Monday, March 16, 2009

Painful Hitler analogies

I've highlighted Jeffrey's Record's plea to bury the "Munich analogy" in our foreign policy discussions more than once (10/06/09 and 01/02/07.

I'd also like to bury the superficial analogies to the Weimar Republic. Like this one: The US Is Facing a Weimar Moment by Robert Freeman, CommonDreams.org 03/15/09.

Democracy in America has some serious threats, such as the "Unitary Executive" precedent set by the Cheney-Bush administration with its rampant lawlessness, and a national press that no longer seems able to provide the kind of news on public affairs that a democracy has to have to survive. While the first is more dramatic, I'm not at all sure that the second isn't a worse problem.

But neither of those problems can be understood with half-baked analogies to pre-Nazi Germany. Nor can any other problems that I can think of, except maybe temporary relief of boredom. Freeman is probably trying to be melodramatic when he writes, "The Republican propensity for fascism must not be underestimated." But it sounds so trite it just makes me want to groan. For most Americans, "fascism" means something like "bad stuff" and is associated with the Other Side in the "Good War", the Second World War.


Even people who have a good idea what it means have trouble actually defining it. Which is why I basically try to avoid using the word in describing present day political events and movements.

Jeffrey Record argues that making every significant foreign challenge into a "Munich" showdown and therefore a test of the testosterone charge of the decision-makers (he puts it a bit more formally), and making every foreign adversary into the new "Hitler", policymakers have indulged in major threat inflation on more than one occasion. Making American domestic politics into a showdown with "fascism" and "Hitler" is also a form of threat inflation.

Dealing with the legacy of Dick Cheney is problem enough. The real need is not to conjure up even greater threats in our imaginations but to take the concrete steps of legal accountability and transparency that are required to deal with that problem. That one is more than enough to worry about.

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