Moral Absolutes and Politics by Richard Sale

George_Washington_Mount_Rushmore I have only just become aware of the depth of revulsion, hatred and suspicion that a certain segment of Americans feels for President Obama – a horde of passionate, committed (if not overly bright) people who are out there busily driving needles into wax Obama dolls, or who are eagerly driving stakes into the facsimile of his heart: Obama is a radical, he is a socialist, he will change America from a free market to a government-directed, centrally planned economy, he will destroy the American way of life. Worst and most ominous of all, he is not even an American citizen – this is a part of their liturgy.

What occasions this? One cause is a kind of conceit that says “My vision of the way the country should be run is the only sound and permissible vision. Stray from it and there will be unprecedented calamity.”

    That is one element.


The other is the inability to digest or tolerate the fact of their electoral defeat. One chief feature of a democracy is the rule of law, but the president’s opponents feel they owe no obedience to the law because if a man was elected that they despised, then clearly the election could not, at bottom, be legal. In their eyes, they represent what is morally most admirable about America, and the only way a whole class of sterling, morally superior people, clinging to an identical core of the most admirable convictions – the only way they could be defeated would be because they were victims of the workings of sinister, underhanded forces of fraud, deceit and misrepresentation. They did not lose the election, it was stolen from them by selfish scum.

    So the losers’ resentment thus becomes, not an expression of mean-spirited, ill-informed and humiliated spite, not an ambition to regain power, but a kind of rescue effort aimed at restoring the rightful state of things in the land. In other words, Obama’‘s critics –  are not blindly petty and vindictive, eaten alive by mindless rancor, they are heroic.

    The people who hate Obama and who like to call him a communist actually share a certain similarity of disposition with communism. In communism, it was a central tenet that the Party had a monopoly on the truth and this required complete loyalty and subjugation on the part of the members. To hold back your complete endorsement to your group’s agenda did not mean that you simply disagreed with it. It meant something  more menacing – a kind of moral failure, an excessive pride, a stubborn perversity of will that prevented you from seeing the truth. Obama’s critics believe they enjoy the same monopoly of virtue, and feel that what today’s desperate conditions require is intolerance – you can with good conscience  cast  aside your scruples. The importance of your mission and your certainty of being right relieves you of the burden of having to be truthful, restrained or respectful of the facts. The nobility of your cause means any weapon can be used against the enemy — vile harangues, calumnies, slander, abuse, libel – you don’t have to use nimble skill in reasoning to outwit your target, you don’t have to have full command of the smallest intricacies of the issues to confute his claims — you  have only to stand and shout your opponent down, drown him out, bury him under a landslide of slights, epithets and insults. After all, you have the courage of a person with a crowd at his back.

This gross, coarse, brutal behavior is not unique to our time.  When watching the town hall seized by the ecstasies of self-assertion,  I was reminded of  the virulent incivility, of the flood of rancid venom directed at Franklin Roosevelt beginning in 1934 by the business community. In Manchester’s The Glory and the Dream he describes the furious hatred, the sense of infuriated virtue, the snarling fury,  the offense to one’s infallible sense of being right, produced in the rich by the actions of FDR. The  propertied classes of America who made up 2 percent of the people,  had engaged in such widespread corporate larceny that their doings finally caused the economy to collapse. But when those classes discovered, the good old days were gone for good, they began to spew hatred and to circulate any statement about FDR whose utterance gave them revengeful satisfaction. Whether it was true or not was a secondary matter. Inflicting damage in an effort to discredit came first.

The propertied classes, the business community, has never been known for its modesty or sense of proportion or its grip on the facts, and one editorial writer for the Saturday Evening Post looked at the economic wreckage of the Depression and huffed: “You might just as well say the world has failed as that American business leadership has failed.” That this was a trifle too sweeping, a trifle too broad and displayed a glaring fallacy of proportion, never occurred to the writer. Besides, his magazine was at the time publishing spirited defenses of child labor.

Another scandalized writer said, “Why Thomas Jefferson wouldn’t even speak to these people,” making clear the rift was along class, not party lines.

    Unfortunately, the more elections Roosevelt won, the more vile and poisonous were the insults. In the haunts of the rich, it was alleged that FDR had caught gonorrhea from Eleanor who had been infected by a black, and that after FDR died, she was going to turn the country over to the Russians. and  would then go and learn unspeakable sexual practices from the Russians in the Kremlin.

To  many Americans  FDR was a totalitarian dictator,  “only another Stalin only worse.” Reportedly, there were even U.S. military who refused to toast the president.  In Boston, there was a bookseller who declared he would only sell Roosevelt’s speeches “if they were bound in that man’s skin.”

    Then there was the economic drivel as well: in addition to destroying the American way of life, FDR’s economics were wrong-headed:  you couldn’t spend your way out of a Depression, everyone knew that, and America’s children would be paying for the recovery for decades, plus half the people on relief were foreigners anyway — relief should be sharply cut ,the police forces beefed up and let mayhem occur if it must.  In any case, FDR had a rotten character. He never earned an honest dollar in his life because he had always lived off of his mother. Besides, he was only Jew anyway, from “Dutch sheenis and kikes” who had changed the family name. (Some of the more industrious but less balanced even went so far as to create a fictitious genealogy whose founder was a Col. Von Rosenfeld.

Thus said the well off.  

  Marquis Childs was an astute social observer who wrote of this pathological loathing was follows: “…the fanatical hatred of the President which today obsesses thousands of men and woman of the upper class. No other word than hatred will do.” and he said, “it is wholly unreasoning.”

   What was puzzling was that, thanks to FDR’s, programs,  many of these people had had their incomes restored, their bank balances restored, and corporate dividends were up over 40 percent. Taxes were light – a man who earned $16,000 a year paid only $1000 in taxes.

    Yet throughout his career, FDR’s critics put the worst, most spiteful, malicious, belittling and scurrilous interpretation on everything he did. Even the creator of Little Orphan Annie had Daddy Warbucks  throw himself under a train in 1944 when it was clear FDR was going to be elected to a third term.

    As repulsive as the outlandish reviling of Roosevelt was it’s instructive to remember that malicious falsehood were not exclusive to the American business class in the 1930s nor was slinging such sewage even unique to its time.

   Walter Bagehot once said that public opinion is little more than “the tyranny of the commonplace,”and one of its most hapless victims was none other than George Washington, commander of American forces during the Revolutionary War and the country’s first president. It was the custom to revere him, to admire and extol his preeminence as the rightful consequence of what he had accomplished during the war. Elected president in 1788 and 1792, he was called “the man who unites all hearts:” who was greeted by bands playing, “ the Hero Comes” before cheering crowds.

But by 1795, the habit of veneration had died out, replaced by the most extravagant contempt and mean-spiritedness. In the spring of 1794, the British, having broken a pledge, were arming Indian tribes and urging them to attack Americans in the frontier lands that would become Ohio and Michigan nor had the Brits dismantled a chain of forts in that area as they were pledged by treaty to do.

The U.S. public wanted a war, but Washington knew America, a young country, would be ruined by one  – above all, it was not ready — and he exerted every energy to avoid it. He dispatched John Jay to England, yet no sooner had Jay left, then the British took over an American fort, and Washington went into a towering rage, But Jay was abroad to bargain, not quarrel. The treaty was completed in absolute secrecy, but news of it quietly leaked, and when it did, all of America exploded in exasperated rage.

Washington was a man of rectitude who took pride, perhaps too much pride, in what he called “his disinterestedness.” He said that in all the facts of his administration, “I have sought the happiness of my fellow citizens” ignoring “personal local and partial consideration” in favor of the “Permanent interests of the country” and “the dictates of my conscience.”

    This no longer mattered. Those who hated the treaty hated its author even more, and hatred knows no law. Vindictive fury “moved like an electric velocity through every state in the Union,” said a contemporary congressman. In Virginia, army veterans in drinking clubs stood to their feet to toast “A speedy death to Washington.” Americans complained Washington was living in a luxury equal in decadence  to that of George III, the king they had fought a war to defeat. Some of the more devious critics resorted to forgeries that claimed to show that Washington had been bribed by British secret agents during the war. Still others charged that Washington had stolen military credit from his own generals during the conflict:”With what justice do you monopolize the glories of the Revolution” they charged

     The majority of the country had no opinion about the treaty and paid it no attention, but its enemies were ready to go al lengths to destroy it.   Washington finally got the treaty approved, but he was sixty three years old and badly shaken by the horrendous misrepresentations and the degree of narrow-minded jealousy and spleen of which he’d been the target. The whole episode “has worn away my mind,” he said

    He decided not to run for a third term, weary or being “buffeted in the public prints.” But he had shown that a president to be president, had to get the American public to accept even things it did not like if it were in their long term interests.

   But he was soured, As he was leaving for Virginia, he wrote to a friend, “I don’t wish to mix again in the great world or to mix ion its politics.”

   And he went home to die.

   It was an episode that did little credit to the right of free speech, but as Tocqueville observed, in America, “the parties are impatient of control and are never manageable except in moments of great public danger.”

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31 Responses to Moral Absolutes and Politics by Richard Sale

  1. graywolf says:

    The “gross coarse” behavior of the Obama haters is despicable.
    The “gross coarse” behavior of the Bush haters was good and….patriotic dissent.

  2. Jose says:

    History repeats itself, some societies refuse to change or see reality:
    “Castile: “A society in which both money and labour were misapplied: an unbalanced, top-heavy society, in which there were 30 parasites for every one man who did an honest day’s work; a society with a false sense of values, which mistook the shadow for substance and substance for the shadow” – Gonzales de Cellongs”

  3. 505th PIR says:

    I am thinking along the lines of ol Socrates “You are what you do every day” and the afformentioned self-righteous zealots seem so weak in themselves that an external entity such as President Obama for instance is by his very existence a threat to their concept of self. The conclusion being that they have no intrinsic substance spiritual or otherwise. I shall coin them Hate Waifs.

  4. Nancy K says:

    graywolf, I am an ardent Democrat and will tell you honestly that I did not support Pres Bush, I did not vote for him and I did not think he was a good president. I did not call people that did support him Nazi’s or compare them to Hitler. I did not imply he was not an American citizen. I did not take a gun to places he was speaking. I did not do all the things that the anti Obama crowd are doing. I behaved civily because I believe in a Democracy and I believe acting contrary is not good for our country.

  5. Cato the Censor says:

    Graywolf: until you can provide a picture of someone toting a gun to a Bush event (and getting away with it), please dispense with the lame, tired, “they all do it, it’s just your screwed-up liberal perspective” excuse.
    Mr. Sale’s analysis is accurate except that he leaves out one factor: Unlike FDR, Obama is a black man (although Sale does note that FDR’s opponents accused him of being Jewish). This undoubtedly drives a large degree of the frenzied, utterly irrational hatred that seems more and more on display. When people call Obama a Nazi, they really have another “N” word in mind.

  6. Patrick Lang says:

    what’s your brother’s name. i was teaching at WP at the same time. Write of line. pl

  7. Byron Raum says:

    If people hate socialized healthcare so much, then let them pledge to never sign up for the government-funded, government-controlled socialized healthcare plan known as Medicare. Furthermore, if they hate Obama so much, they should pledge to refuse any treatments derived from stem-cell research. Let us see some principles in action. They should put their money where their mouth.
    This country was founded by men and women who were willing to put their lives on the line for their principles. Through the last two centuries, every generation, when challenged, has somehow managed to find greatness. If the protesters want to claim moral heritage from these people, then they should do the same. Put your life on the line and we will believe you.

  8. Ah! Great post! Who like FDR with independent means would take on the “Economic Royalists” now? It seems that the FIRE sector and the rentier and financier class no longer has long-term ambitions for their country only for their own lifestyle. Assuming that they have skillfully salted it away overseas–Did Bernie Madoff salt his away?– why only 4400 names being disclosed by UBS and not the 55,000 US accountholders US now knows exist? My problem with OBAMA is that certain of his strategies are much more like those of BUSH and PUTIN than what people expected. Perhaps their is no coherence in the thinking of those who oppose him except that he did “Win!” But according to WAPO 57% of all whites voted for McCain. 90% of blacks who voted (WAPO estimates 16% of eligibles–a new record black turnout)and that may well be the last vote ever many of them cast. In about 12 weeks Virginians vote and if black turnout not above 10% which it will not be the Republicans will take back old Virginny. If you look closely the issues of health care, education, and environment are about reformation of the middlemen/women who benefit financially form current policy and programs. IMO these will NOT be reformed, perhaps changed in minor regards. In the meantime there have been no reforms that prevent the milking of the ignorance of the mainstream of US society by the “Economic Royalists!” So no FDR reincarnation in Obama. But hate just the same. Could it be that a black man won? Someone must know but no one is telling. y point is simple, the DEMS are dead if no turnout by black voters wherever they live and are registered (most are not)! And apparently black voters vote based not on economics or policy except at some low level but are largely motivated by race and the hope that race of the political elite might change their circumstances. It will not happen. Black politician like white are too often corrupted by the “Economic Royalists” and the leading “Economic Royalist” present today in the US is a man named Larry Summers. The man who helped “reform” the post-Yeltsin Russian economy. And now of course he is in charge of “changing” US economy. Wait until he is FED Chairman and again like while in Russian as an advisor not subject to any ethics rules. There should be a special enforcement unit at the SEC watching trades on markets by FED officials and employees. And by law of course the Office of Government Ethics which polices the Executive Branch for ethics allows holdings to be briefing outlined but never looks at the net worth or trades of the “Economic Royalists” at the heart of policy for both DEMS and Republicans. Hey watch the turnout in Virginia to see whether the future is now or someother future?

  9. Fred says:

    While Mr. Sale’s reference to FDR is spot on, I would suggest the analogy to communism is wrong. The spirit of Father Coughlin is alive and well as is the fundamentalism of extremist right wing religion.
    The references the right make to fascism show a fine reading of Johan Goldberg, who was completely ignorant, or willfully so, of Fascism’s founding by Benito Mussolini in the 1920’s and the immense support it received from corporate interests.

  10. jonst says:

    The facts of the matter are as follows. Even after many thought Bush et al stole an election, people, by any objective criteria, did not treat him like they are treating Obama. Take your pick, polls, demonstrations, talk show rhetoric. And this, after the most contested election in American history.
    Shortly after 9/11 Bush was 80%+. Ok…he did not stay that way for long. But he stayed in the 60s for a long time. And no demonstrations, no Nazi talk that made the MSM near daily. It was not until Bush began—in my subjective opinion—to act like a dictator, did he begin to get called on it.
    Obama? He has been hated right out of box. A deep, visceral hatred. Socialist/Nazi, right from the start. No honeymoon from the start. Not from the GOP, anyway.
    Look, this is all beside the main point here. This is heading down a very, very, very, dangerous road. The rhetoric. The gun displays. The attacks on his legitimacy to be President in the first place. The GOP is playing with fire here. Literally. This nation could go up in flames, similar to what we saw in the 60s. But more intense.
    The GOP leadership ought to think about this hard.

  11. Eminence Grise says:

    Damn John Jay! Damn everyone that won’t damn John Jay! Damn every one that won’t put lights in his window and sit up all night damning John Jay!
    …the Jay Treaty made Jay so unpopular that he once commented that he could travel from Boston to Philadelphia solely by the light of his burning effigies.

  12. Heath says:

    your analysis must fail on two points:
    First, you must distinguish how your calls of lack of patriotism, bias and mob rule are necessarily different than when these same techniques were used by Republicans in the case of the election of 2000 and the anti-war protests. The techniques are the same, from the same playbooks and simply used by the other side. If you did not argue against the use of those techniques at the time, you must distinguish your current argument or be simply called a partisan.
    Second, you conflate a fringe with the mass. Simply because one person shows up in a crowd with an objectionable sign (Bush is hitler), does not mean that the entire crowd believes the same. Your argument is therefore reduced from a rational argument of the issues and the use of ad hominem arguements to a simple attack ad. Fifty people show up, feel free to talk about the fifty. Five thousand people show up, please talk about the issue.

  13. N. M. Salamon says:

    I submit that part of the reason for this ungodly behavoir by a select minority also reflects their fear of any change. They hope that Business As Usual could prevail -even as their are convinced that the past reflects the highest standard of living they, their parents and children ever had, with lot worse to come.
    This abject fear of the future with, in selected minorities, the racial anominousity to a African-America-Hawiian-Kenyan is most prevalent. To call some one a dirty NEGRO – is non-permissible in 21st century USA [fortunately], thus this minority elect to use terms which are inidcative of permissible degradation of any ideas: NAZI, FASCIST, SOCIALIST. The Irony in SOCIALIST is that many of the name callers are beneficiary of Roosevelt’s socialist moves: Social Security, FDIC, with additonal state sponsored [and taxpayer supported services] Vetrean Affairs, Medicare, unemployment insurance etc.

  14. confusedponderer says:

    his analysis as far as the gun carrying members of the crowd is concerned is probably very accurate. That means it is of value. That Mr. Sale in your view has painted with a broad brush doesn’t change that.
    The other point is that in your comparison the anti-war Democrats and today’s anti-Obama crowds are two sides of the same coin. In making that dichotomy, you engage, in Cato’s words from above, the lame, tired, “they all do it, it’s just your screwed-up liberal perspective” excuse.
    For starters, Democrats didn’t call up their base to appear at presidential events armed, posing a latent threat to the security of the elected head of the executive branch of the United States. In particular no Democrat under Bush appeared armed to a presidential visit with that Jefferson quote on a sign:

    The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.

    Timothy McVeigh wore that slogan on a t-shirt when he was arrested after blowing up the Murrah building and killing 168 and wounding 680 people.
    That quote, displayed in the setting of a presidential event, tells a lot about the wielder’s mindset. It speaks volumes when the accompanied by a gun. Then it is an implicit threat. That and ‘No blood for oil!‘ or, say, walking Capitol Hill in orange jumpsuits in protest against Guantanamo Bay, are not even in the same game. I can’t remember Democratic protesters during the Bush era coming even close to that.
    You’re comparing apples and oranges, and after intense examination, you find peas. Try harder.

  15. optimax says:

    Some people on the left did call Bush a Nazi but they were not part of the cherry-picked audiences at Bush’s “Townhall Meetings” but were confined to fenced in “Free Speech Zones” or were a small sub-group of the early anti-war demonstrations. If people disturbed a political event by shouting, they were quickly escorted out. There were no Townhall Meetings where the average citizen could give his opinion or ask his congressman questions about the lead up to the Iraq War, but there was plenty of well-funded MSM propaganda.
    This is the first time I’ve seen a public debate on impending national legeslation in the U.S. I wish the debate was civil and that some people weren’t so easily manipulated by lies and fear, allowing a vocal minority to steal all the attention, but that is what the camera likes and people are prone to mimic behavior they see on tv. Like car chases outrageous behavior is self-perpectuating.
    Barney Frank at his Townhall Meeting didn’t give an inch and gave back as good as he got.

  16. Bobo says:

    Dissent has always been with us as it always will. But recent gun toting dissenters is a little too much for me.
    Why our Congress has not returned to enact a law that provides a wide, weapon free, perimeter around our present and future president’s is beyond me. Yes, there are and should be resonable exceptions. Until such law is enacted you will see a lot more idiots pulling this stunt.
    As to a public health care option, I have always been of the belief we as a nation are fools for not having enacted such a policy years ago. It works elsewhere in this world and when you tie in a private system to it you get the best of both worlds. Granted this will not be easy and should be done in a bipartisan way or it will fail.
    These recent acts of extreme dissent have lit a torch in this country that will not be easy to put out. I urge all to lower your decibels and help put this fire out.

  17. fanto says:

    Excellent post and comments -(most of them to be sure). For several days now I felt that ‘movement’ against the healthcare reform became a code-word for race-rage of White people who voted against a Black man. I am flabbergasted by the hipocrysy of those people who scream about ‘nationalized’ healtcare but are not talking about VA system, the Medicare and Medicaid… Let them try to ‘privatize’ these and the revolution can start in the streets.
    And in all these furious discussions nobody ever mentions that the cost of healthcare reform could be paid for by abandoning the wars in Asia, which already cost more than 1 trillion dollars and several more yet to come.
    Another aspect of the anger at Obama is possibly even more hidden – namely his being surrounded by a large number of Jews and people of dual nationality. This is only my speculation, because of the label of ‘anti-semitic’ outrage would put the outrage to rest very quickly.

  18. rjj says:

    How many incidents of gun-toting dissent have there actually been? CorpsMedia reports anomalies.
    Also, Americans dislike their presidents – at least while they are in office, and say terrible things about them. Is this a bad thing? The exception to this was Ronald Reagan. Was that a good thing?

  19. Hannah K. O'Luthon says:

    The paradox regarding the anti-Obama venom is that Mr. Obama has been, by all odds, a much more conservative president than much of his electorate desired. His attempt to compromise his way to major reform in American medical care reveals both an admirable pragmatism regarding the negotiating tactics he employs, and a lamentably blind faith in the good-will of his adversaries in that project. It seems that the well lobbied interests of the insurance industry will, once again, trump those of the vast majority of the American public. Such an outcome which is, indeed, the normal course of events in Washington, and it’s hard to imagine anything short of some sort of social cataclysm capable of changing that.
    Finally, one small bit of pedantry: FDR was elected to his FOURTH term in 1944, not his THIRD.

  20. Mark Stuart says:

    With all due respect to the author’s professionalism, wisdom and knowledge:
    I just stopped reading as soon as he stated:
    “…The propertied classes, the business community, has never been known for its modesty or sense of proportion or its grip on the facts…”.
    For he thereby implies that the other less propertied classes are wiser, far more modest and knowledgeable! ( …”making clear the rift was along class, not party lines.”).
    It doesn’t take a Post Doctoral Thesis to prove the falsehood of this belief but also how he radically departs from what made and still makes today America: acknowledgment of the existence but also the benefits of classes, and the fluidity and mobility between them as oppose to socialist Europe.
    Furthermore, i don’t see to where all this analysis,rambling and conjecturing on why some really dislike/hate Obama leads? This sounds to me like a lot of emotional babbling rather than useful and factual information that could lead me to further improve, readjust or review my positions as a concerned citizen. Yes, absolutes can be dangerous and blinding. But what mature adult didn’t know that already. I don’t think this needed so much ink.
    I find it more interesting and fruitful (at a personal but also communal level) to focus on a few simple indubitable facts about our leader’s course of action so far:
    -He is going nowhere in the Middle East because he is incapable to stand firm and face the Jewish Lobby. Israel is radicalizing and is playing a political game that is running counter to America’s own best interests in the region.
    -Our soldiers might eventually leave Iraq (if ever). But it is only to be sent to a different more intractable terrain of operation: Afghanistan. With all the cost in blood and treasury this will entails at a time when we need to refocus on rebuilding our economy, our sense of American exceptionalism and purpose.
    -He is not either about to repel anytime soon the many infringements on our civil liberties imposed by the previous administration.
    -He is not about to shut down Guantanamo Bay anytime soon.
    -He is trying to impose a healthcare system which main features are very much socialist in nature wether one likes his plan or not.
    -Our deficit is growing at an alarming rate that is not consistent with what America is about and what we always stood for as a Nation: self-reliability, independence and a spirit of free enterprise to name but a few ideals that are jeopardized today by this national debt.
    So what has Obama’s administration accomplished so far? Some would argue,to borrow from some ‘pundits’, that the economic meltdown is happening at a slower pace ! Throw at me some increased line of credits and watch me go into a buying spree! That won’t turn me into a solvable tax payer anytime soon. Nor will the TARP.
    Obama is too much of a community leader trying to keep the voices down at a town hall meeting to be the effective leader of a Nation as ours.
    He is too much of a lawyer trying to be too conciliatory when the Nation requires today someone with convictions, resolve and spine to navigate the intricate labyrinth of political Washington.
    He is too much of the abandoned child trying too hard to be loved to be able to ignore his critics to pass any of his policies.
    Why or whether some love/hate /dislike him is totally irrelevant in the time of crisis our country is facing today. This emotional mumbo-jumbo is just a nefarious distraction in today’s political discourse. What counts to make any opinion/judgement today are: facts! and the facts have so far proven that this administration is going nowhere!

  21. T Scully says:

    Col. Lang, I view Obama’s protection of Bush admin. perps of crimes against humanity from investigation, his continuance of most Bush era surveillance, intel agency, and DOJ malfeasance, his penchant for extending Bush admin. secrecy and lack of accountability, and his failure to stand firm for any of his key stated health insurance reform, as proof that he is the best the right wingers who, ironically hate him, could possibly have hoped for, if McCain had to lose. The fact that they still hate him, in spite of his legitimizing some of the worst of Bush/Cheney lawbreaking, convinces me that the hatred has nothing to do with policy or ideological differences. These rightwing nutcases are simply hopelessly illinformed in their blind partisanship.

  22. Sale’s piece is short on specifics, the “who” dimension. What is “Right” and “Left” in the present historical context by the way?
    In my new book, “Dark Crusade,” (London: Tauris, 2009), I discuss American Fascism, prominent personalities promoting it,its anti-FDR program, and the extension of that program in the post WWII era.
    For a quick introduction to this complicated story see the Wiki entry on the “American Liberty League”:
    Is Obama on the “Left” or “Right”???
    Some critics of Obama’s health policy, for example, liken it to the Nazi euthanasia program for the elderly and other “useless eaters”, etc. with the death panels and all that. Thus these vocal critics would seem to place Obama on the extreme Right rather than the Communist Left, I take it, on this issue.
    Obama’s Af-Pak military escallation looks like more Bushism to many. So is Obama on the “Left” or on the “Right” on this issue?
    Obama has been very soft and ineffective on the present rightwing Israeli government. Is Obama thus coddling the far Right in Israeli politics?
    Obama has favored Wall Street — Goldman Sachs etal — with his financial shenanigans and hammered Main Street. Is Obama on the “Right” therefore, or on the “Left”?

  23. harper says:

    Richard, Thank you for a very thought-provoking commentary. FDR was hated and reviled by a Wall Street crowd, that bankrolled their American Liberty League movement, their coup plots (exposed by Gen. Smedley Butler) and other rantings, but a vast majority of Americans benefited from FDR’s policies, and that is at the heart of why he was elected to four terms. The Liberty League spent the greatest resources attempting to defeat FDR in 1936, and they lost by a landslide.
    I fear that, as William Cummings noted, Obama is no FDR. He has gone with the bailout of Wall Street. The Inspector General of the TARP program told the Senate that the total cost of the bailout–money spent and money pledged–is $23.7 trillion.
    I think a broad spectrum of average Americans, from the disenfranchised and angered Republicans who got acustomed to being in power from Reagan through G.W. Bush, to the 18 million Democrats who voted for Hillary Clinton in the primaries, to the independents, who voted for Obama and have been deeply disappointed.
    It’s unruly, but, I believe, driven by a genuine concern that the new Administration is steering the country in the wrong direction. The unemployment data, the prospects of a new “surge” in Afghanistan, the health care debacle, are all contributing to a mood.
    I think the most precise parallel between the FDR period and what we are living through now is the recognition that we are facing a Depression that shakes people’s confidence in the future. FDR answered that fear with a heavy dose of government intervention, but it worked to the benefit of most Americans. I hope Obama comes around to that same orientation, but I fear a worse outcome.

  24. Cieran says:

    Mark Stuart:
    Regarding this statement of yours:
    I just stopped reading as soon as he stated:
    “…The propertied classes, the business community, has never been known for its modesty or sense of proportion or its grip on the facts…”.
    For he thereby implies that the other less propertied classes are wiser, far more modest and knowledgeable!

    Actually, no, he didn’t. So you could have kept on reading…
    The proposition that “set A does not possess characteristic B” implies nothing about whether the complement of A possesses characteristic B. You may read an implication into that statement if you like, but that (faulty) inference is your own, not the author’s.
    Had Mr. Sale conditioned his comment with something like “relative to those poorer folk” or “unlike the rest of us poor schlubs.” then you’d have a valid concern. But he didn’t.
    So please feel free to go ahead and read the rest of Mr. Sale’s post. As always, it’s well worth the time spent on careful consideration of his thoughts.

  25. David Habakkuk says:

    Mark Stuart,

    “It doesn’t take a Post Doctoral Thesis to prove the falsehood of this belief but also how he radically departs from what made and still makes today America: acknowledgment of the existence but also the benefits of classes, and the fluidity and mobility between them as oppose to socialist Europe.”

    It is deeply unclear that there is more ‘fluidity and mobility’ between classes in the U.S. than in ‘socialist Europe’. A study by a London School of Economics team back in 2005 suggested that precisely the reverse was the case. At least, however, the gap in opportunities between the rich and the poor was not widening in the U.S. — as it was in my own country, the U.K.

    “Researchers from the Centre for Economic Performance at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) have compared the life chances of British children with those in other advanced countries for a study sponsored by the Sutton Trust, and the results are disturbing.

    “Jo Blanden, Paul Gregg and Steve Machin found that social mobility in Britain – the way in which someone’s adult outcomes are related to their circumstances as a child – is lower than in Canada, Germany, Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Finland. And while the gap in opportunities between the rich and poor is similar in Britain and the US, in the US it is at least static, while in Britain it is getting wider.

    “A careful comparison reveals that the USA and Britain are at the bottom with the lowest social mobility. Norway has the greatest social mobility, followed by Denmark, Sweden and Finland. Germany is around the middle of the two extremes, and Canada was found to be much more mobile than the UK.”


  26. bstr says:

    Yesterday my wife and i were driving in Edmonds Wa., a generally liberal small town. We still have an Obama bumper sticker. a fellow driver passed me on the right. He yelled out “Obama” is a screwball.” He was driving an old pickup he had modified with wood, glass, and rust, so he is likely to recognize screwballs as he sees them.

  27. jedermann says:

    This is a very legitimate subject for thought and discussion because it is really about the behavior of stakeholders in a democratic system and what the limits are within which all or most must operate for the system to remain viable.
    As Richard Sale has pointed out, American politics has always been a very rough trade. So, this question arises in several comments: is the appearance of gun-toting protesters, corporate-organized Tea Baggers, Birthers and name calling from another planet any different than the general run of American history and does it offer any existential threat to our democracy?
    I would say that the threat level is higher than usual and certainly higher than at any time since the assassination-plagued ‘60’s. The appearance of guns at political events, the ho-hum reaction to it in the media and the romanticized heroism of the gunmen in some circles reminds me too much of what has happened in the anti-choice movement with the murderous fringe disavowed and yet winked at because, after all, God’s justice has been done. I think that Richard has pegged the non-cynical true believers who see their mission as “a kind of rescue effort aimed at restoring the rightful state of things in the land.” We are in the-ends-justify-the-means territory here. We have one major party handing the microphone to spokespersons who define the basic political positions of the other party as deviant and “socialistic” and who give encouragement to their own most extreme elements to use any means necessary to quash the threat. Barry Goldwater famously said, “Extremism in defense of liberty is no vice” and this sentiment gives both inspiration and license to more than a few on the Right. The easy acceptance there of ignoring civil liberties to meet the perceived threat of Takfiri Jihadists has already exposed the malignant contradiction in that creed. There is no reason to believe that it will be anything less than a goad when it comes to the imagined threat right here at home, the elected president of the United States, Barak Obama.

  28. Mark Stuart says:

    Point taken. But i still don’t see how all this discussion and analysis helps me as a citizen make up my mind on the current administration’s course of action and policies?
    To me, this administration is going nowhere. And that’s much more important than trying to figure out if or why some would chose to call it socialist or else.
    I think graywolf summed up this post better than i could have:
    “The “gross coarse” behavior of the Obama haters is despicable.
    The “gross coarse” behavior of the Bush haters was good and….patriotic dissent.”

    David Habakkuk:
    Now i checked that study and a few points might have eluded you for some reason:
    -the study sample is absolutely not representative of Europe. I don’t see how Finland Sweden, Denmark Norway Germany Britain could be representative of a Union made of 27 countries!
    (France alone would most dramatically change the results on its own, let alone if you add the southern and eastern european countries)
    -furthermore, and i quote the authors themselves (page 2 of the study):
    “International comparisons indicate that intergenerational mobility in Britain is of the same order of magnitude as in the US, but that these countries are substantially less mobile than Canada and the Nordic countries. Germany also looks to be more mobile than the UK and US, but a small sample size prevents us drawing a firm conclusion.

  29. David Habakkuk says:

    Mark Stuart,

    You stated, as established fact, that there was ‘fluidity and mobility’ between classes in the U.S., as distinct from ‘socialist Europe’: which appeared to imply that you believed that more ‘socialist’ systems had less social mobility. I cited a study which specifically focused on the Nordic countries — widely regarded as among the most ‘socialist’ of Europe — which strongly suggested that levels of intergenerational mobility in these were significantly higher than the U.S.

    Certainly the authors stress that the evidence about Germany is inadequate to be categorical, but again it appears to go against, rather than supporting, the categorical claim you made.

    As to your contention that ‘France alone would most dramatically change the results on its own’, you provide not one iota of evidence in support of your claim.

    In fact, a recent study by academics from that country and the U.S. concludes that:

    “An examination of the differences in mobility between the United States and France since the middle of the nineteenth century, based on data for both countries that permit a comparison between the socioeconomic status of fathers and that of sons throughout a period of thirty years, demonstrates that the United States was a considerably more mobile economy in the past, though such differences are far from apparent today.”


  30. @ Harper,
    I think the most precise parallel between the FDR period and what we are living through now is the recognition that we are facing a Depression that shakes people’s confidence in the future. FDR answered that fear with a heavy dose of government intervention, but it worked to the benefit of most Americans. I hope Obama comes around to that same orientation, but I fear a worse outcome.
    I would argue that after nearly four years of Federal inaction in the face of deepening depression, FDR already had the freedom to act boldly in his first days. Also recall that bank failures accelerated in the 6 months leading to FDRs March 1932 inauguration and that unemployment was ALREADY 25%. If anything, I think Obama’s term will look more like Hoover’s run and that the next President will have the vast public mandate to re-make the government’s compact with the People (for good or ill).
    Unless – and until – the Federal Gov’t “comes around” to the view of working on the behalf of the citizen (vice the elites), the fires will continue out among the left- and right-leaning disenchanted. Inside the safe cocoon of the recession-proof “Green Zone on the Potomac” there is little appetite to address our current problems in a fundamental way.
    And so it goes…

  31. Cieran says:

    Mark Stuart:
    Regarding your comment to me:
    Point taken. But i still don’t see how all this discussion and analysis helps me as a citizen make up my mind on the current administration’s course of action and policies?
    Is that a trick question? Is it even a question? Your statement (beyond the “point taken” part) has no relationship to my comment, so I’m not sure why you’re directing it at me.
    I merely noted a fatal flaw in your line of thinking, one that caused you to stop reading Mr. Sale’s work. But your frustration with the current US administration is a whole different thing altogether, and is well above my pay grade.

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