The Lileks Zone

Unparalleled Blather

Among all the people on the left who preen their new-found admiration for Reagan – he was so reasonably, you see, unlike these Teepers – it’s always refreshing to come across someone who’s as dunderheaded about the Gipper as old-style Democrats. This article by Bonnie Blodgett, a masterful fugue of disconnected idiocy about the imminence of American fascism, makes an interesting assertion early on:

Roosevelt had a more nuanced understanding of economics than Reagan did. He knew that fascism is capitalism without boundaries, that both fascism and communism (with a small “c”) are apolitical, and that economics trumps politics every time.

Yes, a nuanced understanding of economics. Like, setting the price of gold arbitrarily. Works every time!   From

Over the summer of 1933, FDR found himself relying increasingly on someone he was sure would say “yes”—Morgenthau, his timid old Dutchess County neighbor who held a post at the Farm Credit Administration. With the aid of his “yes” man, Roosevelt launched a novel gold purchase program. The plan was to drive up the general price level by buying gold. Each morning, FDR set the gold price target, personally. This in turn was supposed to help farmers, who would get higher prices for commodities.

Theoretically, Roosevelt’s idea of reflating can be defended. More money might mean more growth.

But the exposure to investors that Morgenthau was getting through the gold purchase project of 1933 was already teaching him something. Investors didn’t like the arbitrariness. It took away their confidence. One day Morgenthau asked FDR why the president had chosen to drive up the price of gold by 21 cents. The president cavalierly said he’d done that because 21 was seven times three, and three was a lucky number. “If anyone ever knew how we really set the gold price through a combination of lucky numbers etc., I think they would be frightened,” Morgenthau wrote in his diary. And they were: In the second half of 1933 a powerful stock rally flattened.

Eventually FDR decided people shouldn’t own gold, because, well, because. And he  decided that the best way to run the economy was to set prices. It was a case against a chicken seller that made the court declare the NRA unconstitutional, as this PBS site explains:

In reviewing the conviction of a poultry company for breaking the Live Poultry Code, the Court held that the code violated the Constitution’s separation of powers because it was written by agents of the president with no genuine congressional direction.

But that’s okay because FDR was smart. Let’s look at some of the charges brought against the poultry company, and see if there’s a few that stick out to you:

Schechter Poultry Corporation, the defendant in the case, purchased live poultry from commissioners in New York City and Philadelphia and sold slaughtered poultry to retailers and butchers in Brooklyn. Schechter was charged by the U.S. government with violating the poultry code by selling “unfit chickens,” illegally selling chickens on an individual basis, avoiding inspections by local poultry regulators, falsifying records of poultry sold, and selling poultry to nonlicensed purchasers.

There are two things: selling chickens to someone who does not have a license from the state to buy chickens, and selling chickens individually. Because it is the job of the state to regulate the selling of a single chicken. The state has the right to charge you with a crime if you do not conform to the laws regarding the sale of a single chicken.

Ah, but this is getting away from our discussion of fascism, isn’t it. Back to the column, which sums up the mindset Reagan opposed.  Do you know why the Soviet Union had control of the Eastern Bloc? Because they deserved it. Heck, they earned it. Discussing the baleful influence of money in politics she writes:

Most Americans in the 1950s paid scant attention to any of this, thanks in part to the sense of security FDR had provided by ending the Depression and winning the war. To them Stalin was the new Hitler. After all, hadn’t Stalin annexed the entire eastern bloc in a brazen, Nazi-style power grab?

Something else FDR understood, having fought with the Soviets and having sat beside their leader at Yalta, was that those countries were the spoils of a war that took 40 million Russian lives.

Isn’t that an interesting standard? If a nation attacks you, and you fight back, everything between his border and you border . . . is yours! Of course they deserved to have Poland. They’d been through so much. 

The Berlin Wall speech, as you might imagine, irritated her:

Fast-forward four decades. By the time Reagan imperiously commanded Gorbachev to “tear down that wall,” the evil empire had already imploded. It was in its death throes. The U.S. president relished his opportunity to turn the Russian people’s suffering into a live-action morality tale.

The longer the bread lines in Moscow, the more he mocked the austerity that such images displayed. To Reagan, the lesson could not have been simpler. Get out those credit cards, America, and turn up the thermostat. The Cold War’s over and the good guys won.

Stalin’s appropriation of land to create an empire? Payback. Reagan insisting he let those nations go? Imperious. As for Reagan’s love of Soviet suffering, here’s an excerpt from his famous Berlin speech 25 years ago:

The totalitarian world produces backwardness because it does such violence to the spirit, thwarting the human impulse to create, to enjoy, to worship. The totalitarian world finds even symbols of love and of worship an affront. Years ago, before the East Germans began rebuilding their churches, they erected a secular structure: the television tower at Alexander Platz. Virtually ever since, the authorities have been working to correct what they view as the tower’s one major flaw, treating the glass sphere at the top with paints and chemicals of every kind. Yet even today when the sun strikes that sphere—that sphere that towers over all Berlin—the light makes the sign of the cross. There in Berlin, like the city itself, symbols of love, symbols of worship, cannot be suppressed.

Anyway, we’re going to have fascism now because of corporate money, thanks to Citizens United.  Blodgett writes:

it wasn’t socialism that brought Europe to the brink of bankruptcy but American-style capitalism — real-estate deals and other high-risk ventures facilitated by something called the credit default swap that was all the more effective for its inscrutability.

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy is learning the hard way that inscrutability is fascism’s ultimate weapon. His was the swing vote in the Citizens United case. He wrote the majority opinion granting corporations the same free-speech rights as people.

In the real world, that means unlimited spending on right-wing political causes and candidates . . .


Citizens United, of course, was brought because a private group wanted to distribute a film that was critical of Hillary Clinton. (You wonder if there had been an attempt by the Bush Administration to ban the distribution of “Fahrenheit 911,” also the product of a private group, if this would have been seen as a sign the system was working to the benefit of free speech.) Now the idea that private individuals can spend money to criticize government policy or put contrary policy ideas forward is fascism, which indicates either a complete inversion of the term’s definition, or an authorial inability to grasp its original meaning.

But “Fascism” now means “rule by corporations” in the lazy mind, as if Hitler was just the pawn of IG Farbin, and corporations were free to romp and gambol over Europe in the 40s as untrammeled agents. No. As with the USSR, they were branches of the state, but there was a fictional distinction that kept them as individual entities, even though they had no will. What’s this? An order for our high-quality Zeiss lens, to be used in bombsights? Sorry Adolph, we’re ramping up for Christmas season, and everything has to go for cameras and binoculars.

One last thing: would you prefer the economic performance of Reagan, or the work of his nuanced predecessor? Just a thought.

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