GOP's Virtual Control Over U.S. Political Power
From the radio newsmagazine
Between The Lines
Between the Lines Q&A
A weekly column featuring progressive viewpoints
on national and international issues
under-reported in mainstream media
for release July 23, 2004
"Banana Republicans" Examines How GOP Gained Virtual Control over U.S. Political Power
Interview with John Stauber, co-author of "Banana Republicans: How the Right-Wing is Turning America into a One-Party State," conducted by Scott Harris
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After the last two federal election cycles, the Republican Party finds itself firmly in control of the U.S. government. George W. Bush sits in the White House, thanks to his selection by a GOP-dominated Supreme Court amid controversy in the razor-thin Florida vote, while having decisively lost the national popular ballot.
The Republicans, who also hold power in both the House of Representatives and the Senate, now control all three branches government for the first time since 1932. In so doing, the GOP has fulfilled the dream of the late President Ronald Reagan and other conservative activists. The party has succeeded by working aggressively to out-maneuver and outspend their Democratic rivals in influencing regulation of the electoral system and dominating the agenda of the lobbying establishment and the nation's media.
The authors of a new book warn that the success of the Republican party in consolidating power across political and corporate spheres puts America's democratic pluralism at risk. Between The Lines' Scott Harris spoke with John Stauber, who, with Sheldon Rampton, co-authored the book, "Banana Republicans: How the Right-Wing is Turning America into a One-Party State." Here, Stauber takes a critical look at how the GOP has been able to dominate U.S. politics and maintain its hold on power. John Stauber: Well, this book I think really began a few years ago when Sheldon and I were researching the Republican party and especially after the terror attacks of 9/11, 2001 seeing how the right-wing movement in the United States and the Republican party were able to exploit the terror attacks of 9/11 for political gain. Probably the most striking example of that was how, in the fall of 2002, when the Bush administration began its sell job on the war in Iraq, which the White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card compared to a "product launch." We really were astonished to see how the Republican party managed to win the fall 2002 elections and gain control of both houses of Congress by making the issue the war in Iraq.
Now, here we are in 2004, the war was launched a year ago and we find the United States just in a horrible situation, bogged down in a guerrilla war with no end in sight. People like Wesley Clark speculating that there's a 2-to-1 chance that the U.S. is going to be driven out of Iraq and that this situation is going to end in catastrophe. And one of the major ironies is that during this election year, the Democratic candidate for the presidency, John Kerry, managed to vote for this war and Democratic political operatives like James Carville and Democratic leaders from (Tom) Daschle to (Richard) Gephardt to Hillary Clinton endorsed this war. And by endorsing the war, the Democrats played right into the hands of the Republicans, making the 2002 electoral debate one of whether the war was a good idea; they conceded that. The Republicans control both houses and now, in what appears to be the most important issue leading into the November election, the Democrats have no traction because again, they supported th So every time you turn around these days, it appears that the Republicans are in ascendancy; they have brilliant political strategists. They play politics not just to win. They treat politics, as we explain in "Banana Republicans," like a war and the object in war is to annihilate the enemy. And bipartisanship under the rules of engagement that the Republicans pursue is -- as Newt Gingrich is said to have proclaimed -- "date rape"; "bipartisanship is date rape."
Between The Lines: Very often, it seems that there's a direct pipeline from folks at the Heritage Foundation and other right-wing think tanks directly into the mouths of people like Sean Hannity, a right-wing talk show host, or Rush Limbaugh and dozens of others on Fox TV and other stations and outlets around the country. Do you want to examine that kind of symbiosis between the two?
John Stauber: Well, absolutely, it's a symbiosis and there are direct links and one feeds on the other. We're really talking about a right-wing propaganda machine. The think tank was pioneered by the Republican right, and the most powerful think tanks like the Heritage Foundation, Hudson, Cato, American Enterprise Institute, Competitive Enterprise Institute that we examine in the book are funded, again, by far right ideologues, people who are the money behind foundations like Scaife, Bradley, and Coors. And they have anti-gay, anti-black, anti-environmental, anti- feminist agendas, and they've had them for a very long time. What they've done through their think tanks is they've figured out ways to take ideas along those lines that used to be very marginal and unpalatable and package them and promote them. So concepts for instance, like affirmative action, which used to be a really noble endeavor -- at least perceived that way -- becomes seen as some sort of racist enterprise aimed against white people. How The rise of the right-wing media has probably been, in my opinion, the single development over the last decade most responsible for this stranglehold that the far-right Republican party now has over every branch of government.
Between The Lines: I'd like to end with your conclusion in the book -- it's titled the "three-banana problem." How to combat the right's ruthless and often unethical tactics employed to prevail in these elections and overcoming the large money advantage these politicos have in terms of their iron triangle between industry, lobbyists, government and the political party? How do you do it?
John Stauber: We looked throughout the book and analyzed the one-party state to see if there are things that are being done from which lessons can be drawn for progressives. But the thing to remember is that the Republicans view this as war. In order to really confront that sort of ideology, we have to get very serious, we who are on the progressive, liberal left side, in organizing our constituency and that hasn't been the case with the Democratic party. So I think we'll only have our country back when we really have a movement for democracy that takes power back from the elite and returns it to people in communities.
MP3 audio files on our website at http://www.btlonline.org for week ending 7/30/04.
"Banana Republicans: How the Right-Wing is Turning America into a One-Party State," is published by Tarcher/Penguin. Visit the author's website at http://www.bananarepublicans.org. Stauber and Rampton run the Madison, Wis.-based Center for Media and Democracy Visit the Center's website at http://www.prwatch.org
Scott Harris is executive producer of Between The Lines. This interview excerpt was featured on the award-winning, syndicated weekly radio newsmagazine, Between The Lines ( http://www.btlonline.org), for the week ending July 30, 2004. This Between The Lines Q&A was compiled by Scott Harris and Anna Manzo.
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