BOOK REVIEW:

Cruel and Unusual: Bush/Cheney's New World Order

Review by Joe Surkiewicz
bookcover
Cruel and Unusual: Bush/Cheney's New World Order

by Mark Crispin Miller
Norton, 343 pp., $24.95

Crestfallen over the upcoming presidential election?

Bummed out because there's no anti-war candidate to pull the lever for (or, more likely, touch the screen)?

Feeling...disenfranchised?

The professor spotlights the administration's Orwellian misuse of the language and the right's use of projection to impute what's worst about itself to its enemies.

Cheer up. A new book will make you positively giddy about trooping to the polls Nov. 3 and voting Democratic.

With hardly a mention of the disheartening John Kerry, media critic Mark Crispin Miller has penned Cruel and Unusual: Bush/Cheney's New World Order, which should fire up your enthusiasm for the dreary Dem--or, for that matter, anyone to the left of the ayatollahs or Jerry Falwell.

Yes, the prospect of a second Bush term is that bad, says the NYU professor (and former director of the Johns Hopkins Writing Seminars).

"Our unprecedented problem is that Bush & Co. is intent not just on fortifying the presidency, as did, say, FDR," Miller warns. "The regime's goal is to abort American democracy and to impose on the United States another kind of government entirely."

To put it another way: For all his considerable faults, at least John Kerry won't ditch the Constitution.

Miller, who first charted the oily waters of Bush & Co. in his 2001 The Bush Dyslexicon (a thinking person's guide to the Resident's tangled tongue), backs up his argument that the American experiment with democracy is in danger with a litany of the regime's evil deeds--some familiar and some not.

He builds his case progressively, saving the best--by that, of course, I mean the worst--for last: This administration is hell-bent on tossing the Constitution and establishing a theocratic state (think Cotton Mather and witch-burning).

The catalog of misdeeds ranges from the administration's vilification of weapons inspector (and ex-Marine) Scott Ritter (ably assisted by the press, which has yet to welcome Ritter back to the fold in spite of the Post's and New York Times' mea culpas about their dismal reporting in the build-up to the Iraq attack), the demonization of Bill Clinton (starting with the 1993 haircut flap at LAX, when Bill, aboard Air Force One, was falsely accused of holding up air traffic while getting his locks trimmed by Christophe of Beverly Hills), to some lesser--yet still telling--episodes that may have slipped below your radar screen.

Here's one:

Contrast the huge press flare-up over Bill's haircut to this little-known 2001 incident: a White House fireworks display at 11 p.m. on a weeknight following a state dinner for Mexican president Vicente Fox, a long-time Bush friend.

Aside from a back-page item in the Post and a couple of other papers, the press didn't report that 911 switchboards lit up as uninformed DC residents feared an outbreak of gunshots or even an attack on the capital (or to express their anger after they learned it was fireworks).

"[T]here were hundreds of complaints in Washington--overwhelming 911, the local press, and city councilmen--and yet the press was mute; or, to be more accurate, our journalists were terribly impressed by Bush & Co.'s imperial entertainment, that 'gorgeous, nearly 20-minute display of pyrotechnic virtuosity,' " Miller writes, quoting a gushing report in the Post.

"That it might wake up a lot of working people seems not to have occurred to them. It was exactly as if Bill Clinton had delayed a lot of flights to get his hair cut-and the members of the press were on the plane, marveling at Christophe's superb technique and fancy scissors."

Miller calls it "a typical example of the press's tendency to nail one president for a fictitious crime or error, and then to let another one do something like it, only worse, and do it in reality; and of that actual transgression we hear nothing. The framers would be outraged by this common reportorial indifference to real grievances among the people."

The professor also spotlights the administration's Orwellian misuse of the language (and the press's refusal to call them on it): the "Healthy Forests Initiative" that turns the woods over to the timber industry; the "Clean Skies Initiative," which weakens the Clean Air Act; and the "Help America Vote Act," which, Miller writes, "would be better named the 'Help American Vote Republican Act,' since its aim is to ensure that Democratic votes can never add up to a victory."

Even more illuminating is his discussion of the right's use of projection to impute what's worst about itself to its enemies (first Clinton, now the rest of us).

"Religious or antireligious, communist of anticommunist, fascist or antifacist, Zionist or anti-Zionist, the aroused projector sees, and propagates, the universe as split in two; the good 'out there' projective of himself as he would like to be (and would like everybody else to be), the bad 'out there' projective of the evil that he feels, but will not recognize, within himself," Miller writes. "It is from that endless, agonizing inner conflict, and not from any rational aim, that hate propaganda draws its necessary vigor and persistence."

Need some examples?

Hitler, for starters, who attributed to the Jews such depravity as the destruction of entire nations by elimination of their elites, mass deportation and outright genocide--the reality of German conduct under his rule.

And let's not forget Stalin, possibly worse than Hitler, "whose propaganda bogeys also were unconsciously reflective of his own destructiveness and rage," Miller says.

"Certainly those two were are in a class all by themselves, and yet there is a danger in regarding as unique the feral projectivity of those epic slaughterers, for if we take such comfort in their infamy, we will be blind to that same animus as it now threatens us and what is left of this democracy," he warns.

"No less than the populations of the Reich or of the Soviet Union, we also have been long subjected to extremist propaganda, and here no less than there, that propaganda is the output of well-disciplined projective minds," Miller continues.

(The morning after reading this passage, I opened The Sun to this headline: "Democrats 'racist,' Md. governor says," an RNC-related story about our Republican governor (a Newt Gingrich and Tom DeLay protégé) and his trip to the Big Apple. That's projective.)

Just as telling is the projection of Bill (The Book of Virtues) Bennett (casinos), Rush (tireless heckler of "our pot-smoking president") Limbaugh ("a voracious pill-head") and homosexual-hating radio host Michael Savage (gay).

Yet even the insane ranting and hypocrisy of the right-wing zealots pales in comparison to what's hatched since those planes flew into the twin towers. Finally, Miller warns, what 9/11 spawned was "the promotion of an angry 'Christianity' as the USA's official state religion as the Bush regime has turned more grandiose and reckless after 9/11."

Not that it happened overnight (and, as always, unreported on the evening news), the theocratic movement (led by many former John Birchers) since the '70s "has undergone a major transformation--a sea change quite unnoticed by the U.S. press," Miller informs us (hopefully not too late).

"While reporters were engrossed in the sensational affairs of televangelists like Jimmy Swaggart and the Bakkers," he writes, "and then attending to the racist thuggery of the Christian Identity cultists in the far Northwest, an elite theocratic movement of extreme commitment and considerable wealth was fast becoming the most influential force on the religious right. This is the postmillenarian movement known as Christian Reconstructionism." Its goal: to transform this world, "every humanistic institution wiped out root and branch," writes Miller, who adds this chilling quote from a Reconstructionist:

"The Christian goal for the world is the universal development of Biblical theocratic republics, in which every area of life is redeemed and placed under the Lordship of Jesus Christ and the rule of God's law."

So what's this got to do with November 3?

The Christian Reconstructionist movement is being promoted by a highly secretive organization called the Council for National Policy, founded in 1981.

"The movement's luminaries are all members of a highly secretive organization called the Council for National Policy (CNP), based in Alexandria, Virginia," Miller writes. "Formed in 1981, the exact identity of the council's founders is unclear: some sources claim that rightist propaganda genius Richard Viguerie established it, as 'The Right's quiet and heady answer to the Left's Council on Foreign Relations (CFR),' while others name the Texas billionaires Nelson Bunker Hunt, Herbert Hunt, and T. Cullen Davis, and still others credit Tim LaHay.

"Whoever set it up, the CNP has, of course had R.J. Rushdoony [a major movement ideologist] as a member, along with all the leading Christian antihumanists, including Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, Ralph Reed, Paul Weyrich, Donald Wildmon, Oliver North, and Howard Phillips, as well as erstwhile members of the Reagan team," Miller writes.

More familiar names associated with the CNP include Tom DeLay, Dan Burton, Trent Lott, Lauch Faircloth, Don Nickles, Dick Armey, Jesse Helms and (this shouldn't come as a shock) US Attorney General John Ashcroft (not a member, but who has spoken at meetings).

Oh, and George W. Bush, who made a speech there in 1999 as a presidential candidate that has never been released.

"Whatever Bush promised the assembly at the CNP, his commitment to the theocratic cause has much impressed the movement's most devoted activists," Miller says. "With their eyes on the future, those at work on forging an all-Christian USA are overjoyed that Bush is president, for they correctly see the regime's imposition on the people as itself a signal victory for their movement."

Now, with the "war" on terrorism in full swing, the wraps are coming off: "God told him to run for president, Bush says, and God told him to strike al Qaeda, and God told him to occupy Iraq," Miller notes. "For all his weak demurrals, Bush does in fact perceive the 'war on terrorism' as a new crusade, as a member of his family makes explicit:

" 'George sees this as a religious war. He doesn't have a p.c. view of the war. His view of this is that they are trying to kill the Christians. And we the Christians will strike back with more force and more ferocity than they will ever know.' "

Were Bush the only apocalyptic whack-o in the regime, it might be less worrisome. But he's not alone, Miller points out. Other fundamentalist nutcases in power include Mark Racicot (director of Bush's re-election drive) and Army Lt. Gen. William G. "Jerry" Boykin (who calls America "a Christian nation" and asserts Bush "was appointed by God"). And don't forget that Bush's first public act was to make Ashcroft his attorney general.

Then there's the "Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives" ("a grand administrative stroke that blurs the crucial line dividing church and state," Miller notes) and the loading of the federal bench with judges "who would gladly serve a 'Christian' order."

Miller points out that the administration is so hostile to gays that it's pushing for a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage--which would be the first prohibitive amendment since the 1919 Volstead Act.

Women and environmentalists are also squarely in Bush's (and the Reconstructionists') sights, with the banning of "partial birth abortion" and the appointment of the scary Gale Norton as secretary of interior, just to name a few examples.

What, finally, can be done?

"The only legal way to halt the nation's slide into theocracy, it seems, would be to open serious investigations by the Congress and the press, begin a robust national debate, and finally vote the zealots out of power," says Miller (who then adds that the computerized, no-paper-trail voting machines now widely used are "actually the handiwork of Reconstructionist ideologues").

Clearly, Miller stresses, Bush must be defeated in November--and the struggle must continue beyond the election.

"We must amplify the full and accurate quotation of their words by calling them, repeatedly, on their ferocious ideology," he concludes. "...This struggle will require eternal vigilance, firm discipline and iron solidarity, and an intense awareness of our rights and obligations as free men and women...The price of freedom is eternal vigilance, and all the other aspects of a steely civic virtue."

At a recent Baltimore book signing, Miller put the election in perspective: "I'll be happy if we come out of this with the right to free speech and free assembly."

You can't say you weren't warned after reading this compelling book.


Joe Surkiewicz lives in Baltimore.



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This story was published on September 9, 2004.