Commentators cannot seem to leave the memory of Nazi Germany alone. Nazi comparisons became especially heinous after the 2008 presidential election, when haters compared President Barack Obama to Hitler. After all, the narrative ran, both were “collectivist,” “charismatic” leaders who preyed on people’s fears to bring about impossible utopia. Climate change skeptic William Happer even compared calls to reduce carbon dioxide in the atmosphere as the equivalent of Hitler’s demonization of Jews. Last but not least, however, is Mike Huckabee’s recent assertion that by accepting the international community’s nuclear accord with Iran, President Obama has led to the “door of the oven.”
Which brings us to a recent piece in National Review, a magazine once described by The New Republic as the bible of American conservatism. Liberal Markos Moulitsas, who runs DailyKos, even went so far as to say, “I do like the blogs at the National Review — I do think their writers are the best in the [conservative] blogosphere.” National Review is therefore seen as a responsible institution, albeit Occasional Planet readers, myself included, would probably disagree with more often than not. This would in theory prevent NR from running an offensive, factually inaccurate, and altogether tasteless article about the “national-socialism” of Bernie Sanders. They ran it anyway.
Here is the central passage:
[Bernie Sanders] is, in fact, leading a national-socialist movement, which is a queasy and uncomfortable thing to write about a man who is the son of Jewish immigrants from Poland and whose family was murdered in the Holocaust. But there is no other way to characterize his views and his politics.
National Socialism was the state ideology of Nazi Germany. It was not socialist but fascist. Therefore, even though it supposedly made author Kevin D. Williamson “queasy” and “uncomfortable”, he called Bernie Sanders the equivalent of a Nazi. If it made Williamson queasy, one would think he would reconsider writing it, but he did not. I cannot overstate how offensive this is to me as a Jewish person. But more important than my personal feelings, obviously, is that the comparison between Sanders and the Nazis is inaccurate and harmful to our political discourse.
The argument that National Review forwards is, in short: Bernie Sanders is a socialist and also concerned about international trade deals. He is therefore a racist nationalist:
The incessant reliance on xenophobic (and largely untrue) tropes holding that the current economic woes of the United States are the result of scheming foreigners.
The NR author even compares Sanders to Pat Buchanan and his (actually racist) isolationism. I will trust in my readership not to believe this logical leap. However you feel about international trade deals, opposition to them does not make one a nationalist, let alone a fascist.
Williamson wrote that there was “no other way” to describe Sanders. But one comes to me by thinking about his argument for just a few minutes: “Socialist-protectionist.” That’s his issue with Sanders, is it not? But using “national-socialist” would undoubtedly bring more visitors to National Review’s website.
Williamson thus used the genocide of my fellow Jews, as well as the other 50-million-plus victims of National Socialism, as his rhetorical prop. The rhetorical point he made wasn’t even useful or poignant: His article is mostly mocking Sanders’ supporters as washed-up radicals and young fools.
Let me say this for anyone reading–liberal, conservative and elsewise: Democratic socialism is the polar opposite of fascism. Fascism is corporatist, where democratic socialism values economic democracy. Fascism is centralization. Democratic socialism is local decision-making. Fascism is militarist. Democratic socialism preaches peace and solidarity. Socialism was the driving force behind the anti-fascist coalition in the 1930s and 1940s, whereas many respectable conservatives (like Williamson purports to be) joined up with Hitler, Mussolini, and Franco.
The 2016 presidential race is already shaping up to be a national embarrassment: Donald Trump leads the Republican polls, and Hilary Clinton promotes herself as a progressive despite her donor list looking like the Fortune 500, according to OpenSecrets.org. It is a further embarrassment that Williamson and other conservatives use the memory of genocide to make petty, unfounded accusations of Bernie Sanders. His Nazi-baiting will not sway my vote. It should not sway yours.