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Commentary Last Updated: Sep 21st, 2010 - 00:21:32

The five waves of political reaction
By Howard Lisnoff
Online Journal Contributing Writer

Sep 21, 2010, 00:10

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How far to the right will the United States go? With elections just around the corner, this will be the fifth wave of a move to the far right that the U.S. has taken since I came of age in the 1960s and cut my teeth as an activist during the antiwar movement of the Vietnam era.

Before the antiwar movement from the 1960s and early 1970s had moved the country out of that quagmire, a reaction from the right had already begun and continues in the last skirmishes of the culture wars today. The antiwar movement was cast in negative terms by the right. It was reinvented in people�s minds as a primarily violent movement that sought to endanger ordinary people on the domestic front. Of course, nothing could be farther from the truth, as the vast majority of the antiwar movement was quite peaceful and took the principles of both Gandhi and King to heart.

Additionally, the issue of the antiwar movement as being anti-soldier has lingered on since the Vietnam era. Here there was some truth, as personal stories of killing on an individual and mass scale using horrific means was indeed widespread in Vietnam, the most notorious evidence of which was the massacre at My Lai and the operations of Tiger Force, a task force of the Army�s 1st Battalion. This was but the tip of the iceberg of war crimes, some of which were recounted by soldiers at the Winter Soldier conference near the end of the war.

The second wave of reaction came with the presidency of Ronald Reagan, who was lauded as the �Great Communicator,� a misnomer of gigantic proportions. Reagan was hostile to civil liberties and the antiwar movement even when he served as the governor of California. He carried those prejudices with him to Washington, D.C.

Soon, under Reagan, U.S. foreign policy was aimed at Central America where the rightists of El Salvador and the anti-Sandinista contras ran rampant in Nicaragua committing atrocities against civilians and destroying the promise of democracy in that country. The attack against the tiny island of Grenada was just a sideshow to Reagan�s vicious and militaristic vitriol. His expansion of the military budget and tax giveaways to the wealthy were additional hallmarks of his administration.

Reagan�s vice president, George H.W. Bush, carried on his former boss� legacy of violence in Central America with an attack against Panama and the seizure of Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega. Noriega, our former client, was convicted on drug trafficking charges and imprisoned in the U.S. until recently.

Besides the bombing of the former Yugoslavia by President Bill Clinton, purportedly to stop ethnic cleansing in the former Soviet satellite, Clinton�s years in office were fairly sedate in terms of military aggression. He was satisfied to begin the movement toward a globalized economy and a program of neoliberalism at home that sped up the process of carrying out the death penalty and ended welfare. His successor, however, George W. Bush, was a loose cannon in terms of militarism and began the now nine-year war in Afghanistan without ever bringing the ringleader of the September 11, 2001 attacks against the U.S. to justice.

Bush represents the fourth wave of reaction in the U.S. since Vietnam. His swaggering demeanor began the nation-building war against Iraq that made that nation�s oil safe for plunder. Following in the footsteps of his father, he made the link that led to the death of untold thousands of Iraqis that his father had begun in defense of Kuwait that were followed by severe economic sanctions. The economic sanctions against Iraq continued from Bush to Bush and through Clinton�s presidency, another indication that both major parties in the U.S. are indeed now the parties of war.

The fifth wave of reaction began under Barack Obama who came into office riding on the coattails of the twin engines of hope and change. Instead, Obama gave the nation and the world an expanded war in Afghanistan that shows no prospect of ending soon or improving the lives of ordinary Afghans. The expanded influence and power of the Taliban is a yet another example of that war�s failure.

But it was not solely because of Obama�s military policies that the fifth wave of reaction truly came into its own. Rather, it was his paltry efforts to extend health care to about 30 million Americans and rein in the outrageous power of Wall Street and huge mega-corporations that created the Tea Party movement now riding high on the fifth crest of the wave of reaction. That movement, made up of modern-day Know Nothings, with the likes of Sarah Palin at its beck and call, is perhaps the greatest threat to what is left of democracy today in the United States. Anti-immigrant, religiously intolerant, and in the pockets of big business and the military, this pro-war and anti-people movement is poised to fire the juggernaut to take over both the House and Senate in this November�s election.

Like all movements on the right, this movement panders to the fears of ordinary Americans, many beaten up badly by The Great Recession who are looking for a savior in a place that it is most unlikely to come from. In fact, the Tea Party represents the very interests inimical to those most harmed by the recession and will certainly drive those people into greater misery. The extreme right in the U.S. has the uncanny ability to make those who would be most harmed by its agenda vote against their own self-interests, and it happens again and again by pandering to the politics of hate and fear among the electorate. 

What the latter bodes for the U.S. is frightening! And the two party system, with both major parties in favor of endless wars and a free ride for the folks in big business and the military-industrial complex that landed the nation in this recession, provides little or no hope for those hurt most by these policies. With third parties in the U.S. relegated to quadrennial dog and pony shows of little consequence, the prospects for democracy in the U.S. are less than dim! And with a nonexistent vibrant peace and justice movement, the danger to democracy is very real!

Howard Lisnoff is a freelance writer and an educator. He can be reached at

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