Saturday, October 30, 2004
It's already starting to look like the Kerry haters are going to eclipse the Clinton haters for sheer bile, and potentially violence as well, as revealed in this telling report from Salon's Michelle Goldberg:
- Lisa Dupler, a 33-year-old from Columbus, held up a rainbow-striped John Kerry sign outside the Nationwide Arena on Friday, as Republicans streamed out after being rallied by George W. Bush and Arnold Schwarzenegger. A thickset woman with very short, dark hair, Dupler was silent and barely flinched as people passing her hissed "faggot" into her ear. An old lady looked at her and said, "You people are sick!" A kid who looked to be about 10 or 11 affected a limp wrist and mincing voice and said, "Oh, I'm gay." Rather than restraining him, his squat mother guffawed and then turned to Dupler and sneered, "Why don't you go marry your girlfriend?" Encouraged, her son yelled, "We don't want faggots in the White House!"
The throngs of Republicans were pumped after seeing the president and the action hero. But there was an angry edge to their elation. They shrieked at the dozen or so protesters standing on the concrete plaza outside the auditorium. "Kerry's a terrorist!" yelled a stocky kid in baggy jeans and braces. "Communists for Kerry! Go back to Russia," someone else screamed. Many of them took up the chant "Kerry sucks"; old women and teenage boys shouting with equal ferocity.
... Dave, a 54-year-old electronic technician, said that if Kerry wins, "I'm going to leave the country and go to a Third World nation and start a ranch." His wife, Jenny, laughed and accused him of hyperbole, but he insisted he's been studying Portuguese, the language of Brazil, "so we'll have an escape route." Sitting near him was Greg Swalley, a blond electrical contractor. "I think Kerry is the anti-Christ," he said, only half-joking. "He scares me."
... Looking at the small knot of protesters, many of whom were chanting, "Four more days," 22-year-old Nick Karnes, wearing a knit ski cap and baggy jeans, yelled, "Shut up!" Then he turned to his friend and said, "We can take 'em."
"I'm definitely gonna vote for him," Karnes said of Bush. "Because he's been the president for four years and nothing bad has happened since Sept. 11. He's kept me alive for four years." If Kerry becomes president, he said, "We'll be dead within a year."
Karnes told me that most of his friends are voting for Bush, too, but a couple are voting for Kerry. "I'm not speaking to them right now," he said.
When the crowd came pouring out of the arena, the vitriol only increased. One clean-cut man, holding his son by the hand, yelled "coward!" at one of the protesters. I asked him what made him say that, and he said, "Because he's demeaning our troops by saying they are fighting a lost cause."
... A few of the protesters, meanwhile, were red-faced from yelling at their antagonists about homophobia and budget deficits and a senseless war. Republicans were incensed. A blond woman dragged her young redheaded son toward the protesters, pointed to them, and said, "These are the Democrats," speaking as if she was revealing an awful reality that he was finally old enough to face. As she walked away with a group of other mothers and children, she was so angry she could barely speak. A friend consoled her by promising her that Bush would win. After all, she pointed out, "Look how many more Bush supporters there were on the street!"
That calmed the angry blond woman down a little. But she was still mad. "We," she said, stammering and gesturing contemptuously at the demonstrators, "we are the way it should be!"
As I was saying ... the appearance of violence and intimidation tactics, encouraged by campaign rhetoric, and spouting beliefs that not only are disattached from reality, but threaten apocalyptic violence should Kerry win -- that is one of those the signs that the conservative movement is becoming less pseudo-fascist and is stepping closer to the real thing.
If it continues beyond Election Day, and it becomes expressly encouraged, watch out.
Another funny sign-theft story:
- Homemade security catches act on tape
This involves a man in Encinitas, Calif., who put up a big Kerry/Edwards sign on his property. He also set up a security system in case someone decided to mess with it:
- A man triggered the alarm and light Tuesday just before midnight as he ripped the sign, which is highly visible to traffic on Encinitas Boulevard, from the wall, according to an incident report filed with the Sheriff's Department.
Nolan said the man dropped the sign after realizing it was firmly attached to the structure by a thick rope, then jumped a fence and jogged south onto North Vulcan Avenue.
As neighbors called the Sheriff's Department, Nolan said, he chased the man, caught up to him near Vulcan and Encinitas Boulevard, grabbed his arm, then tackled him and "sat on him until the police got there."
The suspect, whom the sheriff's report identified as Jessie Irvin Mathews, 22, of Vista, initially told deputies that Nolan had "jumped him and tried to rape him" for no apparent reason, Nolan said.
One problem with that: Mathews was caught on camera pulling the banner off the garage and starting to run away with it, according to the incident report.
After viewing the tape, deputies transported Mathews to their Encinitas station and cited him for attempted petty theft.
Nolan, 40, said he "had a pretty good feeling" he would catch someone in the act and was overjoyed that his homemade security system did its job.
"It's my Republican trap," he said.
Add this to the collection.
The Osama bin Laden tape was a "little gift"?
Sure. And 9/11 was like "hitting the trifecta".
Why is it that when these characters say little things like this that reveal the shape of their "reality" -- the recognition (perhaps unconscious) that while the rest of America takes the hit from terrorists like bin Laden, Team Bush actually benefits from their activities -- no one ever seems to notice?
Liar in Chief
Friday, October 29, 2004
Happened to catch Nick Kristoff's bizarre ramble in the NYT the other day, in which he makes the argument that even though Bush lies, they're not really that important:
- The current president's hyped version of the incident reflects his casual relationship with truth. Like President Ronald Reagan, reality to him is not about facts, but about higher meta-truths: Mom and Dad are loving grandparents, Saddam Hussein is an evil man, and so on. To clarify those overarching realities, Mr. Bush harnesses "facts," both true and false.
We all do this to some extent, of course, discounting data points that don't fit our preconceptions. My Times colleague John Tierney wrote a few days ago of a new report suggesting, based on their scores on military intelligence tests taken in the 1960's, that Mr. Bush had an I.Q. in the 95th percentile of the population and that John Kerry's was in the 91st percentile. Yet most liberals have not revised their view that Mr. Bush is a nitwit.
In fact, I'm convinced that Mr. Bush is not only smarter, but also a better man than his critics believe. Most important, he's not a panderer. While Mr. Kerry zigs and zags on trade and Middle East policy, Mr. Bush has a core of values and provides genuine leadership (typically, I believe, in the wrong direction, by trying to reshape America and the world according to a far-right agenda).
As Bob Somerby pointed out:
- But note how weak Kristof's reasoning is. He builds an entire column about Bush's honesty around this one silly, trivial incident. And he doesn't seem to have tried to determine whether Bush even knew that his story was semi-false.
What's especially noteworthy is that Kristoff hasn't even bothered to look at cases where Bush's "casual relationship with the truth" has had a role in making some of the most colossally incompetent decisions in presidential history. Instead of examining a trivial incident like this one, Kristoff should have examined one of Bush's lies with greater consequence -- say, the WMD "threat" posed by Saddam Hussein.
Or how about the "trifecta" joke? I wrote about it some time back:
- Bush has now been telling the same, spectacularly tasteless joke to a variety of mostly Republican audiences as part of his stock stump speech for the better part of four months now. This is its basic telling:
- "You know, when I was running for President, in Chicago, somebody said, would you ever have deficit spending? I said, only if we were at war, or only if we had a recession, or only if we had a national emergency. Never did I dream we’d get the trifecta."
According to the transcripts, this joke usually elicits laughter from the mostly GOP crowds to whom Bush tells it.
So far, Bush has told the joke on the record at least 14 times. It originated, evidently, as an anecdote he told to business leaders Oct. 3, 2001, when he explained his three-part reasoning for going into deficit spending.
However, the real problem with the joke is that it is a complete falsehood.
Bush never told any audience, or any reporter, in Chicago that he could foresee three conditions under which deficit spending might be necessary. In fact, throughout the entire campaign, Bush had been insistent that budget surpluses would continue, and only once does he appear to have told any public audience at any time that deficit spending might become necessary -- a Sept. 22, 2000 interview with Paula Zahn, in which he defended his tax cuts even in the face of a "short-term deficit." The only other times that Bush ever seems to have brought up the subject of deficit spending were those when he accused Al Gore of planning to resume the practice.
When reporters have sought the original remarks, the White House press office has been unable to come up with any evidence that Bush ever made the remarks that he claims. ...
This joke, of course, had it all: the pandering, the brazen falsity, and its use to deflect blame on a matter of great national import -- a veritable trifecta itself of reasons why it should have rung a few bells on Kristoff's outrage-o-meter. Guess he just wasn't keeping track of that one.
The real problem with non-thinking like Kristoff's is that it excuses the inexcusable. Bush lies, as he did in both these cases, because it's a way to manipulate others, including patsies like Nick Kristoff. And he does it without much conscience.
That strikes me as a serious character flaw that plays out in his policy choices. It obviously lends itself to a mindset in which the man only wants to hear what he wants to hear. Bush seems above all to be a guy who insists on creating his own truth (one of "history's actors," as it were); if the facts on the ground stand in his way, well, damn the facts.
That isn't providing genuine leadership -- that's a kind of megalomania. It certainly isn't, shall we say, reality-based. And this "casual relationship with the truth" isn't just a tic; it's bound to affect his judgment negatively.
In fact, that lack of judgment manifested itself in important ways: in the failure to heed the pre-Sept. 11 terrorist-attack warnings and being, essentially, asleep at the wheel when it came to terrorism on Sept. 10; and then by going to war in Iraq under what proved to be false pretenses; and most of all, his failure (despite multiple warnings) to adequately prepare or plan for an extended occupation coupled with a violent insurgency, not to mention providing enough troops to secure all the former Iraqi weapons sites.
How has Bush answered the justifiable criticism for these massive blunders? By questioning the patriotism of his opponents, of course.
But then, what else could we expect from someone with such a casual relationship with the truth?
Thugs R Us
Thursday, October 28, 2004
It's certainly looking like the prospects of a clean Kerry victory are becoming plausible. But in case anyone forgot, that's just the first battle.
America is the most divided it has been in more than a century. Feelings are running extremely high on both sides. It's a bitter, ugly environment, and there's going to have to be a real effort to heal the divide.
The people who have brought us to this pass -- the dividers, not uniters -- are not going to go away. In fact, they're almost certainly going to step things up.
And considering the frenzy they are in now, it could get ugly.
Consider, for instance, the following contribution to civility from our friends at the Anti-Idiotarian Rottweiler (whose disturbing eliminationist activities in previous instances have been duly noted), this time from a fellow named "B.C., Imperial Torturer":
- The Backstabbin' Beantown Bastard Pisses On More Brave Soldiers' Graves
The levels of venom really are remarkable, with Kerry described as "a treasonous gold-digger", and the charming conclusion:
- Rope. Tree. Justice. The only three things that Qerry deserves for his "service".
Hm. Well. I'm sure all the same people worked up over that ugly piece in the Guardian will leap to denounce this one, too, right?
Anyway, here's what this kind of rhetoric inspires. Down in the comments, another writer responds thus to an earlier post about how a Kerry presidency was sure to be the country's ruination:
- Pretty much in the ballpark on all that, useless.
The effects of which will be, as LC Corey predicts above, the death of Liberty and the Grand Experiment which was America.
The evidence is abundant that Kerry has no concept of unintended consequences. He has been protected from those all of his life. Nutured as he is in the ideas so dear to the Left, of victimology and irresponsibility, of class warfare and division, of "situation ethics", nannystatism and "internationalism", he is as ill prepared to deal with the results of his "policies" as he is to tell the truth... or even to know what truth is.
He'll be sure to fuck it all up while remaining clueless, protesting his own innocence and blaming it all on Bush.
He simply must not be allowed to take office, no matter what the rigged results of the election may be. And we must not tolerate the kinds of post election shenanigans the dipocrats are planning.
It is our American tradition to tolerate the elction of those with whom we disagree. Gear up for the next election and try to reach some accomadation with the other side, for the good of the Nation. That has been or practice and our salvation. And we have been trying in naive good faith to accomodate the Left for most of a century, to our sorrow and peril. Most of the ills in our politics and in society generally can be ascribed to this alone.
This time, there will be nothing left of that Nation in which this was the way of peaceful and civil governance. If Kerry "wins", it will be too late to save the Nation which showed the world the miracle of representative republican government. Our soveriegnty and our Constitution will be further demolished, our economy and military weakened, our enemies emboldened, our confidence and spirit disheartened and, most likey, we will suffer catastrophic physical attack on our own soil.
The combination of disasters ensured by a Kerry "victory" amounts to a national crisis that we simply cannot allow. In four more years, it will be far too late.
Posted by LC Jon , Imperial Hunter at October 28, 2004 11:32 PM
OK. Now, just put the keyboard down, son. Nice and slowly. Sheesh.
And please, don't try to tell us this is supposed to be humor.
Well, I've frequently warned that, if these people see their grip on power genuinely threatened, their teeth will be bared. The violence quotient is already rising. If this kind of sentiment is common among the charged-up True Believers of the Right, look for a real volatile week, perhaps more in the aftermath of the election.
Also worth noting: This blog continues to be featured in the blogroll of certain prominent bloggers with supposedly mainstream reputations.
[Hat tip to Warren Terra.]
The clone army
Sure, everyone's enjoying a chortle or two over Bush's clone army.
Pretty soon, the truth will come out: Those images weren't photoshopped. Those really were clones! Bwah ha ha ha ha.
Go ahead, laugh. Call it a lunatic fringe conspiracy theory if you like. You'll see. You'll be sorry someday.
See, there's already been talk within GOP ranks about using a clone army to solve the Iraq manpower problem. Why, it sounds brilliant to me.
Matt Taibbi reported this a couple of weeks ago in Rolling Stone, in his piece about going undercover inside the Bush campaign:
- In my first month on the campaign, I did not meet many people who came into the office with the serious intention of working hard for the president. I did, however, meet a great many very lonely people who came in because they knew the Bush offices were the one place where they could share certain deeply held ideas without being ridiculed.
Part of my job, I soon came to understand, was to be supportive when people like portly Tampa sheriff's deputy Ben Mills came in to share their very serious utopian ideas -- like the benefits of having a society guarded by a clone army. "We'd save a hell of a lot on benefits and medical expenses," he said. " 'Cause you know if they got wounded..."
"You could just shoot them," I said.
"Exactly -- pow! Just shoot 'em dead, right in the ground."
He went on.
"We'd just have a big breeding farm in Colorado," he said. "Course, it'd be a security problem if they got out, you know, if you had rogue clones running around. You'd have to have a special security force to maintain 'em."
"That's where folks like us would come in," I said.
"Exactly," he said.
Folks like us. I was getting the hang of it.
Sound like Sheriff Mills has been having an audience with the Strong and Resolute One Himself.
Maybe that'll be Bush's secret plan for winning the election: Clone voters!
The more things change ...
[Photo of a billboard in Pittsburgh, Pa., in 1949 by Charles "Teenie" Harris. Pittsburgh Courier Archives.]
[Hat tip to d. eaton.]
Shrill and creepy
I expected, when I undertook the work of documenting the interaction between the extremist right and mainstream conservatism -- particularly in such pieces as "The Rise of Pseudo Fascism" -- to have to deal not only with a lot of utter noncomprehension from the right, but also some vicious personal attacks. I just didn't expect it to be so ... half-assed.
Dean Esmay weighed in this week with a genuinely nasty little hit piece. Once you wade through the ad hominem, the attack comes down to this:
- Back in May, a really creepy obsessive named Dave Neiwert, well known for lunatic fringe conspiracy theories, decided to identify your host (Dean Esmay) as a secret Nazi sympathizer. Or at least a fascist at heart, though my dark desires are hidden to anyone but clever brave scribblers such as the brilliant Dave Niewert, anyway.
Now, you'll notice that Esmay doesn't link anywhere to my site or to the post in question. (Nor did he, in lieu of that, extend the basic courtesy of notifying me of the attack; this is why I wasn't even aware of it until Wednesday afternoon.) Ostensibly this is because I'm such a reprehensible wretch he doesn't want to give me the hits.
I think there's another reason as well: He doesn't want his blithering idiocy immediately apparent. Because anyone actually reading what I wrote can see that Esmay's characterization is simply false -- a shrill overreaction to a relatively mild observation.
Now, here in its entirety is the post in question:
- Remember Dolchstosslegende -- the Legend of the Stab in the Back?
It was one of the cornerstone myths of the Nazis, fueling both their rise to power, as well their justification for the Holocaust. The "stab in the back" of the German military in World War I -- and thus the source of German defeat -- you see, was a product of Communists and Jews.
Well, now that the invasion of Iraq is turning out not so well, we're getting a fresh version of the legend, tailored for the 21st century (Josh Marshall noticed it being trotted out awhile back).
Dean Esmay rather approvingly provides us with a recent example.
Now, you may read through this post a hundred times, and I don't think you'll find a anywhere a statement that I think Esmay harbors secret Nazi sympathies. For that matter, I don't even imply it.
Here's how Esmay puts it:
- I once posted a cartoon that made a strong political statement about the hate-soaked left, and Niewert concluded that if anything looks like anything the Nazis ever put out, well, you do the math, right?
Now, is there anything in that post telling people to "do the math"? No. Anything in there saying, "This suggests Esmay has Nazi sympathies"? No.
What I clearly am saying is something that fits in with my larger thesis in pieces like "Rush, Newspeak and Fascism": Memes from the far right -- some of them with deep historical roots, like this one -- not only continue to have a half-life in modern society, they have been finding their way into mainstream conservatism in recent years.
Many of them appear almost unconsciously, out of the zeitgeist, the environment created by the shifts in the political framework that make society more receptive to these ideas. Many are boosted by the increasing interactions of mainstream conservatives with extremist belief systems. "Transmitters" -- figures like Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter -- play key roles in bridging the two sectors by picking up extremist ideas and agendas and clothing them in rhetoric suitable for mainstream consumption. Regardless of the mechanism, ordinary conservatives then pick them up and run with them, often utterly oblivious about the origins of the ideas they're absorbing and then promoting.
Esmay, I think it's clear, falls well into this latter category. And nothing in the post even suggests otherwise.
The logic (or lack thereof) by which Esmay reached his absurd conclusion is roughly the same as that deployed by Glenn Reynolds when he accused me of "hurling unsubstantiated charges of racism" for tweaking his work thus: "the root of all evil in Reynoldsland are the twin threads of dark-skinned Muslims and left-wing antiwar liberals."
Now, regular readers are well aware that one of my recurring themes -- so much so that I sound like a stuck record, in fact -- is the fact that Americans generically, and the media/pundit class particularly, have a peculiar blind spot when it comes to terrorism. When they're white right-wing extremist Christians, they're just "aberrations" and "isolated incidents." When it's committed by brown-skinned foreigners of another religion, we declare a "war on terror."
This point, in fact, was made in the very first post on this blog, and I've repeated it so often it's gotten a little old: I've made it here, here, here, here, and here (for a quick sample). I've also discussed it in depth on several occasions, notably here.
The poke at Reynolds was clearly written within that context. All it says is that Reynolds shares the same blind spot when it comes to terrorism.
Indeed, I think that couldn't be more clear than in the Reynolds post that I cited in the post he attacked. In it, he says this:
- One thing that's troubling is the potential for cooperation between Arab terrorists and domestic extremists.
Anyone who knows the rudimentary facts about Islamist extremism knows immediately that this is a false and narrow racial stereotype. Al Qaeda-style extremism includes not only Arabs, but also Persians, Pakistanis, Filipinos, Indonesians, and a wide range of other races.
Now, Reynolds does have a better case than Esmay for his complaint if you remove the remark from this context. But even then, at the worst, all one can definitively say is that I slyly imply that Reynolds partakes of and proliferates racist stereotypes.
And that simply does not, in my book, constitute racism. Racism, as I've explained in depth previously, entails an eliminationist contempt for other races, and always promotes exclusion and bigoted discrimination. Wallowing in racial stereotypes is endemic across all of society, and while it's problematic, it is not "racist" per se.
No, as I've pointed out before, when I think of someone "hurling unsubstantiated charges of racism," I think of prominent bloggers who call a campus Latino-pride group best known for holding bakes sales and voter-registration drives "fascist hatemongers", "racist and homophobic," and comparing them to Jim Crow and (in the case of another renowned conservative pundit) the Ku Klux Klan.
But maybe that's just me.
Now, as for the rest of Esmay's screed, I'm not going to waste too much of my time or yours rebutting this kind of nonsense. Suffice to say that, having examined and debunked hundreds of conspiracy theories in the process of reporting on the militia movement and writing In God's Country, I know enough about them to tell you that Esmay hasn't the slightest idea what he's talking about. (And yes, I've debunked many Larouchite conspiracy theories.)
For a sample of a more sensible approach to conspiracy theories, see my previous discussion of them. Moreover, there's simply nothing in any of the material that Esmay references (obliquely) that even suggests I think an actual conspiracy is at work here, particularly in the spread of right-wing extremism into the mainstream. It couldn't be more clear, I think, that I'm arguing on the side of a larger political dynamic that has nothing to do with conspiracy.
Oh, and Dean? The next time you want to devote 1,160 words to an ad hominem attack on someone, it really helps if you spell their name right.
Now, in somewhat better faith (and certainly more honest, not to mention competent) have been the critiques from Eric at Classical Values, especially his most recent entry. But it's hard to take this commentary seriously when it's clear he can't even distinguish between my ideas and those of Robert O. Paxton, or even acknowledge that the entirety of the ideas I'm basing my analysis upon is drawn from serious scholars of fascism. As anyone who's actually taken the time to read my work knows, I'm not drawing these ideas out of thin air. Moreover, he simply dismisses the heart of Paxton's thesis (that fascism is better understood as a set of "mobilizing passions" than as an "ism") without explanation. There's simply no substance to Eric's critique to address.
Well, as I said, I did expect to inspire a reaction from the right based on a simple failure of reading comprehension, or a lack of reading altogether. That's easy to predict, considering that the right has a well-established track record of distortion based on misrepresentation and non-comprehension. And my personal experience has been that they decline to read or comprehend simply because they don't want to.
But that's the thing about fascism. We tend to think of it in terms of alien things like Nazi uniforms and concentration camps. The reality is that the popular of imagery of fascism (as Paxton's work details) is actually derived from its later stages, when it proceeds into serious metastasis; while in the stages at which it has traditionally obtained power, fascism is constituted of things which seem everyday and familiar to us. It's when they come together in a particular constellation of political pathology that they take on a life of their own. But we often refuse to recognize it for what it is because it seems so ... familiar.
Not that I expect an intellectual titan like Dean Esmay to take the time to figure that out. It's so much easier to shriek, distort and falsify. That's the right-wing style of argument nowadays. And coming from someone who insists, no, demands, despite a remarkable paucity of evidence, that he really is a liberal, dammit, it frankly is kinda ... creepy.
[Update: Speaking of creepy: One of Esmay's admirers seems to be urging him to punch me. Or at least "come this close" to doing so. Or is it just a Larouchite? But then, he and Esmay seem to think I am a Larouchite, right? Hard to tell, because this is of course just idiocy.]
[Update II, to Infinity and Beyond: Dean Esmay writes back, in his best Buzz Lightyear (pre-awareness phase) imitation:
- Utterly hilarious.
You are a sad, strange little man. You have my pity. Farewell!
Well hey. I'm convinced!]
Both of these are from Florida:
- Presidential Politics Gets Ugly in Fla.
VERO BEACH, Fla. (AP) - An anti-John Kerry demonstrator was charged with felony aggravated assault with a gun for allegedly pointing a weapon at the head of a Kerry supporter.
Michael Garone, 52, was released from jail Tuesday on his on recognizance.
Garone and others were holding anti-Kerry signs at a street corner Monday in Vero Beach when Trevor Pickering drove up and said ``Go Kerry,'' according to an arrest affidavit.
Pickering argued with the anti-Kerry protesters, and then got out of the car and knocked a sign out of the hands of one of the demonstrators.
``That's when (Garone) walked up to my car and stuck a gun to my head,'' Pickering said. ``I said 'I'm sorry' and 'Please don't kill me,' drove away and called the cops.''
Garone denied pointing the gun at anyone.
And here's a story that speaks, I think, to the Bush appeal to the masculinity-obsessed:
- West Boynton man allegedly threatens to kill girlfriend for backing Kerry
WEST BOYNTON -- When an 18-year-old couldn't convince his girlfriend that George W. Bush was the right choice for president, he became enraged, put a screwdriver to her throat and threatened to kill her, sheriff's officials said.
"You won't live to see the next election," Steven Soper told Stacey Silveira on Tuesday night as the two fought inside his gray, two-story home west of Boynton Beach, according to a police report.
... On Tuesday, Soper stormed off after Silveira's brother mentioned the family, including Silveira, supported Kerry, family members said.
Soper called and ended the relationship, so Silveira drove to his house in the 7500 block of Oakboro Drive to return his belongings. That's where things turned violent.
He dragged Silveira into the house kicking and screaming, a police report said. Neighbor Lisa Belout was watching television, heard the commotion and called 911.
Inside, Soper threw Silveira to the floor, spit in her face and bit her cheek, she said, pointing to the brown bruise on the left side of her face.
"He went and got a knife and put the knife in my hand and said, `Kill me because if you vote for Kerry I'm going to die anyway,'" she said while standing outside her home, which has a Kerry/Edwards campaign sign in the yard.
Deputies found an enraged Soper with a screwdriver to Silveira's throat, a police report said. He was ordered to put the tool down but refused, so they used Taser stun guns to subdue him, officials said.
"He shoved a Marine [video] tape in my face and said that's what I was going to be ruining for him if I went for Kerry," Silveira said Wednesday, having just returned from filing a restraining order against him.
Whew. Okaaay ...
These, of course, are being added to the Thuggery File.
The facts we know
Wednesday, October 27, 2004
Following up on yesterday's post about the nuclear material stolen in Iraq after the invasion, apparently by experts ... nuclear-proliferation expert Peter Galbraith -- a supporter of the invasion -- has a must-read op-ed in the Boston Globe:
- Eyewitness to a failure in Iraq
Galbraith provides detail on just how widespread the failure to secure key facilities was on the part of the Bush/Rumsfeld planners. He confirms much of the Sydney Morning Herald report, and provides even more detail about the wholesale theft of entire nuclear laboratories:
- There was nothing secret about the Disease Center or the Tuwaitha warehouses. Inspectors had repeatedly visited the center looking for evidence of a biological weapons program. The Tuwaitha warehouses included materials from Iraq's nuclear program, which had been dismantled after the 1991 Gulf War. The United Nations had sealed the materials, and they remained untouched until the US troops arrived.
The looting that I observed was spontaneous. Quite likely the looters had no idea they were stealing deadly biological agents or radioactive materials or that they were putting themselves in danger. As I pointed out to Wolfowitz, as long as these sites remained unprotected, their deadly materials could end up not with ill-educated slum dwellers but with those who knew exactly what they were doing.
This is apparently what happened. According to an International Atomic Energy Agency report issued earlier this month, there was "widespread and apparently systematic dismantlement that has taken place at sites previously relevant to Iraq's nuclear program." This includes nearly 380 tons of high explosives suitable for detonating nuclear weapons or killing American troops. Some of the looting continued for many months -- possibly into 2004. Using heavy machinery, organized gangs took apart, according to the IAEA, "entire buildings that housed high-precision equipment."
This equipment could be anywhere. But one good bet is Iran, which has had allies and agents in Iraq since shortly after the US-led forces arrived.
This was a preventable disaster. Iraq's nuclear weapons-related materials were stored in only a few locations, and these were known before the war began. As even L. Paul Bremer III, the US administrator in Iraq, now admits, the United States had far too few troops to secure the country following the fall of Saddam Hussein. But even with the troops we had, the United States could have protected the known nuclear sites. It appears that troops did not receive relevant intelligence about Iraq's WMD facilities, nor was there any plan to secure them. Even after my briefing, the Pentagon leaders did nothing to safeguard Iraq's nuclear sites.
On the campaign trail today, George Bush attacked John Kerry for his criticism of the failure to secure the missing 380 tons of explosives at Al Qaqa, saying: "The senator is denigrating the action of our troops and commanders in the field without knowing the facts."
Kerry isn't denigrating the performance of the troops. He's questioning the plainly incompetent judgment of the people at the top who put too few troops in to handle the job properly. It's clear that Al Qaqa was not the only such case. And the more facts we know, Mr. Bush, the clearer that picture becomes.
[Via Mark Follman at Salon's War Room.]
Tracking the thuggery
Projection: It's not just for theaters anymore.
The talk of the horror of a rising tide of left-wing nastiness is popping up all over among the chatterers of the right. In addition to the recent accusations from Professor Bainbridge, a fresh round of accusations comes our way from T. Bevan at Real Clear Politics [permalink seems not to be working, so scroll down to the entry titled "The Civilized Barbarians"].
Now, take a hard look at Bevan's list of "shameful incidents":
- Dredging up decades old images of racism to play on the anger and fear of African-American voters.
There's nothing particularly shameful about this. The reality is that the efforts of conservatives to disenfranchise black voters has a long and ugly history, and it appears to be continuing today. If they don't like being reminded of it, well, too bad. In any event, there's nothing about this behavior suggestive of actual violence, or even advocating it.
- Screeching "YOU'RE A CREEPY LIAR" uncontrollably at the top of their lungs on national TV instead of debating with facts and logic.
Good grief. Has this guy watched Bill "Shut up! Just shut up!" O'Reilly? Or, for that matter, any of the army of vitriolic right-wing pundits (see Ann Coulter, Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, et. al., for starters) who've made careers out of popping corks on national TV and radio? Was he watching TV during the Clinton impeachment fiasco and the buildup to it?
Apparently not. But a liberal finally gets out of the Alan Colmes milquetoast mode and pops a cork, and suddenly civilization itself is on the brink.
- Trashing signs of political adversaries.
Yes, sign theft and destruction is just awful. Funny thing about this is that I've covered politics as a reporter since 1978, and have never had a campaign go by without doing stories of sign theft/damage, with largely equal amounts on both sides. Last week's hilarity in Colorado was just one instance of rampant sign theft by Republicans too. As you go through the links I'll catalog below, you'll find stories of sign theft reported throughout. Here's one from Minnesota -- as well as a piece making clear it's happening on both sides.
Reality check: Sign theft and destruction is a commonplace of nearly all campaigns, and the mutual damage is nearly always roughly equal.
- Breaking into offices of political adversaries.
As the local accounts of these break-ins make abundantly clear, there is simply no evidence that the thefts were connected to Democrats or even Bush opponents; they were just as likely crimes of opportunity. As Democratic chair Paul Berendt noted, his party had similar problems before moving their offices: "People would walk in, in broad daylight, and take laptop computers, just steal them."
Until they come up with stronger evidence, it's simply a smear to assume these break-ins were political in nature.
- Throwing cinder block bricks through the front door of offices of political adversaries.
This is a clear-cut case of inexcusable violence, and it's clearly political.
- Shooting bullets through the windows of offices of political adversaries.
Though again there is no evidence that these shootings were related to politics, this is nonetheless a disturbing occurrence.
- Laying siege to offices of political adversaries
This appears to have been a political counter-rally (a commonplace tactic for Republicans as well) that got boisterous. If this is intimidation, well, Republicans are guilty of it too. See, e.g., the activities of Freepers (who often boast of the harassment) and the Protest Warriors.
- Paying workers with crack cocaine for voter registration forms -- mostly fraudulent ones at that.
There is simply no evidence that this was associated with the Democratic Party or Kerry supporters -- and, like most of the stories of supposed Democratic voter fraud, is purely anecdotal. It has not been associated with Democratic officials in any fashion -- unlike the apparent voter-registration fraud being perpetrated systematically throughout the battleground states by an organization with undeniable ties to the Republican Party, including funding.
- Sending out flyers making fun of the Special Olympics and suggesting that only a mentally retarded person would vote for George Bush.
This appears to be a false accusation. The evidence so far, as Steve Clemons has detailed [more details here], is that this was in fact a political dirty trick intended to smear Democrats.
And in the meantime, it's hard to imagine a worse flyer than the one circulated in West Virginia and Arkansas accusing Democrats of planning to ban the Bible and promote same-sex marriage. And RNC money paid for that one.
- Bullying voters in line at polling places.
I'm sure none of those poll watchers being sent out by the GOP to largely minority districts in battleground states will be bullying voters, will they? Heavens no.
In any event, if we look at Bevan's list, it's clear that only two of them involve actual cases of violence -- and most of them are questionable at best, especially in terms of their actual connection to Democrats.
Best yet, though, Bevan goes on to say:
- In the interest of fairness I went looking to put together a similar list of shameful incidents involving Republicans. But aside from the currently disputed and unproven allegations of some Democratic registrations being ripped up and thrown in the trash out in Nevada, I couldn't find anything comparable. In fact, using the exact same search criteria that turned up pages of stories involving the vandalism of Bush offices, etc. around the country yielded surprisingly few results when applied to John Kerry. If you know of any incidents of Republicans targeting Kerry offices or supporters with vandalism or thuggish behavior, please send them through so I can post them.
Regular readers of this blog are aware I've been running posts involving examples of right-wing thuggery, ranging from violence to threats and intimidation to lesser acts of nastiness, ever since the run-up to the invasion of Iraq. There's no doubt the levels of virulence were worse then -- replete with death threats and violent provocations aimed at war protesters -- but the ugliness is more widespread now. And, as Bevan suggests, it's clearly spread to both sides.
However, as I argued earlier:
- I am fairly confident, however, that if we were to catalog all of these acts, both big and small, over the past four years, the list on the right side of the aisle would be considerably longer, and considerably nastier, than that on the left. And there's a reason for that: Unlike the nastiness on the left -- which is often reactive -- the impetus for that on the right is being encouraged (and in some cases directly fomented) by people in positions of national leadership of the conservative movement.
This ranges from figures like Rush Limbaugh (who fantasizes about killing all liberals except for a few to be kept in museums) and Ann Coulter (who argues in favor of "a little local fascism" and thinks Tim McVeigh should have targeted the New York Times Building) to Dick Cheney, who tells a senator on the floor of the Senate to go fuck himself -- and then not only refuses to apologize, but recommends such discourse as a feel-good measure.
Now, what follows will be no doubt an incomplete list. But here, for the benefit of Tad and his readers -- as well as anyone else interested -- I thought it might be useful to compile a brief catalog of incidents that have been gathered here and elsewhere.
Now, to keep things simple, I haven't included here all the instances of Kerry supporters or other dissidents being prevented from even attending a Bush/Cheney event -- just because they are simply too numerous to track. In many cases, these have involved examples of nasty intimidation, including Bush workers ripping tickets out of the hands of teenagers; as well as cases bordering on the absurd, as when three schoolteachers were threatened with arrest for wearing T-shirts saying, "Protect Our Civil Liberties."
And, obviously, there isn't a lot of sense in talking about minor acts like cable-TV screamfests or campaign sign thefts. This takes place on both sides, and it's difficult to say who's worse.
Instead, I've chosen to restrict the list to actual violence, threats or intimidation. I've broken these down by categories:
Attacks on campaign headquarters
- Sacramento, California
Boone, North Carolina
Galveston County, Texas
State College, Pennsylvania
Grand Rapids, Mich.
Bush supporters intimidate/assault Kerry supporters/war protesters
- Vero Beach, Florida
West Boynton, Florida
San Francisco, California
Police mistreat protesters
- New York City
Hamilton, New Jersey
Kerry supporters' homes/cars vandalized
Threatening Kerry supporters' employment
- Decatur, Alabama
Now, these comprise, as I've mentioned, an extremely limited list. I've also tried to relegate them to this year, omitting the many cases of right-wing thuggery surrounding the protests of the war in Iraq (many of which I cataloged at the bottom of this post).
If anyone else wants to help me flesh it out, please feel free to send them to my e-mail (email@example.com) or in the comments thread.
UPDATE: I'm going to be regularly updating this post as fresh info comes in. In that way, I hope to make it a kind of permanent resource for people who are interested in refuting the right-wing claim that violence is emanating just from the left. And the more contributors, the merrier. Please, for now, let's try to relegate the incidents to those which fit into the five categories above; I'm well aware that there's all kinds of nastiness out there, but for now let's stay focused on the acts which are potentially criminal (i.e., assault, battery, vandalism, threats, and intimidation), the use of official force for political purposes (police abuse), or those which cross the line of lively political discourse (threatening a person's job).
Team Bush's threatening exclusion of non-supporters from his rallies is, frankly, a bizarre development that really deserves consideration on its own.
UPDATE 2 (10/25): I've added incidents in Sacramento (a really ugly one, at that); Barberton and Toledo, Ohio; Boone County, N.C.; Galveston County, Texas; and in Vero Beach and West Boynton, Fla.
Smoking gun indeed
Tuesday, October 26, 2004
While everyone is focused on the disastrous disappearance of explosives materiel at Al Qaqa, it's important to remember that this is not the only significant material that's been taken away by "looters".
So were massive amounts of Iraqi nuclear materials -- as well as the facilities for building them:
- As a direct result of President Bush's decision to invade Iraq without sufficient forces to secure and protect its nuclear research and storage facilities from rampant looting, enough radioactive material to build scores of dirty bombs now is missing and may be on its way to the international black market.
It didn't have to turn out this way. In the weeks before the invasion, the U.S. military repeatedly warned the White House that its war plans did not include sufficient ground forces, air and naval operations and logistical support to guarantee a successful mission. Those warnings were discounted — even mocked — by administration officials who professed to know more about war fighting than the war fighters themselves.
What's so devastating about these thefts of nuclear capacities is that they were not conducted by mere "looters", according to this report last week from the Sydney Morning Herald [registration req'd]:
- Nuclear material taken by experts not looters, say diplomats
October 16, 2004
The removal of Iraq's mothballed nuclear facilities took about a year and was carried out by experts with heavy machinery and demolition equipment, diplomats close to the United Nations have said.
The UN nuclear watchdog, which monitored Saddam Hussein's nuclear sites before the US-led invasion last year, told the UN Security Council this week that equipment and materials that could be used to make atomic weapons had been vanishing from Iraq but neither Baghdad nor Washington had noticed.
"This process carried on at least through 2003 ... and probably into 2004, at least in early 2004," a Western diplomat close to the International Atomic Energy Agency said.
US, British and Iraqi officials have downplayed the disappearance of the equipment, saying it was part of widespread looting after the March 2003 invasion, which the US, Britain and Australia said was to rid Iraq of weapons of mass destruction.
However, several diplomats close to the nuclear agency said on Thursday that this was not the result of haphazard looting.
They said the removal of this dual-use equipment - which until the war was tagged and closely monitored by the agency to ensure that it was not being used in a weapons program - was planned and executed by people who knew what they were doing.
"We're talking about dozens of sites being dismantled," one diplomat said. "Large numbers of buildings [were] taken down, warehouses were emptied and removed. This would require heavy machinery, demolition equipment. This is not something that you'd do overnight."
Diplomats in Vienna say the agency fears these facilities, part of a pre-1991 covert nuclear weapons program, could have been sold to a country or militants seeking nuclear weapons.
Keep in mind, of course, that the materiel stolen at Al Qaqa has been specifically identified as the kind used in detonating nuclear bombs.
Also keep in mind: There is simply no question that these removals occurred well after the invasion.
What was that again, the talk that this war was supposed to about removing the "smoking gun" of a mushroom cloud?
"Incompetent" doesn't even begin to describe this administration.
[Thanks to Greg Saunders for the tip.]
The reality-based community
Despite the best efforts of the GOP to cocoon their fearless leaders -- you know, the fellows who are "history's actors" -- Dick Cheney came face to face yesterday with a member of the reality-based community:
- WILMINGTON, Ohio (AP) -- Dick Cheney came face-to-face with the war in Iraq when a 62-year-old grandmother confronted him on the campaign trail.
Phyllis Hobbs told Cheney she had sacrificed a grandson to the war.
"I'd like a little peace," she pleaded with the vice president.
Unlike others who have lost loved ones in the war and have had the audacity to confront the Bush campaign, this one was an remains a Bush/Cheney supporter. So she wasn't dragged out by the Secret Service. Which would have made for some interesting footage, since she was in a wheelchair.
- Hobbs' son, her daughter-in-law and another grandson all have served in Iraq, and her son is headed back for another stint, probably around Thanksgiving.
Her daughter-in-law just re-enlisted and would be heading back to Iraq too, but she's pregnant, and will go next year instead.
Hobbs' other grandson, a Special Forces soldier, just returned and "I hope he's home for good," she said.
Her grandson Steven D. Conover, 21, was among the U.S. soldiers killed last November when insurgents in Fallujah shot down the Chinook helicopter he was riding in.
Devastated by the loss and the fear of what else could happen, Hobbs said her health deteriorated to the point where she suffered kidney failure the month after her grandson's death, putting her in a wheelchair.
Cheney spotted her in her wheelchair in an audience of rabid Bush-Cheney supporters and invited her to ask him a question.
Hobbs asked Cheney, "Is there anybody who knows a time limit" for pulling out of Iraq? "I have four over there. ... I had one killed. ... I'd like a little peace."
Given to understatement, the vice president calmly replied: "I appreciate very much obviously the sacrifice they made. ... If you put an artificial date on it, what with the terrorists just waiting until that day arrives, Americans withdraw, and then they'll reinsert themselves, that's not acceptable."
You could call that "understatement" if you're a propagandist. You could also call it cold.
The renowned actor of history couldn't give her the peace she wanted -- because the truth is, there is no time limit for the Bush/Cheney war. And that's the way they want it.
Such compassionate conservatism.
The Rise of Pseudo Fascism
Monday, October 25, 2004
Part 1: The Morphing of the Conservative Movement
Part 2: The Architecture of Fascism
Part 3: The Pseudo-Fascist Campaign
Part 4: The Apocalyptic One-Party State
Part 5: Warfare By Other Means
Part 6: Breaking Down the Barriers
One of the gross misconceptions about fascism that persists on both right and left sides of the political aisle is the notion that it can be reduced to a single core ideological principle, much like communism or anarchism, by which we can define it. This is why so many people reach for easy dictionary definitions when trying to deal with it.
But as Robert O. Paxton has demonstrated authoritatively in The Anatomy of Fascism, the mutative nature of fascism makes such definitions nearly impossible, and almost invariably off the mark. Probably the closest we've come to it is Roger Griffin's "palingenetic ultranationalist populism", which represents the traits that remain constant in fascism through all the stages of its development. Paxton himself has noted a similar constant, namely, the fascist insistence that it alone represents the authentic identity of the nation in which it arises.
The resemblance of the conservative movement's ideological underpinnings to these core traits of fascism is in many ways startlingly clear -- but there are also noticeable differences. The ultranationalism and selective populism are unmistakable, but the palingenesis (that is, the aspects of its appeal that are based on the myth of a phoenix-like national rebirth) is somewhat subdued, largely because the ashes from which it is arising -- those of Sept. 11 -- were relatively limited in the scope of their devastation.
Likewise, the claim to represent the authentic national identity is rampant in the conservative movement, ranging from the White House to media figures to the average red-state voter. However, it actually appears throughout the political spectrum -- at significantly lower volumes, certainly, but it nonetheless cannot be said to be a trait unique to the conservative movement.
It is for this and similar reasons that I call it pseudo-fascism: The familial resemblance of fascism's architecture is unmistakable, but it is not fully fleshed out. It is like a hologram, a skeletal outline, of fascism.
Fascism is not a single, readily identifiable principle but a political pathology, best understood (as in psychology) as a constellation of traits, many of which I have already outlined (particularly in Part 2). Taken individually, many of these traits seem innocuous enough, even readily familiar, part of the traditional American political hurly-burly. A few of them are present throughout the political spectrum -- but definitely not all of them.
It is only when taken together in sum does the constellation become clear. And when it comes together, it is fated to take on a life of its own.
Let's consider again the nine "motivating passions" of fascism identified by Paxton:
- 1. -- a sense of overwhelming crisis beyond the reach of any traditional solutions;
As I already observed in Part 1, this trait has been especially rampant as one of the clarion calls of movement conservatives since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001:
- Calling 9/11 "the day that changed everything," the Bush regime and its conservative-movement supporters have consistently projected a sense of overwhelming national crisis that requires reaching beyond traditional solutions and instituting a number of clearly radical steps.
The difference in pseudo-fascism -- and this is a significant one -- is that the solutions posed for confronting this crisis have not so far resulted in calls for disposing with democratic institutions. Instead, they have been more in the fashion of gradual erosion of them: chewing away at civil liberties through the Patriot Act and the emergence of the executive power to detain citizens under "enemy combatant" designations. Most notably, there have been anti-democratic campaigns to erode Americans' voter rights closely associated with conservative-movement operatives.
However, as long as they continue to operate, at least outwardly, on the basis of a respect for democracy, this cannot be said to be a genuinely fascist trait on the part of movement conservatism.
- 2. -- 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 conservative-movement similarity:
- Conservatives have continually stressed the primacy of Americanness, a group identity to which we are obligated, as "patriots," to subordinate all kinds of civil rights and free speech.
This has been especially the case since Sept. 11, as the movement's bandwagon jingoes have quickly and fiercely denounced anyone who had the audacity to wonder about how American policy might have contributed to the root causes of terrorism. They have argued that privacy rights and racial profiling should be willingly sacrificed in the pursuit of national security (in some cases, even defending the World War II internment of Japanese Americans in the process), without presenting a scintilla of evidence that such measures would actually enhance security.
This mode of thought is not altogether absent elsewhere in the political sphere, but it is quite pronounced among movement conservatives.
- 3. -- 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;
Again, this is a pronounced tendency among conservatives:
- They have consistently emphasized the nation's victimhood in the 9/11 attacks -- and attacked any suggestion of a more nuanced view as "unpatriotic" -- and have further argued consistently that the 9/11 attacks justify nearly any action, regardless of legal or moral limits (see, e.g., Abu Ghraib), against America's enemies.
This motif is almost utterly absent elsewhere in the political spectrum. While many liberals also gladly participate in the belief that America is primarily a victim in the war on terror, it is a common charge against liberals is that they are "traitors" for even suggesting that America needs to operate within the larger framework of the international community.
- 4. -- dread of the group's decline under the corrosive effect of individualistic liberalism, class conflict, and alien influences;
As I pointed out:
- A favorite conservative theme is a dread of national decline under the corrosive effects of liberalism, often identifying it with equally dreaded alien influences. (See, e.g, Sean Hannity's bestselling screed, Deliver Us From Evil: Defeating Terrorism, Despotism, and Liberalism.)
There have been many other iterations of this meme as well, such as Michael Savage's The Threat Within, which argues that the nation's real enemy is liberalism, or Rush Limbaugh's incessant harangues blaming liberals for everything wrong with the country. Pundits like Savage and Michelle Malkin have built careers out of denouncing the threat posed by illegal immigration and have connected it frequently to the terrorist threat.
Obviously, this meme does not appear among liberals in any shape (nor for that matter among any non-movement conservatives, except for the extremists of the racist and Patriot far right). Indeed, it's difficult to even find a liberal mirror to the conservative argument, to wit, that conservatives are at the root of all the nation's ills.
- 5. -- the need for closer integration of a purer community, by consent if possible, or by exclusionary violence if necessary;
Movement conservatives clearly have made use of this meme:
- They have consistently argued for a closer integration of a purer American community under the aegeis of "national unity." However, this unity is not a natural one reached by compromise; rather, it can only be achieved by a complete subsumation of American politics by the conservative movement, creating essentially a one-party state [see esp. Part 4]. Citizens can join by consent if they like, or they can face exclusion as a consequence.
This "motivating passion" is not entirely absent from liberalism or centrism; the speeches by Democrats like Barak Obama and John Edwards at their national convention likewise stressed themes of national unity. But their argument was clearly an inclusive one -- saying, in essence, that everyone across the political spectrum was an American, and that all of us need to pull together as a nation. The conservative-movement argument, in stark contrast, is not inclusive in the least; the kind of "unity" it promotes is one in which Americans can come together only under the banner of their ideology; otherwise, they will face exclusion. In many instances, this exclusion is cast in terms explicitly threatening violence.
In this instance, the fascist propensities of the conservative movement are particularly clear.
- 6. -- 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 conservative-movement similarity:
- While denouncing their opponents -- especially Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry -- as "weak on terror," conservatives have consistently portrayed George W. Bush as the only person capable of making the nation not only secure from terrorists, but the dominant political and cultural force in the world, a role often portrayed in terms of a national destiny as the "beacon of democracy."
This motif is, however, much less clear in certain regards. The conservative movement not only has highly placed women in media roles (see, e.g., Coulter and Malkin) it also has had women in key positions in the administration (e.g., Condoleezza Rice, Karen Hughes and Christine Todd Whitman). But even this aspect tends toward a strongly male hierarchy; the movement's female pundits have a notable propensity for attacking women's rights (Coulter has even suggested they not be allowed to vote), while those in key positions are either moved out eventually (as were Hughes and Whitman) or given primarily roles as spokespersons for policies determined by the men in charge of the show (see Rice). Meanwhile, derision of the opposition often deploys rhetoric that expresses an overt hostility to a "feminine" approach, as in Arnold Schwarzenneger's convention speech urging people suffering under the Bush economy not to be "girlie men."
The claims of the exclusiveness of their ideology's ability to "lead America to its destiny," however, have becoming striking in the past year, especially as Bush has defended his approach to the "war on terror" and the invasion of Iraq in the framework of the "new American century" envisioned by his top policy advisers, in which the United States dominates global affairs for the foreseeable future. Bush calls this "a calling from beyond the stars." The innate similarity of this style of leadership to the fascist vision of "national destiny" could not be more clear.
- 7. -- the superiority of the leader's instincts over abstract and universal reason;
This aspect of the fascist appeal is particularly pronounced in the 2004 Bush presidential campaign:
- Most of all, they have stressed Bush's superiority as a president because of his reliance on his instincts and "resolve" and his marked refusal to engage in abstract reasoning.
Democrats have likewise stressed John Kerry's strength and resolve (largely to counter Bush's claims) but there is a distinct difference: Kerry clearly makes the case that he applies thought, reasoning, facts and logic to reach his conclusion, while Bush's campaign emphasizes his instincts. This is especially underscored by the Bush attacks on Kerry as a "flip-flopper" for having actually used reasoning to change his mind on certain policies; Bush's "stubborn resolve, as well as the overt anti-intellectualism of the way he mangles the language and produces bizarre malapropisms, is contrastingly sold as a virtue.
Of all the similarities to the motivating passions of fascism, this one is the most pronounced and unmistakable.
- 8. -- the beauty of violence and the efficacy of will, when they are devoted to the group's success;
As I argued earlier:
- At times, conservatives have even trod into arguing in favor of a war ethos (see, for instance the popular bumper sticker: "War Has Never Solved Anything, Except for Ending Slavery, Fascism, Nazism and Communism"); at other times -- as in all the talk about "shock and awe" in the Iraq invasion -- they have suggested there is a kind of beauty to violence, especially in the service of the imposition of American will.
However, this motif is relatively subdued when it comes to the conservative movement. Certainly there is relatively little promotion of an ethos of violence, except when conservative pundits talk reflexively about nuking the enemy or doing away with them altogether. And the Bush administration still pays lip service to the pain and sorrow associated with war, though interestingly enough that concern is only expressed in the context of American servicemen and not Iraqi civilians.
Genuine fascism, in contrast, positively gloried in violence as a domestic solution as well as an international one, advocating the thuggish tactics of SA Brownshirts in silencing the Left. So far there have only been hints of this in the conservative movement. Until it becomes more explicit, this particular fascist passion cannot be said to concretely exist in the current setting.
- 9. -- 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.
There are some clear similarities here:
- … [I]n defending the administration's actions -- particularly in invading Iraq under the pretense of a nonexistent "imminent threat," and for encouraging conditions that led to international-law violations at Abu Ghraib -- many conservatives have simply dismissed the critics by invoking 9/11 and the larger right, by sheer virtue of our national military power, to dominate other nations and individuals with no restraint. (The conservative movement's chief mouthpiece, Rush Limbaugh, was especially noteworthy in this regard, dismissing the Abu Ghraib as similar to fraternity hazing, and responding to a report that Iraqi Prime Minister Allawi had summarily executed six insurgents: "Good. Hubba-hubba.")
There are other ways this trait manifests itself as well. The Bush administration's hostility to international and the international criminal courts was well established even before 9/11, and has become pronounced in the ensuing years. Its contemptuous treatment of the United Nations is consonant with this.
It's important to observe, however, that in the case of the conservative movement, "Darwinian" does not accurately describe their view of the natural world order. Theirs is more of a religious view akin to Manifest Destiny, a belief in American exceptionalism viewed through a prism of apocalyptic fundamentalist Christianity. In the end, the outcome is not remarkably different -- it still describes the world in competitive instead of cooperative terms, and the destructive outcome of putting it into practice is at least as great.
Nonetheless, the conservative movement exhibits many of the attributes of this passion, particularly in its assertion of the right to operate without restraint, justified by the horrors of 9/11. Otherwise, how could we have invaded another nation under false pretenses and in violation of international law?
Now, in reviewing these nine "motivating passions," it's clear that all of them are present, at least in rough form or outline, in the post-2000 conservative movement. But as we've seen, some of these similarities are not altogether clear, either.
All told, of the nine "passions," the presence of five of them is strong and clear, and in the case of two of these there are not even any mitigating factors. In two instances, the presence is mixed and mitigated somewhat, and in two others the similarity is not particularly strong.
There are other lesser, more stylistic similarities to fascism that have been reared their head in the conservative movement as well:
-- A propensity to view the weak with contempt; to associate weakness with femininity; and to excoriate the feminine and glorify the masculine. "Girlie men" was only the tip of the rhetorical iceberg in this regard.
-- A fondness for depicting their enemies and their opposition as animals -- typically either vermin or vicious killers. The most recent iteration of this theme is the new GOP "wolves" commercial, the underlying nature of which Eric Muller recently illustrated nicely. See also, by way of example, the Grover "Projection is My Middle Name" Norquist essay about how nasty liberals were going to be in the 2004 campaign, titled "Cornered Rats Fight Hard."
-- A resulting eliminationist rhetoric advocating the utter exclusion of entire blocs of the electorate, especially immigrants and the gay and lesbian community, as well as, on an even broader scale, liberals generically.
All these similarities are strong enough to make clear that what the conservative movement has become is, in its basic architecture, a kind of precursor to fascism. But the differences are significant enough that it cannot be accurately described as the real thing.
The differences are even clearer in certain other aspects of the historical framework of fascism that have been identified by people like Paxton and Griffin. I briefly described these differences in Part 1:
- -- Its agenda, under the guise of representing mainstream conservatism, is not openly revolutionary.
This is in large part due to the movement's origins in conservatism, which has traditionally been the defender of the status quo. What is noteworthy about the conservative movement, though, is that beneath the conservative mask, its agenda is deeply radical, if in many regards reactionary. This is especially the case in its approach to foreign policy, which seeks to embark the nation for the first time in its history on a unilateralist campaign of world dominance.
It is clear, too, that George Bush and his wrecking have intended a radical makeover of the approach to governance and policy from the start of his administration. This turn is not a product of Sept. 11; the latter, instead, has provided Bush cover for an agenda he intended from his first day in office.
- -- It is not yet a dictatorship.
This difference is related to some extent to the mechanics of how fascism traditionally has acquired power. In the past, fascism arose as a discrete movement that rose to power from the ground up. Contrastingly, in this instance, the mechanics involve a subtle but unmistakable transformation from within an already established force in the political system -- namely, the conservative movement.
However, this movement, unlike fascism, has never openly espoused the virtues of authoritarian dictatorship (though there was Bush's onetime joke that " If this were a dictatorship, it would be a heck of a lot easier, just so long as I'm the dictator"). It continues to operate within the framework of a democratic republic.
At the same time, the movement's growing hostility to democratic institutions has been noteworthy -- ranging from real-world manifestations such as the Bush v. Gore decision, which undermined individual voting rights, to Tom DeLay's Texas redistricting program and the recall of California Gov. Gray Davis to the ongoing vote-suppression tactics being used in the current election. This hostility has theoretical underpinning in the conservative movement, particularly noteworthy in Antonin Scalia's discussions of the "tendency of democracy to obscure the divine authority behind government" and the need "to combat [this tendency] as effectively as possible".
- -- It does not yet rely on physical violence and campaigns of gross intimidation to obtain power and suppress opposition.
Clearly, there have been hints of such inclinations, ranging from the intimidation of voters in 2000 in Florida to campaign thuggery associated with Arnold Schwarzenegger's California campaign, to minor incidents of violence and intimidation in the current campaign. However, none of this has received explicit encouragement from the movement. What has occurred instead is the gradual creation of an environment where these kinds of thuggish tactics are considered everyday expressions of heated political views. Simultaneously, the environment is such that liberals and other opponents of the movement are responding in kind -- which only stokes the flames higher and justifies in the minds of movement followers their own innately violent responses.
- -- American democracy has not yet reached the genuine stage of crisis required for full-blown fascism to take root.
Paxton makes a special point of the fact that fascism is almost purely a product of the failure of democracy; for this reason, it only appears in formerly democratic states. Nearly every scholar of fascism makes clear that it has only successfully seized power when these democratic states reach real stages of crisis.
There is little doubt that the events of Sept. 11, 2001, first created the conditions under which democracy in America could face a crisis. The eternal war of the "war on terror" created an executive branch with extraordinary powers exceeding those of any previous "wartime president," if only because the war itself was both universal and endless, strangely amorphous, almost mythical, and yet all too real in the deaths it produces. Moreover, it has occurred at a time when the nation is more bitterly and rancorously divided and politically volatile than any time in the memory of most Americans living today. The levels of distrust and conflict exist both on a national scale and the deeply personal one,
The role of a discrete conservative movement in metastasis in this environment has been profound. Nearly all of the rancor and nastiness in the national discourse is closely associated with its rise in the 1990s, particularly under the banner of the propaganda war waged by Rush Limbaugh and his minions, who as I've described at length previously showed no hesitation in adopting ideas and memes straight out of the American far right, building ideological and political bridges with these extremists. The effect was a gravitational pull that dragged the movement further rightward almost naturally. It also introduced a level of eliminationist nastiness previously unseen in mass media.
The resulting milieu is one in which this nastiness has grown rampant on both sides, to the point where it's become indistinguishable who's nastier. Violence has raised its head on both sides of the aisle. And there's no particular end in sight.
In the end, though, we still have not reached an actual state of crisis. The potential is there for one as never before in our history; whether we reach it or not ultimately will depend on us as citizens.
Pseudo fascism has not arisen because of any conspiracy by closet fascists lurking in the conservative movement, but rather by the inexorable pull of the forces latent in the American body politic, combined with an unchecked lust for power and certain historical events of politically earth-shaking moment, all of which have caused it to coalesce in this fashion.
Yet because of the seeming familiarity of so many of its traits, the appearance of a fascist architecture on the political scene does not seem immediately threatening -- especially in the hollow, not fully-fleshed-out form that has manifested itself in the American conservative movement. It's only when we stand back and recognize the larger shape that the danger becomes clear.
Pseudo fascism, as it is now, is still a political pathology, but a manageable one. The real danger comes when the differences begin disappearing, when the barriers begin coming down. To the extent that this occurs, the hologram will begin taking on the real substance of fascism.
To the extent that the nation finds itself in the throes of a real crisis of governance; that we demand utter fealty to the national identity, even at the expense of democratic institutions or democracy itself; that we identify liberalism as the root of all evil in America, as a domestic enemy little distinguishable from those from abroad; that we justify acts of monstrousness by pointing to our own victimhood; that we rely on the "strength" and instincts of our leaders instead of their wisdom and powers of reason; that we allow violence to become part of the political landscape; and that we pursue an insane apocalyptic vision of world domination -- then, to that same extent, we put flesh to the fascist bones and make it real.
Can it happen in America? The truth is this: America is one of the nations in which fascism may yet manifest itself in this era of mass politics. Preventing this from happening hinges on the extent to which Americans themselves stand up to it.
Next: It Can Happen Here
[Note: I originally planned this as a six-part series. It's been expanded by one; next week's is the final installment.]