The use and limits of historical analogies for our era.

The use and limits of historical analogies for our era.

The use and limits of historical analogies for our era.

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Nov. 30 2006 4:20 PM

American Fascism?

The use and limits of historical analogies for our era.

Confronting what she sees as a long-standing taboo in mainstream political discourse, Diane McWhorter argues that the comparison of the Bush administration's methods and actions to those of Hitler's Nazi regime—routinely discredited as either  the extreme, inflammatory rhetoric of fringe leftists or as disrespectful of the uniqueness of Jewish suffering in the Holocaust—is in fact historically instructive and apropos.

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This sparked a firestorm of controversy in the Fray, to the point that the incendiary tone of discussion became the subject of this post by achilleselbow lamenting the "constant narrowing of the public debate to a set of bumper sticker slogans and talking points … But due to poor education, the dumbing down of media, or just plain laziness and anti-intellectualism, people have lost virtually any ability to follow a logical argument." Similarly, MsRawksy calls use of Nazi analogies shameful and "counter productive in debating."

Fingerpuppet astutely describes the facile (and ultimately dangerous) sense of moral superiority that we feel when the N-word is invoked too liberally:

Part of the problem with this taboo against using the Nazis as a basis of comparison is that in doing so, we've essentially dehumanized them. Everyone can feel so smugly superior to those mid-century German monsters that we automatically assume that none of us is prone to the same foibles and moral weakness. In treating the Nazis as such a special case, we've largely inoculated ourselves from taking this history lesson sincerely to heart. Nazism is not a quantum leap beyond our own humanity. It's made up of all the petty impulses of ordinary people, from every-day racism to the semantic contortions of State Department bureaucrats who turn their backs on wholesale slaughter when they refuse to utter the word "Genocide." Nazism just happened to be a sort of perfect storm of all of these smaller elements. We should all be aware of how venturing out on to the slippery slopes of fascism, even rhetorically or incrementally, puts us at least partially in league with butchers and tyrants throughout history.

While attacking McWhorter's criticism of the Bush administration as "a mere scorecard, a laundry list of perceived similarities (and exaggerated ones at that)," Tennjed acknowledges the power of such comparisons for both ends of the political spectrum:

There is NO taboo against using the word "Nazi" or referring to Hitler. Conservatives do it all the time when they talk about the dangers of appeasement or compare their opponents to Neville Chamberlain. Hitler is fair game for discussion. The problem is not merely using Hitler's name, but using Hitler's name in a way that is intellectually and morally unserious.

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For his part, Rrhain finds all the parallels he needs in American history itself, without recourse to Nazi Germany:

isn't our own history sufficient to show how horrendous the actions of the current administration are? Do we really need to bring up Nazi Germany when referring to the declaring of US citizens to be "enemy combatants" when our own history of doing that to the Japanese during WWII is just as good an example if not better? Do we really need to reach for the Nazi card when trying to talk about the suspension of habeas corpus and expansion of executive authority when our own history of Lincoln suspending it and being slapped down by the Supreme Court over it is good enough? Why not simply point out the many things that Bush has done and compare them to our own Declaration of Independence?

Now I realize that we have morphed into a society that hyperbolizes everything. The only way to get any attention paid to a story is to use as breathless and apocalypse-invoking language as possible. But that is mostly a declaration of the laziness of the writer. The problem with declaring everything to be the worst thing in the world is that it leaves you nowhere to go.

Except perhaps to the Politics Fray for more debate … and coincidentally, an op-ed piece published in today's Los Angeles Times calls for lifting the censorship ban on the original N-Word. AC1:30pm

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Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2006

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I've come out of this holiday weekend giving thanks for the return of divided government. If nothing else, the coming Democratic Congress has given back a stake in politics to the half of this country who have spent the last four years as helpless observers of national policy. The quality of political forecasting has risen dramatically in the Fray, as both sides of the debates give voice to a newfound sense of excitement and dread.

Responding to Jacob Weisberg's obituary for the conservative era, Jack_Cerf divines a coming fusion of yesterday's "wings":

The alternative Weisberg doesn't see is a combination of cultural conservatism, economic protectionism, and blood and soil nationalism. Pat Buchanan has been arguing for years that if we want to go back to traditional gender roles, where Dad was the breadwinner-patriarch and Mom made the home, we had to go back to an economy when an honest, hardworking Dad could support a stay at home Mom and kids.

The Buchananist coalition is in favor of traditionalist moral values and protection against cheap alien labor abroad and at home: pro-church, pro-tariff, pro-union and anti-immigrant, looking to the government for protection against the boss, the global labor market, Hollywood and Hip Hop. It has the potential to unite much of the Christian Right with a white working class fearful of declining living standards and those African-Americans angry that yet another group of immigrants seems to be passing them by.

Frankly, I think this is Ghost Dance politics, and that the Buchananites can no more return to an imagined 1950s that is gone beyond recall than the Sioux could dance the buffalo back in 1890s. I also think the attempt would command a lot of support and would tend to isolate both the Country Club Republicans who want free trade and cheap labor and the Mandarin Democrats who want free trade and a culture where mere whiteness and maleness have no privilege.

On the Internet, the topic of money tends to bring out some unusual points of view. But revrick makes a compelling argument that monetary policy will gain salience in the years ahead:

The Republicans have become the party of tax cuts and deficits don't matter and as a result are heedless of the grave damage they will inflict on future generations. The Democrats, on the other hand, are preaching, however timidly, the understanding that we just cannot continue to pile debt upon debt and dump it all on our grandchildren's shoulders.

The Democrats are saying that we have a moral responsibility to our children and children's children to act with some measure of fiscal temperance. To cite Aesop's fable, the Democrats are looking more and more like the ants and the Republicans have become grasshoppers, peddling wild-eyed, radical whack-a-doodle economic theories.

In some respects, the Democrats are returning to their Jacksonian roots pushing a hard money policy, based on the understanding that when the crash comes, it's always those at the bottom who suffer the worst.

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Mycenea projects "a restoration of the Romney Republicans: strong economy, strong defense, fiscal conservatism, and the devil take the rest. It will be a long time before anyone utters the words 'family values.'" San lays out the case for the opposite future:

To be conservative means not to want to change. The old ways are good, and the new ways are only new, not better. To pursue many new paths is to waste money on things you cannot be certain about. […]

Conservatives don't believe in government without a say. Government is the legal enforcement of social customs. Marriage bonds families to stop bastardization to promote society, and the law helps keep marriages together and infedelity down.

The fact that so many states put forth anti-gay marriage amendments proves that Conservatism isn't dead. It means that people don't want to change society, and that society has customs and rules to help promote a better America, not a worse. […]

Catorce predicts we're entering the age of the "Global Realist":

Ariel Sharon might be the best example of this. Israel finally realized that it simply did not have a peace partner amongst the Palestinians and couldn't govern them. So it withdrew from Gaza and set in motion withdrawals from the West Bank. Very non-ideological. And it built a very effective wall. Very realist -- attacks have plummeted. Wonder why Bush thinks a wall is a good idea on immigration?

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In a well-written response to Fred Kaplan's search for statecraft, MikeX sees the next two years through a lens, darkly:

Bush still has two years in office to implement a half-assed immigration policy, turn the world's only agricultural superpower into a wasteland of ethanol crops and stand idly by while an earthquake levels Los Angeles, all without setting foot outside Crawford.

Democratic partisans seem to be more interested in their party's immediate future, weighing in on John Dickerson's analysis of the Dean-Carville dispute. If the Fray's an indicator, Dean is definitely getting credit among the rank and file for the Democratic pickup. randall observes that Democratic gains were far wider than the congressional elections indicate:

The good news even extended to the county level in many states. This success had nothing to do with Schumer or Emanuel and everything to do with Dean. It is important to remember that these county and state officials will have significant roles to play in presidential politics at the state level and, if the DNC is smart enough to keep following Dean, they can keep control through the critical redistricting efforts. There is enough good news for Democrats to spread around the glory for a while.

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Sophie believes Dean and the Democrats have a rosy future ahead:

Dean delivered when the media, pre-election day results, showed a smiling Rove and were tepidly predicting a house only win by the Democrats. Carville wasted no time, much the same as the Republicans, recasting a stunning victory into something less than it could have been. Jealousy must have got the better of him.

Carville should recognize the Democrats struggled from 1994 until this election cycle with the old paradigms of campaigning, mostly his. While it could be argued Dean could have done better, no one before him managed it any better, and actually did worse.

Dean is a smart guy. He'll read the results and adjust for 2008. The democrats would be monumentally stupid to even consider removing him from the job. It looks like he may have found his place in politics and for the party, that is good.

Personally, I'm too myopic to guess what happens next. But, given the tedious tragedy of staying the course, the New Uncertainty strikes me as an incontrovertibly good thing.

Do you have an idea of what's coming next for America? All visions and prophecies are welcome in The Big Idea FrayGA2:40am PT

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Thursday, Nov. 16, 2006

The sheer number of responses to Seth Stevenson's Ad Report Card is testament to the consumer awareness—if not success—of Esurance's latest ad campaign featuring the pink-haired anime figure Erin. For those of us unfamiliar, Rrhain recaps the origin story behind this Esurance girl who "chased by spies, crashes into a car dealership" and makes a quick getaway in another car, thanks to instant proof of auto insurance. Jack_Cerf provides here an even more detailed etymology of her character.

For some, the ads are undeniably seductive. In this gushing post, pete1051 admits to a crush on Erin. After watching the spot, Birdy96 says her "attention was instantly grabbed" by the "bright colored cartoon characters."

From a marketing standpoint, Xando considers it very effective targeting of "certain demographics - namely, reasonably geeky guys who 'get' the pop culture references … that nicely coincides with the kind of people who would buy auto insurance off the web." Similarly, in this five-point minimanifesto on why Esurance ads rock, qsc concedes that age has a lot to do with the favorability of people's reactions: "it may come down to the fact that these commercials are for 30 year olds and younger, (and especially those who like anime and/or cartoons and/or action movies and/or hot-anime-chicks)."

For beatsworkin, however, the campaign is animated (literally) by a good premise, only to be undermined by "poor production quality":

In the clip Stevenson reviews, "auto insurance" is heard three times, "Esurance" is heard six times, and the entire dialogue is peppered with insurance jargon. The animation is appealing to Esurance's target market. The bright colors and fast-paced action held my attention span long enough for the company's name and purpose to settle in.

That said, there is a fatal flaw in the Esurance ad: poor production quality. The spot has a cheap, "local business" air about it. The voice-overs are unrealistically detached, the animation looks dated, and the background music is too quiet and formulaic. All of this makes me think of Esurance as a well-meaning company with poor execution--not what I want in an auto insurance provider.

In sharp disagreement, cbattle judges the production value excellent:

…examples of the best in Flash animation in the industry today. As for it looking "dated", that couldn't be further from the truth: The ads are part of a very contemporary style of animation with roots in mid-century animation/illustration that gained prominence with "Samurai Jack" in 2000, and continues to this day with shows like "Foster's Home For Imaginary Friends".

Last but not least, knotstandingstill laments the growing trend of using cartoon characters in ads:

Cartoons do not require enormous sums of compensation, nor do they merit any royalties. They also garner the attention of the youngest viewers...thereby setting up that name recognition before they even know that one day, they too, will need car insurance…

The most annoying cartoon character trend is the goofy and/or silly voice-overs. Though this is more prevelent in radio advertising, it has too many diciples in television. These same geniuses just got FAT off of a slew of political ads. They should be rounded up, and horse whipped.

You will find the Ad Report Card Fray brimming with other strident opinions on the matter. Interesting note: in contrast to the flashy style of its ads, the Esurance Web site is astoundingly bland. AC1:30pm PT

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Friday, Nov. 10, 2006

It's perhaps a testament to the fury of the news cycle that today, a mere three days after the historic 2006 midterm elections, it almost seems passé to engage in yet more political analysis, the vast majority of readers having already overdosed on cables news and blogosphere commentary. That said, a few additional thoughts from the Slate camp felt worthy of sharing:

In response to David Greenberg's debunking of the "six-year itch" electoral mythology, randy-khan highlights in statistical terms just how big of a Democratic wave hit the Senate:

A closer look at the Senate highlights how well the Democrats really did. They started the night with 18 of the 33 seats that were up - which is unusual in a body where overall the other party had a 10 seat lead. The Republicans had a whopping 40 seats that weren't up for reelection, so all they had to do was win 10 elections, just under 1/3 of the seats in play this time, to keep control, thanks to having Dick Cheney as Vice President.

In the end, they won 9, just over 25 percent. Worse, the only places where it ended up that the Republicans were even close to getting a 10th or 11th seat were in states that currently had Republican Senators, Missouri, Montana and Virginia. On top of that, in the two states that were supposedly plausible Republican pick-up opportunities, Maryland and New Jersey, they ended up getting beaten handily, by 11 and 8 points respectively.

The point that may be overlooked here is that the Republicans thought, going into this election cycle, that they had a fair chance of keeping even or possibly gaining seats. Allen was supposed to be a dead lock, and a potential Presidential candidate, Steele was supposed to siphon off lots of black votes, particularly after Mfume didn't win the Democratic primary; Kennedy was supposed to be a rising star running against a so-so Democrat in Minnesota; and Chafee was both much beloved in Rhode Island and one of the rare Republicans who'd opposed the Iraq war. The Democrats had to have nearly everything go right to gain control of the Senate, while the Republicans needed only a couple of races to break their way. In the end, the Democrats got the breaks and the Republicans didn't really get any. That's a pretty big wave.

From exit-poll data, Daniel Gross suggests that the Dems are stealing away upper-income voters who would otherwise gravitate towards the GOP for economic reasons. Not so fast, says cmd9000:

It's not that the higher income voters are voting against their economic interests. It's that their interests have changed. On the coasts, the 100K-150K voting block are likely to be skilled professionals who's economic interests are still primarily middle class. They have more disposable income, but their primary economic challenge is still paying the mortgage and their primary income source is still salary rather than anything that would benefit from capital gains cuts. Let's face it, 150K just doesn't buy what it used to. :>

It's one of the few really smart moves that democrats have made to stick to an extremely broad definition of middle class when discussiong their tax policies, so as to include these folks in the "middle class tax relief" group rather than the "make the rich pay their share" group. And it obviously works. Especially when the republican focus on (less affluent) values voters forces them away from their traditional economic policies.

moodyguppy re-examines conventional wisdom on wealth, political affiliation, and the Bush tax cuts:

Some people, "high income people" who make six or seven figures, may have benefited from tax cuts. But not so much those high-earners in blue states with high state/local taxes, where AMT would have clawed back most of it (CA and NY for example). Most of those people work hard for a living, and if they stopped working, they'd run out of money. That's not rich.

I know people who really are rich. Asset rich. They have 20+ million dollars in investments, or more. Those investments kick off enough income to put them in the top 1%, except they don't have to work, ever. Nor do they pay much income tax, not if they have a decent banker; they live on capital gains, tax-free munis and such. Now THAT is rich.

So the truly rich don't care about tax cuts, at least not income tax cuts. And, "rich people" (defined by me as "I am unemployed and I still have a six-figure income, indefinitely") are more likely to be Democrats. About 60/40. Trustafarian? Most likely a dem.

High income people skew more Republican, but not overwhelmingly so. They're the one paying 80%+ of all income taxes so you'd expect them to like income tax cuts. But they're still 1/3 or more dems, perhaps because AMT insures tax-cuts go to people in low-tax (mostly red) states.

Weisberg's contention that Democratic Senate victories mark the revival of economic nationalism brought this response from Degsme:

The cat has long been out of the bag on economic nationalism. The USA has to import too many resources to realistically shut down significant amounts of trade (bauxite, sulpher, oil, lumber, programmers, GPs). What we really have going on is an unbalanced foreign trade policy: NAFTA et. al. focussed on 'free flow' of Capital and Goods. But realistically those are only one side of the free-market equation. And if you only 'free' one side of the equation, you inherently distort the whole balance.

Labor is the other side of the 'production free market'. Currently we have pegged the migration of labor, but freed the flow of capital. Any surprise there are distortions?

Realistically there needs to be a wholesale reform of both voting rights (nothing in the US Constitution requires citizenship for voting) - which would empower some 5%-10% of the population that currently have had to suffer Taxation Without Representation. This population currently has Congressional Representatives "assigned" to it, but those Reps have no reason to listen to that constituency since it cannot vote.

Anticipating what the new Democratic agenda might have in store, Timothy Noah touts the counterintuitive conservative appeal of a "carbon tax" to combat global warming. not_abel provides this additional rationale:

Everyone is for reducing our dependence on foreign oil (especially if that can be converted into leverage with Iran and Saudi Arabia). Everyone also recognizes the harmful effects from emissions other than CO2 caused by burning fossil fuel. Everyone is for a cleaner environment.

Whether or not you are an agnostic on global warming, it can only help us with the rest of the world to: 1) Be seen as treating the problem seriously, and, 2) Steer the action for the world in the direction which is at once most effective in solving the problem, least harmful to our economy, and helpful in achieving other policy objectives.

Thirdly, if you have to try and manipulate a market to achieve a policy objective, manipulating the price of the fundamental commodity is the least intrusive way to do it. No-one has ever liked economic downturns, high unemployment, or high inflation either. About twenty years ago, we finally figured out that the least bad way to deal with the economy was to manipulate the price (interest rates) of the fundamental commodity (capital). Manipulating the price of energy is an analagous approach to dealing with energy and environmental policy.

These insights and others are sprawled across History Lesson, Moneybox, and The Big Idea Frays. AC2:30pm