Saturday, May 02, 2009

American fascism

Over at Electric City Weblog, Rob Natelson sniffs fascism in a plan for restructuring General Motors. Mr. Natelson has done a fair amount of casual name calling on that blog of late. He found a "show trial" (his weasel-like quotation marks) in the Libby trial of Grace executives; he found a Messiah in Obama's presidency; he found Obama worship in the media; he found pornography in a Kaimin sex column.

This is probably good blogging; judging from the number of comments at Electric City, dropping a few slurs from time to time is good for business. But can it possibly be true, or fair?

Of course not. My dictionary, for instance, defines fascism as "a system of government characterized by rigid one-party dictatorship, forcible suppression of opposition, private economic enterprise under centralized governmental control, belligerent nationalism, racism, and militarism." So we can clearly see that Obama's plan for General Motors is fascist, provided one leaves out the parts about one-party rule (although Republicans seem determined to push us in that direction), suppression of opposition, national belligerence, racism and militarism.

Even the one plank left to Natelson -- government control of the economy -- is not nearly so strong as he imagines. Obama said at his press conference Thursday that he has no desire to run auto companies, and I see no reason not to believe him. Why would he?

But he inherited a situation in which all three big automakers were in bad shape, and two of them appeared to be on the verge of bankruptcy. It's understandable that he would want to find a way to shore them up until his program to get the economy on the mend got untracked. Maybe it was a bad idea. Maybe it will make things worse. But it isn't fascism. Neither Chrysler nor GM was forced to take a nickel of government money, but without it they were almost surely headed for the courts anyway, which means the government was bound to get involved in some fashion. If Obama is smart, and he seems to be, he will do what can be done, then get out as fast as possible.

Mr. Natelson presumes that Obama plans to stick his nose into other businesses, but he naturally fails to discuss specifics. Even the obvious possibility -- healthcare -- goes unmentioned. Mr. Natelson settles for the quick slur, and he defends it in part by saying that leftists are quick to pin the same slur on conservatives.

Certainly there have been leftists who have tossed around the "f" word. But I can't think of anyone with the national audience that, say, Glenn Beck and Michael Savage have, who has done so. At the national level labels of fascism appear to be conservative property. And that may be true even in Montana. Has any leftist with Natelson's notoriety and stature used the term in this state? I haven't seen it.

I am not as far to the left as Mr. Natelson is to the right, but I admit that I saw elements of what looked like fascism to me in the Bush administration. We invaded countries that hadn't attacked us; we then ran the conquered countries with an almost seamless marriage of corporate, military and governmental interests. We suspended, without admitting it, habeas corpus. We adopted torture for the first time in American history. We taunted prisoners' religious and cultural beliefs. We ignored and insulted allies. It's the closest thing to fascism I have ever seen in America.

But still not close enough. I don't think I ever used the term in print or on the blog to describe Bush policies. To the best of my memory, I mentioned the scary parallels only in private to a couple of people who I knew would get the point without taking offense. Fascism, whatever limited merits it might have as a way of describing government policy, is simply too tainted by its Axis associations to be fair game in American political discourse. You mention it; you lose.

Mr. Natelson ought to know that. And as a man who values words, he should choose them more carefully.


MTSentinel said...

Would you mind linking to your previous condemnation of the misappropriation of "fascism" by the left when applying it to Bush or Corporations? Thanks.

David said...

Perhaps I wasn't clear. I meant to say that while I don't doubt that some on the left characterized the Bush administration as fascist, I don't know of any prominent leftists who made such a charge. They have therefore escaped my condemnation. Perhaps you can point me to some examples.

Chuck Rightmire said...

David: When you are dealing with Natelson, you give him too much authority when you refer to him as prominent. He's a gadfly at best, an ass at worst. if he's prominent, it's as a reason to be ashamed of Montana allowing him to teach in our law school. He's a disgrace, from information I've heard as a teacher and his papers are worthless. He's also not someone who values words except as he can use them for demogogic purposes.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, Chuck, how embarrassing and shameful to have ONE conservative on that Missoula campus. That's entirely too much intellectual diversity, at least to a liberal.

Dave Rye said...

I object to people commenting anonymously, or by using a pseudonym.

'Twas I, the above anonymous one. I must have forgotten to type in my name.

Anonymous said...

"At the national level labels of fascism appear to be conservative property."

The left became so fond of calling Bush a fascist that it coined a new word: Bushitler. Among the prominent liberals who joined in the fun:

Keith Olbermann to Bush on Feb. 12, 2008: "You’re a fascist! Get them to print you a T-shirt with fascist on it!"

In his book Crimes Against Nature, Robert F. Kennedy wrote: “My American Heritage Dictionary defines fascism as ‘a system of government that exercises a dictatorship of the extreme right, typically through the merging of state and business leadership together with belligerent nationalism.’ Sound familiar?” Further, upon quoting the advice of Herman Goerring, Adolf Hitler’s second-incommand, and describing the rise of Hitler in the 1930s, Kennedy writes, “The White House has clearly grasped the lesson.”

Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn. compared Bush to Hitler and said he was somehow responsible for 9-11.

Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia equated Bush with Hitler after Bush criticized Senate procedures that might slow his court nominees. Byrd said Bush’s moves paralleled Hitler’s ramming fascist legislation through his gutted Reichstag. “Hitler never abandoned the cloak of legality,” said Byrd. “He recognized the enormous psychological value of having the law on his side. Instead, he turned the law inside out and made illegality legal.”

On Dec. 21, 2007, Rep. Jim Moran, D-VA., compared Bush to Hitler as he complained about Bush's handling of the Iraq war during an interview with Tucker Carlson.

At, one of the more popular web sites for Democratic activists, one of the blog entries by the site's creator is titled: "How Dick Cheney Created a Fascist Dictatorship in America."

Longtime New York Times reporter Chris Hedges quit his job to write a book called "American Fascists," in which he accused Bush and others in the religious right of trying to bring fascism to the US.

And so on and so on.

David said...

I have to admit that I am unfamiliar with any of these examples (although the one about Robert Byrd vaguely rings a bell).

Is it because I listen to too much talk radio? Is the fascism label really a bipartisan slimefest?

(Also still interested in hearing a Montana example.)