Skip to main content.
October 23, 2004
Nov 2004

Excerpts from the New York Times
[Commentary -- Road to Peace]

...Over the past four years, we've experienced a major terrorist attack, a recession, a dot-com shakeout, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, corporate scandals and an active and tumultuous presidency. We've had an influx of new citizens. Millions have died of old age, and tens of millions have moved to new towns and new states. [And the world has seen hundreds of thousands die from auto accidents alone. Terror has taken only a very small fraction of that toll while engendering fear all out of proportion.]

Yet the political landscape looks almost exactly the same. We're still divided right down the middle. We're still looking at razor-thin margins in states like Florida. If you compare the demographic breakdowns of the Bush-Kerry race to those of the Bush-Gore race in 2000, you find they are quite similar. Why does everything in America change except politics? [This is typical blinder-thinking. The political landscape was 95% behind Bush and his cohorts on 12 Sept 2001. Brooks needs to take a look at how and why that changed before he compares the beginning with the end.]

That is the central mystery of this election. [No it isn't. Nevertheless, Brooks comes closer to the real situation in his next paragraph.]

The only possible conclusion is that there is some deep, tectonic fissure that shapes the electorate, a fissure so fundamental that it is unaffected by the enormous shocks we've felt over the past four years. [There is indeed a fissure and it is between the Authoritarian Personality and the rest of us.] Remember, it is very unusual to have two close presidential elections in a row. This hasn't occurred for about 120 years. [So what? What kind of thinking is this? If it happened before, it can happen again! This is a non-sequitur.]

But what explains this stable divide?

... as the Stanford political scientist Morris Fiorina has shown, Americans are not that polarized on issues. When you ask people about policies - even abortion - you see a big group of moderates. If issue differences were shaping this campaign, you'd see these centrists sloshing back and forth and breaking the tie. [In fact centrists have and are sloshing back and forth, just not to landslide degrees, yet. Before the first debate, Bush was a hands-down winner so far ahead, how could he possibly lose? But now the consensus of polls agree that he might, and it is the swing voters who have changed their collective minds. Moreover, in terms of the theme of this web site, there is and should be a large group of centrists. They comprise the folks who are authoritarian only in moderate, acceptable degrees. Many know how to think for themselves even as they like structure and hierarchy. Let me explain. Roughly 65-80% of the populace is strongly authoritarian--right and left wing folks (according to Milgram).]

[That means about one-fourth to one-third of Americans are not authoritarian by the traits they exhibit in the moderate class, the thinkers. They are often undecided, because they re-evaluate what they think based on past and current events. The history of US elections support this concept. For example, Barry Goldwater won 39% of the vote in losing to Johnson in a "landslide." McGovern won 37% of the popular vote in a Nixon landslide. These, two of the most extreme election results in US history, approximate the limits of the moderate range. Historically , swing voters represent about one-fourth of all voters. They are mostly non-authoritarians, gray in color mid-way between the left and right poles of US politics. These moderate people have always been there; their preferences vary from year to year. This 25% or so in the very middle lean in only mild degrees toward one or the other political extreme of liberal vs conservative. They decide elections. This year was no different--in other ways too; Nixon and Johnson could have hardly been more different; except:

Each won in a landslide only to be repudiated later.

Each was an Authoritarian Personality prone to Folly as Barbara Tuchman illustrated.

Each was rightfully deserted by the moderate middle when it counted.]

[So moderates in America have exercised significant power.]

But two forces do account for the stable political divide. First, partisanship. We've just seen how passionately some people care about the Yankees and the Red Sox. Many people care that passionately about being a Democrat or a Republican. [Mr Brooks deserves much credit for making this point--he comes much closer, and this is one reason why we selected this article to post. Authoritarians are partisan by nature; they see things as "either / or" (with or against us) as Mr Bush himself declared. Those who are not with "us" can only become "our" adversaries. From his secure position in early 2002, Mr Bush not only divided the world, but America as well in his quest of folly. In this perspective, the stability of the American two party system seems to owe its very existence to the flexibility of the moderates. Mr Bush is contemptuous of flexibility, while Mr Kerry is exemplary. This difference may explain the surge in the polls for Mr Kerry after the first Presidential Debate. However, Mr Kerry basically failed to "connect emotionally" with enough moderates. Jimmy Carter, George Bush I, Bob Dole, and Al Gore were handicapped by this same deficit.]

Human beings are tribal. When they find themselves in a closely fought contest with a rival group, they become ever more tightly bound to their tribe. They see reality in ways that flatter the group. They nurture the resentments that bind the group. [Exactly, whether they are monotheists, Eastern-philosophicals or atheists. The authoritarian personality is a product of our jungle heritage where family and tribal loyalties led to survival of aggressive yet loyal temperaments. This characteristic combination operates between Muslims and infidels, between modern nations and those left behind, between Republicans and Democrats, and yes now, for a time at least, between America and too much of the rest of the world. Our national alienation is a major reason we advocate change in the White House, before things get much, much worse. This is not leadership, it is folly, the wooden-headed kind explained so well by Barbara Tuchman.]

In this campaign the two candidates do not just describe different policies. They describe different realities. In short, the partisan rivalry fuels itself. Once an electorate becomes tied, there is a built-in emotional pressure that keeps things that way. Even people who claim to be independents find themselves sucked into the vortex. [This is all right on, using descriptive, not explanatory words. The fact that emotional pressure solidifies response is a cardinal feature of Authoritarianism. Authoritarianism can hardly be the last word, as social science discoveries surely await, but it is at least a deeper insight that provides direction. Pursuing description gets humanity nowhere, searching for explanation will--modern medicine and technologies are obvious examples. It has been so since the dawn of written history as well as in the fossil records for millions of years before. Brooks would do well to have a deeper look.]

Second, and probably more important, we're in the middle of a leadership war. Underneath all the disputes about Iraq, we're having a big argument about what qualities America should have in a leader. Republicans trust one kind of leader, Democrats another. This is the constant that runs through recent elections. [This too is to be expected when an unusually extreme authoritarian is in charge. He eventually goes astray and his very rigidity earns the backlash that follows. Of course, it remains to be seen if Mr. Bush will moderate. But with control of congress we think he will not. His new powers will prove to be too seductive--that assumes he will even give it some thought.]

Republicans, from Reagan to Bush, particularly admire leaders who are straight-talking men of faith. The Republican leader doesn't have to be book smart, and probably shouldn't be narcissistically introspective. But he should have a clear, broad vision of America's exceptional role in the world. Democrats, on the other hand, are more apt to emphasize such leadership skills as being knowledgeable and thoughtful. They value leaders who can see complexities, who possess the virtues of the well-educated. [This is fair enough, another reason for selecting this column for review. Mr Brooks does not write like an extremist even as he supports an extremist presidency in many columns. So which kind of leader will find his way better walking into the unknown that is history to come? Those who can understand complexity and are well-educated, or those who are charismatic men of faith? Who is more likely to lead us into Folly yet one more time?]

Republicans and Democrats have different conceptions of the presidency. Republicans admire a president who is elevated above his executive branch colleagues. [Authoritarian, pure and simple.] It is impossible to imagine George W. Bush or Reagan as a cabinet secretary. Instead, they are set apart by virtue of exceptional moral qualities. [Here Mr Brooks seems to equate wooden-headed stubbornness with morality. It is true that neither Bush nor Reagan has a Monica on the side. Reagan to his credit let nature take its course while the Soviet Union collapsed. Bush I followed Reagan's lead. Bush II could not wait to extract vengeance on Iraq; he blindly betrayed his father's wisdom; which seems to have been proven in his own lifetime.] Relying on their core values, they set broad goals and remain resolute in times of crisis. [Authoritarianism, shoot-from-the-hip, not wisdom gleaned for history is what we see. Resolute, both Johnson and Nixon were, but that did not save America. Bush is still earlier in his cycle than they were at their demise. Mr Brooks propagandizes when he uses "core values" as a catchy phrase to distinguish his favorites from the rest. Mr Brooks denigrates a man who served his country honorably in an unpatriotic war. At the same time he praises a man who used family influence to gain preferential treatment to get into the National Guard, then refused to complete his pilot's training, or any other training, in favor of canvassing voters.]

Democrats see the presidency as a much more ministerial job. They admire presidents who engage in constant deliberative conversations. [Roosevelt and Kennedy, even Carter in Iran, did otherwise. Brooks overly-generalizes here, and his own partisanship shows.] Democrats from Carter through Mondale, Dukakis, Clinton, Gore and Kerry have all been well versed in the inner workings of government. It is easy to imagine each of them serving as a cabinet secretary. [This is mud; however sophisticated, it is mud. Roosevelt, Clinton, and Bush were all governors, yet they could hardly be more different. Alexander Hamilton, one of the greatest of our founding fathers, never became president--though his qualities exceed any of those on display in our times. Bush is more fantasy than reality. For proof, just compare what he says with what he does in fact; compare what he predicts with what actually happens.]

It just so happens that America is evenly divided about what sort of leader we need: the Republican who leads with his soul or the Democrat who leads with his judgment. Even the events of the past four years have not altered that disagreement. [Right on again with description; limited in thinking through ramifications and probably unconscious of his own bias in choosing the word, "soul." Islam is guided by soul, too, as are most people. Is leading by soul, biased by religious "values" of one sort or another really what we want? Does a supposed "leading-from-soul" make it right to destroy so many innocent Iraqis, polarize the world and the nation, virtually tie up our entire army, remove threats Iran and North Korea might feel, and endanger the world's most robust economy? See Monotheism and Violence in particular. Mr Brooks' use of "soul" here is mere propaganda as was his use of "core values" discussed above. "Soul" is a word for crusaders. We won one Cold War; why can we not win another?]

[Unfortunately, neither candidate exhibited much wisdom in their basic understanding of terrorism. Mr. Kerry came closer. Personality and propaganda were the primary deciders of the 2004 election. We are appalled that so many moderate voters failed to see this.]

Road to Peace is a a non-profit organization. As such we make fair use of copyrighted material if it is pertinent to an issue we deal with on our site. We credit our sources for such excerpts.


No comments yet

To be able to post comments, please register on the site.