Purchased a FORA.tv video on another website? Login here with the temporary account credentials included in your receipt.
Sign up today to receive our weekly newsletter and special announcements.
Good afternoon and welcome to today's meeting of the Commonwealth Club of California. I am Jack Cortis, President of Mellon Private Wealth Management of Northern California and the Commonwealth Clubs Quarterly Chair. It is my pleasure to introduce our distinguished speaker Kevin Phillips, former Republican strategist, political analyst and author of "American Theocracy". Forty years ago Mr. Phillips began work on his book the Emerging Republican majority. In it he argued that the movement of people and resources from the old Northern industrial states into the South and West would produce a new and more Conservative Republican majority that would American politics for decades. He joined the Nixon administration as a strategic advisor in the late 1960s to help foster the changes he predicted. In the time since he has remained a prolific and important political commentator. He has worked as a contributing columnist for the Los Angeles Times and the Wall Street Journal. He was a commentator for the CBS TV News for several Democratic and Republican conventions and as a commentator for National Public Radio Mr. Phillips no longer sees the Republican Party as a source of stability and order. He has written extensively about devastating cultural trends that undermined his earlier vision that had been made worse by the current administration. He is now a powerful independent critic of the party and it's abandonment of its own principles. Please welcome Kevin Phillips. I think that introduction can safely be said not to represent the view point of the Republican National Committee at the present time. What I am trying to talk about today will be the ideas that are in my book American Theocracy. The sub title of which is the peril in politics of radical religion, oil and borrowed money. And there is a reason for these three subjects which I will get to in a minute. But some people here may have read it. For those I will try to emphasize more of what I put in a new a much larger introduction including the 2006 elections. It's in the paperback that just came out. What I will also go through enough of the basic thesis that it should work for, for those who aren't familiar with the book at all either. The essence of the idea comes from two things that I have been writing about and doing really now for several decades. Obviously the first goes way back to the emerging Republican majority. That's the notion of what has happened to the Republican coalition, how has it changed, what has it become. What has it done in terms of what it's become to policy in the United States? The second aspect of this which I probably should have pulled further forward in the book in the previous version which I have done in the introduction is that for the last two decades or so beginning with economic issues, I have been looking at a comparison between and the previous leading world economic powers which you could describe more simply as empires although that's not a perfect description of them and sort of what went wrong in those countries and what we had to look out for in the United States and as I mentioned it started really with economics. I could see that the parallels between the economic problems that drive down these countries and the once you could start seeing in the United States in the 1980s and the 1990s was quite significant but in the last decade or so, it's gone much, much beyond that and as a result, part of what I do in this book, is to look at United States through the lens of what were really the five or six major problems that you could see in the previous leading world economic powers and they really are as follows. This is just a very quick overview of it. But the first was the sense that people always had, that something was going wrong, whether it was called being on the wrong track or somehow losing touch with what the nation had been, you know, losing the old morality, the old patriotism. There was always some sense of something going wrong. Generally interpreted differently by the people who were on the conservative side and those who were on what you could call the either the progressive or liberal side. The second and this is where it times into one of the fundamental controversies is that you can see a role of religion in each of these peak trajectories and then declines and people will say obviously this is a pejorative view. It is in a sense because what it says is that there comes a point where religion can go too far and it's often been the case that that's happened in these trajectories and it's happened in different ways. Under Rome when Gibbon wrote his famous book on the Decline of the Roman Empire it was that Christianity became a state church and the old sort of easy going approach diminished and tensions within the Roman Empire which was already retreating were exacerbated when Christianity became a state church and dissent wasn't tolerated. For the Spanish obviously they had the inquisition, they harnessed the power of Spain's might at that point in time in the 16th, early 17th century but to the advantage of the catholic church and basically lost a lot doing so. Dutch it's harder to explain, but if you go on with the British what you get is a kind of moral imperialism, an evangelical Christianity and trying to bring the benefits of representative government, Democracy around the world and they pretty much overdid it and all of this is developed at a good bit moral length. But the long and short of it is there are reasons to look for these excesses of religion, whether it be a state church or whether it be a crusading approach to a world politics or whether it be moral evangelism, all of these have been present and I think they are clearly present today. Now the third aspect which the United States is beginning to match some of these previous examples was the one that I really got into first which was what you can see in the economic side and books that I was writing back in the 1980s and 1990s picked up on this. And very much what happens, as a country attains this world stature it pays less attention to what it used to do as a nation, which is to say it's early agriculture, industry, commerce, fishing whatever you want to think up was generally speaking as it flourished had the greatest benefit for the greatest number of people and what happens as any of these countries became the world force. I mean, even the Dutch when New York was New Amsterdam they had colonies all over the world. Trading stations in Japan and sugar factories in Brazil and all kinds of things but what happens is you get economic polarization, finance develops, a lot of services develop out of world supremacy kind of globalization and the upshot is you get more and more concentrating at the top in terms of wealth, less and less attention to these old things that the people used to do and bit by bit it gets to a dangerous level and when something goes wrong with the economy it's not broad based economy anymore. Now the fourth yardstick to use here is that you get military and geopolitical hubris in overreach, very easily documented in all of this. It's expensive so the fifth thing is that you get debt. You get a measure built up in debt, from all of these geopolitical insistences, pretences, programs that people can no longer afford and that becomes another major hallmark and of course, it increases the vulnerability of the country as things start to go wrong. Obviously all of these things are going on in the United States and the question is how much and my argument would be quite a bit. Now I suppose the last partial analogy which it only works for Britain and for Holland has to do with oil and energy. In the case of the Dutch and in the case of the British they had an idiosyncratic energy development that worked very well for them and when the energy regime shifted to something else in the world they couldn't keep. The Dutch for example, wind and water where what they did so well with whether it's reclaiming land from the sea or designing ships or windmills, that became little factories, they were terrific at it. When Britain, which was a essentially idiosyncratically attuned to coal, started to develop the industrial revolution in the United Kingdom and coal came to the fore while the Dutch just couldn't hack it in terms of international economic competition after that. The British with coal took over and the British in turn were not able really to deal with oil. The first effort to bring Britain into a high stage of oil awareness was Winston Churchill because he was concerned about the British navy, 1908-1910 when he was first ward the admiralty. Not because of industry, even when I was at school over in Britain in the late 1950s and early 1960s it was still coal based economy. They were not attuned to oil in the way they should have been and the Empire had a fair amount of oil and they would have been a lot better well if they had thought in terms of oil. Now what does this mean for the United States? In a nutshell the United States is the country that has grown up around oil. It goes all the way back, not simply to drilled oil of the sort we know, petroleum but even oiling oil. It may sound silly to say this, but (oiling) oil in terms of illumination and lubricants and everything was the forerunner of petroleum. And they developed enough of a market in the United States so as the oils began to become difficult and expensive to get the United States being so attuned to this, that's where the first oil well was drilled in the 1859. I mean, that's debated but it was certainly the first major development by a nation and the United States built itself up around oil. World wars I and II were won by American oil. The whole industrial pattern of the United States was built around oil, the whole residential pattern, where people live, how they their transportation patterns around oil. The notion that as oil runs out for us and as we lose control over it, if the United States can maintain that world role, without having the oil centrality globally that it's had for so long and it's losing rapidly now. There is just no evidence from the past that as oil slips for us, that we can keep up with something else. Now let me turn specifically just for a couple of minutes to the notion that the war in Iraq was fundamentally an oil war and the botching of the war in Iraq was in many ways a very important miscarriage of the US energy policy. Now this is something I got into more in the introduction to the in the paperback version. Simply because I had stated a lot of what was going in oil and what the defeat of the United States meant in terms of oil policy but it wasn't organized to make the case that it was an oil war that we lost. Now in the course of the last year, both from things that have come out about what Bush discussed and what he told people in Congress in his briefings. From analysis by economists, even from the reactions of OPEC and a number of the other oil producing countries it's pretty clear that we paid a huge price in terms of their attitude towards the dollar and towards American oil needs. It meant even the Saudis won't pump more oil when we want it. They feel they are probably running out and why should they pump it at today's low price when it's going to be more expensive. Former head of the Council of Economic Advisors under the Democrats who then became the economist for the World Bank Joe Stiglitz computed with an associate that when you added up all the cost of Iraq you could probably make the case at 60-70 percent of the change in the oil price between 2003 and this past year which is when he released his calculations. The great bulk of this came from the fumble in Iraq and there is whole lot of details there. Not simply on the reactions of other oil producers and the failure of a concerted American plan that if Iraq could be taken over successfully you could use Iraqi oil to flood the market and this would pull the props out from under OPEC. They didn't win it in a way that allowed them to control the oil. It's an awful lot of damage to the oil fields as a result, Iraqi production is way down. OPEC, which understands what the game was, is now cutting the United States not a whole lot of slack and the analysis of how much responsibility should be assigned to what was miscalculated in Iraq, for what's happened to the US energy circumstances is catching hold. I spoke to a group of the Democrats back last year and had some interesting conversations with people there, who had been at meetings, with George W. and he was holding out. One of the reasons why the Iraq war would pay for itself would be all the oil fields that we get access to when he was busy discussing them and naming them and of course, this is at the same time as they are all saying oil has nothing to do with it. And they had Tony Blair saying oil had nothing to do with it and the only one who didn't say this was Dick Cheney. I mean, Dick Cheney could no more stand up and say oil had nothing to do with it. He wouldn't be credible. He has made too many speeches that were too much to the point before he became Vice President but it's just an amazing thing to me along with all the weapons of mass-destruction miscalculation, the way the whole oil circumstance was made so much more difficult for the United States by this cocky incompetence that went on there and there are there are lots of dimensions to this and if anybody is totally into oil I will be glad to pick up further with them but let me move on to the next question now which is radical religion. Now part of what I had studied pretty carefully in working up the emerging Republican majority which was used in the Republican campaign in the '68 and they actually distributed parts of it. So it was connected to their thought process was that you would probably have more of a religious texture to the Republican party after these changes took place in the electorate because you would be pulling in huge concentrations of religious Democrats. Southern white Protestants of southern Baptist evangelicals, Pentecostals, all the different variations that concentrated in the south within the Democratic party as well as Northern Catholic ethnic groups. Well we didn't anticipate obviously the degree to which this was true because partly the other thing that was happening was this massive backlash against secular and what the conservatives called, secular humanism and the country got steadily more religious and steadily more religious in the direction of evangelicals, fundamentalists and Pentecostals and if you look now at the balance between the relative denominations, those groups, evangelicals, Pentecostals and fundamentalists it's lose in terms of definition but they basically outnumber mainline Protestants by about 2.5 to one and the change in the electorate in this direction is such, has been such, that the Republican Party became increasingly the party of Americans who attended religious services. It got to the point in 2000 and 2004 after slowly developing and then taking off during the 1990s that about 70 percent of the people who regularly attended church services voted for George W. and as this happened to the Democrats they became more secular and less interested in religious issues, so the polarization, you know, developed a lot of force. Now obviously this is true in things having to do with foreign policy because much of the Republican electorate has a biblical view of foreign policy. I say much 30-40 percent. You get in terms of Republican voters especially evangelicals that believe that foreign policy should represent religious principals too. You get a obviously a focus on the Middle East as the Bible lands where Armageddon and the end times are going to occur. Poll taken for Newsweek showed 45 percent of American Christians believed in Armageddon and the end times. And among evangelicals it was in the 70s. So my guess was that roughly 50-55-57 percent of Republican voters for Bush would have answered that question that way. So what we get is this concentration of voters in the Republican Party who have a religious view, in some extent, of foreign policy and of domestic policy and issues like abortion and evolution and stem-cell research and even women's rights to a certain extent, their view of the environment and geology's influence by a biblical sense of creation. Again there is lot of this in the book I don't have time to go through it, but the impact is profound. The first veto of the George W. cast was on stem cell research if you will remember. So all of this has had a huge, huge impact on the Republican Party and this increased after 9/11 and George W. back in 1999 and 2000 has said he thought God wanted him to run for President. Well by the time 9/11 came to pass, you will all remember and it has been written up widely, the religiofication of public dialogue, all the analysis of the increasing religious content of his speeches. Obviously he started taking it a bit more seriously his own role in this than he had before. And right after 9/11 there had been a poll taken among religious right leaders in Washington DC and Northern Virginia. And Pat Robertson who just retired as the Head of the Conservative Coalition and these people where asked who was going to replace Pat Robertson as the leader of the religious right and the answer from these people was well that - that there was not any question. God knew George W Bush was the man who had to be in power, when this happened you know. God chose George W Bush. You know, and they said sort of that and I had in just the title American Theocracy pre-supposes in the the hard cover version of the book. I am talking about a broader definition of theocracy that included certain things having to do with the leadership. But, and I said you couldn't really go much further than we had under this definition. But I should have picked up on another definition. A collateral definition, which is theocracy being a polity in which people either believe the leader speaks for God, or the leader believes he speaks for God. Now people will okay, everybody has heard a little bit about this and I am not going to try into go into the details again, there are spelled out. But there were two situations in which he sort of expressed himself in this vein. One was actually shown in an interview on television, not him but of the people he was speaking to, by the BBC in October of 2005. The people from the Palestinian cabinet, I mean, hard as it is to imagine there is a Palestinian cabinet. He spoke to them at Aqaba, Jordon at a meeting and they quoted him and they said this on camera and the BBC ran it. He said God told me to strike Afghanistan and I did. God told me to liberate Iraq and I did and now God is telling me to bring peace to the Middle East and when the BBC ran this of then the White House got agitated and they insisted that never took place. And at first the Palestinians said, well they didn't really think that he meant it that way. That he probably meant it that God had inspired him, but then the White House just flat out denied the interview had taken place. Then the second one that fascinated me was in 2004, in Pennsylvania George W. went and had a meeting with the Old Order Amish and after his meeting with the Amish he had gone into a barn with just these 40 or 50 and then they came out and the press asked the people who were in the meeting with George W what he said? And they quoted him as having said, I trust God speaks through me. Without that I couldn't do my job. And again they, this was denied but I could never find the name of anybody specific who denied it on the Internet. You could on the other one, but couldn't on this. So my guess is that what you had was kind of a private theocratic self imagination going on for a year or two in which he was sort of the voice. I am not certain whether you know, that was you can't be certain it's true but if it was true it's hard to be sure whether he still thinks it that way. He maybe starting to think that the, you know, lot of static on the phone and he wasn't getting the right information. So anyway I take this seriously enough to raise it as something we should be concerned about. If if he was obviously somebody who was a religious delusionary, you could have a committee under the 25th Amendment which could move to it wouldn't be competent to be president, you could move on that front, the disability. But the arrangement setup makes it impossible when you have, you know, the people like the Democrats who are, you know, not even just afraid of their shadow, they are afraid of their shadow of their shadow every time. Not that it would have been easy but there is no debate, there is no serious debate and none of this gets worked. So this is another aspect to me which is very difficult thing. The last aspect here has to do with debt. And the United States obviously has debt in every flavor you can imagine. I mean, it's like the old Howard Johnson's ice cream, if you name all 28 or whatever it was. We have more kinds of debt. It's not just the National debt. Private debt is, if anything, much more worrisome, it's four times the size of the National debt. And it includes all these things that everybody is getting nervous about now when the economy, whether its derivative instruments or sub prime mortgages or all of these exotic forms of package securitized debt. But just let me give you one set of numbers so you have got a sense of what's out there. Back in 1970, manufacturing accounted for 25 percent of the US gross domestic products in financial services which is finance insurance and real estate, the financial side of real estate, accounted for only 11. By the time we got to 2003-2004 financial services were at 20.5 percent and manufacturing was down to 12.4 percent. You are looking at a country, which basically is a financial services country. A lot of the financial services involved debt. Debt that nobody quite knows what it's going to mean, you can't even quite explain the structure. I am sure there are few people here from parts of the financial sector and I think even a lot of the CEOs have no idea of what these derivative instruments really are. And the whole structure of debt in the United States and how much of it is going in into finance and how little we know about what will happen if there is in fact a major credit crunch in the United States. I think we do have an extension of stock market bubble in the form of a credit bubble or liquidity bubble whatever you want to call it. And let me end by just talking about the Republic coalition which I was very closely involved. I thought by the time I got into analyzing what had happened that it was an unstable coalition in terms of it's religious make up, that the Republican Party had historically been the party of a more sedate northern Protestantism, main line Protestantism. And this was an overload that probably its northern constituents didn't fully appreciate. I certainly hadn't appreciated it even during the 1980s when it was starting to take place. And it seemed by 2006 as all these issues whether it was stem cell, or evolution or you know, drugs, or women's rights or gay rights or just really anything having to do with the interface of science in morality or science in medicine, science in drug policy. All of these were (indiscernible) obviously down in Florida. All of these were starting to play havoc with the Republican coalition in the sense of the old Republican coalition. The more moderate northern Christian voters who weren't part of the evangelical fundamentalist or Pentecostal movement. And sure enough in November of 2006 you had a lot of racist in which all of this was front and center. And the most important were in Ohio and Pennsylvania, two absolutely vital presidential election states. And you will remember of Ohio from 2004 election, Bush carried it but not by much. Well in the 2006 gubernatorial election in Ohio the Republican candidate was a flat out religious right supporter, who was in league with all the different groups of pastors and religious right organizations, has got absolutely smashed 60-40. I looked at this election in great detail, right next door in Pennsylvania where a number of the cases have come very much to the floor. For example evolution and so called intelligent design was knocked out by a Republican district judge in Pennsylvania and the Democrats were making all these issues pushing them to the forefront. Incumbent Republican Senator very strongly supportive of the religious right was beaten 60 40. Now if those two states go Democratic in the 2008 presidential election, Republicans don't have a prayer, they don't have a prayer. I just used perhaps an ill advised term. One of my old friends, he was a leader of the religious right and was long in the tooth as I am now, didn't do too much any more but he said the real test if the whether, you know, God is a Republican because for the Republicans to win in November 2006 would, you know, take a miracle. He told it better than I do. But the long and the short of it was that if they thought that God was a Republican, if they didn't get the miracle that would prove that he wasn't an he didn't get the miracle. All of this is big stuff - big, big stuff. You can go through state after state. I mean, for example, in South Dakota which had a very important abortion state wide ballot issue, and that was a far reaching one. It was beaten and it was beaten, not by a huge by 55-45 but the thing that was very surprising was that in South Dakota they put an anti-gay marriage ballot proposition through but it only got 52 percent of the vote. The centrist turnout was so high that it was, it drove it down from what would have been 65 percent two years earlier. In Arizona they couldn't even get a gay marriage amendment through. It was beaten. And my reading when all of this stuff was pushed front and center in the elections it was devastating for the Republicans. Which makes me think it's going to be difficult for them to raise all these things successfully in 2008. My feeling is as was mentioned is that the Republican coalition is really in a lot of ways out of gas and isn't going to be able to win again unless you either get the whole terrorist or geopolitical thing revved up again or the Democrats reach into their bag of incredible talent and you know, come up with another one of these John Kerrys, where you just want to pick somebody who is the wrong type of nominee. You get a guy married to a billionaire heiress, who was skull and bones and went to Yale. I mean, that's just driving right for the heart of Middle America. You see that working in Bakersfield. So that's that's my conclusion here. All of this is out there. I think, the religious right part they are in trouble. They maybe able to build back in but right now they are in big trouble. And I think the Republican coalition is going to be very hard pressed to hold on. And but you can fairly ask you know, he is going to be in there for another year and a half. What can happen? I don't, entirely want to think about it either so I will stop on that note. Thank you.