Letter from the US: Occupied America

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Author Mike Davis explores the seedy overbelly of the US.

Every night the forces of occupation fan out across the sullen, cratered landscape of the defeated enemy capital. Their objectives are to uproot, engage and, hopefully, annihilate the surviving loyalists of the old regime. It is war without pity.

The occupied capital, of course, is Washington, DC. And, as Bushites regularly reassure their supporters, regime change is being as ruthlessly pursued on the banks of the Potomac as on the Tigris and Euphrates. Indeed to listen to any of the right wing demagogues who dominate the US airwaves, the Democrats are an even more despised, cowardly foe than the Ba'athists.

Just as Paul Bremer is imperial proconsul of the new American oil properties in Mesopotamia, so Grover Norquist is Bush's gauleiter for the formerly Democratic Beltway.

'Grover who?'

Most Americans don't know the name either, but the former lobbyist for South Africa-backed guerrillas and the mastermind of the fanatically anti-government Americans for Tax Reform (ATR) is the hammer with which the Bush administration hopes to pound the Democratic Party into oblivion.

An obese rich boy from the Boston suburbs, Norquist was the leader of College Republicans when he was conscripted by the Reagan White House in 1986 to run its ATR front group. Later he took a sabbatical to lobby support for right wing terrorist groups like the Nicaraguan Contras, Jonas Savimbi's Unita in Angola, and the murderous Renamo guerrillas in Mozambique. He also accepted a lucrative retainer to defend the besieged empire of Microsoft in its famous anti-trust battle.

In 1993-94 he emerged as Newt Gingrich's éminence grise, marshalling an unprecedented coalition of business and conservative groups to defeat the Clinton administration's modest proposed expansion of federal healthcare and to advance the radical agenda of Gingrich's 'Contract with America'.

With Republicans in control of the House of Representatives for the first time in 40 years, Norquist presided every Wednesday over a strategy session that synchronised the efforts of the coalition's key players, including the National Rifle Association, the Christian Coalition, right wing think-tanks, the alcohol, tobacco and gambling lobbies, and the 'property rights movement'.

In a parody of vulgar Marxism, Norquist's Wednesday Group became a de facto 'executive committee of the ruling class' with industrial lobbyists and Christian extremists openly writing the legislation which Majority Leader Gingrich presented to the House.

The grand strategy, as explained by Norquist, was to roll back the New Deal, if not the entire 20th century, by 'defunding big government'. Huge tax cuts for the investor class, as well as multitrillion-dollar federal deficits for future generations, would force the privatisation of what remained of the American welfare state as well as permanently disabling the Democratic Party.

Norquist survived the fall of Gingrich to provide new grise to his Republican successors, Tom DeLay and Dick Armey. In 1999 he rallied sceptical conservatives to the Bush camp and coordinated the vicious right wing attacks on the chief Republican rival, Senator John McCain of Arizona.

Shortly after the Florida presidential coup d'état in January 2001, Grover's Wednesday Group resumed its heroic work of demolishing 100 years of social reform.

The Wednesday Group's greatest domestic conquests so far have been the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts. The windfalls to the very rich (much of which the Republicans hope will be returned to them as campaign donations) are less important than a deliberately engineered $3.6 trillion cumulative deficit - an Archimedean lever for downsizing and/or privatising social spending.

The frightening ease with which Norquist and DeLay blitzkrieged the second, larger tax cut through Congress exposed the utter bankruptcy of the Democratic leadership's post-9/11 strategy of abdicating criticism of Bush's 'war on terrorism' in order (so they claimed) to make a principled stand on the economy. But the Dems may have only begun to feel the pain. The great achievement of the Clinton presidency - purchased at the price of alienating its blue-collar electoral base - was to win support of much of the 'new economy' with its ultra free trade policies.

Now the Republicans, led by Norquist and DeLay, are forcibly breaking up this marriage of high-tech billionaires and New Democrats. In their view, there is only room for one capitalist party in Washington.

Thus Norquist's so-called 'K Street Project' (referring to the home of most Washington lobbyists) has carefully tracked the party affiliation of the key employees of the 400 largest trade associations and political action committees. Business groups have been told that they can continue to write Bush policy only if they purge Democrats and replace them with loyal Republican cadre.

According to Washington Monthly's Nicholas Confessore, the 'GOP and some of its key private sector allies... have become indistinguishable. DeLay alone has placed a dozen of his aides at key lobbying and trade association jobs in the last few years.'

One result of this new cold fusion of capital and politics is that the Bush administration has unexcelled access to the market power of allied private corporations. 'During the Iraq war, for instance, the media conglomerate Clear Channel Communications Inc had its stations sponsor pro-war rallies nationwide (a few affiliates even banned the Dixie Chicks, who had criticised Bush, from their playlists).'

Moreover, as the old liberal state machinery is bankrupted and sold off (national parks, big city schools, even social security are under threat), the Republicans will cement lucrative liaisons with the new private contractors. Rumsfeld's Pentagon, already extensively privatised, is a model for this brave new world of eternal Republicanism.