Sunday, April 26, 2009

The conservative cries of fascism

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By Scot Lehigh

I'M NOT ONE who thinks the right is dead in this country. If conservatism can learn from its losses, adapt, and modernize, the movement should continue to play an important role in American politics.

And yet, analytic introspection is hardly what we've seen since November. Instead, any number of conservative commentators have come down with the vapors.

That hysteria is regularly in evidence on "fair and balanced" Fox News. Witness, for example, Cody Willard, who reported for Fox from the anti-tax "tea party" on Boston Common last week. Inveighing against "the $800 billion Republican-Democrat fascist stimulus package," Willard posed this question: "Guys, when are we gonna wake up and start fighting the fascism that seems to be permeating this country?"

Willard managed to give his charge a veneer of nonpartisanship by including Republicans as among the sinners. Make no mistake, however: Cries of fascism are fast emerging as the favored conservative criticism of the Obama administration. You can see why: Given its inextricable link to Mussolini and Hitler, fascism carries no end of unsavory connotations. And, of course, charges of socialism haven't stuck to Obama.

But wait. Where is the extreme militaristic nationalism that the Encyclopedia Britannica tells us is fundamental to fascism? The contempt for electoral democracy and cultural liberalism? The effort to subordinate the individual to an authoritarian state?

Those are matters an intelligent commentator would want to consider before invoking the term. Not that that would deter Willard, who obviously won't be winning a MacArthur Foundation genius grant anytime soon. Fascism, he explained, is "big business and government gettin' in bed together." Still, it's puzzling that conservatives, who have waxed wroth about CNN's Susan Roesgen's hostile, unprofessional reporting from the Chicago tea party, have hardly uttered a peep about Willard's ludicrous performance.

He's not the only Fox personality who sees fascism around every corner, mind you.

"Like it or not, fascism is on the rise," Fox host Glenn Beck told his viewers this month. Sly Foxie that he is, Beck quickly added this qualifier: "That doesn't mean the Adolf Hitler kind of fascism."

Now, I'm confused. If it doesn't mean that, then why did Beck feature Nazi footage on the screen behind him as he launched into his rant? And why is he so prone to drawing analogies between contemporary America and Nazi Germany?

Here's one measure of how wacky he's become: His repeated assertions that Obama is moving the country toward fascism has provoked deep skepticism from fellow Fox host Bill O'Reilly, who, let's remember, is no stranger to simple-minded conservative bombast. Noting that his phones aren't tapped and that the government wasn't harassing him, O'Reilly recently told Beck that "I have just as much freedom now as I've ever had."

Ah, but the government is merely gathering its power, explained Beck, who issued this ominous warning: "You're about to not have freedom."

Proceed a few steps further toward tinfoil hat territory, and there you find Sean Hannity, who takes a back seat to no one - well, perhaps Michael Savage - in the cause of advancing idiocy on the nation's airwaves. Hannity, you'll recall, is the one who last fall gave kooky character assassin Andy Martin a platform to claim that Obama's time as a Chicago community organizer was actually "training for a radical overthrow of the government."

"The administration is on a mission to hijack capitalism in favor of collectivism," Hannity recently proclaimed. "The Bolsheviks have already arrived."

Nor are the squawking heads the only conservatives trafficking in the preposterous. Newt Gingrich recently asserted that Democrats are trying to move the country "towards a political dictatorship." Texas Governor Rick Perry last week suggested that his state might someday secede from the union.

No, this lunacy doesn't represent the totality of the right or even of its commentators. Yet it's prominent enough that starboard-side writer David Horowitz has expressed concern over the movement's "over-the-top hysteria" about Obama.

It's a problem that thinking conservatives should care about. After all, political rebuilding won't be easy if conservatism's loudest voices are those who sound as though they've just escaped from the asylum.

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