Monthly Archives: May 2003

“Have you heard that it’s 1933 in America? God knows I have.” whines James Traub (“a contributing writer for the magazine”) in a Sunday NYT “think”-blurt.

“Three times in the last few weeks I have been told — by a novelist, an art historian and a professor of classics at Harvard, none of them ideologues or cranks — that the erosion of civil liberties under the Bush administration constitutes an early stage, or at least a precursor, to the kind of fascism Hitler brought to Germany.”

“Link please?” as they say at “Datalounge” Which novelist? Which art historian? Which professor of which “classics” at Harvard? Quite nice round-up of the usual suspects, eh? And all in order to tell us that they’re not “ideologues or cranks.”

So who are the “ideologues and cranks” Traub is so insistent on warning his NYT readers against?

“I first heard the 1933 analogy a few months back, when one of the nation’s leading scholars of international law suggested at a meeting of diplomats that Bush’s advisers were probably plotting to suspend the election of 2004.”

Honey you don’t need scale such vaunted scholarly heights to find “Bush=Hitler” talk. You can go almost anywhere on the internet — save for Drudge, Free Republic and needless to say. Hell, you can go almost anywhere serious, concerned politically active citizens congregate to hear the “No 2004 Elections” notion pondered — mostly as a dark joke, sometimes in complete seriousness. But rarely is the year 1933 invoked — though the Reichstag fire is vis-a-vis 9/11.

“Now, I think I understand the argument that compares the United States with imperial Rome, or with one of the unwitting great powers of 1914. But 1933? Hitler? That’s grotesque; and the fact that is has achieved such currency among what the French call the bien pensant is vivid proof that in much of the left, 9/11 and its aftermath have increased the visceral loathing not of terrorism or of Islamist fundamentalism but of President George Bush.”

Well there’s a lot of “visceral loathing” of George Bush to go around these days. But it scarcely stops at Dubbya alone. Dick Cheney, John Ashcroft, Tom DeLay — the entire administration — hell, the entire Republican party have been the target of Unbrainwashed Liberal brickbats. But it scarcely stops there, for truly thorough critics expand their ire to include the slumbering Democratic party and most important of all, the “mainstream” media — of which Traub is an exceedingly slick representative.

“Like all forms of reductio ad Hitler, the 1933 analogy constitutes a gross trivialization of the worst event in modern history. Do we remember what actually happened in 1933? Hitler ascended to the chancellorship, suspended constitutional rights and banned all opposition political parties, sent the Brown Shirts into the streets and issued the first decrees stripping Jews of their rights.”

Do we know what’s going in in the middle-east right this minute in the name of “freedom”? You won’t find out on CNN.

Try the BBC.

“To compare the passage of the U.S.A. Patriot Act and the proposed — but scotched — program to get ordinary citizens to pass along tips about suspicious dark-skinned strangers, not to mention the cancellation of Tim Robbins’s invitation to appear at the Baseball Hall of Fame because he might criticize the war in Iraq — to compare these and other inroads on our liberties to Hitler’s budding terror state is repellent.”

It’s the “scotched” that’s repellent. Who “scotched” it and why? Apparently some “hysterical” party or other read the fine print — and spread the word. Once word got out the “Patriot Act” became a PR problem, “solved” by withdrawing selected portions of it. But as anyone who has lived through the past four decades go, the government has never needed “no stinkin’ badges” (thank you John Huston) to get who they want to get, and punish — or even murder — “troublemakers.”

“But 1933 theorists, at least the more sophisticated ones, look beyond current policy to what they consider the structural similarities between contemporary America and various fascist states. In a recent article in The Nation, Sheldon Wolin, an emeritus professor of politics at Princeton, described the contemporary Republican party as ”a fervently doctrinal party, zealous, ruthless, antidemocratic and boasting a near majority.” The combination of toothless Democrats, a compliant media and ”a politically demobilized society” ensures that the Republicans, and their corporate overlords, will face little opposition in their drive for total domination.”

Well Traub has finally coughed up a name! But nothing Wolin says is either extreme or in dispute to anyone with half a brain.

“Haven’t we been here before? Back in the 60’s, when my ideological sympathies were first shaped, practically everybody was considered a fascist, including your junior-high-school principal.”

Well I went to the High School of Music and Art (no, not the “Fame” school), class of ’64, and redolent with “Red-diaper babies.” We didn’t consider the principal to be even remotely fascist. Nor any of the teachers. True fascism could be found outside the school doors where a car from the NYPD “red squad” sat taking our pictures day after day. These repellent clowns forestalled my taking “authority” seriously at an early age.

“Those were genuinely apocalyptic times: National Guardsmen were shooting protesters, black revolutionaries were strapping on bandoliers and President Nixon was turning the F.B.I. into a private investigative force. But the era ended not with the triumph of the state, but with its humbling: the impeachment proceedings against Nixon, the election of the modest Jimmy Carter, the clipping of the C.I.A.’s wings (now being unpinned post-9/11). Civic and state institutions, including the media, the judiciary and the party system, proved stronger than the forces that would constrain them.”

My what a neat little history lesson. Leaves out Chile, Central America and East Timor (the last-mentioned happening on the “modest” Carter’s watch) doesn’t it? But you’ll have to go to Satan Himself (ie. Noam Chomsky) to read about that little escapade — and whole lot more.

“And this is really the fundamental point: fascist states arise not simply because a mesmerizing leader seizes state power in unsettled times but because the democratic institutions that might oppose him have rotted away, as they did in Weimar Germany. Has that really happened here?”

When the man who won the popular vote is denied the presidency by a stacked Supreme Court and rigged elections in the key state of Florida where the votes of law-abiding African-Americans were thrown out on the grounds that they were felons? Well DUH! — as the children say nowadays.

“It’s true that today’s Republican Party is, by all historical standards, fervently doctrinal, if not necessarily ruthless or antidemocratic.”

What’s with the “not necessarily”?

“Left to its own devices, the Bush administration, and especially Attorney General John Ashcroft, might be perfectly willing to expand government powers to fight terrorism no matter the cost to individual liberties.”

“Might”? Countless undocumented citizens are in jail right now with no prospect of trial — or even legal representation.

“But the administration has not been left to its own devices. Opposition from both liberals and libertarian conservatives — i.e., Republicans — killed the TIPS program and may already be hindering next-generation Patriot II legislation; organs of the ”corporate-controlled media,” like ”60 Minutes,” have reported on the growing threat to civil liberties.”

Long before the TIPS program — in fact long before 9/11 — a pair of secret service agent, accompanied by two members of the LAPD with guns drawn knocked at my door. Somene from “Free Republic” claimed I had made a threat to the President. The “threat,” which was not directed at George W. Bush to begin with, consisted of a quote (identified as such) from Christopher Marlowe’s Edward II.

I don’t know if I was more unnerved than amused by the entire affair. The Secret Service agents (two very nice young ladies) at least got a lesson in English literature out of it.

“Much of the left seems to feel that the greatest threat to emerge from 9/11 is an untrammeled Bush administration — as if the destruction of the twin towers was the functional equivalent of the Reichstag fire, as I have heard one of my friends say. And yet even the most devout civil libertarians recognize that the terrorist threat compels rethinking.”

But there won’t be much of that as the administration has stymied all efforts to investigate why no one took heed of any warnings that might have prevented the attack from happening in the first place — leading to all manner of truly paranoid speculation.

“Norman Siegel, the former head of the New York Civil Liberties Union and a famous First Amendment purist, says, ‘The security interests are real, they’re legitimate and you have to balance freedom and security in a different way post-9/11.’ Siegel says that he has been hard put to explain to skeptical audiences that the Patriot Act, for all its problems, does not preclude traditional forms of peaceful protest.”

For the audiences, many of whom no doubt were “herded” by the police and the military during peaceful protest against the Iraq Attack (it can scarcely be called a war) as a means of stymying said demonstrations aren’t as stupid as Traub would wish.

“Why, then, the hysteria?”

What “hysteria”? People don’t like being lied to and raised objections to said lies. People don’t like “wars” designed to profit international corporations being waged in the name of “freedom.” What’s “hysterical” about that?

“I have several explanations. First of all, you cannot miss the element of wish-fulfillment in these prophecies of doom.”

Hunh? We want this to happen?

” Those of Bush’s critics who loathe him as an overprivileged lout and corporate cats’ paw regard the new moral and political stature he has gained as a result of the war on terror as an intolerable twist of fate; and so the terrible events they predict will prove the ultimate unmasking. We will see ‘Bush as Fuhrer,’ to cite one recent Internet posting.”

Link please!

“But we will also, of course, see America as Germany, a society so ‘demobilized’ that it will stay glued to reality TV as Karl Rove cancels the presidential elections. It is this contemptuous dismissal, I realize, that makes my blood boil every time I hear the 1933 analogy. When will the left learn that this is not simply a nation of dimwitted yahoos?”

Do “dimwitted yahoos” read the NYT?

I’d see my doctor about that blood pressure problem, dear.