Liberal Fascism

Another Perspective

In response to my shamelessly self-promoting column today (for the record the LAT asked me to write about it):

Do you know who Prescott Bush was you IDIOT?!?

John Stewart tore you a new hole, rightfully so!

Explain this you a***hole

Me: Note, the asterisks are mine, but the correspondent put three S’s in a**hole.

More substantively, I continue to marvel how the story of Prescott Bush — and it is a story — counts as a major rebuttal to everything I’m arguing. The Prescott Bush story could be entirely true and it would change a few words in one paragraph and one footnote in my book. That’s it.  It amounts to a so’s-your-mom retort, if that. But I think it does expose some of the magical thinking in liberalism. Politics is a morality tale for the left; good guys fighting bad guys. It’s not about arguments or trade-offs, but about the Forces of Light defeating the Forces of Darkness (and yes of course, I’m over-generalizing). So it matters a great deal that Prescott and George H. Walker were Nazis. But it matters not a whit that (as I wrote yesterday) that Joseph Kennedy was avowedly pro-Nazi. Because Joseph Kennedy is part of the Good Guys team, so any inconvenient facts simply slide off. Averill Harriman, FDR’s Ambassador to Moscow, was in fact far more implicated in Bush’s firm’s dealings with Nazi Germany (though I’m not sure he’s worth condemning either), but focusing on him distorts the narrative thrust of the left’s morality tale about the evils of Bush. Anyway, the moment someone raises Prescott Bush as a retort to my book I know I don’t have to spend a lot of time worrying about what they have to say.

For those interested, here’s an excerpt from Peter Schweizer’s NRO piece on the subject:

One of Phillips’s most attention-grabbing chapters posits the theory that the Bushes were involved in the rise of Adolf Hitler. While he correctly notes that Brown Brothers Harriman, an investment-banking firm employing Prescott Bush and George H. Walker (George W.’s great-grandfather), invested in Nazi-era German companies, Phillips fails to note that it was Averell Harriman, later FDR’s ambassador to Moscow and Truman’s commerce secretary, who initiated these investments (and some in Soviet Russia) before either of the Bushes joined the firm. Prescott Bush did not oversee these investments; the reality is that he was involved almost exclusively in managing the firm’s domestic portfolio. It was Harriman who largely managed the foreign investments and, accordingly, it was he who met German and Soviet leaders.

Phillips also makes much of the fact that Prescott Bush was involved with the Union Banking Corporation, which was seized by federal authorities in 1942 under the Trading with the Enemy Act, a story frequently cited on left-wing websites. But what Phillips fails to mention is that Bush had only a token role in the bank: Of the more than four thousand shares, Prescott Bush owned only one — urged on him by Harriman. Moreover, despite the conspiratorial argument that members of the WASP elite always work together hand in glove, Bush and Harriman were never as close as Phillips leads one to believe: Harriman actually campaigned aggressively against Bush in his 1952 senate race.

Jonah Goldberg, a senior editor of National Review and the author of Suicide of the West, holds the Asness Chair in Applied Liberty at the American Enterprise Institute.

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