Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Other “F” Word

Hendrik Hertzberg at The New Yorker sees a rising trend in right-wingers throwing around the “fascist” label.

On the loony right, the equivalent of calling liberals fascists used to be calling liberals communists. That custom lives on among Republicans in the relatively benign form of accusing Democrats of being akin to “European socialists” or just “Europeans,” or wanting the United States to be more like “Western Europe”—a theme I touch on in this week’s Comment. But these accusations lack punch, somehow. The problem is, too many Americans have actually been to Western Europe, and it didn’t scare them.

Lately the right has picked up where the Comintern left off. “Liberal fascism” (the title of a book by Jonah Goldberg, of National Review) is “social fascism” updated by ideologues for whom Rush is the new Russia.

The meme seems to be catching on. Consider Michael Ledeen, the well-known philosopher-skulker of the shadowy right. He explains to readers of Pajamas Media that “what Obama et. al. are doing” is not socialism, because socialism requires “the abolition of private property.” (Never mind that by that definition, not a single European socialist is a socialist.)

What is it, then, that Obama et. al. are doing? Class? Anybody? That’s right:

“It’s fascism.”

Of course, they really don’t know how to define fascism except in boogedy-boogedy comparisons to Hitler and Mussolini, when in fact, it’s defined by Mr. Ledeen himself as “an expansion of the state’s role, an increase in public/private joint ventures and partnerships, and much more state regulation of business.” Does that sound familiar? Mr. Ledeen compares FDR’s New Deal to Mussolini, but it could also be applied to the government stepping in to take over banks and private industries, which I suppose would make Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who voiced support for nationalizing banks, a fascist under Mr. Ledeen’s definition. And the original bank bail-outs passed in the waning days of the Bush administration, with the government buying up stock in failing institutions, fit under that umbrella, too. But nobody really called it that because it isn’t really fascism.

Mr. Hertzberg made an interesting point about the labeling. Back in the ’60’s and ’70’s, the loony left threw around the “fascist” label, applying it to everything from the Great Society to Richard Nixon, and they were dismissed — correctly — as being cranks, and they never rose to any stature in the Democratic Party or administration. Yet Jonah Goldberg can get on the TV pushing his screed “Liberal Fascism” and a get a gig in the front office at the National Review. Granted, the right-wing’s standards of excellence in journalism and commentary have taken a beating when you consider that people like Michelle Malkin, Ann Coulter, and William Kristol are considered to be their A-list, but it tells you something when the leading lights of the right are reduced to a radio talk show loudmouth and columnists who throw around epithetic labels without knowing the meaning of the words.