Saturday, July 13, 2013
W.W. In The Economist is troubled by the fact that Hendrik Hertzberg is untroubled.
HENDRIK HERTZBERG of the New Yorker is untroubled by the NSA's promiscuous data-gathering operations. In response to a left-leaning friend's despairing note about the complacency of a press corps faced with the spectre of "the encroaching police state", Mr Hertzberg shrugs:“I still don’t know of a single instance where the N.S.A. data program has encroached on or repressed any particular person’s or group’s freedom of expression or association in a tangible way. Nor have I come across a clear explanation of exactly how the program could be put to such a purpose.But even if the program could be misused in that way, for it to happen you would have to have a malevolent government—or, at least, a government with a malevolent, out-of-control component or powerful official or officials.”
W.W. faults Hertzberg for failing to understand that the NSA surveillance program seriously threatens Americans’ constitutional rights. He’s concerned about what a powerful government may do with all the data that it is Hoovering from its citizens. He’s concerned what that government has already begun to do.
But Hertzberg is untroubled. And the reason for his lack of concern has nothing to do with principle and everything to do with the fact that he trusts THIS government. And that’s what partisan ideology does. He’s a true believer, and true believers hold on to their faith despite evidence to the contrary.
For the rest of this essay I’m here to say: To Hell with “Godwin’s Law.”
I’m going to remind people about the Nazis. I’m going to remind people that Hitler ran a popular police state. That's really not so rare, in fact it's quite common. Popular doesn’t mean that he was universally loved. Popular means that he had a huge following and millions adored him, especially the women. He was popular because he addressed a lot of the issues that troubled Germany in the 1930s. I’m confident that if a poll had been held after he took over a large number of the German people would have told the pollster that Adolf Hitler was the kind of person who “cares about people like me.” As an example, when Hitler came to power cars in Germany were for the wealthy. The average German rode a bicycle or motor scooter. He decided that the average German should have a car that they could afford, just like Americans. So he had the Nazi trade unions create the "People's Car:" "Volkswagen" in German. Unlike Solydra, Volkswagen is still a going concern.
The average German did not become Nazi party members, but they loved him. They loved his speeches, his stagecraft, his policies and even his wars because in the beginning he brought them victory. The problem was that he didn’t know when to stop. He was a narcissist and believed his own bullshit. In that respect he was not that different from other leaders.
Do you know what’s terribly misleading about the movies of Hitler’s speeches? First, most people don’t speak German so we see edited versions of a man ranting; that’s a mistake, he wasn't ranting in an unintelligible language, he was connecting with his audience. Hitler’s speeches were carefully crafted to appeal to his people. The second thing that’s misleading is that the camera usually dwells on the stage. What people should be looking at is the audience; an audience composed of thousands of little Hendrik Herzbergs. On that stage they don’t see a fanatic standing in front of banners and symbols of party power. They don’t a see a (to use Herzberg's phrase) “malevolent government—or, at least, a government with a malevolent, out-of-control component or powerful official or officials.” They see someone who cares about them and who has a vision for a Germany that rejects its past mistakes and is re-born; led by the ones they have been waiting for.
Conservatives view this country as unique among nations in its founding as a constitutional representative republic dedicated individual freedom. It is that ideal, an ideal (that this country has fallen short of like all ideals) that makes America a “Shining city on a hill.” When they are not rejecting the very idea of American Exceptionalism, they are believers in a certain kind of American Exceptionalism. I believe that there resides in the innermost belief system of many Liberals the belief that America can never fall into the despotism that has been the fate of all other countries. Deep down inside they believe that the American people really are a race apart; somehow better than those benighted English or Germans or Italians or Japanese or Russians or Zulus all of whom entertained despotic rulers. It's reflected in their wish to do away with the Second Amendment because to them it's absurd that Americans should ever have to actually use guns to physically confront the government. Why they think that is a puzzle since America is largely made up of people from nations that are or were despotic. But when logic and ideology collide, ideology always triumphs.
That’s why Hendrik Herzberg is dangerous; he is a perfect, rapt, enthusiastic member of the dictator’s audience, as long as it's HIS dictator.