Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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April 24, 2009

BANANA REPUBLICS.... To paraphrase Inigo Montoya, Republicans keep using this phrase, but I don't think it means what they think it means.

On Tuesday, Karl Rove argued on Fox News that accountability for Bush administration officials who broke the law would make United States "the moral equivalent of a Latin American country run by colonels in mirrored sunglasses."

Almost immediately, the right embraced the argument as their new favorite. In just the past few days, in addition to Rove, the notion of the United States becoming a "Banana Republic" has been touted by radio host Bill Cunningham, Sean Hannity, Mark Steyn, and Glenn Beck, among others.

Yesterday, this blisteringly stupid argument reached the level of the United States Senate. Sens. Kit Bond (R-Mo.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) actually repeated the Rove-inspired nonsense in public:

McCain: "In Banana Republics they prosecute people for actions they didn't agree with under previous administrations."

Bond: "This whole thing about punishing people in past administrations reminds me more of a Banana Republic than the United States of America. We don't criminally prosecute people we disagree with when we change office. There are lots of questions that could have been asked of the Clinton administration failing to recognize the war on terror. They did not. The Bush administration went forward, and that's the way our country should. The President said he was going to be forward looking and now he has opened up the stab in the back."

It would take too long to go through this foolishness word by word, so let's just address the broader point: these Republican lawmakers and officials are all using the same coordinated phrase, but they don't seem to know what a "Banana Republic" is.

One of the distinguishing characteristics of a "Banana Republic" is an unaccountable chief executive who ignores the rule of law when it suits his/her purposes. The ruling junta in a "Banana Republic" eschews accountability, commits heinous acts in secret, tolerates widespread corruption, and generally embraces a totalitarian attitude in which the leader can break laws whenever he/she feels it's justified to protect the state.

Does any of this sound familiar?

Rove, McCain, Bond, Hannity, Beck, et al are so caught up in their partisan rage, they've failed to realize they have the story backwards. They're so far gone, they're so blinded by their rigid ideology, they have no idea that they're projecting. It's genuinely pathetic.

If our goal is to avoid looking like a "Banana Republic," then we would investigate those responsible for torture, which is, not incidentally, illegal. The accused would enjoy the presumption of innocence and due process rights. The process would be transparent, and those who act (and have acted) in our name would be held accountable.

It's the hallmark of a great and stable democracy: we honor the rule of law, even when it's inconvenient, and even when it meets the cries of small men with sad ideas.

To do otherwise, to retreat because a right-wing minority whines incessantly, would do more to make us look like a "Banana Republic" than anything else.

Steve Benen 8:40 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (50)

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Comments

And how breathtaking is it that a Republican talks about going after the Clinton administration for failing to "recognize the war on terror." Where was the War on Terror on September 10, 2001?

Posted by: Virginia on April 24, 2009 at 8:38 AM | PERMALINK

A minor point -- in the sentence beginning "One of the distinguishing characteristics," shouldn't it be "unaccountable chief executive"?

Posted by: CatStaff on April 24, 2009 at 8:43 AM | PERMALINK

I don't think they are really unaware of what a Banana Republic is. This is just another example of projection, where they accuse Democrats of their own weaknesses, thereby diluting the meaning of the accusation and preventing accurate use of the terminology. e.g. "War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, Ignorance is Strength." If words don't mean anything, then our strongest arguments are useless against them and all that matters is ruthlessness, and the Republicans definitely win that battle.

Posted by: tambourine man on April 24, 2009 at 8:44 AM | PERMALINK

This is what spending a lifetime creating your own "reality" does for you.

@Virginia,
Irony of ironies considering that Pres Clinton actually warned the incoming Bush Admin in regards to the threat of AQ. Bush Admin's response? More $ on an a pretty useless Star Wars ABM system and ignoring a certain Aug 2001 Memo.

Posted by: Former Dan on April 24, 2009 at 8:44 AM | PERMALINK

The logic here is painfully clear: these fellers want to establish the frame that the activities in question represent mere "policy disagreements," and not lawbreaking. They can't afford to admit that there is even a QUESTION of whether a law was broken. No one in the new administration is even considering the possibility that this was a mere policy disagreement; the only question is whether a law was actually broken. As soon as the Republicans allow that anything illegal MIGHT have happened, they will start hearing a loud flushing sound as their chances of even maintaining their base go swirling down the pipes.

Posted by: Spanky on April 24, 2009 at 8:53 AM | PERMALINK

Projection, Steve, projection

Posted by: martin on April 24, 2009 at 8:54 AM | PERMALINK

By now the Republicans' use of the shocking comparison as a discussion ender is well understood. Whether it's the US as a "Banana Republic," Obama as a "Socialist Dictator," Michele Obama as "Trash in the White House" we can't let Republicans use their silly talk to divert attention from the liklihood that US laws and international agreements to which our country is a signatory were violated in blatant ways.

Of course the GOP now wants the sordid torture details kept under wraps. But we are a nation of laws; no one is above them, not even millionaire Republicans who make silly talk.

Posted by: pj in jesusland on April 24, 2009 at 8:55 AM | PERMALINK

Well Obama wants to 'put it behind us'

I don't really blame him. I am old enough to remember Jack Kennedy. You want to execute the office. You don't want the office to execute you.

Posted by: SW on April 24, 2009 at 8:56 AM | PERMALINK

Those among us who dare call themselves lawyers or lawmakers, and suggest in public any pursuit of crimes against the law would lead to a lawless outcome should be summarily disbarred and relegated to a nincompoop status! -Kevo

Posted by: kevo on April 24, 2009 at 8:56 AM | PERMALINK

You know, if Bush or Cheney or Rumsfeld or Rove had been discovered to be having sex with a young woman, THAT would be something worth pursuing to the fullest extent of the law. But these are moral men so they should simply be left to live their lives.

Posted by: Lifelong Dem on April 24, 2009 at 9:04 AM | PERMALINK

In all likelihood the Kit-ster was probably drunk. Not making excuses, just stating a fact - he's a lush.

Posted by: Blue Girl on April 24, 2009 at 9:05 AM | PERMALINK

Rove, McCain, Bond, Hannity, Beck, et al are so caught up in their partisan rage, they've failed to realize they have the story backwards.

Yes, they realize it.

Posted by: drew42 on April 24, 2009 at 9:05 AM | PERMALINK

Banana Republicans don't prosecute. That would get in the way of lawbreaking.

Posted by: George on April 24, 2009 at 9:07 AM | PERMALINK

I agree with the right wing fatheads in one respect: In a democracy like American we should, indeed, NEVER prosecute politicians & lawmakers just because their political beliefs differ from those of the current Administration. That would truly be dangerous, reprehensible, and wrong.

But that's not what's happening here.

America's not supposed to torture. And if Americans tortured, they broke the law. Thus, they should be investigated, prosecuted and, if found guilty, punished. That's not a question of differing philosophies. Everyone knows this sad defense of "well, is it really torture" is a desperate Hail Mary play at muddying the issue, and if it does, we leave the door open for this to happen all over agin.

Finally, because pendulums swing & stopped clocks are right twice a day, eventually we'll see a Republican in the White House & a GOP majority in Congress. It'll be "interesting" to see how these fatheads demand Obama and any of his successors be arrested for treason just because their political philosophies differ from the current Administration. Mark my cyberwords.

Posted by: slappy magoo on April 24, 2009 at 9:08 AM | PERMALINK

The logic here is painfully clear: these fellers want to establish the frame that the activities in question represent mere "policy disagreements," and not lawbreaking.

That's what I find completely repulsive. It's just a "policy disagreement"? We tortured people, it was a violation of the law, and we're obligated to investigate and prosecute under the law. Doesn't matter which party's in power or out of power.
You want to talk about a party that criminalized policy differences and wasted the country's time and money on a pointless investigation, look no further than the Repub congress of the 1990s.

Posted by: Allan Snyder on April 24, 2009 at 9:08 AM | PERMALINK

Steve, this is Rove's trademarked move -- attack your opponent for what you yourself are guilty of. He's not blinded by rage; he knows exactly what he is doing. In fact, one of the purposes of this tactic is to fluster and enrage his opponent over the utter brashness of the charge. Don't fall for it.

Posted by: Disputo on April 24, 2009 at 9:09 AM | PERMALINK

The sad thing is, it's not far off from what Obama thinks:

According to a presidential aide, "His whole thing is, 'I banned all this. This chapter is over. What we don't need now is to become a sort of feeding frenzy where we go back and re-litigate all this.'"

http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/archives/individual/2009_04/017884.php

Posted by: George on April 24, 2009 at 9:17 AM | PERMALINK

"There are lots of questions that could have been asked of the Clinton administration failing to recognize the war on terror. They did not. The Bush administration went forward",-Bond

Dear Mr. Embarrassment to Missouri,
there are a lot questions that should be asked about the newly minted 2000 Bush administration not taking Clinton administration advice and dire warnings about terrorism seriously.

My God, projection and history rewriting are rampant.

Posted by: palinoscopy on April 24, 2009 at 9:17 AM | PERMALINK

i'm old enough to remember when castro took over in that country we're apparently not supposed to name anymore (according to one of the diaz-ballerts). they put the torturers of the batista regime up against a wall.
now THAT'S a banana republic!

p.s. ericb, you're an idiot.

[ericb=mhr=banned -Mod]

Posted by: mellowjohn on April 24, 2009 at 9:19 AM | PERMALINK

Intentionally or not, "generals with mirrored sunglasses" and "banana republic" serve as a useful frame for the Republicans. They're too closely identified with the concept "white guys in business suits" for the label "actual generalissimo" to stick. They'd love to have this debate, then, because it would promulgate the cartoon-version of torture and torturers that is the only world in which the government they adulated is innocent.

Posted by: Adam on April 24, 2009 at 9:20 AM | PERMALINK
I don't really blame him. I am old enough to remember Jack Kennedy. You want to execute the office. You don't want the office to execute you.
In Soviet Union, office executes you!

Sorry, couldn't resist. :)

Posted by: Bernard HP Gilroy on April 24, 2009 at 9:27 AM | PERMALINK

Once again, when presented with a clear choice between being a good Republican and being a good American, John Sidney McCain chooses party over country. On THIS subject, McCain's position should be crystal clear.

Shameless. Abso-f-ing-lootly shameless.

Posted by: RussinMass on April 24, 2009 at 9:29 AM | PERMALINK

The whole history of banana republics is not a great chapter in American history. The is shamefully twisted framing which makes this projection even more damning. And they know they are responsible for 9-11 apathy--which makes their defiant blaming of Clinton reprehensible. They are to blame, they are responsible, and they must be held to account forever. This isn't a subject that these cowards can spin into a positive without hurting our country.

NPR this morning tsk-tsked the whole subject of torture as partisanship that Obama swore to avoid. Our media and our opposition party are narcissistic sociopaths.

Posted by: Sparko on April 24, 2009 at 9:47 AM | PERMALINK

This can backfire on Republicans, because a large portion of the youth vote doesn't even know what a "banana republic" is or anything about the phrase's original Cold War context. I just saw a blog comment from a mother who said her 14-year-old son asked her why Republicans were comparing Obama to a clothing store! For a lot of younger voters, comparing Obama to a "banana republic" is like comparing him to Old Navy.

Posted by: jonp72 on April 24, 2009 at 10:03 AM | PERMALINK

None of those people are qualified to work "stock clerk" at a Banana Republic, much less spew what they are spewing now.

Posted by: The Galloping Trollop on April 24, 2009 at 10:05 AM | PERMALINK

The problem is that our Dem leaders continue to act like conservatives' bitches no matter what.

When the Dems were not in power, they basically surrendered their autonomy on war, torture and everything lest the public perceive them as weak.

When they are in power, they just sit by idly even when there is clear evidence of crime by the members of the previous administration as if they are deadly afraid of the name calling by the repubs.

Posted by: gregor on April 24, 2009 at 10:18 AM | PERMALINK

In point of fact, Latin American military dictatorships usually allowed the junta that had preceded them to leave the country. The most significant exception to that rule was Pinochet; Allende would not go quietly, so they took him out in wooden pajamas.

Once again, it doesn't take a Freudian to see the sort of projection that people like Rove (who isn't as stupid as those who repeat his talking points) are engaged in.

Posted by: Henry on April 24, 2009 at 10:20 AM | PERMALINK

Typical Rove. He takes his weakness (that his people pushed the US towards Banana Republic status faster than any admin in recent history) and twists it for his means. Ignore and marginalize these fuckwads. They are running scared.

Posted by: ckelly on April 24, 2009 at 10:27 AM | PERMALINK

April 24, 2009

Day 9 since Obama renounced his oath of office of uphold the Constitution and laws of our country.

All of this equivocating about investigating and prosecuting crimes is enough to make old vets really angry.

It may be politically expedient, but it is wrong, wrong, wrong. It makes a mockery of any professed belief by Obama that he believes in the Constitution and our laws.

Posted by: AngryOldVet on April 24, 2009 at 10:31 AM | PERMALINK

Steve seems to take Rove and Co. too literally. This isn't projection -- it's double speak. Nor are facts and logic at all relevant.

Posted by: Dr Lemming on April 24, 2009 at 10:33 AM | PERMALINK

AOV, I hear you and appreciate what you are saying, but I think he is playing a long game using a gambit that will ultimately be successful, we just don't recognize it because we have never seen it before. I hope so, anyway, because this isn't what I served for.

Posted by: SAC Vet on April 24, 2009 at 10:45 AM | PERMALINK

I don't think they are really unaware of what a Banana Republic is. This is just another example of projection

I agree.

It's not double speak. They know what they are doing and saying.

These right-wingers in the form of Banana Republicans took over the country and ran it into the ground. Now when there is an opportunity to hold those of them who broke the law accountable, their defenders try to twist the meaning in an attempt to poison the public debate (with the media's help).

The best way to respond is with the facts wherever and whenver possible. Never let a distortion or lie go unchallenged.

Posted by: MVPOnline on April 24, 2009 at 10:46 AM | PERMALINK

Not to mention half the people that hear "Banana Republic" will think it's a clothing store next to The Gap.

I love how all the GOP boogeymen references are obscure and dated.

Weather Underground! Saul Alinsky! It's the "Chicago Way!"

Scary stuff.

Posted by: sloan on April 24, 2009 at 10:49 AM | PERMALINK

I wish Obama would just say that he's turning it all over to the DOJ and leave it up to them. If there's a conflict in the DOJ, then appoint a moderate Republican(if there is one out there) as special prosecutor. Take the political accusations off the table and do what we have to do under a binding treaty which is the law of the land under our constitution.

Posted by: Allan Snyder on April 24, 2009 at 11:04 AM | PERMALINK

The 'just following orders' defense didn't work for the nazis, did it?

Posted by: Heathwood on April 24, 2009 at 12:06 PM | PERMALINK

I have just discovered The Huffington Post. This article has "hit the nail on the head"
This site will be now a daily habit for reading material.jas

Posted by: j sieffert on April 24, 2009 at 12:22 PM | PERMALINK
In point of fact, Latin American military dictatorships usually allowed the junta that had preceded them to leave the country. The most significant exception to that rule was Pinochet; Allende would not go quietly, so they took him out in wooden pajamas.

Uh, Henry?
How are you defining Allende as a junta, that preceded Pinochet?

http://dictionary.reference.com/dic?q=junta&search=search

Just curious, I seem to recall some democratic election-type stuff putting him in power.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salvador_Allende

Posted by: kenga on April 24, 2009 at 12:39 PM | PERMALINK

Bond said: "There are lots of questions that could have been asked of the Clinton administration failing to recognize the war on terror. They did not."

Some of the commenters above pointed out that it's a bit unfair to pin "failing to recognize the war on terror" on Clinton, when Bush didnt do anything about it prior to 9/11.

However, I'd prefer to point out the flaw in Bond's logic. Even if you assume that Clinton somehow dropped the ball on protecting the US, it's still not analagous to what's being discussed. Even in a worst-case scenario, no one could realistically claim that Clinton did anything illegal by allegedly "failing to recognize the war on terror".

But that's exactly what is being claimed here, quite persuasively. The Bush administration committed illegal acts. They werent merely negligent; they were criminal.

And I dont recall the Republicans going easy on a President when they believed that he did something criminal, even when it was something that was harmless. So it's hard to understand why they'd have a problem with a President who did something criminal which was very harmful.

Posted by: TG Chicago on April 24, 2009 at 12:51 PM | PERMALINK

There is a racial element to the 'banana republic' term, but that's silly, the republicans would never go there. They are the party of Lincoln, you know.

Posted by: Michael7843853 on April 24, 2009 at 1:03 PM | PERMALINK

Kenga--

Thanks for the correction and chalk that up to imprecision on my part. Allende was the elected President, not a dictator and not a member of a junta. I should have said "leadership"--but I was thinking of a scenario in which one set of colonels replaced another, not the exception I was about to mention in the next sentence.

Arbenz likewise was the elected President, not a dictator and not a member of a junta. But he was, true to the protocol, allowed to leave the country after the colonels overthrew him.

Posted by: Henry on April 24, 2009 at 2:05 PM | PERMALINK

I don't think anyone's mentioned the original derivation of the term "Banana Republic."

O.Henry coined it to describe Honduras after the American firm, United Fruit, exploited the country and corrupted the government in order to advance its banana exports, among other things.

The guys from United Fruit later went to work for the Truman and Eisenhower administrations destabilizing Guatemala.

Rich irony, indeed:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Banana_republic

Posted by: Jeff Wenker on April 24, 2009 at 2:34 PM | PERMALINK

Arbenz was overthrown by a CIA-backed coup. Which led to 30 years of civil war. USA! USA!

Posted by: Chris on April 24, 2009 at 2:56 PM | PERMALINK

The use of Banana Republic as a dictatorship is over 100 years old. I can't remeber the last coup in South or Central America. I think it was Bush 41 invasion of Panama, 1989. Most of those countries have elections regularly since the Sandinistas relinquished power in an election.

For many Americans it is a store.

Posted by: Nardwilly on April 24, 2009 at 3:38 PM | PERMALINK

Actually, it was Andre the Giant's character that made the statement you attribute to Inigo Montoya.

Posted by: TomC on April 24, 2009 at 3:55 PM | PERMALINK

No, no, no!

Marxist Chilean President Salvadore Allende committed SUICIDE, dammit!

You liberals always twist this stuff around.

According to the autopsy, he shot himself in the back 34 times with a machine gun from a distance of about 50 feet.

That's the official version. But I know better: He died of a self-inflicted airstrike.

Poor, slandered Augusto Pinochet was a deeply committed Chilean patriot, concerned with keeping Marxism out of his beloved bananas -- a patriot a lot, now that I think about it, like Karl Rove or Dick Cheney.

Posted by: Hart Wms. on April 24, 2009 at 4:52 PM | PERMALINK

@tomc

No. It was Inigo Montoya to Fezzini when they were climbing the Cliffs of Insanity. The word was "inconceivable."

Posted by: Hart Wms. on April 24, 2009 at 4:54 PM | PERMALINK

I thought a banana republic was always headed by some commander-guy who wore military uniforms and started stupid needless wars to build his ego.

But then, they also tend to KILL their opposition instead of prosecuting them. It's the larger countries, like the Soviet Union or Mao's China, which used kangaroo courts because they wanted to influence international public opinoion BEFORE killing their opponents.

The 1980s movie, Moon over Parador, is a hoot. It stars Richard Dreyfuss as an unlucky guy who looks a lot like the el Presidente that just died.

Posted by: MarkH on April 24, 2009 at 5:33 PM | PERMALINK

A truth commission and prosecutions would, in fact, make America look like one of those developing countries pulling itself out of a recent period of lawless rule by the government's predecessors. Rove is following his repeatedly stated strategy of attacking an opponents' strengths. The public result of a law-abiding, honest process of investigation would paint the Bush administration as a group of corrupt men hidden behind mirrored sunglasses, and would make the Obama administration appear heroic. So the talking point is to pretend the exact opposite is true.

Posted by: John Bird on April 24, 2009 at 5:40 PM | PERMALINK

Obama wants to 'put it behind us'

I don't think he means what you think he means.
If I was guilty, I would be watching my back from now on.

Posted by: uptown on April 24, 2009 at 6:20 PM | PERMALINK

It has become rather clear that the whole political right is solely inhabited by a choir of well-dressed castratos singing together in perfect harmony: They sing the words from memory, but obviously do not speak or understand the language themselves.

(There is just so long suspension of disbelief can last - we gave them benefit of the doubt long enough.)

One wonders who writes all those cognitively dissonant tunes...


Posted by: Ptath on April 25, 2009 at 9:29 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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