Tuesday, July 11, 2006

John Dean on the Daily Show

John Dean, who was White House Counsel to Richard Nixon — in essence, he was Nixon's Harriet Miers — has written a second book harshly critical of the Bush Administration and the alleged conservatives who have fueled the political machine that brought us here. His first book, aptly and directly titled Worse than Watergate: The Secret Presidency of George W. Bush, made the case that the secrecy and hidden agendas of the Bush-43 White House go far beyond anything Nixon did, both in their brazenness and in the seriousness of their ramifications. Dean has now written a second book, spawned by a conversation he had with conservative icon Barry Goldwater before his death, entitled Conservatives without Conscience. Tuesday, Dean was the featured guest on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart; here is a transcript of their conversation.


Jon Stewart: Nice to see you. How are you?

John Dean: Terrific, Jon.

Stewart: The book is called Conservatives without Conscience, on the heels of your other book, Worse than Watergate; I ask you this: what are you driving at? What is your subtle implication here? What is the purpose of Conservatives without Conscience?

Dean: This actually emanated from a conversation back in 1994 with the late Senator Goldwater, where he and I were trying to figure out where in the hell conservatives are going, and he passed away before he had a chance to really be involved in the total project, but I didn't drop it, and I think I found the answers, and that book reports them.

Stewart: Do you consider yourself, if you were to classify yourself in that manner, a "Goldwater conservative"?

Dean: I do. On most issues, I still find myself a Goldwater conservative, which now puts me somewhere left of center.

Stewart: So a "Goldwater conservative" is now a liberal to some extent. This book, though, is almost a scientific approach to where, in some respects, conservatism is going. Talk about that aspect of it.

Dean: Jon, I found — I went down a lot of alleys where I didn't find anything, but I did find a body of academic material that really has never been shared with the general public, the voters, and what have you. It's studies that started after World War II about authoritarian personalities. Why did the people of Italy and Germany follow Mussolini and Hitler? That's where it started — could it ever happen here? Well, the unfortunate —

Stewart: If it does, you will call me?

Dean: I'm trying to give you —

Stewart: I have a bag packed, but I just want to have a couple of days.

Dean: Unfortunately, it could happen here, and it hasn't happened here — we don't typically talk about authoritarianism in democracy — but indeed there is an authoritarian strain that has gotten into the conservative movement. It's sort of a reversion —

Stewart: Isn't the point of those — and I was a psychology major in college, so I've had at least two hours of training in this — wasn't the point of all those experiments where they showed that people would give an electric jolt to strangers just because a guy in a white coat told them to, wasn't the idea based on that we are all closer to falling under the spell of authority than we think, even regular people? Is it fair to say it's a conservative trait, or is it fair to say it's in some ways a human trait?

Dean: In dealing with that, in the Milgram experiments, where he brought people in off the street, and indeed found that he could get them to administer high voltage — what they thought was high voltage, and it wasn't. I deal with that to show how people can set their conscience aside. In other words, how do people go into the CIA every day and carry out some of the orders for torture? How do people go into NSA and turn that incredible apparatus against Americans? This is a typical Milgram situation. I actually go beyond that to find the nature of the authoritarian personality that will follow a leader who is an authoritarian.

Stewart: Do you believe that the conservative movement has been overtaken by — I mean, authoritarianism is another word, I guess, for fascism — or do you think it's a weird confluence of events: an attack on American soil, a government that is unchecked by an oppositional party, in some respects —

Dean: First of all, it's proto-fascism. We're not there yet.

Stewart: We'll get there! You just gotta believe, John! You just gotta believe.

Dean: I'm hoping not, so that's why I try —

Stewart: I think I have faith in the resiliency of this country, that these guys are not the worst we've seen, or maybe even if they are, we're a reasonable enough place that the damage that they do will be repaired.

Dean: I think when people know and understand what's going on — and that's the reason someone like myself does this, is to try to take people where they can't, where they haven't been, and I found this body of material that I really felt needed to be shared. It was an epiphany for me, it answered questions I could not answer. I'm somebody who's been connected in varying degrees of proximity with the conservative movement, really almost since its inception in the modern movement. I didn't understand where it was going and wanted the answers, and I believe I found them.

Stewart: Do you believe it's a conscious effort on their part? You say "without conscience"; that almost suggests that they are willfully ignoring the humanity of people. I sense that with this government, it's not that, it's more, "We have convinced ourselves of the certainty and rightness of this position, and we will not deviate from that, even if everything within our five senses tells us that everything we've done is wrong." But my point is, it's not evil in the sense of "without conscience," it's ignorant in the sense of "I did that?" — that kind of thing.

Dean: Absence of conscience doesn't necessarily mean evil, it means the ability to set aside what's right and wrong. When a Vice President goes to the Congress to lobby for torture, when the President threatens to veto a bill —

Stewart: Now, Cheney I'll go with as evil. I'll go with him as evil. Let me ask you this: on the left, couldn't they argue that, if you look at the 20th century, the two largest authoritarian issues were communism, which was considered the authoritarianism of the left, and Stalinism, and fascism on the right — isn't it a strain in both ideologies?

Dean: No question. You can have it in — where we've never had it is here in America. What's troubling is that conservatives — not all conservatives, by any stretch of the imagination —

Stewart: Just the guys on the cover.

Dean: The guys on the cover and a few inside.

Stewart: Well, it's a really very interesting, and much more scientific, I think, than your other books have been, and I appreciate your coming on and talking about the whole thing. John Dean, Conservatives without Conscience.
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