American Politics: The Real and the Unreal
May 11, 2014
Here’s the thing: Today as I was surfing the net, I looked at a web site I have bookmarked, “The American Conservative,” where there are published essays some of which are devoted to understanding the American political order and, most importantly, its underlying principles. For example, there is one entitled, “Recovering the Founders’ Foreign Policy.” There are others devoted to distinguishing between the progressives and the founders. And they are or can be interesting.
But they seem to have nothing to do with understanding what is really going on in America’s political arena. For example, I am currently reading a book entitled The Subversives: The FBI’s War on Student Radicals and Reagan’s Rise to Power,” by Seth Rosenfeld. In this book, which is based on a bevy of documents the author got via a Freedom Of Information Act lawsuit and interviews with participants, it becomes clear that the FBI, with the full cooperation of the established political class, not only spied on but actively sought to “neutralize” what it deemed “political radicals,” socialist, communists [allegedly], black power groups, hippies, and the New Left. In fact, the FBI planted undercover agents in some of these groups, agents who then took the lead in moving these groups toward violence, which of course was then blamed on the “radicals.” For example:
“[J. Edgar] Hoover order his agents to investigate the TWLF [the Third World Liberation Front] on the ground that it potentially threatened internal security and civil order. But one of the strike’s most militant leaders had a long – and until now secret – history of working as a paid FBI informant. His name was Richard Aoki, and at the bureau’s direction he had infiltrated a succession of Bay Area radical organizations. He had given the Black Panthers some of their first guns and weapons training, encouraging them on a course that would contribute to shootouts with police and the organization’s demise. And during the Third World Strike, he encouraged physical confrontations that prompted Governor Reagan to take the most severe law-enforcement measures against the Berkley campus yet – ones that ultimately would have fatal consequences.” [pp. 418-19]
So, in the 1960’s, the FBI or, more precisely, the national government was involved in activities meant to neutralize political activity that was otherwise legal that it thought would “combat perceived threats to the existing social and political order.” [p. 414] In this particular case, the FBI worked with Ronald Reagan, a man who claimed as a conservative to distrust “big” or “intrusive” government, to infiltrate and neutralize political groups that threatened the status quo. And, just as troubling, this activity had the support of the prevailing political class, both “left” and “right,” both “liberal” and “conservative.”
What do the alleged “founding principles” of our political order have to do with any of this activity? Put differently, why should we wile away our time discussing those “founding principles” when such activities are taking place? There can be only reason, as near as I can tell: To direct attention away from these activities, to make them disappear into the background while we try to determine whether the “founders” were “progressives” or “natural law” proponents or some proponents of some other political category that has no relation to what is actually transpiring in this nation.
Look at this way: What sense does it make, i.e., in what way is our situation clarified by labeling Ronald Reagan a “conservative,” an opponent of big, intrusive government if he was willing to form an alliance with the head of the FBI to suppress political activity with which he disagreed? I submit such a categorization of Reagan – or any one else, even the alleged “liberals” – just obfuscates our situation. It is as if we live in the presence of giant and constantly running fog machine, which renders us almost blind when it comes to what is actually happening. And then, when something happens, say something like 9/11 or the assassination of JFK, we are shocked and we are unable to do more than shake our heads in disbelief that such a thing could have happened. And, heaven forbid, for anyone to say something like, “Well, the chickens have come to roost’ for we didn’t even know we had any chickens or that they were in danger.
It is a most interesting state of affairs and it is nice to think that it cannot go on for very long. But I am afraid that too is as thought that the fog machine contributes to. Because as it does go on, and on, and on, it is harder and harder to persuade people that they are not in touch with reality.