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Of fundamentals and fundamentalists



John Dean, former counsel to President Nixon turned Watergate prosecution witness, has produced a third volume in his campaign against the modern Republican party, which he argues has strayed so far from its principles that it has undermined democracy and fundamentally corrupted the three branches of government — themes he’ll expound on early next week at an author’s appearance in Austin.

Your second book in this trilogy `Conservatives Without Conscience` focused on the idea of the authoritarian Republican, and in `Broken Government` you talk about there being a public reaction to that type of leadership now that we’ve seen some of the damage so clearly. Do people think of it in those terms?

I think they certainly don’t know an authoritarian personality necessarily, but I think they do react to it. I’m curious to see, let’s say Giuliani gets the nomination from the Republicans, he’s a very authoritarian personality, he’s using the same sort of fear-mongering that Bush and Cheney have used with some success in their early efforts to push Presidential powers.

On the Democratic side ... who do you think would play well against that sort of candidate?

I don’t know who the most authoritarian of the Democrats might be because none of them would rank very highly on an authoritarian scale. The least authoritarian of the Republicans is clearly Ron Paul. I just haven’t even looked at the Democrats with that light because the social science shows there is no such thing as a left-wing authoritarian.

Does history show that?

Literally, social scientists have looked for them, and they’ve not found them. They don’t exist. That doesn’t mean you can’t have a strong leader. FDR, as strong a leader as he was, he was not an authoritarian.

What about his approach to the Supreme Court? Certainly I think conservative historians have tried to paint him that way when it comes to the court-packing scandal.

I’ve looked at that very closely. If you look at FDR’s appointments to the High Court, they run such a spectrum of judicial philosophy, to say that he was trying to — yes, he wanted people who would not reject the New Deal, but that happened actually before he was able to rebuild the Court the way he wanted it. But his appointees run such a wide spectrum that it just doesn’t hold up. And you look at his lower-court appointments, it’s the same. Truman was the same. You follow it up through LBJ, he’s all over the lot on his appointees, from conservatives to liberals. Clinton, when he gets his two appointments to the court, he puts two centrists on. That’s why I was so struck when I realized from ’68 on, when Nixon came in, it’s been just a Republican basic that they would please their base — and it started with the Southern Strategy, which would later become the Religious Right, as you know — and this is how they have satisfied the quid pro quo for their support is to stack that court with people whom I described, as you know, as fundamentalists.

Let’s talk about John Roberts a little bit. The press sort of fell all over themselves to show they weren’t going to be biased against him because he might be a fundamentalist.

I still read slip opinions from the court when they come down. I don’t read them with the frequency and detail I used to when I worked at the White House, but I talked to an awful lot of people — some of whom I didn’t even quote, some whom I refer to anonymously because they happen to have active practices in front of the court — to get their take on these guys: are they fundamentalist? I sort of capsulize the debate in my chapter on that, and I think the consensus is yes, it looks like we have four fundamentalists on the court right now. One more seat, and slowly but surely we won’t recognize the law of the land, what we thought it once was. To me, the most striking ... when I was telling people who don’t know the law, and who don’t know the Bill of Rights was not written to apply to the states but rather the court has interpreted it through the 14th Amendment to apply to the states, that the fundamentalists reject this. You could literally have state religions, you could eliminate freedom of the press in the state, freedom of association. There is just no end to what you could do — assuming you could get the state constitutions in some instances overridden — but the Feds wouldn’t touch it.

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