The Paula Gordon Show: Conversations with People at the Leading Edge(sm) ©2007
Guest: JOHN W. DEAN – “A Very Different Country”
Recorded: September 17, 2007/Atlanta, GA


PAULA GORDON: Greetings, my friends, and welcome to “The Paula Gordon Show: Conversations with People at the Leading Edge”(sm). I’m Paula. It is dangerous when one political party in a democracy puts its own self-interest ahead of everything else, says our guest, John Dean. He has been watching the Republican Party do just that since Watergate. Mr. Dean’s testimony during the Watergate scandal was key to the fall of Richard Nixon and his Presidency. Once again, John Dean says, “We, The People” must hear the truth. All three of his recent books expose what he calls his former “tribe”. Mr. Dean has a special sense of urgency in _Broken Government: How Republican Rule Destroyed the Legislative, Executive, and Judicial Branches_. He says the Republicans are intent on dominating the Supreme Court and that, John Dean says, has grave implications.

JOHN DEAN:  Let me just give you one very striking example of the implications of a Fundamentalist Court. And today, we have clearly four Fundamentalists already.  We need one more vote -- five control the Court -- and what will you have? These people saying things like, “The Bill of Rights don’t apply to the States”. What’s that mean? A State like Utah might decide to have the Mormon religion as their State Religion.  It would mean the removal of the protection against self-incrimination at the State level. Women have no rights at all in the Fundamentalist thinking.  To me, this is the most important chapter.  I lay out in some detail where a Fundamentalist court would go.  It’s not very hard to do, because all of the elements are there, they just need one more vote.  And then, we have a very, very different country.

PAULA GORDON: John Dean served as Which House legal counsel to President Richard Nixon, as well as having served as chief minority counsel for the House Judiciary Committee and as an associate deputy attorney general in the U.S. Department of Justice. In addition to a successful business career, Mr. Dean’s several books began with _Blind Ambition_ in 1976. And now in addition to Broken Government, his books include Worse Than Watergate: The Secret Presidency of George W. Bush, and he outlines the dangers of authoritarians in Conservatives Without Conscience. Mr. Dean is also a columnist for Bill Russell and I know that John Dean is as committed to the truth as we are and we are honored to welcome him to this Conversation.



PAULA GORDON: John Dean, it was the early 60's and I was headed off for college. I had this wonderful feeling that I was about to escape the meanness, and the small mindedness and savagery of the McCarthyites and John Birchers with whom I had grown up. So I get to college and I discover -- with all due respect -- that my roommate who had been assigned was of a family who, her father had just been elected to the New York Assembly as a Goldwater Republican. Well, it taught me a number of things. It taught me that not all conservatives are the same and some people who say they're conservative are not. It taught me that in a democracy one must be civil and one must learn to deal with people who are different. But I look back at that and I think maybe we lost track of some of those lessons. And then I wonder if the McCarthyites didn't win? So help me as we think about this forty years that have now elapsed. You too, at that age, were a Goldwater Republican and quite proud of it, and yet I don't know that… What would I have learned from you? Because I didn't learn much from her except tolerance.

JOHN DEAN: Well, my relationship with Senator Goldwater may have been a little different, I don't know unless her last name was Miller, and she was the [laughter]. But I have known the Senator since I was about thirteen years of age and he was a really neat guy for a young man to get to know. He flew jet planes. He had a little thunderbird automobile, a little two-seater that looked like it the cockpit of a jet plane. He was a ham radio operator. He was tall, dark and handsome.

PAULA GORDON: It sounds like an adolescent dream come true.

JOHN DEAN: He was! And when we visited, Barry and I -- his son -- would stop by on our way home from school to visit him in the Senate. And he would always usher us around the Senate and you knew he was an important person because he just … people sort of stepped aside and, “Good morning, Senator!” “Good afternoon Senator!” Whatever it was. So he was a very impressive figure, and I didn't know much about politics or care much at that point. So when his book came out in the 1960's, Barry and I had stayed in touch. The first time I set my political awareness, and I …He did that book that drew attention, The Conscience of a Conservative. It really didn't tell an awful lot about conservativism at that time. But I just thought he was such an attractive fella that I was attracted to his politics. And what attracted me particularly as time went on…in '64 when he ran, I happened to be in law school and Barry wanted me to join -- Barry, Jr. -- wanted me to join the campaign and work with him and his brother Mike. And I said, “Really, I can't drop out of law school.” Even though I would have enjoyed it for the fun of it, I was just too much pressured to get law school behind me. But I watched him closely in that campaign as my awareness had come up several notches since undergraduate school. And when Johnson, Lyndon Johnson savaged him, if you recall, and really defined who he (Goldwater) was -- and it wasn't the man I recognized at all. And yet I knew from both then and even more I would learn later, that he refused to drop to Johnson's level and he stayed on the high road, and let them take the low road. And what particularly sticks in my mind is that during that campaign, Lyndon Johnson's White House Chief of Staff, Walter Jenkins, was arrested in a YMCA Men's Room, doing things that you shouldn't be doing in a public place. And they immediately put him into a hospital and hushed it up. And the Goldwater campaign wanted to take advantage of the issue and make a real stink out of it. At that point homosexuality was even more offensive to many Americans than it is today, in fact it’s… we're talking a tremendous difference then and now. But Goldwater refused to make an issue out of it. To the contrary he just said, “ Anybody on my campaign staff raises this, they're out of here.” He just wouldn't have any part of it. So I observed this in this man, and this to me was a conservative, not only somebody because of a particular attitude but his style, his integrity. The Senator had not been a great student until he got off to high school and he was a good student. He had to drop out of college because his father died and he had to come home and run the department store which he made a great success of. But he hadn't had much chance to study. And then when he goes to the Senate, he spends the first four or five years of the Senate really becoming a student of American history and American government.

PAULA GORDON: And Ev Dirksen helped him do it. Dirksen from Illinois.

JOHN DEAN: Absolutely. When he was running for the Senate, the Senator asked that somebody send him some information that he should start getting tuned up on and Dirksen is one of those who sent him a number of his speeches. Funny, I wrote speeches for Everett Dirksen years later


JOHN DEAN: So…but Dirksen would be a good tutor, but what really got his (Goldwater’s) attention were the Hoover books. He would actually become a good friend of Herbert Hoover's, not J. Edgar Hoover.

PAULA GORDON: Thank goodness!

JOHN DEAN: Totally different “conservatives” if you will. Really Hoover in many regards -- Herbert Hoover -- was a progressive and this influenced Goldwater as much as anything I think in his philosophy. So his conservativism… And still to this day considering myself a Goldwater conservative, probably it makes me well left of center today, as he would be.

PAULA GORDON: This is John Dean. And to think of John Dean and Barry Goldwater as well left of center tells us a great deal about America. We'll be back in just a moment with a great deal more with John Dean. Please do be with us when we return.


PAULA GORDON: Welcome back. This is “The Paula Gordon Show”. It is our honor to be with John Dean, talking about America over the last fifty years, we've specifically done forty of those. Looking at this country is always interesting to me, just inherently, but I also think it’s interesting in the larger world because we are sort of the 800-pound gorilla. As we learn what it is to be a nation governing itself -- or failing to do that -- we also have a lot of impact on what the rest of the world sees and does and it’s both a give and a take, just in that forty or fifty years. I'm not sure we've done well in showing how democracy should work. What do you think?

JOHN DEAN: I think we've had our moments. I think for example, Eisenhower was a greatly respected President. I'm thinking, well let's go back even to F.D.R. and what we did for the world during World War 2 if not going back to Wilson and World War 1. When I think of the more modern presidents, the post-FDR, Truman certainly had widespread respect. His Marshall Plan which he was clever enough not to name after himself as the Truman Plan, but rather to designate somebody else because Truman kept …in a sense, took the politics out of it.

PAULA GORDON: And George Marshall was widely revered, I'd say regarded but revered.

JOHN DEAN: Absolutely, and really set an American standard when we helped Europe get back on its feet. Then you go on into the Eisenhower Administration. He was greatly respected as a result of what he had done in World War 2. His effort to go to Korea and end the mess there as best he could. His dispensation, or disposition to stay out of wars, in South Vietnam, and what have you, when people were encouraging him to do otherwise. His famous farewell on the military-industrial complex. It didn't make us much of an imperial nation and certainly in those Presidents’ eyes. The Kennedy Administration as short lived as it was, left us in rather favorable eyes in most of the world. We don't know what would have happened had Lyndon Johnson not escalated Vietnam, but we didn't start winning friends and influencing people when we did that. I think Johnson's policy on civil rights encouraged a lot of the world and the human rights movement. I think his Vietnam policy was a disaster and certainly did not leave us in good light. And we sort of see it going down when Nixon gets there, not that Nixon isn't respected on the world stage. He knows the players, like few Presidents ever have. His China initiative was - remains -- and will always be a historic move.

PAULA GORDON: And nobody could… nobody but Nixon could have done that.

JOHN DEAN: Nobody could have because, a Richard Nixon would have attacked somebody other than himself who did it.

BILL RUSSELL: Viciously.

JOHN DEAN: Yeah, viciously, right. But as somebody who had given his anti-communist and Cold War warrior status, he could do it with no problem. His policy of détente with Russia, his disarmament moves were respected. He wasn't winning hearts but he wasn't offending. The Ford Administration really didn't do much, it was just sort of there as Henry Kissinger was still there and it’s sort of an extension of the end of the Vietnam War where I think Nixon genuinely didn't try to prolong that war longer than he thought but his concern was he didn't want to lose it on his watch. So I think we're seeing that again, another President doesn't want to see a mess that he happen to start end on his watch as the mess it is. But Nixon, as I say, and Ford -- they didn't lose the respect of the world. Carter, I think was much admired by world … other countries in the world.

BILL RUSSELL: And still is.

JOHN DEAN: And, even …

PAULA GORDON: Very respected.

JOHN DEAN: His post-presidency has even escalated him into a world figure the likes of which few prior and former president we've ever had. Maybe Hoover. You had to get back to Herbert Hoover almost to find somebody who has that kind of respect. Then we get down into the Reagan years. I wasn't traveling a lot abroad in those days. I don't know, you know, Reagan, I think people didn't think was the brightest President we had and that he …

PAULA GORDON: There might be a reason for that.

JOHN DEAN: There might be a reason for that, that he was good with a script, but there wasn't much there there, and they …

PAULA GORDON: And people really didn't look behind the screen that Nixon put, that Reagan put out. The wizard of Oz kind of comes to mind for me in that.

JOHN DEAN: Well that's where… of course the manipulation and image making of the Presidency really starts with Nixon who had once suffered from not understanding television to the other extreme where he started using it as an effective tool not like, even to the degree today where every setting is pre-programmed, where the exact angles will be planned and it’s a tightly controlled and orchestrated …so Reagan I'm not sure. But I, let's just …again, Clinton, the world was pretty much …

PAULA GORDON: You did miss Bush One.

JOHN DEAN: Well, I also didn't end the Cold War, but I think that … I don't think you can give credit to Reagan for ending the Cold War. This is something that starts long before he gets there. And to give him the credit is to misunderstand a policy that really started during Truman's years with the containment through George Kennan. And (it) holds forth as standard operating procedure, rather than trying to see how many missiles we can fire into some third world country. We actually tried to hold missiles back and we went and tried to contain …

PAULA GORDON: And diplomacy was absolutely essential.

JOHN DEAN: Absolutely essential, and a key part and element of the policies of that era. Bush One, I think …Bush One had good rapport with a lot of world leaders. Bush One was smart. He believed in diplomacy. I don't think he wanted to rush into war with Iraq. He stayed out of Iraq when Saddam went into Kuwait. But he had to do something, because I think as Allan Greenspan has recently said, there was a clear policy on Saddam's part to take over and control the oil in the Middle East and that would have had real repercussions for the entire world.

BILL RUSSELL: And Saddam also violated international norms by invading Kuwait, and I mean that was unambiguous, which makes it …

JOHN DEAN: It was an act of war.


JOHN DEAN: Pure act of war, no question. And it took a while. People like Dick Cheney, who was Secretary of Defense then, were urging that the President not bother to get the consent of Congress and just go on and do something and ignore the War Powers Act. Fortunately - I've read some recent material, some archival material that Cheney was running around his own Defense Department people to the White House, trying to sell them on various schemes that he - very secretly, so fortunately he was getting …

BILL RUSSELL: Some things don't change.

PAULA GORDON: No, they don't change.

JOHN DEAN: Some things don't change… to sell Bush on going to war, ignoring Congress, and some really crazy schemes that got shot down. Bush did finally go to Congress and get permission. He did it really… and got a respectable votes. So the Congress authorized his actions. I think we stand in better light in the world when we act collectively and …

BILL RUSSELL: Well, he also engaged other, many other nations essentially …

JOHN DEAN: His coalition was the legitimate coalition.

BILL RUSSELL: It was a real coalition.

JOHN DEAN: It was a real coalition, and the world was rather united on that. So that was good foreign policy and good for the nation in the eyes of the rest of the world. Clinton doesn't really have an awful lot on his watch of significant magnitude. He's well respected. People don't understand this whole -- all this nonsense about the why it became an impeachable offense to lie about sex with an intern. The French particularly thought that might be standard procedure…

BILL RUSSELL: They thought it was part of the campaign strategy.

PAULA GORDON: And as you point out, the hypocrisy of that is just stunning.

JOHN DEAN: Remarkable. As I say in the book at one point, if they had the adultery standard for voting on impeachment … I'm not sure you could have other than maybe a few women in the Congress who had not committed adultery.

PAULA GORDON: “…couldn't get a quorum….”

JOHN DEAN: “Where you couldn't get a quorum.” But you couldn't get any votes either. So it just wouldn't have happened. So that really didn't affect us in the eyes of the world. But we certainly have seen since George Bush -- and after the whole world being behind us following “9/11” -- a total disintegration. I've traveled from the Middle East to Australia on various trips, and they don't understand what we're doing. They don't understand this President, why we particularly would re-elect him after we knew what he was. They don't get it, and I'm not sure we get it.

BILL RUSSELL: That seems to be a major part of the challenge. I try to keep informed about what goes on in the world but you, in this your latest book, have laid out a case -- being a good lawyer -- that is, it’s devastating. It’s also nauseating. I found myself feeling ill as I read through this. Your representations -- about what has happened to the Legislative Branch, what has happened to the Executive Branch and what has happen to the Judicial Branch -- in every case are alarming and very depressing, and I think a legitimate source of concern about the future wellbeing of this country. And to the extent this country affects the rest of the world, the rest of the world. It’s scary! And I say --

JOHN DEAN: Believe it!

BILL RUSSELL: As you put it! But I want to … You've done I think a real service and an excellent job of laying out the particulars in this. And in a way -- and this is partly, sort of follows on the history you just went through -- you talked at the beginning of this book about process -- and how important process is -- and look at each of these institutions, the three parts of the government, from essentially a process perspective. And the current Administration, by your telling, appears to have done more damage to that process -- that's not to say they've acted alone -- but more damage to these processes, the governmental processes than has probably occurred in the history of this country.

PAULA GORDON: And let me just interject that you call the book Broken Government for a reason.

JOHN DEAN: Yes, I do. Yes I do. People have a sort of a visceral reaction to the word “process”, because they don't really understand that that is what they're truly interested in. Most people think, “Well, policy…” But that happens too. When you look at the academic research… I was able to dig out that “policy” will make more eyes glazed than “process” because people…while they don't know what a “Motion to Recommit” is in the House, they don't know what a clotcher vote is in the Senate, they do know when they're getting screwed. They understand that perfectly well. From the Constitution to the rules and regulations and traditions and customs that have followed suit, they're all designed to provide fairness. And when there's a breakdown in fairness, people get it. They understand at some intuitive level that bad policy comes out of bad process. They understood that -- while it wasn't a campaign issue in 2006 my surprise -- that the Republicans were not running the House or the Senate fairly. The people cut through that, and understood that something was amiss. Now, what's interesting is that the Republicans are so good at manipulating the process. That's how they took the House over after 40 years of Democratic control. They played all kinds of games. They started hurling ethics attacks at everybody and anybody. They used the House banking system -- which they were participating in, but forewarned most of their colleagues to get their balances up -- as an ethics violation for interest free loans.

BILL RUSSELL: Listening to you say that -- it didn't jump out at me but hearing you say that -- it sounds like bomb throwers and anarchists.

JOHN DEAN: That's - they …

BILL RUSSELL: Which is not the standard image of the Republican party, it’s conservative.

JOHN DEAN: That's what the backbenchers were doing. They were throwing bombs. They were often stink bombs, sometimes they were smoke bombs, but they were… that's exactly what they were doing. When somebody -- a member of the Republican leadership -- walks onto the House floor with a paper bag on his head and is asked why, and he says, “Because I'm too embarrassed to be seen in this institution” … that sort of gimmick actually gets people's attention and works as though you're tearing down the institution.

PAULA GORDON: You both have my attention. Let me break away so that I don't have to do it right in the middle of the next thought. This is “The Paula Gordon Show”. It is a great pleasure to be with John Dean. We are talking about the American government, which he says elegantly is Broken… “How Republican Rule Destroyed the Legislative, Executive and Judicial Branches”. We'll be back in just a moment.



PAULA GORDON: John Dean is with us. We're talking about a very serious moment in the world and in American history, when the government is “Broken”. Bill Russell, I had to interrupt, let me give it back to you, please.

BILL RUSSELL: We'll, you talk about the collegiality which sounds. -- and there's a lot of talk about collegiality, particularly in the legislative branch -- which sounds like a nice idea. But you do I think an excellent job of demonstrating how important that is: within the context of the Constitution, within the context of the separation of powers, and really more broadly within the context of the underlying idea behind this country -- the fundamental concepts on which this country was constructed. And civility at a certain level seems to be essential to being able to achieve anything. And that's seems to have gone away.

JOHN DEAN: Well, as sturdy as our Constitutional system is, it really won't work unless there is a civility about the proceedings. It’s also a fragile system. You can “game” the system and that's …

PAULA GORDON: Not only can, but --

JOHN DEAN: Well, that's what this book is about -- how the Republicans have “gamed” the system and used it… For example. When you remove the seniority system in the Congress, in the House in particular, and you decide in its place you will appoint Chairs who are most responsive to the Speaker -- not necessarily because of the loyalty, which was a given, but because of their ability to use their post as a committee Chair to raise money for their Republican cause -- that isn't something exactly the Founders had in mind.

BILL RUSSELL: I don't know what section of the Constitution, I haven't seen …

JOHN DEAN: I haven't found that one either. And then you see that their abuse of the rules, and misuse of the rules, where they…typically the vote in the House, since they've gone to electronic voting, has been fifteen minutes. Members don't have long to get over there, it just takes a second to slide their card in, and the votes are closed. And that's always been the custom and tradition. Well, sometimes they'll … something strange will happen and they'll keep it open (more than) 15 minutes -- somebody got blocked or one of the subway trains coming over got jammed, or who knows what could happen -- so there can be exceptions. But the Republicans made exceptions the standard. And they would keep votes open for anywhere from 30 minutes to three hours if not longer so they could merely twist arms to get people to get what they wanted, that one vote majority that's… They mastered the art of the one vote majority, and often as we now know, with literally bribing members to change their vote. So it’s pretty disruptive.

BILL RUSSELL: Well, and I will say, reading this, I thought, it started looking like professional wrestling…

PAULA GORDON: [laughs]

BILL RUSSELL: …where you have the good guys who just sort of bumble, stumble around, a/k/a the Democrats. You have the bad guys who cheat, in this case the Republicans. And you've got a referee who's not paying attention, who's always looking (in) the wrong direction -- pick your favorite, it could be the American people. It certainly could be the media. But …

PAULA GORDON: Or the judicial…

BILL RUSSELL: You know, there are lots of failing referees in this. But it is a -- as you describe it -- it’s a caricature.

JOHN DEAN: Well, the book wasn't meant to be a Republican bashing book.


JOHN DEAN: But … All I did was sift through the evidence looking -- not at trying to prepare a litany of screw-ups and mistakes and misuse of the processes, rather to take the big ones where they are deliberately distorting the design of the Constitution. And do that with each Branch. And coming to the conclusion to my surprise, how poor my “tribe” or former tribe is at governing. They're good at ruling. I make a distinction, “ruling” being the pure exercise of power, “governing” is an art, a craft. And I don't think this country can long stand a “rule”. It’s just not built for it.

PAULA GORDON: Well, we did.

BILL RUSSELL: We were not created to be ruled.

JOHN DEAN: No, we're not.

BILL RUSSELL: You know, “The People” -- in spite of what people seem to think -- we still are sovereign. It is our country. These people nominally work for us. And it seems that part of the challenge in this is to reassert the will of the public.

PAULA GORDON: And when we come back we will talk about reasserting that will. We will talk about the government that is Broken… and how it can be fixed with John Dean. Be with us when we return in a moment.



PAULA GORDON: This is “The Paula Gordon: Show Conversations with People at the Leading Edge”. It is a great pleasure, and honor I must say, to be with John Dean, who has not only played a very important part in American history before, has become really very current again, as he looks toward what he calls Broken Government. We were talking as we went away -- Bill Russell, thank you -- for the last seven years, since the Bush Administration was appointed by the Supreme Court, not elected, we have seen a sharp degradation of the American people being represented. We have seen special interests as sort of the common term, but we have seen a very big change in what America has been. America started in the deepest sense as a liberal country, going all the way back and you do a wonderful job in Broken Government, going back and saying what the predicates are, what was really intended. But what I found -- in addition to being depressed as I read -- that I kept putting in the margin, “They cheat.” “They lie.” “They cheat.” What do you do when you have a system that not only can be “gamed”, but people are perfectly happy, eager to cheat?

JOHN DEAN: What's interesting is conservatives once were such sticklers for the rules. They prided themselves on their adherence to playing by the game's proper procedures. That's not the truth anymore -- everything from the way they, well, run government to... as you know in one of the appendix I thought it was so important to explain how they are intellectually dishonest and make arguments that are fallacious, yet arguments that are being based on or serving the basis for the nation going to war, for torture, for illegal wiretapping, very radical rulings where proving the adage you can always find a lawyer to give you an opinion on anything you want, which shouldn't be the case with the federal government. It didn't used to be the case with the federal government. But you're right. There is a looseness about it.

PAULA GORDON: We didn't allow our children to act this way. How is it that we allow the people who are nominally representing us?

JOHN DEAN: Well, the answer is most people aren't aware of it. Those who are -- there are two groups, obviously. There are the partisans who cannot see beyond their own leaders doing what they think is best.

PAULA GORDON: And you called those leaders authoritarian.

JOHN DEAN: Well, I do. I did a book that preceded this. This is actually the third in a trilogy of books, sort of post-Watergate Republican rule in Washington. And it’s not because I have an ax to grind about Republicans in particular. It’s not because I'm trying to make Watergate look good. I've never been known as a Watergate apologist, I do realize the phrase. The first of those books which I called Worse than Watergate, it was actually a misnomer. It should have been Much Worse Than Watergate. Because nobody was tortured during Watergate. Nobody was killed during Watergate under the so-called Watergate abuses. Millions of people weren't subject to electronic surveillance under Watergate. I mean it's just minor if you compare the two events. But anyway. In pulling this book together, my thought was that by providing information to people -- I happen to believe you give the public the solid information, the things they don't know about, they'll make the right decision. I think the classic example I've seen is the jury system, where if you take 12 citizens from very different walks of life, very different levels of education, you put them in a jury room after giving them an awful lot of information and some rules with which to follow to make a decision, they will make the right decision 99 out of a 100 times. It’s a remarkable thing.

PAULA GORDON: It’s called “democracy”.

JOHN DEAN: Well, the same is true…People have always told me how they groan when they get their notice for jury service. I say, “Don't feel that way! It’s probably going to…” You can get some terribly dull cases, but sometimes it’s a really interesting personal experience the way democracy really works. And it’s there. It’s even more than just majority rules. You have to have unanimity in a jury. And to get that is often -- as does happen – it’s quite remarkable that 12 people can agree on something where the stakes are often terribly high.

PAULA GORDON: I interrupted you with the authoritarian issue but it seems to me that that is critical in thinking about where we are and how we got there. Bill?

BILL RUSSELL: There -- on the subject of authoritarianism -- you talked about Congress and the problems. You also say that it’s on its way, sort of, to getting fixed by virtue of the Democrats reassuming control of it, though there's still a lot of challenges and a lot of damage has been done. With respect to the Executive and with respect to the Judiciary, you introduced and went into depth on issues that I was aware of but I had no idea how dangerous they were. One is the in the Executive branch, this wonderland that is the “Unitary Executive”.

JOHN DEAN: “Unitary Executive theory”.

BILL RUSSELL: And I want you to go into that. And the other of course is what you characterize as the “fundamentalism” in, on the Supreme Court and in Federal Judiciary. But let's take these apart, let's deal with the Executive first.

JOHN DEAN: Well, I think the first time any American -- including many members of the Senate -- ever heard of the Unitary Executive or the Unitary Executive Theory was when Bush nominated Alito to become Justice of the Supreme Court. Because he happened to have given a speech where he embraced the Unitary Executive Theory. What is this odd term? Well, it’s been -- and I think a fairly accurately -- described as the imperial presidency on stilts with steroids. And that's very much what it is. It really starts, it’s something that was cooked up by a bunch of bright lawyers during the Reagan years and the Department of Justice, to try to get control within the Executive Branch of all the regulatory agencies that are theoretically independent regulatory agencies and departments, where the President could make all the calls and everything had to filter up through the White House. Don't rely on a Cabinet. Don't rely on an independently appointed person. In fact, what I find interesting about Greenspan's silence during his time as the Chairman of the Federal Reserve -- which probably is the preeminent independent agency -- is that he goes over and complains to the Bush Department, he's now telling us in his memoir, and they won't listen to him about fiscal responsibility. He -- they won't veto anything.

BILL RUSSELL: That's pretty basic for a government.

JOHN DEAN: He lets them… he embraces in essence a tax cut that only takes care of a very few, very rich Americans who don't need any help, thank you. But anyway he is in a sense embracing the Unitary Executive because rather than using the power he had to go out and publically speak. Because if you recall when Greenspan was Chairman, America listened, particularly Wall Street. And if he had come out of one of his meetings and said, “Listen. A tax cut now is a terrible idea. This, this spending bill is a disaster. We're spending… we've got trillions going in to Iraq. We can't be doing this that and the other thing”, it would have kyboshed it, I mean I'm telling you it would have done it in…

PAULA GORDON: And that was irresponsible of him.

JOHN DEAN: It was irresponsible but it’s typical of the Unitary Executive, where the President makes the call and nobody peeps.

PAULA GORDON: Except in this incidence, and it’s the Vice-President who makes the call, and the front man is the spokesperson.

JOHN DEAN: That's another story.

PAULA GORDON: And a very important story….

JOHN DEAN: …that I tell in some detail.


BILL RUSSELL: This Unitary Executive. This country was founded really out of The Enlightenment, out of a sense of evidence-based thinking. Reason. Science. But really, evidence. And this Unitary Executive….

JOHN DEAN: And experience.

BILL RUSSELL: And experience. Absolutely. Thank you. This Unitary Executive is pre-Enlightenment. These people, they sort of make up things that the Constitution doesn't say. And it really feels like it predates The Enlightenment, that it’s people sitting around having theories, very bright people as you point out.

JOHN DEAN: Well that's exactly the word, it's …

BILL RUSSELL: They're making it up. Exactly . It’s not a Unitary Executive, it’s …it’s a proto… it’s a monarchy.

JOHN DEAN: Now, those who didn't like the so-called imperial presidency, when they begin to understand the implications of the Unitary Executive -- which I try to lay out in some detail in the book. My editor if you will, my first editor, my first reader, is my wife Maureen. And if she says, “Oh that's technical, that's dull, that's…” then I have to clean it up or remove it.

PAULA GORDON: It's like reading a mystery, how is it going to come out?

JOHN DEAN: But if I get too textbook-ish or too legalistic, she's very good at screening that stuff. So I don't try to dumb it down by any stretch of the imagination because that would to me be an insult to the reader.

PAULA GORDON: Like most of American's media.

JOHN DEAN: Yes, yes. They do dumb down. Often. And they work… what is it? The eighth or ninth grade they're writing for now? And the average American newspaper, which has been one of the good things that the Internet has nicely… At least they'll speak to somebody who they figure is intelligent enough to understand what they're saying


JOHN DEAN: We've gotten on a diversion here.


PAULA GORDON: Well, this diversion I think is a part of what we're talking about.

BILL RUSSELL: I want to be clear about this because there's been a great deal of discussion. There have been articles written in “Law Reviews” -- which you do a lovely job of explaining is not a particularly impressive thing to have happen, which I simply did not know.

JOHN DEAN: Isn't that phenomenal?

BILL RUSSELL: It is. But it…there's this sort of … I mean, it is very clever propaganda.

PAULA GORDON: Thank you for that word.

BILL RUSSELL: And these people have done an excellent job of propagandizing. But if one looks behind the curtain, “There's no ‘there’ there.” The theory on which this Unitary Executive is based simply doesn't hold water.

JOHN DEAN: It’s just invented. There is no… it harks back to the Federalist Papers where there is an expression of the desire to have a unitary executive. Well, what was that really all about? It was to not have a counsel of three or four people in the Executive Branch that say that that unitary executive or that sole executive -- chief executive -- would control everything. That the Congress thereafter created -- when they deliberately created independent regulatory agencies like the Federal Communications Commission, the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Federal Reserve -- there's a whole litany of those types of agencies that these people, these “Unitarians” would have you adopt, and say the President can dictate their policy and make their decisions.

BILL RUSSELL: Well, and effectively eviscerate both the Courts and the Legislature which is…

PAULA GORDON: …or subsumes them in this instance.

JOHN DEAN: Exactly.

BILL RUSSELL: Whichever. But clearly, it’s extraordinarily difficult for a layperson to make sense of the argument, other than just willfulness and essentially rationalizing what they want to do.

JOHN DEAN: Right. And you know, even viewers…

BILL RUSSELL: And there's a theological… it almost feels theological in this.

JOHN DEAN: Right. It… I have to work on the assumption that not everybody pays attention to the Supreme Court confirmation hearings, where newspapers are actually forced to try to explain the “Unitary Executive”, which they didn't really get at that point. This is a weird term. It’s so innocuous and so technical. People get it when you say “Imperial President”. They know it. They have a sense of what that is. “Unitary Executive”, that's such a meaningless term. But yet so much is being done under that umbrella that …

BILL RUSSELL: Well, and in calling it an “imperial presidency” seems almost generous, it’s an imperium -- the “president” part is just sort of an afterthought. This is someone who…the individual is going to assume full authority though not responsibility.

JOHN DEAN: But you know, if you say that's it’s the individual -- and that's one of the things that worries me about 2008 and the hereafter -- because what happened is the presidency isn't one man. It really is a whole collection. And when the next President comes in -- let's say it’s another Republican, which I shudder at the thought of because this presidency the last eight years has spent an awful lot of time trying not to just worry about the political appointees it puts in to run departments and agencies but absolutely ignoring the civil service laws and placing people down within the Bureaucracy, embedding them in there because they think the way they want them to think. And this is going to be a long time before that changes. And you take something like the Office of Legal Counsel, which is theoretically the President's law firm. It’s not the White House counsel's office, the legal work is done over at the department of Justice. Yes, we have our own legal staff as counsel, but you really rely on a small law firm that has one job -- and that is to serve the President, to answer highly technical questions about how he can execute the laws properly -- that's roughly 22 lawyers, 24 sometimes what have you, small group. There have now been -- as a result of, from Rehnquist on -- so many conservatives even during, to my surprise, even during the Clinton Administration. They didn't take a radical departure. They didn't try to undo everything that was sitting there, because Bill Clinton was a federalist. And he'll say, “Well I'll take what I want, I won't…” He took, for example, the “Unitary Executive Theory” and used it against the conservatives. They wanted it to regulate and reduce regulation of business. Clinton said well, that's interesting, what you…

BILL RUSSELL: This sword cuts both ways.

JOHN DEAN: Exactly. It cuts both ways, to the chagrin of conservatives, where he was using it to impose new health and safety standards on businesses, that he could do it because he now had a unitary power.

PAULA GORDON: This is “The Paula Gordon Show”. John Dean is our guest. We'll be back shortly. Let me leave it at that.


PAULA GORDON: John Dean is with us here on “The Paula Gordon Show”. Bill Russell and he had been exploring some of the things that have happened. I want to get back to this authoritarian idea that you explore with great elegance in Conservatives Without Conscience.

JOHN DEAN: Which is now out in paperback.

PAULA GORDON: Well, it’s a really important notion and it goes back to what I was saying about growing up around the McCarthyites and the John Birch Society


PAULA GORDON: These people never went away. And what we have seen in these last 50 years is this idea of the authoritarian. Bill, you talked about the “theological” feeling of the people who are currently in control with the Bush/Cheney Administration -- what you consistently call the Bush/Cheney Administration. It is important in America to have a sense of what is happening, since we are a sovereign. And when you have this authoritarian mindset that has now permeated all three government branches, the one place you give me hope in thinking about the authoritarian is this balance of power includes the people. The people may not buy the authoritarian model.

JOHN DEAN: I don't think they do. What happened -- as you know from that book -- is that I set out to try to find out what had become of conservativism. Why it thinks the way it does, acts the way it does. I found that one faction really controls more than others the entire conservative movement today. And that's the “Religious Right”, for lack of a better umbrella term. They are pure authoritarian personalities. I ran into this body of science that really started in the aftermath of World War 2, where a group up at Berkley decided to look and ask the question, “Could what happened in Nazi Germany ever happen in this country?” Could…would the Americans ever stand by while a Holocaust occurred and a dictator was leading them in all the wrong directions? The short answer -- and they published this in the early 50's in a book called The Authoritarian Personality – was, “Yes. It could happen. There are people of this personality.” Obviously it was very controversial. It was greatly…it was debated heavily. No one has ever proved the book wrong, but they had legitimate criticisms of the book. And they were that it was based largely on Freudian psychology and we all know that there are problems with that, although it’s never been proven wrong either. But what they did… or …Many of the critics went to see if we could empirically test and determine if there were types of personalities. They weren't looking initially at the authoritarian leaders who are quite conspicuous. We know there are those types. It was more the people, the followers who would compliantly sit by while some leader led them off to … in these often dubious directions and they just willingly followed. And the empirical evidence we now have about a half century of it and it shows very clearly that we have this type of personality.

PAULA GORDON: And isn't that what we have seen from the Rush Limbaugh, Anne Coulter, era forward, even before it became apparent that the “Imperial Presidency” was about to come with ferocious intensity, didn’t the ground work get laid?

JOHN DEAN: Yes. They are cheerleaders for authoritarians, they - as you indicated not everybody agrees with this. And it particularly now appears that the more Americans have discovered the authoritarian personality, the less attracted they are to it. Roughly 25 to 30% of the American people have a … fall into this category. They will follow a leader rather blindly. We have the same … Bush’s ratings go below 30% right now. We didn't see Nixon's go down below 23. Those are the hard core. Those people would follow Nixon to the end of the earth and find nothing wrong. They never questioned what he'd do. If they submit too easily to authority, then they become very aggressive in pushing that worldview. They can be bullies. They're very anti-democratic. They are not very pleasant people. And this isn't scientists saying this about them, this is what they say about themselves, when they're anonymously tested. And they do it repeatedly.

BILL RUSSELL: The 25% strikes me because that is precisely the percentage of Senators who would not vote to censure Joe McCarthy.

JOHN DEAN: Isn't that interesting?

BILL RUSSELL: Precisely, plus or minus, one or two.

PAULA GORDON: And then there's always the Republican Party.

JOHN DEAN: Well, you know, it’s interesting. Goldwater, supported McCarthy for a very -- in my reading of his papers -- for a very different reason. He liked the man. And McCarthy had come to Arizona to help him get in the Senate and he just felt, well, I should return the favor when he's in trouble, and what have you. He actually tried to calm him down a number of times, I found in the correspondence. He goes off … For example, when McCarthy is in Bethesda after smashing his hand and cutting himself up on a glass table at one of his drunken stupors and Goldwater tries to get the man to sober up. Straighten up and stop really giving conservativism a bad name. And the witch-hunt should pull back -- “You're pushed it too far to no avail.” But he still he felt he had to support him. But Goldwater is not a particularly authoritarian personality, believe it or not.

BILL RUSSELL: He was, and -- I don’t want this to end without talking about the court system. We’ve talked about the sovereignty of the people, and one of the things this Administration has done is to aggressively seek, it appears to have done and it’s unequivocal, is to try to disenfranchise people -- voters -- of the standard way that you deal. That is, you go to the courts, particularly the federal courts, to seek …

JOHN DEAN: …solace. conservativism


BILL RUSSELL: Redress. That's the word. And if you don't have the option of going to the Courts, if people are being disenfranchised and the Court is not an option, then even the power of the people as voters is seriously undermined, and diminished. But I say that as a background to this notion of fundamentalism on the Supreme Court. Because that is I think something that most of us don't hear about, the idea of fundamentalism on the Supreme Court.

PAULA GORDON: And we'll come back in just a moment with fundamentalism on the Supreme Court, which John Dean has both been articulate in books, and will be in just a moment. Be with us.


PAULA GORDON: We are honored to be with John Dean as we talk about both Conservatives Without Conscience, which you released about a year ago, and Broken Government. Bill was asking about fundamentalism on the Court and the importance of the Court, to which I want you to add -- did you think you were going to have to “fix it” twice?

JOHN DEAN: [laughs] Well, no. In fact I, after I finished my business career and planned to return to writing, I thought I'd been writing biographies. That’s what my plan was. But I just kept looking around and saying, “How in the world can these people be doing this, didn't they learn anything from the mistakes we made?”

PAULA GORDON: In the Nixon White House.

JOHN DEAN: The Nixon White House, exactly. And since a lot of the mainstream media during the first six years of the Bush Administration just wasn't even making a peep, I said, ‘I'm not shy. I'll come out and this is something that really needs to be addressed.” And that's why I started writing these books. The fundamentalists who on the Court -- in fact the entire chapter in Broken Government on the Court -- turned out to me to be the most important chapter I wrote. It’s the one that we have the least time to discuss, that's a good tease, because it …

PAULA GORDON: Very accessibly written, thank you very much.

JOHN DEAN: Thank you to “Mo” or Maureen, because she found that chapter fascinating also. I didn't know any of this and “Boom!”. And I hadn't written any columns on it. What I decided to do was give enough history of what had happened to the Court -- how the Republicans going back to Nixon politicize the non-political branch -- and the impact that's had as they have sort of refined their cookie cutter as to who and how they will put on.

PAULA GORDON: …which really affects people.

JOHN DEAN: Oh! This is the branch people know the least about, it affects their life the most, without a question. You can accomplish through the court what you cannot get through the political process. But the other side of that of course is that the progressives and the liberals were able to get civil rights legislation that they couldn't get through the Legislative body, through the courts. So you've got to understand that there are two sides to this coin in that sense. But not where the Court is headed today. And that's this issue of fundamentalism. Now what is a fundamentalist jurist? This is a term, it’s a part of the way academics and I try to boil it down to be very non-academic about it, explain the different schools of thought of Constitutional law. A fundamentalist is one who looks to the original meaning of the Constitution and says, “Well, what was written at our Founding is good enough for today, these basic rules.” Well, of course there was very little was written in that Constitution. There are not explanations for… It’s a bare outline if you will. It is premises. But the fundamentalist says, will say, “Well, it’s not in the Constitution, so obviously the founders didn't want us to do this, or go there.” They're the “dead Constitution” school. What they will do… Let me just give you one very striking example of the implications of a fundamentalist federal court. And today -- as both I view it and people who are friends who have very active practices in front of the Supreme Court see it -- we have clearly four fundamentalists already. We have Scalia who is the lead and the prototypical if you will. Clarence Thomas, another fundamentalist. And both Alito and Roberts, while they come in a softer shade, they're reaching the exact same conclusions, and they're just a little shrewder, a little less blunt at this point. They need, we need one more vote -- five control the Court -- and what'll you have these people saying? Things like, “The Bill of Rights don't apply to the States.” What's happening? Well, that means that a state like Utah might decide to have the Mormon religion as their state religion. It would mean the removal of the right, the protection against self-incrimination at the state level. It could mean the….

BILL RUSSELL: Women have no rights.

JOHN DEAN: Women have no rights at all in the fundamentalist thinking. In fact, if you recall the Bork confirmation hearings, he changed his mind. He had a “confirmation conversion” when he decided well, maybe the equal rights provisions of the Constitution do apply to women after all. Because he wasn't ready to write off over half the country to try to get on the Court.

PAULA GORDON: These folks are ready to “Bork America”, as you point out.

JOHN DEAN: They are. That’s exactly… Bork is both a martyr and a “verb”, as I describe him. And to me, this is the most important chapter. I lay out in some detail where a fundamentalist court would go. And it’s not very hard to do, because all the elements are there. They just need one more vote and then we have a very very different country.

BILL RUSSELL: You also point out -- and I don't want to let this go -- that one or more of these (Supreme Court Justices) lied to Congress in order to be appointed, to be confirmed.

JOHN DEAN: Sadly I had to report that, and…

PAULA GORDON: Three is where I count.

JOHN DEAN: Well, let's… The ones that are sitting. Roberts. Alito. Several members of the sitting Senate will tell you they felt they were lied to by those people, to get their seats. The one I looked at very closely was Clarence Thomas, who made some outrageous remarks during this confirmation period -- and I'm not just talking about the sexual harassment charges, I'm talking about his judicial thinking -- where he claimed that he had no opinion on Rowe v. Wade. He's not on the Court a month before he is all but calling for its being overturned. Quickly he learned how he felt about it, obviously. So these people are not necessarily playing it square. Most members of the Court wouldn't be recognized on the street, if you were to encounter them. It’s the most secretive of the branches by far, and the most dangerous.

PAULA GORDON: And as you say in a line that perhaps you thought of as a throw-away, the American people had a revolution once and could do it again. So thank you for being so explicit in Broken Government about not only where we are but where we can go. John Dean, it has been a pleasure.

JOHN DEAN: The pleasure is mine.

PAULA GORDON: John Dean has done a great service with his trilogy shining a light on 40 years of extremism within the Republican Party. His books _Worse Than Watergate:  The Secret Presidency of George W. Bush_ and _Conservatives Without Conscience_ are both important...and _Broken Government_ is a MUST READ.  We thank Mr. Dean for his lifetime commitment to telling the truth -- and for doing so here with us.
I’m Paula Gordon.  I wish you well.

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“The Paula Gordon Show: Conversations with People at the Leading Edge”(sm)/John Dean 9/17/07 ©2007


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