During the Bush years, Bush was often compared to Hitler or Mussolini,. The focus of the attacks had to do with wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and angst over the supposed erosion of civil liberties due to warrantless wiretaps, among other things. There was a lot of hyperbole. Bush was a monkey, a Nazi, a Fascist, the devil’s spawn. The hyperbole became so hysterical some conservatives jokingly took to calling President Bush “Chimpy McBushHitler Halliburton.” Many on the right go too far in attacking the motives of President Obama in the same way the left attacked Bush. It is neither rational nor sane.
President Obama is, unlike President Bush, a progressive, but he is not a fascist.
One must be careful to say such things clearly these days lest the outrage pimps on the left try to drum up outrage on less than clear precision of word choice. President Obama does however, like President Woodrow Wilson, seek to harness the power of the state for the collective good of the American people, even at the expense of the individual. Many on the right view it as a European style socialist tendency because he does so in the name of fairness and believes the government should decide what each citizen’s fair share is. Consider President Obama’s recent speeches on the free market and individualism and compare them to Woodrow Wilson saying, “American is not now and cannot in the future be a place for unrestricted individual enterprise.”
“Reasonable” people do not often talk of fascism in the modern American state, but fascist tendencies from an earlier time in American history, properly understood, are rearing up among progressives again as President Obama amps up his heated rhetoric against free enterprise, conservatives, and the wealthy. While President Obama is not a part of what it happening, it is clear progressives, inspired by his agenda, have taken matters into their own hands to extremes we have not seen for a hundred years.
Fascism, properly understood, is not a right-wing ideology. While many characterize it as such, Wikipedia, of all places, has a pretty accurate rendering, explaining that
[f]ascists advocate a state-directed, regulated economy that is dedicated to the nation; the use and primacy of regulated private property and private enterprise contingent upon service to the nation, the use of state enterprise where private enterprise is failing or is inefficient, and autarky.During the First World War, Woodrow Wilson and the progressive movement used war as a means to rally society to the collective good of the nation. George Perkins, a financier of progressive causes at the time, boasted that the First World War “is striking down individualism and building up collectivism.” Michael McGerr, in his book A Fierce Discontent: The Rise and Fall of the Progressive Movement in America, cited one progressive who championed the war claiming, “Laissez-faire is dead. Long live social control.”
Jonah Goldberg, in his well regarded book Liberal Fascism, noted that “[m]ore dissidents were arrested or jailed in a few years under Wilson than under Mussolini during the entire 1920s.” Americans often ignore our history and often the media forgets history when it choses to report or not report something.
In May of 1918, several hundred publications were denied access to the postal service. As Goldberg documented in Liberal Fascism, “In Wisconsin a state official got two and a half years for criticizing a Red Cross fund-raising drive. A Hollywood producer received a ten-year stint in jail for making a film that depicted British troops committing atrocities during the American Revolution. One man was brought to trial for explaining in his own home why he didn’t want to buy Liberty Bonds.”
This was the state acting on its own. Consider though the American Protective League, officially approved by then Attorney General Thomas Gregory, and composed of private citizens acting as a “secret” organization. The organization harassed individuals and businesses, threatening and bullying any who stood in the way of the goals of the state. They spied on their neighbors, read their mail, and acted in ways similar to the variously colored shirted organizations in Europe and former European colonies. In fact, even Woodrow Wilson had misgivings about them writing Attorney General Gregory, “It would be dangerous to have such an organization operating in the United States, and I wonder if there is any way in which we could stop it?” Wilson did not stop it.
These were not right wingers. The APL and similar groups may have targeted unions, but did so on the belief that unions were disrupting activities of the progressive state, e.g. undermining Wilson’s war effort.
The re-emerged progressive movement, springing to action to “agitate” (their word choice) for President Obama’s agenda is troubling. There is a pattern of behavior within the modern progressive movement against dissent echoing the progressive movement during Woodrow Wilson’s tenure. Then, progressives engaged in fascist strategy and tactics to silence opposition to Wilson’s advance of the state over the individual. Many on the left then hailed Benito Mussolini as a hero and champion of progress in the way many on the modern left hail Hugo Chavez as the same. In the second decade of the twenty-first century, progressive activists are engaging in a similar pattern of intimidation and violence that they perversely think will help President Obama, even as he himself has voiced misgivings about their tactics and sought to distance himself from some of his most ardent supporters.
Using the IRS and “Good Government” Groups To Attack ConservativesSomeone within the Internal Revenue Service leaked to the gay-rights organization Human Rights Campaign the private Form 990 of the National Organization of Marriage. The form contains a list of major donors to the National Organization for Marriage. The IRS Form 990 is available for public inspection on request, but the law is very clear that donors are to have their information redacted.
In 2008, during the fight to pass Proposition 8 in California, the referendum to ban gay marriage, donors to the Proposition 8 cause were harassed and threatened. Now donors to the National Organization of Marriage should expect the same.
The American Legislative Exchange Council (“ALEC”) had its Form 990 donor information acquired by Common Cause, an organization funded by left-wing money and that the media describes as a “good government” group. In fact, National Public Radio reporter Peter Overby reported on ALEC’s 990 a few days ago raising “questions” about ALEC and its tax exempt status. Overby’s reporting cited Common Cause, described it as a good government group, and patently failed to mention that Overby had worked for the left-wing group before working for National Public Radio.
As noted, Form 990’s are available, though Common Cause and related groups are now targeting ALEC donors. It is unclear whether ALEC had redacted its 990 donor information.
The Common Cause attack on ALEC is, in and of itself, quite ironic. Common Cause’s mouthpiece at NPR, Peter Overby, documented Common Cause’s case as did a rather hostile bit of “journalism” from the New York Times. In essence, the “good government” group argues that ALEC is a non-lobbyist lobbyist, i.e. lobbies politicians illegally while hiding behind the veneer of not being a lobbyist.
Tom and Linda Daschle are big Common Cause donors. Tom Daschle, the former Democratic Leader in the Senate, didn’t pay his taxes and was, in fact, a non-lobbyist lobbyist. But Common Cause will take his money.
The Landmark Legal Foundation’s Mark Levin, also a popular radio show host, recently highlighted troubling IRS activities against tea party groups. Many tea party groups in the country claim the IRS is attempting to undermine their 501(c)(3) tax status. The IRS attempts go beyond normal tax challenges demanding specific information into family members, outside groups, affiliates, and deep background on individuals involved as officers of the tea party groups.
The use of the IRS as a political tool to intimidate opponents of the government is positively Nixonian, but only because the income tax and IRS were barely out of the fetal stage for Woodrow Wilson.
Home VigilantesLeft-wing groups and unions have collaborated together to threaten and cajole private citizens. In Maryland, SEIU protestors and others showed up on the front porch of a Bank of America executive’s home to pound on his windows. He wasn’t home, but his child was who barricaded himself in a bathroom. This event might not have even been reported except Fortune Magazine’s Nina Easton lived next door. When she reported on it, she too was harassed. The only reporter at the event, which clearly was not designed for the media, was a Huffington Post blogger reporting sympathetically on the union activities.
In New Jersey, school union officials showed up at the home of a school superintendent yelling profanity and harassing the family. Involved were several school teachers who taught the superintendent’s family.
Intimidation of BusinessesRadical activist Van Jones, a former White House “green jobs czar” leads an organization called Color of Change. The organization, Media Matters for America, and others are leading coordinated attacks on businesses that choose to give money to conservative causes, advertise on talk radio, and the like.
They say they are boycotting, which is their right to do. Except these are not boycotts to advance rights as in the sixties. These are boycotts to shut down opposing views. When any side typically believes it is right, it often will encourage the other side to speak loudly so everyone can hear the wrongness of their views. Not so now. The left, no doubt unable to win in the battle of ideas, has decided to shut down the battle.
Businesses are harassed. In a Fox News interview, one business owner in New York who advertises with Rush Limbaugh told the anchor his business was targeted. Women in his office were called and harassed, spoken to crudely, and threatened.
Coca-Cola, Wal-Mart, and other businesses have all been targeted for harassment for giving money to conservative causes, though they give to liberal causes as well. The left is fine, obviously, with those donations.
The Koch BrothersWhile the left is heavily funded by the billionaire felon George Soros, the collective organizations (and the White House) seem to have no problem attacking billionaires Charles and David Koch for funding free market think tanks and organizations committed to smaller government.
Using startling rhetoric from the Wilsonian era progressives, the left would have the American public believe that their use of billions from a foreigner turned American and felon is pure and noble, but the money spent by two brothers from Kansas is sinister.
Koch Industries has seen its businesses targeted for protest by the Occupy Movement. News shows have run less than flattering profiles of the Kochs. The New Yorker ran a hit job on the Kochs riddled with falsehoods and distortions that other left-wing activists in the media picked up, broadcast, and treated as gospel.
Recently, the left even accused the Kochs of funding George Zimmerman’s defense in the Trayvon Martin shooting. It seems no crime in America is salacious enough without accusations of involvement by the Kochs.
Progressive candidates now drop the Koch name casually suggesting their opponents are tainted by a relationship to Charles and David Koch. The Obama campaign routinely sends out campaign propaganda blaming the Koch Brothers for all of Barack Obama’s failures. During policy debates in 2010, Barack Obama’s economics adviser Austan Goolsbee revealed Koch Industries’ tax structure, information not publicly available. MSNBC blames the Trayon Martin death on the Kochs.
It is a concerted left-wing effort to make the Kochs the Typhoid Mary of American politics while casually ignoring its own money comes from a man convicted of insider trading, one of the very crimes the left highlights as a truly evil sin in capitalism.
Assaults on Religious LibertyOne the long held tenets of progressivism and fascism has been that everything should bend to the state, including religious organizations. In fact, in Liberal Fascism Jonah Goldberg notes,
Progressivism, from which today’s liberalism descended, was a kind of Christian fascism (many called it “Christian socialism”). This is a difficult concept for modern liberals to grasp because they are used to thinking of the progressives as the people who cleaned up the food supply, pushed through the eight-hour workday, and ended child labor. But liberals often forget that the progressives were also imperialists, at home and abroad. . . . [W]hile the God talk may have fallen by the wayside, the religious crusader’s spirit that powered Progressivism remains as strong as ever. Rather than talk in explicitly religious terms, however, today’s liberals use a secularized vocabulary of “hope”.The rhetoric of religion as a social tool on the left has given way to a religious rhetoric for secularism while liberals engage in curtailing religious freedoms. Witness President Obama, in true Wilsonian fashion, rallying students to give “amens” over student loans.
The ever progressive Media Matters for America, which works hand in hand with the Obama Administration and other left-wing groups, openly declared on its IRS application for non-profit status that it would be an anti-Christian organization. Liberal attorney Alan Dershowitz and others have loudly attacked the organization for its anti-semitism. The organization routinely attacks Christian news outlets and attacks major media outlets as having a pro-Christian “bias in news reporting and analysis.”
Before the Supreme Court this year, the Obama Administration took the radically left position that the First Amendment does not contain a “ministerial exception,” a belief long held in American jurisprudence, though never actually before the Supreme Court, that churches have wide latitude in managing those it considers ministers of their faith. Even the American Civil Liberties Union would not go that far. The case, Hosanna-Tabor Church v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, saw the United States Supreme Court not only finally formally recognize the ministerial exception, but reject the Obama Administration’s position in a 9 to 0 vote. Barry Lynn, who wears the title “Reverend” to give himself authority among the left as he seeks to undermine religious liberty in the country, assailed the unanimous decision saying, “Blatant discrimination is a social evil we have worked hard to eradicate in the United States. . . . I’m afraid the court’s ruling today will make it harder to combat.”
At the same time, Catholic Bishops openly fret about the government curtailing religious liberties, limiting them solely to worship.
HHS mandate for contraception, sterilization, and abortion-inducing drugs. The mandate of the Department of Health and Human Services has received wide attention and has been met with our vigorous and united opposition. In an unprecedented way, the federal government will both force religious institutions to facilitate and fund a product contrary to their own moral teaching and purport to define which religious institutions are “religious enough” to merit protection of their religious liberty. These features of the “preventive services” mandate amount to an unjust law. As Archbishop-designate William Lori of Baltimore, Chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, testified to Congress: “This is not a matter of whether contraception may be prohibited by the government. This is not even a matter of whether contraception may be supported by the government. Instead, it is a matter of whether religious people and institutions may be forced by the government to provide coverage for contraception or sterilization, even if that violates their religious beliefs.”Only immigration is arguably a front opened by conservatives, and even now conservatives in Alabama are working to find a compromise to accommodate the religious.
State immigration laws. Several states have recently passed laws that forbid what the government deems “harboring” of undocumented immigrants—and what the Church deems Christian charity and pastoral care to those immigrants. Perhaps the most egregious of these is in Alabama, where the Catholic bishops, in cooperation with the Episcopal and Methodist bishops of Alabama, filed suit against the law:
It is with sadness that we brought this legal action but with a deep sense that we, as people of faith, have no choice but to defend the right to the free exercise of religion granted to us as citizens of Alabama. . . . The law makes illegal the exercise of our Christian religion which we, as citizens of Alabama, have a right to follow. The law prohibits almost everything which would assist an undocumented immigrant or encourage an undocumented immigrant to live in Alabama. This new Alabama law makes it illegal for a Catholic priest to baptize, hear the confession of, celebrate the anointing of the sick with, or preach the word of God to, an undocumented immigrant. Nor can we encourage them to attend Mass or give them a ride to Mass. It is illegal to allow them to attend adult scripture study groups, or attend CCD or Sunday school classes. It is illegal for the clergy to counsel them in times of difficulty or in preparation for marriage. It is illegal for them to come to Alcoholic Anonymous meetings or other recovery groups at our churches.
Altering Church structure and governance. In 2009, the Judiciary Committee of the Connecticut Legislature proposed a bill that would have forced Catholic parishes to be restructured according to a congregational model, recalling the trusteeism controversy of the early nineteenth century, and prefiguring the federal government’s attempts to redefine for the Church “religious minister” and “religious employer” in the years since.
Christian students on campus. In its over-100-year history, the University of California Hastings College of Law has denied student organization status to only one group, the Christian Legal Society, because it required its leaders to be Christian and to abstain from sexual activity outside of marriage.
Catholic foster care and adoption services. Boston, San Francisco, the District of Columbia, and the state of Illinois have driven local Catholic Charities out of the business of providing adoption or foster care services—by revoking their licenses, by ending their government contracts, or both—because those Charities refused to place children with same-sex couples or unmarried opposite-sex couples who cohabit.
Discrimination against small church congregations. New York City enacted a rule that barred the Bronx Household of Faith and sixty other churches from renting public schools on weekends for worship services even though non-religious groups could rent the same schools for scores of other uses. While this would not frequently affect Catholic parishes, which generally own their own buildings, it would be devastating to many smaller congregations. It is a simple case of discrimination against religious believers.
Discrimination against Catholic humanitarian services. Notwithstanding years of excellent performance by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Migration and Refugee Services in administering contract services for victims of human trafficking, the federal government changed its contract specifications to require us to provide or refer for contraceptive and abortion services in violation of Catholic teaching. Religious institutions should not be disqualified from a government contract based on religious belief, and they do not somehow lose their religious identity or liberty upon entering such contracts. And yet a federal court in Massachusetts, turning religious liberty on its head, has since declared that such a disqualification is required by the First Amendment—that the government somehow violates religious liberty by allowing Catholic organizations to participate in contracts in a manner consistent with their beliefs on contraception and abortion.
Not documented in the bishops’ letter is the most recent attempt by progressives in Hutchinson, Kansas — yes Kansas — seeking to slide further down the slope on gay marriage by forcing churches to open their doors to gay marriage.
The left packages these issues as “womens rights” issues or “gay rights” issues and the like, but each encroaches directly on religious liberty, which the left has decided to devalue despite our founders enshrining it in the very first right within the Bill of Rights.
ConclusionDuring the Bush years, dissent was hailed as patriotic. Whistleblowers were treated as martyrs. The media highlighted positively efforts to stand up to the man. Now the left is in charge. Dissent must be silenced. Conservative commentators must be driven from television and radio, businesses must be shut down if they fund conservative causes. Individuals who contribute money to conservative causes or engage must be harassed and badgered from the town square.
It is a pernicious strain of the progressive movement rearing its head. Its pattern of practice is too eerily similar to that strain of American fascism that reared its head almost one hundred years ago heading into the second decade of the twentieth century. Even the most benign liberal technocratic rule cannot, in the long run, admit dissent, because dissent is inefficiency, the enemy of technocracy. Dissent, good for the left, simply cannot be tolerated when the left is in charge.
Raising the concern is shouted down as unreasonable, but few can claim it reasonable to shut down opposing voices except the modern American Progressive Movement. In his book History of the American People, written in 1901, Woodrow Wilson sympathetically explained away the rise of the Ku Klux Klan in post Civil War America writing,
They took the law into their own hands, and began to attempt by intimidation what they were not allowed to attempt by ballot or by any ordered course of public action. They began to do by secret concert and association what they could not do in avowed parties. Almost by accident a way was found to succeed which led insensibly farther and farther afield into the ways of violence and outlawry.In the 21st Century, the Occupy Wall Street Movement, hailed by the left, uses similar justification of taking the law into their own hands as they drop britches and poop on police cars, harass conservatives, and dribble out confidential IRS tax information on the opposition. That’s not to equate the Occupy Movement with a perniciously evil group, but it is striking how Wilson described the KKK compared to now.
Consider domestic terrorist Bernadette Dorn of the Weather Underground talking to an Occupy rally:
Agitation lights up the truth and what occupy has done by agitating in its non-violent, beautiful, imaginative way ["direct action," someone interjects] is to teach by shifting the frame really by remaining what’s possible. And what’s possible is that capitalism cannot solve our problems. It cannot solve any of our problems and the empire is in peril. Right? Who are the emerging countries in the world? They are the BRIC nations really. . . . So I want to keep us imagining that talking and educating and organizing goes with agitating, with direct action, with manifesting what we want to be.She described the “agitation” as non-violent, but ended by saying that “organizing goes with agitating, with direct action.” What form of direct action has the left taken? Well, frankly, intimidation against others, violence, and civil disobedience to do what they could not at the ballot box. 400 people were arrested in Oakland, CA when Occupy Oakland turned violent. An Occupy Los Angeles speaker claimed violence would be necessary. In New York, Occupy Wall Street protestors tried to block access to Wall Street. The list of violence around the country is striking compared to, for example, the tea party movement the left had demagogued as racist and violent.
Mussolini, Jonah Goldberg noted, “defined socialism and fascism as ‘movement, struggle, and action.’ One of his favorite slogans was ‘To live is not to calculate, but to act!’”
The grand difference, however, between the left and right in this late struggle and leftwing attempts to punish dissent is that, as Conn Carroll wrote
The Occupy movement is predicated on the idea of protesters (the 99%) asserting control over something that does not belong to them (Zuccotti Park, McPherson Square, Frank Ogawa/Oscar Grant Plaza etc.). When you assert control over something that someone else owns (Brookfield Properties, the taxpayers, etc), there is eventually going to be a physical confrontation when that owner tries to reassert control. That is what we are seeing in police/occupier clashes across the country.It is increasingly hard to just view the Occupy movement that way. The left, in general, is asserting control over things that do not belong to them and attempting to silence any dissent. Some on the right will blame the President or attribute it to the President. The right should be careful in stooping to the level of Bush Derangement Syndrome that so infected the Left in the Bush years.
Objectively, however, many people who wish to see Barack Obama re-elected will stop at nothing to advance what they believe is his cause.
We should not stay silent.
(A PDF version of this post is available here)