Beware Of Creeping Dear Leader Syndrome

Grover Norquist on Republican support for Iraq:
The base isn't interested in Iraq. The base is for Bush. If Bush said tomorrow, we're leaving in two months, there would be no revolt.
To which Atrios added:
It's hard for non-lizard brain people to see how they could pivot on a dime like that, but noted Bush basers like Glenn Reynolds spent years arguing against more troops in Iraq then immediately went to arguing the opposite as soon as Dear Leader said it was a good idea.

So, yeah, Grover's probably right. They'd just need to create some fake political event to allow them to declare victory and go home.

But Bush won't do it. And the 30 percenters are happy to stay in Iraq just as they'd be happy to leave. Whatever Dear Leader says is fine with them.
For years, I have argued that conservatism is not an actual political philosophy, and that it should not be understood in terms of "core beliefs." No matter what beliefs are supposedly attached to it at any given moment, conservatism is, and always has been, not about actual beliefs, but about defending powerful, status-quo institutions for their own sake. During the French Revolutionary period, Metternich's defense of noble privilege was the conservative position, as it defended the powerful, status-quo institutions of monarchy and nobility. No conservatives would defend using military force to establish European government based on monarchy and nobility now, but that is only because those institutions are no longer in power. Instead, in a modern American context, conservatism is about defending institutions like reactionary churches, multinational corporations that act against the public interest, the military, wealthy American plutocrats, "traditional marriage," and an ethnically stratified socio-economic structure. It hardly matters whether or not these institutions actually benefit anyone, or even the degree to which the current privileges enjoyed by these institutions are actually threatened. All that matters is defending and strengthening established, institutional privilege against democratization, egalitarianism, and progress.

Much more in the extended entry.
This is the mindset in which "Dear Leader" syndrome is born. It does not matter what Bush actually supports, as he actions clearly demonstrate that he is opposed to "traditional" conservative "principles" like small government, good management, meritocracy, restrained use of the military overseas, supporting American military personnel, or the defense of personal privacy. All that matters to his supporters is that Bush is the defender of institutionalized privilege. Thus, no matter how seemingly contradictory his actions appear in comparison to his stated "principles," does not matter. As he gathers as much power into the executive branch as possible, governs entirely as a means of supporting the elite participants of his political operation, and regularly fans of the flames of the battle of civilizations, all that matters is defending the institutional power and privilege that he represents.

Now, as the opposite of conservatism, progressivism isn't exactly a coherent political philosophy either. While conservatism seeks to defend institutionalized, status-quo privileges, progressives seeks to end institutionalized, status-quo privileges (at least as much as possible / reasonable in the short term). It is in this sense that what was progressive fifty years ago, such as ending legalized police entrapment of homosexuals, may now seem quite cautious and by no means "progressive" when the fight for GLBT rights have expanded into areas like equal partnership and adoption rights. Or, three years ago, it may have appeared progressive to support the partial withdrawal of American troops from Iraq at some indeterminate future moment, whereas by now the progressive position has become, at the very least, the complete withdrawal of American combat troops from Iraq in one year or less. By nature, what is progressive and conservative at any given moment is always shifting, and not fixed to abstract policy positions.

However, there is one way in which progressivism should be inherently superior to conservatism: it should never result in Dear Leader syndrome. Unfortunately, throughout my entire time in the blogosphere, I have still seen Dear Leader syndrome arise on behalf of a number of Democrats: Howard Dean, John Kerry, John Edwards, Barack Obama, Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, Russ Feingold, and a few others. It amazes me how often many in the blogosphere are ready to defend either anti-progressive or just plain stupid actions their favorite Democrat takes, simply because it was their favorite Democrat taking the action. John Kerry claimed that the 2002 vote to authorize the use of military force in Iraq was not an endorsement of war in Iraq? Sure, he is absolutely right, the AUMF did not actually authorize the Iraq war! Barack Obama says he will end the Iraq war, but leave American troops in Iraq while the civil war continues to rage? Well, I never thought that was a good idea before, but now that Obama has endorsed it, sure, I'll go along with it!

I admit I am writing this piece because I am frustrated by the amount of pushback I have received online simply for pointing out that Richardson wants to pull all troops out of Iraq, and then criticizing other candidates who do not want to pull all troops out of Iraq. Since when, exactly, did the blogosphere become in favor of leaving American troops in Iraq? Was it when John Edwards and Barack Obama said they would leave a residual American military presence in the country, or before that? Sadly, in many cases, I think it was only after they both indicated their position on this matter, not beforehand. The truth is that is an example of Dear Leader syndrome seeping into the collective mindset of the progressive blogosphere. Because so many people are determined to make John Edwards or Barack Obama the next POTUS, at this point anything either of them say becomes chapter and verse of many of their supporters.

I am not going to stop criticizing Democrats just because I want them to be elected to federal office. I am also not going to stop being a Democrat when I criticize Democrats, as I still follow my eight rules of progressive realpolitik. I strive to follow all rules of the Democratic Party, down to dotting i's and crossing t's. However, we enter dangerous territory when our political activism becomes about worshipping our leaders and defending whatever contradictory positions they take rather than pushing those leaders in a better direction. Two years ago, only one US Senator was in favor of withdrawing from Iraq: Russ Feingold. Now, every single Democratic Senator holds that same position. That shift did not happen because we slavishly defended every word and action of our own Dear Leaders. It happened because we kept pushing them, and even went so far as conducting--and winning--the most heavily watched senatorial primary in American history to prove our point. Had we simply sat back and defended the latest right-wing Iraq policy being espoused by Democratic leaders, then the Senate would be far, far to the right of where it currently stands on Iraq.

If I criticize John Edwards on MyDD, Obama people will love it in the comments. It I criticize Barack Obama, Edwards people will love it in the comments. If I criticize Hillary Clinton, both sides will love it in the comments. But it is extremely frustrating to simultaneously criticize both John Edwards and Barack Obama from a progressive position and then receive basically nothing but pushback in the comments, or to hear annoying, self-defeating, anti-Democratic, third-party activists be my only supporters. We all must avoid Dear Leader syndrome from creeping in, and maintain an aggressive stance where we are pushing our leaders to do the right thing, not defend whatever our leaders happen to be doing at the time. I agree that such criticism should be muted around general elections, but this is April 2007, for crying out loud. This is when we are supposed to be pushing our leaders the hardest. If we don't demand more form our leaders on Iraq now, we will never be able to effectively do so, even under a Democratic trifecta.

If you actually think maintaining a reduced American military presence in Iraq is a good idea, fine. If you still support someone even though you do not see eye to eye on Iraq, fine. However, don't change your position on Iraq such because your favorite Democrat did. We are supposed to be changing them, not the other way around. Do you want to end up like all of those "principled" conservatives who, over the past six years, have done nothing but defend every possible contradiction of conservative "core values" possible? Do you want to end up like Rush Limbaugh when, after Democrats are wiped out in the 2012 or 2014 elections, you feel relieved that you no longer have to carry water for people you disagree with anymore? If not, then tolerate criticism of Democrats, even of your favorite Democrats, when you know it is coming from a source that only seeks to help Democrats and progressivism succeed at the same time. Like to at least think that is what Matt and I are trying to do here, and what we will continue to do with your support indefinitely into the future.

Of course, make sure you keep kicking our asses too, so that we are not criticizing anyone unfairly.

Tags: Democrats, Ideology, Republicans (all tags)



Re: Beware Of Creeping Dear Leader Syndrome

I agree. And I fully expect a huge division to emerge within the GOP between political pragmatists looking to save their seats by supporting withdrawal, and BushCo who have nothing to lose but their reputations (among their base) by withdrawing. The seeds have been sown for this, and I think it's going to get ugly for them pretty soon. Which of course Dems are anticipating and will I hope make full use of to get us out of Iraq (specifics yet TBD).

by kovie 2007-04-11 01:27PM | 0 recs

i'm not just saying this because i'm a tentative richardson supporter (straw poll: other/not sure/richardson/obama/edwards), but the amount of clouded thinking i have seen in effort to defend flawed candidates here and (mostly) on kos has begun to cloud my own thinking and make me want to support none of the above.

to see edwards and obama supports criticizing the "no residual troops" benchmark as unrealistic, not smart policy, wishful thinking, a set-up for a future broken promise, and what have you, is totally disappointing.

i want to believe we're better than this, but right now i'm not so sure.

by colorless green ideas 2007-04-11 01:32PM | 0 recs
Re: Beware Of Creeping Dear Leader Syndrome

This is so true. These people simply support authoritarianism. Bush is the "Big Daddy". They would follow him into a wood chipper.

by Intercaust 2007-04-11 01:34PM | 0 recs
Re: Beware Of Creeping Dear Leader Syndrome

Hmmm, well, be careful that you aren't indulging in a strawman here.

For myself, I want all troops out of Iraq, but more importantly, I want to do what is RIGHT.  

Now, I don't speak up enough here on MyDD, but if, for example, you go to American Footprints, or Democracy Arsenal, there has long been a back and forth on what, exactly, "withdrawal of troops" means.  And I've read and watched those conversations.

The thing is, if you go from the "overarching frame", which is "get our troops out", to objecting to, a much more specific proposition, getting ALL troops out, or leaving 10K in Iraq proper, you start to get deep in the weeds.

And I'll say again, for the little it's worth, in my opinion, the progressive blogosphere hasn't had that conversation.  Hasn't been reading the military experts who VOCIFEROUSLY were against invading Iraq, but are now saying "hold on now, let's maintain some security for the ME area".

In a way, 90% of the benefits you want to accomplish, are accomplished no matter if 10k-30K troops remain in Iraq, at the embassy, or at outposts along the border:

a.  Our army won't continue to break.
b.  Iraq must take responsibility for its own security, or lack of it.
c.  The U.S. isn't deptermining the arrangements that the government of Iraq will come to.  

Now, again, it still may not be possible to have that 10K-30K in the area, due to the burgeoning civil war, the fact that this still leaves a good number of soldiers at risk (although you can buy off the surrounding sheiks around the posts, most likely).

But to paint reducing the troop presence to 20k-30K, as not really different than leaving in 160K, that's just wrong.

by jc 2007-04-11 01:42PM | 0 recs

I can sympathize about the pushback, but you've gotta engage commenters like jc here, lukasiak (sp?) in the previous thread, and many others. You're responding via front-page post instead of getting into the weeds of the comments: that's a sign of something, I think, though you'd know of what.

You ask: "Since when, exactly, did the blogosphere become in favor of leaving American troops in Iraq?"

Over the past few years, I've read plenty of progressive people on dKos who fought some pretty fierce battles about what 'immediate withdrawal' and 'complete withdrawal' mean--and if they were good ideas at all. This is nothing new.

Of course,  more people were in favor of complete and immediate withdrawal ... in opposition to Bush and the Republicans. ANd in opposition to them, that makes a fine stance: it's a great position from which to start negotiations.

But when it's our own candidates, I think many progressives don't feel the need to negotiatiate. We're willing to say, 'Yeah, this is a tough one, and while I am wholly in favor of COMPLETE WITHDRAWAL if Bush is President, I can wholeheartedly get behind a less-comprehensive--more nuanced--plan if we have a competent and reality-based President."

You see to think that that last statement is Leader Worship.

You're my leader, man, but I think you're wrong on this one.

by BingoL 2007-04-11 01:57PM | 0 recs
Re: Beware Of Creeping Dear Leader Syndrome
It isn't just the policy that we are objecting to. It is the language. If people are talking about embassy and border protection for nearby countries, that's fine. And yes, we need to go into the weeds on this discussion, but that isn't the only point here.

Another point is that many candidates are saying they are going to end the war and withdraw all troops when, in fact, they are not proposing to withdraw all troops. and if you don't withdraw troops from a warzone, I'm not really sure how you are ending American military involvement int he war.

by Chris Bowers 2007-04-11 02:39PM | 0 recs
You're Right Chris

And what does "provide some security in the ME" mean? Does it mean invading Iran?

Yes, the US has an interest in maintaining a stable region, preventing crazies from killing each other, and preventing thugs from terrorizing everyone. But the US just invaded a country, occupied it for four years, and focused on how to privatize the country's assests. No one in the Middle East is going to believe our troops are there for the benefit of the people of the Middle East. We just demonstrated in a very bloody way that that is not what the US is about. That is the reality that we have to undo.

It is ok for politicians to decide that maintaining troops in the region is what they need to do. But we, as progressives, should not be advocating that. We need to advocate for what is right and right means muliti-lateral forces working under the rule of law, not the US military telling everyone what to do under threat of obliteration.

In 1968, Humphrey continued to talk about keeping troops in Vietnam. Nixon was the peace candidate (according to his rhetoric) -- and won. We need a candidate that talks real peace and the progressive movement needs to continue keeping our candidates' feet to the fire.

by RandomNonviolence 2007-04-11 03:02PM | 0 recs
Re: Beware Of Creeping Dear Leader Syndrome

Good post, Chris. Definitely very important to keep our perspective as this process unfolds. Obama and Edwards are very attractive candidates in a lot of ways, and considering the state of our union I can see why it would be easy to develop a hero complex around them. I have that tendency with Gore. But we have to resist it.

I also agree that the candidates need to figure out EXACTLY where they stand on the future of Iraq, and tell us in plain language. Going forward, the next thing I'd be interested in getting from the pack is unambiguous positions on the Constitutional issues the Bush adminstration has created (war powers, torture, habeas corpus, domestic spying, etc.), as the next prez will either dismantle such abuses or make them permanent.

& I agree with jc that there are serious concerns with every withdrawal scenario, and that there's a legitimate difference between 160K & 20K, but the candidates needs to be frank about the reality of their positions. The rhetorical nonsense the Edwards aide pulled in the response to MyDD is unacceptable.

by arbitropia 2007-04-11 01:52PM | 0 recs
Good job Chris

You're operating at a level of sophistication apparently a few light years ahead of some of these boneheads. I like John Edwards fine, probably better than the others right now, and agree that it is essential to elect a Democratic president, exactly for the reason you suggest, the dangerous authoritarianism / cultism that has infected the Republican Party.

Seeing you favorably highlight Richardson, I thought "Perfect, this is the way to bring other candidates to the light, and it's the best time to do it."

You do wonder sometimes what some people think politics consists of.

by MikeB 2007-04-11 01:55PM | 0 recs
Re: Good job Chris

I was about to comment that this post operates on a level of subtlety that is simply beyond the comprehesion of anyone that it attempts to convince.

I like your formulation just as much.

by ideahamster 2007-04-11 02:21PM | 0 recs

Yeah, "Dear Leader" Syndrom (DLS) is present on both sides, but I don't doubt it's more in place with so-called conservatives.

Ultimately though, I think it comes down to the issue of trust. Do you trust Candidate X? And if you trust Candidate X, then X's decisions must make some sense and have some rationale for it.

And, although you may be slightly befuddled or unsure if that particular position is the right one, you trust Canddiate X overall. So when X is criticized for that position, you must defend him/her because he/she is, overall, better than the others.

The problems with this line of thinking is that after a while, you begin to reflexively support Candidate X regardless of what they are saying. This is the full onset of DLS, when the only reason you support or oppose a given position is because Candidate X supports or opposes it.

But I also think there is a relation between the strength of a case of DLS and how much one is infected by Partisan Hate Psychosis (PHP).

An example: Support for Rudy Guiliani amongst fundamentalist Christians.

While they may disagree with Guiliani on a host of issues, their hatred for Democrats makes them support Guiliani since he is the only candidate who can probably defeat a Democrat in the general election.

Either way, DLS is not going away, but it's best to try to at least reduce it's spread on our side of the aisle, since it's very contagious and has obviously infected too much of our country already.

by LiberalFromPA 2007-04-11 02:09PM | 0 recs
Re: Beware Of Creeping Dear Leader Syndrome

I don't appreciate that.

I think "not one damn soldier left in Iraq" is a bad idea, and I thought it was a bad idea long before Edwards and Obama said it was a bad idea (ie not their position).  As I said on Stoller's similar posting just now, we have troops in 106 different countries.  We are not at war with 106 countries.  Whether or not there are any soldiers at all in country is not the most critical way to analyze whether we are still participants in a War in Iraq.  We want to end our role as a major party to the War in Iraq.  That's my goal at least, and that's the question I think it's most appropriate to focus on, and whether or not there are any soldiers left in country is not the most useful benchmark for answering that question.  Obviously I see how you could use it as one, but I don't think it's the best one and in fact I think that having fewer soldiers in Iraq than we have in Malta would probably be a mistake.

Meanwhile, what I don't appreciate is the implication that if I have taken a position that is less than 100% pure from your perspective, it's because I'm engaging in hero worship or Dear Leader syndrome.  Um, no.  I had that position before.  More importantly, I had a relevant pragmatic streak that would lead me to think in the terms I outlined above, and that would lead me to expect that the candidates would say about what they eventually did, and that would lead me to approve of what they'd said after they said it.  

The fact that people are disagreeing with you and agreeing with candidates does not necessarily mean that they're starstruck.  If anything, they're just as likely to be starstruck by you as by Edwards.  Sometimes people just disagree.  I think the "zero soldiers in Iraq" benchmark is dumb.  I'm still curious about why Richardson thinks it's not, and I realize I could be wrong.  But I don't like that position.  And because I disagree with the two of you for chasing it doesn't make me a starstruck follower.

by texas dem 2007-04-11 02:11PM | 0 recs
Re: Beware Of Creeping Dear Leader Syndrome

Chris is saying that you shouldn't change your position to suit your candidate.  If you think that keeping troops in Iraq is a good idea, fine.  Say that.  If you think full withdrawal is a good idea, fine.  Say that.  If you think mostly full withdrawal is a good idea, fine, say that.  But don't say that full withdrawal is a good idea, and then change your position because your love of Obama or Edwards or Clinton makes you change your position.  That's Dear Leader syndrome.

by Matt Stoller 2007-04-11 02:20PM | 0 recs
Re: Beware Of Creeping Dear Leader Syndrome

That at least, is clear.  The way Chris is posting this, there is an implication that if you disagree with full pullout of troops and no embassy in Iraq, THEN you are a Dear Leader person.  

I think that is what texas dem is reacting to, a sort of subtle implication.  If Chris agrees with this comment, then there isn't an issue.

by jc 2007-04-11 02:40PM | 0 recs
Re: Beware Of Creeping Dear Leader Syndrome

Well said Chris.

People, even in the blogosphere, don't seem to understand that politics is not sports. Policy matters, not personality. I don't care who you are, what you look like, what your gender is....

What are your policies to:

End the war in the way no one and I mean no one is talking about getting Iraq's neighbors involved; clearly a win for the NeoCons that they have moved the Overton Window so far towards sheer stupidity.

Rebuild America...we are fucked in case you didn't notice trillions needed for infrastructure...ignorance and illiteracy on the rise...military keynesianism the only viable industry health care...

And on it goes. As if Obama is gonna save us, as if The HIll in gonna save us, as if Edwards is gonna save us.

The only salvation we have is ourselves and the absolute first thing we must do is start thinking clearly about public policy and finding candidates who understand that our nation our society is no longer viable without massive change.

That's what happened in the 1890s and 1920s and the progressives of those eras did not have the useful tools we have today.

Change or die, it's one or the other.

by Pericles 2007-04-11 02:27PM | 0 recs
Re: Beware Of Creeping Dear Leader Syndrome

I agree.

I'm listening to the MoveOn townhall on Iraq podcast, and Richardson really impressed me. He's definitely the best on this issue--knowledgeable, with a workable plan, and command of the details. Kucinich, I have to admit, has taken a very principled, clear stand, and has voted well. He's not my candidate for other reasons.

If it were the war alone...and my vote and money in primaries may come to that...Richardson would have my support.

There are other issues. On poverty, middle-class pressures, health care, so far I like Edwards the best.

I look forward to future MoveOn townhalls. Extremely informative. Much better than the many televised "debates" we've been subjected to...because policy is really the focus.

by Coral 2007-04-11 02:35PM | 0 recs
Re: Beware Of Creeping Dear Leader Syndrome
Excellent post and couldn't agree more.
From now on, YOU, Chris Bowers, are my leader...(just kidding)
by sammy1 2007-04-11 03:25PM | 0 recs
Re: Beware Of Creeping Dear Leader Syndrome
I opened up a beer to try and wash this entire discussion down, and that comment made a small amount of it exit through my nose. :)
by Chris Bowers 2007-04-11 04:19PM | 0 recs
Re: Beware Of Creeping Dear Leader Syndrome

I am undecided on the right course for troop withdrawal and it has nothing to do with what some candidates think.

The problem with this post is that it attempts to make a very subtle point (as others have noted) while also painting with an incredibly broad brush, assigning motives to people based on the premise that they could not possibly be as subtle about something as you.

The basic point is a very good one, and is worth saying.  I just want to caution people from assuming that people are succumbing to DLS or "neo-con" framing when they defend the more moderate positions of many candidates.  

It is quite possible to be dedicated to a progressive America and not agree on all the details about what that means and how we get there.  I'm sick of being told that on occasions when I see a gray area where others seem black and white that I don't belong in your group.

Because, frankly, if your progressive movement doesn't have room for people ambivalent about what to do with the mess in Iraq, or who still believe that negotiating the Doha trade round might be worthwhile, even if it requires taking a few bumps and supporting fast track, or who have minor disagreement on any number of other big questions, I'm not sure it's a movement that's worth a whole lot.

by Baldrick 2007-04-11 03:44PM | 0 recs
Re: Beware Of Creeping Dear Leader Syndrome

You say: "If I criticize John Edwards on MyDD, Obama people will love it in the comments. If I criticize Barack Obama, Edwards people will love it in the comments. If I criticize Hillary Clinton, both sides will love it in the comments."

Are "the comments" really that predictable? obviously you are listening though. how do the comments shape YOUR views....

by rbrbrbr 2007-04-11 07:54PM | 0 recs
Re: Beware Of Creeping Dear Leader Syndrome
The problem that you are highlighting is one that you mistakenly allocate to competing political philosophies. This is an intoxicating position, but it is wrong.
I agree that 'Dear Leader' syndrome is more prevalent amongst conservatives, but this is simply (as you correctly hint) because they are in favour if propagating a status quo. Progressives, meanwhile, are in favour of altering the status quo. Who benefits from these changes, and what principles underlie them is a far more opaque proposition. This is one of the reasons conservatism has assumed such a hold on public discourse - it makes all possible options look worse than the current situation (which isn't that hard when the alternatives are nebulous inventions). Without genuine widespread discourse an optimum path can never be chosen BECAUSE IT CANNOT BE ENVISAGED by those who are choosing. This is why the internet has caused a flurry of argument and occasionally firmed a collective position which has become inarguable (as you highlight in the changing Democrat minds part of your post).
However it is not the philosophies of conservatism and liberalism which cause 'Dear Leader' syndrome. It is a systemic fault inherent in representative democracy. Whenever people's only input into the political process MUST be through others who supposedly represent them, there will always be a mismatch. No-one can ever hope to be right all the time, and anyone who changes their position to attempt to reflect different opinions in their electors is going to appear to be a 'weak' 'flip-flopper'. It is impossible, in the system as it now stands, for a human being to ever adequately sum up ALL the views of many other human beings. Until we change the system to rely upon actual collective decision-making (real Direct Democracy) 'Dear Leader' syndrome will always be the case...
by Danothebaldyheid 2007-04-12 04:16AM | 0 recs


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