted coup, no one has had any doubt about who is the power in the land.

 

City of melancholy

The view from the Ottoman palace was magnificent. Beneath a luscious, pine-shaded garden an oil tanker plied its way towards the Black Sea. Small ferries dodged across the sea lanes. It was not, I hasten to add, Davutoglu’s private residence. It had just been borrowed, for the backdrop. But it reminded a Turkish friend of something she had heard once from the AKP, Erdogan’s ruling party: that they would not rest until they were living in the apartments with balconies and gardens overlooking the Bosphorus that had always been the preserve of the secular elite they wanted to replace.

Pamuk also writes about hüzün, the melancholy that afflicts the citizens of Istanbul. It comes, he says, from the city’s history and its decline, the foghorns on the Bosphorus, from tumbledown walls that have been ruins since the fall of the Byzantine empire, unemployed men in tea houses, covered women waiting for buses that never come, pelting rain and dark evenings: the city’s whole fabric and all the lives within it. “My starting point,” Pamuk wrote, “was the emotion that a child might feel while looking through a steamy window.”

Istanbul is suffering a mighty bout of something like hüzün at the moment. In Pamuk’s work the citizens of Istanbul take a perverse pride in hüzün. No one in Istanbul, or elsewhere in Turkey, can draw comfort from what is happening now. Erdogan’s opponents wonder what kind of future they can have in his Turkey. I think I sensed it, too, in the triumphalist crowds of Erdogan supporters that have been gathering day after day since the coup was defeated.

 

Down with the generals

Erdogan’s opponents are not downcast because the coup failed; a big reason why it did was that it had no public support. Turks know way too much about the authoritarian ways of military rule to want it back. The melancholy is because Erdogan is using the coup to entrench himself even more deeply in power. The purge looks too far-reaching, too organised and too big to have been a quick reaction to the attempt on his power. Instead it seems to be a plan that was waiting to be used.

Turkey is a deeply unhappy country. It is hard to imagine now, but when the Arab uprisings happened in 2011 it seemed to be a model for the Middle East. It had elections and an economy that worked and grew. When I asked Davutoglu around that time whether there would be a new Ottoman sphere of influence for the 21st century, he smiled modestly, denied any such ambition and went on to explain that the 2011 uprisings were the true succession to the Ottoman empire. A century of European, and then American, domination was ending. It had been a false start in Middle Eastern history. Now it was back on track. The people of the region were deciding their futures, and perhaps Turkey would have a role, almost like a big brother.

Turkey’s position – straddling east and west, facing Europe and Asia – is the key to its history and its future. It could be, should be, a rock of stability in a desperately un­stable part of the world. But it isn’t, and that is a problem for all of us.

 

Contagion of war

The coup did not come out of a clear sky. Turkey was in deep crisis before the attempt was made. Part of the problem has come from Erdogan’s divisive policies. He has led the AKP to successive election victories since it first won in 2002. But the policies of his governments have not been inclusive. As long as his supporters are happy, the president seems unconcerned about the resentment and opposition he is generating on the other side of politics.

Perhaps that was inevitable. His mission, as a political Islamist, was to change the country, to end the power of secular elites, including the army, which had been dominant since Mustafa Kemal Atatürk created modern Turkey after the collapse of the Ottoman empire. And there is also the influence of chaos and war in the Middle East. Turkey has borders with Iraq and Syria, and is deeply involved in their wars. The borders do not stop the contagion of violence. Hundreds of people have died in the past year in bomb attacks in Turkish cities, some carried out by the jihadists of so-called Islamic State, and some sent by Kurdish separatists working under the PKK.

It is a horrible mix. Erdogan might be able to deal with it better if he had used the attempted coup to try to unite Turkey. All the parliamentary parties condemned it. But instead, he has turned the power of the state against his opponents. More rough times lie ahead.

Jeremy Bowen is the BBC’s Middle East editor. He tweets @bowenbbc

This article first appeared in the 28 July 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Summer Double Issue