Friday, January 11, 2008

A serious person

-- by Dave

While I'm working on my counter-response to Jonah Goldberg, I should point out that he gave an interview to Salon, where Alex Koppelman performed the Sysiphian task of trying to pin him down. It concludes:
Well, I'm perfectly glad to concede that people who do judge books by their covers or think it's more important to read a title rather than read a book will be confused and jump to conclusions. But these are people that I don't generally respect. The cover was Random House's invention, and I'm still sort of ambivalent about it, but you make covers to sell books, you make titles to sell books, even though my title comes from a speech by H.G. Wells ... The cover, the smiley face with the mustache, is a play on something I explain on basically Page One of the book, and it's a reference to what George Carlin and Bill Maher call smiley-face fascism. And if you can't get past the cover and the title, then you're not a serious book reader and you're not really a serious person.

Indeed, Goldberg notes he "must say it about 25 times in the book" that liberals are not Nazis.

But if not, then why the title Liberal Fascism? It's clear that he intends to say that liberals can be Nazis -- and as he maligns everyone from Woodrow Wilson to FDR to LBJ to Hillary Clinton as "liberal fascists," it's clear he's saying they in fact often are.

This is simple disingenuousness. It reminds me of the way Michelle Malkin wrote a book titled In Defense of Internment that justified the forced incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II, and further inveighed in the book against policies regarding ethnic profiling in the wake of the 9/11 attacks -- and then insisted, in the same text, that she wasn't advocating the internment of Arab- or Muslim-Americans. As I noted at the time:
This is, however, more than a little disingenuous, since Malkin's text is not merely a rationalization for racial profiling but indeed one for mass internment based on ethnicity as well. Beyond the immediate question -- Why use a massive violation of civil rights to justify relatively limited measures such as those proposed? -- there is the effect this logic has on the discourse: Justifying an action may not be semantically the same as advocating it, but it can have the same effect.

Likewise, when one identifies liberals with fascists in the title of a book, it's somewhat dishonest to later claim within the text that the intent is not to identify all liberals with all fascists: the effect on the discourse is the same. Look at a similar mashup -- "Islamofascism" -- and how it is commonly used in the right-wing lexicon now (see, e.g., Little Green Footballs, Atlas Shrugged, or the Free Republic for freshly recurring examples) to smear all Muslims.

In promoting the concept, as it were, by making it his title, he's debasing the public understanding of fascism in such a way as to lead people to believe that liberals are fascist. And in mashing together two terms that generally are mutually exclusive (one of the hallmarks of Newspeak, incidentally), he's attempting to deny that they are so. But he fails to do so miserably, mainly because he elides all the evidence that, for the most part, they actually are.

Along these lines, it's worth pointing out that there's really nothing new to to what Goldberg imagines is his provocative and groundbreaking thesis: we've been hearing about "feminazis" and "liberal Nazis" and "eco-fascists" from the likes of Rush Limbaugh and Michael Savage for many years, and it's been gaining prominence on the right in recent months as well, thanks to folks like Bill O'Reilly (who compared DailyKos to Nazis and the Klan) and Debbie Schlussel.

It's an old meme. All Goldberg has done is wrap it up in a nice cover and given it the official imprimatur of the conservative movement. Watch how much we hear it being used as a way to smear all liberals in the coming months and years.

A serious person would understand that, of course. But it's hard to take anything about this enterprise seriously -- except how badly it pollutes the public discourse.

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