Wednesday, September 03, 2008

A whiff of fascism

I hesitate to toss around the f-word, but the rhetoric of this passage from Victor Davis Hanson is striking (h/t LGM):

If she can beat off the frothing Newsweek/MSNBC/New York Times inbred rabid wolves, and do it with the grace she has shown so far, she will fill a deep yearning among Americans for someone like her... who reminds us with pride that a muscular world of action, not community organizing, creates the bounty that others use and take for granted but so often sneer at the methods of its acquisition.

The "inbred rabid wolves" is nice, but "vermin" would have been more traditional. "Muscular" seals the deal. Anyone who can't hear where this sort of talk is pointing isn't paying attention.

And then there was George Bush last night comparing "the far left" (ie, people who criticize John McCain) with the Viet Cong.

And just now Rudy Giulani dropped "cosmpolitan" as a slur on Obama, shortly followed by "flashy". Nice signalling going on there.

I'm in the midst of reading Yury Slezine's The Jewish Century and it is probably coloring my perspective, but this election seems unusually striking in how much it is highlighting the cultural differences between the party of urban cosmopolitans and the ersatz blood-and-soilers. The candidates are not especially radical, but somehow they exemplify the images of their respective parties, and the polarization of values they represent, than any past election I can remember.

20 comments:

Michael said...

Hanson is a classicist. His preference for the 'life of action in an often harsh natural landscape, where physical strength is married to intelligence to bring us food, fuel and progress' seems more reminiscent of the 'hard pastoral' tradition of the Romans (for example, Cato the Elder) than it does of Mussolini. His references to "the metrosexual wind- or body-surfing politician, and hair-plugged, neurotic TV pundit' or the 'endless psychodramas of thirty-something suburban whiners' recall Juvenal's strictures on the effete Romans of his day.

The Founding Fathers admired the hard pastoral and held, like Cato, that it encouraged what they identified as 'republican virtues.' Were they, also, 'fascists'?

mtraven said...

It's the use of disease and animal metaphors against political opponents that really situates Hanson's style. That stuff is straight out of Der Stürmer:
The Jews are...afflicted with all diseases, They are a people of criminals and outcasts. They are the carriers of disease and vermin among men...Mice and rats cannot be acknowledged as useful pets and live within the community...Bacteria, vermin and pests cannot be tolerated .. for reasons of cleanliness and hygiene we must render them harmless by killing them off ... Why should we repress our feeling for cleanliness and hygiene when it comes to the Jew?

Fascist or not, the positioning of effete cosmopolitanism vs. its opposite in this election is quite striking. Nothing new, of course, it just seems more extreme than usual.

Michael said...

I have re-read the Hanson piece and find no reference in it to bacteria, pests, rats, mice, or disease.

Hanson's slighting references to 'metrosexual wind- or body-surfing politicians' and 'thirty-something suburban whiners' suggest no more than that such people are shallow and self-absorbed. He hardly argues that they are criminals and outcasts, carriers of disease and vermin.

Similarly, his description of the left-wing media as 'ravening wolves' is a variation on a well-known political metaphor. How many figures in public life have been 'thrown to the wolves' over the years without that usage being construed as a 'whiff of fascism'? It is a reference to the pack-like nature of the attack. In a similar vein, John Randolph of Roanoke once remarked of his critics, "the little dogs - how they bark at me!" Do you suppose that was fascistic avant la lettre?

'Cosmopolitan' seems to me to be a fair assessment of the child of a Kenyan father and an American mother who spent part of his youth in Indonesia and his early adulthood in the rarefied atmosphere of elite academic institutions. Whether it be taken as flattering or not obviously must depend upon the listener.

It is true that the word 'cosmopolitan,' typically preceded by the adjective 'rootless,' was at one time applied to Jews by their enemies. I do not pretend to be familiar with more recent examples of anti-Semitic propaganda, but I'd guess this particular characterization has gone out of style. The reason is simple, and has to do with the foundation of the state of Israel.

Before that event, those who feared and hated Jews imagined or claimed that their loyalty was to some sort of abstraction like worldwide revolution, illuminism, bolshevism, the Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion. Since the foundation of Israel, the essential similarity of Jewish-American politics to Irish-American politics, Greek-American politics, etc., has become evident. It conforms to a familiar patten in which the loyalty is to a place abroad with which there are more or less remote ancestral ties, and ongoing emotional ones. The 'rootless cosmopolitanism' once attributed to Jewry is now well on the way to disappearing, if not totally extinct, as Slezkine makes clear.

In any event, that historic usage has nothing to do with the alleged cosmopolitanism of Barack Obama. For my part I think this is overplayed - the more we learn about Obama the more he appears to be a typical Chicago politico.

mtraven said...

What, "inbred rabid wolves" (not "ravening" as you misread it) isn't enough of a disease metaphor for you?

I don't see much point in arguing over this. It's a matter of literary interpretation, and if you don't see what I see, that's your business. To me, the echoes of fascist tropes are pretty obvious, but it doesn't mean that Hanson and Rudy Giuliani are the moral equivalent of Mussolini. Whatever fascism is in their rhetoric is an extremely lightweight form, suitable for use in marketing the usual brand of Republican authoritarianism and corruption, but not very likely to result in goose-stepping down at the mall or mass extermination of minorities.

Your reading of Slezkine seems reductive in the extreme. "Cosmopolitianism" is a term that was once attached to Jews, but now has lost that close association and is now applied by jingoists like Hanson and Giuliani (I'm trying to come up with a less loaded word than "fascist" to describe what I'm seeing in them), along with related terms like "effete", to a broad range of liberal, urban, progressive people. Slezkine's thesis is that the Jews were the prototype for this class, not that the class and the divide between them and the "Apollonians" doesn't exist now that Jews have their own little Heimat.

As I've mentioned, I grew up in Chicago and so have a fair idea of what "a typical Chicago politico" is like, and Obama does not really fit the mold of Richard Daley or Ed Vrdolyak. For one thing, none of them could inspire a youthful cult following. Sarah Palin, on the other hand, does seem to have her own little Chicago-style operation going on in the Frozen North.

Michael said...

I do not read Slezkine as suggesting that the Jews were the prototype for a "liberal, urban, progressive" class. His Mercurian/Apollonian distinction places in the former group persons whose economic lives are characterized by the exploitation of abstract knowledge and liquid assets, and in the latter those whose economic lives are dependent upon ties to the land. Mercurians are urban, but not necessarily "liberal" or "progressive." Consider the Jews of Britain, who were historically Jacobites and later Tories (e.g., Lord Jakobovits), or the Jews of the Austro-Hungarian empire (the family von Mises, for example) and Wilhelmine Germany (the family Warburg, for example).

As I read Slezkine, the peculiar status of Jews in Czarist Russia led both to the disproportionate representation of Jews amongst the Bolsheviks and also to the leftist inclination of their descendants who migrated to America. The earlier Sephardic and German Jewish immigrants did not share these sympathies - consider, for example, the family Loeb.

Obama's dealings with Tony Rezko certainly fit the style of a typical Chicago politico. There is of course a black subdivision to the class and it seems to me Obama climbed quite astutely within it to his present position as U. S. Senator from Illinois.

mtraven said...

The very first sentance of Slezkine's introduction is: "The Modern Age is the Jewish Age, and the twentieeth century, in particular, ins the Jewish Century. Modernization is about everyone becoming urban, mobile, literate, articulate, intellectually intricate, physically fastidious, and occupationally flexible". OK, he doesn't say "liberal" or "progressive" explicitly, but the connection seems clear, at least in the context of modern US politics. Nobody is going to associate George Bush with the articulate and intellectually intricate. Of course not all Jews everywhere are liberal/progressive, life is more complicated than that.

The Jews (according to Slezkine anyway) formed the prototype for modern cosmopolitianism, but such cosmopolitianism is not limited to Jews nor are all Jews going to fit the mold. Israel of couse is an explicit attempt to build a Jewish Apollonian nation, and neoconservatism seems to be an echo of that same spirit in US politics.

Republicans are trying to position themselves as the opposite of cosmopolitian, which of course is mostly bullshit since the leaders are just as urbanized and Mercutian as anyone else, but that's how their brand placement works.

Obama's ties to Rezko look like pretty thin stuff to me, compared to McCain's involvement in the Keating Five scandal and Palin's backwoods corruption. But I'm under no illusion that he is a saint rather than a politician.

Michael said...

There is cognitive dissonance between your assertions on one hand that the "connection seems clear" between "liberal" or "progressive" views and the "urban, mobile, literate, articulate, physically fastidious, and occupationally flexible" - and on the other, that Republican leadership is "as urbanized and Mercutian [sic] as anyone else." Clearly, being urban, mobile, literate, articulate, etc. do not necessarily lead to "liberal" or "progressive" political sympathies.

As one interesting example of this elsewhere in the world, the Chinese outside China have all the listed Mercurian characteristics, yet Singapore has not embraced liberal or progressive politics.

Contrast this with the slumdwelling criminal underclass. The only one of the Mercurian traits it shares is that it is urban. It possesses none of the others, yet it is a major constituency of the party that considers itself "liberal" and "progressive."

Liberalism and progressivism are at bottom words that describe a politics based on delivering the improvident and foolish from the consequences of their waste and folly, and footing the bill at the expense of the enterprising, thrifty, and prudent. It is a bet on the part of one élite faction that there are more of the former class than of the latter, and that under universal suffrage, their faction can prevail and help itself to some of the spoils in the process.

What will happen when the canaille turn on them? Ça ira...

mtraven said...

I didn't say that Mercurianism inevitably leads to progressive politics; that particular connection is peculiar to the history of the Jews and US/European modernity. Traditional Mercurianism (as Slezkine's first chapter has it) obviously has nothing to do with progressive or universal ideas, being rooted in rigidly enforced tribal boundaries.

Also, based on Slezkine's model, we are all Mercurians now. What Republicans do is ring changes on Apollonian values (nationalism, militarism, authoritarianism, celebration of the rural and small town, etc.). Very few people in the US are involved in agricultural food production, but a much larger proportion seems to like country music. Because these values don't really make much sense in the modern world, they have to be heightened by contrasting them with their opposites -- the urban, educated, universalist values of the Democratic party.

The McCain/Palin ticket is genius from this perspective. Neither of them is going to be worth a damn in solving the countries problems or even in exerting "leadership", but who cares? George Bush won two elections by adopting a moronic accent and pretending to clear brush and being beer-friendly. He's screwed up so badly that you'd think the same trick wouldn't work again, but Apollonians aren't big on learning from experience.

mtraven said...

Also, see the follow-up post.

Michael said...

I am puzzled by your continuing emphasis on "authoritarianism" as an exclusive attribute of the right.

Fisher Ames long ago observed that "Government does not subsist by making proselytes to sound reason or by compromise and arbitration with its members; but by the power of the community compelling the obedience of individuals. If that is not done, who will seek its protection or fear its vengeance?" Any government operates in this way, everywhere and always, whether it be run by the left or by the right.

Wasn't it the "liberal" and "progressive" administration of Bill Clinton, through his loving and compassionate Attorney General Janet Reno, that sent troops in full body armor equipped with M-16s to seize little Elian Gonzalez from his Florida relatives and return him to Fidel Castro's island paradise? Wasn't it the same administration that sent a detachment of artillery to lay siege to the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas? As I recall, they burnt the place down and killed most of the children whose alleged abuse was the pretext for the attack. Such a fine example of tolerance for dissent!

Who created the scads of "alphabet agencies" at the Federal level that legislatye by decree through publication in the Federal Register, exercise executive authority through their own enforcement personnel, and wield substantial judicial authority through their own administrative tribunals? It wasn't the right.

I agree that conservatives haven't been very successful in reducing the size and scope of government, but at least they pay lip service to the idea. The left does no such thing, but wants to increase government's ability to intervene in more and more aspects of our lives. That it will do so in a coercive and punitive fashion is demonstrated by its historical example.

mtraven said...

Authoritarianism is not the exclusive property of the right, of course. All governments partake of authoritarianism to varying extents. All politicians want to exert authority -- they don't put in all that effort to gain power for nothing, you know.

But I'm not talking about actual policies and actions of politicians when elected; I'm talking about their marketing and their psychological appeal. And Republicans have positioned themselves as the party of the strong hand of authority at least since Nixon's law and order platform -- with Democrats portrayed as the party of acid, amnesty, and abortion (sign me up).

The founders of the US recognized the danger of authoritarian government and proposed some mechanisms to counteract it -- separation of powers, the bill of rights, habeas corpus. These have all been under attack by the current and past Republican administration. Yes, Democrats do not have a perfect record in these areas, but Republicans have made the consolidation of executive power and the undermining of human rights, into primary goals, all while giving lip service (your quite accurate phrase) to the idea of limited government. The Democrats gave us OSHA and the EPA, the Republicans gave us the Department of Homeland Security, the Patriot Act, and the legitimation of torture as a tool of governance.

One of the provisions of the Patriot Act gives the government the power to subpoena public library records, and to place gog orders on the librarians to prevent them from informing the patron that his records are being read by government agents. This is minor stuff, but the flavor of the Stasi is unmistakable.

Michael said...

It is quite appropriate that the right should emphasize the coercive and punitive aspects of government. They are, after all, its essential characteristics. Perhaps the left is better at concealing the iron fist within the velvet glove. But it is nonetheless an iron fist.

You overemphasize the significance of the Patriot Act. J. Edgar Hoover's long tenure at the FBI overlapped FDR's at the White House. FDR was quite willing to use the FBI and other agencies like the IRS not only against real criminals, or the country's enemies in World War II, but to harass his critics and political opponents. Warrantless wiretaps were the order of the day. Do you suppose a librarian in the 'thirties or 'forties would have hesitated a moment before turning over records to the "G-men"? Many of the tactics typical in those days would raise screams from the left today if the Bush administration tried them - which it has not.

Jackson, who is (I think) still honored as a founder of the Democratic party at "Jefferson-Jackson Day dinners," once said of the Supreme Court that "John Marshall has made his decision, now let him enforce it." The sainted Lincoln suspended habeas corpus. Franklin Roosevelt's military commission in the case Ex parte Quirin [317 U.S. 1 (1942)] actually handed down death sentences, which were carried out. That cannot be said, so far, for the military commissions at Guantanamo. Nothing that has been done by the current administration is without ample precedent, nor indeed has it gone as far as previous administrations have done.

As for "legitimization of torture as a tool of government" - when has it not been such a tool? The "third degree" was commonplace throughout most of this country's history. It was not rack, rope, or red hot pincers (i.e., what most people think of as torture) but it was as harsh or harsher than the "coercive interrogation" that has been ballyhooed as torture by the present administration's opponents.

I'll illustrate this by an account given me by one of my uncles, who was a doctor. He did his residency in the late 1930s at the municipal hospital in my state's capital city. It was well understood at the time among the criminal class that if arrested, one went along quietly. If not, there would be consequences. The city jail was on the second story of the courthouse, and was reached by a large elevator that was manually operated. If a person who had been arrested 'kicked up,' or otherwise displeased the police en route to the jail, the elevator would be stopped between floors while the fellow was worked over with fists and truncheons. Occasionally - I gather with some frequency - the cops laid on too enthusiastically, and at that point the miscreant had to be brought down to the hospital, where my uncle would patch him up. The practice of giving the local villains such "elevator rides" was widely known throughout the city, and if not enshrined in law, was winked at by it.

I do not suppose that such practices are nearly so widespread today as they were sixty or seventy years ago, the Department of Homeland Security, Patriot Act, and military commissions notwithstanding.

Michael said...

P.S. - on the subject of the FBI, the nearest thing the U.S. has to a domestic secret police, it might be worthwhile to review its history. It was created in 1908 during the administration of the Republican, but self-styled "progressive," Theodore Roosevelt, as the Bureau of Investigation. It remained solely an investigative agency without powers of arrest until 1934 - during the administration of Franklin Roosevelt. In that year a Democratic-majority Congress passed, and the President signed, the Weyburn bill, which granted the FBI arrest powers and authorized its agents to carry firearms. In the following year the Bureau acquired its present name.

J. Edgar Hoover, who always at least used to be a bête noir on the far left, largely accumulated his power during the long Roosevelt presidency, and wielded it under a series of mainly Democratic presidents- FDR, Truman, JFK, and LBJ all were happy to use his services to harass their opponents.

I'll note that although it took an act of Congress to enable FBI agents to carry guns, the number of Federal employees given this authority was vastly swollen during the Clinton administration. Federal personnel now carrying weapons include (inter alia) those of the IRS, the Bureau of Land Management, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Now, not all firearms are carried with the intent of shooting a human being. But it's a pretty certain bet that Federal employees are not hunting birds or plinking at tin cans while on the job. Neither is the issue weapon a mere badge of office, like the blunted sword worn by a military officer as part of his full dress uniform. It is carried because the person carrying it is empowered to use deadly force in the course of his duties, and may reasonably be expected so to do.

I suppose a BLM man in some blasted heath may need his weapon to shoot the occasional rattlesnake or bear. But can you tell me why you Democrats thought it necessary to let the green-eyeshade types and chicken inspectors pack heat? Who - or what - do these myrmidons of our caring and compassionate state expect to shoot?

mtraven said...

It is quite appropriate that the right should emphasize the coercive and punitive aspects of government. They are, after all, its essential characteristics.

Funny, those are exactly the same characteristics of government emphasized by the anarchist left.

You overemphasize the significance of the Patriot Act.

No, I'm perfectly aware of government abuses of power that have taken place under a variety of previous administrations.

Nothing that has been done by the current administration is without ample precedent, nor indeed has it gone as far as previous administrations have done.

That is manifestly false. The Bush administration has taken executive abuse of power much farther than any modern adminstration. Comparisions with historically distant periods is difficult to do, but I'd say Cheney and Bush stack up well against Jackson in that regard.

As for "legitimization of torture as a tool of government" - when has it not been such a tool?... The "third degree" was commonplace throughout most of this country's history.

I would think you would know what "legitimization" means.

But can you tell me why you Democrats thought it necessary to let the green-eyeshade types and chicken inspectors pack heat? Who - or what - do these myrmidons of our caring and compassionate state expect to shoot?

What the fuck are you talking about? If you make bizarre allegations please include a link to some evidence. And what do you mean "you Democrats"? I'm not affiliated with them or any other party.

Michael said...

What the F*** am I talking about? As noted, the number of Federal personnel authorized to carry firearms has been vastly expanded since the Weyburn act first gave that authority to FBI agents in the 1930s. Most of this expansion took place under the Clinton administration.

Among them are special agents of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Office of the Inspector General. According to the GAO's 2006 Summary Table reporting the number of Federal law enforcement officials, Federal Job Series Classifications, and Sources of Primary Authorities, as reported by the 104 Federal components, their primary authority to carry firearms is found in 7 U.S.C. 2270 and in 7 C.F.R. 1a.

Officials of the Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management, Office of Law Enforcement and Security, according to the same document, derive their primary authority to carry firearms from 43 U.S.C. 1733(c) and 16 U.S.C. 670(j).

Officials of the Department of the Treasury, Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigative Division, derive their primary authority to carry firearms from 26 U.S.C. 7608.

These are only a few of the groups of Federal employees authorized to carry firearms. It's rather astonishing how many there are, considering that before the Weyburn bill of 1934 the only non-military Federal personnel who were armed were U.S. Marshals.

Before you accuse someone of making bizarre allegations you maybe ought to check them out for yourself. An attorney who was as ill prepared to argue a case as you apparently are would be laughed out of court.

mtraven said...

The bizarre allegation is not that certain federal agents have the right to carry firearms, but that this constitutes some sort of vast and dangerous expansion of government powers, and that somehow the Clinton administration's arming of agriculture inspectors (if they are indeed responsible -- citations to US code doesn't prove much; the President does not write the laws) constitutes an abuse of government power comparable to the Bush administration's ongoing authoritarianism and criminality.

If, of course, you have some sort of proof or even the slightest evidence that Clinton was engaged in an effort to use agriculture inspectors to tighten his evil grip on the reins of power, feel free to pass along a link. Otherwise, quit wasting my time on nonsense.

Michael said...

The expansion of the number of Federal employees authorized to carry firearms parallels the overall expansion of Federal authority, vastly beyond its historical bounds or the Framers' intent, over the past seventy-odd years.

Is it not significant that before 1934, U.S. Marshals were the only non-military Federal personnel who were armed, and (beginning with the Weyburn bill in that year) the classes of government agents officially empowered to use deadly force have multiplied to such an extent that the mere summary of their positions and sources of authority is a document of some 60 pages?

Further, is it not significant that this expansion - both of government in general, and of government agents entitled to use deadly force - began under that leftist icon Franklin Roosevelt, and saw its largest recent expansion under Bill Clinton?

Indeed, presidents do not write the laws. But administrations do request that authority be granted them by Congress, and Congress has routinely obliged. Presidents do sign the bills. They also issue executive orders, and bureaucratic agencies (which are part of the executive branch) exercise what amounts to legislative power through regulatory decrees published in the Federal Register.

The Bush administration fell heir to this vastly expanded Federal apparatus, which was substantially created by men of the left, beginning with FDR. Did you not suppose that the apparatus could be used equally effectively by people you hate, as it could by people you admire?

As I have pointed out to you before, any government large and powerful enough to do all the things for people that you would like it to do will also be powerful enough to do things to them that you would not like it to do. Those who armed employees of the USDA, IRS, BLM, and countless other agencies didn't need to have malicious intent in doing so to have created the possibility for abuse. The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

Our Founders knew well enough that any power that could be abused, would be abused. The left, having built a government essentially limitless in its scope and authority, neglected their wisdom. It is therefore hardly in a position to complain of the consequences.

As for "wasting your time" - it is, after all, your choice to respond to me. If you regard that as a waste of your time, you can do one of two things. One, you can just decline to respond. Two, you can block my posts to your comment section and thereby demonstrate your liberal devotion to the free exchange of ideas. Which shall it be?

mtraven said...

Is it not significant that before 1934, U.S. Marshals were the only non-military Federal personnel who were armed, and (beginning with the Weyburn bill in that year) the classes of government agents officially empowered to use deadly force have multiplied to such an extent that the mere summary of their positions and sources of authority is a document of some 60 pages?

No. At least, you haven't demonstrated that it is. If armed chicken inspectors are infringing anybody's rights, or even threatening to, you ought to be able to produce at least one reference to this.

Further, is it not significant that this expansion - both of government in general, and of government agents entitled to use deadly force - began under that leftist icon Franklin Roosevelt, and saw its largest recent expansion under Bill Clinton?

No. At least, it is not as significant as the growth in power of the actually dangerous parts of the state security state apparatus, which includes the FBI, NSA, CIA, DIA, NRO, DEA, and Homeland Security. Not to mention the world's largest military with a .5 trillion dollar annual budget and 725 overseas bases. But no, we are going to ignore this extraordinary apparatus of violence and focus our attention on armed chicken inspectors.

The left, having built a government essentially limitless in its scope and authority, neglected their wisdom. It is therefore hardly in a position to complain of the consequences.

Right, it's "the left" that is responsible for this massive state apparatus. Damn hippies!

As for "wasting your time" - it is, after all, your choice to respond to me. If you regard that as a waste of your time, you can do one of two things. One, you can just decline to respond. Two, you can block my posts to your comment section and thereby demonstrate your liberal devotion to the free exchange of ideas. Which shall it be?

Well, I keep hoping for an intelligent exchange of ideas, that's what I hang around in the blogosphere for, but I sure don't get much of it.

I don't plan on closing off comments, and I suppose I should start ignoring comments that are not worth a response.

I should also point out that a few messages ago in this exchange we were in danger of finding common ground, since we both agree that large concentrations of state power are dangerous and perhaps even that no one party has a monopoly on concentrating power in the state for political ends. But then you veered off into this stupid stuff about chicken inspectors.

Michael said...

"The left" does not encompass only "damn hippies." New Dealers of the Rexford Tugwell variety, or the architects of LBJ's Great Society, were by no means men of the right. The vast growth of the Federal government is mainly their work - in other words, a left-wing project.

Large as the military budget may be, it is distinctly less than entitlements and other domestic spending. An informative article giving a breakdown may be found at www.infoplease.com/cig/economics/government-share-economy.html . According to this source, non-discretionary defense spending takes up 19% of the budget, and discretionary defense spending 16%. Military expenditures as a percentage of the budget have shrunk markedly compared to what they were fifty years ago. The major growth of government has been areas other than the military.

One example of a bureaucratic agency made use of by the left for many years for authoritarian purposes is the FCC.

The so-called Fairness Doctrine became a formal agency doctrine in the 1940s, but, as documented by Fred Friendly (former president of CBS) in his book "The Good Guys, the Bad Guys, and the First Amendment," began to be used in a particularly heavy-handed way during the 1960s by the Democratic administrations of John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson. According to a Democratic party official named Bill Ruder, "Our massive strategy was to use the Fairness Doctrine to challenge and harass the right-wing broadcasters, and hope that the challenges would be so costly to them that they would be inhibited and decide it would be too costly to continue." Martin Firestone, another party activist, provided further details on the strategy in a confidential report to the DNC in 1964. The campaign wrote 1,035 letters to conservative stations, which resulted in the award of 1,678 hours of compensatory air time. He wrote "Were our efforts to be continued on a year-round basis, we would find that many of these stations would consider the broadcasts of these [conservative] programs bothersome and burdensome... and would start dropping the programs from their broadcast schedule." Another DNC staff member noted "Even more important than the free radio time was the effectiveness of this operation in inhibiting the political activity of these right-wing broadcasters."

Under Ronald Reagan's administration, the FCC abandoned the Fairness Doctrine. As a consequence, there are now some 1500 radio stations operating with talk or news formats. The great majority of them are conservative or libertarian in emphasis, providing an alternative to the left-liberal mainstream media.

Not surprisingly, the left doesn't like this result. Media Matters for America, bankrolled by George Soros, is campaigning to bring back the Fairness Doctrine. Sens. Diane Feinstein and John Kerry, and former Vice President Al Gore have all stated they wish to see it restored. The aim, of course, is to return to the days when the power of the state could be used to "challenge and harass" with the objective of "inhibiting the political activity of right-wing broadcasters." So much for the vaunted liberal devotion to freedom of speech and the press!

mtraven said...

No time to reply in detail, so this will have to do.