"FREEDOM" WALK. The Pentagon's planned "freedom walk" to commemorate September 11 on Sunday seems to involve precious little freedom, as Atrios notes. It also seems to have precious little to do with commemorating 9-11. Indeed, while I hesitate to throw this kind of rhetoric around, it seems fair to say that the Defense Department has decided to use your tax dollars to finance a Nuremberg-style rally aimed at bolstering political support for the incumbent party and smearing the opposition as un-patriotic. Not that I think Bush is about to start firing up the gas chambers, but Milan Kundera's thoughts on totalitarian kitsch seem apropos.
...The good news is that on September 24, there'll be another concert on the mall organized by anti-war musicians featuring some of my favorite bands. Until then, remember -- loving America means wanting to see thousands of soldiers killed in an effort to ignore al-Qaeda and bring an Iranian-backed theocracy to power in Iraq.
Here's Alterman -- note the similarity in how the jargon works:
In the name of fighting "terrorism," the administration has sent 40 percent of the National Guard to Iraq and Afghanistan in order to create more terrorists and let bin Laden get away.
As people who (rightly) decry rhetoric suggesting war opponents are intentionally hurting the country/aiding the enemy, it's more than a bit hypocritical for Yglesias and Alterman to run around suggesting that the administration is intentionally harming the nation's interests.
Update 9/9: In comments, Yglesias writes:
I think this is unfair. The suggestion "that the administration is intentionally harming the nation's interests" clearly came in the context of a satirization of the White House p.o.v. not a literal effort to characterize it. It's fair to say that satire -- Onion headlines, etc. -- are not contributions to rational debate in the same way that straight political analysis is, but unless you want to deem satire out of bounds per se it's clearly wrong to apply the standards of straight debate to satire. The anti-satire view, meanwhile, would be pretty radically at odds with the western tradition which has always maintained a role for political satire as an element of the broader discourse. The Alterman case, I would maintain, is different.
On Nuremberg and totalitarianism, meanwhile, I'm not just invoking these at random. I explicitly disavow a global Bush-Nazi comparison and instead cite Milan Kundera's specific point about kitsch, complete with the best link I could find on the web. I have in mind what he says about "The Grand March" in chapter 6 of The Unbearable Lightness of Being and I think it's apropos.
I don't think I'm being unfair. What Yglesias wrote is not particularly funny, and it uses a jargon tactic I've frequently identified in the past. To approach this from another perspective, why is it that statement any more "satire" than what, say, Ann Coulter does when she falsely suggests that liberals want to do various awful things? Isn't this a distinction without a difference -- ie my aggressive jargon is "satire" and hers is vicious and awful? Conservatives certainly find what she does amusing.
As for Kundera, I'm not familiar with his writing, but "Nuremberg-style rallies" is a little much regardless of Yglesias's disavowal of gas chambers.
Update 9/9 -- Yglesias has posted a second comment:
Well, if you're not familiar with Kundera I guess we'll just leave it at that. I wonder, though, if you're trying to say that it's always illegitimate to make a comparison involving Nazis? It's irresponsible, of course, to suggest that the Bush administration (or any other actor in contemporary American politics) is just like Hitler but I think it's often fair to raise more limited comparisons in order to make a point. Jon Chait did a column defending my view of this subject.
On satire, I don't really know what to say. "[W]hy is it that statement any more 'satire' than what, say, Ann Coulter does when she falsely suggests that liberals want to do various awful things?" There's a clear difference between a false statement intended to deceive and a false statement intended as satire. Whether or not the satire is successful -- i.e., "funny" -- isn't the relevant metric. This from Ms. Coulter, for example, doesn't seem funny to me, but it's clearly satire. By contrast, when she wrote "Liberals become indignant when you question their patriotism, but simultaneously work overtime to give terrorists a cushion for the next attack and laugh at dumb Americans who love their country and hate the enemy" she was writing falsely in a non-satirical vein.
It seems to me that in my post, satiric intent was made clear by the fact that the assertion "loving America means ..." was put in my voice when the audience clearly recognizes that what follows are not my true beliefs. I didn't say, "George W. Bush thinks..." and then follow with some things he didn't think.
I'll grant that what Yglesias wrote is more clearly demarcated to the reader as non-literal truth than, say, what Alterman wrote. Regardless of whether it was intended as satire, though, I don't think that suggesting people are intentionally harming the country is a particularly worthwhile use of satire (which I happen to like very much). And in the reverse situation, I doubt Yglesias would view satire the same way. For example, let's suppose that Bill Clinton had demagogued what happened in Somalia and said that people who didn't support the military effort there weren't patriotic. If Rush Limbaugh had said, "satirically," that to liberals "loving America means wanting to see scores of US soldiers killed in an effort to divert attention from real threats to our country," it would not have gone over well on the left. And in fact, Limbaugh uses this perverse form of "satire" all the time.
As for Nazi analogies, I'm not willing to say "never," but I will say this: I find it hard to come up with circumstances where they are appropriate. Here's why. Let's assume there is a continuum of economic and political freedom, with the most free democracies on one hand and the most evil regimes at the other. There are countless historical comparisons that can be made and analogies that can be drawn between different regimes along this scale. But people tend to jump right from the US (at one end) to the Nazis (at the other). Why? Well, obviously the Nazis are famous, and thus they are more accessible from memory (this is called the "availability heuristic" in psychology). But Nazis are rarely the most appropriate comparison. Is the Freedom Walk really comparable to Nuremberg? Does government regulation make the EPA comparable to Nazis? (Etc.) Almost always, the analogy isn't being used because it's accurate, but because it makes the other side look bad. I'll grant that the Nuremberg rallies are one of the most famous mass political events in history, but I still don't know that the analogy adds to Yglesias's point enough to justify its use.
The other problem with invoking the Nazis is that the negative associations associated with controversial persons, historical figures, etc. are activated outside of consciousness. In the political science and psychology literatures, this has been shown to happen immediately and automatically. Thus, someone raising the Nazis can trade on the negative associations attached to the Nazis even as they disavow the exploitation of those associations. The same applies with race, as in the 1988 Willie Horton ad, which activated racial considerations without specifically mentioning race (as Tali Mendelberg showed in an excellent Public Opinion Quarterly article).
Does this mean people can't talk about the Nazis in public discourse at all? Of course not. Serious historical and political discussion is fine. However, casual Nazi analogies almost always drag debate down rather than elevating it.