Friday, December 12, 2003

Note: Harvey’s sent me an email suggesting that I don't mention the book soon enough in this review.
I agree that we shouldn’t beat around the bush if we’re gonna beat Bush, but haven't change it much.

George W. Bush vs. The Superpower of Peace
By Harvey Wasserman and Bob Fitrakis
(Published by the Columbus, Ohio-based Free Press,

Even if it's more accurate to trace the neoconservatives' philosophy to its origins in Trotsky's belief in "permanent revolution," it's time someone took off the gloves and compared George W. Bush's radical agenda to previous right-wing revolutions, even and especially the Nazis. The problem, of course, is that anyone who dares to do so in polite company immediately gets tarred and feathered as a paranoid conspiracy theorist.

Of course, the same analysis is being put forth in more polite ways. The most accurate depiction of Bush's revolutionary agenda in the mainstream media are the adept and urbane columns of the New York Times' Paul Krugman:

"It has gradually become clear that something deeper than mere bad economic ideology is at work," Krugman explains in the introduction to The Great Unraveling, his collection of columns. "The bigger story is America's political sea change. ... It seems clear to me that one should regard America's right-wing movement -- which now in effect controls the administration, both houses of Congress, much of the judiciary, and a good slice of the media -- as a revolutionary power in Kissinger's sense. That is, it is a movement whose leaders do not accept the legitimacy of our current political system."

(Of course Indonesians, Chileans and Argentines know that "Kissinger" is synonymous for a kind of fascism, given his complicity with right-wing dictators in those countries and their genocidal campaigns.)

Krugman's deft, incisive prose ties the neocons' imperialist foreign policy agenda to Bush's brutal domestic agenda, with its rollback of civil liberties, tax cuts for the rich and skyrocketing deficit (which, if you understand Grover Norquist's plan, are being built up for strategic reasons, to serve as justification for future deep cuts in social programs like Head Start and, in the future, social security).

But if you're looking for something a little more blunt, pick up this new book by Harvey Wasserman and Bob Fitrakis who, dispensing with any polite courtesies, set to the task of undoing the trap door on the underbelly of the Trojan horse known as "compassionate conservatism," so that all the ugly truth about the Bush right-wing revolution comes spilling out in column after column.

These guys called it early on. On inaugural day, Wasserman wrote: "After the early skirmishes, and except for the easy battles, the Democrats will roll over for the Bush junta. Their money comes from the same corporations. They won't withstand a focused, massively financed right-wing juggernaut intent on substituting pure muscle for the lack of a popular mandate. That's the way they do it in the Third World. Who will stop them here?"

So far, no one, since there isn't much of an ideological counterweight to the far right in the U.S. right now. As a result, ever since 9/11, the Bush administration's ability to "shock and awe" has worked more effectively against congressional Democrats than it has in Baghdad.

Think of how astonishing it is that the Democratic leadership failed to make anything of the corporate scandals in the 2002 elections (Enron had 40 ex-execs and lobbyists embedded in the Bush administration; his own SEC whitewashed Bush's inside-trading history at Harken; remember the video that surfaced of Cheney praising the "above the normal" accounting advice he got from Arthur Anderson?). And how easily they rolled over for a series of tax cuts that benefit less than 10% or the public (as Steve Brouwer points out in the newly-released Robbing Us Blind, it's not "class warfare" when the 90 % of Americans who stand to lose never made it to the battlefield).

And, of course, there was the war:

"Naturally the common people don't want war; neither in Russia, nor in England, nor in America, nor in Germany. That is understood. But after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine policy, and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.“ -- Hermann Goering

Fitrakis and Wasserman aren't the only ones to compare the Bush league to the Nazis. Remember the German official who got canned after making the comparison at an obscure community meeting? Thom Hartmann has written similar pieces for Common Dreams. And on October 17, West Virginia Senator Robert Byrd, explicitly compared the Bush media operation to that run by Hermann Goering, mastermind of the Nazi putsch against the German people, on the floor of Congress.

For more conspiratorial-minded people, the Bush-Nazi connection is easy to see not just from his policies, but from family connections. (Krugman wisely avoids going there, but someone has to.) The same day that Byrd made his speech, for instance, AP published a story circulating around the web for some time that linked Bush's grandfather Prescott Bush to Adolf Hitler.

Wasserman and Fitrakis heap a bunch of provocative evidence onto all the other family skulls and bones. Just after 9/11, for example, Bush attended a New York Yankees game (soon after the 9/11 disaster), where he wore a fireman's jacket. Karl Rove, sitting in George Steinbrenner's box, likened the roar to "a Nazi rally."

A month after Byrd's speech, the son of an Austrian "brown shirt" -- Hitler's street muscle for the Anschluss (invasion of Austria) -- took over the governorship of California. Two weeks before Byrd's speech, ABC News broke the story of the 1975 interview in which Schwarzenegger was asked whom he admired: "I admire Hitler, for instance, because he came from being a little man with almost no formal education, up to power. I admire him for being such a good public speaker and for what he did with it."

It probably won't happen here. But before you finish this book, you start thinking that maybe it already is. Wasserman and Fitrakis' training as historians and activist roots give these essays a strong feel for the trajectory of events, which lends a certain power to the analogy.

I think some of the essays toward the end are much stronger than the beginning, and would advise readers to jump around. It's probably difficult for most readers to imagine why they begin part one with an essay on the Bush family's ties to Reverend Moon unless you remember the Reagan era, although I thought there were some very provocative things in there. (The New York Times noted in 1997 that Moon "has been reaching out to conservative Christians in this country in the last few years by emphasizing shared goals like support for sexual abstinence outside of marriage and opposition to homosexuality." Where's today's Wilhelm Reich to explain the function of sexual repression in the development of fascist societies?)

Perhaps it's just a matter of temperament, but it's often surprising that Fitrakis and Wasserman end so many of their columns on an optimistic note. (E.g. "Bush himself has handed an organized, focused and optimistic SuperPower of Peace the tools it needs to get stomping. So let's roll.") Because, as activists always say, Power never voluntarily concedes anything. Of course, it's good to be reminded that Bush didn't win the 2000 election, and a lot of people who voted for him now (including many in the military) will most likely not be voting for him next time.

A lot is riding on the outcome of the 2004 election. Despite some of the problems endemic to the Democratic party, and the instrumentalist forces driving history, at this point I would consider Dean's centrism an acceptable check on the juggernaut of fascism. The Republicans will use fear. And we should be afraid. Be very afraid. For very different reasons.

It could get very ugly (according to a friend of mine with a similarly pessimistic temperament, we could have four or five Floridas in 2004, because of a clause in the Help America Vote Act which established a category of "provisional" votes that would have to be counted in the event of a close election -- cast by voters who for some reason or another have a voting card but are not showing up on the precinct rolls -- hence the need for Ralph Reed's brownshirts).

It's true that "fascist" has been thrown around loosely, ineptly used to describe the Klan, manufacturers of napalm and nukes, and even al Qaeda (it's surprising to see such sloppy diction coming from people like Christopher Hitchens -- al Qaeda is largely a stateless network of terrorist fanatics, not a political party seeking to dominate a state, through which it seeks imperial expansion through military means, unless the argument is that their goal is to take over Saudi Arabia).

It's a lot easier to label foreign terrorists as fascists than a faction that controls your own government.

In his book on the topic, James D. Forman describes Fascism: "few Fascist groups have risen above the status of a minority party with a hysterical chip on its shoulder. Some, however, have obtained power within a national state, at which point the last democratic veneer has been rapidly abandoned. National solidarity has been asserted. Class differences have been denied and so-called misfits have been eliminated. Politically speaking, the individual has ceased to exist. The party has become the state, and the state has looked around for more enemies in order to fulfill its final objective. That final objective, of course, is imperialistic expansion..."

Wasserman and Fitrakis will no doubt be dismissed as cranks. And I have to say, to those who don't read much of this stuff, some of these essays involve a stream of associative logic that is pure latenight rant. But there's a lot here that can't easily be tossed aside. And I'm glad someone put it all down for the record.

What ultimately matters, as they suggest, is that "if the Bush administration objects to being compared with the Nazi elite, perhaps it should act less like it."