SOTU Reactions

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Jason Kuznicki

Jason Kuznicki is a research fellow at the Cato Institute and contributor of Cato Unbound. He's on twitter as JasonKuznicki. His interests include political theory and history.

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121 Responses

  1. Avatar Michelle says:

    There’s a reason I generally stopped watching SOTU addresses sometime during the Clinton administration. Way too much bullshit.  Plus, they’re usually boring as all get out.

    Agreed–the war in Iraq didn’t make us safer or more respected. Much to the contrary.  And while teamwork is great and the myth of the rugged American individualist is much overstated, neither business nor civil society can or should be run like the military.Report

    • Avatar Kim in reply to Michelle says:

      Watch Webb’s response to bush a few years back.

      He read what the speechwriters wanted him to say, tore up the damn thing, and wrote something new himself. It was blistering, and very good.Report

      • Avatar Michelle in reply to Kim says:

        So I’ve heard, and perhaps I’ll look it up. But by that point in the Bush presidency I could no longer bear watching the frat boy sputter through another nonsense speech, so felt I had nothing to gain by watching the response.Report

  2. Avatar James Hanley says:

    I watched only because I am teaching presidency this term and didn’t want to be one-upped by my students.  Most of all, this seemed to me a preview of Obama’s campaign strategy–the recession wasn’t my fault and look how much better things are getting under my leadership.

    However the way I heard it all was: “China’s corporate are evil, our corporate subsidies are just.”  “Businesses are evil and must be regulated, businesses in favored industries are angelic and must be lovingly nurtured.”  “The free market is great, just as soon as we have enough regulations and subsidies in place.”

    Or, shorter Obama: “I am a mercantilist.”

    But I already knew that.Report

  3. Avatar clawback says:

    No, cooperation is not fascism.  And encouraging people to “follow [the military’s] example” does not say that “the rest of our society should be run just like the military”.  It just doesn’t.  And no, the left would not howl if Bush said something this innocuous.Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to clawback says:

      Of course cooperation isn’t fascism.

      The military isn’t a cooperative organization.  It is an organization under command. There’s a difference.Report

      • Avatar clawback in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        No, the focus of the paragraph you quoted is on cooperation.Report

        • Avatar Jaybird in reply to clawback says:

          We’ll need a term for the people who are uncooperative…

           Report

        • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to clawback says:

          The military language elides the question of consent.

          I’m all about cooperating to achieve aims that I think worthwhile. I find it grossly offensive to be told I that am “cooperating” when my consent has neither been asked nor obtained.Report

          • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

            The corporate overlords aren’t asking for your consent, either.Report

            • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to BlaiseP says:

              As long as I’m not compelled to buy their products.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

                Dunno who writes your paycheck, but it does resolve to mind over matter.   If they don’t mind, you don’t matter.   Give me your server room card, your logins are shut down, here’s your last check, clear out your desk, security will see you out, sayonara.  I’ve seen it done to whole departments at once.  One more interesting little vista I’ve gotten to see as a consultant.

                 Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Not to get all Trotsky but if we give job-making authority to the powers that be, we’ll quickly see that “he that does not work will not eat” will be supplanted by “he that does not obey will not eat”.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Jaybird says:

                The problem is, our current situation is bass-ackwards.   The oil and gas outfits really are subsidized and they’re big players in politics, so there’s your fascism if you’re looking for any.   The pencil-necks who are busily off-shoring our jobs are big donors too, so there’s more of the aforementioned political incest which characterizes fascism.

                See, here’s the deal with fascism.   It’s not so much a government takeover of industry, but a mutual connivance on the part of both government and industry.   Fascism is obsessed with modernity.   Good friend of mine, may God rest his soul, wrote his thesis on fascism.   Fascism is a triumph of advertising.   These strutting dictators only look like they’re in charge for the most part.  Oh, they can capsize the country, but look at Franco’s fascism.   Nobody seems to remember he was a fascist.   He achieved economic miracles, the Desarrollo . Qui bono?   Fiat.   The technocrats.

                If folks’ nostrils and palates have detected the cheap cologne of fascism in the air of America, it’s been with us for a while now.   Obama addressed the problem of off-shoring directly.   It’s not fascism for a president to ask his country’s citizens to consider its well being in the course of their decision making.Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to BlaiseP says:

                The oil and gas outfits really are subsidized and they’re big players in politics, so there’s your fascism if you’re looking for any.

                I agree entirely. Did you catch the adoring words he had for fracking? Er… shale gas?

                If folks’ nostrils and palates have detected the cheap cologne of fascism in the air of America, it’s been with us for a while now.

                Again, no real argument.Report

              • Avatar Rufus F. in reply to BlaiseP says:

                See, here’s the deal with fascism.   It’s not so much a government takeover of industry, but a mutual connivance on the part of both government and industry. 

                This is exactly right.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Ugh, yes indeed.   Went through the text this AM early while good ol’ Fedora 16 updated itself 287 ways from Sunday.   He’s not going to make any friends among the far left, but then, they’ve already decided not to back him and Obama knows it, so he doesn’t much care if he offends them.

                I sent David Plouffe a nastygram last year and told him I wouldn’t give any more money or time to Obamaco after his li’l PATRIOT Act fiasco.   May I add in passing, it was just about that time when I decided to start investigating classical liberalism as a possible option for my own political stance.Report

          • Avatar clawback in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

            The piece you quoted simply encourages us to emulate the cooperative spirit the speaker attributes to the military.  Nowhere does it encourage the emulation of any other attribute of the military (well, besides the equally trite “courage”).  Besides being hierarchical, the military is also, among other things, heavily armed.  Perhaps it is your position the paragraph in question urges us all to buy and carry guns.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        Yeah, there’s a difference, and Obama stays safely on the civilian side of it. He didn’t say society should be just like the military, only that we should look to certain specific behaviors the military displays and emulate them.  (You cut off the paragraph in which he delimits the bounds of his appeal to military efficiency.) It may be a doomed enterprise because we can’t achieve them without the command structure, but he’s not saying we ought to establish the same kind of rules in society. He’s asking us to consider the benefits of volitionally supporting him on what he sees as a national mission of some urgency, not commanding us to (he can’t).  I realize that’s objectionable enough to libertarians on its own, and I don’t begrudge that resistance in the least, but it’s not asking for the establishment of military command across society.  Indeed, unfortunate delimited metaphor aside, I’m not sure what else we can ask of a leader other than that he tell us where he wants to go and ask us to go there with him.Report

        • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Michael Drew says:

          So we should volunteer before we get drafted?Report

          • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to DensityDuck says:

            Well, he is going to try to solve some problems using the power of the government, and you are entitled to have feelings about that, so in a sense, sure, if that’s how you prefer to feel.Report

            • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Michael Drew says:

              and you are entitled to have feelings about that,

              No, you’re not.  That’s not cooperative.  There is no questioning of orders or purpose when a Seal team is on its mission.  There is no time to debate or voice dissent.  It’s all in, no hesitation, no qualms, no wondering whether there’s a better way or a preferable policy, or everybody fishing dies!

              That’s why it’s such a very bad horrible, no good, evil analogy.Report

              • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to James Hanley says:

                Yes you are, because it’s an analogy not an equation.  We’re not SEALS, he’s not saying we are. One can limit how far one wants to take one’s analogies.  He simply says, look what they can accomplish when they keep common purpose in mind; think it over. Cherry-picking the good parts of situations does make for a bad analogy, but it doesn’t follow that he’s saying we can’t debate and oppose.  SEALs can’t; we can.Report

  4. Avatar North says:

     SOTU full of pap. SOTU packed full of pandering hypocrisy. President’s party underwhelmed. President’s opposition party and Libertarians indignant and predicting dire consequences or indicators of oncoming ruin. Yup sounds like a standard SOTU address, glad I missed it.Report

    • Avatar Stillwater in reply to North says:

      Yeah, pretty much that. It was definitely mostly a campaign speech but I wouldn’t say that it was only pap. There were some real challenges to the GOP on the merits – on the intractable nature of their opposition and the incoherence of their policy goals. I think there was also an attempt to cut through political rhetoric and appeal to the pre-political sentiments and concerns of the ‘median voter’ – that lots of stuff the government does and can do is useful and important to them, and simply cutting programs and taxes will lead to some pretty dire outcomes for them. Personally, I think that’s reality rather than rhetoric.Report

  5. Avatar Michael Drew says:

    When Bush said things in this vein I nodded along when people made reasonable objections to it, to exclude epithets of fascism. So I guess that’s what I’ll do now.  It’s an unfortunate metaphor but hardly extraordinary for politicians of all parties. It’s not fascism.  I guess it’s up to everyone to decide for herself whether to get worked up over rhetoric this commonplace.  It’s certainly not unreasonable to, but I tend to take it with a grain of salt.  Perhaps I’ll regret it.Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Michael Drew says:

      I guess I’ll just repeat what I said:

      to imagine that our economy and the rest of our society should be run just like the military is the very essence of fascism.

      If that’s not fascism, what is?

      Note:  Obama did not say these precise words.  Nor did I say that he did.  But his appeal was to something very, very much like them.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        You can look up what fascism is just as well as I can.Report

        • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Michael Drew says:

          I presumed you had a passing familiarity with the concept:

          Fascists seek rejuvenation of their nation based on commitment to an organic national community where its individuals are united together as one people in national identity… Fascism seeks to purify the nation of foreign influences that are deemed to be causing degeneration of the nation or that do not fit into the national culture. Fascism promotes political violence and war as actions that create national regeneration, spirit and vitality…

          Fascism supports a socially united, collective national society and opposes socially divided class-based societies… Fascists advocate: a state-directed, regulated economy that is dedicated to the nation; the use and primacy of regulated private property and private enterprise contingent upon service to the nation or state; the use of state enterprise where private enterprise is failing or is inefficient; and autarky.

          It would be absurd to claim that the speech — or Obama himself — was fascist.  That’s not my claim here.  But there’s certainly a resemblance that I found creepy all the same.Report

          • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

            I’m assuming you couldn’t have typed that from memory, and I read that a few seconds after reading your post.  That is what I have: a passing familiarity, enough to know it is a complex concept. Clearly, saying what he said has a certain resemblance to fascism is different from saying that something very, very like what he said is its essence, so I’m pretty much satisfied with our exchange here.Report

            • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Michael Drew says:

              I’m content to say that what I typed was the essential part of fascism.  That’s how I view fascism, and while I am aware that opinions do differ here, it is certainly not a terribly eccentric view to say that a military approach to ordinary civil society is characteristic of that ideology.

              I’ve repeated several times that what I typed was not in the SOTU.  And that Obama is not a fascist.  He’s just content to use fascist-like rhetoric when it suits him, and that creeps me out.

              So I guess I’m content too.  I’ve made my point, and you’ve chosen to attack a much weaker one.

              I find it curious, too, that people pick nits about fascism to such a high degree — at least when it’s the fascist-like elements of the politicians they prefer.  On the other side?  No quarter.

              By contrast, it would be pedantic of me to insist — against Yglesias, James Hanley, and lots of others — that Obama is absolutely not a mercantilist, because mercantilism requires hoarding gold in the home country as one of its primary aims, and Obama isn’t interested in that.

              But no one complains about the mercantilist comparison, fundamentally flawed though it also is.Report

              • because mercantilism requires hoarding gold in the home country as one of its primary aims

                Does it? Could we change “gold” to “capital” and still be mercantilist?Report

              • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto in reply to Jaybird says:

                Even then Obama’s not proposing restricting capital flows. His policies are more geared towards making capital flow to the US. This is of course what basically every country does, so I’m not sure if it’s particularly controversial.Report

              • Well, for one thing, mercantilist regimes weren’t responsible for inflicting previously-untold levels of human misery and perpetrating horrific mass murder over the past century.  Unlike all those fascists.

                Also, decrying the mercantilist tendencies of your adversaries is a relatively underutilized calumny.  Perhaps we should try popularizing it?

                Could some of what Obama said have been used to a different effect by a fascist?  Sure, I suppose so.  But if he’d spoken in favor of making Amtrak more efficient and timely, it wouldn’t have meant comparisons to Mussolini were apt.Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Russell Saunders says:

                If he’d said “we need to make civil society more like Amtrak,” I’d also have had a conniption.  But so would everyone else.Report

              • On this we find ourselves in perfect agreement.Report

              • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

                The further you want to say that what you typed was from what he said (you give no sense whatsoever in the post how close it is; you merely say that Thing X is the Very Essence of Fascism), the less of a point you have. As I say, I’m happy with where you ended up, and not with where you started out, if only because you initially left it so unclear what you were saying about how what he said relates to fascism while putting the two in close proximity, and now you’re clarifying it.Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Michael Drew says:

                President Obama made an appeal that bears a strong resemblance to fascism.

                Agree or disagree?Report

              • Avatar Jeff in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

                Disagree — I think this may be a “dog whislte” kind of thing, where one person hears something that another doesn’t.  In this case the “dog whistle” may have been in the speech, but I, for one, don’t hear it.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

                While fascism features hysterical patriotism and flags and songs and torchlight parades, is it not true the patriotism and selflessness of our military, volunteers all, might serve as a worthy example to the rest of us?

                Men don’t fight for some cause.   They fight for each other.   While the military operates under its own rules of loyalty and obedience to a command structure wildly different than the civilian world, their loyalty cannot be compelled.   Basic Training doesn’t mean they aren’t human beings.

                It seems to me, if you’re going to make the charge of crypto-fascism stick, you’re going to have to demonstrate how patriotism isn’t exactly the virtue it’s set forth to be.   There’s a very good argument to be made along those lines, for I do not much like Patriotism either.   It’s often used as a general-purpose gag for suppressing dissent.   Charitably, I’d like to think your problem lies in the conflation of militarism with loyalty to the state, but Obama is the President and his mandate derives from both our votes and his oath to support and defend the Constitution.Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to BlaiseP says:

                is it not true the patriotism and selflessness of our military, volunteers all, might serve as a worthy example to the rest of us?

                Certainly true.  But there are other ways of being good citizens as well, and we need them, too. I wouldn’t advise anyone to run a small business, a charity, or a liberal arts college on the lines of the military, yet I think our country benefits from having these institutions, too — each with their own way of doing things.

                Is there conflict?  Sure.  But not all conflicts in civil society or in politics are best resolved by an appeal to military-style unity.  Some conflicts deserve to remain unsolved, and sometimes it’s best to agree to disagree.

                It seems to me, if you’re going to make the charge of crypto-fascism stick…

                Perhaps someone wants to make it stick.  I’d say rather that there was a resemblance, but not an unspoken secret plan, in the direction of fascism.Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to BlaiseP says:

                What I think is confusing everyone here is that you won’t explain why it’s such a big deal that it “resembled fascism”.  Whenever anyone says “oh hey, so you’re saying it was fascist” you back away from it, but then you insist that it resembled fasicsm. 

                What we’re asking, here, is “so what?”Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Because fascism is so fishing disturbing, and planting the seeds of the ideas in people’s minds is so disturbing, and the fact that the seeds sit there outside the container’s conscious evaluation of the idea is disturbing.  That such hints, winks, and nods come to seem normal and not reprehensible is disturbing.  A country adamantly anti-fascist would react with cold anger–a country susceptible to fascism reacts with warm fuzzy feelings.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP says:

                C’mon guys, Jason kinda has a point here.   Never scoff at a man’s gut-level reaction to something.   Though facts can’t be squared up with feelings, there’s something vaguely disturbing and jingoistic in using our Brave Troops as an Example to Us All.

                Folks, say what you want to about how Jason’s misconscrewing what Obama meant, we have heard this sort of thing in other contexts, including fascistic ones.Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to BlaiseP says:

                What James said.  It’s worth being hypersensitive on some points, and this is one of them.Report

              • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto in reply to BlaiseP says:

                I just think on the whole this is comparatively benign when contrasted to the stump speeches and debating points being spouted by Gingrich and co. on a regular basis. Those statements are considerably closer to fascist in their imagery.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP says:

                It seems important to note this about fascism:  when you take a sample and put it through the political equivalent of the mass spectrometer, the results are horrifying.   Fascism stands for almost nothing.  True, fascism is Against many things and movements and its list of enemies of the state goes on and on, but its goals are terribly fuzzy — something about Mom and Apple Pie and the Fatherland and the Flag and all that claptrap.   In short, fascism is all about unquestioning allegiance to the Leader and he will lead the way to the Promised Land.

                Soldiers don’t dissent until they’ve carried out their orders.   Even then, it’s a tricksy proposition, I’ve done it and narrowly escaped with my stripes still on my shoulder.   When Obama talks about the loyalty of America’s troops, he’s talking about his employees.

                Yes, we all ought to behave selflessly and America’s a nation worth defending and if we don’t hang together we shall all hang separately.   Obama’s mandate is derived from the consent of the governed, not the ordered-about.

                 Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to BlaiseP says:

                “Never scoff at a man’s gut-level reaction to something.”

                “It’s worth being hypersensitive on some points, and this is one of them.”

                So it’s ‘bellyfeel plusgood’, then?Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Doubleplusgood.   My personal bullshit detector is a neural network.   It has been trained over many years and Hebbian Learning doesn’t produce nice tidy maps to decision making.

                Put it this way, Jason’s reaction is one we should not reject out of hand or attempt to explain away.   I have said many times the veneer of civilization is very thin.   What lies beneath is human nature, the behaviour of a particularly aggressive simian species with no particular compunction about the niceties of Consent.

                So you keep that in mind, Dense One.   When someone else’s bullshit detector goes off, as it did for Jason here, I’m the sort of guy who pays attention.   Such attention has saved my life more than once and more than five times.Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to BlaiseP says:

                One man’s bullshit is another man’s dogwhistle. 

                What do you say to someone who tells you that his bullshit detector goes off every time he hears someone say “limited government”?  Or that his bullshit detector goes off every time he hears someone say “free speech”?  Or “Fourth Amendment”, “equal treatment”, “colorblind”?   Is his bullshit detector less valid than yours?

                So, y’know, it’s great that you have a bullshit detector, but don’t expect me to agree that it’s bullshit until I’ve had a whiff.  And even if we both agree that it stinks, remember that not everyone thinks smelling bullshit is a problem.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Actually, when the bullshit detector which has repeatedly saved my life goes off, it’s hardwired to the LED relay on other people’s bullshit detectors and I don’t say jack shit.

                I’ve very, very quiet.

                I take cover and make sure I know where everyone is and that I’ve got a round in the chamber and a nice tight grip on the Claymore lanyardReport

              • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

                No, not a strong resemblance. What he said is reminiscent of one aspect of fascism, and fascism is necessarily a bundle of various features.  You can characterize what the relationship is accurately while still be as hypersensitive to it as you want.Report

              • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

                Right.  “What is the thing you are referring to?”  Picking nits.Report

              • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

                Mercantilism per wiki: “Mercantilism is the economic doctrine in which government control of foreign trade is of paramount importance for ensuring the prosperity and military security of the state. In particular, it demands a positive balance of trade.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mercantilism

                Matt Yglesias straight-up says the president’s proposals were mercantilist: http://slate.me/ym4pu8

                Equating or associating this speech with mercantilism is both less inflammatory and far less strained than than equating it or associating it with fascism (whatever it is you did – and in any case here you are just talking about whether in general one should ever quibble with whether something might be like fascism if anyone suggests that it is).  It would indeed be picking nits to try to deny the relationship of the proposals to mercantilism based on the definition of it from the same source you referred to for a definition of fascism.  On the other hand, the definition of fascism is so much more involved that the question of what the relationship is between “what you typed” and fascism is a complicated natter under any circumstances.  It’s just that complex a phenomenon, clearly from the definition, beyond the shelfs of books that have been written to try to explain what it is and isn’t..

                I have absolutely no problem with taking serious offense to the analogy the president used; I don’t even have a problem with invoking the word fascism to discuss it.  I have a problem with objecting to people wanting to analyze the relationship thus suggested in the most cursory way.  Doing this is in no way inconsistent with holding views such as these about fascism and its relationship to the speech:

                “Because fascism is so fishing disturbing, and planting the seeds of the ideas in people’s minds is so disturbing, and the fact that the seeds sit there outside the container’s conscious evaluation of the idea is disturbing.  That such hints, winks, and nods come to seem normal and not reprehensible is disturbing.  A country adamantly anti-fascist would react with cold anger–a country susceptible to fascism reacts with warm fuzzy feelings.”

                I agree with these views (and would note that they, just like your initial post, makes no claim that the president planted such seeds, though I assume this author would be honest enough to acknowledge that that is what he is claiming).  But “the seeds of the ideas” that underpin a thing (a real thing, which is what fascism is, not merely an idea) is not the same as “the very essence of” the thing.

                Again, I have no problem with evoking this term or objecting to this language of the president.  In fact, I agree with the objection.  But I would like to be able to discuss the relationship between the two, and indeed what a right understanding of what fascism is, if we are going to go down that road – not be told that doing so is unseemly nitpicking in view of the gravity of the thing denoted by the word, You yourself insist on being hyper-precise about and nitpicking other people’s understandings of what your claims about the relationship are/were.  It’s not unfair to simply let others engage in trying to analyze the claims in some with some acuity in response.Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Michael Drew says:

                I have absolutely no problem with taking serious offense to the analogy the president used; I don’t even have a problem with invoking the word fascism to discuss it.  I have a problem with objecting to people wanting to analyze the relationship thus suggested in the most cursory way.

                Me too.  I have welcomed and participated actively in the discussion.  Have I not?Report

              • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

                My sense was that this

                “I find it curious, too, that people pick nits about fascism to such a high degree”

                was an expression of disdain for that cursory analysis, in that what was in fact merely cursory analysis you chose to dismiss as a high degree of nitpicking – meaning, making distinctions that were not of material to a basic assessment of the comparison.

                I know you will object that you did not intend that meaning, and I am not interested in hearing about why.  If you want say you were welcoming of such analysis – and by all means, you did participate in it, and I didn’t say otherwise, but nevertheless you did express an attitude with regard to it in that line that i don’t think I misconstrued- by all means do so, I’ll just have no comment.  I pretty much don’t care at this point; I’m going to leave this where it stands right now plus whatever you care to add hereafter.Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Michael Drew says:

                What I meant about picking nits — and I’m sorry that I did not explain myself very well here — is that whenever we discuss anything short of Mussolini goose-stepping down a torchlit avenue, all comparisons to fascism are automatically out of bounds, at least for a lot of people.  The presence of any difference makes talking about any similarity impossible.  This makes analysis of things that to any degree resemble fascism much more difficult.

                Such is obviously not the case with mercantilism.  While classically mercantilism concerned itself with the balance of trade — and hence with building a country’s gold reserve, which meant the very same thing back in the day — my sense is that Obama’s mercantilism is not concerned with the balance of trade as a primary objective at all.  His primary objective is for there to be an abundance of good manufacturing jobs, and I have the sense that if he could do this through a negative balance of trade, he’d jump at the chance. A classical or paradigmatic mercantilist would not.

                That’s a meaningful difference, but not one — we’d both agree — that makes mercantilism completely inappropriate as a comparison.Report

              • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Michael Drew says:

                The impulse is not out of bounds.  I speak this way now precisely because I felt compelled to restrain myself and try to learn something about the claim I wanted to make about Bush back then as well.  (I didn’t start reading or commenting on any blogs until sometime in 2008, so I can’t point to proof of any views I might or might not have held, you’ll just have to trust me on this.)  I understand the point you make here, but that is not at all what it is to say that trying to wrestle with just how the things relate is picking nits.  It’s not to say it’s out of bounds to insist on doing that if this is the kind of rhetoric we want to use, indeed that is what we have to do in order to do that in a way that is in spitting distance of making responsible, reasonable claims using such extreme terms.  That is precisely not to say that doing so is out of bounds or that such a responsible, reasonable use of these terms can’t be accomplished.  But you have to be willing to do it.  I personally prefer to state such objection in my own, simpler terms because it obviates that trouble, and these more provocative comparisons I find are far closer to being strained than to being necessary.  I don’t aim to be the dialogue police about these things and I wish I had not engaged (your second-person asides designed to provoke being apparently too sophisticated for me to resist), but, yes, my feeling is that if someone is going to go down this road, that I wish they would do it with some effort at making an informed, considered comparison that is attentive to the complexities of the elements being addressed.  I wasn’t raring to tell you all of that but in this case you elicited it from me.Report

              • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Michael Drew says:

                …And again, the distinction you want to make about mercantilism does indeed, in light of the definition from the source you relied on for fascism, seem truly nitpicking to me – evidenced by the fact that you need to add a modifier to the term in order to recover that meaning. You thereby implicitly acknowledge that there is a commonly accepted more modern application of the term that is flexible to these circumstances.

                Fascism, by contrast, is a more historically-bound concept.  Any claim  that something today is like fascism needs to take a fuller accounting of what fascism actually was.  We could say, “this is like one aspect of fascism,” but it remains the case that something isn’t fascism, or like it to a great extent (rather than in just soe particualr respect) unless it displays a number of critical traits.  And fascism doesn’t have some more modern variant that is commonly called ‘fascism’ and not ‘neo-fascism.’  When we talk about fascism we are talking about Hitler and Mussolini to a great extent.  If we want to say that something is very like fascism or is the essence of fascism, then it needs to be essentially like all of that in a critical number of particular ways.  If, on the other hand, we are willing to say, “This is reminiscent of this aspect of fascism,” well then we are quite free to make all the single-aspect comparisons we want to make.  We just have to say so.  But not to do so is to pretend that fascism was simpler than it actually was.

                I’d be willing to agree that using mercantilism in this case was arguably somewhat strained as well, but the honest truth is that I feel that I’d be picking nits if I were to do so, while i feel that pointing out that fascism was in actual fact far more than simply imagining that society should be run like a military is just being reasonably attentive to the gross meaning of the word, and what the phenomenon actually was in practice.  I understand the structure of the comparison you want to make here, but I think that in the event, there is actually a much simpler basic essence of what mercantilism is than what fascism is; it’s just a more straight-forward concept.  They could be the same in the way you are suggesting, but in fact they’re different.  Perhaps I’m influenced in these feelings by the fact that fascism is just a far more inflammatory term (I don’t think so, but perhaps), but what point is this meant to demonstrate other than just that highly inflammatory terms are in fact inflammatory?  Why shouldn’t fascism get more attention and reaction when it is used in an imprecise way?  It should.Report

              • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Michael Drew says:

                (This is me not caring.)Report

          • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

            It seems to me that, other than the bits about war and cultural pollution, there’s nothing in that description that a socialist wouldn’t agree with.

            Of course, there’s a reason they called themselves the National Socialists…Report

  6. I know that I will be reviled for what I’m about to say, but to imagine that our economy and the rest of our society should be run just like the military is the very essence of fascism.

    I’m not going to revile you, but I do question whether fascism is so easy to define and pin down.

    I do admit freely, however, that Mr. Obama’s martial metaphors bothered me quite a lot, especially the last portion you posted in your post, and I’ll even admit that if there’s a spectrum between “fascism” and “non-fascism,” Mr. Obama’s martial metaphors (not to mention his assertion of presidential power, his scaling up the war on drugs, etc.) suggest a move in the direction of whatever might be called “fascism.”

    What’s my point?  It might be counterproductive, even if understandable, to insist on the f-word because once one’s opponent is a fascist, he is an enemy, and one can must take any stand possible, and ally oneself with anyone possible, and be comfortable with a certain amount of “collateral damage”–all in the name of resistance.  Perhaps I’m just a drone, but I’m not quite willing to go there yet.  For what it’s worth, I don’t think you’re “insisting” on the f-word, but just drawing a parallel (if I misunderstand, please correct me).Report

  7. Avatar BlaiseP says:

    Huh?  Fascism?   Jeebus.   Let’s consider the parallels here.   If all the execs of a corporation cared about was the stock price and didn’t care about customers or employees, the military equivalent would be generals who pushed their people into the meat grinder with no consideration for civilians or their troops.   Yes, troops are going to be put into battle.   Some of them will die.  Employees will be let go when the bottom line can’t support their wages.  Our generals don’t leave their troops to die in the desert like Alexander.  The same cannot be said for the bastards who Like To Fire People. Win the battles and lose the war. Pay no attention to the long term, the quarterly P&L is all that matters.

    I do sorta wish people who talk about fascism or the military had some experience with either.Report

    • Avatar Matty in reply to BlaiseP says:

      I’m not generally a fan of big corporations but I can’t help thinking that if they really don’t care about customers they will loose them and then what happens to the stock price?

      Employees I get it, their choices are limited and they can be put under a lot of pressure to keep the paycheck. Customers on the other hand are far less likely to face a choice between buying from Megacorp and buying nothing.Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Matty says:

        Well, there you go, thinking again.  Always a dangerous proposition, thinking.

        Some while back I wrote something about Mitt Romney and the current demonisation of Bain Capital.   Mitt was doing exactly what every other outfit of his type was doing, in point of fact, Mitt Romney and Bain Capital were the apotheosis of the 1980s.    Stock price was everything:  if one firm died, another would surely take its place to fill the customer’s needs.   Bain was hardly alone in its predatory behaviour, Morgan Stanley, Kidder, Nomura, Deutsche Bank, oh they were all playing this game, acquire a company, get it ready for an IPO, load it up with debt, pay themselves enormous fees out of the proceeds and turn it loose on the market like a fire ship in the harbor.   If employees and customers and the idiots who bought into this travesty got burned, ha friggin’ ha, more fools them.

        That was just the way things got done.  Immoral?  Nah.  Amoral.  Yes.Report

        • Avatar Matty in reply to BlaiseP says:

          Ah, you’re looking higher up the chain. No I don’t imagine a venture capitalist in for the short term cares if the company has customers after he’s cashed out.Report

          • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Matty says:

            VCs are slightly different, well, most of them are.   These days, there’s not so much pressure to get to an IPO.   Here’s why:

            Though everyone’s weepin’ and moanin’ about the banks, trillions of dollars in investment capital is knocking on doors, just begging to get in the door.   Scrubby little bearded dudes put down their test tubes and get out of their bunny suits to answer the door.   If the VC is verrry nice, he might get let in the door.  But if the SLBDs see another Mitt Romney type at the door, intent upon tellin’ them some threadbare tale of Much Riches For Them and Lexii and Babes in Toyland, they will politely evict those Mitt Romney types from the premises.   There are other folks out there who will give them money on the SLBDs’ terms.

            It’s not about stock price anymore.   Look at Apple.  Matt Yglesias has just embarrassed himself pretty badly this morning with this exquisite little turdlet of antique thinking.Report

  8. Well, I’m not going to revile you, but I am going to roll my eyes.  Doubtless many people did so when “the left” cried “fascism” whenever W. said anything, so I suppose it’s only fair now.

    I thought the speech while a heaping pile of “meh.”  But calling it a crypto-paean to fascism is too much.  Obama gestured toward military ideals of cooperation and unity for two reasons:

    1)  It was a tidy (OK, maybe a little heavy-handed) way of reminding people that a certain highly-wanted international terrorist had been eliminated on his watch, and

    2)  Praising the military is politically popular, and he’s a politician seeking re-election.  If he could have baked an apple pie while kissing a baby up there on the dais, it would have served the same purpose.

    I understand that being hyper-vigilant about governmental over-reach is your schtick, but it’s manifestly silly to link this President or his speech to fascism.Report

  9. I’m inclined to say the military metaphor was employed mostly because it’s a contrasting institution with Congress which enjoys very high levels of public approval. Now, given the amount of messy, bureaucratic infighting, backstabbing and general absurdity that permeates the modern US military, the REALITY of running the country like the military would probably go extraordinarily badly, as opposed to this idealized military US taxpayers appear to have. (Any glance at milblogs will give you the impression that the military is probably as dysfunctional as congress in some ways…)

    It’s disturbing, but then I don’t know if “government as business” metaphors are any less disturbing in the end. Given that corporations are in it for the bottom line, and by default are institutions that leave the worst performers behind and cut them off in society, running a company and an economy like s business would lead to enormous hardships for the less well off.Report

  10. Avatar Rufus F. says:

    Aside from wondering if the left should assign an official howler, I don’t really have a lot of qualms about this post. It’s provocative, but so what?

    I seem to be more in agreement with this part than others here:

    “I know that I will be reviled for what I’m about to say, but to imagine that our economy and the rest of our society should be run just like the military is the very essence of fascism.”

    The important point here is that fascism is not only an economic system- there have been plenty of corporatist states that were not fascist- but it’s a cultural ethos. Let’s say it’s a fantasy of a “purer” and unadulterated nation that once existed before being being corrupted by alien influences and which can be brought back into being by a militaristic crusade of some sort in which we’re all to take part. If anything else, it’s a negative response to the culture of modernity, which is pluralist if nothing else. It’s certainly a fantasy version of the military too that hearkens to an idea I once read on a church billboard: To be molded, you must be melted.Report

    • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto in reply to Rufus F. says:

       Let’s say it’s a fantasy of a “purer” and unadulterated nation that once existed before being being corrupted by alien influences and which can be brought back into being by a militaristic crusade of some sort in which we’re all to take part.

      This is true, and we see this in the contemporary accounts of writers describing Hitler and Mussolini.

      That said…

      Doesn’t basically every strand of conservatism fit this description just as well? I mean there’s lots and lots of this sort of language in everything Romney and Gingrich are saying. (And in some cases what Paul is saying)Report

      • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Nob Akimoto says:

        Doesn’t basically every strand of conservatism fit this description just as well?

        Many do, and particularly neoconservatism, but not all conservatisms fit the mold.  Michael Oakeshott’s is nearly the precise opposite, and I wish more American conservatives appreciated him.Report

      • Avatar Rufus F. in reply to Nob Akimoto says:

        Well, I’d call it more a reactionary strand that has responded to modernity in a much more emotional and angry way than conservatism in the Burkean mode. It has been there since before the Revolution though- at least in Europe. Neither of them are particularly sanguine about “progress”, but reactionaries see it as a tragedy- a “river of blood separating the old world from the new” in a common 19th century metaphor.Report

    • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Rufus F. says:

      “Let’s say it’s a fantasy of a “purer” and unadulterated nation that once existed before being being corrupted by alien influences and which can be brought back into being by a militaristic crusade of some sort in which we’re all to take part.”

      Sort of like all those people nostalgaic for LBJ’s Great Society, back before the military-industrial complex took over everything?Report

  11. Avatar Kolohe says:

    “Thought that Obama was a Secret Muslim / But it turns out he’s a Secret Prussian”Report

  12. Avatar DensityDuck says:

    Would you have had similar feelings if the President had compared America to a sports team?  Using the same language about teamwork and common purpose, setting aside individual glory and comfort in favor of a greater goal.  Heck, you can even bring in the “our side versus everyone else” rhetoric.

    Is it still fascist?Report

  13. Avatar E.C. Gach says:

    Everything Jason said.Report

  14. Avatar Kolohe says:

    It’s also worth noting how many times in Arab Spring analysis phrases of the sort “The Military is the only institution the People trust and respect” came up.Report

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