I first met Sidney Blumenthal in the early Seventies when we worked together on an alternative weekly newspaper in Boston. In the 35 years or so since then, Sidney has carved out a dual career as one of America’s most astute political commentators and a political adviser. As a journalist, he has written for The New Republic, the Washington Post, and the New Yorker, and, more recently served as a columnist for Salon.com and The Guardian. He is also the author of six previous books on politics and the executive producer of Taxi to the Dark Side, the Oscar-winning documentary about the Bush administration torture policies and practices. And, of course, he has served as senior adviser to President Bill Clinton and to Hillary Clinton during her recent presidential campaign.
If Sidney is controversial—and he often is—it is largely because of his prescience. His 1986 book The Rise of the Counter-Establishment, the first serious critique of neo-conservatism, chronicled the birth of the neocon infrastructure that ultimately paved the way for the disastrous policies of the Bush-Cheney administration. (The Rise of the Counter-Establishment has been reissued this summer as well, by Union Square Press, with a new introduction about Cheney’s roots in neoconservativism.) In The Clinton Wars, he gives an insider’s account of the all-out assault of movement conservatives on the Clinton Administration (at a time when the notion of “a vast right-wing conspiracy” was still ridiculed by liberals.) And in the movie, Taxi to the Dark Side, thanks to Sidney and director Alex Gibney, we finally confront in the most compelling way imaginable, the horrifying reality of the Bush administration’s torture policies, the impact of those policies on its innocent victims, and the chain of command within the Bush administration that implemented to those policies.
Sidney’s newest book, < The Strange Death of Republican America: Chronicles of a Collapsing Party, is his second collection of pieces about the Bush administration (the first was How Bush Rules: Chronicles of a Radical Regime). The two books serve as book ends to Bush-Cheney era and provide an extraordinary analysis(often laced with a mordant wit) of one of the most appalling eras in American history. Perhaps because of his service in the Clinton administration, Sidney understands the different cultures of the various federal bureaucracies as few journalists do. As a result, his columns are much more than mere litanies of the various transgressions of the Bush administration. Rather, we see the Karl Rove’s Permanent Majority and Dick Cheney’s Unitary Executive as part of an historic revival of American Exceptionalism, a revival that provides rationales for unilateral and preemptive military action against Iraq, the circumvention and subversion of the national intelligence apparatus, the implementation of torture policies and the suspension of habeas corpus, the politicization of the judiciary, and the elimination of so many of the checks and balances that are essential to our democracy.
As the subtitle of his new book suggests (Chronicles of a Collapsing Party), Sidney also shows the internal contradictions of these forces as they emerge, containing within them the seeds of their own destruction.
With the Democratic National Convention just over, and the Republican National Convention about to begin, it would be hard to think of a more propitious time to ask Sidney a few questions about the current state of American politics and what the immediate future holds. I’m particularly interested in the idea that the collapse of the Republican Party has a corollary—namely, the demise of the GOP presents an historic opportunity for the Democrats to firmly take the reins of power. After all, the vast majority of Americans are displeased with direction of the country, and a new generation is coming of age having suffered through eight years of Bush. To start off the conversation, I’d like to ask Sidney to what extent is does this election provide an historic opportunity for the Democrats, and, in the context of the recent Democratic Convention, do you think they will they take advantage of it?
For information about The Fall of the House of Bush and to buy the book, go to : www.craigunger.com