Kevin Phillips discusses American Theocracy: The Peril and Politics of Radical Religion, Oil, and Borrowed Money in the 21st Century.
Phillips predicted in 1969 that the growing populations of the South and West would build a stronger Republican Party and a more stable, orderly country. Four decades later, he is scathingly critical of the "erring Republican majority." He addresses the expanding national debt, increasing oil consumption and the breakdown of the wall between religion and state.
Cortis has more than 25 years' investment and wealth management experience, including 12 with Mellon. He led Mellon's expansion into the Northwest when it acquired The Trust Company of Washington, and he grew client assets to more than $1 billion. Before joining Mellon, he was executive vice president for Bank of San Francisco, managing their private banking group.
Cortis is active in the community, recently serving as a trustee of several Seattle-area art organizations. He received his bachelor's degree from Loyola College of Maryland and an MBA from Golden Gate University, San Francisco.
Gerald C. Lubenow
Jerry Lubenow consults on a wide variety of projects for Center on Politics and the Publications Division at the Institute of Governmental Studies. He received his B.A. from Harvard and did graduate work in journalism at the University of Wisconsin. He joined Newsweek as a correspondent in 1965 and served as bureau chief in San Francisco and London from 1969 to 1989. He covered the presidential campaigns of George Wallace, Hubert Humphrey, George McGovern, Jerry Brown, and Ronald Reagan.
Lubenow received the Gavel Award of the American Bar Association and two Page One Awards from the Newspaper Guild of New York, one for National Reporting and another for News Feature Writing. He is the Editor of California Votes: The 1990 Governor's Race, California Votes: the 1994 Governor's Race, and California Votes: the 1998 Governor's Race.
Kevin Phillips is the author of American Theocracy: The Peril and Politics of Radical Religion, Oil, and Borrowed Money in the 21st Century.
Phillips is a political writer and commentator. Formerly a Republican strategist, Phillips has become disaffected with his former party over the last two decades, and is now one of its harshest critics.
He is a regular contributor to the Los Angeles Times and National Public Radio, and is a political analyst on PBS' NOW with Bill Moyers.
Government by divine guidance or by officials who are regarded as divinely guided. In many theocracies, government leaders are members of the clergy, and the state's legal system is based on religious law. Theocratic rule was typical of early civilizations. The Enlightenment marked the end of theocracy in most Western countries. Contemporary examples of theocracies include Saudi Arabia, Iran, and the Vatican. See alsochurch and state; divine kingship.
Good afternoon and welcome to today's meeting of the Commonwealth Club ofCalifornia. I am Jack Cortis, President of Mellon Private Wealth Management ofNorthern California and the Commonwealth Clubs Quarterly Chair. It is my pleasure tointroduce our distinguished speaker Kevin Phillips, former Republican strategist, politicalanalyst and author of "American Theocracy". Forty years ago Mr. Phillips began work onhis book the Emerging Republican majority. In it he argued that the movement of peopleand resources from the old Northern industrial states into the South and West wouldproduce 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 fosterthe changes he predicted. In the time since he has remained a prolific and importantpolitical commentator. He has worked as a contributing columnist for the Los AngelesTimes and the Wall Street Journal. He was a commentator for the CBS TV News forseveral Democratic and Republican conventions and as a commentator for National Public RadioMr. Phillips no longer sees the Republican Party as a source of stability and order. He haswritten extensively about devastating cultural trends that undermined his earlier visionthat had been made worse by the current administration. He is now a powerfulindependent critic of the party and it's abandonment of its own principles. Pleasewelcome Kevin Phillips.I think that introduction can safely be said not to represent the view point of theRepublican National Committee at the present time. What I am trying to talk about todaywill be the ideas that are in my book American Theocracy. The sub title of which is theperil in politics of radical religion, oil and borrowed money. And there is a reason forthese three subjects which I will get to in a minute. But some people here may have readit. For those I will try to emphasize more of what I put in a new a much largerintroduction including the 2006 elections. It's in the paperback that just came out. What Iwill also go through enough of the basic thesis that it should work for, for those whoaren't familiar with the book at all either. The essence of the idea comes from two thingsthat I have been writing about and doing really now for several decades. Obviously thefirst goes way back to the emerging Republican majority. That's the notion of what hashappened to the Republican coalition, how has it changed, what has it become. What hasit 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 thebook in the previous version which I have done in the introduction is that for the last twodecades or so beginning with economic issues, I have been looking at a comparisonbetween and the previous leading world economic powers which you could describe moresimply as empires although that's not a perfect description of them and sort of what wentwrong in those countries and what we had to look out for in the United States and as Imentioned it started really with economics. I could see that the parallels between theeconomic problems that drive down these countries and the once you could start seeing inthe United States in the 1980s and the 1990s was quite significant but in the last decadeor so, it's gone much, much beyond that and as a result, part of what I do in this book, isto look at United States through the lens of what were really the five or six majorproblems that you could see in the previous leading world economic powers and theyreally 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 thenation had been, you know, losing the old morality, the old patriotism. There was alwayssome sense of something going wrong. Generally interpreted differently by the peoplewho were on the conservative side and those who were on what you could call the eitherthe progressive or liberal side.The second and this is where it times into one of the fundamental controversies is thatyou can see a role of religion in each of these peak trajectories and then declines andpeople will say obviously this is a pejorative view. It is in a sense because what it says isthat there comes a point where religion can go too far and it's often been the case thatthat's happened in these trajectories and it's happened in different ways. Under Romewhen Gibbon wrote his famous book on the Decline of the Roman Empire it was thatChristianity became a state church and the old sort of easy going approach diminishedand tensions within the Roman Empire which was already retreating were exacerbatedwhen Christianity became a state church and dissent wasn't tolerated.For the Spanish obviously they had the inquisition, they harnessed the power of Spain'smight at that point in time in the 16th, early 17th century but to the advantage of thecatholic church and basically lost a lot doing so. Dutch it's harder to explain, but if yougo on with the British what you get is a kind of moral imperialism, an evangelicalChristianity and trying to bring the benefits of representative government, Democracyaround the world and they pretty much overdid it and all of this is developed at a good bitmoral length. But the long and short of it is there are reasons to look for these excesses ofreligion, whether it be a state church or whether it be a crusading approach to a worldpolitics or whether it be moral evangelism, all of these have been present and I think theyare clearly present today.Now the third aspect which the United States is beginning to match some of theseprevious examples was the one that I really got into first which was what you can see inthe economic side and books that I was writing back in the 1980s and 1990s picked up onthis. And very much what happens, as a country attains this world stature it pays lessattention 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 flourishedhad the greatest benefit for the greatest number of people and what happens as any ofthese countries became the world force. I mean, even the Dutch when New York wasNew Amsterdam they had colonies all over the world. Trading stations in Japan and sugarfactories in Brazil and all kinds of things but what happens is you get economicpolarization, finance develops, a lot of services develop out of world supremacy kind ofglobalization and the upshot is you get more and more concentrating at the top in terms ofwealth, less and less attention to these old things that the people used to do and bit by bitit gets to a dangerous level and when something goes wrong with the economy it's notbroad based economy anymore.Now the fourth yardstick to use here is that you get military and geopolitical hubris inoverreach, very easily documented in all of this. It's expensive so the fifth thing is thatyou get debt. You get a measure built up in debt, from all of these geopoliticalinsistences, pretences, programs that people can no longer afford and that becomesanother major hallmark and of course, it increases the vulnerability of the country asthings start to go wrong. Obviously all of these things are going on in the United Statesand the question is how much and my argument would be quite a bit. Now I suppose thelast partial analogy which it only works for Britain and for Holland has to do with oil andenergy. In the case of the Dutch and in the case of the British they had an idiosyncraticenergy development that worked very well for them and when the energy regime shiftedto something else in the world they couldn't keep. The Dutch for example, wind andwater where what they did so well with whether it's reclaiming land from the sea ordesigning ships or windmills, that became little factories, they were terrific at it.When Britain, which was a essentially idiosyncratically attuned to coal, started to developthe industrial revolution in the United Kingdom and coal came to the fore while theDutch just couldn't hack it in terms of international economic competition after that. TheBritish 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 Churchillbecause he was concerned about the British navy, 1908-1910 when he was first wardthe admiralty. Not because of industry, even when I was at school over in Britain in thelate 1950s and early 1960s it was still coal based economy. They were not attuned to oilin the way they should have been and the Empire had a fair amount of oil and they wouldhave 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 thecountry that has grown up around oil. It goes all the way back, not simply to drilled oil ofthe 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 ofpetroleum. And they developed enough of a market in the United States so as the oilsbegan 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 wascertainly 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 UnitedStates was built around oil, the whole residential pattern, where people live, how theytheir transportation patterns around oil. The notion that as oil runs out for us and as welose control over it, if the United States can maintain that world role, without having theoil centrality globally that it's had for so long and it's losing rapidly now. There is just noevidence 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 Iraqwas fundamentally an oil war and the botching of the war in Iraq was in many ways avery important miscarriage of the US energy policy.Now this is something I got into more in the introduction to the in the paperbackversion. Simply because I had stated a lot of what was going in oil and what the defeat ofthe United States meant in terms of oil policy but it wasn't organized to make the casethat it was an oil war that we lost. Now in the course of the last year, both from thingsthat have come out about what Bush discussed and what he told people in Congress in hisbriefings. From analysis by economists, even from the reactions of OPEC and a numberof the other oil producing countries it's pretty clear that we paid a huge price in terms oftheir attitude towards the dollar and towards American oil needs. It meant even the Saudiswon't pump more oil when we want it. They feel they are probably running out and whyshould 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 thenbecame the economist for the World Bank Joe Stiglitz computed with an associate thatwhen you added up all the cost of Iraq you could probably make the case at 60-70 percentof the change in the oil price between 2003 and this past year which is when he releasedhis calculations. The great bulk of this came from the fumble in Iraq and there is wholelot of details there. Not simply on the reactions of other oil producers and the failure of aconcerted American plan that if Iraq could be taken over successfully you could use Iraqioil 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 ofdamage to the oil fields as a result, Iraqi production is way down. OPEC, whichunderstands what the game was, is now cutting the United States not a whole lot of slackand the analysis of how much responsibility should be assigned to what wasmiscalculated in Iraq, for what's happened to the US energy circumstances is catchinghold. I spoke to a group of the Democrats back last year and had some interestingconversations 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 thatwe get access to when he was busy discussing them and naming them and of course, thisis at the same time as they are all saying oil has nothing to do with it. And they had TonyBlair saying oil had nothing to do with it and the only one who didn't say this was DickCheney. I mean, Dick Cheney could no more stand up and say oil had nothing to do withit. He wouldn't be credible. He has made too many speeches that were too much to thepoint before he became Vice President but it's just an amazing thing to me along with allthe weapons of mass-destruction miscalculation, the way the whole oil circumstance wasmade so much more difficult for the United States by this cocky incompetence that wenton there and there are there are lots of dimensions to this and if anybody is totally into oilI will be glad to pick up further with them but let me move on to the next question nowwhich is radical religion.Now part of what I had studied pretty carefully in working up the emerging Republicanmajority which was used in the Republican campaign in the '68 and they actuallydistributed parts of it. So it was connected to their thought process was that you wouldprobably have more of a religious texture to the Republican party after these changes tookplace in the electorate because you would be pulling in huge concentrations of religiousDemocrats. Southern white Protestants of southern Baptist evangelicals, Pentecostals, allthe different variations that concentrated in the south within the Democratic party as wellas Northern Catholic ethnic groups.Well we didn't anticipate obviously the degree to which this was true because partly theother thing that was happening was this massive backlash against secular and what theconservatives called, secular humanism and the country got steadily more religious andsteadily more religious in the direction of evangelicals, fundamentalists and Pentecostalsand 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 theybasically outnumber mainline Protestants by about 2.5 to one and the change in theelectorate in this direction is such, has been such, that the Republican Party becameincreasingly the party of Americans who attended religious services. It got to the point in2000 and 2004 after slowly developing and then taking off during the 1990s that about 70percent of the people who regularly attended church services voted for George W. and asthis happened to the Democrats they became more secular and less interested in religiousissues, 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 theRepublican 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 foreignpolicy should represent religious principals too. You get a obviously a focus on theMiddle 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 inArmageddon and the end times. And among evangelicals it was in the 70s. So my guesswas that roughly 50-55-57 percent of Republican voters for Bush would have answeredthat question that way.So what we get is this concentration of voters in the Republican Party who have areligious view, in some extent, of foreign policy and of domestic policy and issues likeabortion and evolution and stem-cell research and even women's rights to a certainextent, their view of the environment and geology's influence by a biblical sense ofcreation. Again there is lot of this in the book I don't have time to go through it, but theimpact 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 after9/11 and George W. back in 1999 and 2000 has said he thought God wanted him to runfor President. Well by the time 9/11 came to pass, you will all remember and it has beenwritten up widely, the religiofication of public dialogue, all the analysis of the increasingreligious content of his speeches. Obviously he started taking it a bit more seriously hisown role in this than he had before. And right after 9/11 there had been a poll takenamong religious right leaders in Washington DC and Northern Virginia. And PatRobertson who just retired as the Head of the Conservative Coalition and these peoplewhere asked who was going to replace Pat Robertson as the leader of the religious rightand the answer from these people was well that - that there was not any question. Godknew 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 thetitle American Theocracy pre-supposes in the the hard cover version of the book. I amtalking about a broader definition of theocracy that included certain things having to dowith the leadership. But, and I said you couldn't really go much further than we had underthis 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 forGod, 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 tryinto go into the details again, there are spelled out. But there were two situations in whichhe sort of expressed himself in this vein. One was actually shown in an interview ontelevision, 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 aPalestinian cabinet. He spoke to them at Aqaba, Jordon at a meeting and they quoted himand they said this on camera and the BBC ran it. He said God told me to strikeAfghanistan and I did. God told me to liberate Iraq and I did and now God is telling me tobring peace to the Middle East and when the BBC ran this of then the White House gotagitated 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 flatout denied the interview had taken place. Then the second one that fascinated me was in2004, in Pennsylvania George W. went and had a meeting with the Old Order Amish andafter his meeting with the Amish he had gone into a barn with just these 40 or 50 and thenthey came out and the press asked the people who were in the meeting with George Wwhat 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 findthe 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 goingon 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 hestill thinks it that way. He maybe starting to think that the, you know, lot of static on thephone and he wasn't getting the right information. So anyway I take this seriously enoughto raise it as something we should be concerned about. If if he was obviously somebodywho was a religious delusionary, you could have a committee under the 25th Amendmentwhich could move to it wouldn't be competent to be president, you could move on thatfront, the disability. But the arrangement setup makes it impossible when you have, youknow, the people like the Democrats who are, you know, not even just afraid of theirshadow, 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 andnone of this gets worked. So this is another aspect to me which is very difficult thing. Thelast aspect here has to do with debt. And the United States obviously has debt in everyflavor you can imagine. I mean, it's like the old Howard Johnson's ice cream, if you nameall 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 Nationaldebt. And it includes all these things that everybody is getting nervous about now whenthe economy, whether its derivative instruments or sub prime mortgages or all of theseexotic 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 productsin financial services which is finance insurance and real estate, the financial side of realestate, accounted for only 11. By the time we got to 2003-2004 financial services were at20.5 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 involveddebt. Debt that nobody quite knows what it's going to mean, you can't even quite explainthe structure. I am sure there are few people here from parts of the financial sector and Ithink 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 intofinance and how little we know about what will happen if there is in fact a major creditcrunch in the United States. I think we do have an extension of stock market bubble in theform 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 closelyinvolved. I thought by the time I got into analyzing what had happened that it was anunstable coalition in terms of it's religious make up, that the Republican Party hadhistorically been the party of a more sedate northern Protestantism, main lineProtestantism. And this was an overload that probably its northern constituents didn'tfully appreciate. I certainly hadn't appreciated it even during the 1980s when it wasstarting 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 anythinghaving to do with the interface of science in morality or science in medicine, science indrug policy. All of these were (indiscernible) obviously down in Florida. All of thesewere starting to play havoc with the Republican coalition in the sense of the oldRepublican coalition. The more moderate northern Christian voters who weren't part of theevangelical fundamentalist or Pentecostal movement.And sure enough in November of 2006 you had a lot of racist in which all of this wasfront and center. And the most important were in Ohio and Pennsylvania, two absolutelyvital 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 theRepublican candidate was a flat out religious right supporter, who was in league with allthe different groups of pastors and religious right organizations, has got absolutelysmashed 60-40. I looked at this election in great detail, right next door in Pennsylvaniawhere a number of the cases have come very much to the floor. For example evolutionand so called intelligent design was knocked out by a Republican district judge inPennsylvania and the Democrats were making all these issues pushing them to the forefront.Incumbent Republican Senator very strongly supportive of the religious right was beaten60 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 illadvised term. One of my old friends, he was a leader of the religious right and was long inthe tooth as I am now, didn't do too much any more but he said the real test if thewhether, you know, God is a Republican because for the Republicans to win inNovember 2006 would, you know, take a miracle. He told it better than I do. But the longand the short of it was that if they thought that God was a Republican, if they didn't getthe 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, forexample, 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 55-45but the thing that was very surprising was that in South Dakota they put an anti-gaymarriage ballot proposition through but it only got 52 percent of the vote. The centristturnout was so high that it was, it drove it down from what would have been 65 percenttwo years earlier. In Arizona they couldn't even get a gay marriage amendment through. Itwas beaten. And my reading when all of this stuff was pushed front and center in theelections it was devastating for the Republicans. Which makes me think it's going to bedifficult 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 waysout of gas and isn't going to be able to win again unless you either get the whole terroristor geopolitical thing revved up again or the Democrats reach into their bag of incredibletalent and you know, come up with another one of these John Kerrys, where you just wantto pick somebody who is the wrong type of nominee. You get a guy married to abillionaire heiress, who was skull and bones and went to Yale. I mean, that's just drivingright for the heart of Middle America. You see that working in Bakersfield. So that'sthat's my conclusion here. All of this is out there. I think, the religious right part they arein trouble. They maybe able to build back in but right now they are in big trouble. And Ithink the Republican coalition is going to be very hard pressed to hold on. And but youcan fairly ask you know, he is going to be in there for another year and a half. What canhappen? I don't, entirely want to think about it either so I will stop on that note.Thank you.