The death of America
Friday, October 01, 2004
We've already gotten, courtesy of the Republican Party, dire warnings about the evil Democratic conspiracy to destroy America through gay marriage and banning the Bible.
Now House Majority Leader Tom DeLay holds forth on the subject of gay marriage:
- Insisting that "Peter and Paul cannot be mothers, and Mary and Jane cannot be fathers," DeLay argued in an emotional closing statement that such marriages would destroy the nation.
"This country will go down," DeLay warned, going so far as to say that without "ideal" unions of man and woman, "Gangs form, and gangs become the substitute for families. Everyone knows that."
Sure, Tom. We wouldn't want gangs of America-haters disrupting our way of life, would we?
In the meantime, I'll consider myself duly warned. Those vicious gangs of gays and lesbians who have been getting married in the Capitol Hill area must be really scary.
[Via Ayn Clouter at The American Street.]
Nasty days are here
Now that the dust has settled, it's more than abundantly clear that John Kerry kicked George W. Bush's squinting, smirking little kabootie in last night's debate. The polls are likely to reflect a shift in his favor. And that means it's about to get really nasty.
It's become clear (as long predicted) that the central theme of the Republicans in this year's campaign is going to be: A vote for Democrats is a vote for terrorists. (See, e.g., the ad that appeared on the RNC Website: "10 out of 10 terrorists agree: Anybody But Bush!") That was, as just noted, the context of one of Bush's more notable evasions last night.
This meme has already been in play for awhile, and we're going to start hearing it a lot more. Of course, if you want to get to the meat of the GOP meme du jour, go to the wellspring. Ann Coulter, as always, boils down the meme to its essential in this interview at Amazon:
- Amazon.com: How important is this presidential election in the larger context of the Republic and its history?
Ann Coulter: Insofar as the survival of the Republic is threatened by the election of John Kerry, I'd say 2004 is as big as it gets.
Amazon.com: Is there one standout issue, and why does it make a difference? What are the most crucial issues?
Coulter: I repeat: The survival of the Republic is threatened by the election of John Kerry. I'd say that's the big one.
... Amazon.com: What would a Kerry administration mean?
Coulter: Quite possibly the destruction of the Republic.
Talk about staying "on message."
Now, it doesn't take a majority of the country to make widespread belief in this meme a serious problem. I mean, if you believed that the very survival of the nation itself rested on defeating John Kerry, wouldn't you be willing to resort to just about anything to prevent it?
The mainstream conservatives who propagate this belief -- from Bush to Cheney on down -- are effectively radicalizing their supporters, at least those who take their pronouncements as Gospel. Anymore, that's about 30 percent of the population -- a minority, but sizeable enough to be a serious problem.
And believe me, it is getting nasty out there.
We've already seen, of course, incidents of arson and vandalism directed at Democratic campaign offices; assaults on protesters at Bush/Cheney appearances; and generally ratcheted-up levels of political thuggery.
Look: There's always a certain amount of nastiness in any election, and it's usually an equal-opportunity situation. Certain conservatives haven't enjoyed any monopoly on nastiness, this year or any other.
But the increased levels of threats, intimidation, and dirty tricks like sign theft, as well as the sheer number of problems, are heavily on the Republican side this year, especially in rural and suburban districts.
It's being directly encouraged by such pseudo-fascist threads as the "Democrats=terrorists" theme, as well as incidents such as Dick Cheney telling Pat Leahy, "Go fuck yourself" on the Senate floor -- and then not only refusing to apologize for it, but clearly recommending it as a course of action.
Longtime readers are aware I've been cataloguing the rise of this eliminationist nastiness for some time, and will continue to do so here. The latest updates, in fact, are indicative of another ratchet-step forward in an increasingly violent and intimidating approach to the 2004 campaign, particularly on the ground level. It's a level that hasn't raised itself to being newsworthy on a broad scale; but like a low-grade fever, it can be a harbinger as well.
Take, for instance, the recent report from Pulling Out the Savoy Truffle on the following incident out of Rockingham County, North Carolina:
- As reported in a full color above-the-fold front page article in The Messenger today, the local newspaper, several houses, including (some) on on the NC Register of Historic Places, were paint balled last week apparently because they had Kerry/Edwards signs in their yards. Houses in the same neighborhood that had no yard signs, or had Bush signs, were not hit by the gun propelled missiles.
On 9/16, the Eden Daily News carried a front page below-the-fold article datelined Madison which described how vandals were tearing down over 50 Kerry/Edwards signs almost as fast as they were put out. A local Democrat who had signs stolen said "Bush is the problem. He made this country divisive. We'll all have to pull together after the election is over. We've got to be bigger than tearing down signs."
In response to the article, Tommy Harrington, Chairman of the local Republican Party published a long "Second Opinion" article in the Eden News on Sept. 22nd, addressing the story. A bitter former Democrat who switched some years ago after serving as a State Highway Commissioner, Harrington launched into personal attacks on the reporter and the person quoted in her article. A practicing lawyer in Eden, Harrington made these comments about John Edwards and Congressional Democrats:
"They have divided this country, and the crime is they have done is deliberately. They are the ones who have turned other nations against us; they are the ones who have helped kill American military personnel by encouraging our enemies. It is undeniable that Mr. Kerry and his organization have given aid and comfort to enemies of this nation. Such actions as this can best be described as 'treasonous.'"
Before Harrington's article appeared, Dick Cartwright, Chairman of the local Democratic Party sent a letter to Harrington, notifying him of the sign vandalism and paint ball incident by his Republican supporters, and sent an abbreviated copy to local newspapers. Cartwright said, "I am asking you to enter into an informal agreement that you and I will do whatever we reasonably can to avoid this kind of vandalism and threat to private property for the duration of this election. I'm sure you are as embarrassed by the behavior of your supporters as we are upset by it. Hopefully, if you can speak forcefully to your people, we shall have no more of this".
Meanwhile, as the story of the paint balling incident spreads, questions begin to arise as to what can be done. Madison Police Chief Perry Webster was quoted as saying "It seem as though they were targets because of the Democratic signs in their yards. We're not going to tolerate it. We will find out who they are". He said a citizen has stepped up to offer a reward for information on the crime that leads to the arrest and conviction of whoever is responsible. "We've always had removal of signs, but I don't recall any damage being done."
Then there was this report out of Minnesota (via 42) involving the actual distribution of hate literature:
- ...[A]t least 17 families with lawn signs supporting John Kerry received hate-filled diatribes that were inserted in greeting cards.
The mailings were addressed to "Doltocrat." In the envelopes, recipients found greeting cards with perky messages ranging from "Happy Rosh Hashanah" to "Get Well Soon." When the cards were opened, three pages of typewritten hate oozed out.
"You have committed yourself to supporting Kerry as evidenced by your subversive and immorally-suggestive Kerry lawn sign display ... and it will be practically impossible for you to back out and retract it now. ..."
And on and on. The mailings included praise for Hitler. Attacks on gays and Jewish people and "not-so-Christian" churches. Attacks on Kerry. Praise for President Bush.
I've also received personal e-mails from readers in affected areas. Thomas Gordanier writes to me from Silverton, Oregon:
- To get straight to the point, Republican yahoos have been swiping signs at a fairly impressive clip, with some signs getting less that 24 hours of lawn-life before some bozo in a pickup swipes it. This has been happening in Salem and Portland as well. People more or less have to bring their signs in at night or have them not be there in the morning. There are plenty of Bush/Cheney signs, but none of them have gone missing.
An Indymedia poster named Michelle reports that things are getting ugly in Nevada County, California, as well:
- In my county, the threats are getting bigger and bolder. There are written threats and phone threats to all democratic candidates for all offices, including school board! Our last democrat was pressured to become republican.
...Most of our county democrats are senior citizens, and they are afraid to put bumper stickers on their cars, ride in cars with Kerry or local Dem stickers on it, etc.
These reports are less reliable, perhaps, but the sheer level of them this year strikes me as unusual.
And then there are cases in which Bush campaign staffers appear to be directly involved in intimidation attempts, such as the one recently reported in the Cincinatti Post:
- Last weekend, minutes after obtaining two tickets to President Bush's huge rally Monday in West Chester, Caudell said she had the tickets ripped from her hand by two men who objected to the Kerry bumper sticker on her car.
The men, Caudell said, blocked her from getting into her car outside the West Chester office of Rep. John Boehner, one of the GOP's distribution points for the rally tickets, until one forcibly took the tickets from her. The two 40-ish men -- who Caudell believes were Bush campaign volunteers -- also were verbally abusive, calling her a "sinner" and "terrorist" for supporting Kerry and even going far as to suggest that she might intend to harm Bush at the rally.
... Although an ardent Kerry supporter whose interest in politics and the presidential race was aroused by a government class last spring, Caudell said she wanted to attend the Bush rally at Voice of America Park simply for the thrill of seeing a presidential visit virtually in her own backyard.
"I always wanted to hear the president speak," Caudell said. "How often is the president in West Chester?"
For Caudell, the ticket episode was not the only time that her preference for Kerry has drawn harsh reactions in heavily Republican West Chester. Her car, which until recently also had "Vote for Kerry" painted on its back window, has been spit on, and the 17-year-old, in her mother's words, frequently has had "single digits waved at her" while driving.
None of those past incidents, though, was as troubling as that which unfolded in the parking lot outside Boehner's office Saturday.
After picking up the tickets, Caudell said, she was confronted by a man who, seeing her getting into a car with a Kerry bumper sticker and the Kerry slogan painted on its rear window, asked whether she was a Kerry supporter. When she replied that she was, the man, by then joined by a second man, called her a terrorist for not supporting Bush, Caudell said.
"I said, 'If a Democrat was in the White House, would you support him?'" Caudell said. "He said, 'No.' And I said, 'Then by your own definition, you're a terrorist, too.'"
To that, Caudell said, the man told the 5-foot-3 cheerleader: "You're pretty snippy for someone so small."
The first man, who Caudell said did most of the talking -- with the second basically echoing his remarks -- grabbed her car door to prevent her from getting in and told her he would not allow her to leave until she surrendered the tickets. When she refused, he tore them from her hand, Caudell said.
This all took place before the debates, when their candidate was riding a steady lead in the polls and they were confident of victory.
As the tide turns, it's not going to get any nicer.
Thursday, September 30, 2004
I especially noted one little bit of evasion from Mr. Bush in tonight's debate:
- LEHRER: New question, Mr. President, two minutes.
Do you believe the election of Senator Kerry on November the 2nd would increase the chances of the U.S. being hit by another 9/11-type terrorist attack?
BUSH: No, I don't believe it's going to happen. I believe I'm going to win, because the American people know I know how to lead. I've shown the American people I know how to lead.
Bush's answer actually conceded the thesis of the question: That Kerry's election would in fact increase the likelihood of terrorist attack. He just denied that there was any chance that outcome could happen.
Which has something of an ominous ring, doesn't it?
Lying with impunity
Wednesday, September 29, 2004
I know it's well past time to move on regarding George Bush's National Guard records, thanks to CBS' contamination of the story in the public's mind.
But it is well worth noting that Team Bush now is so confident that the public has been officially bamboozled they will openly and publicly lie on the record about Bush's service.
In fact, the White House officially uttered a naked falsehood today in response to continuing questions about those National Guard records:
- The answers also addressed why Bush skipped a required physical in the summer of 1972, prompting the termination of his pilot status. "The president was transferring to Alabama to perform equivalent duty in a non-flying capacity, making a flight physical unnecessary," the White House said.
This is simply and transparently false. It is not merely misleading; it falsifies just what Bush's obligations were. It also falsifies the facts of the sequence of events.
Bush was in fact suspended for failure to take a physical on Aug. 1, 1972. This fact has never been in dispute. What no one has discussed, of course, is the very fact of a suspension is a serious black mark on any military pilot's record.
Bush did not even apply to transfer to the unit for which he was approved until Sept. 5. It specifically applies for only a three-month transfer to non-flying status.
Bush's transfer to Alabama was approved Sept. 15. Again, it was only for the three-month period requested, and specifically notes: "Lieutenant Bush will not be able to satisfy his flight requirements with our group."
You see, Bush was expected to return to flying duty in Texas once the Alabama duty was complete, because that was what he had signed up for. Even if Bush was transferring temporarily to non-flying status, he was required to maintain his flight status at all times. This is standard military-pilot regulation. Skipping a physical is not an option.
As Paul Lukasiak has pointed out:
- The first explanation given by the Bush campaign back in 2000 was that he didn't get the physical because he was in Alabama and his family physician was in Texas. When it was pointed out that only Air Force flight surgeons could administer a flight physical, the Bush campaign came up with a new excuse -- Bush didn't take the physical because there were no planes for him to fly in Alabama.
This, of course, is pure balderdash, because maintaining one's flight status was a requirement of Bush's Air Force Specialty Code (AFSC), which is Air Force jargon for "his job." Even if Bush couldn't do his job temporarily for some reason, he was still required to maintain his flight status. Bush had only two choices, either accomplish the physical, or ask for a new job that did not require flight status.
The White House's contention that the Alabama transfer "made a physical unnecessary" is simply and nakedly false.
The only scenario under which the physical would have been unnecessary were if Bush had applied for a waiver of his commitment and transfer of duties. In fact, Bush did not apply for such a discharge or transfer of duties until Sept. 5, 1973 -- more than a full year after his suspension. At no time in that year did he ever seek to reinstate his flight status. Nor, evidently, did he ever show back up at Ellington Air Force Base in Texas.
It is worth noting that Bush had in fact applied for temporary transfer to an Alabama unit for which he was not eligible (and had been informed of this ineligibility by his superiors) on May 26, 1972. Headquarters officially disallowed the request on July 31. Dan Bartlett, Bush's spokesman, has argued that he was in contact with his superiors the whole time and was proceeding on their approval. But it is simply not conceivable that any officer would have recommended Bush skip his physical, particularly not under the circumstances of a temporary transfer. So it is almost certainly not a coincidence that a day after the HQ denial, Bush was suspended.
Now, we've also heard a great deal about claims that Bush, before he stopped flying in April 1972, logged heavy hours of pilot service. This is ulimately, however, irrelevant. What is relevant is this:
When Bush signed up with the Texas Air National Guard, he signed a commitment to fly jets for a total of 72 months.
He flew, in fact, for a total of 40 months, including his training.
In other words, Bush fulfilled only a little more than half of his sworn commitment.
That should speak for itself.
UPDATE: Remember how every right-wing blogger on the planet was certain that those CBS documents were produced on a word processor? Turns out that, according to at least one respected forensicist, they were made by a typewriter after all. Hmm. [Thanks to the Ox and Mary Schumacher at Table Talk.]
You know, it sure is comforting to hear from certain sectors of the American right that their hatred of "Arab terrorists" is not racist -- oh, no, not at all! How dare we even suggest that? Right, Glenn? Right, Charles?
Of course, it's a little harder to explain away letters like the one that recently appeared approvingly in the right-wing blog Horsefeathers, clearly advocating genocide directed toward the whole of "Arab-Muslim culture" -- including those who live in America:
- I've worked hard all my adult life to provide for my family, to be useful, and not go out of my way to injure anyone. Like most Americans, I knew little about arab-muslim culture and believed that the developed nations were partly responsible for the poverty and authoritarian regimes that infest the middle east.
Things changed on 9/11/01 when you ruined the lives of at least 10,000 Americans.
These people instantly became my countrymen and you became my mortal enemy.
Ordinary Americans are arming themselves for war with you. I and many of my friends have closets full of handguns, rifles, shotguns and thousands of cartridges.
If we had enough ammunition and time, we would kill every last one of you.
We completely support our President and our armed forces. We only wish they would destroy you faster, but we are certain that they will.
We no longer listen to the insane words of Kerry, Harkin, Kennedy, Clark, and others whom we now see as ideologues who would sacrifice our country and our lives on the alter of their vanity and desire for power.
We no longer listen to our secular mullahs, our media fools, preaching hatred of America and sapping our will with their lies and deceptions.
We watch your cowardly methods of killing by beheading. We are disgusted. But we are not afraid.
You turn your women and children into walking bombs. We are disgusted. But we are not afraid.
You shoot and rape children. You kill their mothers before their eyes. You burn, hang, and tear apart the bodies of your victims, and then play with body parts. We are disgusted. But we are not afraid.
Why should we fear you? What ARE you to be feared? You are cowards. Your bravado is a clown mask that hides the soul of a ghoul. You are not able even to manufacture the knives you use to butcher your bound victims.
One day soon, our planes and missiles will begin turning your mosques, your madrasses, your hotels, your government offices, your hideouts, and your
neighborhoods into rubble.
And then our soldiers will enter your cities and begin the work of killing you, roaches, as you crawl from the debris.
As cowards, you will have your hands in the air and you will get on your knees begging for mercy. And we will instead give you justice. Your actions and your
words long ago placed you far from any considerations of mercy. You are not men.
And if you come to this country and harm a child, shoot a mother, hijack a bus, or bomb a mall, we will do what we did in 1775. Millions of us will form militias.
We will burn your mosques.
We will invade the offices of pro-arab-muslim organizations, destroy them, and drag their officers outside.
We will tell the chancellors of universities either to muzzle or remove anti American professors, whose hatred for their own country we have tolerated only
because we place a higher value on freedom of speech. But we will no longer tolerate treason. We will muzzle and remove them.
We will transport arab-muslims to our deserts, where they can pray to scorpions under the blazing sun.
No doubt, that last item would be justified by people waving Michelle Malkin's In Defense of Internment.
Not that Michelle herself is "advocating" such steps, mind you. Heavens no.
Pseudo-fascism? How dare we even suggest such a thing?
UPDATE: The author of the letter -- a professor of sociology at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington named Martin Kozloff -- has posted the following in the Horsefeathers comments:
- I am so disheartened, but not surprised, by what is happening.
How long did democracy last in Greece? Not long.
Or Rome? Not long.
Why? They stopped DOING democracy and started doing class/group warfare. They tried to defend their own positions and not work for the good of the whole.
I can barely stand the amount of conflict among our own citizenry over this war. Instead of examining as much evidence as possible and then making reasoned decisions, each side--hawk and dove--merely advances its pre-estabished position and attacks the other side. This, I feel, is tearing our country apart. It also means that sheer power, rather than democratic processes, will decide our nation's future.
I wish to make it clear that...
The letter was NOT my opinion.
I was NOT advocating ANYTHING in that letter.
The letter was sociological in intent. It was a literary device to get readers to examine their own assumptions.
I have NO hatred of Arabs or Muslims in general--only killers, as clearly stated in the letter.
I do not advocate killing anyone or burning anything. I do not consider Arabs or Muslims to be roaches. I do not advocate killing people who beg for mercy. I do not advocate muzzling professors. Anyone who knows me, knows the truth of what I just said.
The letter was expressing the feelings and drives of what I see in more and more Americans.
I did not sign my name to it precisely because it did NOT represent my opinion.
When read dispassionately, it should be clear that when the words "arab muslim" were used , they referred to people designed as "our enemies"--NOT to all Arabs and Muslims merely. The letter also made it quite clear that "arab muslims" and "our enemies" were the people (called "you," again and again in the letter) who are engaged in beheading, raping, mutilating, burning, hanging, and bombing.
Further evidence that the letter was a device designed to get people to face their own assumptions and feelings, was that I SAID EXACTLY THAT on websites where it was originally posted. [I did not first put a link to it on the University website.]
For example, I wrote this in the "Comments" section of the Horsefeathers websiste...
"I was writing what I believe will happen if our enemies attack us again."
"I (boldface) advocated nothing. I (boldface) said what I thought was happening and was going to happen even more if we were attacked again.
"Perhaps instead of attacking me (which is okay if you need a target) why not discuss the issues? For example,
"At what point or under what conditions will citizens begin to form militias to protect themselves?
"When is it a good/bad thing for them to do so?
"Under what conditions will citizens take the law into their own hands, as they say?
"When is this a good/bad thing to do?
"Under what conditions will citizens violate what had been their own moral code (such as not harming noncombatants) in order to protect themselves.
"Under what conditions do ordinary persons begin to see themselves as soldiers?
"These questions are more important than whether I am (or you are) the bigger %$$wit."
Clearly, these are sociological questions. Had I been the sort of racist war hawk that anodyne web asserts, I would not have raised those sociological questions; I would simply have attacked other commenters.
I posted the faked position on the Horsefeathers webiste because I thought it would enable us to discuss in a more rational way how we as a country may be changing--for the worse.
If anyone continues to believe that I was intended to incite violence or that I am a racist, they have only their own hardened positions to blame.
Sure. And the dog ate his homework.
The fires of corruption
Just imagine, for a moment, what would have happened during the Clinton administration if a Democratic congressman had run afoul of the law and was under investigation by federal authorities, only to have them called off the case by high-ranking administration officials after they met with said congressman.
Imagine the kind of "scandal" that would be generated by the right-wing propaganda machine over such a case. Imagine the cries of "corruption" and "cronyism" that would emanate from the likes of Rush Limbaugh and Bill O'Reilly, nonstop. Imagine the demands for a full investigation of the situation.
Well, we've known for a long time that a double standard is in play with both the media and the American right when it comes to illegal and corrupt behavior. It's only a scandal if a Democrat is involved; it's OK, of course, if you're a Republican.
Now consider the case of South Carolina Rep. Henry Brown, who, as reported by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, set a fire on his private property that he negligently allowed to burn out of control. Forest Service officials were preparing to charge him accordingly -- but were called off by the Bush administration:
- On March 5, 2004, Rep. Brown conducted a prescribed burn on his property adjoining the national forest. Brown had a state permit authorizing a 25-acre burn but he set the fire on a day in which a "Red Flag Alert" was issued due to high winds. The fire quickly burned more than 200 acres of Brown's land and crossed over into the national forest, burning another 20 acres there. The Forest Service needed a helicopter, three fire engines and a bulldozer to bring the fire under control. A Forest Service review of the fire found that Brown was negligent:
"Mr. Brown was not adequately prepared to detect, or adequately equipped to suppress, the escaped fire on 5 March 2004 with only two men, a bucket of water, and no means of delivery of that water to the escaped fire."
... When Forest Service officials informed Rep. Brown that he would be cited for the fire, the Congressman expressed concern that his political opponents would find out about it and warned that if the Forest Service persisted its programs "might need to be scrutinized more closely." Brown then reportedly contacted agency officials at higher and higher levels without receiving the assurance of non-prosecution. It was not until he met with Agriculture Undersecretary Rey, a former timber lobbyist, that he extracted a promise to drop the matter. Even after agency specialists ruled that the collections requirement could not be waived, on August 24th, law enforcement agents were directed by email, "we are to take no action."
As the PEER spokesman suggested, this is a matter of corruption, pure and simple. That Brown has behaved corruptly -- the subject of a Charleston Post and Courier report -- is only part of the story.
The real issue, of course, is the behavior of Mark Rey:
- In early May, Brown met with Bosworth and Natural Resources and Environment Undersecretary Mark Rey, a Bush appointee and former timber industry lobbyist.
The complaint says Brown told the men "he was concerned about being issued a (ticket) and about being billed for the costs of suppressing the fire, especially because this was an election year."
Bosworth told Brown he would not be billed, the complaint says, and USDA staff attorneys looked for a way to legally get out of charging the congressman. One memo said the chief "has a real credibility issue here," according to the complaint.
Two days later, Gregory was ordered not to ticket Brown. He was told the order came from Rey.
Rey's office said Tuesday, however, that the case had not been closed. Through a spokesman, Rey said he could not comment further.
But don't hold your breath waiting for anyone in the so-called liberal national media to even bother addressing this.
Radio Free Orcinus
Tuesday, September 28, 2004
Just got back from a very pleasant trip to sunny Southern California. The three of us enjoyed the sun and surf in San Diego for three days, and I got in some media work too.
Most pleasant of all was our Saturday dinner with the esteemed TBogg and his charming and lovely wife. We got to try to Timpani for the first time, and it was a great night of conversation. We owe.
The Friday evening talk at Temecula Valley was worthwhile, even though I was quite rummy from having been up since early early morning. But the audience -- mostly members of the newly formed Not In Our Valley coalition -- was quite engaged, and I was impressed with their determination to make a difference. Thanks again to Kynn Bartlett for setting it all up.
I also was on the San Diego's XETV Fox Morning News program on Monday for a brief discussion of hate crimes.
But unquestionably the most rewarding media time was the hour I spent Sunday in Los Angeles on Ian Masters' Background Briefing on KPFK-FM.
Ian and I ranged across a number of subjects, from hate crimes to fascism and the conservative movement. If you click on the link above, you can get a download that will play the whole hour. Check it out, if you have the time.
Many thanks to producer Louis Vandenberg for setting up the show. (And if you have the time and inclination, you might want to pitch in to help Louis in his decidedly uphill battle for a seat in California's 44th District.)
The Rise of Pseudo Fascism
Sunday, September 26, 2004
[Part 1: The Morphing of the Conservative Movement]
Part 2: The Architecture of Fascism
The conservative movement's transformation into pseudo-fascism isn't immediately discernible because there's nothing recognizably exceptional about any single aspect of it. Indeed, most of it seems all too familiar.
Part of the problem, of course, is that we've come to think of fascism as primarily a European phenomenon. That's partly because fascism reflects the respective national identity of the nations where it arises; Nazism, for instance, was full of Germanic symbolism, and Italian fascism likewise suggested its national heritage. Its appearance in America, as such, will have little immediate resemblance to those earlier permutations.
Another reason it's unlikely to be recognized is that part of the mythology that has sprung up around fascism is that it is dead -- that it died in that Berlin bunker in 1945. But as reader Dante M writes:
- Classical fascism is dead, and has been for a long time, despite the fevered wishes of skinheads and American Nazi Party members. But *fascism* as an ideology remains: it's the Devil of the 20th Century, and its best trick was fooling people into thinking it doesn't exist anymore, or that it was defeated in 1945, or that they'd know it when they see it (propaganda is another boogeyman that people are confident that they recognize on sight, even though the best propaganda never gets seen for what it is). Maybe fascism is a natural human reaction to hard times -- a push for the certainty that is so missing from modern (and postmodern) life: People. Nation. Leader.
The idea has evolved to fit the times, which is something that most people don't recognize -- you say "Fascist" and they will conjure up recognizable images (Hitler, mass rallies, WW II, etc.). Or else it's a slur without much thought behind it. No serious, practicing neo-fascist would ever use that word to describe themselves -- only the most diehard Hitler worshippers would proudly tag themselves as "fascists." I'd even wager that the most actually fascist of reactionaries would be offended if you called them that. They'd say they were patriots, and then call you a traitor.
Even the Nazis and the Fascists of Italy used a lot of tactics before assuming power, which is why fascism presents such a protean, serpentine aspect -- that's key to understanding them. The goal of the fascist is the assumption of absolute power -- the one-party police state. That's what they've always been about. Everything else is secondary to that objective. …
Fascism is a poisonous ideology that grows and adapts to its circumstances -- Eurofascism reflected European vices; American fascism is similarly home-brewed. Therein lies the challenge in identifying it and combating it. Fascism always wraps itself in the flag, always seeks absolute power, always brands opponents as traitors, always relies heavily on propaganda for dissemination of its ideas, always invokes subversive enemies (at home and abroad), always embraces militarism and permanent war, always favors politicizing of police functions (and expanding them and the surveillance state), always scorns intellectuals, artists, and bourgeois democratic values, always is hostile to leftist and labor movements, and is obsessed with idealized images of a mythic "better time" of the past (while at the same time destroying that past, and the nation as a whole).
Fascism continues to live on because it derives from the meeting of human traits as ancient as Cain and the relatively recent rise of mass politics. It is, moreover, a phenomenon specifically associated with crises of democracy; so as long as there are democratic states -- and the possibility of their failure -- then the potential for fascism remains with us.
The most serious problem with recognizing fascism's presence, however, comes from the widespread abuse of the term. As I explained previously, in "Rush, Newspeak and Fascism":
- "Fascism" has come to be a nearly useless term in the past 30 years or so. In many respects, leftists are most responsible for this degradation; it became so common to lob the word at just about anyone conservative or corporatist in the 1960s and 1970s that its original meaning -- describing a very distinct political style, if not quite philosophy -- became utterly muddled, at least in the public lexicon.
… It is clear that liberals are every bit as prone to confusing fascism with totalitarianism as are conservatives. The difference, perhaps, is that the latter often do so deliberately, as a way of obscuring the genuine fascism that sits at their elbows.
As "fascism" has been bandied about freely, it has come loosely to represent the broader concept of totalitarianism, which of course encompasses communism as well. Right-wing propagandists like [Rush] Limbaugh clearly hope to leap into that breach of popular understanding to exploit his claim that those on the left, like Dick Gephardt or "feminazis," are "fascists." It's also clear as he denounces antiwar liberals as "anti-American" that he is depicting them as enemy sympathizers with the forces of "Islamofascism."
Most Americans have a perfectly clear idea of the basic tenets of communism (though in many cases it is fairly distorted), largely because it is an ideology based on a body of texts and revolving around specific ideas. In contrast, hardly anyone can explain what it is that makes fascism, mainly because all we really know about it is the regimes that arose under its banner. There are no extant texts, only a litany of dictatorships and atrocities. When we think of fascism, we think of Hitler and perhaps Mussolini, without even understanding what forces they rode to power.
Carefully examining the history of fascism begins to give us perhaps a better understanding:
- In a historical sense, fascism is maybe best understood as an extreme reaction against socialism and communism; in its early years it was essentially defined as "extremist anti-communism." There were very few attempts to systematize the ideology of fascism, though some existed (see, e.g. Giovanni Gentile's 1932 text, The Philosophical Basis of Fascism). But its spirit was better expressed in an inchoate rant like Mein Kampf.
It was explicitly anti-democratic, anti-liberal, and corporatist, and it endorsed violence as a chief means to its ends. It was also, obviously, authoritarian, but claiming that it was oriented toward "socialism" is just crudely ahistorical, if not outrageously revisionist. Socialists, let's not forget, were among the first people imprisoned and "liquidated" by the Nazi regime.
Robert O. Paxton, in his landmark study The Anatomy of Fascism, neatly sums up the place of fascism in the history of politics as the emergence of a "dictatorship against the Left amidst popular enthusiasm." But what are its guiding principles?
In reality, there really are none. Fascism in the end is the manifestation, in the context of modern mass politics, of the raw will to power, the drive to achieve totalitarian control over others through any means necessary or possible.
But fascism is more than just a reaction or untrammeled will. It is a political force with a distinct set of characteristics.
Over the years, there have been many attempts to define and describe fascism. Chip Berlet, the researcher from the Cambridge, Mass., think tank Political Research Associates, describes it thus:
- Fascism demands racial, ethnic, or cultural unity and the collective rebirth of a nation while seeking to purge demonized enemies that are often scapegoated as subversive and parasitic. Fascism is a form of authoritarian ultra-nationalism that glorifies action, violence, and a militarized culture. Fascism can exist as an ideology, a mass movement, or a form of state government. Fascism attacks both liberal democratic pluralism and left-wing revolutionary movements while proposing a totalitarian version of populist mass politics. Fascism parasitizes other ideologies, juggles many internal tensions and contradictions, and produces chameleon-like adaptations based on the specific historic symbols, icons, slogans, traditions, myths, and heroes of the society it wishes to mobilize.
Probably the most concise definition comes from Oxford political-science professor Roger Griffin, who calls it "palingenetic ultranationalistic populism". In one key essay, Griffin offers the following definition:
- Fascism: modern political ideology that seeks to regenerate the social, economic, and cultural life of a country by basing it on a heightened sense of national belonging or ethnic identity. Fascism rejects liberal ideas such as freedom and individual rights, and often presses for the destruction of elections, legislatures, and other elements of democracy. Despite the idealistic goals of fascism, attempts to build fascist societies have led to wars and persecutions that caused millions of deaths. As a result, fascism is strongly associated with right-wing fanaticism, racism, totalitarianism, and violence.
Fascism, according to some who have studied it, is a kind of "political religion" -- that is, it coalesces around a "sacralisation of politics" that acts as a substitute faith for its followers. According to Italian political theorist Emilio Gentile, who studied the totalitarian movements of interwar Europe, this sacralisation takes place when:
- ... more or less elaborately and dogmatically, a political movement confers a sacred status on an earthly entity (the nation, the country, the state, humanity, society, race, proletariat, history, liberty, or revolution) and renders it an absolute principle of collective existence, considers it the main source of values for individual and mass behaviour, and exalts it as the supreme ethical precept of public life.
This imparts to fascism a particular trait that Paxton describes as one of the real telltale signs of its presence:
- ... [E]ach national variant of fascism draws its legitimacy, as we shall see, not from some universal scripture but from what it considers the most authentic elements of its own community identity. Religion, for example, would certainly play a much larger role in an authentic fascism in the United States than in the first European fascisms, which were pagan for contingent historical reasons.
What really sets fascism apart from nearly all other kinds of politics, however, is that, at its core, it is not about thought. It's all a matter of the gut.
Milton Mayer describes this in They Thought They Were Free: The Germans 1933-1945 (p. 111):
- Because the mass movement of Nazism was nonintellectual in the beginning, when it was only practice, it had to be anti-intellectual before it could be theoretical. What Mussolini's official philosopher, Giovanni Gentile, said of Fascism could have been better said of Nazi theory: "We think with our blood."
In his remarkable essay on "Ur-Fascism," Umberto Eco suggests the extent of this attribute of fascism by its reappearance in most of the traits by which he describes fascism, including "action for action's sake," "the rejection of modernism" "fear of difference," and the notion that "life is permanent warfare." Swedish political scientist Harald Ofstad likewise has zeroed in on "the contempt for weakness" as the essence of the norm in a fascist society.
However, it is Paxton's study that draws out this point in the greatest detail. Indeed, he describes the centricity of emotion -- and not any intellectual forebears -- as forming the basic architecture on which the fascist argument rests (pp. 40-41):
- To focus only on the educated carriers of intellect and culture in the search for fascist roots, furthermore, is to miss the most important register: subterranean passions and emotions. A nebula of attitudes was taking shape, and no one thinker ever put together a total philosophical system to support fascism. Even scholars who specialize in the quest for fascism's intellectual and cultural origins, such as George Mosse, declare that the establishment of a "mood" is more important than "the search for some individual precursors." In that sense, too, fascism is more plausibly linked to a set of "mobilizing passions" that shape fascist action than to a consistent and fully articulated philosophy. At bottom is a passionate nationalism. Allied to it is a conspiratorial and Manichean view of history as a battle between the good and evil camps, between the pure and the corrupt, in which one's own chosen community or nation has been the victim. In this Darwinian narrative, the chosen people have been weakened by political parties, social classes, unassimilable minorities, spoiled renters, and rationalist thinkers who lack the necessary sense of community.
These "mobilizing passions," mostly taken for granted and not always overtly argued as intellectual propositions, form the emotional lava that set fascism's foundations:
-- a sense of overwhelming crisis beyond the reach of any traditional solutions;
-- the primacy of the group, toward which one has duties superior to every right, whether universal or individual, and the subordination of the individual to it;
-- the belief that one's group is a victim, a sentiment which justifies any action, without legal or moral limits, against the group's enemies, both internal and external;
-- dread of the group's decline under the corrosive effect of individualistic liberalism, class conflict, and alien influences;
-- the need for closer integration of a purer community, by consent if possible, or by exclusionary violence if necessary;
-- the need for authority by natural leaders (always male), culminating in a national chief who alone is capable of incarnating the group's destiny;
-- the superiority of the leader's instincts over abstract and universal reason;
-- the beauty of violence and the efficacy of will, when they are devoted to the group's success;
-- the right of the chosen people to dominate others without restraint from any kind of human or divine law, right being decided by the sole criterion of the group's prowess in a Darwinian struggle.
If these "mobilizing passions" seem familiar, they should: They have been adopted, as I described in Part 1, by the American conservative movement -- embodied by the Republican Party -- as the very architecture of its agenda since the advent of the invasion of Iraq, and particularly as the core of its 2004 campaign for the presidency.
This is not a mere coincidence, and the danger it represents -- obviously -- is profound.
Next: Pseudo-fascism and the GOP