You knew Jonah Goldberg had to be somewhere on the set the other day when Glenn Beck opened his Fox program with this:
If you believe this country is great, but progressive fascists are trying to destroy it, this is your wake-up call!
Before explaining exactly what this means, he offers a bit of emotional instability he'd indulged earlier that day: "This morning I kind of lost my mind on Fox and Friends." And he runs the clip, a shoutfest with Steve Doocy:
Doocy: But Glenn, the foundation of our country is our financial services industry. If that goes kaput, we are all screwed.
Beck: No, no. The backbone of our country is not our financial institutions.
Doocy: Yes it is!
Beck: It is not! It is the American people! I do not believe in the government, I do not believe in the banks! I believe in the people! Let the people fix the problem!
Dang, Beck did a nice Huey Long imitation there, minus the twang. He's already made clear that he's a right-wing populist, and now he's indulging it at will. (For what it's worth, the ascendance of the financial-services sector in the American economy, largely at the expense of the manufacturing sector, is in fact one of the problems Obama needs to fix. But I don't think that's what Beck is on about here; he's just posturing.)
But all this was just an intro to Beck's paranoia about the potential nationalizing of some of the nation's largest banks -- because it all means socialism. Which, evidently, means liberal fascism. Or something.
In any event, putting a patina on this kind of incoherence is what Jonah Goldberg is always handy for. Sure enough.
Beck: When I said, I opened up the show, and I know people were like, 'Oh my gosh, progressive fascism, liberal fascism, what are you talking about?' Blah blah blah blah blah ... It is really what George Carlin was talking about -- that fascism will come to America with a happy face. Is there any way that this ends well in nationalization?
Goldberg: Well, the good news is is that the market selloff yesterday, which was a direct referendum on what was coming out of Washington, scared the bejeezus out of most of Washington today, and you're now seeing the congressional Democrats, Steny Hoyer, people from the White House, Ben Bernanke today saying, 'Whoa whoa whoa whoa whoa. Who said anything about nationalization?' Well, they did.
Beck is a fan of Liberal Fascism. I am not. Indeed, whenever I watch right-wing populists like Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin operate, I'm reminded that nearly every far-right organization in America is right-wing populist.
As I wrote last year:
[F]or a guy who insists irregularly that we not confuse European liberalism with its American version, Goldberg certainly has little compunction about conflating European fascism with its American variant. In fact, American fascists are fairly variegated in their worldviews and resulting strategies: some, like the Posse [Comitatus] and the Freemen, are indeed hyper-local, though their version of local government is a white male supremacist ideation in which minorities have no rights and homosexuals and abortion providers are put to death. Others see themselves as largely regional organizations (particularly the Northwest's "white homeland" advocates) with a national reach, while still others -- the Klan, the Aryan Nations, the National Socialist Movement, Hammerskin Nation -- see themselves as national organizations whose ideas for a right-wing authoritarian state do indeed more closely resemble the European model.
The same is true for figures like David Duke, who sees himself as an international role model for neo-Nazism. In recent years, he's been traveling to places like Russia and the Arab world, spreading his vicious anti-Semitic propaganda. And in both places, it's clear he's been gaining audiences and having an impact on the ground. So much for these fascists' insignificance.
But then, it's essential for Jonah's already-shaky thesis that he minimize, downplay, whitewash, and otherwise utterly trivialize these groups, their presence and their activities, because their very existence not only undermines, it completely demolishes his central claim that "fascism, properly understood, is not a phenomenon of the right at all" but that "it is, and always has been, a phenomenon of the left." Because clearly, American fascists are now, and always have been, a phenomenon of the right, quite unmistakably so.
It's all about trivializing the monstrous, all to serve his increasingly dubious claim that conservatives are in no way at all even remotely fascist. Indeed, it's more than evident that the wish to rebut that "smear" is what has animated this entire enterprise (Goldberg has made this clear in numerous interviews, as well as the book itself).
The problem is that it's much easier to demonstrate the opposite is true.
Moreover, Goldberg has been getting away with pretending that populism is a purely a left-wing phenomenon. I wrote about this as well:
To characterize this shift as "populist" simply flies in the face of historical fact. And yet Goldberg insists on this, largely by making a nakedly false assertion about the nature of populism itself:
An unwieldy phenomenon, populism had never been known as a conservative or right-wing orientation before, and it is only because so many were determined to label fascism right-wing that populism under Mussolini was redefined as such.
Well, as I explained in the [TAP] review, populism in fact is a historically complex and broad phenomenon that has encompassed both right- and left-wing political spheres, and every point in between. Some of the previously observed right-wing expressions of populism in America included Bacon's Rebellion, the Know-Nothing nativists, and the Ku Klux Klan.
Indeed, as we have already discussed here in some detail, Goldberg is quick to dismiss the Klan as a clownish "creepy fan subculture" and dismisses the notion that they were fascist in an offhand manner -- relying, once again, on an anecdotal factoid as his "proof."
It's clear throughout the book that Goldberg believes liberals identify groups like the Klan as fascist simply because they are racist. Perhaps that's true for some liberals, but it's certainly not true in my case, nor for those historians who have affirmed that they were indeed not just genuine fascists, but perhaps the first real immanation of fascism. As I've explained, the Klan is definably fascist because it wholly fits the definition of fascism, of which its racism is only one expression. Indeed, its racism is really only a symptom of the deeper impulses to which it appeals.
So I have a little challenge for Glenn Beck. First, he's being awfully vague about just who these "progressive fascists" might be. Who is he talking about, exactly? It's hard not to conclude from the bulk of his rants to date that he considers President Obama to be a "progressive fascist." Will someone ask him? Can we name names, or do we just have some ephemeral enemy out there we can't exactly identify?
So first, I'd like to challenge Beck to name names. Who are these evil progressive fascists, anyway?
Second, having done that, I'd like to ask Beck to use his memory cells a little. He often talks about how he grew up here in the Seattle area. By my reckoning, he'd be of the right age to have been around when Robbie Mathews had his big fatal flameout up on Whidbey Island, when he was incinerated at the end of an armed standoff with the FBI.
Mathews was the mastermind of the neo-Nazi gang The Order, the group that assassinated Alan Berg and robbed a bunch of banks in the Northwest back in 1984. I used to get letters to the editor from Robert Mathews.
These guys were real Nazis. True fascists in every sense of the word, and proud of it. They ardently worshiped Hitler, intended to start a "race war," and killed and robbed to carry out their plan.
Is Glenn Beck telling us that whoever these "progressive fascists" are -- be it Obama or maybe just those blogging critics he seems a little ... sensitive ... about -- that they're just the left-wing counterparts of Robbie Mathews?
Because when clowns like he and Jonah Goldberg start flinging that term around like so much flotsam and Newspeak, that's what they wind up saying. When they need to be taking a good hard look in their right-wing populist mirror instead.
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