Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Kevin Phillip's America: A Theocratic, Oil Hungry, Debt Ridden Empire

In his NY Times review, Alan Brinkley summarizes the unholy trinity found in Kevin Phillips' American Theocracy :
Phillips is scathingly critical of what he considers the dangerous policies of the Bush administration, he does not spend much time examining the ideas and behavior of the president and his advisers. Instead, he identifies three broad and related trends — none of them new to the Bush years but all of them, he believes, exacerbated by this administration's policies — that together threaten the future of the United States and the world. One is the role of oil in defining and, as Phillips sees it, distorting American foreign and domestic policy. The second is the ominous intrusion of radical Christianity into politics and government. And the third is the astonishing levels of debt — current and prospective — that both the government and the American people have been heedlessly accumulating. If there is a single, if implicit, theme running through the three linked essays that form this book, it is the failure of leaders to look beyond their own and the country's immediate ambitions and desires so as to plan prudently for a darkening future.
Thus, according to Brinkley's review, Phillips believes:

1) OIL: The Iraq War was all about oil. Even though this desire for a secure source of oil has been the prime mover of American foreign policy for 30 years, the presence of so many oil men in the Bush Administration has served to increase and expand these efforts.
The United States has embraced a kind of "petro-imperialism," Phillips writes, "the key aspect of which is the U.S. military's transformation into a global oil-protection force," and which "puts up a democratic facade, emphasizes freedom of the seas (or pipeline routes) and seeks to secure, protect, drill and ship oil, not administer everyday affairs."
2) RELIGION: According to Brinkley, "Phillips brings together an enormous range of information from scholars and journalists and presents a remarkably comprehensive and chilling picture of the goals and achievements of the religious right."
Prophetic Christians, Phillips writes, often shape their view of politics and the world around signs that charlatan biblical scholars have identified as predictors of the apocalypse — among them a war in Iraq, the Jewish settlement of the whole of biblical Israel, even the rise of terrorism. He convincingly demonstrates that the Bush administration has calculatedly reached out to such believers and encouraged them to see the president's policies as a response to premillennialist thought. He also suggests that the president and other members of his administration may actually believe these things themselves, that religious belief is the basis of policy, not just a tactic for selling it to the public. Phillips's evidence for this disturbing claim is significant, but not conclusive.
3) DEBT: We have government debt, corporate debt and personal debt. This "national debt culture" is:
a product of the "financialization" of the American economy — the turn away from manufacturing and toward an economy based on moving and managing money, a trend encouraged, Phillips argues persuasively, by the preoccupation with oil and (somewhat less persuasively) with evangelical belief in the imminent rapture, which makes planning for the future unnecessary.
Of the three points of Phillip's polemic, I find the 1st paranoid, the 2nd hyperbolic, and the 3rd sound. Concerning the first, there have already been plenty of arguments about the War for Oil, etc. and I simply don't feel like getting into it. The sides are pretty well entrenched. As for the second, I'll defer to Joseph Bottom (via Ralph Luker). Finally, as a fiscal conservative, I don't buy into a "national debt culture" either and likewise don't practice a "personal debt culture." Now, a little debt is OK (if it was good enough for Alexander Hamilton, it's good enough for me) and I also have debt (a mortgage), but I pay off my credit cards monthly and try to keep the debt to a minimum. I think that Phillips' may be onto something here because a majority of Americans--both personally and corporately--apparently have no problem carrying what would be deemed excessive debt. Is it any surprise that they don't worry very much when their government acts in the same manner?

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