Obama As Liberal Fascist (surely You Saw This Coming...)

by Noam Scheiber | April 19, 2008

The latest issue of National Review has a longish and (I think) deliberately obtuse piece by Jonah Goldberg, in which he complains about Democrats' calls for unity and defends the GOP's use of patriotism as a campaign theme. This paragraph gives you a flavor for the logical rigor deployed:

Except that Republicans don't actually use the word "patriotism" very much. Nevertheless, Democrats hear it in almost everything Republicans say. When Republicans disputed John Kerry's commitment to national defense, Democrats said they were questioning his patriotism. When John McCain released an ad calling himself the "American president Americans have been waiting for," one could hear outraged caterwauling from the Democratic jungle. What's John McCain trying to say? We're un-American? Who's he calling unpatriotic? Fred Barnes, writing in The Weekly Standard, calls this anticipatory offense "patriotism paranoia." Indeed, there does seem to be psychological insecurity on display. If I say to a male friend, "Those are nice shoes," and he responds with "How day you call me gay!" it's fair to say he's the guy with the issues.

Right. Airtight analogy. How bout if you say to a male friend, "I'm wearing these here manly shoes because they're the kind of manly shoes men wear"? Would he still be the guy with the issues, or would you?

Goldberg's argumentative style is to interpret Democrats' words extremely literally--in ways they couldn't possibly intend--then stretch the words until they become so thin he can blow them over with an exhalation of hot air. Take Democratic calls for unity:

Unity by itself has no moral worth whatsoever. The only value of unity is strength, strength in numbers--and, again, that is a fascist value. That's the symbolism of the fasces, the bundle of sticks that in combination are invincible. Rape gangs and lynch mobs? Unified. The mafia? Unified. The SS? They had unity coming out the yinyang. Meanwhile, Socrates, Jesus, Thomas More, and an endless line of nameless souls were dispatched from this earth in the name of unity.

So there you have it. Barack Obama is a liberal fascist. Democrats advocate mob rule.

If you're willing/able to take a slightly less literal-minded view of political rhetoric, it's obvious that Obama doesn't mean everyone should thoughtlessly stand together, that the goal isn't strength for strength's sake. Obama means--and it's so self-evident I feel stupid even writing it--that people with basically similar values, needs, ambitions, etc. shouldn't let themselves be divided by something totally irrelevant to those values/needs/ambitions (e.g. race or petty partisanship).

Likewise, it's obviously not appeals to patriotism per se that Democrats object to, as Goldberg would have you believe. It's the particular, exclusive definitions of patriotism that Republicans are skilled at clubbing them with. (E.g., equating patriotism with support for the war in Iraq, GOP war-on-terror policies, etc.)

If Goldberg can be this wearying in a 2,500-word piece, I feel bad for anyone who had to trudge through his entire book.

--Noam Scheiber

Source URL: http://www.newrepublic.com//blog/the-stump/obama-liberal-fascist-surely-you-saw-coming