Crypto-Nazis, Fascists and Hugs

August 16, 2009

fascist wine








For the last several years I’ve earned my living working in Alternative and Middle Schools. When I was younger I worked in steel mills, aluminum mills, painting houses and collecting rent. I’ve been called a lot of names. That was about all adolescence in the 60s completely prepared me for—enduring and trading insults. To my recollection the penultimate round of dozens of that time in my life was between Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley during the 1968 Democratic Convention. Vidal called Buckley a pro-Crypto Nazi and Buckley responded by calling Vidal a queer and threatening to sock him in the face. Erudition and education notwithstanding two of the most elite essayists of their day reduced themselves to ad hominem attacks, name calling and physical threats on national television and now on the Internet


It shows some shortcomings about the nature of electronic media as a vehicle of debate. The job of television is primarily to entertain, excite and sell.  What makes good TV isn’t thoughtful discussion.

From the historic Kennedy/Nixon debates on, televised discourse has valued images and conflict more than issue or intellect—preferring heat over illumination. It’s not a rhetorical medium any more than radio was or currently is. Television has reruns, but it has no memory. Quite literally while Buckley derided Vidal on behalf of the US Marines, and Vidal cursed Buckley as a Nazi, one could have switched channels and watched episodes of “Gomer Pyle USMC” or Hogan’s Heroes”—both foolish, tasteless programs that ridiculed both soldiers and Nazi internment camps in order to sell soap. Television and radio discovered in the mid Twentieth Century that controversy, exaggeration and conflict sell products. That the current level of discourse has reduced itself even lower than 1968, shouldn’t surprise anyone anymore than being able to request a seat belt extender or our national epidemic of obesity. Television and radio have continuously refined the lowest common denominator after sixty years of marketing surveys. We only watch or listen for what will happen next. We’ll watch anything and we’ll buy anything. The height and breath of our criticism is What else is on?

 I’m not elitist. I confess I like to watch television and still have a few favorite radio programs on the public airwaves. I’ll also confess to being a proponent for reforming our health care system.

 I’m 57 and healthy enough to regularly run, go to the YMCA and occasionally play tennis. I’ve had the same internist for the last twenty some years. For twenty years he’s given me relatively the same physical, done some blood work, had a pleasant chat and I paid the bill. Sometimes my insurance covered his services, increasingly it doesn’t. Increasingly his bill is increasing. The most complicated health issues I’ve presented him were a nasty bout of traveler’s dysentery and borderline high cholesterol. He’s one of the remaining 20% of physicians who even have a private practice. He’s older than I am. My ENT talks to me about retiring next year every time I visit. My dentist is fifteen years older than either of them. If I’m still teaching middle school at 67, I’m going to need very significant medical treatment. But in ten years when I’m 67, I suspect all my doctors will be retired. That will be more of us unemployed and in need of health care and shopping our medical files around for the lowest bid.

My wife is a psychologist; she shares a practice with associates and two other colleagues. 20-25% of her gross income is spent to pay for clerical services to fill out, file, re-file and make telephone calls to insurance companies. I work with Special Education students in a school that qualifies for 95% free lunch. The medical costs of raising a special needs child are roughly equivalent to having four car wrecks a year. The day to day expenses of a school of children not being able to have simple preventative medical care reduces everyone’s capacity to learn. The school nurse’s office is overfilled two to three times a day with sick children. The nurse can only give them a cold cloth or salt water to gargle.

 For my mother to spend less than four days in a hospital where she received two tests, consultations, medications, and died was billed at over $95,000. As a World War II Army Nurse she had Veteran’s Benefits or she wouldn’t have been admitted to the hospital.  Last year my employer and I paid over $15,000 into health care insurance benefits—a figure considerably in excess of my income taxes or home mortgage. Every year that sum increases.

 Just as when I watched the Buckley/Vidal debate forty years ago when I was 16, I’m concerned both out of self interest and national interest. Unlike when I was 16, I don’t have all the answers. I would like a rational discussion about health care.

 A little over a week ago I re-posted an article from a friend on my Facebook page reprinted from the Washington Post about the tenor of health care debate. The following morning I found a response that accused me among other things of being a fascist “one of your pal Obama’s…good little brown shirts.” This was from a white haired woman who was a you have two friends in common with friend, who previously used to send me Good Morning hugs. I was stunned and appalled. I had been smeared and then de-friended (Is that a real verb?).

 I made a good run at reading “Mien Kampf”, but found it pretty much intolerable even as a historical document. Twenty years ago I read a biography of Mussolini while researching the life of the eccentric poet and proto-fascist Gabriele D’Annunzio. I have a tan LL Bean wool shirt I received as a gift from my wife and daughter several Christmases ago. That’s it. I have had no lurid fascination with Nazis, concentration camps, secret police or racial cleansing other than reaffirming the international pledge “Never Again”. I can’t listen to Wagner or Richard Strauss, whose music I love, without guilt and hesitation. As a child many of my neighbors and relatives were brave and injured people who fought World War II or fled from it. I honor what they did and consider myself a good citizen. I’m wary of any government; I feel that’s part of a citizen’s duty, like voting, jury duty, public service and paying taxes.

 Now there are radio and television diatribes calling President Obama Hitler in response to his proposed health care reform. People old enough to have some historical respect scream “Sieg Heil” at health care public  forums. Red shirted men bully and threaten public meetings and wave swastikas. I’ve had an earnestly worried teenager ask me if I’d heard of Obama’s Purple Shirts, a secret police of paid union thugs. There is a level of vitriol and hatred afoot in our country that does remind me of fascism, because that is the way genuine fascism comes to power. First slander and chaos, then violence.

William F. Buckley’s exasperated response to being called as convoluted an insult as “pro-Crypto-Nazi” was to call Gore Vidal a queer and threaten him with genuine violence (as if there was an accepted permission linking homosexuality and violence). We laughed at Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for slyly stating there is no homosexuality in Iran. But we also understood the subtext to that winking statement—that repression by his government is so complete that he can deny the existence of the object of his persecution. In the same way that the existence of Concentration Camps was denied, or Reeducation Camps, or Corrective Labor Camps, torture rooms or millions of human beings who “disappeared”.  As citizens we are also responsible for what is unsaid and what we stop from being said. Fascist potential grows in the implications of a silenced response.

 But now, briefly assume I have no desire to kill your parents. Briefly assume I have no desire to promote, or anything to gain from the rise of the Fourth Reich. Briefly assume I mean no more harm to you than you mean to me. Briefly assume I’m like you—I really don’t want to think or seriously talk about getting ill or dying…or everyone I know or love getting ill and dying. These are not difficult assumptions. They are the simple good faith assumptions that permit democracy to continue.

In the fifteen years since our nation last failed to reform health care it hasn’t improved. It’s only gotten more expensive. The number of uninsured people including children and older adults has increased. We need to work through a national discussion about how to solve this problem. It’s unpleasant, dull and scary work. It’s like making out your will or telling your children if you do or don’t want to resuscitated. It’s got to be done. Health care issues won’t be resolved by denial or name calling.

The truth is even if I was a fascist, health care would still need to be addressed.

Hugs back.


One Response to “Crypto-Nazis, Fascists and Hugs”

  1. Vince Says:

    I’m trying to slog through Mein Kampf right now. More as details warrant.
    And funny thing about Hogan’s Heroes: All the guys who played Germans were European expatriates (mostly Jews, in fact) who left two steps ahead of the Nazis. Werner Klemperer (Col. Klink) was the son of a conductor who had a price on his head.

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