The Brownshirting of
By PAUL CRAIG ROBERTS
James Bovard, the great libertarian champion of our freedom and civil liberties, recently shared with readers his mail from Bush supporters (Lewrockwell.com, October 12). For starters here are some of the salutations: "communist bastard," "asshole," "a piece of trash, scum of the earth." It goes downhill from there.
Bush's supporters demand lock-step consensus that Bush is right. They regard truthful reports that Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction and was not involved in the September 11 attack on the
As well, Bovard is interpreted as throwing cold water on the feel-good, macho, Muslim butt-kicking that Bush's invasion of
I have received similar responses from conservatives, as, no doubt, have a number of other writers who object to a domestic police state at war with the world.
In language reeking with hatred, Heritage Foundation TownHall readers impolitely informed me that opposing the invasion of
Bush's conservative supporters want no debate. They want no facts, no analysis. They want to denounce and to demonize the enemies that the Hannitys, Limbaughs, and Savages of talk radio assure them are everywhere at work destroying their great and noble country.
I remember when conservatives favored restraint in foreign policy and wished to limit government power in order to protect civil liberties. Today's young conservatives are Jacobins determined to use government power to impose their will at home and abroad.
Where did such "conservatives" come from?
Claes Ryn in his important book, America the Virtuous, explains the intellectual evolution of the neoconservatives who lead the Bush administration. For all their defects, however, neocons are thoughtful compared to the world of talk radio, whose inhabitants are trained to shout down everyone else. From whence came the brownshirt movement that slavishly adheres to the neocons' agenda?
Three recent books address this question. Thomas Frank in What's the Matter With Kansas, locates the movement in legitimate conservative resentments of people who feel that family, religious, and patriotic values are given short shrift by elitist liberals.
These resentments festered and multiplied as offshore production, jobs outsourcing, and immigration took a toll on careers and the American dream.
An audience was waiting for rightwing talk radio, which found its stride during the
Show hosts, who advertise themselves as truth-tellers in a no-spin zone, quickly figured out that success depends upon constantly confronting listeners with bogymen to be exposed and denounced: war protesters and America-bashers, the French, marrying homosexuals, the liberal media, turncoats, Democrats, and the ACLU.
Talk radio's "news stories" do not need to be true. Their importance lies in inflaming resentments and confirming that
David Brock's The Republican Noise Machine lacks the insights of Thomas Frank's book, but it provides a gossipy history of the rightwing takeover of the
Brock is as blindly committed to his causes as the rightwing zealots he exposes are to theirs. Unlike Frank, he cannot acknowledge that the rightwing has legitimate issues.
Nevertheless, Brock makes a credible case that today's conservatives are driven by ideology, not by fact. He argues that their stock in trade is denunciation, not debate. Conservatives don't assess opponents' arguments, they demonize opponents. Truth and falsity are out of the picture; the criteria are: who's good, who's evil, who's patriotic, who's unpatriotic.
These are the traits of brownshirts [fascists]. Brownshirts know they are right. They know their opponents are wrong and regard them as enemies who must be silenced if not exterminated.
Some of Brock's quotes from prominent conservative commentators will curl your toes. His description of the rightwing's destruction of an independent media and the "Fairness Doctrine" explain why a recent CNN/Gallup poll found that 42% of Americans still believe that Saddam Hussein was involved in the September 11 terrorist attack on the
A country in which 42% of the population is totally misinformed is not a country where democracy is safe.
Today there is no one to correct a lie once it is told. The media, thanks to Republicans, has been concentrated in few hands, and they are not the hands of newsmen. Corporate values rule. If lies sell, sell them. If listeners, viewers, and readers want confirmation of their resentments and beliefs, give it to them. Objectivity turns listeners off and is a money loser.
In his book, Cruel and Unusual, Mark Crispin Miller, professor of media studies at
Miller makes a strong case. His description of how CNN and Fox News destroyed the credibility of Scott Ritter, the leading expert on
CNN's Miles O'Brien, Eason Jordan, Catherine Callaway, Paula Zahn, Kyra Phillips, Arthel Neville, and Fox News' David Asman and John Gibson portrayed Ritter as a disloyal American, a Ba-athist stooge on the take from Saddam Hussein, and compared him to Jane Fonda in
With this, the rightwing talk radio crazies were off and running. Anyone with the slightest bit of real information about the state of weapons development in
By substituting fiction for reality, the
With a sizable percentage of the
American troops are in
Paul Craig Roberts is John M. Olin Fellow at the Institute for Political Economy and Research Fellow at the Independent Institute. He is a former assistant secretary of the U.S. Treasury. He is the co-author of The Tyranny of Good Intentions