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Where are the Conservatives with Conscience?

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As Israeli bombs fall on southern Lebanon, and North Korea test launches missiles, and Iran starts up its nuclear program again, and as Iraq spirals into civil war, John Dean's new book comes out to give us a glimpse into how conservatives have gotten us in to such a mess.

"Conservatives Without Conscience" is the newest book by the lawyer who served in Richard Nixon's administration during the Watergate crisis. John Dean became famous for telling President Nixon that there was a cancer growing on the presidency, when referring to the Watergate break-in and subsequent cover-up. Dean describes himself as a Barry Goldwater Republican; as a conservative with a conscience. Dean wrote the book because he believes that the Republican Party has been taken over by a group of people who do not share his conservative Republican values.

To me, this is one of the most important books to be published in recent years because it is the first book written by a prominent Republican that shows from behind the scenes how the Republican Party was co-opted by people whose policies and actions bear no resemblance to those of Republicans in decades past. In his search for answers about how the Republican Party had taken such a drastic turn toward the dark side, Dean stumbled upon decades of research by social scientists into authoritarianism.

After World War II, social scientists wanted to understand how the German and Italian populations could have been seduced into following those brutal regimes down the path towards militaristic fascism. What they found was a mindset that they called authoritarianism. Perhaps the most famous set of experiments were those of Stanley Milgram at Yale University in the early 1960s. Dr. Milgram convinced his test subjects to deliver what they thought were strong electric shocks to "volunteers". Even though no shock was actually given, the "volunteers" screamed louder and louder as the "shock voltage" was raised with each incorrect response. Most test subjects were willing to deliver "shocks" labeled "danger" on the voltage dial because they did not want to question the authority of the scientists conducting the experiments.

Authoritarians come in two flavors, leaders and followers. In Stanley Milgram's experiments, the test subjects who were delivering fake shocks to volunteers were authoritarian followers. To them, the scientists conducting the experiments were authority figures who were beyond question. Authoritarian followers permit authoritarian leaders to acquire great power while also cracking down on civil liberties and freedoms. John Dean quotes an expert on the subject who noted; "authoritarian governments are identified by ready government access to information about the activities of citizens and by extensive limitations on the ability of citizens to obtain information about the government. In contrast, democratic governments are marked by significant restrictions on the ability of government to acquire information about its citizens, and by ready access by citizens to information about activities of the government".

George Bush and Dick Cheney are classic authoritarian leaders. Secrecy and contempt for the rule of law are hallmarks of their brand of governing. John Dean is once again warning that there is a cancer growing on the presidency. Unlike the crimes of the Nixon administration, however, those of the Bush-Cheney administration have hurled the world toward a simmering, low-grade world war pitting poor Muslim countries against the United States and our allies. International relations between the United States and the rest of the world have never been worse, and this deterioration is directly attributable to the authoritarian nature of the Bush-Cheney regime. Because they are authoritarians, they will not change their tactics because they are incapable of doing so. That means you can expect at least two more years of deteriorating international relations, simmering war in the Middle East, unstable markets, high energy prices and terrorist acts against Western targets.

It will be interesting to see how much the mainstream media ignore John Dean's book and its implications for our democracy. Currently, the mainstream media are acting like authoritarian followers, deferring to the Bush-Cheney administration regardless of the egregiousness of their policies and actions. We can only hope that more conservatives with a conscience will come forward and speak out against the Bush Cheney administration's disastrous disregard for the rule of law, and for our democratic principles.
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John R. Moffett PhD is a research neuroscientist in the Washington, DC area. Dr. Moffett's main area of research focuses on the brain metabolite N-acetylaspartate, and an associated genetic disorder known as Canavan disease.

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