Banana Republicans: The One-Party State

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"The One-Party State" is the title of chapter three of the 2004 book by Sheldon Rampton and John Stauber, Banana Republicans: How the Right Wing Is Turning America Into a One-Party State (ISBN 1585423424).


One-party dominated states and hierarchical, command-driven social systems are notorious for their tendency to make disastrous decisions, in the areas of both domestic and foreign policy. The U.S. military has a term for this type of information system: "incestuous amplification," which Jane's Defense Weekly defines as "a condition in warfare where one only listens to those who are already in lock-step agreement, reinforcing set beliefs and creating a situation ripe for miscalculation." Psychologists have a similar term: "group polarization," which describes the tendency for like-minded people, talking only with one another, to end up believing a more extreme version of what they thought before they started to talk.

The Republican Party's philosophy and political organizing strategies have been remarkably successful at helping the party achieve and consolidate power in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Simultaneously, however, they have created conditions that make incestuous amplification and group polarization more likely in disparate areas of America's political arena, from government agencies to business lobbies and even within traditionally independent bodies such as the government's scientific advisory boards.

One of the things contributing to "incestuous amplification" is the revolving door between private lobbyists and government officials. This existed, of course, long before George W. Bush became president, but Bush has taken it to new levels. When Bill Clinton assumed the presidency, people who assisted with his presidential transition were barred from lobbying agencies they helped for six months. The Bush administration, by contrast, has seen no problem with having someone work for the White House one day and literally go to work as a lobbyist on the following one.

Much of the real power and influence-peddling in Washington, DC begins on K Street, a nondescript corridor of office buildings located a few blocks north of the White House. K Street is where the big lobbying firms and corporate trade associations have their headquarters. The ability of lobbyists to influence government policy comes in part from the personal relationships they have with their former colleagues, and from the campaign contributions that corporations can channel to politicians who do their bidding.

After Republicans achieved control over all sectors of the federal government in the early 21st century, they pressured the K Street lobby shops to hire only Republicans. Party strategist Grover Norquist is one of the leading masterminds of this strategy. Working with Tom DeLay, the House majority leader, he launched the K Street Project in 1995 to decide which lobbyists "deserves" access to the White House, Congress and federal agencies.

Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum is another key player in the K Street Project. In the months following the 2000 elections that gave Republicans the White House, Santorum began convening a private meeting each Tuesday morning of Republican lobbyists, attended sometimes by representatives from the White House and other senators. At the meeting the lobbyists identify jobs available in various trade associations and corporate offices and Santorum decides who the best candidate is. His decision is then relayed back as to who the Republicans leadership preferred for the job.

Another indicator of the growing closeness of the corporate-conservative relationship is that corporations and their trade lobbies have gone beyond merely trying to influence politicians in Washington and have become propaganda machines that work to sell the Bush administration's policies to the general public too.

Quashing dissenting views has extended further too. Under Republican rule, the Bush administration has begun a disturbing process of subordinating science to politics, with potentially dangerous consequences. To inform its decisions on issues including sex education, environmental health, global warming, workplace safety and AIDS, the Bush administration has used a variety of political litmus tests to create scientific panels stacked heavily with members who have scant scientific credentials but strong industry ties and right-wing agendas. It has altered official government websites, removing scientific information that contradicts the political views of industry groups and the conservative movement. In some cases, scientists have been ordered to remain silent by their politically appointed higher-ups.

Discussion questions

  • Does it matter if one political party dominates all the branches of the national government? Why?
  • What role do lobbying companies play in shaping what the government does? What role do they play in politically supporting the dominant party?
  • Should scientific assessments done by government agencies match the policies of the dominant political party?


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Other external links

  • Ron Suskind, "Without a Doubt," New York Times, October 17, 2004: "Bush's intolerance of doubters has, if anything, increased, and few dare to question him now. A writ of infallibility - a premise beneath the powerful Bushian certainty that has, in many ways, moved mountains - is not just for public consumption: it has guided the inner life of the White House."