Olbermann Plugs 'Conservatives Without Conscience' Attack on 'Authoritarian' Repubs

On Monday's Countdown show, MSNBC's Keith Olbermann hosted former Nixon White House counsel and frequent Bush administration critic John Dean to talk about his latest book attacking conservatives, titled Conservatives Without Conscience, which the Countdown host labeled "an extraordinary document." Olbermann, who has a long history of bashing President Bush's tactics in the war on terrorism, provided Dean with a sympathetic, nonchallenging forum to argue that modern conservatives are moving the Republican party toward "authoritarianism" as Dean tagged some conservatives as having an "authoritarian personality," and labeled 23 percent of the population as "right-wing authoritarian followers" who are willing to "march over the cliff." Olbermann not only made his latest reference to George Orwell's 1984, but he also found relevance in bringing up Nazi Germany as he wondered if there had been similarity in the "psychological principles" in "Germany and Italy in the 30s," and, quoting a passage from Dean's book, brought up the possibility that conservatives might intentionally "provoke potential terrorists" in an effort to "maintain influence and control of the presidency."

Olbermann began his interview with Dean discussing a recent story about the criticism of the Bush administration by Republican Congressman Peter Hoekstra over the NSA spying controversy. After queuing up Dean to claim former Republican Senator Barry Goldwater, and author of Conscience of a Conservative, would decry the modern Republican party's course, Dean moved on to describe a study by various researchers who claimed many conservatives "fit with the authoritarian personality." Dean contended that a number conservatives "march in lockstep when they get the word from the authority they are expected to follow."

The Countdown host then proceeded to bring up Nazi Germany and Italy's fascism of the 30s: "A lot of [the academic work] is very unsettling. It deals with psychological principles that are frightening and that may have faced other nations at other times in Germany and Italy in the 30s coming to mind in particular. How does it apply now? And to what degree should it scare us? And to what degree is it something that might still be forestalled?"

Olbermann admitted to his overuse of "Orwellian analogies" as he compared al-Qaeda to the Two Minutes Hate from 1984 which served as "an enemy to coalesce around or the whole thing falls apart." Olbermann showed fascination with a passage from Dean's book which suggested that "neoconservatives and many Republicans" might be willing to deliberately "provoke potential terrorists" in order "to maintain influence and control of the presidency." Olbermann continued: "That's ominous not just in the sense that authoritarians involved in conservatism and now Republicanism would politicize counterterror here, which we've already argued that point on many occasions. But are you actually saying here they would set up, encourage terrorism from other countries to set them up as a bogeyman to have again that group to hate here, that group to more importantly afraid of here?"

Olbermann went on to argue that "this all seems to require not merely venality or immorality, but a kind of amorality where morals don't enter into it at all. We're right, so anything we do to preserve our process, our power, even if it by itself is wrong, it's right in the greater sense." After Olbermann asked Dean whom he meant to label as "authoritarian figures," the Countdown host even voiced agreement with Dean's claim that Cheney and Bush are both authoritarian as Olbermann agreed, "Yeah."

Olbermann then implied there was a need for hope that either Bush's followers would "wise up" and stop their "lockstep salute," or that they, apparently referring to Bush and other conservatives in the government, would turn out to be "fanatics" which will cause them to "screw up." Olbermann considered it to be a "lockstep salute" for Bush supporters to claim "of course there's WMD, of course there are terrorists, of course there's al-Qaeda, of course everything is the way the President says it."

After inviting Dean to compare the Watergate activities of the Nixon administration to the Bush administration, Olbermann, bolstering Dean's credibility by referring to him as a "historian" and "a big part of history," wondered if America is "facing a legitimate threat to the concept of democracy." In conclusion, Olbermann gave his approval to Dean's book: "It's an extraordinary document."

Below is a transcript of the portions of Olbermann's interview with Dean during which they discussed Dean's book, from the July 10 Countdown show:

Olbermann: "It's interesting there was so much personal in that letter from Mr. Hoekstra to Mr. Bush, that it seemed that there was as much offense taken that he personally, Mr. Hoekstra did not know what Mr. Bush's people were doing as any violation of law there. Does this sort of segue us into the topic of the book, that there's way too much personal going on here rather than politically professional?"

John Dean: "Well, I think, you know, the question is really what had happened at the presidential or the vice-presidential level. A lot of these efforts to withhold information from the Congress are really coming out Cheney's office. It may well be his office giving instructions, and the President might have given Hoekstra an assurance, 'Hey, I'm going to give you everything I've got when I got it,' and he might have been offended by that. So it's hard to tell. We don't have enough facts yet, but to say again to the end of the book there certainly are a number of conservatives up there who will march in lockstep when they get the word from the authority they are expected to follow."

Olbermann: "That would be the thesis of the book, and we'll go into that at length, but I wanted to start at the very beginning. You dedicated this book to Barry Goldwater. What would he, in your opinion, having known him and having dealt with him on these political issues, have thought of the current conservative movement as it has become? And what would the conservative movement have thought of him at this point? What do they think of him now?"

Dean: "Well, that's a, I think right now we can say -- in fact, I discuss this in the book -- that Goldwater Republicanism is really RIP. It's been put to rest by most of the people who are now active in moving the movement further to the right than it's ever been. I think the Senator before he departed was very distressed with conservatism. In fact, it was our conversations back in 1994 that started this book. It's really where I began. We wanted to find answers to the questions as to why Republicans were acting as they were, why conservatives had taken over the party and were being followed, you know, as easily as they were in taking the party where he didn't think it should go."

Olbermann: "What did you find? In less than 200 pages that the book goes to?"

Dean: "I ran into a massive study that had really been going on for 50 years now, by academics, they've never really shared this with the general public. It's remarkable analysis of the authoritarian personality, both those who are inclined to follow leaders and those who jump in front and want to be the leaders. It was not the opinion of social scientists. It was information they drew by questioning large numbers of people, hundreds of thousands of people, in anonymous testing where they conceded, you know, their innermost feelings and reactions to things. And it turned out that these people were, most of these that came out in the testing were people who had been prequalified to be conservatives, and then they found that this indeed fit with the authoritarian personality."

Olbermann: "Does it really, do the studies indicate that it really has anything to do with the political point-of-view? Is it, would it be easier to essentially superimpose authoritarianism over the right than it would the left? Is it theoretically possible that they could have gone in either direction and it's just a question of people who like to follow other people?"

Dean: "They have found really maybe a small, one percent of the left who follow authoritarianism, probably the far left. But as far as widespread testing, it is just overwhelmingly conservative orientation."

Olbermann: "There is an extraordinary amount of academic work that you quote in the book. A lot of it is very unsettling. It deals with psychological principles that are frightening and that may have faced other nations at other times in Germany and Italy in the 30s coming to mind in particular. How does it apply now? And to what degree should it scare us? And to what degree is it something that might still be forestalled?"

Dean: "Well, to me it was something of an epiphany to run into this information. First, I'd never read about it before, I'd sort of worked my way into it until I found it. It's not generally known out there what's going on. And I think from best we can tell, these people, the followers, a few of them will change their ways when they realize what they're doing. They're not even aware of their behavior. The leaders, those who were inclined to dominate, are not going to change a second. They're going to be what they are. So, by and large, the reason I write about this is I think we need to understand it and realize when you take a certain step and vote a certain way and head in a certain direction where this can end up. So it's sort of a cautionary note. It's a warning as to where this can go because other countries have gone there."

Olbermann: "And the idea of leaders and followers going down this path and perhaps taking a country with them requires, this whole edifice requires an enemy -- communism, al-Qaeda, Democrats, me, whoever -- for the two minutes hate. I mean, there is, we overuse, I overuse the Orwellian analogies to nauseating proportions, but it really was, in reading what you wrote about, and especially what the academics talked about there was that two minutes hate thing. There has to be an opponent, an enemy to coalesce around or the whole thing falls apart. So is that the gist of it?"

Dean: "It is one of the things that, believe it or not, still holds conservatism together because there are many factions in conservatism, and their dislike or hatred of those they portray as liberal, who will be anybody who basically disagrees with them, is one of the cohesive factors. There are a few others, but that's certainly one of the basics. There's no question that the, particularly the followers, they're terribly very aggressive in their effort to pursue and help their authority figure out, or there authority beliefs out. They will do whatever needs to be done in many regards. They will blindly follow. They stay loyal too long. And this is the frightening part of it."

Olbermann: "Let me read something from the book. Let me read this one quote, then I have a question about it. 'Many people believe that neoconservatives and many Republicans appreciate that they are more likely to maintain influence and control of the presidency if the nation remains under ever-increasing threats of terrorism, so they have no hesitation in pursuing policies that can provoke potential terrorists throughout the world.' That's ominous not just in the sense that authoritarians involved in conservatism and now Republicanism would politicize counterterror here, which we've already argued that point on many occasions. But are you actually saying here they would set up, encourage terrorism from other countries to set them up as a bogeyman to have again that group to hate here, that group to more importantly afraid of here?"

Dean: "What I'm saying is that there has been fear mongering the likes of which we have not seen in a long time in this country. It happened early in the Cold War. We got accustomed to it, we learned to live with it, we learned to understand what it was about and get it in proportion. We haven't done that yet with terrorism. And this administration is really capitalizing on it and using it for its political advantage. No question, the academic testing shows, the empirical evidence shows that when people are frightened, they tend to go to these authority figures, they tend to become more conservative. So it's paid off for them politically to do this."

Olbermann: "This all seems to require not merely venality or immorality, but a kind of amorality where morals don't enter into it at all. We're right, so anything we do to preserve our process, our power, even if it by itself is wrong, it's right in the greater sense. It's that wonderful rationalization that everybody uses in small doses throughout their lives. But is this idea, this sort of psychological review of the whole thing, does it apply to Dick Cheney? Does it apply to George Bush? Does it apply to Bill Frist? Who are the names on these authoritarian figures?"

Dean: "You just named three that I discuss in some length in the book. I focused in the book not on the Bush administration and Cheney and the President, but I, because they really, I've been there, done that. But I wanted to understand is what they have done is they've made it legitimate to have authoritarianism. It was already operating on Capitol Hill. After the '94 control by the Republicans of the Congress, it recreated the mood, it restructured the Congress itself in a very authoritarian style, in the House in particular. The Senate hasn't gone there yet, but it's going there because more House members are moving over. This atmosphere is what Bush and Cheney walked into. They are authoritarian personalities, Cheney much more so than Bush."

Olbermann: "Yeah."

Dean: "And they have made it legitimate and they have taken it way past where anybody's ever taken it in the United States."

Olbermann: "Our society's best defense against that is what? Do we have to hope that, as you suggested, the people who follow wise up and break away from this sort of lockstep salute that, well of course they're right, of course there's WMD, of course there are terrorists, of course there's al-Qaeda, of course everything is the way the President says it, or do we rely on the hope that these are fanatics and fanatics always screw up because they would rather believe in their own cause than double-check their own math?"

Dean: "The lead researcher in this field told me, he said I look at the numbers in the United States and I see about 23 percent of the population who are pure right-wing authoritarian followers. They're not going to change. They're going to march over the cliff. The best thing to deal with them, and they're growing, and they have a tremendous influence on Republican politics. The best thing, the best defense is understanding them, to realize what they're doing, how they're doing it, and how they operate. Then it can be kept in perspective. Then they can be seen for what they are."

Olbermann: "Did any of this ring familiar to you from the Nixon administration? Or is this a different world?"

Dean: "No, I must say that about everything that went wrong with Watergate, you could really count to authoritarianism, as well."

Olbermann: "Give me an example. In other words, not getting away with it was a result of it, too?"

Dean: "Take Gordon Liddy and his following whatever Nixon wants, even a hint of anything he wants. Salute, yes sir, let's do it."

Olbermann: "And the story that he has told about you and you've told about him about him saying I have all of this knowledge in my brain that could bring the President of the United States down, tell me to go and stand in a corner and what was the rest of it?"

Dean: "Tell me where you want me shot. He said I don't want you shooting me in my house because I've got children. But shoot me on the street corner. That's a loyal right-wing authoritarian follower in action at the extreme."

Olbermann: "You've been an historian, you've been a part of history. You've been at one of the central moments of history in the 20th century. What kind of danger, are we facing a legitimate threat to the concept of democracy in this country?"

Dean: "I don't think we're in a fascist road right now. We are so close to it though, Keith. That's why I wrote the book. Because I want people to understand exactly what is going on and why it's going on."

Olbermann: "It is an extraordinary document. All the best with it. John Dean, former counsel, White House counsel to Richard Nixon, author of the new book, Conservatives without Conscience. As always, sir, great thanks for coming in."

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