Tuesday, October 19, 2004

It's Not Fascism, but It's Close

A story flying somewhat under the radar in this year's election is the suppression of legal protest. The various GOP voter-suppression efforts are now getting some airtime, or this would be just another dead canary littering the floor of the coalmine. Since things are so bitterly partisan this year, people on the far edge of either side dismiss out of hand anything by press organizations that supposedly are on the other side. (I myself take anything I hear on Fox with a shaker of salt.) So, anything from Salon, a self-admittedly left-leaning web magazine, is typically ignored by anyone from the right. However, facts are facts regardless of who reports them, and what happened to three Republican school teachers in the second article quoted below is beyond the pale for any American political party.

First, though, since I dropped the "F" word, I want to put it in context. James Lileks is constantly metaphorically rolling his eyes on his blog (see link in left bar) about people squealing that the Bush administration is fascist, and I would agree for the most part. True fascism has not yet occurred on our shores, yet. However, we are close enough that it is time to become concerned. The following excerpt from Salon's "War Room" (the page they've established for this election's news) I feel does a pretty good job of describing just where we stand in our proximity to true fascism. After that is the point of this post.

Bush's retreat from reality

Even if you thought you knew all there was to know about this administration's retreat from the Enlightenment, it's hard not to shudder while reading "Faith, Certainty and the Presidency of George W. Bush," Ron Suskind's New York Times Magazine cover story. It's long been clear that this administration has a hard time acknowledging reality, but Suskind suggests that Bush and his circle have an active and unabashed aversion to it.

Suskind quotes a senior Bush advisor who derides him, along with most journalists, experts and government technocrats, as part of the "reality-based community." As Suskind tells it, the advisor described this group as people who "believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernable reality," an approach this administration evidently sneers at.

"I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principals and empiricism," Suskind writes. "He cut me off. 'That's not the way the world really works anymore,' he continued. 'We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors... and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do."

It's considered unfashionably shrill to refer to the Bush administration as fascistic, but this is pretty clearly the language of totalitarianism. Indeed, in her seminal 1951 book "The Origins of Totalitarianism," Hannah Arendt wrote, "Before mass leaders seize the power to fit reality to their lies, their propaganda is marked by its extreme contempt for facts as such, for in their opinion fact depends entirely on the power of man who can fabricate it."

Instead of facts, Suskind shows Bush runs on faith, a faith that demands almost cult-like devotion from his inner circle. "The president has demanded unquestioning faith from his followers, his staff, his senior aides and his kindred in the Republican Party," Suskind writes. "Once he makes a decision -- often swiftly, based on a creed or moral position -- he expects complete faith in its rightness… A writ of infallibility -- a premise beneath the powerful Bushian certainty that has, in many ways, moved mountains -- is not just for public consumption: it has guided the inner life of the White House."

This, too, recalls Arendt's writing on totalitarianism. "The chief qualification of a mass leader has become unending infallibility; he can never admit an error," she wrote. Later, she continued, "The stubbornness with which totalitarian dictators have clung to their original lies in the fact of absurdity is more than superstitious gratitude to what turned the trick, and, at least in the case of Stalin, cannot be explained by the psychology of the liar whose very success may make him his own last victim. Once these propaganda slogans are integrated into a 'living organization,' they cannot be safely eliminated without wrecking the whole structure."

The United States, of course, has not gone fascist under Bush, even if it's less free that it was four years ago. But he's not done yet. Besides, in the above quotes, Arendt wasn't writing about totalitarian societies. She was writing about totalitarian movements that were gaining power but had yet to take over. It's important to maintain a sense of proportion when talking about this administration, which, for all its awfulness, is light-years away from Hitlerian. Finishing Suskind's article, though, there's not much reason for those of us in the "reality-based community" to trust that American democracy can survive intact if this man gets another four years to try to bend the world to his illusions.

-- Michelle Goldberg
[13:28 PDT, Oct. 17, 2004]

Ok, so we're not fascist - just to be clear for James - but let's prick up our ears, shall we?

And here's why:

"We didn't think it would be offensive"

Our question is, why does the Bush-Cheney campaign assume people wearing shirts that say "Protect Our Civil Liberties" are opposed to the president's re-election? Would the campaign welcome guests as obvious Bush supporters if they're wearing shirts that say "Civil Liberties, Civil Schmiberties"?

From the AP: Three Medford school teachers were threatened with arrest and escorted from the event after they showed up wearing T-shirts with the slogan "Protect our civil liberties." All three said they applied for and received valid tickets from Republican headquarters in Medford. "The women said they did not intend to protest. "I wanted to see if I would be able to make a statement that I feel is important, but not offensive, in a rally for my president," said Janet Voorhies, 48, a teacher in training.

"We chose this phrase specifically because we didn't think it would be offensive or degrading or obscene," said Tania Tong, 34, a special education teacher. Thursday's event in Oregon sets a new bar for a Bush/Cheney campaign that has taken extraordinary measures to screen the opinions of those who attend Bush and Cheney speeches. For months, the Bush/Cheney campaign has limited event access to those willing to volunteer in Bush/Cheney campaign offices. In recent weeks, the Bush/Cheney campaign has gone so far as to have those who voice dissenting viewpoints at their events arrested and charged as criminals."

-- Geraldine Sealey
[12:49 PDT, Oct. 18, 2004]

Gosh, is defending the Constitution really that controversial? Does anyone, regardless of political affiliation, really want a government that has no desire to protect our civil liberties, and even threatens us with arrest if we simply state civil liberties are a pretty good idea?

This close folks -------> <------- ... this close.

Check out the debate on Slashdot

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