Like New York Rep. Peter King’s “Put the fear of God into [ISIS]” and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s fear-mongering on Iran, Rudy Giuliani’s rants this week reveal the conservative view of power. (More)

“The Fear of God” Part III: Fear and Power (Non-Cynical Saturday)

This week Morning Feature looks at ISIS, Israel and Iran, and conservative narratives of power. Thursday we began with Rep. Peter King’s call for the U.S. to “put the fear of God” into ISIS. Yesterday we considered Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Republicans collaborating to scuttle negotiations and force a military showdown with Iran. Today we explore why conservatives discuss power in terms of dominance and fear.

“The Big Red Blob [or] The Thin Red Lines”

In a tweet on Friday, Global Post correspondent Richard Hall offered two cartographic views of ISIS:

Keep that visual distinction in mind as you read Jeb Bush’s ridiculous and quickly-retracted claim about ISIS’s size:

Further, Bush misrepresented the strength of ISIS, saying it has some 200,000 men, which is far greater than the U.S. intelligence community’s estimates. Last week National Counterterrorism Center Director Nicholas Rasmussen pegged the fighting strength of ISIS at between 20,000 and 31,500.

“Governor Bush misspoke,” Bush aide Kristy Campbell told The Daily Beast after the speech. “He meant 20,000.”

He “misspoke.” Sure, maybe. Or maybe he got caught in exactly the kind of threat exaggeration that drives conservative politics.

“Somebody has to have the courage to stand up”

Take Rudy Giuliani, for example. This week he claimed that President Obama doesn’t love America:

He doesn’t love you. And he doesn’t love me. He wasn’t brought up the way you were brought up and I was brought up through love of this country.

In response to criticism, Giuliani insisted that wasn’t about race:

Some people thought it was racist – I thought that was a joke, since he was brought up by a white mother, a white grandfather, went to white schools, and most of this he learned from white people. This isn’t racism. This is socialism or possibly anti-colonialism.

The “anti-colonialism” charge originated with Dinesh D’Souza, whose book The Roots of Obama’s Rage argued that – despite hardly knowing his father, and the lack of any evidence of “rage” – the president internalized his Nigerian father’s anti-colonial ideology. Or at least the anti-colonial ideology that D’Souza invents for Obama’s father. Simply, D’Souza tried to frame President Obama as an Angry Black Man, but of course that had nothing to do with race.

It’s really about communism, Giuliani insists:

“From the time he was 9 years old, he was influenced by Frank Marshall Davis, who was a communist,” Giuliani said. The ex-mayor added that Obama’s grandfather introduced him to Davis, a writer and labor activist.

In case you hadn’t heard, a right wing conspiracy theory holds that Davis was the president’s real father. Giuliani also trotted out conservative chestnuts about Saul Alinsky and Jeremiah Wright, then added:

“He was educated by people who were critics of the US. And he has not been able to overcome those influences.”

Giuliani also implied he was the only one with the chutzpah to call out Obama, saying: “Somebody has to raise these issues with the president. Somebody has to have the courage to stand up.”

Surely he must know these charges have been repeatedly aired – and repeatedly debunked – over the past seven years. So what does Giuliani mean by “Somebody has to raise these issues … has to have the courage to stand up?”

“A meditation on … the felt experience of having power”

The key to Giuliani’s rant – like New York Rep. Peter King’s “Put the fear of God into those people” bombast, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s fear-mongering attempt to scuttle negotiations with Iran – lies in the conservative obsession with power:

This book [The Reactionary Mind] is about the second half of that story, the demarche, and the political ideas – variously called conservative, reactionary, revanchist, counterrevolutionary – that grow out of and give rise to it. […] They have always been, at least since they first emerged as formal ideologies during the French Revolution, battles between social groups rather than nations; roughly speaking, between those with more power and those with less. To understand these ideas, we have to understand that story. For that is what conservatism is: a meditation on – and theoretical rendition of – the felt experience of having power, seeing it threatened, and trying to win it back.

And not just any notion of power. For conservatives, power means Dominance … the upper right quadrant of this diagram:

 photo PowerWindow2.jpg

President Obama’s strategy for ISIS focuses on supporting (Nurturance) and working with (Partnership) regional allies to resist ISIS, while encouraging political and social reforms (Nurturance) that will neuter violent extremism. By contrast, Rep. Peter King’s strategy is to threaten “a million troops [for] a hundred years” and “Put the fear of God into those people.” Dominance.

President Obama’s strategy for Iran is multi-party negotiation (Partnership, Competition) and an agreement that allows Iran to develop peaceful nuclear power without access to nuclear weapons (Nurturance). Prime Minister Netanyahu’s strategy is airstrikes and, if necessary, invasion. Dominance.

And Rudy Giuliani’s rant betrays his frustration that the mainstream media – and most Americans – have rejected the absurd right wing charges about the president’s childhood, religious beliefs, and alleged socialist/communist ideology. The charges have been aired in the ‘marketplace of ideas’ and two elections (Competition), and those charges failed. But Giuliani demands they be accepted. Dominance.

And as Dr. Robin explains in The Reactionary Mind, that obsession with Dominance is driven by fear:

The opening chapters of Maistre’s Considerations on France are an unrelenting assault on the three pillars of the ancien régime: the aristocracy, the church, and the monarchy. Maistre divides the nobility into two categories, the treasonous and the clueless. The clergy is corrupt, weakened by its wealth and lax morals. The monarchy is soft and lacks the will to punish. Maistre dismisses all three with a line from Racine: “Now see the sad fruits your faults produced/Feel the blows you have yourselves induced.”

In the conservative mind, The Good and The Strong are losing ground as the world descends into a cesspool of The Evil and The Weak. It is not enough that wealthy, white, heterosexual, Christian men still enjoy the lion’s share of opportunities (Power To). To halt the collapse of civilization, those groups must have extra opportunities (Unequal Power), including the authority to decide who else is worthy of opportunity (Power Over). And because Dominance is never complete – someone will always dare to object – conservatives are forever persecuted.

The noise you’ve been hearing all week is the angry howl of those who demand Dominance, because the alternative – having to share power – terrifies them.


Happy Saturday!