Regular readers know my formative years were spent in South America in the dictatorship years. Whether its a positive or a negative, I often think of politics like a South American might have done a few decades ago.
So consider this. Say your country is fighting an existential struggle against a foreign collectivist philosophy, and there are two political parties – the Patriots and the Collaborators. (The name of these two parties differed by country, but otherwise the similarities were sufficient across Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Paraguay, Uruguay, etc., from about the 1930s to the mid 1980s that I hope the reader will excuse my taking a shortcut here.) The Patriots are allied with the military, old money, and big business and are willing to fight to keep that foreign collectivist philosophy from gaining any foothold. The Collaborators… well, I picked the name for a reason – the Patriots call them collaborators. For whatever reason, folks like students, university professors, union members, peasants seem to throw their lot in with this group in whatever country you’re talking about. Granted, if you asked them, most of the Collaborators would insist that their opposition to having the military/old money/big business call the shots doesn’t make them supporters of this foreign collectivist philosophy, but hey, they’re Collaborators so why would anyone believe them?
The story differs by country, but it was often the case that the Patriots were forced to have a coup in the the 1930s or 1940s, in the 1950s, and also again in the 1960s or 1970s. And it was for the good of the country.
Now, consider the position of a President from the Patriot party. He’s fighting a war – perhaps its metaphorical, perhaps not. Either way, the war is not going well. Consequences of losing the war, of course, would be disastrous for the country, and the fight is worth the price. Granted, he hasn’t instituted the draft, or if he has, it only snags the poor (in a country like Chile or Argentina, you wouldn’t find the sons of wealthy families in the military – maybe just maybe you’d find a few members of the middle class depending on the decade, and in Brazil, I doubt even that was true), and he isn’t willing to change that, but still, he understands its a desperate fight, worth the lives of soldiers and the enemies. Its also worth borrowing a lot of money to fight that war… paying for it out of taxes, though, would clearly be a silly idea, as any member of his Party could explain.
So let’s consider decisions this President might have had to make. Put yourself in the position of this President – you know, absolutely, and without any doubt, that this threat is existential. Which of the following are you justified in doing?
1. Using government resources to promote Patriot candidates.
2. Using government resources to suppress votes among perceived supporters of the Collaborators.
3. Using government resources to monitor perceived Collaborator voters.
4. Using government resources to monitor Collaborator candidates.
5. Using government resources to hurt perceived Collaborator supporters.
6. Using government resources to hurt Collaborator candidates.
7. Arresting perceived supporters of the Collaborator party.
8. Arresting candidates of the Collaborator party.
9. Killing perceived supporters of the Collaborator party.
10. Killing candidates of the Collaborator party.
11. Openly killing perceived supporters of the Collaborator party.
12. Openly killing canddiates of the Collaborator party.
13. Cancelling elections.
I don’t know… its a tough question, but if you know, if you truly absolutely positively know without any shadow of a doubt that this existential fight to the death is on, you should be willing to take all of these options. And these are things that happened not once but multiple times in every single one of the countries that I mentioned from the 1930s to the 1980s. I note… in many cases, I think it could be said that the President wasn’t a true believer – just some SOB who liked to be in power. I also don’t think (and this is just my opinion talking) the taking of these steps was justified in even a single case of which I’m aware in South America from the 1930s to the 1980s. Not one.
(Note… this isn’t to say that I don’t think its possible to come up with real world circumstances where these steps are all justified. But its not as easy as you think… consider the classic (Latin American) example of Cuba, for instance… keeping Fidel Castro and his thugs from power would probably have been worth that price, but would it be worth the price if keeping Batista and his thugs in power was added to the bargain? And is it not likely that the fact that Batista was exercising all these options, 1 through 13, long before Castro came to the scene was partly responsible for creating Castro in the first place? If you didn’t like the thugs in power, what options did you have? Who could you support? And how could you gather enough information, in that environment, to find out that the alternative might be worse?)
Just for grins, pretend a guy we all know, GW, was placed in the position of this President. My guess is that GW, or some of the people he surrounds himself with are quite comfortable with , option 1 and option 2. I don’t think a lot of people would be surprised if it also turns out that some perfectly justifiably programs were used for option 3, but most of us would be surprised if he was comfortable using them for option 4. Similarly, it would seem that there is a willingness to play option 5.
I could see instances where option 6 would also be on the table for GW’s people, but I don’t see options 7 or 8. And options 9 through 13, I do not believe GW or his people would do it under any circumstances. The thing I wonder is… if he truly believes, and I believe he truly believes, why isn’t he willing to take these steps? I’m glad he isn’t, but I still wonder why. And I wonder about some of his supporters.