Last night, Dave Neiwert's brilliant new book, The Eliminationists: How Hate Talk Radicalized the American Right arrived. I've already read half of it and man is it a page turner of the first order. More importantly, it is essential reading if you want to understand clearly the danger posed by the likes of Limbaugh and Beck. Dave makes a convincing case that they are not mere buffoons whose eliminationist rhetoric can be downplayed or safely ignored, as it was recently in a disgracefully misleading front-page Times article on Beck. (Nowhere in the article did Brian Stelter or Bill Carter (or their editors) find the space, for example, to mention, as Dave does, that when he was on CNN Headline News, Glenn Beck publicly endorsed the John Birch Society or that Beck has continued to push Birchers in his new job on Fox.)
But Neiwert also points out that, to the extent that the term "fascist" means something specific, Limbaugh, Beck, and others are not exactly fascists (yet), although they have served as mainstream transmitters for various memes in circulation among genuine American fascists. Lest you think Dave's trying to let these scoundrels off the hook, let me point out that Dave's purpose is clear: we cannot successfully parry the challenges of the modern conservative movement unless we understand precisely what it is and how it operates. Neiwert proposes the term "para-fascism" to describe the movement and that seems about right. (I should note that I tend to think that the rightwing is more openly fascistic than Dave does, and although it's a subject that I try to follow, I am hardly an expert and scholar of the Right as Neiwert and Chip Berlet, for example, are.)
Following Paxton, Dave writes that fascism feeds upon - thrives on - democracies in crisis. With that in mind, I had a frightening thought this morning.
It has often been noted that to the Right, 9/11 provided an opportunity to "get Vietnam right," by invading Iraq and "winning" rather than ignominiously withdrawing. Despite the fact that by any rational metric, the Bush/Iraq war was an unmitigated disaster and the situation today is only slightly less anarchic than a Hobbesian State of Nature, it is a given among movement conservatives - and their enablers in the press - that the "surge" worked and "we" are winning in Iraq.
What if, I woke up thinking, the current economic crisis is perceived by the Right as nothing less than a splendid opportunity to get the Depression right? In fact, around the time Roosevelt took office, there were nationwide calls for a dictator to take over the government, a call Roosevelt wisely, and fortunately for the world, ignored. But according to the Right, both then and now, Roosevelt was a socialist, barely distinguishable from Stalin (!) and a class traitor who prolonged the economic hardship and established a godless, feminized, communistic America.
Perhaps the Right, in its typically delusional state, finds the current worldwide financial collapse a perfect opportunity to do today what Roosevelt derailed, ie, implement a dictatorship. They would then reason that for the political climate to be ripe for such a takeover, it would require that Obama fail and that the rightwing be held in no way responsible for that failure.
Suddenly Limbaugh's publicly uttered wish that the president fail, the lockstep Republican opposition to Obama's economic proposals, and the "disappearing" of the true cause of our woes - the spectacular incompetence of the administration of George W. Bush - from polite public discourse takes on a deeply ominous cast.
In any event, buy Dave's book. It's absolutely fantastic.