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Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Republican Kevin Phillips on the American Taliban, er, Theocracy

The Peril and Politics of Radical Religion, Oil, and Borrowed Money in the 21st Century

Kevin Phillips, longtime Republican strategist and author of several books. His newest work, "American Theocracy," comes out today. A review in Sunday's New York Times said the book may be "the most alarming analysis of where we are and where we may be going to have appeared in many years."


AMY GOODMAN: In a minute we will be joined by Kevin Phillips here in our Firehouse studio, but first I want to turn to President Bush. On Monday, he spoke about the war in Iraq in Ohio. After his address, he took questions from the crowd. The first question addressed Phillips's book American Theocracy.

Q: My question is that author and former Nixon administration official Kevin Phillips, in his latest book, American Theocracy, discusses what has been called radical Christianity and its growing involvement into government and politics. He makes the point that members of your administration have reached out to prophetic Christians who see the war in Iraq and the rise of terrorism as signs of the apocalypse. Do you believe this, that the war in Iraq and the rise of terrorism are signs of the apocalypse? And if not, why not?

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: The answer is -- I haven't really thought of it that way. Here's how I think of it. The first I've heard of that, by the way. I guess I'm more of a practical fellow. I vowed after September the 11th, that I would do everything I could to protect the American people. And my attitude, of course, was affected by the attacks. I knew we were at war. I knew that the enemy, obviously, had to be sophisticated and lethal to fly hijacked airplanes into facilities that would be killing thousands of people, innocent people, doing nothing, just sitting there going to work.

AMY GOODMAN: That was President Bush addressing the Cleveland City Club in Ohio. Kevin Phillips, longtime Republican strategist, joins us now. His new book American Theocracy: The Peril and Politics of Radical Religion, Oil and Borrowed Money in the 21st Century. Welcome to Democracy Now!

KEVIN PHILLIPS: Happy to be here.

AMY GOODMAN: Quite way to launch a book. The President of the United States questioned about it in the first Q&A at this historic City Club in Cleveland.

KEVIN PHILLIPS: It’s really an appalling thing, because I -- in the course of the last couple of days, as my book tour started, I’ve talked with a number of conservatives, people running conservative publications, old aides from the Republican campaigns back in the 1960s and 1970s, and everybody agrees, and some are even starting to say it semi-publicly: this man is a national embarrassment.

AMY GOODMAN: Conservatives?

KEVIN PHILLIPS: Conservatives.

AMY GOODMAN: On what grounds?

KEVIN PHILLIPS: Well, some just because they know him and don't think anybody with his lack of qualifications should be president, others that think that the country has a black eye, others that think that conservatism is now being threatened as much as liberalism was in the late 1960s by the Johnson administration. This is just a convergence of the ineptitude of one man, of the complicity of a number of other senior people in the administration -- I don't know their exact motives -- and a horrible situation for the Pentagon, because the Pentagon realizes that the American soldiery in Iraq is being brutalized in a way that then casts disrespect on the American army, that interferes with recruitment. I, two years ago, gave a talk near Fort Bragg in North Carolina, and already dozens of people from the military were saying that this was going to be a black eye. And it’s worse than a black eye. And you really have to say, and I have to say, that Bush and Cheney and Rumsfeld, if we had a parliamentary system, they would be there before the bar of the Congress, having to defend this. And that's where they should be.

AMY GOODMAN: Kevin Phillips, you talk about radical religion, about debt, and about oil, about this being an oil war. You also talk about peak oil. That's not talked about very much in the mainstream. Explain.

KEVIN PHILLIPS: The peak oil idea is that just as the United States oil production peaked in 1971, that we have a limited amount of oil globally, and that it’s something that can't be re-created. It’s running out. And the expectation of some is that the oil production of the non-OPEC countries will peak at some point during the 2010s, and that then the production of OPEC itself will peak in the 2020s or 2030s. Now, some people think that Saudi production has already peaked.

Now, if you believe this, and it’s possible, then we face an enormous convergence, again under specific oil-related circumstances, of a global struggle for natural resources as the price of oil climbs, as we turn the armed services into a global oil protection service, which has been happening, and as we see the administration refuse to grapple with the need to really curb oil consumption in the United States, which is mostly through transportation and especially motor vehicles.

And I just have a sense, as many others on the conservative side do, this administration has no strategy to deal with these converging problems, be they foreign policy, military, oil, debt. They are like the three little monkeys on the old jade thing – the one sees no evil, one speaks no evil, and one hears no evil. Do they know anything? You know, that's an open question.

AMY GOODMAN: We see in Washington an oiligarchy. I mean, you have President Bush, who is a failed oil man himself; Cheney, former head of the largest oil services corporation in the world, Halliburton; Condoleezza Rice was on the board of Chevron for more than a decade. And you can go on from there. But what is the significance of this for this country and the world?

KEVIN PHILLIPS: Well, what I would like to do is broaden that, because you’re absolutely right, and the Republicans are the principal vehicle of this. But they are by no means the only vehicle, when Lloyd Bentsen was the Vice Presidential nominee for the Democrats. He was somebody very closely connected to the oil industry. It turns out that Al Gore's father was closely connected to the oil industry, and he continued the relationship with Armand Hammer of Occidental, and as a result, David Ignatius of the Washington Post wrote a big piece back several years ago saying we really had almost everybody in the 2000 election was oil-connected. It wasn’t just the two Republicans. It was Al Gore, too.

It is such a power center in the United States, especially now that the South and Sunbelt have become most important, because that's where the bulk of the oil is, that they’re into both parties, enormously powerful in Congress. There is an oil and petroleum culture in the United States that extends back 150-200 years into probably half of our states. This is no criminal conspiracy or anything. This is just a major resource, having evolved as something that's part and parcel of the American economy and American supremacy. And you can’t just wish it away. It’s a vested interest of the first order.

AMY GOODMAN: The war in Iraq was over oil?

KEVIN PHILLIPS: I think it was principally over oil. If you – and let me qualify that by saying I think a certain amount of the reason for the war in Iraq was a larger geo-strategic situation in which we were going to have to leave Saudi Arabia. And the way to develop an alternative oil supply and base was to aim at Iraq. Now, that went beyond purely oil as a consideration.

Another facet of the invasion of Iraq, in 2002, George W. Bush gave a speech in Texas, in which he talked about how Saddam Hussein had tried to assassinate his father. So there you have sort of the family aspect. And lastly, the Middle East is a battleground of biblical Armageddon and everything. And that's swimming into play. A number of the religious right people talked about Saddam Hussein as the anti-Christ, and the Left Behind series, which is the Tim LaHaye 60 million sold context of the end times and Armageddon, while the Antichrist comes from New Babylon and Iraq, and the attempt was to portray Baghdad, Babylon, as the focal point of the end times, so that a whole lot of supporters of the administration, they didn't care about weapons of mass destruction. This was part of the unfolding biblical epic of the end times and the war between good and evil. And this is something that I get into in the book; it’s hard to explain it just in a short conversation.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we’ve got some time.

KEVIN PHILLIPS: Well, this is very central to the whole Republican constituency. What you’ve got is that 45% of American Christians believe in Armageddon, and the more religious ones, the fundamentalists and evangelicals more than anybody else. So, my assumption is that the Bush electorate is probably 50 to 55% people who believe in Armageddon and probably more or less the same numbers who believe that the Antichrist is already on earth. And when you have this backdrop and you have a president who got his start in national politics as his father’s liaison with the religious right back in 1987 and ‘88, you just have an enormous exposure to this whole psychological context and an awareness on the part of people in the White House that this huge constituency interprets the Middle East in this very unusual way.

AMY GOODMAN: I mean, let's go back to Reagan's time. And, of course, Reagan's vice president was George Bush, Sr. He also embraced evangelicals; for example, I mean, in Central America, Rios Montt in Guatemala. What's the difference now?

KEVIN PHILLIPS: Well, there's an enormous difference, because Ronald Reagan was in many ways an easygoing guy. He could make a reference to Armageddon. He could pursue a rightwing type of politics like you’re describing. But, personally, he wasn't all that intense, shall we say? I mean, here was a man who was the first divorced president in American history, married to two different Hollywood actresses. He was not the incarnation of a religious right political outlook. Bush is.

AMY GOODMAN: And yet the right embraced him.

KEVIN PHILLIPS: The right embraced him, because that was at point in time -- and here I go back more to my Republican antecedents -- where, in my opinion, during the 1960s and 1970s, the left had pushed much too hard against religion in an attempt to create a more secular society. And this just grossly mis-underestimated the role that religion plays in the United States, and it created this huge backlash. So the balance was beginning to be restored in the 1980s, and now the pendulum has swung, so the abuse is on the part of the religious right, the people who were complaining about being abused 30 or 40 years ago.

AMY GOODMAN: So, explain where George Bush fits into this picture, George W. Bush, his own religion, how he embraces the right -- the religious right.

KEVIN PHILLIPS: Let me pretend that we’re talking about painting in French impressionism, and I’m going to give you four or five impressionist scenes. We can’t do this very academically. Back in 1999 and 2000, as George W. was preparing to run, it’s been reported or acknowledged that he told three or four different groups of preachers, conservative organizations, that he felt that God had called him to run for president. Well, he gets in the White House, and he's not doing terribly well, but 9/11 comes along, and this is a massive revitalization of his politics in the sense of a chance to create a conflict between good and evil and, in essence, rally his flock. And at that point in time, Dana Milbank of the Washington Post reported he did a survey of religious right leaders, and they agreed that God had chosen Bush for this moment. And he concluded the piece for the Post by saying this was the first time in history that the leader of the religious right nationally was the President of the United States. And I believe that’s how they felt.

And then we go -- more impressionist paintings on the wall here -- we go to reports from the Middle East. This came in several Israeli newspapers and others, that Bush at one point commented, although the White House denies it, that he said God told him to invade Afghanistan, God told him to invade Iraq. And then we get 2004, and when he was campaigning in several places, again he played the religious card. And the Lancaster New Era in Pennsylvania, the Old Order Amish country, reported that Bush talked to a group of Amish, the Plain People, and he said that he trusted that God spoke through him, and if that weren't true he wouldn't be able to do his job. Now, they reported this conversation, but their reporter had not been there, so he couldn’t substantiate it.

But this thread -- and I come back to my impressionism -- from a whole lot of people, many of them Republicans and people acquainted with the Republican Party -- this has been in there -- it's this sense that he is the prophet and he's telling us what God wants. And this, to me, is an enormously important backdrop to this mess in what is, after all, the Bible lands for Christians, the Middle East.

AMY GOODMAN: We are talking to Kevin Phillips, a former Republican strategist. His latest book is called American Theocracy: The Peril and Politics of Radical Religion, Oil and Borrowed Money in the 21st Century. We’ll be back with him in a minute.


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