Ferdinand Marcos

SYNOPSIS: Musings on Ferdinand Marcos and George W. Bush and this recent interview in Der Spiegel (apologies for the awful transation)

I hear through the grapevine that one of my web stalkers went into a snit over my Spiegel interview - particularly over a joke about Bush resembling Ferdinand Marcos more than Gary Cooper. I forgot: Glorious Leader is not to be mocked. But anyway, the history of the Marcos regime is worth knowing. It has, shall we say, a certain resonance.

By the way, I spent some time in the Philippines: In 1990 I led a small United Nations Development Program mission to Manila, and wrote a report on the Philippine economy.  But what follows comes from Stanley Karnow's "In Our Image: America's Empire in the Philippines."

Marcos didn't start out as a dictator - he was legitimately elected in 1965. Smart observers had early doubts about his character; in particular, they noticed that he told stories about his wartime exploits in the resistance, exploits that were entirely fictitious. But it took a very, very long time before the U.S. media recognized the obvious truth. In fact, for years he received gushing coverage: Time praised his "dynamic, selfless leadership", while Life compared Imelda to both Jackie Kennedy and Eleanor Roosevelt.

Marcos was reelected in 1969. But in 1972 he took advantage of a series of terrorist bombings in Manila  - some of the bombs, it turned out, were planted by his henchmen - to seize dictatorial power. Democratic niceties had to be put aside, he explained, in order to fight Communism.

At first, he pledged to fight corruption as well as Communism. But eventually his regime took corruption to new heights. The phrase "crony capitalism" comes from the Marcos-era Philippines, where political connections were the key to vast wealth.

Still, some U.S. politicians didn't seem to mind. In 1981 - that is, almost a decade after Marcos suspended the Philippine constitution - Vice President George Bush toasted him for his "adherence to democratic principles and the democratic process." In 1986, when Corazon Aquino led the "people power" revolution against Marcos, Ronald Reagan tried to persuade her to compromise with Marcos - who had murdered her husband. But Reagan, you see, admired Marcos for his wartime heroism and his strong stand against Communism.

In case you're wondering: no, I don't think that Bush is the moral equivalent of Marcos, and I'm not endorsing the theory that 9/11 was a Carlyle Group conspiracy.  But as many people have now acknowledged, this is an administration of "access capitalists" - which is just the American version of crony capitalism. Is there also a resemblance in the sense that Bush has used fears of terrorism for political gain? Of course there is. Memos from Karl Rove are quite explicit about using the war on terror as a political issue. Moreover, the Bush administration's creation of a cult of personality, its obsessive secretiveness, its propensity for mass arrests, and its evident fondness for Big-Brotherish schemes of public surveillance are not the actions of men who have a deep respect for the democratic process.

Originally published on the Official Paul Krugman Site, 1.9.03