Rumination: Kerry’s turn toward Fascism/Buchananism

It is a commonplace that the major difference between Communism (Utopian/International Socialism) and Nazism (National Socialism) is that the former favor radical change to give power to new elites while the later favor radical change to “restore” power to old elites. The former favor the rhetoric of a mythic future while the later favor the rhetoric of a mythic past. Richard Wagner, the composer, spent his youth as a utopian socialist, but became disillusioned with it after the failure of the socialism revolutions of 1848, and shifted his art to the creation of a German mythic past that would form the foundation for Hitler’s National Socialism 75 years later.

The rhetoric of isolationists like Pat Buchanan has a similar quality of hearkening back to a prior more rural era before Americans were contaminated by international trade, culture, and power. In his nomination speech Kerry chose to take the Democratic Party in the same direction: “As president,” Kerry declared, “I will bring back this nation’s time-honored tradition: The United States of America never goes to war because we want to; we only go to war because we have to. That is the standard of our nation.”

Time-honored tradition!? Can anyone identify a time America honored anything like that tradition? As Donald Kagan notes:

The United States has sent forces into combat dozens of times over the past century and a half, and only twice, in World War II and in Afghanistan, has it arguably done so because it “had to.” It certainly did not “have to” go to war against Spain in 1898 (or Mexico in 1846.) It did not “have to” send the Marines to Cuba, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Mexico and Nicaragua in the first three decades of the 20th century, nor fight a lengthy war against insurgents in the Philippines. The necessity of Woodrow Wilson’s intervention in World War I remains a hot topic for debate among historians.

The invention of a mythic past makes me nervous. Kerry’s rhetoric sounds most like the anti-semitic isolationists of the 1930s and the Buchananites today. Combined that with all the anti-outsourcing (anti-foreigner) and anti-Iraqi (no firehouses) rhetoric, the grandstanding about soldiering in Vietnam (while holding silent on the soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan), and the appeals to a very hollow flag-waving patriotism and I am more nervous. Combined with the fact that Kerry is running on a plan to increase government intervention in the economy and radically strengthen “homeland security” and we are all on a very slippery slope.

Pat Buchanan, Ralph Nader, and John Kerry are much closer together on the issues of the day than any of them is to George Bush. I fear how these people will react to the next major terrorist attack, especially because as isolationsists, the only outlet for them to respond is to increase “homeland security.” All I can think of is the Committee of Public Safety and the Jacobins whose rhetoric also matches that of Kerry.

Note: This post is just rumination. I am not claiming that a vote for Kerry is a vote for fascism. Just exploring intellectual linkages.

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5 Responses to Rumination: Kerry’s turn toward Fascism/Buchananism

  1. nicholas says:

    me again.

    just wanted to say, “oh, come on” to the suggestion that kerry sounds like a 30’s antisemitic isolationist. i mean, really, that’s a bit much, isn’t it? particularly when in your other posts you’re lambasting him for multilateralism?

    if kerry’s anything, he’s an internationalist. you may argue about whether he’s too MUCH of one, but to also suggest he’s an isolationist seems woefully inconsistent.

    of course, inventing or mythologizing a hallowed past that never exactly existed isn’t the exclusive province of either party.

    I particularly like Western republicans, whose economies were built on Federal land grants, mining concessions, and the population resettlement services of the US Army, hearkening back to a time before Big Government came and messed things up (to say nothing of the huge amounts of per-capita federal spending that continue to prop up states like Wyoming).

    Or the Republican Party’s aversion, especially since the debut of the Southern Strategy under Nixon, to _ever_ addressing the ills of reconstruction, jim crow, and segregation in the South. Trent Lott was not the first Southern republican to suggest that “we” wouldn’t have had “all these problems” without the damn yankees intervening. Who’s included in that “we”?

    Conservative Republicans are rarely catholic in their recounting of social and economic history.

    Oh, and those anti-semitic isolationists in the 30’s? Which party were they clustered in, again?

  2. ooghe says:

    Nicholas- it is August of an election year. Since when has the Quadrenniel “Which candidate’s election will most likely lead to the rise of the Fourth Reich Game” not happened around this time?

    let me try-

    *ahem*

    President Bush…

    parades around in a military uniform despite spotty service records and a period in his youth spent under legal sanction.

    talks about “homeland” more than Col. Klink.

    Elected on promises to “restore honor and dignity” to offices which have been shamed by predecessors…

    Creates a cute little car for the masses.

    Claims national security is being strangled by foreign institutions.

    Invades nations and says they started it.

    And I haven’t even gotten to the provisions of the Patriot Act yet (let me get this straight- the first president in US history to authorize secret arrests, but this is okay with someone who fears the encroach of federal power because of…why?)

  3. The original post was just rumination. But, in response to his question about the party of isolationism in the 1930’s, I would ask Nicholas whether he could concieve of any leader of the Democratic party campaigning for war the way Roosevelt did or be credibly accused of manipulating events to get us into one…?

  4. ooghe says:

    Some would accuse Kennedy and Johnson of exactly that- Kennedy formenting a coup against Diem in 1963 (less than a month before he was assassinated, I think), and of course, Johnson’s now discredited account of the events that led to the Tonkin Resolution. But in the 1970’s, the association of Democrats with badly prosecuted wars was what led Bob Dole in the 1976 campaign to claim “if you want a war, vote for a Democrat”. Many see Democratic hawkishness in the cold war as a compensation to Democrats losing foreign policy cred during the Truman administration. “To err is Truman” is what the Republicans thought about Truman’s failure to support Chiang Kai Shek and the loss of China, and his public scrapping with war hero MacArthur didn’t help either.

    Perhaps I misunderstand and your point was that other than Roosevelt most democrats were isolationist in the 30’s?

  5. My point is that post-McGovern, the Democratic party has become the party of isolationism (or isolationism plus intervention ONLY when the US has NO vital interest).

    Bush is the candidate more similar to Kennedy.
    “we shall pay any price, bear any burden, […] to assure the survival and the success of liberty.” sounds much more like Bush than Kerry.

    On the other hand Kerry is more similar to Nixon down to having “a secret plan to end the war.”
    (see http://msnbc.msn.com/id/5006632/site/newsweek/ )

    The difference with Nixon is the implicit appeal to a mythic past of just wars (Vietnam?) combined with protectionism and a gigantic emphasis on homeland security (in the context of general Democratic Party preferences for regulating private behavior aside from sex).

    My prediction for the future is: The Republican party through the leadership of Giuliani and Shwarzenegger makes the social conservative’s feel insufficiently loved (Bush totally hosed them with the FMA — if they were smarter they would have figured that out). At the same time, the Republicans start appealing to Blacks on the school choice and urban opportunity front.

    The Democrats need to go further to prove that they are not against “family” starts making a move on the SoCos (also to retain their Black SoCo base).

    The Dems become the party of domestic regulation and international isolation/libertarianism.

    The Repblicans become the party of domestic deregulation and international aggression.

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