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Thursday, July 24, 2008

Political Participation - The Real Fascism

by dday

Jesse Taylor at Pandagon had a remarkably insightful piece today about the wingnut carping over the Barack Obama speech in Berlin, the media reaction, and his popularity generally. I really think this is important to understand. The right has always held a goal of minimizing political participation; normally this is done through voter suppression, onerous voter ID or ballot access laws, and generally disenfranchising those for whom it is hardest to engage in the process. Now they've taken it a step further, basically planting the seed that ANY participation whatsoever, not just voting but showing up for a rally or working a phone bank or donating money, is toxic and inherently fascistic. Because their deficit in this election year is enthusiasm, they're trying to make such support and excitement untenable. Behold:

But what (author of Liberal Fascism Jonah) Goldberg has done is provide intellectual cover for a growing meme: Obama is the leader of a new fascist revolution. Why, you may ask? Well, it’s all got to do with the defining downward of fascism towards a gooey puddle that virtually anyone not a movement conservative can step in.

The Goldbergian view of fascism (and I’m sure he’ll deny it, which will then be followed by a criticism of my argument, which will in turn be fascist, which will in turn be the exact point he was trying make) is that the marriage of any measurable popularity whatsoever to any state action whatsoever outside the boundaries of Reaganite conservatism is de facto fascist. The point was never to explore fascism or provide an analysis of the phenomenon that cast new light on it - a feat of which Goldberg was summarily incapable - but instead to provide the exact utility we see on display now, and provide a way to brand any popular Democrat or liberal as the handmaiden of evil.

In a way, Goldberg lucked out (but he’s used to that) - Obama’s popularity and McCain’s plodding campaign provide the perfect stand-in for his argument. A Republican candidate with any stature, any devotion from the base, anyone who’s invested in seeing him elected for reasons that extend beyond his party affiliation, and it’s entirely ruined. A boring Republican running a bad campaign (Bob Dole, Gerald Ford) inevitably creates a fascist Democrat, not by anything they’ve said or done but by the simple act of showing up and not being a dumbass.

Yep. And because McCain is running such an awful campaign, conservatives must then rationalize that there's something deeply wrong with the popular and competent campaign that Barack Obama is running. And so he becomes a leader of a fascist movement. His creation of fliers for his Berlin event in the language of the country where he's appearing becomes proof. So does the location of the event in front of a Nazi monument. And his head is tilted in profile in the picture - just like Hitler! Because electoral history has shown that imitating Hitler is a surefire vote-getter. Those supporters are being lured by music and food they have to pay for into worshipping this false idol who will lead us down a path to destruction.

But that's all subtext, of course. The idea is to create the connection between large crowds and enthralled supporters in the 1930s and in the Obama campaign today. And that is meant to induce feelings of revulsion and shame, not just in those voters who are more passive and see these images on television, but among the very participants themselves. Going to an Obama rally? You're a mindless pawn. Send him money? You are funding a cult. Work on his behalf? You have drank the Kool-Aid and are pathologically creepy.

This pervades the media conception of the Obama candidacy, too. Never in my life have I seen such a concern troll statement like this from a political reporter.

Candy Crowley on CNN: Barack Obama was, indeed, awesome in his Berlin speech tonight, but watch out! Americans might decide he was a little too awesome.

Obama has to be "careful." He mustn't be too presumptuous. He has to scale back with the soaring rhetoric and the inspiration and the winning, you see. It's decidedly unfair of him to run a decent campaign and soak up all the media attention at the expense of the guy who shows up at the German sausage restaurant on the same day as the Berlin speech.

The biggest fear of the GOP is that the great silent majority, the people who don't get involved in politics and don't even vote, are spurred to consistent action. This manifests itself in the concern that they're losing the new media war, which they'll surely throw billions at in the next decade. But there's another element of this project: marginalization. Here's an example: yesterday Color of Change and MoveOn put together a great protest of Fox News' racist attacks on Obama, delivering hundreds of thousands of petitions and enlisting rapper Nas, who actually has a new track called "Sly Fox" about the channel, to be their spokesman. So Bill O'Reilly had to respond.

Fox officials are not only attacking Nas for selling his album (which already topped the charts), some are likening the anti-racism activists to the KKK. MTV reports that Bill O'Reilly also responded, deriding protesters such as MoveOn as "the new Klan" with "a radical left agenda." He continued:

"The latest smear from Move On is telling their Kool-Aid-drinking zombie followers that Fox News is smearing Barack Obama and is a racist concern. Of course, that's a lie. This broadcast and FNC in general have been exceedingly fair to Senator Obama. ... But in order to intimidate anyone from criticizing Obama in any way, Move On is playing the race card."

It's a fairly rare coalition that can include Nas AND the Klan, but that's the world according to BillO.

Being a member of MoveOn for almost its entire 10 years, it's pretty clear to me that they represent a kind of passive liberalism which engages people online who otherwise might not participate.

MoveOn's success (and, indeed, its limitations) is powered by its appeal to today's non-shouters. Though its politics are in many ways the opposite of the Nixon silent majority's, they share a disposition. They are people not inclined to protest but whose rising unease with the direction of the country has led to a new political consciousness. For citizens angered, upset and disappointed with their government but unsure how to channel those sentiments, MoveOn provides simple, discrete actions: sign this petition, donate money to run this ad, show up at this vigil. "Before I joined MoveOn," says staffer Anna Galland, "I was organizing in Rhode Island doing faith-based antiwar activism. In March 2003, MoveOn had put out an action alert for a vigil against the Iraq War. There were 500 people on the steps of the Capitol, and I remember thinking, 'I know all the activists in the state; where did all these people come from?' I think many people have a MoveOn moment where they look around and realize that this organization has managed to tap into a much broader range of people than they might have seen at past activist events."

MoveOn is essentially a conduit for ordinary Americans to collect their voices and mobilize political power. Color of Change is doing the same thing in the African-American community. They aren't the Klan - they're actually you, your friends and neighbors. They have fairly baseline liberal beliefs, nothing shocking. This kind of activism isn't going to change the world - clicking "send" isn't the final step on the road to salvation - but it's a gateway into more civic engagement and participation. And when it's demonized as "the Klan" or some outpost on the dirty hippie left, the goal is obvious - to strangle activism at the very outset. If MoveOn is smeared and made radical, there's not very much hope at REALLY engaging people (That's why it was so damn stupid for the Democratic Congress to condemn MoveOn for the "Betrayus" ad last year). And it's the same with the more intense activism of the Obama campaign, from their MyBO social media tool to the volunteer events and the like.

We have to recognize this and understand it. There is a very concerted and completely ahistorical effort to make "fascism" synonymous with "popularity." As Jesse Taylor notes:

On the one hand, it’s an awful abuse of the concept of fascism, disrespecting the millions upon millions of people whose lives and livelihoods were destroyed because of the dream of nationalist identity and corporate power uber alles. On the other hand, it is remarkably entertaining to see them try to figure out how Barack Obama’s favorite ice cream flavor plays right into the hands of the fascist dream.

Entertaining, but also dangerous. They're taking a hip campaign and trying to make it radioactive. Those silent masses could easily be turned off by something they are browbeaten into considering the work of wild-eyed cultists. It's absurd, but it can be effective if we don't head it off. With growing numbers of the politically active and engaged, the Republican Party withers and dies. This is their latest suppression tactic.