FDR

Presidents and War

This post is prompted by a recent exchange with former think-tank colleagues about H.R. McMaster‘s Dereliction of Duty: Johnson, McNamara, the Joint Chiefs of Staff. I’ve just started it, having until now steadfastly eschewed rehashes of the Vietnam War since its ignominious end. My assessment of LBJ’s handling of the Vietnam War is based entirely on my knowledge of the war as it unfolded and unraveled, and subsequent reflections on that knowledge. I’ll review McMaster’s book in a later post.

The president’s role as commander-in-chief is a two-edged sword. It was wielded ably by Lincoln and FDR (until the end-game in Europe), and badly by Truman, LBJ, Bush I, Bush II, and Obama.

Starting with Bush II, I believe that he made the right strategic decision, which was to bring the Middle East under control instead of leaving it hostage to the whims of Saddam. (Some will say that Saddam was contained, but — in my view — he was a threat to the Middle East if not to the U.S. as long as he was in power.) That may not have been what Bush intended, but that’s what he could have achieved, and would have achieved if he had committed the forces necessary to bring Iraq firmly under control. Instead, he followed Rumsfeld’s do-it-on-the-cheap advice for too long. Anyway, Bush got bogged down, much as LBJ had done with his “signalling” and gradualism in Vietnam. The 2007 surge might have turned things around, but Bush had run out of political capital and couldn’t commit the forces needed to stabilize Iraq for the long haul (and neutralize Iran), even if he had wanted to.

Obama then followed his anti-colonial impulses and converted potential stability into the mess that we see today.

Bush I set it all up when he declined the golden opportunity to depose Saddam in 1991.

Truman’s handling of the Korean War could be defended as making the best of a bad situation. But Truman’s decision to accept a stalemate instead of taking on the Chinese, as MacArthur urged, was a strategic miscalculation of the first order. It signaled to Russia and China the unwillingness of U.S. leaders to push back against Communist expansion. LBJ reinforced that signal in Vietnam. It took Reagan, who pursued a defense buildup in the face of chicken-little screams from the defeatist left, to push the USSR to its breaking point.

To paraphrase Andy Granatelli, you can pay now or pay later, but pay you will. I fear that the long-run price of the defense build-down under Obama will be high.

“A Date Which Will Live in Infamy”

The title phrase, of course, is from FDR’s speech to Congress on December 8, 1941. His speech was occasioned by Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 (a date that still lives in infamy), and by several subsequent attacks. Specifically:

The attack yesterday on the Hawaiian Islands has caused severe damage to American naval and military forces. I regret to tell you that very many American lives have been lost. In addition, American ships have been reported torpedoed on the high seas between San Francisco and Honolulu.

Yesterday the Japanese government also launched as attack against Malaya.

Last night Japanese forces attacked Hong Kong.

Last night Japanese forces attacked Guam.

Last night Japanese forces attacked the Philippine Islands.

Last night Japanese forces attacked Wake Island.

And this morning the Japanese attacked Midway Island.

But I’m not quoting FDR for the purpose of recalling the events of December 7 and 8, 1941. There’s another date that lives in infamy: March 4, 1933. It was on that date, 81 years ago today, that FDR first took the oath of office as president of the United States — an oath that he would take three more times.

The rest, unfortunately, is history. The unconstitutional changes set in motion by FDR have led to the present state of affairs:

  • Congress may pass any law about anything.
  • The president and regulatory agencies may do just about anything they want to do because of (a) delegations of power by Congress and (b) sheer willfulness on the part of the president and the regulatory agencies.
  • The Supreme Court may rewrite law at will, regardless of the written Constitution, especially for the purposes of enabling Congress to obliterate social and economic liberty, and disabling the defense and law-enforcement forces of the United States to defend the life, liberty, and property of Americans.
  • The States, abetted and coerced by federal courts, may enforce legislative, executive, and judicial whims — as long as those whims are anti-libertarian, that is, destructive of property rights, freedom of association, and traditional mores.

*     *     *

Related posts:
Ranking the Presidents
FDR and Fascism
Rating the Presidents, Again
How the Great Depression Ended (see the passages in which I quote Robert Higgs)
Presidential Legacies
An FDR Reader
The Price of Government
Fascism and the Future of America
The Devolution of American Politics from Wisdom to Opportunism
Invoking Hitler
I Want My Country Back
Save Me from Self-Appointed Saviors
Nonsense about Presidents, IQ, and War
Well-Founded Pessimism
America: Past, Present, and Future
The Barbarians Within and the State of the Union
The World Turned Upside Down
The View from Here
“We the People” and Big Government
The Fall and Rise of American Empire
O Tempora O Mores!

The World Turned Upside Down

Of World War II and the Cold War, I once wrote:

The Third Reich and Empire of the Rising Sun failed to dominate the world only because of (a) Hitler’s fatal invasion of Russia, (b) Japan’s wrong-headed attack on Pearl Harbor, and (c) the fact that the United States of 1941 had time and space on its side…

[The subsequent Cold War was a] necessary, long, and costly “war” of deterrence through preparedness [that] enabled the U.S. to protect Americans’ legitimate economic interests around the world by limiting the expansion of the Soviet empire.

I now suspect that the Cold War was unnecessary, and therefore a vast waste of lives resources, because World War II took a wrong turn.

Bear in mind that the USSR, our Cold War enemy, survived World War II, went on to seize Eastern Europe, and became a power to be reckoned with largely because of

  • vast deliveries of American aid to the USSR during the war
  • the adoption of the policy of unconditional surrender, which probably prolonged the war in Europe, enabling the USSR to move its forces farther to the west
  • the Anglo-American invasion of Europe through northern France on D-Day, rather than through southern Europe earlier in the war, which also enabled Soviet forces to move farther to the west
  • FDR’s concessions to Stalin, late in the war at the Yalta Conference, which set the stage for the USSR’s seizure of Eastern Europe (the scope of which was ratified at the Potsdam Conference)
  • Soviet influence and espionage, exerted through and conducted by U.S. government officials, which abetted the foregoing and hastened the USSR’s acquisition of nuclear weapons.

But there is more: several foregone opportunities to end the war early and turn the tide against the USSR.

The first such opportunity is related in a recent news story:

[Rudolf] Hess’s journey to Britain by fighter aircraft to Scotland has traditionally been dismissed as the deranged solo mission of a madman.

But Peter Padfield, an historian, has uncovered evidence he says shows that, Hess, the deputy Fuhrer, brought with him from Hitler, a detailed peace treaty, under which the Nazis would withdraw from western Europe, in exchange for British neutrality over the imminent attack on Russia.

The existence of such a document was revealed to him by an informant who claims that he and other German speakers were called in by MI6 to translate the treaty for Churchill….

The informant said the first two pages of the treaty detailed Hitler’s precise aims in Russia, followed by sections detailing how Britain could keep its independence, Empire and armed services, and how the Nazis would withdraw from western Europe. The treaty proposed a state of “wohlwollende Neutralitat” – rendered as “well wishing neutrality”, between Britain and Germany, for the latter’s offensive against the USSR. The informant even said the date of the Hitler’s coming attack on the east was disclosed….

Mr Padfield, who has previously written a biography of Hess as well as ones of Karl Dönitz and Heinrich Himmler, believes the treaty was suppressed at the time, because it would have scuppered Churchill’s efforts to get the USA into the war, destroyed his coalition of exiled European governments, and weakened his position domestically, as it would have been seized on by what the author believes was a sizeable “negotiated peace” faction in Britain at that time. At the same time, since the mission had failed, it also suited Hitler to dismiss Hess as a rogue agent….

Mr Padfield added….

“This was a turning point of the war. Churchill could have accepted the offer, but he made a very moral choice. He was determined that Hitler, who could not be trusted, would not get away with it. He wanted the US in the war, and to defeat Hitler.”

Mr Padfield has also assembled other evidence to support the existence of the treaty and its contents – as well as the subsequent cover-up….

For the rest of the story, see Jasper Copping’s article, “Nazis ‘Offered to Leave Western Europe in Exchange for Free Hand to Attack USSR’,” (The Telegraph, September 26, 2013).

Hess’s aborted mission took place in 1941, and — purportedly — with Hitler’s blessing. After the failure of Hess’s mission, however, a lot happened without Hitler’s blessing. What follows are excerpts of Diana West’s American Betrayal: The Secret Assault on Our Nation’s Character (St. Martin’s Press, 2013):

… When Louis Lochner, for many years the AP bureau chief in Berlin, attempted to file a story on the activities of anti-Nazi Germans operating out of France in October 1944, U.S. military censors blocked the story. Why? “The government official in charge of censorship was forthcoming enough to confide to Lochner that there was a personal directive from the president of the United States ‘in his capacity of commander in chief forbidding all mention of the German resistance,’” writes Klaus P. Fischer in his 2011 book, Hitler and America. Drawing from Lochner’s 1956 memoir Always the Unexpected, Fischer quotes Lochner’s explanation for this seemingly inexplicable and outrageous censorship: “Stories of the existence of a resistance movement did not fit into the concept of Unconditional Surrender!” …

Turns out, Lochner knew Roosevelt personally, and both men had a mutual friend in Prince Louis Ferdinand of Prussia. Lochner had been in contact with the anti-Hitler opposition in Germany since 1939. In November 1941, German anti-Nazis asked Lochner, heading home on leave, to contact the president on their behalf, to ask Roosevelt to speak out about what form of government he would like to see take shape in post-Hitler Germany, and to provide the president with secret radio codes so that Americans and German anti-Nazis could communicate directly with each other. So writes Peter Hoffman in The History of the German Resistance, 1933– 1945, which first appeared in Germany in 1969, drawing from the 1955 German edition of Lochner’s memoir, certain details of which Hoffman says are not in the English version.

Lochner was interned by the Nazi regime at the outbreak of the war in December 1941 and didn’t reach Washington until the summer of 1942. This would have been shortly after “unconditional surrender” was affirmed and reaffirmed by the president’s postwar advisory council subcommittee, and shortly after Roosevelt had promised a “second front” to Soviet minister Molotov. Lochner immediately informed the White House that he had personal and confidential messages for the president from the prince “and secret information on resistance groups in Germany that he might not confide to anyone else.”

No answer. No interest.

Lochner’s attempts at gaining an audience in June 1942 failed. Lochner followed up with a letter and received no reply. Finally, he was informed by the White House through the AP bureau in Washington, Hoffman writes, that “there was no desire to receive his information and he was requested to refrain from further efforts to transmit it.” …

… Hoffman reveals an important piece of the puzzle in a footnote. Lochner’s final attempt to reach Roosevelt on June 19, 1942, was in a letter addressed to a trusted presidential aide. That aide was [Soviet agent] Lauchlin Currie….

***

In his 1958 memoir, Wedemeyer Reports!, General [Albert C.] Wedemeyer picks up on George H. Earle’s series of secret negotiations with the German underground, which began with [Hitler’s chief spy Adm. Wilhelm] Canaris….

According to Earle’s account, he sent Canaris’s initial query regarding a negotiated peace to the White House via diplomatic pouch in early 1943….

… Just before Earle departed the United States to become FDR’s special emissary in Istanbul (officially, naval attaché), he wrote the following letter on December 19, 1942, from New York City on Ritz-Carlton stationery.

Dear Harry: If you don’t mind I’m going to report to you direct my activities. I like the way your mind works and I know you will sort out what you think of importance enough for the President.

[Canaris’s query went nowhere, of course, given Hopkins’s position as a pro-Soviet agent of influence — de facto if not de jure.]

***

The next approach to Earle, also in that spring of 1943, came from Baron Kurt von Lersner, a German aristocrat of Jewish extraction who lived in virtual exile in Turkey. He, too, had a proposal for the Allies. Earle wrote, “According to Lersner— and I could not doubt him; he had placed his life in my hands— some of the highest officials in Germany, [ambassador to Turkey Franz von] Papen included, loved their country but hated Hitler. They wanted to end the war before he bled Germany of all her youth, all her strength and resources. At the same time, they were deeply concerned about Russia’s growing might and power.” …

Earle sent off another dispatch to FDR at the White House marked “Urgent.” Again, Earle received no reply. “I pressed the matter with every ounce of my persuasion and judgment,” Earle wrote, “but I sensed the old trouble. Lersner’s call for an overt stand against Communist expansion distressed Roosevelt.” …

Earle wrote that his German contacts came back to him with another more specific plan, laying out the involvement of Field Marshal Ludwig Beck; Count Wolf Heinrich von Helldorf, chief of police of Berlin; Prince Gottfried Bismarck, a Potsdam official and grandson of the “Iron Chancellor”; and a well-known cavalry officer, Freiherr von Boeselager. Again, the plan was to stage a coup, turn over Hitler and his top henchmen to the Allies, and bring about Germany’s “unconditional surrender, with one condition”: The Russians were not to be allowed into Central Europe, including Germany or territory at that time controlled by Germany.

Earle sent this dispatch off with high hopes, he wrote….

Earle doesn’t specify how much time went by, but finally an answer from the president came through. It was stiff and impersonal. “All such applications for a negotiated peace should be referred to the Supreme Allied Commander, General Eisenhower,” Roosevelt wrote…. Earle explains, “In diplomatic language, this was the final runaround. Even if we did get to Eisenhower, the matter would be referred back to Roosevelt for a decision. The President’s answer was therefore a clear indication of his complete disinterest in this plan to end the war….

As for “unconditional surrender”:

Quite notably, … the very first use of the phrase “unconditional surrender” at Casablanca was by Harry Hopkins himself. In a January 23, 1943, meeting, one day ahead of the president’s sensational announcement, Hopkins told the grand vizier of Morocco, “The war will be pursued until Germany, Italy, and Japan agree to unconditional surrender.” …

… [U]nconditional surrender may well be the policy that ensured Soviet dominion over half of Europe. It was also, as Ian Colvin noted in the preface to a 1957 edition of his Canaris biography, a “pivotal point” in the tragedy of the German underground. “Unconditional surrender” would set the strategy of “total war” (Allied) as the only appropriate response to “total guilt” (German). Such a strategy presumed, indeed, drew inspiration from, a belief in the unwavering, monolithic German support for Nazism and Hitler, which the very existence of a significant anti-Nazi German resistance movement belied. For the sake of the policy then, the significant anti-Nazi German resistance movement had to be denied, shut out. Otherwise, “total war,” and the total destruction it required, wasn’t justified. Otherwise, I say, Stalin wouldn’t win.

General Wedemeyer devotes an entire chapter of his memoir to making the devastating strategic case against unconditional surrender. The general did not mince words: “We annulled the prospect of winning a real victory by the Casablanca call for unconditional surrender,” he wrote. 39 Why? “Our demand for unconditional surrender naturally increased the enemy’s will to resist and forced even Hitler’s worst enemies to continue fighting to save their country.” …

Wedemeyer elaborated, “We failed to realize that unconditional surrender and the annihilation of German power would result in a tremendous vacuum in Central Europe into which the Communist power and ideas would flow.”

About that vacuum in Central Europe: Is it the case that “we” simply “failed” to realize that a vacuum would emerge? Or had enough of us instead bought the Moscow line that Stalin wanted “nothing more than security for his country,” as Roosevelt, invoking Harry Hopkins, told William Bullitt at this same fateful moment? What about those among us in positions of power who had already decided that Stalin in Europe would be a good thing?

Remember Hanson Baldwin’s Numero Uno “great mistake of the war”: the belief “that the Politburo had abandoned  … its policy of world Communist revolution and was honestly interested in the maintenance of friendly relations with capitalist governments.”

Where did that belief— propaganda— come from?

Wedemeyer explains, “We poisoned ourselves with our own propaganda and let the Communist serpent we took to our bosom envenom our minds and distort our ideals.” Baldwin is more matter-of-fact. “We became victims of our own propaganda,” he wrote. “Russian aims were good and noble. Communism had changed its spots.”

We were victims, all right, but not of “our own” propaganda; it was their propaganda. It was propaganda conceived in Moscow and disseminated by bona fide Kremlin agents, mouthpieces and organizers of Communist parties, fellow travelers, and many, many dupes (“ liberals,” “all the best people,” opinion makers, etc.). …

This puts a cap on it:

Now, the question: What if Lochner’s query had been received with natural interest and acted on in mid-1942? What if the U.S. government had initiated contact with the anti-Hitler opposition at that point and supported a successful coup against Hitler in Germany? Or, what if six months later, Canaris, Hitler’s secret opponent, had been encouraged to produce the defection of the German army and negotiate its surrender to the Allies? What if one of the subsequent, serious attempts that other opponents of Hitler made through various Anglo-American emissaries in 1942, 1943, and 1944 had been able to overthrow the Führer, close down the concentration camps, abort the Final Solution, thwart Soviet conquests in Europe and Asia, call off every battle from Monte Cassino to D-day to the Warsaw Uprising to the Battle of the Bulge, avoid the destruction of city centers from Hamburg to Dresden, and save the lives of millions and millions and millions of people in between? …

… [B]ut there it is: World War II could have ended years earlier had Communists working for Moscow not dominated Washington, quashing every anti-Nazi, anti-Communist attempt, beginning in late 1942, throughout 1943 and 1944, to make common cause with Anglo-American representatives….

It’s not as if the true nature and intentions of the Soviet regime were unknown. As West points out, the peace feelers from Canaris et al.

began … at about the same time former U.S. ambassador to the USSR William C. Bullitt presented FDR with his prophetic blueprint of what the postwar world would look like if Anglo-American appeasement of Stalin didn’t stop….

Specifically:

Bullitt’s first memo to FDR was written on January 29, 1943. It was, Bullitt told the president, “as serious a document as any I have ever sent you.” He began by acknowledging that many observers in the United States believed that Stalin shared the president’s post-war vision expressed in the Atlantic Charter and the Four Freedoms. Bullitt countered that no “factual evidence” existed to support the view that Stalin was a changed man. “We find no evidence,” he wrote, “but we find in all democratic countries an intense wish to believe that Stalin has changed….” This view of a changed Stalin, therefore, was “a product of the fatal vice in foreign affairs—the vice of wishful thinking.” U.S. and British admiration for the valor demonstrated by the Russian people in the defense of their homeland was causing policymakers to overlook “both basic Russian Nationalist policy and Soviet Communist policy.”

“The reality,” Bullitt explained,

is that the Soviet Union, up to the present time, has been a totalitarian dictatorship in which there has been no freedom of speech, no freedom of the press, and a travesty of freedom of religion; in which there has been universal fear of the O.G.P.U. [secret police] and Freedom from Want has been subordinated always to the policy of guns instead of butter.

Stalin controls “in each country of the world,” Bullit further explained, “a 5th column” composed of “public or underground Communist Parties.” Stalin uses this Fifth Column for “espionage, propaganda, character assassination of opponents, and political influence….”

“[T]here is no evidence,” Bullitt emphasized, “that [Stalin] has abandoned either the policy of extending communism or the policy of controlling all foreign communist parties.” The Soviet Union “moves where opposition is weak, [but] stops where opposition is strong.” The United States must, advised Bullitt,

demonstrate to Stalin—and mean it—that while we genuinely want to cooperate with the Soviet Union, we will not permit our war to prevent Nazi domination of Europe to be turned into a war to establish Soviet domination of Europe. We have to back democracy in Europe to the limit, and prove to Stalin that, while we have intense admiration for the Russian people and will collaborate fully with a pacific Soviet State, we will resist a predatory Soviet State just as fiercely as we are now resisting a predatory Nazi State.

Bullitt provided FDR with a brief history lesson to show that Russia had always been an expansionist power…. Therefore, Bullitt opined, “[e]ven if Stalin had become a mere Russian nationalist—which he has not—that would be no guarantee of pacific behavior; indeed, it would be a guarantee of aggressive imperialism.”

Bullitt then listed Stalin’s “avowed” aims, which included the annexation of Bukovina, eastern Poland, Besserabia, Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia, and parts of Finland, and his secret goals, which included establishing communist governments in Romania, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, Poland and northern Iran, and expanding the influence communist parties in France and Germany. Bullit feared that a Soviet Union victorious in Europe would try to take geopolitical advantage of the fact that the United States and Great Britain still had to contend with Japan in the Far East. In such circumstances, Bullit wrote, “[t]here will be no single power or coalition in Europe to counterbalance the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union will be in a position to devote all its strength to overrunning Europe….” He sketched the following scenario:

While the United States and Great Britain are engaged in defeating Japan, the Red Army … will sweep through Europe from east to west, being welcomed by the Soviet 5th columns already organized in every European country. Then will follow the familiar comedy. There will be no talk of “annexation by the Soviet Union.” There will be a “freely chosen form of government” (Soviet); “free expression of the people’s will” (under occupation by the Red Army); and out will be trotted again all the obscene lies that accompanied the “freely expressed desire of the Baltic Republics, to be received into the Soviet Union.”

To prevent Soviet domination of Europe after the war, Bullitt counseled, the United States must establish in “occupied or liberated countries in Europe democratic administrations which, working together, will be strong enough to provide the requisite defense against invasion by the Soviet Union.” … ” The United States, he advised Roosevelt, must “lay the ground work for a combination of democratic governments in Europe strong enough to preserve democracy in Europe and keep the Bolsheviks from replacing the Nazis as masters of Europe.”

The United States, argued Bullitt, should not rely on agreements with the Soviet Union to preserve peace and the balance of power in Europe and the world. “The onward flow of the Soviet Union,” he explained, “has never been impeded by any written agreement…. Soviet invasion finds barriers in armed strength, not in Soviet promises.” That armed strength, according to Bullitt, should consist of an integrated, democratic and armed Europe backed by Great Britain and the United States….

Four months later, on May 12, 1943, Bullitt wrote a short follow-up memo to the president. He urged FDR to get commitments from the Soviet Union and Britain to help us in our war against Japan, and repeated his call for a military invasion of the Balkans to liberate Eastern and Central Europe before Soviet forces occupied the region. U.S. power was at its zenith, according to Bullitt, so it was essential that we translate that power to achieve our political goals.

On August 10, 1943, Bullitt wrote a final letter to the president on this subject. Echoing the great theorist of war, Karl von Clausewitz, Bullitt emphasized to Roosevelt that “[w]ar is an attempt to achieve political objectives by fighting; and political objectives must be kept in mind in planning operations.” The political objectives of the United States, he explained, “require the establishment of British and American forces in the Balkans and eastern and central Europe. Their first objective should be the defeat of Germany, their second, the barring to the Red Army of the way into Europe….”

A Soviet dominated Europe would be as great a threat to the United States and Britain as a German dominated Europe, wrote Bullitt. The dilemma of U.S. policy was to find a way to “prevent the domination of Europe by the Moscow dictatorship without losing the participation of the Red Army in the war against the Nazi dictatorship.” The most important elements of such a policy were, he wrote, the “creation of a British-American line in Eastern Europe,” and the establishment of “democratic governments behind” that line. (From the entry for William Bullitt at the University of North Carolina’s site, American Diplomacy: Foreign Service Dispatches and Periodic Reports on U.S. Foreign Policy)

Roosevelt ignored Bullitt, and the rest is history. The war in Europe was prolonged, unnecessarily and at great cost in lives and treasure. (Bear in mind that if the war in Europe had ended sooner, the Allies could then have focused their efforts on the war in the Pacific — with the resultant saving of many more lives and much more treasure.)

Perhaps the failure to seize an early victory can be chalked up to stubbornness and near-sightedness. I would believe that if there had been only one failure, or even two of them. But several failures look like a pattern to me: a pattern of preference for the survival of the Communist regime in Russia, and a willingness to abide Communist expansion in Europe. The best that can be said is that FDR’s outlook was blinkered by his commitment to Germany’s unconditional surrender, and that his views about the long run were (a) unduly optimistic, (b) insouciant, or (c) actively pro-Soviet. Given the degree of influence wielded by Harry Hopkins with respect to unconditional surrender and Soviet success, I opt for (c). Dupe or not, FDR sat in the Oval Office and made the decisions that turned the world upside down.

The prolongation of World War II is perhaps the biggest government failure in the history of the United States. There is one other that might rival it, though its proximate cause was inadvertent.

Don’t Use the “S” Word When the “F” Word Will Do

Every once in a while, Bill Vallicella (Maverick Philosopher) warns against calling Obama a socialist. Here’s a sample:

It is a tactical mistake for libertarians and conservatives to label Obama a socialist. For what will happen, has happened: liberals will revert to a strict definition and point out that Obama is not a socialist by this strict definition. Robert Heilbroner defines socialism in terms of “a centrally planned economy in which the government controls all means of production.” To my knowledge, Obama has never advocated such a thing. So when the libertarian or conservative accuses Obama of socialism he lets himself in for a fruitless and wholly unnecessary verbal dispute from which he will emerge the loser.

It is enough to point out that the policies of Obama and the Democrat Party lead us toward bigger government and away from self-reliance, individual responsibility, individual liberty, and sound fiscal policy.  If you want to use the ‘S’ word, you can say that Obama & Co. are pushing us in the direction of socialism.  But calling him a socialist is tactically inadvisable.  Never forget that the whole point is to remove him and his gang from positions of power.  To achieve that goal we need to persuade large numbers of fence-sitters that  that he is leading us down the wrong path.  That persuasion is less likely to happen if we come across as extremists who misuse language….

It’s good advice, and not just for the reasons given by Vallicella. It seems to me that persons of the left — and I mean to include so-called left-of-center “liberal” moderates as well as their “bomb-throwing” brethren on the hard left — suffer a not-fully requited passion for government control of almost everything. As long as it’s their kind of government and as long as their livelihoods are unaffected by what that government controls, of course.

How can so-called “liberal” moderates and “bomb-throwers” be brothers under the political skin? Simple. The so-called moderates like to say that they are against socialism — saying that is what makes them so-called moderates. Yet, whenever a something comes to their attention that they consider unjust, unfair, inequitable, and so on, their knee-jerk response is that government ought to “do something” about it, or to endorse (without thought) the usual and inevitable call for government to “do something” about it. In sum, so-called moderates differ from “bomb-throwers” mainly in being less honest with themselves and others about the depth of their attachment to socialism.

As Vallicella says, leftists will argue that Obama isn’t a socialist. But they will do so only because they know “socialist” is a scare word. And they don’t want their “boy” tainted by a scare word. So they will get technical and defend him (and themselves) by denying that he is in favor of something scary

But, really, they don’t care. To be a socialist is a good thing, even for the so-called left-of-center moderate who tries to conceal his true feelings from himself.

And that is the real reason why it is counterproductive to call Obama a socialist. To be thought of as a socialist (i.e., a lover of big, all-powerful government) is high praise to a large chunk of the citizenry. Daniel B. Klein explains:

Government creates common, effectively permanent institutions, such as the streets and roads, utility grids, the postal service, and the school system. In doing so, it determines and enforces the setting for an encompassing shared experience—or at least the myth of such experience. The business of politics creates an unfolding series of battles and dramas whose outcomes few can dismiss as unimportant. National and international news media invite citizens to envision themselves as part of an encompassing coordination of sentiments—whether the focal point is election-day results, the latest effort in the war on drugs, or emergency relief to hurricane victims — and encourage a corresponding regard for the state as a romantic force. I call the yearning for encompassing coordination of sentiment The People’s Romance (henceforth TPR)….

TPR helps us to understand how authoritarians and totalitarians think. If TPR is a principal value, with each person’s well-being thought to depend on everyone else’s proper participation, then it authorizes a kind of joint, though not necessarily absolute, ownership of everyone by everyone, which means, of course, by the government. One person’s conspicuous opting out of the romance really does damage the others’ interests….

TPR lives off coercion—which not only serves as a means of clamping down on discoordination, but also gives context for the sentiment coordination to be achieved….

[N]ested within the conventional view that government is not a mammoth apparatus of coercion is the tenet that society is an organization to which we belong. Either on the view that we constitute and control the government (“we are the government”) or on the view that by deciding to live in the polity we choose voluntarily to abide by the government’s rules (“no one is forcing you to stay here”), the social democrat holds that taxation and interventions such as a minimum wage law are not coercive. The government-rule structure, as they see it, is a matter of “social contract” persisting through time and binding on the complete collection of citizens. The implication is that the whole of society is a club, a collectively owned property, administered by the government…. [“The People’s Romance: Why People Love Government (as Much as They Do),” The Independent Review, v. X, n. 1, Summer 2005, pp. 5–37]

Which brings me to the “f” word: fascism. This is the core meaning of fascism:

Fascism is a system in which the government leaves nominal ownership of the means of production in the hands of private individuals but exercises control by means of regulatory legislation and reaps most of the profit by means of heavy taxation. In effect, fascism is simply a more subtle form of government ownership than is socialism. [Morris and Linda Tannehil, The Market for Liberty, p. 18]

That is a proper definition of fascism. It is proper because it is devoid of the emotional baggage that the word carries because of its association with the (rightly) despised regimes of Hitler, Mussolini, and lesser figures of the past and present. (That Hitler’s party was the National Socialist German Workers’ Party — Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei — is an inconvenient fact, and therefore one that is ignored by the left.) Fascism is not — I repeat — not synonymous with such things as concentration camps and the Holocaust. Those were vile  aspects of Hitler’s regime, but they were not fascistic as such. But — and this is a big “but” — it is the lingering memory of concentration camps and the Holocaust that invests “fascism” with its emotional baggage.

The emotional baggage carried by “fascism” can be very useful to libertarians and conservatives who want to see the back of Obama and his crew of brown-shirts. Why? Because, the Tannehills’ definition of fascism fits Obama’s regime (and that of his spiritual predecessors) like a bespoke suit.

If only Romney could find copywriters who had the skills to connect Obama and fascism — subtly but convincingly.  The evidence is there, it’s just a matter of connecting the dots. The word “fascism” couldn’t be used, of course, because it’s a smear word, and its overt use would backfire. But the word could be implied by factually describing the thrust of Obama’s policies, then adding punchlines like these: “Policies that were disgraced long ago”; “Is this the America you want your grandchildren to inherit?”;  “Utopia comes at a high price.” The punch lines would be accompanied by newsreel clips that do not show Hitler, Nazis, or Nazi rallies, but which unmistakeably depict the Germany of the 1930s. Let viewers connect the dots.

Am I going too far in calling Obama a fascist? I think not. Fascism is simply another manifestation of The People’s Romance:

Notwithstanding the arguments of political scientists – who would distinguish fascism from other collectivist –isms such as communism, socialism, or national socialism (Nazism) – these distinctions are really irrelevant because all these forms of collectivism are equally pernicious to, and destructive of, individual rights and freedom. Leftists like to use the terms fascism or fascist as pejoratives because they naively believe that socialism is somehow less evil than collectivism of “the right” – that the murder of millions of people killed by Lenin and Stalin in the Soviet Union, by Mao in Red China, or by Pol Pot in communist Cambodia somehow was less evil than the murder of millions of people killed by Hitler’s regime in Nazi Germany or Mussolini’s regime in fascist Italy. Leftists have no legitimate claim on the truth, and neither do they have any monopoly on use of the terms fascism or fascist as pejoratives. [David N. Mayer, “2008: Prospects for Liberty,” MayerBlog, January 11, 2008]

*   *   *

…B.C. Forbes, the founder of the eponymous magazine, denounced “rampant Fascism” in 1933. In 1935 former President Herbert Hoover was using phrases like “Fascist regimentation” in discussing the New Deal. A decade later, he wrote in his memoirs that “the New Deal introduced to Americans the spectacle of Fascist dictation to business, labor and agriculture,” and that measures such as the Agricultural Adjustment Act, “in their consequences of control of products and markets, set up an uncanny Americanized parallel with the agricultural regime of Mussolini and Hitler.” In 1944, in The Road to Serfdom, the economist F.A. Hayek warned that economic planning could lead to totalitarianism. He cautioned Americans and Britons not to think that there was something uniquely evil about the German soul. National Socialism, he said, drew on collectivist ideas that had permeated the Western world for a generation or more.

In 1973 one of the most distinguished American historians, John A. Garraty of Columbia University, created a stir with his article “The New Deal, National Socialism, and the Great Depression.” Garraty was an admirer of Roosevelt but couldn’t help noticing, for instance, the parallels between the Civilian Conservation Corps and similar programs in Germany. Both, he wrote, “were essentially designed to keep young men out of the labor market. Roosevelt described work camps as a means for getting youth ‘off the city street corners,’ Hitler as a way of keeping them from ‘rotting helplessly in the streets.’ In both countries much was made of the beneficial social results of mixing thousands of young people from different walks of life in the camps. Furthermore, both were organized on semimilitary lines with the subsidiary purposes of improving the physical fitness of potential soldiers and stimulating public commitment to national service in an emergency.”

And in 1976, presidential candidate Ronald Reagan incurred the ire of Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), pro-Roosevelt historian Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., and The New York Times when he told reporters that “fascism was really the basis of the New Deal.” [from David Boaz’s “Hitler, Mussolini, Roosevelt: What FDR had in common with the other charismatic collectivists of the 30s,” a review of Wolfgang Schivelbusch’s Three New Deals: Reflections on Roosevelt’s America, Mussolini’s Italy, and Hitler’s Germany, 1933–1939]

Obama’s regime is nothing less than a new New Deal — on steroids.

Related posts:
FDR and Fascism
Fascism
The People’s Romance
Fascism with a “Friendly” Face
Fascism and the Future of America

Save Me from Self-Appointed Saviors

A recent NYT piece by Richard Zacks (“How Dry We Aren’t“) highlights the antics of Theodore Roosevelt:

When Theodore Roosevelt was police commissioner [of New York City], from 1895 to 1897, he tried to stop the sales of beer, wine and liquor on Sundays in saloons.

Men and women, who worked six days a week in that era, were not amused. New York State Sabbath laws already forbade attending sporting events or theater performances, or selling groceries, after 10 a.m. on Sundays; the excise laws also made it illegal to sell alcohol in bars, saloons and taverns all 24 hours of the Lord’s Day.

New Yorkers in droves defied that particular edict. (Sunday actually marked the barkeep’s biggest sales day.) Saloon owners handed a bribe to precinct cops who forwarded some loot to Tammany politicians, and the city’s thirsty could discreetly slip in the side doors of saloons. For almost 40 years, it was a popular pragmatic compromise.

Enter Roosevelt. Fearless and bullheaded, the new commissioner vowed to enforce the law, both to root out bribery in the Police Department and also to reunite families on Sundays….

Roosevelt’s liquor crackdown backfired…. The city’s spirit of place, what Stephen Crane once dubbed New York’s “wild impulse,” refused to be tamed.

Theodore Roosevelt the reformer was deeply proud of his efforts to clean up New York but in his illustrious later days, running for governor, then for vice president, then president, he never won a majority vote in the city. Never take a beer away from a New Yorker.

If only it were that easy to subvert the intentions of zealous office-holders.

In another recent NYT piece (“The C.E.O. in Politics“), David Brooks observes that

great leaders tend to have an instrumental mentality. They do not feel the office is about them. They are just God’s temporary instrument in service of a larger cause. Lincoln felt he was God’s instrument in preserving the union. F.D.R. felt he was an instrument to help the common man and defeat fascism.

Whatever FDR felt, he was not a great leader. Nor was his distant cousin, Teddy Roosevelt. What they shared with other so-called great leaders was overwhelming ego: the belief that their wishes should be everyone’s wishes. And, with the help of compliant Congresses and Supreme Courts, they made it so.

TR spoke and acted as if he were God’s instrument. As president, his aspiration to savior-hood led him to embrace Progressivism (e.g., trust-busting). His actions brought an end to 40 years of rapid economic growth, which — contrary to myth — had uplifted the masses as well as the “robber barons.” After a too-brief respite from dictatorship, under Taft, Woodrow Wilson (another “leader” who thought he was an instrument of God) extended the Progressive state, and economic growth slowed further.

The Great Depression, predictably enough, swept out Hoover, whose “do something” ethic turned a recession into a depression, and brought in FDR, with his second-rate mind. He soon enough began to think of himself as a savior, empowered (by perverse logic) to uplift the downtrodden by running roughshod over America’s businesses. What he accomplished, in fact, was a deeper and longer depression. (By contrast, the economy quickly rebounded from the deep recession of 1920-21 because “do nothing” Harding did nothing but encourage business.) LBJ’s deliberate mimicking of FDR’s New Deal put in motion the Great Society, the aftermath of which has been economic growth on a par with that of the TR-Wilson era.

Now comes Barack Obama, a storefront version of TR, FDR, and LBJ. “Bush fatigue” elected him and presented him with a Democrat-controlled Congress. He took his luck for a kind of divine mandate, which he exploited to impose upon Americans his ruinous visions of universal health care, Keynesian deficit-spending, and defensive weakness (masked by the inconsequential if satisfying erasure of bin Laden).

God save us from “leaders” who want to be our saviors. For every Lincoln — whose principal legacy was the forcible stitching up of a union that has yet to heal — there are too many TRs, WWs, FDRs, LBJs, and BHOs.

Related posts:
The Price of Government
Fascism and the Future of America
The Indivisibility of Economic and Social Liberty
The Price of Government Redux
The Real Burden of Government
The Illusion of Prosperity and Stability
The Mega-Depression
Estimating the Rahn Curve: Or, How Government Inhibits Economic Growth
Money, Credit, and Economic Fluctuations
A Keynesian Fantasy Land
The Keynesian Fallacy and Regime Uncertainty
Why the “Stimulus” Failed to Stimulate
Regime Uncertainty and the Great Recession
Regulation as Wishful Thinking
Vulgar Keynesianism and Capitalism
Why Are Interest Rates So Low?
Don’t Just Stand There, “Do Something”
Economic Growth Since World War II
The Commandeered Economy

Hank Williams Jr. and Hitler

Better late than never. This is the about equating Obama with Hitler, as Hank Williams Jr. did earlier this month.

Aaron Goldstein of The American Spectator doesn’t like Hitler analogies:

[C]omparing anyone to Hitler who hasn’t committed genocide (or aspires to do so) only serves to trivialize the evil committed in his name and ideology.

I must disagree with Mr. Goldstein. Specifically, Hitler was not only a genocidal maniac but also a despot who commandeered Germany’s economy and society and molded them to suit his ends.

My money says that Obama — like FDR, his presidential role model — is greatly inclined in the same direction. Consider, for example, the evident willingness of a senior administration official to curb speech critical of Islam as a form of racial discrimination, the administration’s overt attack on freedom of religion, and Obama’s attack on bullying as another way of curbing speech. Obama’s attempt to seize the health-care industry — along with the auto and financial industries — may generate more headlines, but his insidious efforts to stifle Americans’ basic freedoms says volumes about his fascistic mindset.

Related posts:
Calling a Nazi a Nazi
FDR and Fascism
The People’s Romance
Fascism
Fascism with a “Friendly” Face
Fascism and the Future of America
Tocqueville’s Prescience
Invoking Hitler
The State of the Union: 2010
The Shape of Things to Come
I Want My Country Back