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They’re like a heavy metal band. Dress them up in black, put some Goth makeup on them, give them a name like The Apocalyptics, and they’d fit right in with the head-banger crowd. After all, it’s mostly doom and gloom with the Republican candidates, particularly when they start in on foreign policy. The lead singer for a while, Michele Bachmann, loved to croon about the world entering its final days. Bass player Rick Perry has rapped about the threat of Islamic terrorists surging up from Mexico. Lead guitarists Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich have done a duet about going to war with Iran. And in the rhythm section, Rick Santorum, who definitely prefers sticks to carrots, has kept up a steady drumbeat for war with all comers, including China.
It used to be a bigger group. But those with sunnier dispositions like Herman Cain have dropped out. Jon Huntsman, who looks like he really belongs in a boy band, won’t likely be playing the tambourine for much longer. In fact, The Apocalyptics might well break up after their gig today in New Hampshire. Following shows in South Carolina and Florida, frontman Mitt Romney might go solo by the end of the month.
So, this might be one of the last chances to do a behind-the-music look at the Republicans who want to rock the White House and the world. But I warn you: it’s not pretty. In fact, Ozzy Osborne chewing on the head of a bat is pretty tame compared to these guys. When not going after each other’s throats, The Apocalyptics are biting off the head of at least one dove a day during their current tour. Their teeth are sharp. They’re out for blood.
This isn’t just heavy metal. It’s death metal. These guys can’t stop screaming about war.
One reason The Apocalyptics are ranting so loudly about martial matters is so they can be heard above the din of current conflicts. The act currently at the top of the charts, Black Prez, is no stranger to the gangsta life. The Apocalyptics have to go practically ballistic to outdo the guy who killed Osama bin Laden, expanded the drone war in Pakistan, held the line in Afghanistan, squeezed Iran, and pumped up the military profile in Asia-Pacific. Because there’s not a lot of room to the right of the Prez on national security issues, his competition has to go to extremes to keep the fan base energized.
As a result, The Apocalyptics are all unhappy about withdrawing from Iraq. They’re not eager to end our decade-plus involvement in Afghanistan. They obviously didn’t get the message that the Pentagon is narrowing its capabilities to fighting one, not two wars, because they all want to go mano a mano with Ahmadinejad (“make my day,” quoth the Hermanator). They’ve revived the cult hit from several years ago, “Islamofascism,” and are eager to mix it up with Hamas, Hezbollah, Syria’s Assad, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, and so on. And to pay for it all, Mitt Romney and others are singing that sad old tune of boosting military spending.
The band is quite consistent on the issue of terrorism as well. They all support the Patriot Act and maintaining the Guantanamo detention facility. Several, including Romney and Santorum, even like the idea of waterboarding.
The only band member who can’t keep in harmony on these national security issues is Ron Paul, who wants the United States to radically reduce its military footprint. This is lovely to hear, but that’s only one voice in the chorus, and many other prescriptions from Dr. Doom are distinctly discordant, from his discomfort with the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to his conspiratorial take on government institutions.
The Apocalyptics don’t restrict their aggressive approach to national security. Just listen to them rap about foreign aid, which comes under attack even though it amounts to less than 1 percent of the federal budget. Both Perry and Gingrich would zero out the budget and force countries individually to make their case for the assistance (except for Israel, which gets a free pass). On the immigration issue, they also show their mean streak. “There are eleven million people living in the United States who immigrated illegally, and all the Republican candidates oppose virtually any path to citizenship,” writes Ken Auletta in The New Yorker. “When Newt Gingrich recently proposed offering legal residency – not citizenship – to those who have been here longer than 24 years, he was pilloried.”
Given their militaristic and mean-spirited songs, it’s astonishing that The Apocalyptics have managed to get so much air play. As Mark Lilla explains in an important New York Review of Books essay, it’s all part of a larger shift in favor of “redemptive reactionaries who think the only way forward is to destroy what history has given us and wait for a new order to emerge out of the chaos.” Conservatives have generally wanted to preserve traditional institutions and have looked askance at the market for its disruptive influence on family, religion, even the environment. Conservatives have also generally been skeptical about U.S. imperial ventures, if only for fiscal reasons. The Apocalyptics are not conservative. They want to destroy what has been a liberal-conservative consensus on the role government can play in reducing inequality and guaranteeing civil rights. They want to maintain the American colossus. All those who march to the beat of a different drummer – libertarians like Paul, traditional conservatives like Huntsman – won’t play with the band for long.
So, who exactly has been writing the lyrics for The Apocalyptics? Behind the scenes, as Foreign Policy In Focus (FPIF) contributor Peter Certo writes in Right Web, it’s the return of the neocons: “In early October, Romney rolled out his foreign policy team, which includes prominent Iraq War backers like Dan Senor, Robert Kagan, and Eric Edelman of the Foreign Policy Initiative, a successor organization to the highly influential Project for the New American Century, among sundry other veterans of the Bush years. Also included is Walid Phares, a prominent anti-Islamic commentator with ties to far-right elements from the Lebanese civil war that were responsible for massacres of Lebanese Muslims and Palestinians.” Gingrich, the Weird Al Yankovic of the bunch, has dug up former CIA director James Woolsey and promised to appoint John Bolton as secretary of state. In his effort to offend as many people as possible, Santorum seems to be making things up on the fly (for instance: “I don’t want to make black people’s lives better by giving them somebody else’s money.”)
Soon The Apocalyptics will dissolve, and Mitt Romney will likely be the last man singing. He might change his tune somewhat in the lead-up to the November elections in order to court a cross-over audience. But never forget that he was a charter member of The Apocalyptics. If he goes to the top of the pops, we’ll hear the strains of his hit song wafting over the Great Lawn, the great Apocalyptic chartbuster that applies equally to nuclear war as to global warming, a cover version of Tom Lehrer’s We Will All Go Together When We Go that includes the lines: “Oh we will all fry together when we fry. We’ll be french fried potatoes by and by. There will be no more misery when the world is our rotisserie. Yes, we will all fry together when we fry.”
John Feffer is the co-director of Foreign Policy in Focus at the Institute for Policy Studies, writes its regular World Beat column, and will be publishing a book on Islamophobia with City Lights Press in 2012.