“You may have noticed that I’ve been busy writing post-length responses to comments on yesterday’s offering, so this post is impromptu. Longer explorations are in development.
New ShrinkWrapped commenter Matt wrote in a reasoned tone and actually made an argument, offered distinctions.
The clouds lift, the sun shines, the sweet smell of reason rises up from the soft petals.
Matt offers that the accusation of fascist against Barack Obama does not disturb him as much as the same accusation against George W. Bush. He finds the difference in a distinction – the basis on which the charge is leveled. Accusations against Bush, Matt says, were based on the disfavored “outcome” of his policies. The accusations against Obama are based on the legality of his policies.
This is a meaningful attempt at distinction. However, it does not hold up, and even if it did, it would not justify the charge of fascist in either case.
The definition of “fascist” is slippery. That is one reason the term is these days bandied about so loosely. Many conservatives are even now fond of conflating it with “socialist.” In the exercise of reason, beware of attempts to muddy, even eliminate distinctions rather than make them. The latter is a natural expression of logic in the mind; the former is emblematic of consciously and unconsciously fallacious argumentation. The next time someone informs you that the German NAZI Party was the National Socialist German Workers’ Party offer to buy him a ticket to the Democratic People’s Republic of (North) Korea.
Historically, we have not designated national movements as fascist based on their violation of national law. Among the features of well-known German, Italian, and Spanish fascism were authoritarianism (not totalitarianism) joined with heightened, ideologically rationalized chauvinism, variant forms of state capitalism, and persecution of dissidents. Outcome certainly is a consideration, though not definitive, and many conservative critics of Obama do, in fact, assail him based on their fear of outcome.
Matt does not say whether he is a lawyer. I suspect not, and I am not. He and I may both think we have a good layperson’s knowledge of the law, but we are not lawyers, constitutional or other, and that needs to be acknowledged.
Charges of illegality have become commonplace on both sides of the political divide. It is just as much the generic “boo” of disapproval that Matt says liberal charges of fascism against Bush were. Illegal is practically a Homeric epithet for leftists denouncing the Iraq War. Matt claims, “There is a cogent legal argument for enhanced interrogation.” I and many, many others, including real lawyers, constitutional and international law experts, quite disagree. I believe the NSA wiretaps conducted without FISA court approval were illegal. I and many others believe that it is not “beyond the legal power of congress to enact” the current healthcare legislation. I wrote a satirical post the other day about people not knowing what they’re talking about a good deal of the time. Many conservatives like to proclaim the violation of constitution and founding spirit of the individual mandate component of the new legislation. Jeff Weintraub has been collecting examples of such mandates – even for health care, even signed into law by founders – from the early republic.
My point is that disputes about legality are part of the contention of democracy, and there is a process for pursuing and adjudicating those disputes. One court very recently weighed in against non-FISA wiretaps. To presume, as those on both sides have done, that one’s own sense of what is legal, one’s own declaration of legality, is definitive outside of that process – even if one is a lawyer – is to place oneself above the foundation or our democratic processes. Of course, we all have opinions, and we may even disagree with ultimate, Supreme Court decisions, but we are supposed to respect them (as in acknowledge the force of their process), and it is already a potentially destabilizing act when one begins to challenge the course and outcome of constitutional process.
We all have our opinions, more and less informed and authoritative, but with the proper humility in those opinions, and recognition of democratic contentions and processes, we will understand that at every turn there will be citizens among us discontented by some policy and believing some acts of government to be beyond its power in law. It is for this reason that the principle of judicial review is propounded.
The illegality of a government act is not historically definitive of fascism, not remotely, and there will always be those among the discontented who believe the policy with which they disagree is determinative in the end of democracy. But to believe in democracy is to believe in its processes. Labeling a president as fascist because one dislikes his policies, or even if one believes some legislation illegal, is simply inaccurate and lazy. It is potentially destructive of democracy because it simultaneously declares a breakdown of democracy, and suggests to some the need to go outside democratic processes that are implicitly, dangerously dysfunctional.
It was wrong then. It is wrong now.