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Sunday, August 23, 2009
The Boy Who Cried Fascist
Posted by Austin Cline
Complaints from conservatives that health care reform would introduce fascism to America are curious, to say the least. The accusations of fascism against Jewish politicians and even an Israeli who spoke approvingly of her country's national health care system should reveal the complaints as farce to any mentally competent adult, but even more interesting to me is how these protesters seem to be gifted with an almost complete absence of self-awareness.
If they did possess even a modicum of self-awareness, they might start to realize that their behavior is far closer to that of the vanguards of fascist movements in the past than anything their opponents have done.
The most obvious similarity would have to be the various forms of intimidation which the Tea Baggers and protesters have been engaging in. At the town halls they have participated in organized and deliberate intimidation of supporters of health care reform by shouting them down — sometimes by just chanting or singing, simply because they can. They want their voices heard, not because they have anything sensible to say, but because that would prevent anyone else's voice from being heard.
There has also been more violent forms of intimidation, such as politicians hung in effigy and people carrying guns. Health care opponents obviously have nothing to fear, so none of them are carrying guns as a form of self-protection. The only reason to come armed to these public events is to send a violent message to supporters of health care reform.
The corporate backers of these protests haven't shirked from intimidation at their level as well. Conservative PR firm Shirley and Banister, for example, has threatened Rachel Maddow with a lawsuit for a minor error which she happily corrected once it was pointed out to her. Their reaction was so far over the top that it would be scary if it weren't part of a pattern of over-reactions that characterize the entire conservative movement today. The allegation that her report was defamatory is absurd and fortunately she refuses to be intimidated — on the contrary, the threat seems to have spurred her to even more reporting about the connections between Shirley and Banister, the Tea Baggers, the health care protesters, and various conservative special interest groups.
The use of fear as a political tactic certainly isn't limited to conservatives, but the conservative protesters have been going well beyond the typical fear-mongering that one might expect from politicians today. People are being told that government "death panels" will be convened to determine when their grandparents should be killed — even though the loudest critics happily supported end-of-life counseling in the past. Some even voted for the exact same provision in the 2003 Medicare Prescription Drug Bill. The government has been promoting living wills for 20 years without complaints — because they are good things.
Parents are being told that their special needs children might be put to death, as though the insurance companies have been leaders on helping the disabled. Veterans are starting to be told the health care reform bill would deprive them of their government-managed medical care and tax their current benefits — even though Obama's budget actually restores benefits to people kicked out of the Veterans' program by Bush and increases the overall budget of the Veterans' Administration.
A vital but often-overlooked aspect of every fascist movement is its faux populism: other forms of tyranny are generally imposed form above, but fascism develops from below by harnessing the anger of a significant, passionate segment of the population. An eventual fascist dictatorship is able to develop once the right synergy is created between reactionary populism, violent street thugs, and corporate backers.
Populism is driven in part by its own momentum, so it's helpful to make a movement appear more populist than it really is. That's what we're seeing with the current conservative protests against health care reform — and in spades. Conservative lobbying groups, including those associated with Shirley and Banister, have been setting up fake populist organizations and web sites like "Angry Renter" and "Energy Citizens Alliance."
These organizations purport to be made up of "regular people" protesting some policy of the government, but they always happen to be aligned with the political goals of whichever conservative group has been paying the PR firms which are actually behind the web sites and organizations. Convenient, huh? These conservative groups may even bus in corporate employees or hand-picked protesters in order to make it appear as though a rally, protest, or town hall meeting is filled with "regular people" who just happen care deeply about preserving the profits of certain large corporations.
Mirror of Fascism
Now, I don't want to say that all the people with concerns about health care reform, or even all people protesting health care reform, are fascists. I do, however, think that they are one important piece of a much larger picture which has incontrovertible fascist overtones — and that's putting it mildly. A person doesn't have to know that they are acting in support of a fascist agenda to be playing their designated role. A person doesn't even have to personally approve of fascism in order to be helping it along.
This raises the important question of what the people protesting health care reform really, truly want — what their goals or agenda are. There are two basic purposes to health care reform: insure the tens of millions who have no insurance and prevent those with insurance form losing it in a catastrophe when they most need it. One can legitimately disagree with this or that means for achieving those goals, but what basis is there in opposing those goals entirely? I don't know, but that's exactly what the protesters are doing: opposing the goals rather than the means for achieving those goals.
If these protesters are sincere in their concerns about fascism, then they should sincerely oppose anything which leads us closer towards fascism. They scream and complain about end-of-life counseling despite the lack of any serious connection to anything fascist, so when will they start to complain about the integrated, deliberate use of the same tactics that have been used by every fascist movement we can point to? When are those who claim to be anti-fascists going to express their anti-fascism by actually opposing the fascist tactics or elements among their own colleagues?
at 7:30 AM