Tuesday, February 09, 2010

As Germany entered the Depression of the 1930s, angry voices began to blame the economic disaster on outsiders: Jews, Communists, foreign conspirators, bankers, and the like. They were increasingly strident; their stupid and incendiary claims were highly newsworthy; their appeal to military force resonated with German tradition; and the simple core message--that the ordinary, hardworking German volk were innocent victims of evil forces--was very attractive to people who never normally thought much about public affairs. So they elected a demagogue named Adolph Hitler.

In the United States today, a similar scenario has been shaping up. Without a tradition of anti-Semitism, or a serious threat from Communism, the alleged conspirators are somewhat different: Terrorists, Moslems the Chinese, liberals, immigrants, and of course bankers. But like their radical predecessors in Germany, America's radical right makes stupid and incendiary claims that capture the media's attention; their love of force appeals to traditional values; and their simple core message--that the ordinary, hardworking middle-class American is the innocent victim of it all--is wonderfully appealing, especially to those unaccustomed to thinking about public affairs.

There are, however, significant differences. Unlike in Germany, the radical right's perspective clashes with important American values. Despite repeated claims to love liberty, their programs obviously trample the Constitution and traditional commitments to human rights. And to a certain degree, the radical right in America had a much larger role in creating the current problems than did Germany's radical right. The current crisis is really the culmination of a decades-long trend that began in California under Ronald Reagan, when an anti-tax movement focused on cutting services to the poor and the lower middle class took hold. Since then, the radical right has repeatedly cut taxes and public services, including regulation, but at the same time ran up huge deficits by spending vastly more on armaments and wars.

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