The Electric Commentary

Wednesday, March 09, 2005


Ryan's post below has gotten me a little riled up. So much so that I'm returning to The Electric Commentary just so I can comment on it. It's not that it's entirely wrong. It's not even that it's a completely weak argument, its weakness ever so slightly mitigated by the acknowledgment that it's a weak argument--"at which point his credibility is irreparably damaged." My problem with it is that it is just too simple for Ryan. He uses the same strategy that he denounces fascist leaders for using.

Organizations like the NRA, Anti-Abortion groups and the Taxpayers League catch political novices with a watered-down "common-sense" version of right-wing ideology and the more new catches buy into these front organizations, the more likely it is that they will be politically socialized to the right wing.

Here's a watered down version of the left-wing ideology: "We're not the guys that are like Hitler!" If this isn't watered down, what is? If it isn't simplistic, what is? But people buy into it. If you don't think it brings in any new catches for the Dems, walk down State Street in Madison and listen to the hippies. They buy into it. Judging from his post, even Ryan seems to believe it at some level.

Now I don't know much about Ryan's highly regarded expert on totalitarianism, Hanna Arendt, except that she is a German philosopher who's most famous work is a very controversial comparison that likens fascism to communism. But I do know that if these are the five criteria of a totalitarian leader, my ass is a banjo. Now before I list them again, get a picture of a a real totalitarian leader in your head. Think Hitler. Think Mao. Think Che or Castro. Got it? Okay, now is the guy you are picturing "generally unimpressive but charming?" Totalitarian leaders are guys that can get their people all riled up. They yell and preach. They are excellent motivational speakers. They are, in a word, impressive. Do you really think Che could have convinced people he didn't even know in countries he wasn't even from to revolutionize when they didn't even want to if he wasn't impressive? Well, I suppose he'd kill them if they didn't, but maybe that's charming to some. But not to me. You know who was a great leader that was "generally unimpressive but charming?" Bill Clinton. That tuby hick is the most unimpressive person in the world until he really starts talking. Then you see that he's really smart. And charming.

Now keep that picture in your head of the totalitarian leader you were picturing. Is he "a bridge between the core of the ideology and the uninvolved?" I don't even know what that means. Everyone is uninvolved in a totalitarian regime. But you know what it reminds me of? When Bill Clinton went on MTV to try to get the slacker youth to turn out and vote. Remember? He played his saxophone on MTV and on Arsenio Hall. Then he talks about liberal ideas. And his underwear. And people voted for him.

Ryan admits that the third quality (Leaders are the embodiment of military brutality, but can appear normal to the outside world) is too strong for Bush, and the fourth (Statements are geared towards public consumption, but Public, Party, and Elite hear statements differently.) applies equally to democrats, and to any other type of leader of any kind for that matter, so I won't address them. They basically do apply to the totalitarians I was picturing.

The last quality Ryan lists to argue that Bush has the qualities of a totalitarian is that "Elites take words as policy." Again, this is true for every leader. It's even true of the fricken Queen of England and she's not even a real leader. Read the papers. It IS true that if Bush says anything, the talking heads will discuss it as policy but the same was true for Clinton and every other President we've had. The same was even more true for Kerry. He was attacked for being a waffeler and pundits on the left jumped to his defense by assuming policy based on what he had said in the past or in passing.

So cut the Hitler comparisons Ryan. You can do better than that.


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