Invasion of the Party Snatchers

Victor Gold, Invasion of the Party Snatchers: How the Holy-Rollers and the Neo-Cons Destroyed the GOP (Naperville, Ill.: Sourcebooks, 2007), 246 pp., $26.95.

The Republican party, nicknamed the “Grand Old Party,” isn’t looking so grand these days. Pompous paladins and frenetic activists alike remain shell-shocked over the GOP’s congressional losses last November. Discord is growing between the Republican legislative minority and President George W. Bush, who appears more isolated from public opinion and disconnected from reality every day.

The Iraqi foreign policy disaster threatens to wreak even more havoc among Republicans in 2008. Despite current polls showing the top GOP candidates to be competitive with the leading Democrats, gloom is spreading among Republican professionals who fear having to campaign next year, their necks wrapped with the twin albatrosses of George W. Bush and the Iraq war. GOP congressmen find themselves caught between a dwindling majority of steadfast Republican voters who insist that lawmakers support the administration despite its continual dissembling, policy fantasies, and exuberant incompetence, and the vast majority of Democrats and independents, as well as a growing minority of Republicans, who are demanding a change in Iraq policy.

Yet the political mess is secondary to the policy disaster. The GOP has become the party of war, committed to Wilsonian meddling in hate-filled lands lacking the most basic civic infrastructure. Iraq has created terrorists and spread terrorism, as well as provided a national training ground for anti-American jihadists.

At home the Republican party has become the advocate of the Nanny State, bloated, expensive, intrusive, and inept. The pursuit of political power and financial spoils held Republicans together over the last six years. But losing their lock on Washington’s levers of power has destroyed GOP unity.

Increasingly traditional conservatives, appalled at the party’s direction, are speaking out. Taboos remain against speaking truth to power: the Bush administration treats dissent as equivalent to treason, the Democrats are equally unprincipled, and the Republican establishment so far dismisses any criticism. But the taboos are finally being broken.

The latest GOP champion to assail the Republican Party, and particularly the Bush administration, is Victor Gold.

Few political activists have a stronger Republican pedigree than Gold. A press aide for 1964 presidential nominee Barry Goldwater and later Vice President Spiro Agnew, Gold also was a speechwriter and adviser to President H.W. Bush. Gold coauthored the latter’s biography.

He also coauthored a novel with Lynne Cheney, wife of the vice president. He cheered the Republican takeover of Congress in 1994 and the presidency in 2000. He was one of those well-connected GOP activists whose loyalty appeared well-nigh absolute. No longer.

Gold has penned a devastating critique of the modern Republican party, Invasion of the Party Snatchers. It is more an angry, emotional rant than an academic treatise. But that adds to its power. Gold is a loyalist betrayed, a partisan set adrift. He explains, in clear, simple language, how the Republican Party has not just strayed from its philosophical heritage, but trashed the principles and memories of those who made the modern GOP.

Gold paints a scene on November 4, 2006 that captures the emotions of many on the Right who once had worked for the Republican party. Writes Gold:

“there I was on election night 2006, an aging Goldwater conservative who felt not only good but also gratified that all this was unraveling state by state and district by district. A Democratic landslide was sweeping a corrupt, self-aggrandizing Republican congressional majority out of power and, hard as they tried, the disingenuous party hacks spouting the White House line on Fox News couldn’t explain it away. What came to mind watching these Beltway blowhards was an old Joe South lyric from the 1970s: ‘These are not my people.'”

He goes on to decry “pork-barrel ear-markers,” “political hatchet men,” and “Bible-thumping hypocrites.” Republican control of Congress and the White House resulted in “everything in government that repelled me about the Democratic party of Lyndon Johnson when I left it to join a nascent conservative movement in Barry Goldwater’s campaign.”

Invasion of the Party Snatchers offers more than a critique of dissolute and incompetent Republicans. Gold reminisces about his time in politics, particularly in working with President George H.W. Bush, whose views and policies were a world apart from those of the latter’s eldest son. He critiques the so-called Gingrich Revolution in Congress – something he first welcomed, but in which he quickly grew disenchanted. He was particularly disappointed in Newt Gingrich, who even now apparently hopes to be president. Gold is not gentle:

“So outraged was Newt Gingrich at Bill Clinton’s scandalous behavior that he vowed to let no day pass without rising to condemn it – this while Gingrich himself, as his wife later discovered, was carrying on a five-year affair with a House aide a quarter-century his junior.

“Newt for president in 2008? Deja vu all over again. But the fact that he’s taken seriously tells us all we need to know about the change that’s taken place in the Republican party since the days of Barry Goldwater.”

From the perspective of one who knows both father and two sons, he argues that Jeb far better represents his father. As for George W., writes Gold, the similarity with George senior “ends with even a cursory look at where the energy goes and what the schedule includes.” The differences, Gold argues, are many.

One of the great ironies, and in this case, profound tragedies, of the 1994 election is that Jeb narrowly lost his race for governor in Florida while George W. was successful in Texas. While it is difficult to predict the course of a Jeb Bush presidency, few who know the two doubt that Jeb was far better qualified and prepared for the job. Writes Gold: “Had Jeb been elected governor of Florida in 1994 rather than four years later, who can doubt – other than the aging Boy Genius, Karl Rove – that he rather than his older brother would have been the Republican presidential nominee in the year 2000 (and would have carried Florida without making a federal case of it)?”

Gold turns his vicious wit on George W. Bush, Richard Cheney, Republican legislators, and the many neocon warrior wannabees. No surprise with a tirade like this, Gold sometimes is over-the-top and off-target. But in the main, he carries his attacks home with energy and verve.

It is a target-rich environment. Many of the issues have been covered by other dissident Republicans, but Invasion of the Party Snatchers offers apt reinforcement. For instance, Gold points to Vice President Richard Cheney, backed by 70 agents when attending a reception at a private home in a D.C. reception. Says Gold: “Clearly, what we’ve had in Dick Cheney is a high-maintenance vice president with an exaggerated sense of al-Qaeda’s outreach and/or his own importance.” This is “all of a pattern, of course, a bizarre manifestation of the full-moon paranoia we first witnessed on 9/11, the day the vice president gave orders that Air Force One, instead of heading directly back to Washington, route the president to a military bunker in heartland Nebraska.”

No surprise, Gold views Cheney as a malign influence in the administration. Although I’ve never believed that Bush was mere Cheney puppet, Gold does know both personalities. He writes: “Dick Cheney as Dick Nixon on andro, George W. Bush as a president on strings. No wonder Brent Scowcroft worries: A vice president in control is bad enough. Worse yet is a vice president out of control.”

Gold also challenges what he calls “the Coulterization of Republican rhetoric.” His focus is not just Ann Coulter – who recently tagged former Sen. John Edwards as a “faggot” – but also Republican politicians, led by the president and especially vice president. Their rhetorical viciousness is extraordinary. When the president said others were either “for us or against us,” writes Gold, “we didn’t know at the time was that the ‘us’ he referred to meant simply him, Dick Cheney, and Donald Rumsfeld. Or that the events of 9/11, which had unified the country in a way Americans hadn’t known since the bombing of Pearl Harbor, would bring on the worst era of Us-versus-Them partisanship in half a century.”

But there is more, the symbiotic relationship between Republicans and a Republican media echo chamber. Gold explains: “It would be twisting history, a la Rumsfeld, to imply that this administration is the first to use dying American soldiers as a propaganda bludgeon against its critics. But no administration since the 20th-century advent of mass communications has ever had the luxury, as does the Bush-Cheney White house, of wielding its bludgeon with a media of its own.”

In the end, he sighs, did we elect conservatives just “to bring back the ethics of Lyndon Johnson and Bill Moyers?” Gold takes on GOP corruption, evident both on Capitol Hill and in the White House, and the increased role in – or even takeover of, in Gold’s view – the Republican party by the Religious Right. Both of these issues have been dealt with by other disgruntled conservatives, but Gold’s views resonate especially given his past service to Barry Goldwater, the former Senator and presidential candidate who criticized the Religious Right before he died. Gold’s opinion of the “Theo-Cons” is venomous:

“Like the radical cadres of the Jacobin Left who took over the Democratic party, state by state, in the McGovernite ’70s, the Theo-Cons regard rejection at the polls, in the Congress, or in the courts, as mere vindication of their view that the American people are being misled by an evil conspiracy of power brokers in Washington and New York. Each defeat fuels their determination to press on with their mission, advance their agenda.”

Gold’s inflamed rhetoric – denouncing “theocracy” and “Holy Rollers” – exaggerates the threat posed by these largely well-meaning though misguided people. Nevertheless, there is substance to his critique. For instance, he points to the tragic case of Terri Schiavo, when a Republican president and Republican-controlled Congress sought to intervene in a family crisis and overturn a state legal proceeding.

Particularly notable is Gold’s rejection of neoconservative warmongering. No one should confuse this Goldwater conservative with a wimp. But Gold – like Ronald Reagan and a succession of other conservative leaders – understood that the chief purpose of possessing a strong military was to deter war, and win any war forced on the nation, not to promiscuously launch unnecessary conflicts. As he explains:

“until recent years the Republican party was anything but the party of war hawks. National defense hawks, yes: President Eisenhower’s cautionary words about ‘the military-industrial complex’ have largely been ignored by GOP lawmakers whenever the Pentagon comes calling. But as to committing American troops to battle overseas, until George H.W. Bush ordered the invasion for Iraq in 1991, no Republican president since William McKinley in 1898 had initiated a war; nor, until Richard Nixon in 1969, had any Republican president opted to carry on a war initiated by a Democratic president.”

Of course, Gold acknowledges, the world has changed since America was founded. But “even if George Washington’s warning against ‘foreign entanglements’ is impracticable in today’s world, the Wilsonian vision of the United States as peacekeeper for the planet is the road to imperial ruin and war without end.”

He primarily blames Iraq on Vice President Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. In a typical outburst he charges: “It’s sufficient for their purpose that the evangelical urban cowboy in the Oval Office does hear voices in the night. Knowing that, they can play off his moralistic self-image to get their plans approved and the troop ships moving.”

Gold wraps up Invasion of the Body Snatchers by discussing how far short of Barry Goldwater fall today’s GOP politicians, including Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who holds Goldwater’s old seat. Of even greater concern is the fact that the current and putative Republican chief executives fall so far short of what we should expect in a president.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers closes by posing two critical questions: “After nearly a decade of Neo/Theo Conservative hegemony over what was once our political home, is the Republican party we once knew salvageable? Or to put it more bluntly (the way Barry Goldwater might), after eight years of George W. Bush and Richard B. Cheney in the White House, is there anything left of the party of Lincoln worth saving?”

Gold answers yes, if just barely, though doing so will not be easy. It is time for Republicans across the country to answer the same two questions, with the same acerbic honesty exhibited by Victor Gold in Invasion of the Party Snatchers.