They lie and they don’t care if people think they lie… Joseph Goebbels –- it’s the big lie, you keep repeating it,” Burton said Monday before the Blake Hotel breakfast. He said Ryan told “a bold-faced lie and he doesn’t care that it was a lie. That was Goebbels, the big lie.I saw it this morning in the San Francisco Chronicle and then on PoliticalWire and then lots of other places and knew it was tempest in a teapot time. David Atkins over at Digby's Hullabaloo tut-tuts the Dem line, "Burton wasn't calling Republicans Nazis or mass murderers. He was saying that they're using the same propaganda tactic Goebbels made famous." And of course this is right. Also, of course, Burton could have used more timely and in many ways more salient examples from Madison Avenue instead, and at least part of the reason he did not is because of the mileage you get from the Nazi association, which is exactly what critics are complaining about too.
Already many Villagers are rising portentiously above the fray like parade blimps, ritually intoning that both sides do it, Republicans smear Democrats as socialists and Democrats smear Republicans as fascists and won't somebody please think of the children and pass me the smelling salts?
Quite contrary to the thrust of the point these would-be umpires qua gossip columnists imagine they are making, there really is a good reason that at least some Republicans declare some Democrats socialists and some Democrats declare some Republicans fascists: There are deep structural affinities being discerned here. As a life-long fighting liberal Democrat, I am not exactly shy about my admiration for American socialist Michael Harrington. Why, right there at the top of the blog, click About Me and you will stumble soon enough on the sentence: "I am still a believer with Michael Harrington that 'the best liberalism leads toward socialism. I’m a radical, but... I want to be on the left wing of the possible.'" I don't disapprove of the idea of private property or covet enforced homogeneity, equity-in-diversity is my thing, but if you knew how much progressivity I would want in the tax system to fund how much public welfare you wouldn't be wrong to suspect it was a democratic socialist as much as a social democrat you were talking to, and as the great man said, and I'm not the only one.
Neither is it exactly a secret that academic investigations of fascist societies inevitably turn up disturbing continuities in their tendencies that differ in degree but not in kind with all mass-mediated consumer-industrial North Atlantic nation-states, endless variations of Frankfurt School analyses, worried documentation of totalitarian tendencies in corporate-militarism by this blog's patron saint Hannah Arendt, anxious dot connecting between observers of Movement Republicanism and Lawrence Britt's Fourteen Defining Characteristics of Fascism, and so on.
Quite apart from all that, I for one get annoyed by the way American hypersensitivity to the very idea that some of their good fellow citizens might be Nazi-susceptible expresses the lethal willful blindness of people who fail to grasp the extent to which Nazism was inspired by America -- that Hitler's libensraum was inspired by the example of the "Manifest Destiny" of America's bloodsoaked continental expansion, that Nazis turned for their rationalization of their treatment of the Jews to America's historical genocidal treatment of Native Americans and contemporary treatment of black people in the Jim Crow South (and elsewhere), that the precedent for the Concentration Camp was not only taken from the well-known example of the British in the Boer War but from the Andersonville prisoner-of-war camp in the Confederate South, and that Hitler found plenty of comfort in the comparably systemic eugenic and racist abuses in the American medical and prison establishments of his day.
My point is not to deny our difference from the Nazis. FDR's America took a different path (Japanese internments notwithstanding) and not only defeated the Nazis but installed the United Nations and imagined the Four Freedoms. I do not think that our only alternatives are Socialism or Fascism -- or Socialism or Barbarism as the old saying goes. I think there are vital differences that make a difference in the many forms of living compromised social democracy over which we struggle day to day in the world as it is, and I think these differences really are worth fighting for on their own terms. But neither should we ignore the permanent susceptibility of our system toward the perils of more fascist forms or the promise of more equitable forms either. All of this is a Big Truth underlying all the lies, big and small, we tell each other and ourselves on this score.