Reviewing Right Is Wrong: How the Lunatic Fringe Hijacked America, Shredded the Constitution, and Made Us All Less Safe by Arianna Huffington (Knopf, April29, 2008)
Arianna Huffington has turned it around. She was in the GOP but is now a vocal critic of the party, especially the Bush-Cheney White House. Her body of work joins a growing field of criticism for the Republican Party leadership, with Conservatives Without Conscience by John W. Dean an example of a critic-from-within the party. Huffington has a "liberal" focus in contrast to that of Dean. She inveighs against the "takeover of the Republican Party," one at odds "on the mainstream issues." But this trend of reaction in the U.S. polity has roots far deeper and wider than that, which she gives short shrift in Right Is Wrong: How the Lunatic Fringe Hijacked America, Shredded the Constitution, and Made Us All Less Safe. The author’s view of the state’s role in its two-party form of, by and for the needs of a U.S. upper class limits the effectiveness of her analysis.
The scope of Huffington’s book is the rise of the Bush II White House, propelled by the terror attacks on U.S. soil of September 11, 2001. Her purpose is to reveal, critically, "the Right’s playbook" on a host of policy issues at home and abroad. A prolific author and editor-in-chief of the popular Web site Huffington Post, she finds much to fault with media corporations such as Fox News, and its commentators like Ann Coulter, a voice for the Right’s agenda. "As the Right took power, so did its media mouthpieces," according to Huffington.
She notes, accurately, the Washington press corps’ concern with maintaining its access to politicians as a large factor in the decline of American journalism. The examples Huffington cites of media coverage during the U.S. government’s invasion and occupation of Iraq is telling and the book’s strengths. The so-called "liberal media" is anything but that. But is the concentrated wealth driving the decline of critical reporting in newsrooms across the nation a function primarily of the "Right" and its power? Or is the "Right" a wing of the U.S. state which an upper class relies upon for the purpose of garnering capital in national and global markets? For example, the deregulating of the U.S. telecommunications industry occurred on the watch of Bill Clinton in 1996, a Democratic president. Rupert Murdoch, head of News Corp, which owns the jingoistic Fox News, benefitted. This is a significant trend which is a part of-not apart from-U.S. economics and politics. The state’s role in this is not peripheral but is central.
In chapter four, in a discussion of U.S. energy policy, Huffington reveals her worldview to personalize the modern market economy and polity. She writes: "There are steps we can take right now that will begin to slow-and eventually reverse the drain of dollars to the petro-vampires, foreign and domestic. The result would be a stronger, safer, and cleaner America that would, once again, be leading the rest of the world to a more promising future." Three pages later Huffington claims that Hugo Chávez, the elected president of oil-rich Venezuela, is a "Marxist dictator." Is this a progressive foreign policy or a page from the playbook of Fox News, purveyor of talking points for the Bush White House? What such demonization of Chávez does partly is to fog the bipartisan unity for Washington’s investor-friendly stance in Latin America and worldwide. The typical political rhetoric for U.S. public consumption is to attack the credibility of foreign leaders like Chávez. He survived a U.S.-backed ouster in April 2002, and continues to use the nation’s oil revenues to improve the lives of low-income Venezuelans. The U.S.’s two-party system fears and loathes this development. It represents the "threat of a good example," not the favorite cup of tea for the future quarterly earnings of corporate America and its political representatives.
Huffington prefers to lay the blame for resource conflicts such as the U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq at the feet of President George W. Bush. To wit, his "fatal deed was invading Iraq," she writes to open chapter six. On this count, her methodology is to understand how the Iraq "war was, from the very start, a cherished project of the Right." Presumably, the Democrats in Congress did not and do not cherish the conflict in the same way. Thus there is no sense of the continuity in Iraq policy under President Clinton’s two terms. Recall he pursued the hideous U.S.-led trade sanctions against Iraq, which kept it from having normal commercial relations. Clinton pursued a policy of punishing Iraqi citizens by denying them medicine and other life-saving goods. This paved the path from Gulf War 1 to the March 2003 U.S. attack against this long-suffering Persian Gulf nation, as U.S. activist Kathy Kelly has witnessed first-hand and written of in Other Lands Have Dreams: From Baghdad to Pekin Prison. For maimed and murdered Iraqis, Clinton’s approach was a prelude to the U.S. attack in March 2003. Nevertheless, Huffington lays out a commendable excavation of the evasions and omissions of the Bush administration and its enablers with Fox News and the mainstream media in the run-up to the war and the subsequent U.S. occupation.
She laments the congressional Democrats who "failed to use the power of the purse" to stop funding the U.S. occupation of Iraq after winning the midterm elections of 2006. Where is the evidence from the party’s post-World War II record to suggest its dissent to the growth of U.S. bases and forces around the world? Further, Huffington takes Iraq’s government to task for dragging its feet to meet "key benchmarks for the Iraqis" including those on "oil revenue sharing." Apparently, the need for the Iraqi state to furnish the legal-political structure for the benefit of U.S. energy companies to re-acquire control over the nation’s vast oil fields and their revenues is a fair policy.
Huffington organizes her case against the Right with assertions that beg questions. Here is one example. At the close of chapter nine she writes "that whatever differences the Democrats may have-and however heated and divisive the party’s primary race became-when it comes to endless war, the two parties are headed in wildly different directions. The Democrats are all looking to the future while the Right remains mired in a Neanderthal past." Consider the speech of Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) to AIPAC on June 4, 2008. That alone, demonizing Iran as the largest threat to Israel and Middle East peace, speaks volumes about the Right’s policy in the region being more similar than different to the Democratic Party’s. In all fairness to Huffington, Obama delivered his AIPAC address after her book was published. Nevertheless, his war rhetoric should inform us about Obama’s perpetual war credentials to defend the Jewish state. Democrats and Republicans alike are friends of a feather in this standard business-as-usual for the U.S. state and the military-industrial complex. Investors in both nations applaud all the way to the bank. Crucially, Huffington skips past this decades-long business of war for profits and power under Democrats and Republicans, which perpetuates insecurity for citizens in Israel, the U.S. and Palestinians under Israeli-occupation.
"With the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Right lost its Lodestar," Huffington writes in chapter 12. "Opposition to communism was the most basic of all conservative beliefs." Wrong. This belief system was a main ingredient of the left-liberal consensus for U.S. anti-communism during the Cold War. Such bipartisanship helped to wreck independent labor unions and thereby build ruling class power. That process, in turn, helped to solidify military-industrialism as social policy for both political parties until revulsion against American apartheid and the Vietnam War spurred popular uprisings to revolt against such priorities. She observes in the same chapter regarding the growth of income inequality and the Iraqi front of the U.S.-led war on terror: "The 2008 Democratic convention needs to link the reality of the Two Americas with Bush’s miserable failures in Iraq." Yes, but if the past is any indication of what lies ahead, getting such a linkage will be the result of broad-based movements, rooted in the real lives of various people who labor for a living. This push-back from below is nowhere yet on the horizon in the U.S., politically bound up in a two-party straightjacket. Part of the reason for this domestic quagmire brings us back to the fall of the Soviet Union. That world-historic event has in part squelched a vision of grassroots’ pressure on policy-makers to address the costs of empire at home and abroad, and seed a decent society striving for more not less equality. The rise and demise of Soviet communism, for some U.S. liberals, "proves" that alternatives to "free-market" U.S. capitalism are foolhardy and fated to fail, always and forever. This view helps to legitimate in part the objective conditions now in the U.S. for a tiny percentage of the populace to grab a growing share of economic growth to the harm of wage-earners. As a class, they increasingly face the prospects of disease, poverty and prison.
Huffington’s presentation of the effects of the U.S. health-care crisis is on the mark. Yet laying the blame for it on the Right absolves the Democrats for their long-standing involvement in boosting what author and economist Jared Bernstein of the Economic Policy Institute calls the "medical-industrial complex." For instance, the state’s vital role to eliminate competition and subsidize product development for pharmaceutical firms via the patent system is a bi-partisan affair. This state-directed welfare policy for corporate investors is not a monopoly of the Right. Perhaps with the descent of the Bush-Cheney White House there will emerge a new body of work which opposes the GOP/Right and the party across the aisle from it, operating in a co-dependence to maintain a minority rule against the majority. The Right can’t do that job alone.
Seth Sandronsky lives and writes in Sacramento [email protected]