The Corner

Hendrick Hertzberg & The F-Word

He writes:

One of the signs that a political movement may be approaching terminal decline is when its more excitable elements begin to see “fascism” where none exists.

He then goes on to attack yours truly, Michael Ledeen and others. In a related post he goes after Ron Radosh.

I enjoy this sort of thing because I hear it so often from liberals who insist that no serious liberal ever used the term “fascist” to describe their political opponents. Anyone who has read my book — or who has even paid attention to politics — over the last 30, 40 or 70 years knows this is simply not true. Off the top of my head, Bill Clinton, Al Gore, Lyndon Johnson, Harry Truman, Charles Rangel, Alan Wolfe, nearly every Hollywood activist one can think of, and — I’m sure if I looked — numerous contributors to the New Yorker have made ad hitlerum arguments about the American right, which (broadly speaking) believes in limited government, free markets and traditional values (tenets loathed by fascists).

Hertzberg goes on to say that unlike Michael Ledeen and yours truly — supposedly major luminaries with posh billets on the right — “the lefties [of yesteryear] who cried ‘fascism’ were marginal cranks, without the slightest influence in the Democratic Party or any Democratic Administration.”

So would that include Hugh Johnson, the man who ran FDR’s National Recovery Administration and was hailed as Time’s Man of the Year in 1934? (Roosevelt himself was Man of the Year in 1933). This would be the same Hugh Johnson who distributed a memo at the Democratic Convention proposing that FDR becoming a Mussolini-like dictator? The same Hugh Johnson who handed out copies of The Corporate State — an Italian fascist propaganda pamphlet — to fellow members of FDR’s cabinet? The same Hugh Johnson who hung a portrait of Mussolini on his office wall as head of the NRA?

Admittedly, Johnson didn’t “cry fascism” he cheered fascism (as did, to one extent or another, Herbert Croly, Charles Beard, Lincoln Steffens, Rexford Tugwell and other presumably marginal cranks who provided the intellectual framework for New Deal liberalism), but that shouldn’t be a point in Hertzberg’s favor. Norman Thomas, the head of the American Socialist party did cry fascism, as did many others to the left and the right of FDR, but I wouldn’t call all of them marginal cranks and I certainly wouldn’t say none of them had any influence over any Democratic administration.

Indeed, was FDR a “marginal crank” when he acknowledged that “what we were doing in this country were some of the things that were being done in Russia and even some of the things that were being done under Hitler in Germany. But we were doing them in an orderly way.”

Needless to say, I could go on.

Update: Bingo. Here’s Steve Coll in the New Yorker last October:

“McCain is right in detecting signs of growing class resentment; some of the angry are turning up at McCain-Palin rallies, where the mood has been not so much socialist as national-socialist.”

Update II: From a reader:

Terminal decline?  Seems to me that he has this exactly backwards.  Aren’t the people that have been calling Bush a fascist running everything now?

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