Mubarak’s rent-a-thugs

Will Mubarak’s American supporters be embarrassed? I doubt it.

Hosni Mubarak, desperately clinging to power and confronted not only by demonstrators but by the Army’s refusal to fire on them, unleashed a horde of hired thugs instead. Naturally, blood flowed.

Do you think Mike Huckabee and Mubarak’s other defenders will be embarrassed by this?

Me neither.

Footnote Yes, it’s an old dictatorial trick. Nixon had his “hard hats.”

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact:

21 thoughts on “Mubarak’s rent-a-thugs”

  1. Woop, woop, political hack reading edging into the yellow zone again… Mark, doubtless Nixon did have his hard hats, just as the modern Democratic party has SEIU, but what do “dictator” and Nixon have in common? You know, elected Nixon? Who resigned office without even having to be impeached?

    You can’t criticize Mubarak without calling an elected Republican President a “dictator”? You just had to insert that footnote?

  2. I think what makes a leader a “dictator” is not how he comes to power, but how he behaves once he’s in power. Once in office, does he abide by the rule of law, and allow his opponents to freely campaign/organize/demonstrate, or does he use the machinery of the state in an attempt to prevent his opponents from exercising their rights?

    Likewise, resignation doesn’t contradict the claim that someone’s a dictator. Lots of dictators have been forced to resign, formally or informally.

    That said, I’d agree with the basic point that implying Nixon was a “dictator” cheapens the meaning of the word. He clearly had dictatorial inclinations beyond what is normal or acceptable for a president, but in comparison to genuine dictators Nixon mostly restrained himself (or was restrained by the system) from giving in to those inclinations.

  3. What Mark said in his footnote was said better, if longer, by DSquared

    Brett is half-right. Nixon did not use hard hat violence as a direct tool of retaining power, unlike Mubarak. (Instead, Nixon used them as propaganda to support his legitimacy: Republican politics of ressentiment.) Nor, as J said, was Nixon really a dictator. (He’s not the only President to have a relaxed view of the rule of law where it conflicts with his prerogatives. Nor is his political party unique in tht respect.) But Nixon’s hard hats played the same social role as Mubarak’s thugs. Read DSquared.

  4. […]
    It didn’t start out that way. On Tuesday Jan 25 it all started peacefully, and against all odds, we succeeded to gather hundreds of thousands and get them into Tahrir Square, despite being attacked by Anti-Riot Police who are using sticks, tear gas and rubber bullets against us. We managed to break all of their barricades and situated ourselves in Tahrir. The government responded by shutting down all cell communication in Tahrir square, a move which purpose was understood later when after midnight they went in with all of their might and attacked the protesters and evacuated the Square. The next day we were back at it again, and the day after. Then came Friday and we braved their communication blackout, their thugs, their tear gas and their bullets and we retook the square. We have been fighting to keep it ever since.

    Egypt, right now!

  5. Let’s not forget the Kent State murders, which Nixon was not directly responsible for (although I’d say that he was more responsible than was Palin for the Tuscon murders), but about which Wikipedia states:

    Stanley Karnow noted in his Vietnam: A History that “The [Nixon] administration initially reacted to this event with wanton insensitivity. Nixon’s press secretary, Ron Ziegler, whose statements were carefully programmed, referred to the deaths as a reminder that ‘when dissent turns to violence, it invites tragedy.'” Nixon himself had talked of “bums” destroying US campuses, to which the father of Allison Krause stated on national TV “My child was not a bum.”

    With reference to “hard hats,” Wikipedia adds:

    Also on May 8, an antiwar protest at New York’s Federal Hall held at least partly in reaction to the Kent State killings was met with a counter-rally of pro-Nixon construction workers organized by Peter J. Brennan, later appointed U.S. Labor Secretary by President Nixon, resulting in the “Hard Hat Riot.”

  6. Nixon’s failure to hold anyone accountable for Kent State was also telling. And, to elaborate on comparison of Nixon and Palin, Nixon, unlike Palin, was President, so the tone that he set had more influence. (Sorry for the typo in “Tucson” in the previous comment.)

  7. “Do you think Mike Huckabee and Mubarak’s other defenders will be embarrassed by this?”

    When you say “other defenders”, do you mean like Joe Biden?

  8. As I recall, the one-two punch of “hard hats” and the “silent majority” did King Dick well in his efforts to beat the hell out of an emerging diverse society yearning for democratic change both violently and non-violently in the streets of America!

    Oh, and Mike Huckabee is an unabashed opportunist!

  9. Looks like the thugs are getting it done again…
    Remember when Karl sent his shock troops down to Florida to derail the recount?
    That set a chilling tone…
    The Right would not tolerate a Gore victory.

    Which is all to say:
    One man’s thugs are another man’s “skin in the game.”

    The way to change the dynamics of North American politics?
    Make it more like South American politics.
    The Left needs to get some serious skin into the game.
    I suspect the only one on the left who realizes this is David Brock (a reformed right wing hit man.)
    Hurry someone…. put this guy in charge.

  10. The SEIU are not thugs for the Democratic Party, no matter how often conservatives insist that they are.

  11. You can’t criticize Mubarak without calling an elected Republican President a “dictator”?

    Well, he didn’t call Nixon a dictator. He accused him of “dictatorial” tricks, which is not the same thing at all.*

    You can’t criticize Mark without misrepresenting him, Brett? You can’t criticize him without misrepresenting the meaning of words? You just had to throw in yet another misrepresentation of a Kleiman post?

    * dictatorial: “1. Tending to dictate; domineering;” dictate: “2.a. To prescribe with authority; impose:”

  12. E.g., accusing someone of “police” tactics is not accusing them of being a policeman.

  13. This is perhaps the first, last, and only time I’ll say that Brett has a reasonable point.

    The context of the post makes it clear that Nixon is being implicitly analogized to Mubarak. Adding an adjectival form of the word “dictator” just makes the analogy more obvious.

  14. Nixon’s “hard hats” were patriotic union members. Hardworking, blue-collar guys. The kind who do the arduous, physical labor.

  15. It seems to me that THIS sort of thing is precisely where twitter, blogs, and the rest of modern communications paraphernalia COULD actually play a useful role. Someone needs to be collecting and presenting to the outside world the names and photos of the thugs doing this so that, when the dust settles, they are called to account.

    Would the world not be a better place if (somewhere outside Egypt) there were a very very public record of these people and what they had done? And if it were well known (in Egypt and elsewhere) that any foreign company hiring in the next ten years will be looking at that list before hiring you? And any local company that ever wants to do business with a foreign company will likewise not have you on its payroll?

    Yeah yeah yeah, open to plenty of abuse, sure. But, as is the point of David Brin’s _Transparent Society_, this stuff doesn’t go away just because you hope it will. The good guys can either get on board (and then limit the worst excesses of the fallout post revolution with things like Truth and Reconciliation commissions) or they can leave it to Mubarak et al to be the only ways recording who is doing what and making damn sure their actions have consequences.

  16. Maynard,
    Nice idea. But the kinds of people who become rent-a-thugs are usually at the bottom of a multinational’s hiring list, anyway. Unless they, too, need the services of a rent-a-thug.

  17. Really, a better analogy was the riot outside the Dade County Board of Elections in 2000. A bunch of Republican officials under the direction of John Bolton successfully stopped a completely legitimate recount to help insure that Bush became President.

  18. I usually like Mark’s commentary so well that to see this Nixon remark is jarring. It doesn’t take much to fix it: Nixon was a “wannabe dictator,” but he was stopped many steps short of that goal.

  19. Who resigned office without even having to be impeached?

    Talk about disingenuous. Nixon resigned when every Republican congressman on the Judiciary Committee who had announced that they would voteannounced that they would vote to impeach in the full congress after having voted against impeachment in committee and after Nixon was advised that at most he had six votes in the Senate to avoid conviction. This, of course, after he had to release evidence that showed him, the person, who among his duties, per Article II, Section 3 of the US Constitution that “he shall take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed,” planning to use the CIA to thwart the FBI investigation of Watergate.

    He effectively copped a plea, that, in conjunction with Ford’s pardon, got him off with no punishment, not even the suspension of his law license. He resigned to avoid being forced out; a course which was inevitable.

  20. “Really, a better analogy was the riot outside the Dade County Board of Elections in 2000. A bunch of Republican officials under the direction of John Bolton successfully stopped a completely legitimate recount to help insure that Bush became President.”

    Yeah, interesting, that. The ‘rioters’ insisted that the count had to occur in the direct view of poll watchers, instead of being moved into a private room with nobody watching. The Board of Elections responded by deciding that it wasn’t worth recounting the votes if they had to do it in plain sight. And from this you conclude that it was the ‘rioters’ who were the problem, rather than what was going to happen behind closed doors. Understandable, it was your guys behind those closed doors. I suspect that if a Republican precinct had insisted on recounting votes with no witnesses, you might have taken a different view.

    Randy, I’ll agree that Nixon wasn’t exactly eager to resign, and might have made a fight of it if he’d thought that the impeachment could fail. The point, though, is that he didn’t have the members of Congress arrested, or put a cordon of marines around the White House, or anything like that. A dictator? No, he wasn’t.

  21. This sorta reminds me of our revolution in 1776. Why don’t the Egyptian people gather up all the smart individuals to form a Declaration of Independance? It only makes sense. That way the people won’t have to keep up with that idiot ‘controlling’ the country, and then they could start anew.

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