one of the outcomes of the mid term elections was that everybody had there reasons why what happened happened and what it means for the american political landscape. some of those postulations are valuable and deal with real trends and important implications. one story that comes to mind is the rise of economic populism and what it means to our political and economic future; another is the waning influence of the neocons and a return to realism in foreign policy. but for every good theory and commentary there seem to be scores of crackpot ideas.
today’s lead story on slate.com falls into that category:
this is the response i posted on slate’s message board:
i want to begin this post by admitting that i have serious issues with the bush administration’s tendency to play loose with civil liberties and its attempts to legalize behavior beast left in the shadowy quasi-legal world it naturally inhabits. i also have very serious issues with the degree to which congress has abdicated its role as the primary receptacle of American democracy and given the president carte blanche. that being said, dianne mcwhorter’s article implies that we have stepped over some imaginary threshold into uncharted territory; that the bush administration is taking us places our democracy has never been and may never make it back from.
i find it quite ironic that she begins the article with mention of eleanor roosevelt and america’s pragmatic nature. it’s ironic because fdr is often praised for his pragmatic approaches to the great depression and his willingness to do something, anything, is played against the supposed stoicism of his predecessor herbert hoover. it’s also ironic because no american president can be better described as a facist than fdr himself. wikipedia defines facism as “a radical political ideology that combines elements of corporatism, authoritarianism, nationalism, militarism, anti-liberalism and anti-communism”. with the exception of the last, all of those labels can be easily applied to america during the new deal and through the war.
let’s take a look at mcwhorter’s list of nazi comparisons to w and see if any of them can be similarly compared to fdr. i find it a bit of a stretch to compare the classification of suspected terrorists as enemy combatants to the legalized extermination of european jewry, but then that stretched out category should accommodate those japanese-americans interned during wwii. similarly, there are no shortages of allied responses to the “total war” waged by the axis powers: the doolittle raid, the firebombing of dresden, the literal use of the “nuclear option”. what certainly involve no stretching are fdr’s own “executive enhancing strategem”s. think about how much of the new deal was enacted through executive orders and through the alphabet soup of bureaus and agencies. and think about how many of the country’s best and brightest legal minds were put to the task of negotiating legislative and judicial obstacles to the new deal. also, let’s not forget fdr’s court packing scheme as long as we are talking about enabling the unrestricted power of the executive branch.
mcwhorter does hit one nail right on the head when she admits that the word fascism has “something of the quality of a joke” and is often just thrown out as pejorative against “anything we don’t like”. the thing i have always found funny about the term is that it’s often employed by leftists against any authority they disagree with, and that even though facism and communism are often set up as opposites, in practice they look quite similar. both –isms rely on a strong central authority and heavy government involvement in the economy. both seem to breed dictators who solidify their hold on power through legal manipulations and by playing redundant and competing layers of government off each other. both are organized around some rather questionable conceptions of identity; class-consciousness for communism while facism relies on nationalism or ethnic identification.
of course, mcwhorter has read a hitler biography and that act alone resurrects the word from any possible obfuscations or mischaracterizations. part of the reason that we don’t throw the “n word” around is out of some sensitivity to the atrocities of the holocaust. but it’s also because calling someone a nazi or a facist is most-often just a form of political hyperbole. i do not see how this case is any different.