Republicans lead fascist attack on Constitution (yes, really)

Last month, Louisiana’s Sen. David Vitter and Kentucky’s Sen. Rand Paul introduced legislation aimed at amending the Fourteenth Amendment—specifically, denying birthright citizenship to those born to undocumented immigrants. (The State Column, Jan. 30) This idea was notoriously broached last year (“worth considering,” he said) by then-House Minority Leader—today House Speaker—John Boehner. (CNN, Aug. 8, 2010) This would be an alarming enough development, if it were not happening amid a sinister mainstreaming of pro-Confederacy revisionism…

The Minneapolis Star Tribune informs us Feb. 15:

Some white Mississippians want to mark the 150th anniversary of the Civil War with commemorative license plates. The Sons of Confederate Veterans want the plates to honor Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest, who was also a notorious Ku Klux Klan leader.

Mississippi’s NAACP is urging Gov. Haley Barbour to denounce the effort. Barbour, a possible 2012 Republican presidential candidate, took several days to ponder whether it’s a bad thing to honor a white supremacist thug who led violence against blacks.

Today, he finally broke his silence on the matter, saying he wouldn’t denounce the effort.

Nathan Bedford Forrest was the founder of the Klan (not just a “leader”)—but also, as a Confederate general, author of the Fort Pillow massacre, where Black POWs were killed en masse in Tennessee in 1864… So the 14th Amendment, which instated equal rights in the aftermath of the Civil War and slavery’s abolition, is under attack just as the legacy of the Confederacy is being rehabilitated. This isn’t just a coincidence. Follow the political logic…

Both Rand Paul and Haley Barbour are, to varying degrees, partisans of the Tea Party. Last year, when former President Bill Clinton observed that Tea Party rhetoric is similar to that brandished by the grassroots right prior to the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, Barbour jumped into action. The chairman of the Republican Governors Association told Fox News that suggesting the “Tea Party movement is going to cause people to be violent” is the “biggest crock that you’ve ever seen.” (Politico, April 19, 2010) (To be fair, this was before the Tucson massacre, before the conviction of Minuteman leader Shawna Forde on child murder charges, and before a populism-spouting yahoo was busted for attempting to shoot up the San Francisco ACLU—although just weeks after the suicide attack on the Austin IRS building!) Rand Paul, for his part, has got a new book out, The Tea Party Goes to Washington. (You can read an excerpt at In The Arena blog, Feb. 25.)

The Tea Party is also serving as the “grassroots” opposition to the ongoing protest vigil against Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s effort to gut state workers of their collective bargaining rights, now in its 11th day. The generally anemic (thank goodness) counter-protests have been courtesy of the Tea Party. And with Republican governors preparing similar rollbacks in Indiana, Ohio, New Jersey and elsewhere, the Tea Party may find itself very useful to those attempting to foist the burden for the economic crisis more firmly onto the backs of the working class. From Reuters, Feb. 25:

Wisconsin Republicans’ drive for budget cuts and a rollback of labor power is a boost to conservatives, Tea Party activists say, though some worry momentum is being lost to pro-union demonstrators.

Activists with the Tea Party Patriots—one of the anti-establishment conservative groups that shook up the Republican Party in November congressional elections—are gathering in Phoenix this weekend for a three-day summit as Wisconsin’s fight over union rights simmers.

These are about the most insightful words one can expect to read in wire copy. The Wisconsin movement is the first time since Obama’s election that the left has started to seize back some of the populist fire from the right. If progressives do not mobilize against capital’s attack, the populist space will be usurped by the right—which will wed its supposed stance in favor of the “little man” to forms easily exploited by the ruling elites: racism, xenophobia and paranoid anti-commnism. This is why we maintain that progressives must wage a three-way fight—against both the lords of capital and the fascist right.

Yes, we said “fascist.” Spare us the lectures on Godwin’s Law. Fascism isn’t a frivolous analogy here, it is what we are talking about. Those who know the history of the rise of classical fascism in Europe understand that this is exactly how it works: In response to rising movements of the working class, a right-wing populism is harnessed to create a corps of thugs to beat workers back into submission. This was precisely the role of the Brown Shirts in Germany and the Black Shirts in Italy. Once fascism consolidates power and the left is safely crushed, the populists are inevitably betrayed with extreme violence (see “Night of the Long Knives,” June 29-30, 1934).

This is why the calls to tweak the 14th amendment and the concomitant mainstreaming of Confederacy-nostalgia are even more sinister than they superficially appear. It would be the beginning of formalizing white supremacy. The anti-immigrant backlash has already seen the seeds of a system of de facto two-tier citizenship. The next step would be to repeal the notion of equal rights entirely.

Despite their fetishization of “original intent” of the Constitution (and especially the Second Amendment), the right has a special bugaboo about the 14th Amendment. The persistent right-wing folklore that the 14th Amendment created “two classes” of citizens (“sovereign” or “organic” and “14th amendment” or “admiralty law”) is clearly derived from the simple unwillingness to accept non-whites as full citizens. The worst elements mix this notion up with the “two-seed” theory of the Christian Identity movement, holding that non-whites are the offspring of Satan. This sounds utterly wacky, of course—because it is. But the brains behind the Militia movement in the ’90s adhered to this doctrine, and these men were just one degree removed from Pat Buchanan.

An obstacle to the rise of a fascist movement in this country is, of course, the fact that the US fought the Nazis in World War II. This means that an openly pro-fascist stance runs into trouble with the appeal to nationalism and militarism that is always a pillar of fascism. This contradiction necessitates the adoption of pseudo-anti-fascist rhetoric. Hence the alarmingly widespread perception on the American right that Nazism was a phenomenon of the left because of the “national socialism” rhetoric—precisely the rhetoric that made Nazism appealing to populist sentiment during its rise to power! This is what we have identified as the application of Hitler’s own ideology and propaganda techniques to Hitler himself.

A critical key to resisting fascism’s rise is learning to recognize it in its new guises—even when it paradoxically employs anti-fascist rhetoric (Obama as Hitler, ATF agents as “jack-booted thugs,” Hitler as an advocate of gun control, etc.) As Huey Long, Louisiana’s populist governor and senator of the 1930s, is supposed to have said: “Fascism will come to America in the name of anti-fascism.”

That’s the way it could work here. The most reactionary elements of the white working class (and downwardly-mobile middle class) will get ethnic scapegoats and the promise of a nation purged of foreign contagions as they are used to beat back the progressive elements of the working class—until such time as their work is done and they have outlived their usefulness to the ruling class. By which time we will all be under some form of American fascism that will almost certainly call itself something other than “fascism.”

Or am I just paranoid?

See our last post on the worldwide rise of the radical right.

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  1. The progressive counter-attack is on… we hope
    From ThinkProgress, March 13:

    Madison Rally Bigger Than Biggest Tea Party Rally
    Police estimated up to 100,000 people turned out in Madison, WI yesterday to protest Gov. Scott Walker’s (R) assault on unions, making it bigger than any protests the city has witnessed, even those during the Vietnam War. The Madison rally is part of a much larger Main Street Movement of average Americans demanding fairness in labor laws, social spending, and taxation that has emerged in Ohio, New Jersey, Florida, Michigan, and elsewhere. But yesterday’s rally in Madison is noteworthy because at 85,000-100,000, it was bigger than the biggest tea party protest, the September 12, 2009 rally in Washington, D.C., which turned out only an estimated 60,000-70,000.

  2. Tea Party: don’t let renters vote
    The CBS MoneyWatch blog back in December noted a quote from Tea Party Nation Radio:

    The Founding Fathers originally said, they put certain restrictions on who gets the right to vote. It wasn’t you were just a citizen and you got to vote. Some of the restrictions, you know, you obviously would not think about today. But one of those was you had to be a property owner. And that makes a lot of sense, because if you’re a property owner you actually have a vested stake in the community. If you’re not a property owner, you know, I’m sorry but property owners have a little bit more of a vested interest in the community than non-property owners.

    Will somebody please say clearly that the Tea Party is way off the spectrum of legitimate political debate?

    1. If it’s such a burden to own, don’t
      A vested stake = property owners prey upon their community for profit. Renters don’t. 150 years after Henry George and we still have landlords.

  3. The Republican Threat to Voting
    A thusly entitled New York Times editorial, April 27:

    Less than a year before the 2012 presidential voting begins, Republican legislatures and governors across the country are rewriting voting laws to make it much harder for the young, the poor and African-Americans – groups that typically vote Democratic – to cast a ballot.

    Spreading fear of a nonexistent flood of voter fraud, they are demanding that citizens be required to show a government-issued identification before they are allowed to vote. Republicans have been pushing these changes for years, but now more than two-thirds of the states have adopted or are considering such laws. The Advancement Project, an advocacy group of civil rights lawyers, correctly describes the push as “the largest legislative effort to scale back voting rights in a century.”

    Anyone who has stood on the long lines at a motor vehicle office knows that it isn’t easy to get such documents. For working people, it could mean giving up a day’s wages.

    A survey by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law found that 11 percent of citizens, 21 million people, do not have a current photo ID. That fraction increases to 15 percent of low-income voting-age citizens, 18 percent of young eligible voters and 25 percent of black eligible voters. Those demographic groups tend to vote Democratic, and Republicans are imposing requirements that they know many will be unable to meet.

    Kansas’ new law was drafted by its secretary of state, Kris Kobach, who also wrote Arizona’s anti-immigrant law. Voters will be required to show a photo ID at the polls. Before they can register, Kansans will have to produce a proof of citizenship, such as a birth certificate.

    Tough luck if you don’t happen to have one in your pocket when you’re at the county fair and you pass the voter registration booth. Or when the League of Women Voters brings its High School Registration Project to your school cafeteria. Or when you show up at your dorm at the University of Kansas without your birth certificate. Sorry, you won’t be voting in Lawrence, and probably not at all.

    That’s fine with Gov. Sam Brownback, who said he signed the bill because it’s necessary to “ensure the sanctity of the vote.” Actually, Kansas has had only one prosecution for voter fraud in the last six years. But because of that vast threat to Kansas democracy, an estimated 620,000 Kansas residents who lack a government ID now stand to lose their right to vote.

    Eight states already had photo ID laws. Now more than 30 other states are joining the bandwagon of disenfranchisement, as Republicans outdo each other to propose bills with new voting barriers. The Wisconsin bill refuses to recognize college photo ID cards, even if they are issued by a state university, thus cutting off many students at the University of Wisconsin and other campuses. The Texas bill, so vital that Gov. Rick Perry declared it emergency legislation, would also reject student IDs, but would allow anyone with a handgun license to vote.

    A Florida bill would curtail early voting periods, which have proved popular and brought in new voters, and would limit address changes at the polls. “I’m going to call this bill for what it is, good-old-fashioned voter suppression,” Ben Wilcox of the League of Women Voters told The Florida Times-Union.

    Many of these bills were inspired by the American Legislative Exchange Council, a business-backed conservative group, which has circulated voter ID proposals in scores of state legislatures. The Supreme Court, unfortunately, has already upheld Indiana’s voter ID requirement, in a 2008 decision that helped unleash the stampede of new bills. Most of the bills have yet to pass, and many may not meet the various balancing tests required by the Supreme Court. There is still time for voters who care about democracy in their states to speak out against lawmakers who do not.

  4. Wisconsin judge strikes down collective bargaining law
    After Scott Walker survived a recall election over this issue in June (Political HotSheet, June 5), here’s some good news. From our friends at Jurist, Sept. 15:

    A Wisconsin judge on Friday struck down a controversial law that limits the collective bargaining rights of public sector unions. Juan Colas, a judge for the Dane County Circuit Courtheld that the collective bargaining law, known as the Budget Repair Bill, violated union workers’ rights to freedom of speech, freedom of association and equal protection under the US and Wisconsin constitutions. The Budget Repair Bill forces most state workers to pay more in health insurance and other benefits and compels unions to be recertified each year. Reaction to the court’s decision was mixed. State Assembly leader Peter Barca (D-Kenosha) called the decision a “huge victory for Wisconsin workers”. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker said that while he was disappointed with the Circuit Court’s ruling, he remained confident that the Budget Repair Bill will be upheld on appeal.

    The Budget Repair Bill has been the subject of copious legal and political controversy since its passage in March 2011. In July the Wisconsin Supreme Court refused to reopen a case challenging the Budget Repair Bill because of a justice’s refusal to recuse himself. The Supreme Court’s upholding of the Budget Repair Bill overruled a Dane County Circuit Court’s decision last year that struck down the law for violations of the open meetings rule. The law had previously been temporarily blocked from publication and implementation by the same judge. The bill, which limits collective bargaining rights of state employees and requires them to contribute a percentage of their salaries to their health care and pensions, was signed into law in March of last year.


  5. Wisconsin judge denies stay on public worker union law
    More good news from Jurist, Oct. 23:

    The Dane County Circuit Court on Oct. 22 denied  Wisconsin Attorney General JB Van Hollen‘s request to delay invalidating certain provisions of a controversial law limiting the collective bargaining rights of public sector unions. The Budget Repair Bill forces most state workers to pay more in health insurance and other benefits and compels unions to be recertified each year. Judge Juan Colas reasoned that Van Hollen failed to provide sufficient evidence demonstrating that Wisconsin would suffer fiscal consequences if the stay was denied.