Wednesday, November 05, 2008

November 5 and Triumph of the Will

I'm sure the post below made everyone think I'm just another of those rubes clinging bitterly to God and guns, shouting "Obama=Hitler" as though it were an item of political discourse or something. On the contrary, I chose my subject matter most carefully. Allow me to clarify.

Barack Obama is not Hitler. I don't expect to see him establish liquidation camps for his enemies. I doubt very much he will enmesh us in a war to spread his brand of political and racial purity across the globe. And pace Godwin's Law, I'm not tacking the name onto him simply as the embodiment of evil.

The movie I embedded below has nothing directly to do with extermination camps or world wars, either. It's entirely positive in tone. It reflects what happened when a highly charismatic leader surfed to office on the shoulders of a throng of worshipping admirers.

When Hitler was appointed Chancellor in 1933, the country was enmired in a depression that makes ours look tame. They were demoralized, they were anxious, and they were tired of the rest of the world holding them in contempt. The National Socialists promised law and order, economic prosperity and prestige for the nation. in contrast to his image today, Hitler was seen as a uniter, not a divider. Unlike his ally to the south, he actually did make the trains run on time. He was marvelously effective and popular to match.

Hitler's popularity came mostly from his person, not his political party. Unfortunately, that popularity was such that he didn't have to do much to squelch opposition himself. Public opinion was sufficiently pro-Hitler that it wasn't necessary to have more than cursory laws against dissent.

This is where the parallels between Obama and Hitler come in. Try to forget for a moment what we know of Hitler in retrospect. To Germans of his time, he was young (only 45 when the movie was made), vibrant, optimistic. He made them feel good about themselves. He gave them hope.

Like Hitler, Obama comes to leadership at a time when Americans are hungry for a person to believe in rather than a dry philosophy. Obama has a powerful and not terribly scrupulous political machine backing him. He has no Enabling Act, but he does have a substantial majority for his party in both houses, essentially creating a one-party rule. He also has a huge grass-roots following, for whom Obama's enemies are their enemies. He also has a lot of friends in the popular media, through whose lens he looks even more like a savior. The vandalism and assaults during the campaign weren't ordered by him. They didn't have to be.

Hitler tolerated churches only so far as they played ball. The infamous Reichskonkordat, which guaranteed freedom for German Catholics, required the Catholic Church to refrain from fighting in the political arena. Most of the Protestant churches in Germany made similar agreements. Religion that contradicted the National Socialist Party was considered outside the pale and suppressed by any means necessary. Today the Church stands for human rights against the Obama platform as well. Undoubtedly lots of bishops will go along with him in support, they think, of the greater good. Bishops who haven't have already begun to see some menacing signs. If the pope attempts to discipline the dissenting bishops, he'll be painted as an enemy of America. In 1934, remember, Jews weren't yet sentenced to death. They were just unpopular and distrusted. Practicing Christians are likely to be treated that way under an Obama-Democratic government such as has just been elected.

Today, we see Triumph of the Will as a load of hooey, but in 1934, it was seen as just a portrait of a self-evident truth. That's because there were no media contradicting Hitler's version of events. Newspapers and radio stations were expected to adhere to the party line. Obama may not have thugs smashing presses and jamming radio broadcasts, but he does have the Fairness Doctrine, which his supporters are already gleefully promising to reinstate. What that promises bring is a velvet-gloved Canadian-style censorship. Look at the treatment Kathy Shaidle, Mark Steyn, et al. have received form mainstream Canadians. "Free-speecher" has actually become a pejorative up there. "Racist" is poised to become a synonym for "anti-Obama," and who wants to defend the hate speech of a racist? It won't take long, I suspect, before conservative talk radio is forced back to the shortwave bands.

Now, I don't think this is permanent. I don't think Obama could make himself president-for-life, even if he's inclined to. The 22nd Amendment may be repealed in his administration, but even so, the American electoral system isn't going to disappear under him. He certainly isn't going to ship all the undesirables off to camps and gas us to death. Any damage he could do will be temporary. But it could still take decades to mop up after, and be very unpleasant in the meantime.

Catholic Überblogger Mark Shea is fond of dividing history into two parts: "What Could it Hurt?", and "How Were We to Know?" Watch Triumph of the Will, not with hindsight, but with the optimism and pride that the original viewers felt in 1934, as they witnessed the dawn of a new, hopeful day. Then ask yourself, "What could it hurt?"

No comments: