Monday, July 13, 2009

RE: S.C. Sen. DeMint says Nazi Germany was a "Social Democracy"

Defending DeMint (Sort Of, or Maybe Not — What He Said About Pre-War Germany Was Still Incredibly Stupid)

On Tuesday, Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina, one of the more extreme of Congressional Republicans, said this at the National Press Club:

They understand socialism. They understand tyrants. But none of us have ever had it here. We don’t even know what it looks like. Part of what we’re trying to do in Saving Freedom [his book] is just show that where we are, we’re about where Germany was before World War II where they became a social democracy.

Now, what did he mean by that? To me, it’s pretty clear: He was referring not to Nazi Germany but to Weimar Germany, to the socialism before the national socialism. On this, I agree with Ed Kilgore.

Others, however, have not been so generous. Jon Chait, for example, thinks DeMint was comparing Obama’s America to Hitler’s Germany. So does Chris Orr. And Steve Benen. (Three bloggers I admire a great deal.) In contrast, Matt Yglesias thinks that DeMint is confusing Germany’s Nazis and Social Democrats (who opposed the Nazis before the war).

But I don’t want to be overly generous myself. I suspect that DeMint knows very little German history, perhaps none at all, and he may just have been mixing everything up. The Obama-is-a-socialist and socialism-is-fascism (and hence Obama-is-a-fascist) memes are big on the right, and DeMint was obviously riffing off that ridiculous connection.

But what I think he was saying — or, at least, it’s how it reads to me — is that social democracy is a precursor to fascism, just as Nazi Germany replaced Weimar Germany. In this sense, Obama isn’t a Nazi but a pre-Nazi — or something like that.

Of course, this is just as stupid as saying directly that Obama is a fascist. Yglesias is quite right, after all, that the social democrats were not the precursors to but the opponents of Nazism, and they suffered greatly under Hitler. Just because social democracy preceded national socialism, it does not follow that the one became the other, or at least that the one made the other possible. Nazism was not an extension of social democracy but a reaction to it, a rejection of it.

But let’s come back to 2009 America.

It is similarly stupid to assert — and this is currently a popular line on the right — that Obama is a socialist, or that his agenda amounts to socialism, that, if left unchecked, he and the Democrats will shortly replace capitalism with socialism. If anything, Obama is, like FDR before him, seeking to rescue capitalism from its own excesses, and it will, if he succeeds, emerge stronger for it. If anything, Obama has been too much of a pragmatist and not enough of a reformer. If he has disappointed, it has been because, thus far, he hasn’t been nearly progressive enough, not because he has overturned the capitalist order. He sought market solutions to the economic crisis, after all, saving the banks by bailing them out, not by taking them over. Yes, there’s General Motors, but the plan there is not for the state to run the auto industry but for the auto industry to pull itself out of the mess it created for itself while the state prevents an all-out collapse. This isn’t nationalization, it’s a safety net for industry — even for industries that hardly deserve one.

But no matter. The right — DeMint et al. — will continue to puncture the historical record with their crass partisan propaganda. And that means comparing Obama to Hitler, in one way or another.

(Cross-posted from The Reaction.)

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