Wednesday, October 27, 2010

"The Republicans are Nazis"?

Drawing parallels between contemporary politics and Nazism is a dubious enterprise. It's usually a good idea to maintain a taboo against it because, as "Nazi" and "fascist" became multi-purpose curses in political discourse, such parallels were both ubiquitously drawn and in almost every case entirely inappropriate. We have to be able to learn from the past and when we cheapen the world's experience with fascism by hanging the label on everything we don't like, we're cheating ourselves of the ability to do so.

That's the same reason such parallels shouldn't, as some argue, automatically be taboo. The taboo was created to combat inappropriate use of such comparisons. From that, the best of intentions, one could argue we've often erred in the opposite direction, coming to regard any comparison at all as inherently out-of-line. If overuse of the labels makes it difficult to learn anything from our past, being overly zealous in rejecting any comparison to fascism makes learning anything nearly impossible. The yardstick by which we should measure any such comparison should always be its appropriateness.

With that as preface, "Down With Tyranny" is rather alarmed today:
"Michael Godwin can [shove it]. The Republicans are Nazis... Or do you not see the relation between Sharron Angle's 'Second Amendment remedies,' Joe Miller's private thugs roughing up journalists, Daniel Webster's religious cult calling for the stoning of disobedient women and gays (stoning to death, I might add), Republicans' incessant demands that the Constitution be altered in ways they prefer, Boehner's 'Hell, No' obstructionism to economic salvation for the country, Rich Iott's glorification and emulation of SS death squads, physically violence towards women from top tier GOP candidates like David Rivera and Tom Ganley, and Monday evening's ugly 'altercation,' as Rand Paul put it in defending his fascist supporters, 'between supporters of both sides?' If America votes in the Republicans next week, it's one giant step--perhaps an irreversible one--towards what the German's allowed to happen to them in 1933."
As fascist parallels go, this skirts right along the boundary of appropriate and inappropriate. DWT is obviously mixing up a lot of elements on the right here and overly generalizing. My initial impulse was simply to write it off as over-the-top but there are certain on-the-ground facts (beyond those outlined by DWT) that hinder such an easy dismissal. Not so much related to this election in particular but about various trends in what, today, passes for American conservatism, reactionary trends feeding into if not fascism proper, a strong protofascism. This has been trending for some time now.

Consider what happened during the Bush administration. In George Bush Jr., the U.S. was confronted with a "president" who asserted the power to ignore U.S. law and the constitution at will; to unilaterally suspend fundamental constitutional rights like the free press; to kidnap anyone anywhere in the world, including U.S. citizens on U.S. soil, and to throw them in a deep, dark hole, with no access to courts, lawyers, any semblance of due process. From there, the victims of this government kidnapping could, the administration asserted, be tortured, shipped off to foreign soil to be tortured, tried in secret kangaroo courts with secret evidence and predetermined outcomes and even murdered in secret. Or, they could just be left down in that deep, dark hole to rot. Forever. Behind closed doors, the administration claimed the "authority" to read our emails, listen in on our phone conversations, dig through our financial records. They openly used "signing statements" to assert that they were immune from literally hundreds of laws passed by the legitimately elected government. Obsessed with secrecy, they made getting any significant information from the government almost impossible while carrying out a program of "cleansing" the key agencies of that same government of elements considered insufficiently "loyal" to Bush. They lied the U.S. into undertaking an imperial project in Iraq that has cost thousands of lives, billions in treasure and resulted in a quagmire from which the U.S. hasn't yet managed to extricate itself and had every intention of doing the same thing in Iran. And that's just for starters.

Bush was certainly no fascist but it's very difficult to look at everything he did and justify too vigorously wagging one's finger at someone who says he detected in that the whif of fascism. Certainly, the historical precedents for what Bush did are to be found primarily in squalid dictatorships.

And what about the larger American right? While Bush was building an embryonic tyranny of monstrous proportions, the conservatives practically worshiped him. Among conservative Republicans, he was probably both the most popular president and the most consistently popular one in the history of polling. As Bush was leaving office in Jan. 2009, his poll numbers among the general public in ruins, the ABC/Washington Post poll asked respondents to offer an overall rating of his administration: A whopping 82% of conservative Republicans rated him a success; 53% "strongly."

There is a strong protofascist current among what passes for conservatives today. The extreme anti-immigrant, anti-gay, anti-"different" sentiment is a part of it. A recurring example that never ceases to dismay is how even mainstream conservative figures now makes it a matter of furious controversy every time the Obama administration arrests someone as a suspect in a terrorism-related crime rather than simply kidnapping and torturing the fellow without regard for U.S. law or the Constitution. This represents an even closer step toward fascism than Bush encouraged, as his administration boasted of trying hundreds of terror suspects in legitimate courts, without any objection from the larger right. The Republican leader in the Senate describes his parties' primary goal as gaining power. They have the seemingly bottomless support of the money elite. A lot of what "Down With Tyranny" cites today could, indeed, be used to fill out this train of thought.

These are trends that are profoundly disturbing, particularly given the fact that the Obama administration chose to give the Bush gang a pass--no prosecutions or even investigations and, worse, much of what Bush did has either been allowed, by the Obama, to pass into precedent or has been actively defended by the current administration. This leaves in place the lawless governing monster Bush built, still there to be used by whomever may come along, while, at the same time, the Republicans, whatever they are or may become, are, in this theoretical two-party state, always the default beneficiaries of frustration with the majority party.

It may be that DWT's comments today skirt the boundary of appropriate with regard to the use of Nazi parallels. Such parallels are, practically speaking, generally quite unhelpful. He clearly thinks the barbarians are at the gates. It may be that his major error in this is in failing to realize how much progress they've already made.


1 comment:

Niceguy Eddie said...

I find nothing wrong at all with "Down With Tyranny's" Fascist comparison, nor do I have any issue with the case you lay out. The problem as I see it, and you said it: that we are so afraid to SAY "Nazi" or "Fascist" that the Right have figured out that they can act JUST LIKE THEM, and no one will call them out on it! So screw 'em. They're fascists. DwT's made the case, you've made the case, I've made the case, and many others have made the case. The Right is a bigger threat to this country and it's freedoms than Al-Quaeda, and ahs been for some time - well befopre 9/11. 9/11 just gave them political capital to spend. And it is their own behavior and policies that has brought on these comparision. They are well earned and richly deserved.