WHAT’S A REGIME?

Sam Smith

Chris Matthews and David Corn have gotten extremely upset about the use of the word “regime” to refer to the Obama administration. You might even call them regimaphobes or anti-regime extremists or regime conspiracy theorists – that is if you write like Chris Matthews and David Corn.

Corn thinks those who use the term “regime” are dangerous because “extreme rhetoric can lead to extreme action” and he adds,  “to those who accused Chris Matthews and me of being too tough on Republicans, I say: If you lie down with “Nazi”-chanters, you get up with a responsibility for what they might do.”

Matthews was even more upset: “I’ve never seen language like this in the American press – referring to an elected representative government, elected in a totally fair, democratic, American election — we will have another one in November, we’ll have another one for president in a couple years — fair, free, and wonderful democracy we have in this country. . . We know that word, ‘regime.’ It was used by George Bush, ‘regime change.’ You go to war with regimes. Regimes are tyrannies. They’re juntas. They’re military coups. The use of the word ‘regime’ in American political parlance is unacceptable, and someone should tell the walrus [Limbaugh] to stop using it.”

Leaving aside the fact that Matthews is forgetful as well as inaccurate – he used the term “Bush regime” at least once – there are two reasons the pair strike me as extremists (albeit just dumb, not dangerous) on the topic.

The first is that I was either the first, or one of the first, to use the term to describe what was happening under Bill Clinton. I then followed the practice with George Bush.

It seemed that we needed a new term to describe administrations run by corrupt power hogs and, contrary to Chris Matthews’ claim, there was nothing “totally fair” and democratic about American elections.

In 1997, I offered the notion of mob politics as having gained a foothold with Jack Kennedy and had been growing ever since. For example, the 1960 election, the Castro assassination attempts, the Bay of Pigs, and perhaps even Kennedy’s assassination had mob connections.

Under Nixon, we had CHAOS, a massive covert program of spying on, and disruption of, progressive groups. Nixon conducted a secret illegal war in Cambodia and planned the demise of democracy in Chile along with the assassination of its president. Watergate was the biggest presidential scandal yet in American history

Under Reagan, we had the S&L and BCCI scandals. We had Iran-Contra, the flourishing of the western hemispheric drug trade, domestic spying and the “continuity in government” scheme.

Under Daddy Bush we had the Iran-Contra cover-up, BCCI cover-up and S&L cover-up. George Bush, the first ex-CIA operative and director to be elected president, presided during an extensive cover-up of the Iran-Contra affair. Also under Bush, the lid was kept on the more embarrassing aspects of the BCCI scandal. Most of those involved in the S&L scandals also went unpunished. Other individuals and corporations picked up distressed property at fire sale prices while the taxpayers footed the bill.

And with Clinton we had administration officials and close friends of the president involved in complex and sprawling scandals growing out of Arkansas mob politics. Allegations included financial misdeeds, drug running, abuse of FBI files and obstruction of justice.

Add to this the steady disappearance of constitutional protections and it all made “regime” seem like a pretty good word.

But if Corn and Matthews want to pretend that none of this happened, then they should at least check the dictionary. Here’s how Wikipedia describes it:

“In politics, a regime is the form of government: the set of rules, cultural or social norms, etc. that regulate the operation of government and its interactions with society. For instance, the United States has one of the oldest regimes still active in the world, dating to the ratification of its Constitution in 1789. Although modern usage often gives the term a negative connotation, like an authoritarian one, Webster’s definition clearly states that the word ‘regime’ refers simply to a form of government.”

On one point, however, I agree with this pair of liberal scolds. Obama’s operation does not yet deserve the title of regime. A regime implies order and discipline. Obama’s administration is much to closer to what I have dubbed an “adhocracy,” in which those in power play it all by ear – a particularly dangerous activity when, like Obama and his buddies, one is tone deaf.

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