So on one hand this is almost a story about how the Tea Party has vestigial sense of shame; on the other hand, the mere fact that they thought it was a good idea until enough people complained shows the inherent problems with the group’s political philosophy while also highlighting their historical ignorance.
If you hadn’t heard, the Iowa Tea Party covered up a billboard this Wednesday that featured a photo of President Obama flanked by Adolf Hitler on the left and Vladimir Lenin on the right. Besides being adorned with the phrases “Live Free or Die” and “Radical Leaders Prey on the Fearful and Naïve” the billboard also had the following phrases: under Hitler “National Socialism, under Obama Democratic Socialism, and under Lenin “Marxist Socialism.”
Where should I begin? I guess I’ll just start at the beginning and say that I find it more than a little ironic that the billboard should state that radical leaders will prey on the fearful and naïve since that is obviously what this billboard is trying to do.
These people put up the President’s face next to two people guilty of committing mass genocide and they have the audacity to say Obama is playing on people’s fears??!! Do they realize that if they are going for irony that it’s usually best served subtle, not over the head. They are essentially stating that Obama is a demagogue who plays on the fears of the people while they themselves are playing on the fears of people by insinuating that he is going to round them up and kill them.
What’s next? Are you going to tell the civilians in Afghanistan that the cluster bombs they think we are dropping on them are really peace piñatas? (hmmm that wouldn’t work because piñata is a Spanish word and I am pretty sure they don’t even like to call tacos “tacos” anymore. They probably call them hard shell sandwiches seeing as how many conservatives fear immigration and by extension anything that implies that the white culture of this country is not dominant.)
My next point is that I am sick of people conflating socialism, communism, and Nazism, etc.
Let me start with the easiest one: Hitler was not a socialist. Yes, I know that Nazi stands for National Socialist Party, but the socialist aspect of the party was eliminated in all but name by the time Hitler was in charge. Open any book on Nazi Germany or the Holocaust and you will see that the Nazis put communists and socialists in concentration camps.
Heck, most of you have probably read this poem:
When the Nazis came for the communists,
I remained silent;
I was not a communist.
When they locked up the social democrats,
I remained silent;
I was not a social democrat.
When they came for the trade unionists,
I did not speak out;
I was not a trade unionist.
When they came for the Jews,
I remained silent;
I wasn’t a Jew.
When they came for me,
there was no one left to speak out.
Did anyone else but me notice that communists and socialists were the first two to be taken away…followed by who…oh yeah the trade unionist—the very type of people who would technically be most inclined to support socialism.
The Nazis were “socialists” in the same way that North Korea, whose real name is the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, is a “democratic” or “republican” form of government. It was a marketing term that reflected more the fascists’ real roots in the radical ferment around socialism, but there is little question fascism generically and Nazism specifically are distinct and different from socialism or communism.
Whatever anti-capitalism was expressed by the Nazis it was highly selective. Even at their most radical, the socialism that the fascists wanted was actually a state capitalism i.e., one that denied property rights to foreigners or enemies within (read Jews). The Nazis were financed by the big industrialists and factory owners, not the sort of people you would expect to support them if they were going to take over the economic system. They used propaganda to appeal to the working class, but the only plan they had to create jobs was to kills Jews and other undesirables such as homosexuals, the Roma, communists, socialists, alcoholics, the disabled, etc. to make more room for the unemployed Aryans.
Those who understand socialism know that it is an economic system that is not bound by national boundaries, in fact it would prefer that there be no boundaries, instead it would prefer people to be separated by class whereas Nazis were probably the most nationalist racially obsessed people ever.
So to conclude: Nazis’ are not socialists, they are fascists.
Now as for Democratic Socialism and Marxist Socialism, I think most of Europe, Canada, India, etc. would be intrigued to realize that they are virtually as evil and ghoulish as the Soviet Union under Lenin or Stalin.
Without getting too deep into the theoretical distinctions between socialism and communism and the actual framework espoused by Marx and Engels versus the implementation of Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Castro, etc. I think we should all agree that none of the countries led by these men are similar to Democratic Socialist countries such as France, Denmark, Australia, etc.
In fact, I would contend that the U.S. is not nor has it ever been a pure capitalist country because it has always relied on the government to fill in the holes where the private sector failed—sometimes the invisible hand of the free market is all thumbs. We’ve always had more of a mixed economy that allows for maximum flexibility. But if you want to consider Obama a socialist or a communist, I guess you would consider Teddy Roosevelt one too? Eisenhower would also be a socialist since he supported the extensive federal funding needed to build the federal highway system. Let’s not forget Nixon who must have been a rabid socialist since he put in place price and wage controls in the 1970s and expanded the government by creating the EPA and passing the Clean Air Act. For that matter, Bush increased domestic spending, expanded the federal government’s role in education, expanded Medicare by creating a prescription drug program, and actively sought to limit the rights of American citizens in the name of fight a war on an idea that is nearly synonymous with fear i.e., terror.
Please don’t tell me you think former Treasury Secretary and former Goldman Sach CEO Hank Paulson or even current Treasury Secretary, Timothy Geithner, are socialists? Seeing as how they helped Bush create the initial bailout plans you’d have to call all three of them socialists if you call Obama one.
So many big things would not have happened without public funding: the Internet was developed by the Pentagon, the National Institute of Health used public funds for the Human Genome Project, the GPS network that enables me to never have to remember how to get anywhere was developed by the Air Force; in fact, it still operates it. I love me some Google, Facebook, Pandora, etc. but where would they be if the government hadn’t helped establish the Internet? America has a long history of public investment and standard setting followed by private growth. When Eisenhower built highways that wasn’t him being a socialist that was him providing good governance. Obama’s goal of expanding broadband access is similarly not socialism—it is a needed resource that the private sector has failed to provide.
Now that I’ve rambled on about how unhelpful and ignorant it is to use terms like communism, socialism, Nazism, democratic socialism, etc. as if they were interchangeable let me return to the aforementioned billboard.
As I stated, the sign was only up briefly before the Iowa Tea Party was shamed into covering it up. No, they were not made to do it by Obama so this is not a freedom of speech issue. It was other Tea Party groups that protested.
Shelby Blakely, a leader of the Tea Party Patriots, a national group, stated “That’s just a waste of money, time, resources and it’s not going to further our cause. It’s not going to help our cause. It’s going to make people think that the tea party is full of a bunch of right-wing fringe people, and that’s not true.”
John White, state coordinator of the Iowa Tea Party movement, says “the new billboard crosses a dangerous line. He says it’s going somewhere the Tea Party doesn’t need to go.”
“He says people are tired of slander and mudslinging and the Tea Party doesn’t need to take part in it.”
That all sounded reasonable until he stated that:
“While he doesn’t agree with posting the billboard, White says he agrees that Obama has followed several of the same principles as Hitler.”
“He says everything Obama has done is “lock-step” with what Hitler did in his day, but the sign goes into an area where the Tea Party doesn’t want to be.”
I am kind of disappointed because he seems to really believe that Obama and Hitler are appropriate comparisons, but he’s taking it down because he doesn’t want to be perceived as believing what he believes. This guy is certainly ready to be a politician.
Now, of course, they are going to put up a new sign that they think will feature a quote from Thomas Jefferson, “My reading of history convinces me that most bad government results from too much government,” when in reality there has been no proof that he ever said this. Most likely the quote comes from Democratic Senator John Sharp Williams in a speech about Jefferson.
In general, I find it problematic to pick through quotes of various Founding Fathers to find one that suits you because it is all too easy since, as a whole, they not only rarely agreed with each other, but as individuals, they often went through dramatic changes of opinion and worked laboriously through their own thoughts and ideas. As such it is hard to say what Jefferson or Adams might say about something in a modern context. Additionally, I have to wonder why Tea Party supporters who are normally quite religious, according to most polling, would use a quote from a man that called for a “wall of separation between church and state,” and who even took the time to write the Jefferson Bible—his version of the story of Jesus but without all that supernatural stuff.
I’d like to close by stating that I am very aware that images of George W. Bush with Hitler were more than prevalent during Bush’s eight years in office (a simple Google search—if you don’t mind using a publicly created resource like the Internet—can prove that), but what you won’t find is members of the Democratic National Party or their state organizations not only supporting but producing such imagery. If the Tea Party is truly a party and not just a loose confederation of mostly conservatives and libertarians than they have the responsibility to either act like a real party or to let their freak flag fly if they really do want to be the next John Birch Society.