President Richard Nixon with his National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger in 1972
Many Washington pundits are scratching their heads over Republican refusal to budge hardly at all in the face of electoral reversals in 2012 -- whether on the budget, judicial appointments or other initiatives from reelected President Barack Obama. But that confusion misses a fundamental fact about the modern GOP: it is contemptuous of the public will and the democratic process.
Indeed, looking back over the last half century as today's Republican Party was stitched together, the common thread has been a readiness to manipulate elections through dirty tricks, deceptions or the disenfranchisement of voting blocs seen as likely to support the Democratic Party. These strategies weave through GOP actions involving Executive, Legislative or Judicial authority, at both the federal and state levels.
Though these tactics didn't stop Obama's reelection and failed to recapture the Senate for the GOP, the tricks did help Republicans keep control of the House despite losing that national popular vote by more than one million ballots. Now, the combination of the undemocratic outcome in the House and the unprecedented use of filibusters in the Senate looks certain to block Obama's agenda and the expressed will of the American people for the next two years at least.
Meanwhile, the Republican-controlled Supreme Court may decide to let the very wealthy buy up even more of the U.S. political process and permit GOP-controlled states to further tilt the electoral playing field against blacks, Hispanics and Asian-Americans by gutting the Voting Rights Act.
All these anti-democratic measures seem to elicit no sense of shame among Republicans, whose concept of freedom and liberty seems to envision "freedom" for whites to rule in perpetuity and "liberty" for the wealthy to prosper at the expense of nearly everyone else.
Mitt Romney's behind-the-scenes contempt for "the 47 percent" who get government assistance and Paul Ryan's infatuation with Ayn Rand's theories about the "makers and takers" represent the real views of the Republican Party, even as it panders rhetorically to lower-income "cultural conservatives" who often depend on government help for everything from aid to care for disabled kids to scooters for zipping around shopping malls.
To maintain effective control of the country -- even without majority support -- Republican leaders simply have to suck in a sizable percentage of average white voters with appeals to their fears about the "others" -- taking away their right to celebrate Christmas, their "Second Amendment right" to carry whatever firearm they want wherever they want, their right to be protected against "the gay agenda," their right to believe that the science of global warming is a hoax, etc.
This alliance between the well-to-do Establishment and the easily manipulated Know-Nothings can be traced back to Richard Nixon and the hard-boiled "realists" who surrounded him in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the likes of National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger and media consultant Roger Ailes.
Kissinger had no compunction about manipulating or destroying democratic systems abroad, if they were viewed as somehow threatening to American power, with Chile being a prime example. So, in the name of that same power, he didn't hesitate to help constrain populist impulses at home. Ailes and other propaganda experts understood how to build a media machine to push all the right buttons of the average white guy.
The end result of these tactics was the securing and maintenance of power for Republicans. From a purely Machiavellian viewpoint, one had to feel a measure of admiration for the sheer audacity and ruthlessness by which the modern Republican Party played this power game.
For instance, with their control of the levers of American power within reach in fall 1968, Nixon and Kissinger saw nothing wrong with undermining President Lyndon Johnson's Vietnam peace talks, a move Johnson discovered and called "treason." However, LBJ chose not to expose what Nixon and his team had done.
Yet, having secured the 1968 election by sabotaging Johnson's peace talks and thus extending the war, Nixon grew alarmed at the intensity and radicalization of the U.S. anti-war and the black-power movements of the late 1960s and early 1970s. So, Nixon authorized extraordinary steps to spy on and disrupt those popular uprisings.
A savvy political thinker, Nixon also spotted an opportunity to exploit the white racist backlash toward black civil rights by appealing to those resentments in a "Southern strategy" aimed at whites who opposed African-American advances. Nixon's playing of the race card brought the states of the Old Confederacy into the Republican fold.
Fear of Exposure