Political labels can be useful and they can be grossly misused. We all know how, back in the 50s, the mere whisper of the word "Communist" could induce paranoia, hysteria, and suspicion. Today, the likes of Rush Limbaugh cobble together "Fascist-Nazi-Socialist-Communist" as a contradictory one-size-fits-all epithet that also inoculates them from similar accusations. They throw the words around so recklessly as to deprive them of any meaning at all except as fearmongering hot buttons. So, I want to be judicious and discerning in my use of the word "fascist" and avoid using it as an indiscriminate shotgun blast.
Back in 1992, a colleague who had doubts about voting for then-candidate Bill Clinton asked me as a Texan what I thought about Ross Perot. Perot was the closest thing to a fascist that I'd seen in American politics, I replied. He was a right-wing businessman who relied on personality to spread a single-minded message that America was in danger of losing its greatness and that only he could retrieve it. I've since backed off that assessment and view Perot as well-meaning, patriotic man who attracted a fascist element that wanted to vent, turn the country's problems over to a charismatic leader, and not worry about them after that. This element imposed a view of Perot on him that he may well not have held of himself.
Eighteen years later, the element finds expression in the Tea Party movement. Oddly, it found its closest ally to date in Dick Cheney, a truly unappealing man who, I believe, is a genuine fascist apparatchik. While Cheney trained his energies on foreign policy, he concentrated his domestic focus on legalizing the concept of sweeping executive power to the detriment of the legislative and judicial branches. He overtly and covertly endorsed militarism and labored ceaselessly for the primacy of American military power as a means to dominate global politics. Domestically, Cheney is infamous for his commitment to expanded and often secret police powers ranging from the right of the state to torture prisoners and hold them without trial to warrantless phone surveillance.
Cheney may not have wanted to dirty his hands with other such domestic matters as immigration, although he was ever ready to toss a bone to the rabid right. Even given that, Cheney's positions are illustrative: He supported the "prompt deportation" of illegal immigrants who had "engaged in unlawful or disorderly" conduct while supporting "preferential treatment in the admission of certain children of US Armed Forces personnel." In other words, we don't want you if you get drunk in a bar on Saturday night, unless of course you have something to do with the military.
The teabaggers claim to not want a leader, but leaderless fascism is an oxymoron. That archfiend Dick Armey has urged them to remain independent, but that's only because he and his henchman at Freedom Works haven't found anyone credible whom they can manipulate from behind the scenes. (No doubt he finds Sarah Palin as eminently manipulable as she is incredible. Plus, he probably resists having a woman even nominally in charge.) Believe it: The bulk of the 'baggers want someone to emerge as their Fearless Leader. A charismatic leader who reflects and validates their assumptions is something that they simply can't resist.
The Pulitizer Prize-winning author Chris Hedges wrote convincingly about the links between religious right and fascism in American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America (2007). At the beginning of the book, he listed fourteen characteristics of fascism, based on an analysis by Umberto Eco, that included The Cult of Tradition, The Rejection of Modernism, Disagreement Is Treason, Fear of Difference, The Main Privilege Is to Be Born in the Same Country, The Followers Must Be Humiliated by the Wealth and Force of Their Enemies, Contempt for the Weak, Respect for the Majority and Disdain for Individualism, and Respect for Impoverished Vocabulary and Elementary Syntax in Order to Limit Complex and Critical Reasoning. Each of these apply to the Tea Party movement as well as the Religious Right, and I'll write more about them in the coming months.
If the two movements are not exactly the same, they certainly intersect at key junctions. And the teabaggers are edging toward a tactic employed by most fanatical members of the religious right, that being violence. (Ironically, Hedges was criticized for his apocalyptic warnings of widespread violence on the part of the religious right, warnings that now seem prophetic in light of the physical threats and mob tactics of the teabaggers.)
Maybe the threats of lynching and civil war are loud, cheap talk no different from the Religious Right's prediction that most of us are going to hell and perdition. I hope so. In 1848, Karl Marx wrote that the specter of Communism haunted Europe. Today, the specter of fascism haunts America. We fail to resist it at our peril.