The ADHS is pleased to announce that the editorship of its journal, *The Social History of Alcohol and Drugs*, will be taken over by Prof. Nancy D. Campbell (Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute), Prof. David Herzberg (Buffalo) and Dr. Lucas Richert (Strathclyde). The society would also like to express its gratitude for the work that outgoing editor, […]
The ADHS is excited to announce that its next bi-annual conference will be held between 12 and 15 June 2019, at the David F. Musto Center for Drug Policy Studies, Shanghai University, China. The conference will be organised by Prof. Jim Mills, of the University of Strathclyde and Prof. Yong-an Zhang of Shanghai University, who […]
Mental health knowledge and practice was highly contested in the 1960s and 70s. Struggles over homosexuality and radicalism, drug use and replicable drug trials, were part of a unique countercultural moment. These were wild times. Transactional analysis, developed by Eric Berne and Claude Steiner, was also part of this fiercely energetic moment.
In January 2017 Claude Steiner (pictured above), a clinical psychologist, passed away in California. According to his obituary in the San Francisco Chronicle, Steiner’s last words were, ‘Love is the answer’ and ‘I’m so lucky’. He had led a long and full life, and left behind an important legacy in psychology. Steiner was a founder of the Radical Therapist Collective, protested at American Psychiatric Association and American Psychological Association meetings, and edited a collection of Readings in Radical Psychiatry in 1975. Steiner also published a short children’s story called The Warm Fuzzy Tale in 1969 and Games Alcoholics Play in 1970. In 1974, he followed these books up with Scripts People Live, which was a bestseller in the United States. Most importantly, Steiner was influential in developing and popularising transactional analysis.
Steiner was born in France, relocated to Mexico, and then moved to California in 1952 to study physics. But in the aftermath of atomic explosions in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and seeing how physics was associated with nuclear weapons, he rejected the field. The link to bombs and bomb-making put him off. Transferring to psychology and eventually obtaining his doctorate from the University of Michigan in 1965, he became a close associate of Eric Berne. Set against the backdrop of a topsy-turvy mental health landscape, it is clear that their story had an important impact on psychology – during a unique moment in time – through the creation of transactional analysis.
The full article can be read here
Enjoy. And I’ve written similar work on the 1960s and mental health:
with Social History of Medicine…
and Hidden Persuaders…
This past week the UK Government released a Drugs Strategy. Here is some of the reaction to the document, which is available here.
From The Independent:
The Government’s latest policy relaunch aimed at tackling illegal drugs amid soaring death rates has been heavily criticised by campaigners who say it fails to get to grips with the problem.
The UK Drug Strategy 2017 was announced by the Home Office as its flagship initiative to reduce use of illicit substances and improve addiction recovery rates.
Drug misuse has been falling in recent years, figures show. Some 2.7 million 16- to 59-year-olds in England and Wales took illegal drugs in 2015-16, down from 10.5 per cent a decade ago.
However, the latest available figures also reveal deaths are soaring. Some 3,674 drug poisoning deaths involving legal and illegal substances were recorded in 2015, up from 3,346 in 2014 and the most since comparable records began in 1993. Cocaine deaths reached an all-time high in 2015, and deaths involving heroin and/or morphine doubled over three years to reach record levels.
The new Home Office strategy identifies new emergent threats, including drugs previously known as legal highs such as Spice – the drug blamed for causing a “zombie plague” in city centres, which is now causing havoc in the prison system.
Chemsex drugs like crystal meth, GHB/GBL and mephedrone, which are taken before or during sex to boost the experience, are also identified as a growing problem among users who expose themselves to blood-borne infections and viruses, according to the strategy.
It promises “targeted interventions” and close collaboration between sexual health services and other relevant groups, as well as more help for addicts to find houses and jobs and better controls at borders.
However, it immediately came under fire from people and organisations campaigning to reduce the harm caused by drugs.
Some argued that by refusing to countenance any sort of decriminalisation it could never make any serious dent in a trade controlled by organised criminals at an estimated cost to society of £10.7bn a year.
Models in countries such as Portugal were cited, where decriminalising drugs and treating their use as a health issue has reduced consumption, addiction and funding for criminals.
From the Daily Mail:
The Government has ‘no intention’ of making cannabis legal in the UK, officials have announced in a new blitz on drugs.
Despite a growing body of evidence showing the world’s favourite recreational drug to be safe, possession will remain punishable with jail.
Experts have slammed the Home Office’s controversial decision, describing it as a ‘missed opportunity’ to legalise the herb.
But ministers pointed to various studies that have shown cannabis to be detrimental to human health, with significant links to schizophrenia.
Such worrying associations have existed for decades, and were responsible the decision to reclassify the drug to a Class B nine years ago.
In recent years, Spain, South Africa, Uruguay and several states in the US have made cannabis legal for recreational use.
Pressure has been increasing on the UK to follow suit and update its drug policy, with many citing weed’s medicinal properties.
But Ian Hamilton, a drug researcher based at York University, told MailOnline the UK’s updated stance shows it’s falling behind.
He said: ‘The government has missed an opportunity to provide less harmful ways of people accessing and using cannabis.
‘The UK is falling behind many other countries who are adopting progressive policies towards drug use.
‘These countries have embraced the evidence and recognise that punishing people who use drugs does not improve their health and adds to social inequality.’
Cannabis is currently a Class B drug in the UK, and anyone found in possession can face up to five years in prison.
From The Guardian:
The wait is finally over for those of us working in the drug policy and drug treatment sectors. The Home Office published its new drug strategy on Friday, two years after its planned deadline in 2015. Sadly, however, this is not a case of good things coming to those who wait. For a 50-page document, there’s very little in the new strategy that can earn it its name.
Against a backdrop of increasing policy innovation in the wider world, the main aims of this strategy are largely unchanged from the previous 2010 version. There’s still a focus on recovery, rather than harm reduction. A continued commitment to tackling the problems caused by drugs through the criminal justice system, rather than through the health system. A point blank refusal to consider decriminalisation, or any reforms to the Misuse of Drugs Act.
Worse, what good initiatives there are in the strategy – and there are some – seem to have been dreamed up by minds unfettered by the reality of public health, criminal justice and policing systems squeezed to breaking point.
Andy Burnham, giving the keynote address at a conference in Manchester last week aimed at developing a more connected response to the city’s rising spice epidemic, echoed the thoughts of many in these fields: “Where is the money? Our frontline services are being overwhelmed. I didn’t hear any mention of any extra funding in the radio this morning. It seems quite hollow, what was being said.”
First then, for the good news. Greater efforts are going to be made to provide effective, evidence-based drug prevention and education to young people. Gone are the school visits from the trite ex-user or the finger-wagging police officer: effective resilience training is in.
Prisoners, too, are to be given more help into recovery, their progress monitored closely. Far clearer and more explicit guidelines have been given on the value of opioid maintenance treatments, which allow so many people with opioid dependence to live their lives, and crucially, prevent overdoses.
The people who slip through the cracks of dual diagnosis from mental health and problem substance use are to be better catered for, rather than shunted between services reluctant to take on complex and demanding cases.
Of the rather pedestrian reforms, these are the brightest spots. However, with cuts to local authority public health budgets totalling £85m this year, and ringfenced drug treatment budgets expected to be cut by £22m, it’s anyone’s guess as to where the money will come from for such initiatives. More likely that these reductions will further eat into essential services such as needle exchanges, and hamper local authorities’ ability to properly assess the performance of the services they commission.
(Read the whole article using the link above)
From The Huffington Post:
The Government’s new drugs strategy has been condemned as “business for usual” for failing to embrace radical solutions to soaring drug deaths.
The Home Office announced its long-awaited strategy that pledges to crack down on drug dealers and cut demand by expanding education on drugs and alcohol and expanding the Prevention Information Service.
Writing on HuffPost UK, Home Secretary Amber Rudd said the plan would target “unscrupulous drug dealers” while trying to do more to “protect the vulnerable – to prevent them falling into the cycle of drug abuse and to help them turn their lives around”.
While the new strategy does call a rise in drug deaths “dramatic and tragic”, it was condemned as “business as usual” by one advocate for change.
Niamh Eastwood, executive director of drug law experts Release, told HuffPost UK the strategy should have mooted ending criminal punishment for possession, following the lead of other countries.
If you have other stories and media accounts that you think should be added, get in touch.
The Northern Teacher Education Program (NORTEP) in Saskatchewan, Canada commenced in 1976 to facilitate access to teacher education and certification for northerners, particularly those of Aboriginal ancestry.
It covers tuition costs, books, and a living allowance for students who have lived in the north for 10 years or half their life.
By most accounts, it has been a success. Which is why the recent decision to cut funding to NORTEP and transfer its $3.4 million in funding to another institution, has raised somber questions about the priorities of the Wall government.
According to Saskatchewan’s Advanced Education Minister Bronwyn Eyre, the decision was “about equity … it’s not about necessarily getting rid of the bursary structure.”
Unfortunately, this signals tremendous lack of forethought. The optics are dreadful, especially at a moment when Colton Bushie weighs on the hearts and minds of many in the province. And the decision also carelessly flies in the face of ongoing tragedies in Northern communities, including suicides, shootings, and missing women.
More than that, Saskatchewan has garnered international attention in the pages of The Atlantic magazine for its ground-breaking (but long overdue) approach to Aboriginals in higher education. The NORTEP decision is a step backward.
In short, the long-term benefits of the program should be weighed up more sensibly. Luckily, there are useful historical lessons to draw from.
In June 1987, pennies were being pinched. The “great barbeque was over,” according to the NDP’s Janice McKinnon, and the “bills for the wild spending were coming due.”
The Saskatchewan Urban Native Teacher Education Program (SUNTEP) identified the need for a review of the program’s progress. Worried about cuts and reallocations, SUNTEP reached out to experts in education.
One of those was Ruben Richert, a former teacher, principal, and past-president of the Saskatchewan Teachers Federation. In 1987, he was asked to evaluate the program and produce a report on its sustainability in the province’s educational eco-system.
SUNTEP ran in Prince Albert, Regina, and Saskatoon, and operated out of the Gabriel Dumont Institute. For Director James McNinch, it offered a “measure of control and participation in the education of Native teachers and Native children and in the maintenance and affirmation of a cultural identity which prevents assimilation of the minority culture.”
In a period of provincial fiscal restraint, there was significant concern that programs such as SUNTEP might be “erroneously regarded as expendable frills or fringes” and money could be shunted elsewhere.
The 52-page report evaluating SUNTEP determined that the social costs of cuts to the program could be far more expensive in the long-term than the program dollars involved.
A number of recommendations for improvement were made, and the need for introspection was underlined. But the ultimate conclusion held that:
“The question as to whether there is a need for a program like SUNTEP should not have to be asked…We know it is an investment that actually bears interest rather than being a drain on the economy.”
At the time, Grant Devine’s Progressive Conservatives used privatization and public-service reduction to shrink the government. And Devine pointed to the financial necessity of restraint in the province. Over 1,100 civil servants were offered early retirement.
The budget of 1987-88 saw an absolute decline in spending of roughly five percent. Yet, he included an 11 percent increase for education. He did not undermine SUNTEP’s ability to operate at its current service levels.
The NDP often takes credit for SUNTEP and NORTEP, and deservedly so. But it should be noted there was often general bipartisan agreement – if not absolute harmony – about the value of these programs.
This seems far from the case in the present. Budgets have been cut for Saskatoon’s Lighthouse homeless shelter, and the same is true for the Saskatchewan Assured Income for Disability (SAID) program and the general Saskatchewan Assistance Program (SAP). Pinching pennies is one thing, but as Murray Mandryk argued, it’s wise not to be pound foolish.
If NORTEP plays a role in minimizing alienation and redressing lack of educational options in the North, the program should be maintained.
The 1987 report framed SUNTEP’s usefulness as a minor way of “helping to maintain a culture and heritage and preventing assimilation.”
It wasn’t big money, but the results were important. Much the same can be said of NORTEP. It would be advantageous to let the BBQ continue.
Reforming Political Donations: Or How to Slow the Money Train
In Australia, the former prime minister Tony Abbott recently outlined a sweeping plan for reform of the country’s political donations system that would ban payments from unions, companies and overseas donors. “Obviously,” he said, “we don’t want influence buying, we don’t want subversion of our system. The best way to ensure the system is straight and clean is full transparency. The best way to have transparency is to have real-time disclosure, or near-to-real-time disclosure.”
This isn’t a debate unique to the Aussies. Canadians have been forced to engage with this issue in 2016 as well.
There are a number of dynamics at play. In Saskatchewan, discussion has revolved around its Western neighbour. With its oil wealth and booming population growth, Alberta has come to play a much larger role than ever in federal politics. Donations to federal parties in the province, for instance, have more than doubled in the past decade, from $2.3-million in 2004 to $5.5-million in 2014. This is significant.
The bulk of federal party contributions in Alberta still go to the Conservatives. Yet, opposition parties have gradually been gaining financial support in the province. In the 2008 election, for instance, the Conservatives captured 77 per cent of all money raised in Alberta. That had fallen to 66 per cent, or $3.6-million. The Liberals, on the other hand, raised more than $1.3-million in the province in 2014, well short of the Conservatives, but still double what Alberta gave to the Liberals as recently as 2010. The Money Train has carried all sorts of passengers.
Of course, the NDP has been less successful in the province. (Which has partially sparked debate amongst NDPers in Sask.) Even as the provincial New Democrats managed to topple more than 40 years of provincial Progressive Conservative rule in Alberta this year, there was minimal evidence that the federal NDP was winning financial support in the province. In 2014-2015, Mr. Mulcair’s party raised just $582,000 in Alberta. Not tons. For an excellent breakdown of the Money Train’s wending and weaving throughout Canada, see here.
Another question remains: what actually happens that folks donate? The answer, according to one source, rests with the media. Namely, the money goes to ads. “According to expenses reported by the NDP, Liberal and Conservative national campaigns last election, just over half of the money they spent went to advertising.”
“So much of what we learn about political parties now is through the media,” said Harold Jansen, chair of political science at the University of Lethbridge and a researcher on party finance. Political parties have fewer volunteers and fewer members, he noted, so fewer and fewer people have a personal connection to a party than they used to. That is made up by buying ads. “…media matters, and media costs money,” Jansen argued.
More broadly, weak election finance laws can have a toxic effect on the political process. The Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development released a paper in April 2016 called Financing Democracy: Funding of Political Parties and the Risk of Policy Capture.
“If the financing of political parties and election campaigns is not adequately regulated, money may be a means for powerful special interests to exercise undue influence, and ‘capture’ the policy process,” says the report. This should come as no big surprise.
The surprise, arguably, is that it could happen in Saskatchewan. In a piece for the Huffington Post, Duncan Kinney suggested that Saskatchewan was a Wild West. And he traced some of Premier Brad Wall’s largest corporate donors:
- Crescent Point: 126,923.67
- Cenovus: 68,108.06
- Encana: 50,556.52
- PCL: 88,817.29
- PennWest: 83,347.71
- CAPP: 5,612.33
- Canadian Energy Pipeline Association: 8,882.40
But the problem went much deeper than out-of-province donations.
Personally, I’m still working out my thoughts on how to maintain the health of the body politic. And I’ll be presenting more ideas about this in the future. Clearly, addressing political donations is a big part of democracy’s health. What are your thoughts?
Bromance. Brog-Hug. Brocation. Now ‘Broga.’
Yes, this is for real.
According to Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s Adina Bresge, “a growing global fitness trend has men ditching dumbbells for yoga mats in so-called Broga classes, a macho twist on the thousands-year-old practice that promises the same punishing workout — with a little added bliss.”
In the UK and beyond, broga is described as ‘macho’ yoga classes which prioritize ‘rugged’ strength and physicality over spirituality.
Until recently, some traditions of yoga were exclusively practiced by men, but it has been largely shunned by male fitness buffs in the modern era. No longer! Yoga instructors are now catering to wannabe-buff men with classes that spotlight strength over stretching, and offering everything from craft beer after class to man-only retreats away from the fairer sex.
No doubt, this will be an Olympic sport in the future. Or, if nothing else, it will elevate to the same level of the Crossfit Games.
HERE’S AN EXCERPT FROM THE CBC.
“Yoga is more than just women contorting themselves into vegan pretzels,” says Michael DeCorte, the Toronto “man-treprenuer” behind Jock Yoga, an athletic mashup that combines the mindfulness of sun salutations with the muscle burn of pumping iron.
“Originally, it was just a gimmick,” says DeCorte. “When I first saw it on a poster, it was almost like an oxymoron … You see yoga and think, ‘spiritual,’ and at jock you think, ‘laid-back, swearing, burping.”‘
DeCorte says men can account for anywhere between 50 to 85 per cent of his classes at the Equinox fitness club in Toronto, a striking level of testosterone in an industry whose audience is 70 per cent women, according to a 2016 Ipsos Public Affairs study.
Classes like Jock Yoga have cropped up all over the country, such as Jo-Ga in Halifax, Yoguy in Vancouver and the all-nude male Mudraforce studio in Montreal.
Have you attended?
WHAT’S A ‘BRO’ ANYWAY?
This video provides a hint.
Other magazines – and even some scholars – have addressed this term in more detail.
For Slate, Bro’s ascendance into the pop cultural pantheon was mostly due to lots of white kids trying to seem cool by emulating black slang.
As Matthew J.X. Malady (great name) put it, though usage of bro as an abbreviation of ‘brother’ can be traced back to at least 1660, conversational uses more similar to what we hear today begin cropping up in the mid- to late 18th century, according to lexicographer and Indiana University English professor Michael Adams.
(In particular, he points to the text of a 1762 burlesque play titled Homer Travestie, which includes the word bro several times. “That suggests maybe it’s low or underworld speech—a type of slang of the period,” Adams says. “Brother would often be shortened to bro in this period, in the same way that many names were radically shortened, so that William would be shortened to Wm. You just skip all the letters you didn’t really need to identify the person. So in casual correspondence, that was the way people referred to each other, and it may have migrated into speech.” )
Then, this is where African-American culture comes into the picture.
Again, according to Malady’s research and writing, the use of bro as a simple abbreviation appears to have remained fairly consistent during subsequent centuries. But its slang usage really exploded during the past 100 years or so as it gained popularity in the black community – as a replacement for brother in conversation.
(Use of the term brother in the black church, Adams says, can be definitively dated back to at least the early 20th century, though “that’s partly just the emergence of African-American culture into print, so it’s quite likely that brother associated with the church has a longer history. It just ends up not being recorded anywhere.”)
While the heavy use of brother by those participating in social movements during the 1960s helped propel bro into the realm of casual conversation among activists, its more broad ascendance into the pop cultural pantheon after that was mostly due to lots of white kids trying to seem cool by emulating black slang. As the 20thcentury advanced, first brother and then bro became progressively more common in black speech says Geoffrey Nunberg, a linguistics expert who teaches at Berkeley’s School of Information. “Then,” he adds, “like everything else in black English, it’s appropriated and reinterpreted both deliberately and unwittingly by other speakers.”
As I thought about yoga, health, and masculinity and language, I couldn’t help but think about the metrosexuality vs. lumbersexuality. I have, of course, written about lumbersexuality in the past and present.
And one of the conclusions was that the broader lumbersexual phenomenon was straight culture’s latest attempt to theatricalize masculinity – decades after gays got there first.
Now ‘Broga.’ Much to ponder…
In the era of Trump and Hillary, we may occasionally forget about strange and seemingly ‘radical’ political moments. But there have always been times of flux, of discrete moments of radicalism. I’ve tried my best to engage with some of these moments and some of the literature that surrounds these moments.
“The term political radicalism (or simply, in political science, radicalism) denotes political principles focused on altering social structures through revolutionary means and changing value systems in fundamental ways.”
Below are a few examples of specific radical’ moments.
EARLY 19th CENTURY RADICALISM
For example, Peter Adams’s The Bowery Boys: Street Corner Radicals and the Politics of Rebellion (Praeger, 2005). A fly-under-the-radar expose of 19th century radicalism, the book has a lot of resonance now.
At the heart of The Bowery Boys – and of street corner radicalism – is Mike Walsh. His was a New York of ethnic and class division. In his 2005 book, Adams contends that the Industrial Revolution had fostered division by modifying the nature of the urban workplace. People felt disenchanted. Empty. The body was a vessel to be exploited.
He also holds that, by 1820, economic and political power had come to be controlled by a group of commercial and merchant elites (26). Walsh was an anti-intellectual rabble-rouser, who recognized and inveighed against this growing inequality. He voiced the frustrations of New York’s poverty-stricken immigrants and nativeborn alike with his incendiary newspaper Subterranean.
In short, Mike Walsh was radical in a radical time and place, a point
hammered home with vigor in this book. Adams cites Walt Whitman, one
of Walsh’s on-again, off -again supporters as writing, “At this moment New York is the most radical city in America” (63). Adams himself characterizes New York as “a center of radical thinking,” a safe haven rife with bohemians, trade-unionists, and utopian socialists (63). Walsh, a product of this environment, touted the Subterranean as “the most radical paper on earth” (xxi). And Walsh’s Bowery Boys, according to Adams, represented “a radical insurgency that threatened the public order and existing class relations” (xxii)
This sounds very familiar…
The Bowery Boys is also an instructive book for those readers interested in the history of Tammany Hall, the Democratic Party’s internecine squabbling, and as popularized by Martin Scorsese in 2002, the radical ruffians and scrappers that participated in certain Gangs of New York.
POST-WAR 60s RADICALISM
I’ve also been very interested in the women and activists of the 1960s & 1970s. Hence, my close reading of Anne Valk’s Radical Sisters: Second-Wave Feminism and Black Liberation in Washington, D.C. (Illinois Press, 2010)
Valk investigates numerous grass-roots movements and organizations, such as the D.C. Women’s Liberation Movement, D.C. Area Feminist Alliance, and Gay Liberation Front. She offers absorbing portraits of movement figures like Mary Treadwell and Etta Horn, but the core strength of Radical Sisters is the delineation of the synergy, cross-fertilization, and antagonism between strains of feminism in Washington, D.C. This monograph, Valk’s first, is thus instructive for those readers with a broad interest in social movement interactions and feminism in the United States.
The book capably captures the points of both convergence and departure that characterized ‘radical’ women’s groups in Washington, D.C. On the one hand, Valk skillfully articulates how dogmatism stunted collaboration and consequently the longevity of certain organizations (the Metropolitan Abortion Alliance). Liberal feminists, she suggests, wanted legal and statutory reform and displayed a “fundamental faith in the soundness of America’s economic and political institutions,” whereas radical feminists, often far more bellicose, wanted to free women “within both personal and public realms” (4).
Radical feminists, in some instances, advocated the toppling of America’s capitalistic economy to terminate patriarchy, racism, and imperialism, thereby creating conditions in which an inclusive democracy would blossom.
In some cases, pugnacious radical women established shelters for battered women, children’s programs, rape crisis centers, and feminist publications such as Aegis andQuest. They were taking control of their bodies.
On the other hand, Valk correctly contends that the scholarly distinctions between radical and liberal are misleading and somewhat overplayed. She illustrates how “the line separating liberals and radicals often blurred” (8) and takes care to clarify how flexibility and adaptation also characterized interactions between movements like the Washington Area Women’s Center and National Black Feminist Organization. In explicating these tensions and negotiations, Radical Sisters paints a picture of a dynamic and protean feminism in the 1960s and 1970s.
Valk’s narrative begins with an overview of antipoverty and civil rights activism in the early 1960s, describing how branches of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) supported women participants in these initial efforts. Together, these groups campaigned to influence welfare policies, reproductive rights, and the socioeconomic status of women. Meanwhile, Valk traces the concurrent rise of radical feminists, who not only took cues from liberal feminism but also served to spark a fiery exchange of ideas about ethnic and class division in Washington, D.C., social movements. She then addresses this evolving dialogue as she unpacks and highlights the Black Power era. “Most Black Power advocates reacted negatively to organized feminism,” she explains, “and black women sought to advance gender equality through racial oppression” (11).
Finally, the narrative turns to lesbian feminism, another vital element of the fractionalized feminist landscape. According to Valk, the Furies, as the gay feminist collective was called, distinguished themselves by attacking homophobia in extant feminist organizations, igniting discussion around feminist philosophy, and ultimately alienating others in the broader Washington, D.C., feminist movement.
RECENT ‘BUSH’ RADICALISM
But then I got even more ambitious and modern with Radical in the White House?, which explored a number of books on George W. Bush and radicalism. These books included:
Fred Barnes. Rebel-in-Chief: Inside the Bold and Controversial Presidency of George W. Bush. New York: Crown Forum, 2006. ISBN 030-7336492
Bruce Bartlett. Imposter: How George W. Bush Bankrupted America and Betrayed the Reagan Legacy. New York: Doubleday Books, 2006. ISBN 978-0385518277
Sidney Blumenthal. How Bush Rules: Chronicles of a Radical Regime. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2006. ISBN 978-0691128887
Sean Wilentz. The Age of Reagan: A History, 1974-2008. New York: HarperCollins, 2008. ISBN 978-0060744809
I felt that clashes over George W. Bush’s legacy – his radical legacy – had begun in earnest.
Authors of all political colorations had begun crafting books and articles about the appalling mishandling of the U.S. economy, the tepid response to broken levees in New Orleans, and the early failed strategy in Iraq, among a host of other topics. Conservatives, for their part, were especially introspective about and critical of their agent in the White House. Michael Tanner, a writer at the Cato Institute in Washington, pilloried the Bush administration’s disloyalty to principles held by those on the Right, whereas others in the conservative establishment – for instance, Daniel Casse – strived to rebrand Bush as a pro-government conservative.
A significant element of this debate centered on Bush’s putative domestic and foreign policy radicalism. In fact, the topic was broached as early as January 2003. According to Bill Kellar, Bush, the ideological torch-bearer of Reaganism, had a high-quality “chance of advancing a radical agenda that Reagan himself could only carry so far.” Not only were political and economic conditions apposite for the continued promotion of a radicalized version of Reaganite doctrines, but the Bush administration in early 2003 proved adept in pivoting off scandal. In foreign affairs, moreover, Bush’s Middle East policy was considered a “radically new approach” to the region. According to Daniel Pipes, it was time for Americans to buckle up. Succeeding years were going to be a “wild ride.” By 2008, a number of authors – including Barnes, Bartlett, Blumenthal, and Wilentz – began to address the thrills and perils of that ride.
It appears Bush was a radical of various shades. He audaciously and radically bucked the approval of the conservative establishment because he believed in the veracity of his own ideas: on prescription drug entitlements, education policy, and Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers, just to name three examples. Yet Bush also oversaw the enactment of hefty tax cuts, first in 2001 and then again in 2003, and these measures – historic in size and scope – symbolized to moderates and liberals a radicalized adaptation of President Reagan’s economic conservatism. Moreover, after his “bullhorn moment” at Ground Zero in 2001, Bush embarked on a radical foreign policy that not only expanded the wartime powers of the presidential office but also included the sanctification of torture and domestic spying.
This stimulating and provocative selection of George W. Bush books asks us to acknowledge wildly disparate views of Bush and his administration. The first, a macabre vision, holds Bush as an obdurate radical ideologue who oversaw the precipitous economic and moral decline of the nation.
The second, by contrast, casts Bush as a transgressive conservative, a man driven not by dogma, but rather by a desire for results, for positive conservative outcomes in American society – and by whatever means necessary, including government intervention. His radicalism thus lay in his willingness to defy the shrill cries of his own base. The third view, Bartlett’s forceful argument, holds that Bush was a disloyal scoundrel – in effect, a liberal – and it condemns the president for his very lack of radicalism.
Bush was pretty serene about the whole thing. As he told Bob Woodward: “History. We don’t know. We’ll all be dead.”
The debate continues.
Now, however. Now.
The era of Trump. And Clinton. And Sanders. In 2016, we have a different version of radicalism. According to National Review, “Sanders and Trump Have Risen from the Wreckage of a Broken Culture” and suggests pop culture can “normalize” radicalism with “astonishing speed.” Trump, for his part, has called for a Radical Islam Commission. He’s also been recast as a Marvel super-villain.
Let the good times roll.
A blast from the past…