Mitt Romney will this weekend threaten war on Iran if he is elected president, as he tries to recover from accusations that he embarrassed America with his calamitous visit to London.
He describes a nuclear-armed Iran as “the greatest threat to the world” and has struck a more bellicose tone than Barack Obama, telling Tehran: “If you want peace, prepare for war”.
When neoconservatives say that they are the party of “law and order,” it is important to remember that they care less for the rule of law than they do for the rule of order.
The modern law and order movement kicks off in 1964 with Barry Goldwater’s speech accepting the GOP nomination. Then a minor issue, law and order had particular resonance in the South, where George Wallace was gaining a following with a similar message. Goldwater, while suffering a major loss in the election, did particularly well among Southern states using this message, something Richard Nixon would put to good use in the next election.
There were good reasons behind the law and order movement’s success in bringing the South into the GOP. Some of these reasons have to do less with a neoconservative project than with a very old conservative project. As historian Robert Perkinson explores in his book Texas Tough, there has always been a distinctly repressive character to the Southern prison, with its chain gangs, forced labor, and limited attempts at reform. These vicious practices, born out of the era of slavery, remain and shape the modern prison. As Perkinson says of the penal labor farms in East Texas, “Nowhere else in turn-of-the-millennium America could one witness gangs of African American men filling cotton sacks under the watchful eyes of armed whites on horseback.”
As political power moved to the Sunbelt and conservatives successfully realigned the South rightward, these brutal tactics became wedded to the Republican Party. The prison is part of the conservative project of race control. As Michelle Alexander argues in The New Jim Crow, mass incarceration locks people of color into permanent second-class citizenship much as the Jim Crow system of de jure and de facto segregation did in the past. Legalized discrimination, political disenfranchisement, and segregation, instituted through techniques like job licensing restrictions and legal requirements for voting, are features of both regimes.