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John Dean has written a new book, "Conservatives Without Conscience". He appeared on Keith Olberman's show to discuss it.
The same Republican congressman who last month claimed that the weapons of mass destruction that supposedly led to the U.S. invasion of Iraq had been found has now told President Bush that he may have broken the law by keeping parts of the NSA domestic spying program secret even from the lawmakers responsible for overseeing them.
Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, will those who found the Michigan Republican credible last month find him just as credible now? The White House‘s anger over the exposure of its clandestine intelligence programs now matched only by the anger of one of its staunchest allies, who is now saying that he has not heard enough, Peter Hoekstra, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, making his wrath known as far back as May 18 in a letter to the president that surfaced in “The New York Times” over the weekend, the Republican congressman questioning both the legality and the civility of the administration‘s conduct.
Quoting, “I have learned of some alleged intelligence community activities about which our committee has not been briefed. If these allegations are true, they may represent a breach of responsibility by the administration, a violation of the law, and, just as importantly, a direct affront to me and the members of this committee who have so ardently supported efforts to collect information on our enemies. The U.S. Congress simply should not have to play Twenty Questions to get the information that it deserves under our Constitution,” Representative Hoekstra expanding on his concerns over the weekend.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HOEKSTRA: We can‘t be briefed on every little thing that they are doing. But in this case, there were at least—there was at least one major, what I consider significant activity that we had not been briefed on, that we have now been briefed on. And I want to set the standard there, that it is not optional for this president, or any president or people in the executive community, not to keep the intelligence committees fully informed of what they are doing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: I‘m joined now by Nixon White House counsel John Dean, author of a new book “Conservatives Without Conscience,” which hits bookstores officially on Tuesday.
John, as always, great thanks for your time. Good to see you in person.
JOHN DEAN, FORMER NIXON WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL: Nice to see you, Keith.
OLBERMANN: We must and we will talk about this remarkable book.
But given how much the modern conservative movement has meant, or come to mean, either correctly or incorrectly, George W. Bush, I want to ask you first about this lead story. Are you at all heartened by the idea that these men, who are the president‘s allies in Congress, especially the more rabid ones like Mr. Hoekstra, the man who claimed that there were WMD found in Iraq, that, as we know, date from 1991, that even they have begun some sort of pushback against the White House?
DEAN: Well, it‘s a glimmer, it‘s a glimmer of some institutional pride. And how deep it runs, I‘m not sure yet. We‘ve seen the same in the Senate, where there‘s been an occasional push, but there doesn‘t seem to be any follow-up. So that‘s the real question, what happens next, if there will be any follow-up? I suspect not, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Is it a—in terms of push, is it a push back that owes to the imminence of the midterm elections, or is it one that has to do with a genuine imbalance of power? Is it political or constitutional?
DEAN: I think it depends upon the individual. With Hoekstra, I suspect there really is some committee pride, that he‘s probably being pressured by others on his committee, on both sides, the Democrats and the Republicans, that, Hey, what‘s going on here? I‘m sure he must have shared this internally with his committee, and there was probably a lot of distress.
It‘s a committee that has the unique role to oversee the oversight—oversight of the intelligence community, and (INAUDIBLE) denied that. When you get over in the Senate, somebody like Arlen Specter on signing statements, he‘ll hold one day of hearings, but then the issue goes away.
So that‘s why I say I don‘t know how deep it runs, and I don‘t know how far these people are trying to actually distance themselves from the president, given his bad ratings.
OLBERMANN: It‘s interesting, there was so much personal in that letter to—from Mr. Hoekstra to Mr. Bush, that it seemed that there was as much offense taken that he personally, Mr. Hoekstra, did not know what Mr. Bush‘s people were doing, as any violation of law there. Is this—does this sort of segue us into the topic of the book, that there‘s, there‘s, there‘s, there‘s way too much personal going on here, rather than politically professional?
DEAN: Well, I think, you know, the question is really whether it happened at the presidential level or the vice presidential level. A lot of these efforts to withhold information from the Congress are really coming out of Cheney‘s office. It may well be his office giving instructions, and the president might have given Hoekstra an assurance, Hey, I‘m going to give you everything I‘ve got when I got it, and he might have been offended by that.
So it‘s hard to tell. We don‘t have enough facts yet. But to segue into the book, there certainly are a number of conservatives up there who will march in lockstep when they get the word from the authority they are expected to follow.
OLBERMANN: That would be the thesis of the book, and we‘ll go into that at length. But I wanted to start at the very beginning. You dedicated this book to Barry Goldwater. What would he, in your opinion, having known him and having dealt with him on these political issues, have thought of the current conservative movement as it has become, and what would the conservative movement have thought of him at this point? What do they think of him now?
DEAN: Well, that‘s a—I think right now, we can say, in fact, I discuss this in the book, that Goldwater Republicanism is really RIP. It‘s been put to rest by most of the people who are now active in moving the movement further to the right than it‘s ever been.
I think the senator, before he departed, was very distressed with conservatism. In fact, it was our conversations back in 1994 that started this book. It‘s really where I began. We wanted to find answers to the questions as to why Republicans were acting as they were, why conservatives had taken over the party, and were being followed, you know, as easily as they were in taking the party where he didn‘t think it should go.
OLBERMANN: What did you find? In less than the 200 pages that the book—
OLBERMANN: ... that the book goes into.
DEAN: I ran into a massive study that had really been going on for 50 years now, by academics. They‘ve never really shared this with the general public. It‘s a remarkable analysis of the authoritarian personality, both those who are inclined to follow leaders, and those who jump in front and want to be the leaders.
It was not the opinion of social scientists, it was information they drew by questioning large numbers of people, hundreds of thousands of people, in anonymous testing, where they conceded, you know, their innermost feelings and reactions to things. And it turned out that these people were—most of these that came out of the testing were people who had been prequalified to be conservatives, and then they found that this, indeed, fit with the authoritarian personality.
OLBERMANN: Does it really—do the studies indicate that it really has anything to do with the political point of view? Is it—would it be easier to essentially superimpose authoritarianism over the right than it would the left? Or is it theoretically possible that they could they have gone in either direction, and it‘s just a question of people who like to follow other people?
DEAN: They found—they have found really—maybe a small, 1 percent of the left, who follow authoritarianism, probably the far left. But as far as widespread testing, it is just overwhelmingly our conservative orientation.
OLBERMANN: There is an extraordinary amount of academic work that you quote in the book. A lot of it is very unsettling. It deals with psychological principles that are frightening and that may have faced other nations at other times, in Germany and Italy in the ‘30s coming to mind in particular.
But what—how does it apply now? And to what degree should it scare us? And to what degree is it something that, that, that, that, that might still be forestalled?
DEAN: Well, to me, it was something of an epiphany to run into this information. First, I‘d never read about it before. I sort of worked my way into it until I found it. It‘s not generally known out there what‘s going on. And I think, from best we can tell, these people, the followers, a few of them, will change their ways when they realize what they‘re doing, not even aware of their behavior.
The leaders, those who were inclined to dominate, are not going to change a second. They‘re going to be what they are.
So by and large, the reason I write about this is, I think we need to understand it, we realize, when you take a certain step and vote a certain way and head in a certain direction, where this can end up. So it‘s sort of a cautionary note. It‘s a warning as to where this can go, because other countries have gone there.
OLBERMANN: And the idea of leaders and followers going down this path, and perhaps taking a country with them, requires—this whole edifice requires an enemy, communism, al Qaeda, Democrats, me, whoever, for the two minutes hate. I mean, there is—we overuse—I overuse the Orwellian analogies to nauseating proportions. But it really was, in reading what, what, what, what you wrote about, and especially what the academics talked about, there was that, that two minutes hate thing. There has to be an opponent, an enemy, to coalesce around, or the whole thing falls apart. Is that the gist of it?
DEAN: It is one of the things that, believe it or not, still holds conservatism together, because there are many factions and conservatisms, and their dislike or hatred of those they portray as liberal, who will be anybody who basically disagrees with them, is one of the cohesive factors. There are a few others, but that‘s certainly one of the basics.
There‘s no question that the—particularly the followers,. they‘re terribly, they‘re very aggressive in their effort to pursue and help their authority figure out, or their authority beliefs out. They will do whatever needs to be done, in many regards. They will blindly follow. They stay loyal too long. And this is the frightening part of it.
OLBERMANN: Let me read something from the book. Let me read this one quote, then I have a question about it.
“Many people believe that neoconservatives and many Republicans appreciate that they are more likely to maintain influence and control of the presidency if the nation remains under ever-increasing threats of terrorism. So they have no hesitation in pursuing policies that can provoke potential terrorists throughout the world.”
That‘s ominous, not just in the sense that authoritarians involved in conservatism, and now Republicanism, would politicize counterterror here, which we‘ve already argued that point on many occasions. But the—are you actually saying here that they would set up—encourage terrorism from other countries to set them up as a bogeyman to have again that‘s, that‘s, that group to hate here, or group to be, more importantly, afraid of here?
DEAN: What I‘m saying is that there has been fear-mongering, the likes of which we have not seen in a long time in this country. It happened early in the cold war. We got accustomed to it, we learned to live with it, we learned to understand what it was about and get in proportion. We haven‘t done that yet with terrorism.
And this administration is really capitalizing on it and using it for its political advantage. No question, the academic testing shows, the empirical evidence shows, that when people are frightened, they tend to go to these authority figures, they tend to become more conservative. So it‘s paid off for them politically to do this.
OLBERMANN: This all seems to require not merely venality or immorality, but a kind of amorality, where morals don‘t enter into it at all. We‘re right. So anything we do to preserve our process, our power, even if it by itself is wrong, it‘s right, in the greater sense. It‘s that wonderful rationalization that everybody uses in small doses throughout their lives. But is this, is this idea, this sort of psychological review of the whole thing, does it apply to Dick Cheney? Does it apply to George Bush? Does it apply to Bill Frist? Who are the names on these authoritarian figures?
DEAN: Well, you just named three that I discuss in some length in the book. I focused in the book not on the Bush administration, and Cheney and the president, but I—because they really—I‘ve been there, done that. But I wanted to understand is the—what they have done is, they have made it legitimate to have authoritarianism. It was already operating on Capitol Hill. After the ‘94 control by the Republicans of the Congress, it recreated the mood, it restructured the Congress itself in a very authoritarian style, in the House in particular.
Now, the Senate hasn‘t gone there yet, but it‘s going there, because more House members are moving over.
This atmosphere is what Bush and Cheney walked into. They are authoritarian personalities, Cheney much more so than Bush, and they have made it legitimate, and they have taken it way past where anybody‘s ever taken it in the United States.
OLBERMANN: Our society‘s best defense against that is what? Do we have to hope that, as you suggested, the people who follow wise up and break away from this, the lock—sort of lockstep salute, (INAUDIBLE) of course, they‘re right, of course, there‘s WMD, of course, they‘re terrorists, of course, there‘s al Qaeda, of course, everything is the way the president says it? Or do we rely on the hope that these are fanatics, and fanatics always screw up, because they would rather believe in their own cause than double-check their own math?
DEAN: The lead researcher in this field told me, he said, I look at the numbers in the United States, and I see about 23 percent of the population who are pure right-wing authoritarian followers. They‘re not going to change. They‘re going to march over the cliff. The best thing to deal with them—and they‘re growing. And they have tremendous influence on Republican politics. The best thing, the best defense is understanding them, to realize what they‘re doing, how they‘re doing it, and how they operate. Then it can be kept in perspective, then they can be seen for what they are.
OLBERMANN: Did any of this ring familiar to you from the Nixon administration? Or is this a different world?
DEAN: No, I must say that about everything that went wrong with Watergate, you could really count to authoritarianism as well.
OLBERMANN: Give me an example. (INAUDIBLE) in other words, not getting away with it was the—was a result of it too?
DEAN: Take Gordon Liddy and his following whatever Nixon want, even (INAUDIBLE) anything he wants. Salute, yes, sir, let‘s do it.
OLBERMANN: And the story that he has told about you, (INAUDIBLE) and you‘ve told about him, about his saying, I have all this knowledge in my brain that could bring the president of the United States down, tell me to go and stand on a corner, and—what was the rest of it?
DEAN: Tell me where you want me shot. He said, I don‘t want you shooting me in my house, because I‘ve got children. But shoot me on the street corner. That‘s a loyal right-wing authoritarian follower in action, at the extreme.
OLBERMANN: You‘ve been a historian, you‘ve been a part of history, you‘ve been to the (INAUDIBLE) -- one of the central moments of history in the 20th century. What kind of danger—are we facing a legitimate threat to the concept of democracy in this country?
DEAN: I don‘t think we are in a fascist road right now. We are so close to it, though, Keith, that‘s why I wrote the book, because I want people to understand exactly what is going on, and why it‘s going on.
OLBERMANN: It is an extraordinary document. All the best with it. John Dean, former counsel, White House counsel to Richard Nixon, author of the new book “Conservatives Without Conscience.”
As always, sir, great thanks for coming in.
DEAN: Thank you, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Good to see you.