9 September 2006

Conservatives Without Conscience

My reading far outpaces my ability to write, and I'm sitting on a to-do stack of book reviews a mile long. Anyway, here goes the first in what I hope will be a burst of reviews in the next few weeks, time permitting.

More striking to me than the substantive content of John Dean's bestselling Conservatives without Conscience, are two featured quotes in the book, neither by Mr. Dean. The first is present on title page and states that if only white person votes were counted, KKK member David Duke would have been elected governor. I never knew that, and to consider that is shocking. The second, is an excellent prescription for the role of government.

If you think [the United States] could never elect an Adolf Hitler to power, note that David Duke would have become governor of Louisiana if it had just been up to the white voters in that state.

--Professor Bob Altemeyer

Authoritarian governments are defined 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 the activities of government.

--Professor Robert G. Vaughn

The preface of Conservatives without Conscience begins with a lengthy tale of what Dean reports as a "smear campaign" against him — Silent Coup, and his subsequent lawsuit and conflict with convicted felons G. Gordon Liddy and Chuck Colson. Basically, Silent Coup contained scurrilous charges that it was Dean who orchestrated the 1972 Watergate burglary in order to protect his future wife, by removing information linking her to an alleged callgirl ring that worked for the DNC. Despite the unsubstantiated claims and overwhelming criticism of the book's claims, there was a contingent of conservative champions, including Liddy, Colson, and rising conservative media celebrities Monica Crowley and Brit Hume. Dean triumphed eventually in a lawsuit settlement, but this development propelled Dean in pursuit of the changing nature of conservatism in America. For me, it offered another episode that illustrates how depraved and sinister Mr. Liddy is — for example, during his Silent Coup promotion campaign, he gave out the Deans home phone number over the air on his radio show.

It is in the introduction too, where Dean writes of a relationship with Barry Goldwater and how they together embarked on a project to chronicle the misdeeds and misdoings of contemporary conservatives (of which Goldwater most definitely was aghast at in his late years, even supporting Democratic candidates here in Arizona, and the local Air America radio outlet used to run commercials about Goldwater spinning in his grave...). Unfortunately, Goldwater died before they could complete project, but the book is dedicated to his memory.

From there, Dean departs into more of a sociological treatise (which he really isn't qualified to give, but he simply relays information fed by prominent researchers). Interesting detail is given to the famous authoritarian Milgram Study whereby people, impressed by an "authority figure" are willing to deliver intense bodily pain to test subjects. Milgram's research explains how those fall easily into grasp of authoritarian leaders. The link between authoritarianism and conservatism is explored, where right wing authoritarians fit the following:
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