Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Of Healthcare and Fascism

It is time that we pointed out to the neo-conservatives that democracy has never been subverted from the left but always from the right. No democracy has fallen to communism, without an [invading] army; many democracies have fallen to fascism, from within. The Reaganites on the floor were exactly those who in Germany gave the Nazis their main strength and who in France collaborated with them and sustained Vichy.

-Henry Fairlie

Contra Rush Limbaugh, history’s actual fascists were not primarily known for their anti-smoking policies or generous social welfare programs. Fascism celebrated violence, anti-rationalism and hysterical devotion to an authoritarian leader.

-David Frum

There are plenty of good arguments against a liberal approach to healthcare reform, and there are some people making them out there. It's a shame that those rational voices on the right are being drowned out by an angry mob whose beef is clearly not anything to do with healthcare reform. I mean, it's easier for us in terms of making arguments, but it's probably bad for America, democracy, and above all conservatism.

The term "fascism" is starting to get thrown around a lot on the right. This is a group of people (I'm talking about the ones who show up at townhall meetings to yell about "President" OHitler or whatever--I'm sure there are a few Ron Paul libertarians mixed in there, but it's clear that most of these people were the 30% of America who remained die-hard Bush supporters to the end), militaristic authoritarians who support giving the president unlimited powers of surveillance, detention (without Habeus rights), rendition and torture, yet they think providing access to healthcare for all citizens is the road to fascism. I think libertarians who believe the two things are comparable are pretty loopy, but being able to hold that the former is compatible with democracy and the latter is equivalent to fascism is outright insanity.

But returning to the two quotes at the top of this post, there is a bit of historical mythology that even I had previously bought into, and this weird "debate" has allowed the sun to shine its revealing light on it. The narrative goes something like this: a country has a healthy democracy, and over time this democracy sets up a series of social welfare programs. Each of these programs increases the dependency of it's citizens on the government, until eventually, when an authoritarian regime takes over, the citizens are powerless to resist it. Anyone that tries will be denied their healthcare, their government paycheck, or any number of social services, just as if they had failed to get the Mark of the Beast placed on their forehead.

As far as I can tell, THIS HAS NEVER HAPPENED. The European democracies that have much more active social welfare programs than the U.S. will ever enact, whatever their problems, have remained liberal democracies. The communist regimes in the Soviet Union and China were authoritarian and oppressive from the start. Governments don't become authoritarian (probably a better word to use than fascist) through active social welfare programs. They become authoritarian through a movement that seeks to turn the government into an authoritarian one, through precisely the kinds of programs that the Bush administration enacted (and the Obama administration seems far too reluctant to reverse), combined with an aggressive, authoritarian, us-vs.-them rhetoric.

And I would love to get back to having serious, rational debates about the pros and cons of, for instance, government involvement in healthcare. But until this homegrown fascist movement is entirely discredited, such a debate is of secondary importance.

EDIT: Have to post this clip of Reagan, 50 years ago, predicting that if we enacted Medicare, we'd soon be living in some combination of Logan's Run, Soylent Green and Footloose.


Blogger rbubp said...

Well said. I love the quotes.

I also have always wondered why it is that Americans have to equate British and French socialism with Stalinist Russia. It's as absurd as calling democracy fascism, frankly.

But I recently heard something really interesting from an outsider that I think really gets to the heart of problem: This country is just too geographically isolated. A British tourist made small talk with me on a tour boat in San Diego harbor. He was clearly blown away by the light, heat and space of his first visit to the U.S.--as well as a direct experience with American patriarchal ignorance:

"I spoke to the gentleman over there and he asked me where i was from and I said London," he told me in his obviously British accent, "and he said, 'Oh, London, Ontario? Canada?' I was kind of surprised you know, and said, 'No, England!'"

He went on:
"I was telling my wife I think that America is just so big, you know, I wonder if maybe that's why Americans seem so focused on their own issues. There's just so much of it, you see."

He didn't want to add the obvious, that we don't get enough exposure to other languages and systems of government--hell, who even goes to Canada or Mexico even on vacation? Most Americans that go to Mexico go to Cancun--Mexico without i mentioned it, after he asked me how an easterner like myself found my way out to Kansas.

My students cannot hear an accent from an artist or instructor without having an aneurism. It's symbolic. Too many of us just don't get out enough. And our big powerful media does have too much influence, but that's another post, I guess.

8/27/2009 11:16 AM  

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