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Tilting at Windmills

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March 31, 2009

THE OTHER F-BOMB.... Just two months after the inauguration, so many conservatives throw around "fascism" and "fascist" to describe the White House, I already feel more or less desensitized. After seeing David Henderson join the club, Megan McArdle suggests it's time for a moratorium.

All this does is drag the specter of Hitler into the conversation. And the problem with Hitler was not his industrial policy -- I mean, okay, fine, Hitler's industrial policy bad, right, but I could forgive him for that, you know? The thing that really bothers me about Hitler was the genocide. And I'm about as sure as I can be that Obama has no plans to round up millions of people, put them in camps, and find various creative ways to torture them to death.

If he does, look, I take it all back. Use the F-word freely. Hell, I'll hide you in our spare bedroom when the state police squads come looking for you. But until then, can we stick to less inflammatory terms? Surely creative and intelligent adults can find ways to critique Obama without pointing out that Hitler was also a very effective speaker.

Oddly enough, Glenn Beck, Fox News' deranged media personality, has been telling a national television audience that the Obama administration might be setting up secret "concentration camps" to lock up conservatives. The president, Beck believes, may be using FEMA in this conspiratorial drive towards "a totalitarian state," so at least one prominent right-wing voice disagrees with McArdle's assumption.

But I digress.

James Joyner raises a fair point about the nature of fascism -- one need not be a fascist to be guilty of genocide, and one need not be genocidal to be a fascist. It's probably best not to blur the historical/ideological lines.

That said, I think McArdle's right about this larger trend having a Godwin's Law kind of quality. For any thinking person, President Obama is obviously not a fascist. There's nothing about his agenda that in any way resembles fascism. The term seems to have become popular with unhinged conservatives because screaming about a red scare became tiresome, and for lazy right-wing voices, there's an attack ladder -- "fascist" is one rung higher than "communist."

There's no reason to think conservative activists are concerned about being taken seriously, but these constant references to "fascism" are obvious conversation-enders. By casually throwing the word around, prominent conservative voices a) appear even more ridiculous than usual; and b) cheapen what fascism actually means, making it little more than an insult directed at popular leaders conservatives don't like.

Steve Benen 1:40 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (40)

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Steve's 'spring break' was obviously a trip to an Obamafascist re-education camp. *nod nod*

Posted by: Shoe on March 31, 2009 at 1:45 PM | PERMALINK

"If you take what I say as gospel, you're an idiot."

Posted by: Glenn Beck in NYT 3/30/09 on March 31, 2009 at 1:46 PM | PERMALINK

Fascism to our conservative brethren of the Republican party is the epithet they throw around when they find themselves out of power!

It has become trite and common place to hear a conservative authoritarian like say Glenn Beck use this term now instead of when it would have been more apropo during the Dick Cheney era of our political history - you know the Bush presidency.

Now, that Dick is one major fascist as I see 'em! -Kevo

Posted by: kevo on March 31, 2009 at 1:53 PM | PERMALINK

You'll think you're misreading when I tell you that David Horowitz has an article up agreeing with McArdle that people on his side should calm down about Obama. It's even called Obama Derangment Syndrome.

Posted by: DonBoy on March 31, 2009 at 1:54 PM | PERMALINK

McArdle misses the point here. The object is not so much to associate Obama with death camps as it is to create that everybody-does-it mindset. Angry liberals called Bush's Gitmo and FISA policies fascist, so now Republicans use the fascism metaphor. We called him inarticulate. Hence, teleprompter-gate. Cozy with special interests like oil and defense contractors becomes Acorn and AIG contributions. Campaigner in Chief, avoids the media, elitist, large entourage met by protesters in Europe? Why you can hardly tell them apart.

And why do this? If you don't trust government, you go with the party of less government.

Posted by: Danp on March 31, 2009 at 1:54 PM | PERMALINK

Obama is a liberal, progressive, pinko, commie fascist. What's even worse, he's so far to the left that he is left-handed!

Posted by: LOL on March 31, 2009 at 1:55 PM | PERMALINK

Remember when Chris Matthews pinned that little prig to the wall by asking him if he even knew what "appeasement" was? I'd dearly love to have someone ask this latest load of idiots if they have the faintest clue as to what fascism even IS.
. . . jim strain in san diego.

Posted by: Jim Strain on March 31, 2009 at 1:59 PM | PERMALINK

There was a time when the preferred epithet for Democrats among Republicans was Communist or Socialist, but apparently they over used it because it lost its effectiveness. During the campaign they tried calling Obama a Terrorist, but he got elected anyway. So now they are trying Fascist. Let's see how that works for them...

Posted by: kp on March 31, 2009 at 2:01 PM | PERMALINK

Of course, it goes without saying that these same voices accusing Obama as being fascist stood idly by, and even cheered, when Bush and company:

-equated dissent with unpatriotism.
-equated free press with treason.
-tortured prisoners.
-pre-screened audiences.
-disseminated pro-Administration talking points to media personalities that (charitably) blurred reality.
-paid media personalities to regurgitate propaganda.
-draped the flag over any and everything that they did.

The list goes on and on, as we all know. The fact that these voices now call Obama fascist would be laughable if it weren't so sad.

Posted by: terraformer on March 31, 2009 at 2:02 PM | PERMALINK

Telling us we can't use the word 'fascist' is fascit.

Posted by: NTodd on March 31, 2009 at 2:05 PM | PERMALINK

What happened to all these conservative intellectual think-tanks that were supposed to pave the way to more enlightened thinking?

I swear to God, talking to Republicans these days is like trying to reason with a gang of unruly and anti-social adolescents. And it's a small step from there, to find yourself soon discovering the graffiti they subsequently spray-painted on your outside walls.

Posted by: Donald from Hawaii on March 31, 2009 at 2:06 PM | PERMALINK

Again, pulling Play #1 out of Karl Rove's book, the biggest fascists of them try to hang their albatross onto the opposition.

Only 25% of the public is that stupid.

Posted by: bdop4 on March 31, 2009 at 2:11 PM | PERMALINK

Ah, good old Republican projection. If you supported your Republican president to the hilt as he illegally detained people (including American citizens), paid journalists to secretly spread propaganda in the guise of "opinion," and prevented any dissenters from attending his speeches by having them thrown out and charged with trespassing, of course you're going to claim that his opponent must be a fascist.

Projection is always the motive behind any Republican accusation. Always always always.

Posted by: Mnemosyne on March 31, 2009 at 2:12 PM | PERMALINK

When conservatives call Obama a fascist, all I can think is: transference. That's when a lunatic, or just somebody really crazy, accuses other people of what he/she is doing or wants to do, Thus Crazy Beck's hallucination of FEMA-run concentration camps wherein the conservatives will be cooped is but a projection of his own fantasies about rounding up liberals, no doubt with lies allegedly scooped from the widespread unwarranted wiretapping -- which everybody knows the Bush administration wanted so it could spy on, and and develop bogus charges against, its political opponents.

Posted by: Sf on March 31, 2009 at 2:13 PM | PERMALINK

The epithet "fascist" is being used strategically. Remember, their insults betray what they plan or already are doing. In this case, the actual policies of the Bush Administration, and the extreme right wing backlash the Republican base is planning, are well within the fascist tradition. So, by trotting out the epithet now, they deny it to the Democrats when actual fascist policies are implemented by the right.

Posted by: Eric on March 31, 2009 at 2:13 PM | PERMALINK

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Newt Gingrich wants to drug test the entire population of the US and then throw everyone who tests positive into government run rehab facilities.

Posted by: Personal Failure on March 31, 2009 at 2:16 PM | PERMALINK

Read Naomi Wolf's "End of America". Then tell me who the fascists are.

Posted by: PeteCO on March 31, 2009 at 2:21 PM | PERMALINK

This is also part of the right-wing attempt to rebrand the term "fascism." In the standard political lexicon, communism is the totalitarian extreme of the left and fascism is the totalitarian extreme of the right. The latest meme on the right, anchored by Jonah Goldberg's laughably stupid book on the subject, is to shift the fascism label to the left, i.e. fascists are really just extreme liberals.

The beuaty of this is that the left is then tarred with both of the extremist, totalitarian philosophies of the past century, leaving the right pure and untainted.

Posted by: Virginia on March 31, 2009 at 2:21 PM | PERMALINK


They're throwing "fascist" around because the American RightWing CAN'T STAND to be associated with their fellow travelers, as fascists are RightWingers, and as I've pointed out previously, Hitler and the Nazis were RightWingers.

Drives the American RightWing CRAZY.

Posted by: Joe Friday on March 31, 2009 at 2:24 PM | PERMALINK

What I find interesting in all this is that beginning with Reagan, it was a sufficient epithet to call someone a liberal. He really was successful at making it a vile, dirty word. But in recent years, as the failures of conservatism has been laid bare for all to see, calling someone a liberal is just not as powerful. So Republicans are running the socialism, communism, fascism names hoping that something will stick. But the truth is that the cat is out of the bag and conservatives are out of effective words with which to smear popular Democrats.

Posted by: PS on March 31, 2009 at 2:25 PM | PERMALINK

Not Hitler, Mussolini. Private profits and socialized losses are, in fact, fascist economic policy. ("In Fascist Italy the state pays for the blunders of private enterprise." -- Gaetano Salvemini, 1936.)

I'm waiting for Karl Rove to start advocating the repeal of the War Powers Act.

Posted by: Forrest on March 31, 2009 at 2:27 PM | PERMALINK

Oddly enough, Glenn Beck, Fox News' deranged media personality, has been telling a national television audience that the Obama administration might be setting up secret "concentration camps" to lock up conservatives.

If I said I could get behind this idea, would that make me a fascist?

OK, only the really deranged conservatives...

Posted by: henry lewis on March 31, 2009 at 2:28 PM | PERMALINK

Building off James Joyner's point: genocide and imperialist ultra-nationalism may go hand in hand, but the genocide is hardly the only unforgivable thing Hitler did. Even more people died directly from the war Hitler started than died from the concentration camps. If there had been no holocaust, Hitler would still have been one of history's greatest monsters.

Posted by: Chuck on March 31, 2009 at 2:31 PM | PERMALINK

conservatives in their own infinite ignorance are purely purveyors of ignorance. Fascism has nothing to do with genocide. Fascism is a quasi-alliance/merging of corporate interests and the government, which is actually more similar to republicanism than anything.

Posted by: pluege on March 31, 2009 at 2:34 PM | PERMALINK

Again it's Repig projection, their constant companion. They attack the other side, and accuse them of doing/being what the Repigs themselves are. Look at the basic tenants of fascism, and then compare them to the Bu$$h regime and the Obama administration. Recall that Fascists defend the Führerprinzip (“leadership principle”), the belief that the party and the state should have a single leader with absolute power. Hitler was the Führer, Mussolini the Duce, Bu$h was the "Unitary Executive", all three proclaiming to be the “leader” and/or "decider" who gave the orders that everyone else had to obey. I challenge all you repig trolls and lurkers, answer these questions: Who suspended even our Habeus Corpus rights? Caged people into "free speech" zones? Locked up anyone, even American citizens at will by declaring them 'enemy combatants'? Legalized torture? Spied on US citizens with no warrant or legal authority? Murdered thousands in an illegal and unjust war for geo-political and economic gain? Could it be......Satan!? Nah, just your run of the mill fascist repig president. (to paraphrase the mighty bu$h, "You either agree with me, or you're a terrorist", and you KNOW what I can do to 'terrorists').

Posted by: In what respect, Charlie? on March 31, 2009 at 2:36 PM | PERMALINK

try this

Posted by: par4 on March 31, 2009 at 2:57 PM | PERMALINK

or this

Posted by: par4 on March 31, 2009 at 3:03 PM | PERMALINK

Fascism is a radical, authoritarian nationalist ideology that aims to create a single-party state with a government led by a dictator who seeks national unity and development by requiring individuals to subordinate self-interest to the collective interest of the nation or race.[1][2][3][4][5][6][7][8] Fascist movements promote violence between nations, political factions, and races as part of a social Darwinist and militarist stance that views violence between these groups as a natural and positive part of evolution.[9] In the view of these groups being in perpetual conflict, fascists believe only the strong can survive by being healthy, vital, and have an aggressive warrior mentality by conquering, dominating, and eventually eliminating people deemed weak and degenerate.[10][11][12][13]

Fascist governments permanently forbid and suppress all criticism and opposition to the government and the fascist movement.[14] Fascist movements oppose any ideology or political system that gives direct political power to people as individuals through elected representatives rather than as a collective nation or race (individualism, liberalism, representative democracy); that is deemed detrimental to national identity and unity (communism, class conflict oriented labour movements, internationalism, and laissez-faire capitalism); that protects and empowers people deemed weak and degenerate (egalitarianism) and that undermine the military strength and military ambitions of the nation (pacifism); that may seek to preserve any of the privileges, institutions and cultural values that fascism seeks to overthrow (traditionalism and conservatism).

From Wikipedia...so reading THIS it makes me think of the last 8 years, not the last 2 months...hmmmmmmmm.

Posted by: Mego on March 31, 2009 at 3:08 PM | PERMALINK

I remember calling my 9th grade French teacher a facist because she wouldn't let me eat a rice krispie square in class when I had last lunch.

Isn't it amusing that the Right Wing elite are about as erudite as a 14 year old boy?

Posted by: neilt on March 31, 2009 at 3:10 PM | PERMALINK

Obama is definitely not a fascist. He's a Muslim socialist who spent too much time listening to his Christian pastor while plotting one-world government that would put globos in our pockets instead of American dollars in rder to save free enterprise capitalism.

Posted by: Ken in Tenn on March 31, 2009 at 3:21 PM | PERMALINK

Given that the real fascists in America are the ones yelling "look over there at him!" this isn't that surprising. But attempts to overthrow the constitution, illegal gratuitous wars, torturing prisoners, waging "war" against political opponents - all of that in fact isfascist, and pretty much describes the previous administration, as well as the "conservative" (it really isn't, no more than the National Socialists were "conservative," no matter how many times they said they were) movement for the past 40 years.

Posted by: TCinLA on March 31, 2009 at 3:32 PM | PERMALINK

Don't give McArdle points for pretending to be the reasonable wingnut while making cutsey comments about genocide. McArdle thinks beating protesters who disagree with her with 2x4s is admirable state policy, so she's not entirely clear on the concept of fascism. (Or maybe she is, and just knows what she likes.)

And Crazy Davy Horowitz simply prefers many little lies to the big lie. Read his ODS article and see how many you can find in five minutes.

"Even the conservative [name of raving loony] thinks X is bad" is a mug's game.

Posted by: Roger Ailes on March 31, 2009 at 3:38 PM | PERMALINK

"...secret 'concentration camps' to lock up conservatives."

Uh, that's not the Obama Administration, that's me ... admittedly a common mistake. Why? because I am really bored with uncreative, uninteresting, repetative, unstylish people.

Posted by: Kurt on March 31, 2009 at 3:50 PM | PERMALINK

By the way, those FEMA 'camps' have been around for a while...Obama didn't start them, nor did Bush II.

It's not necessarily a bad thing to poke around in what's being done in the deep corners of the national security apparatus - but damn, these wingers do have some gall painting it all on Obama.

Posted by: slaney black on March 31, 2009 at 4:23 PM | PERMALINK

Not meaning to spoil the party, but lots of people on our side throw "fascist" around quite a bit, too. But I'm not really very concerned -- it's just one of those words that keeps the internets and intertubes boiling.

Posted by: cben on March 31, 2009 at 4:26 PM | PERMALINK

I was a bit bemused that you didn't mention the fact that GOP administrations, and the GOP itself, tend far more in the fascist direction than any democratic-party member or President ever did.

The "fascist" moniker was always a case of conscious projecting. Gooper ideologues who have more than two braincells to rub together are probably aware that the modern GOP, particularly in its Bush-incarnation, was well down the road--and still is--toward Mussolini-style fascism. Look up the consensus definition of the word, and nothing in American politics fits as well as the modern GOP.

This is nothing but reverse agit-prop, and while it was stupid to begin with, it is, by now, such a profoundly stupid idea ---a democrat as a fascist--- that it doesn't even deserve mention.

To the extent anything in modern american politics is fascist, the modern GOP is, and they throw the word around so hard in order to prevent it from landing where it belongs: on them.

Posted by: LL on March 31, 2009 at 5:06 PM | PERMALINK

Fascism, perhaps not

LL wrote: "...Look up the consensus definition of the word, and nothing in American politics fits as well as the modern GOP."

Answers. com: "A system of government marked by centralization of authority under a dictator, stringent socioeconomic controls, suppression of the opposition through terror and censorship, and typically a policy of belligerent nationalism and racism."

Fascism... Yeah from a "certain point of view" but I think the GOP is not advocating fascism so much as oligarchy ... and a return to the pre-20th economic policies.

Answers.com: New York Times columnist Paul Krugman "...we're seeing the rise of a narrow oligarchy: income and wealth are becoming increasingly concentrated in the hands of a small, privileged elite."

So let's drop the whole 'fascist' moniker it denegrates holocaust survivers by making it a common term when it should, like "genocide," be reserved for the most extreme cases.

Posted by: Kurt on March 31, 2009 at 5:32 PM | PERMALINK

I wonder when the Right will get beyond calling Obama a fascist and go to the next logical step: calling him a Satanist.

Ever notice how few goats there are in thw White House? Is it because there's no need for goats in the Whiye House dot dot dot or something far more sinister?

I want to adopt Obama's little girls. Who knows what horrors await them at the hand of He Who Walks Amongst The Dark Disciples?

Posted by: slappy magoo on March 31, 2009 at 5:53 PM | PERMALINK

The FEMA camps (and freight cars) stories began, I believe, with the paranoid politics of the Libertarians.
That being said, at least a little mistrust/suspecion of those in power is always warranted, regardless of party affiliation.

Posted by: valiberal on March 31, 2009 at 6:00 PM | PERMALINK

I say give 'em all the rope they want. They did this with Clinton and his ratings grew in spite, or maybe because, of their unhinged hysterical conniptions. His approval ratings even went up during the impeachment. This country doesn't like this kind of garbage talk no matter which side uses it. That wingnuts are far too stupid to realize that is all to the good as far as I'm concerned.

Posted by: digitusmedius on March 31, 2009 at 8:12 PM | PERMALINK



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