At a packed town meeting of over 1,000 people hosted by Democrat Sen. Mark Warner in Fredericksburg, Virginia, a woman prefaced her question by expressing a broader concern: “For the first time I don’t believe the President we have is a patriot. I think a lot of the concern and discontent is less about health care than trusting the agenda of this administration.” Sen. Warner harshly rebuked her, calling the remark offensive and declaring Obama “a great patriot.” Yet judging by the storm of applause that greeted her comment, she echoed the feelings of many others in the hall.
What did patriotism mean to the questioner and that wildly applauding audience? Presumably pride in America, its values and institutions, its freedoms, the opportunities it offers the individual, its efforts to act in accordance with those values both domestically and internationally. And what made many in that audience uneasy – including some who must have voted for him – was the growing sense that their President did not look upon the country the way they did, did not look upon his task to preserve what they believed best about America, but sought to transform these United States according to values deeply alien to theirs.
They were worried by manifold signs of this, small and large, some only assuming their significance in hindsight like that pre-inauguration statement: “We are five days away from fundamentally transforming the United States of America.” There was that surprising deep bow to the Saudi king who represents values as antithetical as imaginable to those of this country. There were the overseas trips with serial apologies for past American behavior to leaders devoid of moral credentials. There was the reaching out to Venezuela’s abhorrent President Chávez. There was the fulsome praise of Islam and its supposed achievements (much of it baseless) in Egypt, the harsh treatment of democratic allies like Israel and Honduras, the indifference to the vicious suppression of Iranians protesting the theft of their election by Ahmadinejad.
Domestically, there was the huge pile-up of debt via the stimulus and de facto nationalizations of much of the housing and automobile industry. Why was Congress pressed to pass literally overnight bills few if any had read? Even more puzzling, why, in a time of economic crisis, did Obama insist on taking over health care? Why the eagerness to ram through a 1,000 page bill prior to the August recess with the potential to turn one seventh of the economy over to the government – and, as the Congressional Budget Office has attested, add trillions in debt – without the normal process of hearings and debate? After all, as Thomas Sowell has noted, the provisions are not designed to go into effect until 2013! Why, with unemployment high and rising, seek to enact a gigantic new tax in the shape of a “cap and trade” bill that all serious studies showed would result in the loss of huge numbers of jobs?
And then there were the czars – Phyllis Schlafly counted 34 of them – paid for by the taxpayer but not subject to Senate confirmation, accountable to no one but the President. Where did they fit in? Were they a species of Commiczars setting policy that the established cabinet members and government bureaucracies would be expected to implement? Even veteran Democrat Sen. Robert Byrd called them a power grab by the executive that violates the constitutional separation of powers. And what a strange lot some of them were. So far out that he had to be thrown overboard was self-styled revolutionary communist “green” Commiczar Van Jones who initially recognized how insane it was for Obama to make him part of his administration. “I burst out laughing because at the time it seemed completely ludicrous that it would even be an option,” he told a reporter in March. (That did not prevent him from portraying himself in his resignation letter six months later as an innocent victim of “a vicious smear campaign” by opponents of health reform.)
To understand Obama and the administration he heads, we have to go back 33 years to the birth of the Carter administration. The ideas and attitudes that animate the current administration go back at least two additional decades, but the significant entry into government positions of acolytes of these notions began with Carter. In 1980, with my husband Erich Isaac, I wrote The Coercive Utopians (published by Regnery). We described the underlying ideas of these utopians, the varying groups from which they sprang (ranging from mainline churches to so-called Naderite public interest groups to environmental groups to select think tanks, notably the Institute for Policy Studies and its spinoffs) and the success they had in obtaining financial backing (initially from a variety of foundations) and, in the Carter years, from government. We said they were utopians because they believed they could create an ideal social order (present evils were the result of a corrupt social system) and coercive because in their zeal for attaining that ideal order they sought to impose their blueprints in ways that went beyond legitimate persuasion.
With their ideological taproot in the New Left of the 1960s, the utopians harbored a bleak view of American domestic institutions and America’s role in the world. They abhorred the American economic system – churchmen because the system fostered competition rather than cooperation; environmentalists because it fostered desire for material goods, polluting the environment; consumer advocates because it produced unsafe goods in the pursuit of profit. As for its actions abroad, many viewed the U.S. as uniquely evil, the chief agent of militarism, imperialism, racism and economic exploitation, the greatest threat to world peace. President of New York City’s Union Theological Seminary John C. Bennett argued that only revolutionary change could remove the U.S. “as a counterrevolutionary force from the backs of the third world countries.” The utopians sought to recast American foreign policy so as to support the societies they believed represented “social justice”- Cuba, Nicaragua (under the Sandinistas), Vietnam, China (under Mao).
The goal, as long-time coercive utopian John Holdren (now Obama’s science Commiczar) put it in 1973, was to “de-develop the United States.” And since the utopians understood that energy was the lifeblood of modern industrial America, their efforts were bent toward putting a tourniquet around centralized energy development. According to utopian Amory Lovins (still going strong although not – yet – in the Obama administration) our energy system was an assault on human dignity. As he wrote in a New York Times op-ed, the ordinary person suffered from a “humiliating dependence on remote bureaucrats who can simply disconnect you.”
The villain, par excellence, was nuclear power, centralized, technologically complex, impossible for the average man to understand. Nuclear energy had been operating safely (with the warm approval of the major environmental organizations) for almost two decades before the utopians discovered that it endangered human survival. And they quickly discovered that they had hit on an issue capable of mobilizing masses to action. Indeed, so successful were they in instilling terror of nuclear power that at the beginning of the 1980s nuclear disarmament proponents were trying to convince the public that nuclear bombs were as dangerous as nuclear energy. Chemist George Kistiakowsky, chairman of The Council for a Livable World, observed in a February 1981 interview: “We have problems in trying to redirect the public fear of nuclear plants into fear of nuclear war.” The utopian campaign against nuclear power was a huge success. Well before Three Mile Island, utilities had thrown in the towel on building new plants.
The utopians were opposed to all traditional energy sources, for they represented what Lovins called “the hard path.” The Natural Resources Defense Council, for example, brought suit against nuclear, coal, oil and hydroelectric projects. And while the utopians advocated what Lovins called the “soft path,” renewable sources of energy like sun and wind, scientist-writer Peter Metzger (from whom we borrowed the term “coercive utopians”) presciently observed that environmentalists are enthusiastic for energy sources as long as they do not exist and predicted the same hostility to solar energy, should it become economically viable. (And indeed, environmentalists are now in the forefront in seeking to block solar energy projects on federal lands – including one in the Mojave Desert announced by Interior Department secretary Salazar on June 29th – on the grounds they threaten endangered species, use vast amounts of water, and require unsightly transmission lines.
The utopians made repeated efforts to take over the Democratic Party, beginning in the 1960s via the so-called “New Politics” that made George McGovern a Presidential candidate. They had their first actual taste of power in the Carter administration when leaders of the coercive utopians were given important posts, in some cases control of government bureaucracies. Writing in Fortune during Carter’s first year, journalist Juan Cameron identified 60 consumer, environmental and public interest activists who immediately moved into sub-cabinet posts and influential White House spots. Posts controlling financial spigots were especially valuable, enabling the utopians to siphon government funds to utopian organizations and programs. ACTION (which in 1993 would be merged into the Corporation for National and Community Service) was handed over to former anti-Vietnam war activist Sam Brown who in turn appointed fellow activist Margery Tabankin as head of VISTA (the largest grantmaker for service and volunteering, now part of Americorps). James Burnley, her successor under Reagan, noted wryly: “If you were a member in good stead of the New Left you were guaranteed help if you had an organization.” ACORN, with its People’s Platform for achieving power (“We will wait no longer for the crumbs at America’s door. We will not be meek, but mighty”) and its Alinsky-style confrontational tactics was the first recipient of a National VISTA grant. A number of training centers for volunteers were funded, all based on Alinsky’s “Rules for Radicals.” (“Give them a taste of blood” said the training manual of the Midwest Academy, one of the grantees.)
But after this confidence-building start (in 1981 Ralph Nader organized a conference bringing together representatives from most utopian groups called hopefully “Taking Charge: the Next 10 Years”) the utopians ran into problems. From Reagan through the second President Bush, no President – including Bill Clinton, who wound up governing from the center – presented them with similar opportunities in their reach for executive power. On the other hand, they extended their grip on the consciousness industry: the universities, the churches and the mass media. And they made steady progress in radicalizing the Democrat Party through think tanks like the Center for American Progress (which replaced the Institute for Policy Studies as chief source of direction for the utopians) and the Institute for America’s Future (Institute for Policy Studies director Robert Borosage became President of this similar but trendier idea factory). For down-and-dirty mobilization in the internet age there was Moveon.org and the Daily Kos. And then, in 2008, the utopians triumphed – one of their own was elected President.
There is a major difference between today and the Carter years. Then, the coercive utopians obtained an important foothold in the bureaucracy. Now they are the government. Obama was marinated in coercive utopian perspectives his entire adult life. In the pews of Reverend Wright for 20 years, the preacher who was to him “like family,” he heard repeatedly that America was the embodiment of racist imperialist evil. Sitting with unrepentant Weather Undergrounder Bill Ayres on the boards of “progressive” foundations like Woods and Joyce, Obama doubtless saw nothing controversial in dispersing money to Rev. Wright’s church, ACORN and the educational enterprises of Ayres and his brother John. Obama himself was a community organizer, a characteristic coercive utopian line of work. He cooperated closely with Chicago ACORN, training its staff.
The Democrat Party now dominates both houses of Congress and the coercive utopians dominate the Democrat Party, despite a few hangdog Blue Dogs. There is no more telling evidence than Alan Colmes’ (formerly of Fox News’ “Hannity and Colmes”) defense of Van Jones, after his forced resignation, as a “mainstream liberal.” Sign a “truther” petition suggesting the U.S. perpetrated 9/11. Describe President Bush’s call for increasing the domestic energy supply as a “crackhead licking the crack pipe for another fix.” Denounce “white environmentalists” for “steering poison into the people-of-color community.” Call for nationwide “resistance” against police. Call for the destruction of Israel. A talk show host who considers himself a standard-bearer for liberalism gives you the kosher stamp as a mainstream liberal.
Controlling the executive and the legislature (and increasingly, the courts), the coercive utopians are able to act on a scale hitherto the stuff of dreams. ACORN’s first government grant in the Carter years was for $470,475. Now despite ongoing investigations of ACORN registration fraud in a dozen states, it is eligible for billions under Obama’s stimulus program. Under Carter, government bureaucracies funded solar energy projects, although typically of the utopians, much of the money intended for solar hardware wound up being used for solar propaganda. Under Obama “green energy” is to receive billions, siphoned off from economically viable energy producers via cap and trade legislation. Van Jones was supposed to be the Commiczar for those billions and he made no secret of what he saw as the real program. “So the green economy will start off as a small subset and we are going to push it and push it and push it until it becomes the engine for transforming the whole society.”
In global warming today’s coercive utopians have discovered the most potent apocalyptic nightmare thus far devised with which to mobilize masses. Act now to contain greenhouse gases or the earth is doomed. At least the pollution with which the utopians in the 1970s frightened the public (“the generations now on earth may be the last” read the cover of one environmentalist handbook) was real. Man-made global warming is science by “consensus” with the consensus manufactured by the media, which treats dissenters as “flat-earthers.” Anyone interested in going beyond the unscientific fear-mongering should read Climate Change Reconsidered (880 pages, not beach chair reading), describing the findings of hundreds of scientists who are not supposed to exist. It includes a statement signed by 31,478 supposedly non-existent scientists that there is no convincing scientific evidence that man-made global warming will cause a catastrophic disruption of the earth’s climate.
The utopians (as some of them have been honest enough to admit) don’t care if the global warming apocalypse is a scam. It provides grounds to take control of energy and with it the economy. As Van Jones put it shortly before his White House departure: “If all you do is have a clean energy revolution, you won’t have done anything…No, we gonna change the whole system.”
The stakes could not be higher as the Obama administration is poised to take over energy and health care. The coercive utopians can bring us to the point where, as the revered Wall Street Journal editor Robert Bartley put it, capitalism “will be unable to deliver on its basic promise of a progressively higher standard of living for the less fortunate…” At that point the coercive utopians will have won, for they will be the anointed ones who allocate, ration and dole out to the dependent masses what is deemed their “fair share” of an ever-shrinking state-controlled economy.
And yet, although they currently ride high, the utopians have an Achilles heel – the public is not with them. People do not like the plans the utopians have for them if fully apprised of what they are. At the 1981 Nader “Taking Charge” conference mentioned earlier, the head of the Midwest Academy, one of the training centers for activists, acknowledged that to obtain power “you may have to waffle and be less clear on certain positions.” Obama himself campaigned as a moderate, a centrist, a pragmatist, dedicated to bipartisanship and fiscal responsibility. On energy he was a master of deception. Obama convinced President of the United Mine Workers Cecil Roberts that he was “a tremendous supporter of coal and the future of coal.” At the same time, caught on YouTube, Obama declared: “If somebody wants to build a coal-powered plant, they can, it’s just that it will bankrupt them because they’re going to be charged a huge sum for all that greenhouse gas that’s being emitted.”
Exposure is what the utopians have greatest reason to fear – as the outpouring of public protest over Obama’s health care power grab illustrated. And exposure is easier now than it was when we wrote The Coercive Utopians. Then we entitled one chapter “The Media: Shield of the Utopians.” This has not changed. To give just one example of the lengths to which the chief organs of opinion go, it took Van Jones’s resignation for the New York Times and major networks to so much as mention the story. There had been a firestorm of publicity leading to that resignation, but it was on Fox News (spearheaded by Glenn Beck), talk radio, the internet, the blogosphere.
What has changed is that establishment media no longer have the stranglehold on news they once did. Those who were dedicated to getting out information in the 1970s, whether it was on funding of terror support groups through church offerings or the false claims against nuclear energy or the activities of the radical institutes, were forced in many cases to create their own small-scale media outlets – circulating reports, starting newsletters. As long as there was only a paper trail, it was much easier for the utopians to claim quotes were “out of context.” With the rise of alternative media, evasions no longer work. A few minutes of watching Rev. Wright or Van Jones ranting on YouTube and it’s all over. It’s precisely because he is afraid of the power of alternative media that Obama appointed Mark Lloyd as “diversity” Commiczar. Lloyd, an avowed admirer of Chávez and his treatment of the media (which was to shut down stations that criticized him), is perhaps the most dangerous appointment of all, for he has a cornucopia of proposals to constrain alternative media. These range from a prohibitive tax on stations broadcasting the likes of Rush Limbaugh (the money used to fund “alternative viewpoints”) to setting up local committees of activists to control what is broadcast to revoking the license of a station that didn’t abide by the new rules.
So the task is to keep the channels of communication open and to clarify the nature of the broader agenda this administration pursues. The woman who stood up at Sen. Warner’s town meeting to say she was concerned about that agenda as much as about Obama’s specific health care proposals had it right. As long as the issue is this bill or that bill, opponents can be picked off, coalitions assembled. It is essential to understand – and bring to a halt – the entire coercive utopian program.
FamilySecurityMatters.org Contributing Editor Rael Jean Isaac is a political sociologist and co-author of The Coercive Utopians published by Regnery in 1983.
Originally published September 11, 2009.