August 16, 2009

THOSE FASCISTS CALLED ME A COMMIE!

In America, Crazy Is a Preexisting Condition: Birthers, Town Hall Hecklers and the Return of Right-Wing Rage (Rick Perlstein, August 16, 2009, Washington Post)

In the early 1950s, Republicans referred to the presidencies of Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman as "20 years of treason" and accused the men who led the fight against fascism of deliberately surrendering the free world to communism. Mainline Protestants published a new translation of the Bible in the 1950s that properly rendered the Greek as connoting a more ambiguous theological status for the Virgin Mary; right-wingers attributed that to, yes, the hand of Soviet agents. And Vice President Richard Nixon claimed that the new Republicans arriving in the White House "found in the files a blueprint for socializing America."

When John F. Kennedy entered the White House, his proposals to anchor America's nuclear defense in intercontinental ballistic missiles -- instead of long-range bombers -- and form closer ties with Eastern Bloc outliers such as Yugoslavia were taken as evidence that the young president was secretly disarming the United States. Thousands of delegates from 90 cities packed a National Indignation Convention in Dallas, a 1961 version of today's tea parties; a keynote speaker turned to the master of ceremonies after his introduction and remarked as the audience roared: "Tom Anderson here has turned moderate! All he wants to do is impeach [Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl] Warren. I'm for hanging him!"

Before the "black helicopters" of the 1990s, there were right-wingers claiming access to secret documents from the 1920s proving that the entire concept of a "civil rights movement" had been hatched in the Soviet Union; when the landmark 1964 Civil Rights Act was introduced, one frequently read in the South that it would "enslave" whites. And back before there were Bolsheviks to blame, paranoids didn't lack for subversives -- anti-Catholic conspiracy theorists even had their own powerful political party in the 1840s and '50s.

The instigation is always the familiar litany: expansion of the commonweal to empower new communities, accommodation to internationalism, the heightened influence of cosmopolitans and the persecution complex of conservatives who can't stand losing an argument. My personal favorite? The federal government expanded mental health services in the Kennedy era, and one bill provided for a new facility in Alaska. One of the most widely listened-to right-wing radio programs in the country, hosted by a former FBI agent, had millions of Americans believing it was being built to intern political dissidents, just like in the Soviet Union.

So, crazier then, or crazier now? Actually, the similarities across decades are uncanny.


The similarity is haunting:
The fantasy of total control has emerged as central to the Bush administration imagination. It comes out in the unguarded utterances: the aide who blurts to a New York Times reporter that he was just one more sad-sack member of the "reality-based community." ("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.") The president demanding during the Iraq debate to congressional leaders, "Look, I want your vote. I'm not going to debate it with you." A White House aide, to a congregation of Pentecostal ministers, the "current government is engaged in cultural, economic, and social struggle on every level."

It shows up in the tautological narcissism of Bush's National Security Strategy document, which actually uses the phrase "the best defense is a good offense," and artfully constructs a vision in which whatever the United States does to preserve its interest is always already "peaceful," even when it requires war, is always already "democratic," even when it requires installing governments by fiat, is always already selfless, even as it establishes only two categories of states, those who cooperate and those who do not, in a situation of crisis defined unilaterally and whose time horizon stretches to infinity.

"In the new world we have entered," it avers, "the only path to peace and security is the path of action." The manifesto takes on ominous overtones when read alongside the famous post-9/11 draft Pentagon report that establishes a royalist conception of "sweeping" executive power as the only way to keep us safe: because "national security decisions require the unity in purpose and energy in action to characterize the presidency rather than Congress."

"Unity in Purpose, Energy in Action" – more than one commentator has noted its resemblance to slogans of fascist movements throughout history.

And of course out of fantasies of perfect control have always sprung the world's greatest human catastrophes. There will always be things even the most energetic executive cannot come even close to controlling. Conservatives used to warn us about the dangers of such utopianism – of the unintended consequences of hubristic attempts to "socially engineer" brave new worlds conjured in the heads of liberal intellectuals. Now Americans are once again learning that lesson, but the perpetrators are ... conservatives.

And their utopia, heaven help them, is Iraq.

What comes next there? For the subject who fantasizes total control, chaos is only an injunction to more radically confident maneuvers that enlarge the struggle for control.


or...:
[W]e should be worried about self-fulfilling prophecies. "Biblically," stated one South Carolina minister in support of the anti-Road Map billboard campaign, "there's always going to be a war."

Don Wagner, an evangelical, worries that in the Republican Party, people who believe this "are dominating the discourse now, in an election year." He calls the attempt to yoke Scripture to current events "a modern heresy, with cultish proportions.

"I mean, it's appalling," he rails on. "And it also shows how marginalized mainstream Christian thinking, and the majority of evangelical thought, have become."

It demonstrates, he says, "the absolute convergence of the neoconservatives with the Christian Zionists and the pro-Israel lobby, driving U.S. Mideast policy."

The problem is not that George W. Bush is discussing policy with people who press right-wing solutions to achieve peace in the Middle East, or with devout Christians. It is that he is discussing policy with Christians who might not care about peace at all—at least until the rapture.


Poor Friend Perlstein, he can't help seeing himself when he looks at them, and being justifiable scared by such derangement.

Posted by Orrin Judd at August 16, 2009 11:01 AM
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