Fascism should more properly be called corporatism, since it is the merger of state and corporate power. -- Benito Mussolini
Back in the Seventies, one of the many things the Left was liberal about was the use of the word fascist. Saturday Night Live did a parody of Oriana Fallaci in which every mention of a Republican or other conservative was followed by the subordinate clause "who is a fascist". As with the other F-word, however, frequent use caused a loss of power. Fascist became just another insult to toss at the Right, a way of stirring up anger rather than transmitting meaning. And that is unfortunate, because fascist really means something, and we need that meaning right now.
One by one, commentators of both the Left and the Right are coming to the conclusion that the Bush administration has stepped outside the orbit of American politics-as-usual, and they are struggling to find some way to communicate this to the American people. Clumsy phrases like "big-government conservatism" are being used to describe an administration that is nationalistic, militaristic, secretive, privacy-invading, and in bed with large corporate interests. But when oil companies write our energy policy and the Medicare bill is written by the drug and insurance industries (who write in billions of dollars of subsidies for themselves) what can you call this other than "the merger of state and corporate power"? We need to come out and say the F-word -- not angrily, but calmly and descriptively: the Bush administration is fascist.
How did we get here? In the heyday of the Democratic Party, bounded on one side by the New Deal and on the other by the Great Society, liberal politics was grounded in the belief that poor and middle-class individuals need a strong government to balance the power of the wealthy and the large corporations. The Republican Party, on the other hand, has long united two distinct flavors of opposition to this view: Libertarians, who do not necessarily disagree that the power of corporate elites is a problem, but who think that big government is a prescription worse than the disease; and Fascists, who believe in big government, but want to use it to reinforce the power of corporate elites rather than to balance it. So long as the Republicans were out of power, the differences between Libertarians and Fascists were not obvious -- both were opposed to the Democratic alliance between big government and the common man.
Today, however, Republicans control the Presidency and both houses of Congress. And while the Bush administration still uses the rhetoric of the Libertarians, one searches in vain for any libertarian policy that the administration supports. The staples of libertarian philosophy -- individual liberty, open government, decreased spending, and isolationism -- are nowhere to be found. Even free trade, which the administration claims to support, is ignored when it works against corporate interests. Exporting jobs is good because it lowers corporate costs, but exporting profits is bad.
One wonders how long it will take Libertarians to realize they've been had, and whether they will wake up soon enough to take advantage of democratic niceties like free and fair elections. We on the Left can help them by (calmly and descriptively) calling a spade a spade, and a fascist a fascist.