Bovard Predicting the Death of Democracy? Must Be Wednesday.

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In the new-ish webzine Pro Libertate, James Bovard thinks a conflict with Iran would bring about the end of American democracy. About time!

Attacking Iran will put American civilians in the terrorist crosshairs, with little or no federal Kevlar to protect them. The key question is not whether terrorists will attack but how the American people will likely respond and how politicians could exploit the situation.

There is no reason to expect the American people to be less docile than they were after 9/11. The percentage of Americans who trusted the government to do the right thing most of the time doubled in the week after 9/11. It became fashionable to accuse critics of Bush administration policies of being traitors or terrorist sympathizers. Each time the feds issued a new warning of a terrorist threat after 9/11, the president's approval rating rose by an average of almost 3 percent, according to a Cornell University study. The craving for a protector dropped an Iron Curtain around many people's minds, preventing them from accepting evidence that would shred his political security blanket.

The Cornell study Bovard is talking about surveyed polls from 2001 to 2004. Since then the U.S. has continued to have occasional terror threats and… the president's approval rating has sunk into the mid-30s and rarely bumps up. There was a sense (among pundits) that lots of national security/terror-related events would help the Bush administration in 2005-2006; the "London airline plot," the execution of Saddam. None of them did. So I'm not sure if that's a useful data point.

Bovard's speculation that terrorist attacks inside the U.S. would lead to a rush of support for the strong executive, but what role would an attack on Iran—which probably couldn't be approved by both Houses of Congress—have at this point? The rules have changed since the Iraq war has turned into such a disaster, and this is now an open question.

Bovard's Reason archive is here.

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  1. You know, it’s tough to say how the public would respond to a terrorist attack at this point.

    The most common response to violence is always to circle the wagons, rally around the leader, get aggressive, and emphasize security over freedom. That seems to be a universal (or at least nearly universal) thing in human nature.

    But this administration is uniquely positioned to provoke a different response: They’ve spent years portraying themselves as the only ones who can keep us safe, and so an attack might motivate many people to conclude that the emperor has no clothes.

    The question is, what would people demand if they saw that the emperor had no clothes? Some of them might demand a smarter approach to fighting terrorism, perhaps a more sane foreign policy, and such. But many would probably decide that what we need is for somebody else to get tough, toss aside our freedoms, etc.

    In other words, they might decide that we need a Joe Lieberman (or some other hawkish Democrat). I fear that sanity would not be on the table, only insanity with some other party label.

  2. “In the new-ish webzine Pro Libertate???”

    Now this really pisses me off to no end.

    Unless I’m getting a royalty check, that is.

  3. The rules have changed since the Iraq war has turned into such a disaster

    I’m not denying that this is certainly the widespread perception, but even granting every (sane) anti-war argument, no one with any historical perspective would regard the Iraq war to this point as a “disaster.”

    Could it turn into one? Sure it could. And I would argue that precipitous withdrawal of meaningful US support for the current government is the surest route to a disaster.

  4. Oh – was just about to ask if you had anything to do with that site. phew.

    The Czech is in the male.

  5. Ummm… We have a democracy? How did I miss that?

  6. We live in a country where banning certain foods are now the rage.The fourth and fifth amendments have been scaled back for the wars on drugs and social drinking.Roadblocks are are a common occurance.Privte property owners are told what to do with there buissness[no somking laws or have their property taken “for the common good” by developers.Paents are accused of abuse for smoking near children or letting them eat too much,and on and on.I say we lost oure society a long time ago.

  7. The Censor needs to hear about this unwarranted misappropriation of you name, Pro L.

    I could see the public’s response going either way, but I’m inclined to agree with Dave. For one thing, it wouldn’t be nearly as much of a shock as 9/11. For another, we’ve had a pretty good lesson in the downside of give a strong executive a free hand.

  8. RC,

    If the runaway train hasn’t hit the schoolbus on the tracks yet, is it a disaster?

    I hoping we can dodge a bullet at this late date, too, and this adventure will turn out to be merely a fiasco rather than a full-blown disaster, but it’s getting awfully late.

  9. I hate to say it, but pessimism about people’s willingness to trade freedom for security is rarely, if ever, wrong. Dr. T has it right-if anything, people would cry for a different maximum nanny.

  10. I’m with joe’s 10:29 post. while i believe the iraq war isn’t a failure as yet, it is viewed by th majority of people in this country and outside of it as massive one. I think if another terrorist attack hit us, there would be a pervading attitude of “fool me once, shame on you, fol me twice, shame on me,” and with that mindset and a democratic congress i think the response would be muted.

    i think there would be a lot of political good to come out of a terrorist attack. the circling the wagons thing would almost definitely happen (there would be a response, it’s just a matter of degree), and to this end, there would be a lot less partisan bickering and way more unity. of course, i donbt realy think bipartisanship is worth a single american life, but i like to try and find silver linings.

  11. There would still be a “rally around the flag” effect, and support for greater security measures and even military action, no doubt.

    But I find it highly unlikely that it would be accompanied by the gullible hero-worship and suspension of critical thinking in deference to the Great Man that we say back in ought-one.

    C-SPAN should re-run Bush’s speeches from 9/11, so that people can see if their memory matches the reality.

  12. Federal kevlar? What an excellent metaphor.


    But I find it highly unlikely that it would be accompanied by the gullible hero-worship and suspension of critical thinking in deference to the Great Man that we say back in ought-one.

    Right, it would lead to gullible hero-worship of Giuliani. You really think people have gotten smarter in the last six years?

  13. Back around December, didn’t Iran spank their crazy President? Didn’t his party lose, big time (just as our President’s party took a drubbing in November)? I heard this third-hand, so I don’t have the details (yet), but my source is usually reliable on news items.

    It seems to me as if the people of our two countries may be sending the same message: “Jane, stop this crazy thing!”

    How can we force the “leaders” to get in line?

  14. Warty,

    “You really think people have gotten smarter in the last six years?” Maybe. Or maybe just more cynical.

    Ah, hell, you’re probably right.

  15. just more cynical.

    Well, I certainly have. I have noticed that people are generally more down on team R, but I haven’t really seen anyone get excited for team D. Maybe that’s an indicator of cynicism? I dunno.

    As an aside (asides are more interesting anyway), I wonder if any smrt people have attempted to come up with any metrics for a society’s cynicism level. Get to it, waiters…I mean Poli Sci majors.

  16. RC,

    Keep propping up that Shi’ite regime with US lives and money! how could any sane person ever consider that a disaster…

  17. Regarding whether the Iraq War is/is not a disaster:

    On the positive side, Saddam Hussein is dead, and the war/occupation hasn’t turned into a great bloodletting for American forces, as some had feared.

    On the negative side, about 4000 American soldiers and other workers have died in Iraq, and multiple times that have been injured, maimed or disfigured for life. Perhaps more than 100,000 Iraqis have died. Despite multiple elections, Iraq doesn’t have a stable government — or even a government that we can necessarily count on as an ally. And pretty much the entire world considers the US to be the greatest current threat to world peace, which is likely to make future diplomatic/military ventures much more difficult for some time to come.

    Hmmm. I’d say that it’s a disaster.

  18. I think the lesson of the last 20 years is that the American people support dropping bombs, but not actual complicated military operations.

    As such, nuking Iranian nuclear facilities would probably enjoy widespread support. As to the effect of any terrorist response by the Iranians, I suspect it would work to the political advantage of the president, regardless of which party.

  19. C-SPAN should re-run Bush’s speeches from 9/11, so that people can see if their memory matches the reality.

    I have insisted that Congress pass strong anti-terrorism legislation immediately — to provide for more than 1,000 new law enforcement personnel solely to fight terrorism; to create a domestic anti-terrorism center;

    We can do this without undermining our constitutional rights. In fact, the failure to act will undermine those rights.

    I would like to say something to [those of you] who believe the greatest threat to America comes not from terrorists from within our country or beyond our borders, but from our own government.

    I believe you have every right, indeed you have the responsibility, to question our government when you disagree with its policies. And I will do everything in my power to protect your right to do so. But I also know there have been lawbreakers among those who espouse your philosophy.

    The people who came to the United States to bomb the World Trade Center were wrong.

    If you say that government is in a conspiracy to take your freedom away, you are just plain wrong.

    How dare you suggest that we in the freest nation on Earth live in tyranny.

    [T]here is nothing patriotic about hating your country, or pretending that you can love your country but despise your government.

  20. Pro Libertate | February 28, 2007, 10:09am | #

    Unless I’m getting a royalty check, that is.

    Hey I’m not not getting any royalties from “Bartram’s Garden” but I just live with it.

  21. Mr President,

    Aren’t those the words of Clinton I?

  22. “I could see the public’s response going either way, but I’m inclined to agree with Dave. For one thing, it wouldn’t be nearly as much of a shock as 9/11. For another, we’ve had a pretty good lesson in the downside of give a strong executive a free hand.”

    i wish i could agree with you; actually, i think i do with one caveat – if a republican is in office. i could actually see this being a kind of push-back moment, or more realistically, not much of a push-forward.

    if a democrat is in office we are fucked with a capital UCKED, because 75% of the dissenting voices would be silenced right away. it will not be a pretty thing. (this seems to hinge in large party, oddly enough, on the pro-choice bloc – i don’t know whether this is a selection problem or what, but i think that’s the big lynchpin. same reason it seems like the only frigging thing people talk about when SCOTUS appointments come up.)

  23. I don’t understand why you keep posting passages from that Clinton speech.

    Is it some kind of giant tu quoque? And it’s not even relevent to this thread.

  24. Isaac,

    Perhaps my fame as a Hit & Run commenter is less significant than I’ve been led to believe 🙂

    Actually, the phrase is fairly common, especially outside the U.S. Some European libertarian organization uses it, and it shows up on military badges as well. Not to mention that I “stole” it from the Clan Wallace motto, though my borrowing should be okay, since I’ve got Wallace blood and a desire to slaughter the English oppressors to restore our freeeeeeDOOOOOMM. Well, maybe I exaggerate for effect.

  25. “Is it some kind of giant tu quoque? And it’s not even relevent to this thread.”

    that’s where i disagree joe – though i’m not the one reposting it – because it is super fucking relevant.

    lots of people like to pretend that bush invented this kind of nonsense, perhaps because partisanship cures erectile dysfunction, or because bootblack tastes so fucking yummy. i know not.

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