Did you see Byron York, White House correspondent for the National Review, on Meet the Press two Sundays ago? Playing the role of pundit for the right in counterpoint to Washington Post columnist E. J. Dionne, a self-described liberal, York attempted to stir up controversy around Cindy Sheehan, the woman whose son was killed in Iraq who is now camping out near the ranch where President Bush is in the midst of a five-week vacation.
According to York, both on the television program and on the website of his magazine, Ms. Sheehan had participated in a conference call with sympathetic bloggers the week before. During the course of the conversation, he reports that she said, “Thank God for the Internet, or we wouldn’t know anything, and we would already be a fascist state. Our government is run by one party, every level, and the mainstream media is a propaganda tool for the government.”
On Meet the Press, York said that, although neither he nor the White House had any plans to “criticize” her, she had lost her credibility by making that statement. He said, “Now, this is the kind of rhetoric that you normally associate with fringe elements on the left.”
By using that loaded word “fascist,” Cindy Sheehan has definitely given the administration and their mouthpieces ample ammunition with which to attack while not attacking.
But before we allow Ms. Sheehan’s place as a symbol of this horribly mistaken war to be compromised, let’s first see if there’s any validity to her off-the-cuff comments. What, exactly, is fascism?
The American Heritage Dictionary defines it as “a philosophy or system of government that is marked by stringent social and economic control, a strong, centralized government usually headed by a dictator, and often a policy of belligerent nationalism.” The Cornell University library website says it’s “a philosophy or system of government that advocates or exercises a dictatorship of the extreme right, together with an ideology of belligerent nationalism.”
My unabridged Webster’s defines fascism thusly: “Any program for setting up a centralized autocratic national regime with severely nationalist policies, exercising regimentation of industry, commerce and finance, rigid censorship, and forcible suppression of oppression.”
Do any of the elements of these definitions sound a note of familiarity in the age of W? Let’s go beyond dictionary definitions and look at the research of Laurence W. Britt, a former executive with Allied Chemical, Mobil and Xerox. In an article published two years ago in Free Inquiry magazine, Britt studied seven fascist regimes of the 20th century---Nazi Germany, Italy under Mussolini, Franco’s Spain, Salazar’s Portugal, Papadopoulos’ Greece, Pinochet’s Chile, and Suharto’s Indonesia. He found “fourteen common threads that link them in recognizable patterns of national behavior and abuse of power:”
1. Powerful and continuing nationalism
2. Disdain for the recognition of human rights
3. Identification of enemies/scapegoats as a unifying cause
4, Supremacy of the military
5. Rampant sexism
6. Controlled mass media
7. Obsession with national security
8. Religion and government are intertwined
9. Corporate power is protected
10. Labor power is suppressed
11. Disdain for intellectuals and the arts
12. Obsession with crime and punishment
13. Rampant cronyism and corruption
14. Fraudulent elections
Anything sound familiar there? It doesn’t take too much deep thought to find the embodiment of most of these conditions here in our own time and place. For instance, a simple look at the recently enacted giveaway-filled transportation and energy bills amplifies Britt’s point #9. And his own explanation for point #8, that the fascist regimes he studied portrayed themselves as ardent defenders of their country’s predominant religion, even though their behavior may have been antithetical to that religion’s precepts. And they attacked their political opponents as enemies of that religion. Heard anyone called an “enemy of faith” lately?
Sinclair Lewis wrote a best-selling novel called It Can’t Happen Here that was published in 1935 as a warning that it could happen here if an informed citizenry didn’t stay on its guard. In the book, a populist President becomes a dictator to save the country from welfare cheats, sex, crime and the liberal press, wrapping it all up in a patriotic red, white & blue costume. He calls his political party the American Corporate State and Patriotic Party.
At the time, the threat of fascism was very real. Europe was already dealing with Hitler and Mussolini, and Corporate America and its wealthy beneficiaries were not particularly enthused with FDR’s programs to pull the country out of the Great Depression. Business leaders like Henry Ford and the du Pont family were enamored with the precepts of fascism and actually funded fascist activities here and abroad.
Fortunately, the voices of reason and liberalism prevailed. These days, though, it often seems that those voices are drowned in a sea of loud and nasty rhetoric from the rabid right.
Contemporary history is being stuffed by self-serving leaders of corporations like WorldCom and Enron, who believed that the company was their private plaything, and that benefiting themselves at the expense of their employees, customers and stockholders was just fine. The Republican Party is currently being run by folks who have the exact same mentality, only their “company” is our country, and we are the employees, customers and stockholders who are being ripped off.
Are they fascists? Re-read the definitions, look at the history, compare with the daily antics of our government’s Republican ruling elite and decide for yourself. But don’t bash Cindy Sheehan, whose son died in one of this ruling elite’s stupid misadventures, for her choice of words.
copyright © 2005 Port Folio Weekly. Used by Permission.