Why Barack Obama sets off my “Never Again!” alarms

OK, I’ll admit it: six months ago I was very near buying into the whole Obama thing. That was when he was in his post-racial phase — before Jeremiah Wright, back when voting for Obama seemed like a way of putting an end to the unhealthy obsessiveness about race that disfigures liberal politics.

I was even willing to swallow hard and give Obama a pass on his left-wing populist rhetoric. That got more difficult when the connection with Bill Ayers, unrepentant Communist bombthrower, came to light — but I might have managed to choke down even that.

Why, you ask? Because John McCain was no prize. The political-speech restrictions that came with McCain-Feingold “reform” have stuck in my craw from the day it was enacted. I found Matt Welch’s dissection of McCain as an authoritarian maverick all too convincing in light of what I knew about the man. Once you get past his determination to win the Iraq war there is very little I can find praiseworthy in McCain.

(Anyone who finds this suprising may need a reminder that, despite my strong pro-Second-Amendment and pro-Iraq-War stance, I am not and have never been a conservative. Much less a “neocon”, whatever that means.)

Of course, my extreme dubiousness about McCain made Barack Obama more tempting. I suppose that attraction might have survived flip-flop after flip-flop, advisors and old friends thrown under the bus, and the increasing whiff of arrogant elitism coming off Obama and his appalling wife. I could have made excuses to myself about these things; Goddess knows enough other well-meaning people have been doing so.

No, what really put me off Barack Obama was the increasingly creepy and pathological tenor of the relationship between him and his fans. I think it was in mid-February, a bit before the Jeremiah Wright story got really ugly, that I started to notice my “Never Again!” nerves tingling.

I’m not Jewish. But I read The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich at an impressionable age. Years later, what I learned in that book made me into an anarchist. What it did much sooner than that was to instill in me the same sense of the Holocaust as the central moral disaster of the 20th century that the Jews feel. It left me with the same burning determination: Never again! Ever since, I have studied carefully the forms of political pathology behind that horror and attended even more carefully for any signs that they might be taking root in the West once again.

So, yes, I worried about Jörg Haider and Jean-Marie Le Pen; twitched a little at reports of a resurgence by the British National Front. But there was nothing in my country that whispered of resurgent fascism. Well, nothing outside hard-left-wing rhetoric, anyway.

(One of the minor things that cheeses me off about leftists is the loose way they throw around “fascist” as a term of abuse for anything they don’t like. This is at best naive and at worst dangerously stupid.)

Fascism has many structural characteristics that distinguish it from even the worst sorts of authoritarianism in the mainstream of U.S.’s political spectrum. One of these is the identification of a godlike Maximum Leader with the will of the people. A fascist society demands not just obedience but the surrender of the self to an ecstatic collective consciousness embodied in flesh by the Leader.

George Bush, whatever his faults — and I could list ‘em from here to next Tuesday — is not a fascist, does not behave like a fascist, and (most importantly for my argument) does not elicit that kind of ecstatic identification from his supporters. Thus, calling Bush a fascist confuses run-of-the-mill authoritarian tendencies with a degree of power and evil of which he will never be capable.

Here’s where it gets more frightening. Fascisms happen because people begin by projecting their own fears, hope and desires on the Maximum Leader, and end by submerging themselves in the Leader’s will. Neither George Bush nor John McCain has ever inspired this kind of response. But Barack Obama…does. More effectively than any American politician in my lifetime. And that is a frightening thing to see.

Note: I am absolutely not accusing Barack Obama of being a fascist or of having the goals of a fascist demagogue. I am saying that the psychological dynamic between him and his fans resembles the way fascist leaders and their people relate. The famous tingle that ran up Chris Matthew’s leg. the swooning chanting crowds, the speeches full of grand we-can-do-it rhetoric, the vagueness about policy in favor of reinforcing that intoxicating sense of emotional identification…how can anyone fail to notice where this points?

There are hints of grandiosity and arrogance in Obama’s behavior now. As the bond between him and his followers become more intense, though, it is quite possible they will not remain mere traces. I’m not panicked yet, because Obama is still a long way off from behaving like a megalomaniacal nut-job. But if the lives of people like Napoleon, Mussolini, or Hitler show us anything it’s that the road from Obama’s flavor of charismatic leader to nut-job tyrant is open, and dangerously seductive to the leader himself.

There is one more historical detail that worries me, in this connection. There is a pattern in the lives of the really dangerous charismatic tyrants that they tend to have originated on the geographical and cultural fringes of the societies they came to dominate, outsiders seeking ultimate insiderhood by remaking the “inside” in their own image. Hitler, the border Austrian who ruled Germany; Napoleon, the Corsican who seized France; and Stalin, the Georgian who tyrannized Sovet Russia. And, could it be…Obama, the half-black kid from Hawaii?

Again, I am not accusing Barack Obama of being a monster. But when I watch videos of his campaign, I see a potential monster in embryo. Most especially do I see that potential monster in the shining faces of his supporters, who may yet seduce Obama into believing that he is as special and godlike as they think he is.

That, if it ever happens, will be the moment at which Barack Obama becomes truly dangerous.

I will not be part of encouraging Barack Obama — or our country — down that road to evil.

28 thoughts on “Why Barack Obama sets off my “Never Again!” alarms

  1. Yup, this is precisely what creeps me out about the whole thing. But I really do believe that it may be worse than you think. And if it is I fear for what our nation may have to go through if it is to survive. The Obamanation may be an abomination. See the site at the link below. It is either a brilliant sendup or creepy beyond belief. And frightening.

    http://obamamessiah.blogspot.com/

  2. “Undoubtedbly, some of these views will get me in trouble, I am new enough on the national political screen that I serve as a blank screen on which people of vastly different political stripe project their own views. As such I am bound to disappoint some, if not all of them. Which perhaps indicates a second, more intimate theme to this book – namely how I or anybody else in public office, can avoid the pitfalls of fame, the hunger to please, the fear of loss, and thereby retain that kernel of truth, that singular voice within each of us that reminds us of our deepest commitments.” excerpt from The Audacity of Hope, Barack Obama.

    The risk of assuming someone is more than what he is because of enormous public affection is true for musicians, actors as well as politicians and only if they remain true to themselves and keep themselves grounded they can achieve their potential which was shown in the first place. He seems to be intelligent enough to understand this years ago. To blow this up as potential monster, potential fascist etc seems close to fear mongering.

  3. Restored from backup:

    It seems to me that the same type of criticism you are leveling against Obama (or, more precisely, his boosters) could also have been leveled against John F. Kennedy. At the time he ran (1960) he was also on the border of society, despite his family’s wealth, because he was a second-generation American who was an Irish Catholic.

    Of course, we don’t know what Kennedy might have become; he didn’t live long enough.

  4. >criticism you are leveling against Obama (or, more precisely, his boosters) could also have been leveled against John F. Kennedy.

    One of the comments I inadvertently deleted was from a man old enough to have been at Kennedy campaign rallies. He said, basically…nope. JFK had charisma but he talked policy, and he didn’t inspire blind adulation.

  5. I think a huge component of Obama-mania is fatigue, anger, and righteous indignation at what Bush and his right-wing cronies have done to this country in the past seven years. Even if you look the other way at the utter trammelling of the Constitution, the torture^Wextraordinary renditions, the illegalities of the Iraq War, and the petty vengeance against Joe Wilson and Valerie Plame, there’s no ignoring the floundering dollar and the price at the pump. In light of that, change — any change — sounds good, no matter where it comes from.

  6. Perhaps a huge component of it is the fact that there are so many people who actually believe the things that Jeff Read claims.

  7. I am not an Obama person – I am what could be described as an Anarcho-Syndicalist. With that out of the way let’s go through your argument:

    Your argument hinges on an assessment of fascism is not very sound. Fascism is many things but it always, always, hinges on nationalism. Say what you will about the tenets of socialism in fascist regimes through history, there is always nationalism. Obama has been criticized by many of being too “international” and not having the best interests of America at heart.

    Hitler’s appeal was that he was to bring Germany to the forefront of the world, Stalin always attempted to appeal to the idea of the Motherland on and on the list could go. Obama’s speeches, and the jubilation around him, is mainly personal. His speeches are not based on policy, they are not nationalistic, they are self-centered, which tells you how bad things have become in the US. I could go on but I think you understand that point.

    On to Bush and his supposed non-fascism. The case is simple he is, according to the Arendtian definition, evil bordering on Fascistic. His manipulation of language and his use of lists to keep track of people are both signs Arendt pointed to as signs of evil and fascism. See Enemy Combatants, no fly lists, Guantanamo bay etc..

  8. Well, now what?

    I’ve been cooling to Obama as well. I liked him a lot better when he was working with Larry Lessig and answering questions about sorting algorithms at Google and before his campaign sunk into class warfare. I wasn’t getting any dictator alarm signals until I read this post, but I can’t discount your point.

    With Obama, though, those bells are a faint drone in the distance. With McCain they’re a deafening roar. For all Obama may be starting to resemble Mao, McCain is Xerxes. Stubborn, arrogant, bitter, short-tempered, and idealistic about his own twisted ideals. I didn’t think I could trust him any less until I read about his superstitious rituals.

    And I’m not going to throw away my vote on the Libertarians this time around. I stopped cheerleading for them when they gutted their platform in ’06, and I’m not much of a fan of Barr anyhow.

    So what are you going to in November?

  9. Fascism is when government and business collude to control the people for their own benefit. The GOP wins hands down over Obama when it comes to fascistic potential.

  10. >Fascism is when government and business collude to control the people for their own benefit.

    You haven’t even the faintest clue, do you? Fascism is and was ideologically hostile to “business”, because markets produce rootless cosmopolitanism and disrupt the organic unity of the folk.

    >Fascism is many things but it always, always, hinges on nationalism.

    Also wrong. German Fascism wasn’t strictly nationalist; racialist, yes, but Nazi racial categories could be entertainingly flexible. The Waffen SS had a great many attached foreign units including not only volunteers from all over “aryan” Europe, but Hungarians, Slavs, and even Turks! Some of the most vicious einsatzgruppen were recruited from Latvians and Lithuanians.

    You’re both victims of Soviet propaganda. Real fascism was not the simpleminded nationalist-conservative cartoon you imagine; it was a radical socialist revolutionary ideology similar to (and closely derived from) Leninism.

  11. “>Fascism is many things but it always, always, hinges on nationalism.

    Also wrong. German Fascism wasn’t strictly nationalist; racialist, yes, but Nazi racial categories could be entertainingly flexible. The Waffen SS had a great many attached foreign units including not only volunteers from all over “aryan” Europe, but Hungarians, Slavs, and even Turks! Some of the most vicious einsatzgruppen were recruited from Latvians and Lithuanians.

    You’re both victims of Soviet propaganda. Real fascism was not the simpleminded nationalist-conservative cartoon you imagine; it was a radical socialist revolutionary ideology similar to (and closely derived from) Leninism.”

    You’re manipulating my point. My argument is simple: Fascism is complicated, fascism needs nationalism, nationalism is a basic prerequisite for fascism. In fact you discount the very next line of my argument “Say what you will about the tenets of socialism in fascist regimes through history, there is always nationalism.” But thank you for attempting to prove me wrong by setting up a straw man.

    That being said Nazi’s power base was mainly nationalistic and for most the only racial part would be hatred of the Jews, but that is hardly a defining characteristic considering there was wide spread antisemitism was accepted throughout the western world. Not to say Hitler was not a hater of many peoples, but most day-to-day Germans were taught to non-jewish groups, rather than being hateful of them before the third reich.

  12. >Say what you will about the tenets of socialism in fascist regimes through history, there is always nationalism

    OK, suppose German nationalism was fundamental to Naziism. How do you explain Latvians wearing SS uniforms and meaning it, then? Now, suppose Latvian nationalism were fundamental to Naziism: what were Germans during the goose-step for, then? Lather, rinse, repeat by about fifty different “nations”, as many as the SS had quisling units.

    The only way you can make “always nationalism” stick is to suppose that Nazi ideology was founded on fifty different nationalisms, at which point “always nationalism” becomes meaningless because it doesn’t predict or describe anything about actual Nazi behavior.

    You’re also wrong about “the only racial part would be hatred of the Jews”. The Nazis racially anathematized Gypsies and to a lesser extent Slavs as well.

  13. Been a long time since I last read Armed and Dangerous, so it’s possible you’ve already run across this book (although I didn’t see any reference in the search results.) But you might be interested in Liberal Fascism by Jonah Goldberg. Judging from a few of the observations you’ve made here, that book would be right up your alley. It analyzes fascism and its connection to progressive ideology as an explicit attempt to combat the “fascism is bad and bad is fascism” vibe from modern liberals that you mention above.

  14. “>Say what you will about the tenets of socialism in fascist regimes through history, there is always nationalism

    OK, suppose German nationalism was fundamental to Naziism. How do you explain Latvians wearing SS uniforms and meaning it, then? Now, suppose Latvian nationalism were fundamental to Naziism: what were Germans during the goose-step for, then? Lather, rinse, repeat by about fifty different “nations”, as many as the SS had quisling units.

    The only way you can make “always nationalism” stick is to suppose that Nazi ideology was founded on fifty different nationalisms, at which point “always nationalism” becomes meaningless because it doesn’t predict or describe anything about actual Nazi behavior.

    You’re also wrong about “the only racial part would be hatred of the Jews”. The Nazis racially anathematized Gypsies and to a lesser extent Slavs as well.”

    I mean the Latvian officers were not the majority, far from it, and it was most likely a marriage of convenience, or an attempt for survival or economic benefit. Your second argument just doesn’t make any sense… clarify. Again stop manipulating my arguments, I never said that the Nazi’s didn’t hate other racial groups. I said that the initial power base, the German citizenry was for the most part just hateful of jews and that the Nazi Regime expanded that hatred.

    Ask any historical college professor or political science professor and he will say there was an element of nationalism to Hitler’s regime.

  15. >Ask any historical college professor or political science professor and he will say there was an element of nationalism to Hitler’s regime.

    And I’m supposed to consider that a telling argument for the proposition? It is to laugh.

    In any case, you’ve now changed your claim, from fascism-is-always-nationalist to Naziism-had-elements-of-nationalism. That’s actually a defensible claim, and I won’t argue against it. I’ll simply point out, again, that German nationalism did not dominate the Nazis’ thinking. Whatever was attracting Latvians and Turks into the Waffen-SS and making it ideologically possible for the SS to accept them sure as hell wasn’t German nationalism.

    And you need to read a lot more history before you get into this kind of argument in the future, otherwise you’ll just embarrass yourself.

  16. ok last one because this is the most ridiculous thing I have every participated in

    OK if you can’t find a college professor that agrees with your point what you are actually saying is: “Yea the people that make a living off of understanding the third Reich disagree with my point.” If you want to make that argument fine.

    No my point has not changed. Nationalism is a key point in fascism. You brought up the Third Reich as a counter example to my argument. So, as you should understand, I ceased to talk about theory of Fascism and started talking about this individual case. Your point about the Latvians and the Turks is an acceptable off shoot but they were a minority of cases.

    It would be like making the argument that because there is a small sect of jews in New York who say the holocaust never happened ergo jews don’t believe the holocaust happened.

    I think in the future people should use majority cases. I think my understanding of history is just fine, I think it is you saying “You’re both victims of Soviet propaganda.” That was the most incorrect thing said in this debate.

  17. >I think my understanding of history is just fine,

    Well, I think your ‘understanding’ of history resembles the Cartoon Channel more than anything else. If it were any deeper, you wouldn’t be reduced to arguing from authority: history professors believe it, so it must be true!

  18. “I am saying that the psychological dynamic between him and his fans resembles the way fascist leaders and their people relate. The famous tingle that ran up Chris Matthew’s leg. the swooning chanting crowds, the speeches full of grand we-can-do-it rhetoric, the vagueness about policy in favor of reinforcing that intoxicating sense of emotional identification…how can anyone fail to notice where this points?”

    Sounds like any politician that got even remotely popular. Sounds like conservative talk show hosts, and their “dittoheads”.

    It’s all normal stuff, and trying to equate Obama and his fans to the fascist experience is a virtual grand caynon leap in logic.

    A more reasoned interpretation is that people are fed up with Bush and the neo-cons, and all the damage they’ve done to this country and it’s constitution, and are desperately hungry for a change. And now they have an alternative candidate who exudes some confidence and charisma, as opposed the weasly, wimpy, wishy washy, boring Gore or Kerry.

    That’s where the enthusiasm is coming from. It has nothing to do with fascism. C’mon.

    Don’t be so intellectually lazy. Don’t make strawman arguments. And don’t spread anti-liberal FUD.

    Obama and fans = fascism. pffffffffft The most stupid post. Ever.

    I guess in ESRs world, liberals should never be confident or show enthusiasm. Otherwise they’re fascists.

  19. >I guess in ESRs world, liberals should never be confident or show enthusiasm. Otherwise they’re fascists.

    I’d be just as creeped out if Obama were a conservative.

  20. And if it were a conservative, and he/she showed the same confidence Obama does, and his/her followers showed the same enthusiasm, I would still not think of it as such a big deal.

    I do, however, share your general sense of paranoia about politicians and their followers. One must always keep a weary eye.

  21. Brian and ESR are both a bit right and a bit wrong.

    The Nazis looked to local fascist groups to run things for them in a particular locale. While Nazi racial theory viewed the German nation as the racial ideal it did eventually call for the removal of all untermentchen, there were no timetables attached and fascists of many nationalities flocked to Hitler’s banner. All lesser fascisms were welcome so long as they were useful and be subservient to the master race. The important thing was unquestioning support of the leader and going after the Jews. Races can be nations, the whole point of Nazi Germany was to combine the two into one.

    I confess I had not thought of Obama in the terms suggested by Eric but now that I do, I must concur that Obama is very much parading like a maximum leader and demanding unquestioning loyalty from his cadres. The problem is discerning between political discipline and something more sinister.

    I used to revile the Clintons for their will to power and disrespect for the institutions that make this nation what it is. Obama makes them look like pikers.

    You can say there are things about McCain you don’t like but you absolutely know who the man is and what he stands for. He may not be your first choice but, in this election, there is no other rational choice.

  22. What we see with Obama is first a man running for office. Fascism often begins with someone wanting power but seeking office through legitimate means; no radio host has declared a desire to have power, nor are any of them running for office (or plotting Beer Hall revolutions). Thus, Obama, McCain, Barr, and so forth are the only people under discussion.

    Next with Obama, what you see are slogans, malleable, morpheous, protean slogans that change their meaning depending on the audience. Logic is not important, and neither is spirituality, but emotion is. So Obama is a purely secular figure who longs for power, who is charismatic, and who never really means exactly what he says. Please don’t tell me that you can’t draw the parallels yet.

    Lastly, McCain does not have a cult of personality. Bush never had one, either. Bob Barr doesn’t have one. Obama does. I don’t remember a single instance of numbers of women fainting over any other political office holder in recent memory.

    It’s all right before your eyes, folks.

  23. y’know, eric, i’d always assumed the reason you stopped blogging was that you were driven to distraction by the inanity and fumbleminded selfrighteousness of commenters attacking your posts (usually by parrotting bizarre misconceptions they’d received as gospel).

    and on discovering you’d started up again, i was most gratified to see your new commenters seemed to be far far fewer and far far more keen to genuinely engage you/your posts, rather than trot out their reflex stances.

    that didn’t last long

  24. A more reasoned interpretation is that people are fed up with Bush and the neo-cons, and all the damage they’ve done to this country and it’s constitution, and are desperately hungry for a change. And now they have an alternative candidate who exudes some confidence and charisma, as opposed the weasly, wimpy, wishy washy, boring Gore or Kerry.

    That’s where the enthusiasm is coming from. It has nothing to do with fascism. C’mon.

    That’s what I said above, and it’s worth noting that the reaction to Obama is a much more intensified version of the reaction I observed to John Kerry. I watched Democrats cheer for a completely feckless, positionless candidate for speaking the truth and wiping the floor with Bush’s ass in the debates. Not that that’s terribly hard to do.

    And the results are clear: the new battleground states in the 2008 race are places like South Carolina. The swing states from prior races are now solidly Democratic. If Sludge Vohaul has to fight to keep the Southern strategy afloat, there’s simply no way he’s going to win in the generals.

  25. I’m not Jewish.

    Boy, that’s for sure. Stallman is Jewish; you are definitely, definitely goyish.

  26. Wow – someone JUST sent me this post. I thank you for it even though it is a year old. I have not trusted Obama since December of 07. He still seems one crisis from showing true statist colors.

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