This interview with Naomi Wolf in Alternet speaks to issues that I have brought up myself.
A) Elitism in the left, not speaking in a language understandable to many Americans.
B) Direct Democracy emerging on the right, and how do we deal with it when they take positions leftists would take, just with a different rationale behind it.
C) Militancy on the right mirrors the kind of militancy I remember on the left back in the sixties and seventies. Are they out radicalizing us?
D) Unifying issues that the Right and Left agree on. Emerging police state, restrictions on civil liberties, gulags, military tribunals, need for a revolution and returning power to the people.
“AlterNet / By Justine Sharrock COMMENTS: 112 Naomi Wolf Thinks the Tea Parties Help Fight Fascism — Is She Onto Something or in Fantasy Land?
Naomi Wolf, author of ‘End of America,’ talks about why she has become an improbable Tea Party darling, and if progressives can learn from the conservative activists.
March 30, 2010 |
In her bestselling End of America, Naomi Wolf outlines the 10 warning signs that America is headed toward a fascist takeover. Using historical precedents, she explains how our government is mimicking those of Mussolini, Hitler and Stalin through practices like surveillance of ordinary citizens, restricting the press, developing paramilitary forces and arbitrarily detaining people.
The book was lauded by liberals under Bush: the Independent Publishers gave it the Freedom Fighter Award; John Nichols at the Nation named it the most valuable political book of 2007. Now, under President Obama, Wolf’s book is providing ammunition for the Tea Partiers, Patriots, Ron Paul supporters and Oath Keepers, who also warn of impending tyrannical government. Even when the book first came out pre-Obama, Alex Jones, Michael Savage and Fox News invited her on their shows, and agreed with her.
It’s not just her message. She speaks their language, referring to the Founding Fathers and American Revolution as models, admitting to a profound sense of fear, warning of tyranny, fascism, Nazism and martial law. When Glenn Beck warns of these things we laugh. When Wolf draws those same connections, we listen. How can both sides be speaking the same language, yet see things so differently? Or are we just not listening to each other? I telephoned Wolf to ask her what it means when your book ends up bolstering policies you oppose.
Justine Sharrock: First off, is your book still relevant under Obama?
Naomi Wolf: Unfortunately it is more relevant. Bush legalized torture, but Obama is legalizing impunity. He promised to roll stuff back, but he is institutionalizing these things forever. It is terrifying and the left doesn’t seem to recognize it.
JS: Did you realize that your book is being lauded within the Tea Party and patriot movements?
NW: Since I wrote Give Me Liberty, I have had a new audience that looks different than the average Smith girl. There is a giant libertarian component. I have had a lot of dialogue with the Ron Paul community. There are [Tea Partiers] writing to me on my Facebook page, but I figured they were self-selective libertarians and not arch conservatives. I am utterly stunned that I have a following in the patriot movement and I wasn’t aware that specific Tea Partiers were reading it. They haven’t invited me to speak. They invited Sarah Palin.
JS: If they did invite you, would you speak at a Tea Party?
NW: I would go in a heartbeat. I’ll go anywhere to talk about the Constitution. I believe in trans-partisan organizing around these issues. When I went on Fox News people asked me why I was going on those shows. Are you kidding? You have to go, especially to people you don’t agree with. We need to get back into grappling with people we disagree with if we want to restore the Republic.
I was invited by the Ron Paul supporters to their rally in Washington last summer and I loved it. I met a lot of people I respected, a lot of “ordinary” people, as in not privileged. They were stepping up to the plate, when my own liberal privileged fellow demographic habituates were lying around whining. It was a wake-up call to the libertarians that there’s a progressive who cares so much about the same issues. Their views of liberals are just as distorted as ours are of conservatives.
JS: Why do you think the sides don’t understand each other?
NW: Frankly, liberals are out of the habit of communicating with anyone outside their own in cohort. We have a cultural problem with self-righteousness and elitism. Liberals roll their eyes about going on “Oprah” to reach a mass audience by using language that anyone can understand even if you majored in semiotics at Yale. We look down on people we don’t agree with. It doesn’t serve us well.
There is also a deliberate building up of two camps that benefits from whipping up home team spirit and demonizing the opposition. With the Internet there is even more fractioning since we are in echo chambers. With so much propaganda it is hard to calm down enough to listen.
JS: What do you think is the biggest misconception about the Tea Parties?
NW: The Tea Party is not monolithic. There is a battle between people who care about liberty and the Constitution and the Republican Establishment who is trying to take ownership of it and redirect it for its own purposes.
JS: In your essay, “Tea Time in America” you said that some of the Tea Party’s proposals are “ahead of their time.” What are some examples?
NW: I used to think “End the Fed people” were crackpots. The media paints them as deranged. But it turned out we had good reason to have more oversight. Or take their platform about states’ rights. Demographically, I’m a hippie from San Francisco and I’m not culturally inclined to be sympathetic to states’ rights. My cultural heritage is FDR and Medicare and federal government solutions. But if you think through the analysis, strengthening state rights is a good corrective of the aggregation of an over-reaching federal power. Take California’s challenge of the Patriot Act or states like Vermont leading the way with addressing the corruption of the voting system. It’s a good example of the Tea Party thinking out of the box on how to address a problem.
JS: That’s interesting because strengthening states’ rights is key to their entire platform, including protesting health care reform. Would you call yourself pro-Tea Party?
NW: Even though I’m appalled when racism surfaces, and I personally don’t agree with certain policy solutions and a lot of what they believe in, as someone who is very concerned about reinvigorating democracy the Tea Parties are an answer to what I asked for.
I was basically saying don’t sit around waiting for the two corrupted established parties to restore the Constitution or the Republic. The founding generation was birthed by the rabble of all walks of life that got fed up and did risky things because they were captivated by the breath of liberty. There is a looming oligarchy and it is up to the people to organize a grassroots movement and push back. You guys have to do it yourself. Their response is the most visible and the initiative they show is the most recognizable. People of all kinds are waking up. Even people passionate for Obama realize even that knight on a white horse isn’t enough to roll back the oligarchy. I’m seeing a lot of action on the left as well that is never reported. But the Tea Party response is the most visible and the initiative they show is the most recognizable.
JS: How do you feel about your books bolstering a fight for policies you don’t agree with?
NW: If people are taking my book seriously and organizing, getting into office, caring about the constitution, and not waiting for someone else to lead them, I think, God bless them. All of us should be doing that. The left should be doing that. There is always the risk in advocating for democracy that the first people to wake up might not be your team, but that is a risk worth taking. I would rather have citizens I don’t agree with organized and active than an oligarchy of people that I agree with.
JS: These days the kinds of comparisons you make in your book between America and Nazis and fascists are mostly coming out of the mouths of people like Glenn Beck and Alex Jones. What do you make of the commonality of the rhetoric?
NW: There is no question that the right-wing idea machine saw how that message was resonating in the run-up to the last election. A YouTube video of a speech I gave went viral and got 850,000 hits. I’m not saying that is the only thing that caused this, but there is no question that the Republican and the right wing are quick to co-opt the strategic language that’s resonating on the other side and turn it against itself.
JS: How is your comparison of Obama to Hitler any different from someone at a Tea Party holding up a placard of Obama with a Hitler mustache?
NW: Those signs are offensive. If only the Holocaust was just about imposing health care on my people. Obama has done things like Hitler did. Let me be very careful here. The National Socialists rounded people up and held them without trial, signed legislation that gave torture impunity, and spied on their citizens, just as Obama has. It isn’t a question of what has been done that Hitler did. It’s what does every dictator do, on the left or the right, that is being done here and now. The real fight isn’t left or right but between forces of democracy across the spectrum and the forces of tyranny.
JS: People criticize Beck’s use of that kind of language as incendiary and hyperbolic. Why is your use any different?
NW: Every time I use those analogies, I am doing it with a concrete footnoted historical context. When people like Glenn Beck throw around the word Nazi without taking that kind of care, they are engaging in demagoguery. There’s an important difference.
JS: What about your warnings about concentration camps and martial law? How do they compare to conspiratorial fears about FEMA concentration camps?
NW: With the FEMA rumor, I have heard some suggestive first-person accounts that some good reporters should follow up on. But until I see two well-documented sources of it, I can’t speak to it at all.
JS: Well, more generally, you talk about the possibility of concentration camps and martial law.
NW: I think we have gone very far down that road. I met Muslim immigrants in Brooklyn who were swept up in 9-11 raids, held in abusive conditions, beaten, denied rights. That’s how things started in Germany. Guantanamo was modeled after what Stalin developed for the Gulag. Why are we engaged in psychological denial that it’s not a concentration camp? In terms of martial law, my god. Since the book came out they deployed a brigade in the U.S. and suspended the Posse Comitatus Act. There is no question that it’s something to take seriously. People have a histrionic view of what martial law will look like.
I’m not worried that tomorrow there will be a battalion outside your Greenwich Village apartment. I’m worried about things like the McCain Liberman bill that would define enemy belligerents so loosely it would include Americans, which is just like Stalin and Hitler and Mussolini. If Obama tries people with military tribunals, setting that precedent, that is what a military state does. That is what martial law looks like. From a constitutional point of view Bush passing through the Patriot Act is no worse than Obama renewing it.
Editor’s note: This piece originally said that the Nation had called “The End of America” the best political book of 2007. In fact, John Nichols said that Wolf’s book was “the most valuable political book” of 2007 in a blog post on the Nation.com.”
At the anti war rally on March 20 in Hollywood sponsored by the ASWER Coalition, there were more “911 Truth Out” banners than any other. Now I personally think that whole theory is full of holes and yet for many on the left and the right, the belief that the American government is directly responsible for 911 is what radicalized them.
The problem is one of our view of what is legitimate information and what is disinformation or unverifiable guesswork. Much of what we all believe is myth. It is stuff we pick up along the way by our associations, by what we remember from what we read somewhere and the sort of sources we tend to go to verify our data. Increasingly we reference from the internet. Wikipedia has become a major source of so called factual information. Recent theories of history have emphasized the influence of subjectivity, a sort of Heisenberg Uncertainty Principal applied to our understanding of reality.
As our information sources become more plastic and let us call them flexible, our hold on hard and true facts becomes more and more relative to the data we choose to weave the web of reality that makes us feel comfortable. As we get older and question our perspectives less, we become more and more settled in the viewpoints we have accumulated. This is true of any set of beliefs.
I try to change it up. For instance I am reading a book about the Red Army Faction, an English translation of their documents, a Catholic version of the Bible and a book on the Caliphate of Islam by a sympathetic western academic. This gives me a hard line ultra leftist communist view, an establishment Christian view and an academic Islamic view. But I realize that I am primarily influenced by my childhood. Therefore life on the farm and the routines and responsibilities of farm life provides an undergirding to all my perspectives. That includes a sense of relationship with animals, an understanding that some things just have to be done, as unpleasant as they might be, day in and day out. I don’t live on a farm now but I certainly understand rural concerns.
But who cares about that. The point I am making is that people have backgrounds that lead them to points when they are ready to bring about change. We may come to it from completely different paths but when we arrive, what is important is that we are there. For instance many anarchists from Southern California who were teenagers in the 1980’s had been strongly influenced by libertarianism and who had always seen communism as the enemy. Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center is saying on Hardball that Reagan brought this anti government thinking into the mainstream.
People who were teenagers in the sixties and seventies who came to radicalism generally came from the marxist left or the yippie cultural revolutionary perspective. For us the Stalinist state Communists betrayed the revolution and we would argue endlessly over when that point was reached. But for those who came out of the libertarian tradition, there never was a time when the Bolsheviks were good guys. They came to collectivism as a result of working in consensus group process learning the ropes from the lefties who had worked their way to democratic process. But then everyone has their own tale of how they came to the radical position. I am curious how the Christian Fundamentalists in rural Michigan came to the same ontological position regarding police as an inner city gang banger. Did it come from a common love of hip hop culture? Did it come from a common interest in guns? Did it come from a simple desire to be allowed to go ones own way and finding it being frustrated by the realities of modern urban civilization as it impacts on a rural lifestyle? Or it could simply reflect a lack of opportunity in an economy where there are no jobs and people have too much time on their hands. The point is this group in the Midwest an armed militia wanted to spark a revolution by killing cops if you can believe the FBI.
The problem is not having a revolution. Plenty of people seem to be ready for that and once the military has been infected by leftist and rightist radicals who turn them, the government will fall. But the problem is can we work out our differences and transform the society? Leftists seem to be more willing to let the Government repress the right, than make an alliance with them to overthrow the government. That means to me that leftists are not serious. Or let us put it another way, leftists are so concerned with correct conditions that they would rather not join in a real revolt if it happens to come from an element of society they are alienated from. In other words if there was a working class revolt in America it would be messy and it would be a mixed bag of neo-Nazis, militia members, inner city gang bangers, disaffected military, a smattering of communists and anarchists and plenty of regular working people who are fed up, and just refuse to put up with it any more.
It won’t be anything like what we imagine it to be, It won’t be the revolutionary masses rising up from out of some Russian Revolutionary propaganda film version of the Revolution. It won’t be a Francoist Coup that Anarcho-syndicalist unions unite to oppose. And there is no Soviet Union to send us aid in our revolt. There might be an Islamic underground ready and willing to hook up with a Christian underground on principals of unity that include traditional roles for women, suppression of gay rights and an end to usury, pornography and support for Israel. What would we do on the left if they offered to unite with us to overthrow the government. Would we refuse? Would we turn them in? Would we insist on supporting the Capitalist system because it has reformed itself enough to allow rich gays and women civil liberties? What is more important lifestyle rights or overthrowing a system that represses the vast majority of the world so that a few privileged percentages of the population can have an easy life?
The left by becoming identified with niche lifestyles and minority privileges, became distracted from the essential issue of the welfare of the vast majority of the people. The right has been able to become the party of the people and the left has become the party of the elite and the protected minorities. We need to see how we are perceived by the world. We are not seen as the liberators, we are seen as the dilettantes who hypocritically talk about rights when we hide behind our police state and our vast military machine pretending to oppose it but in reality retreating from any real change that might threaten our privilege. This is something I constantly noticed as a youth when all the radicals I met were children of affluence and the few truly poor radicals soon discovered that the need to earn a living often trumped idealism and many turned bitter and to the right simply because they could not stand the hypocrisy of rich leftists who did not speak to the needs of a family man with mortgage payments to meet, an unstable non union job and a wife who has to work to keep a roof over the head and kids who have fewer and fewer opportunities for the good life as the competition increases for the remaining decent paying jobs.
Liberals talk a good game but when it comes down to making policy that really helps the working families, they do very little. Mega churches offer more real help to average americans than any left wing government programs besides perhaps food stamps and unemployment. Social Security is about the only program that benefits all Americans and that doesn’t kick in until you are ready to retire. A real peoples program would mean free and universal education for all right through trade school or the university. A real program for all would mean guaranteed employment or a serious unemployment subsidy that considered unemployment a government problem not a personal problem. Free health care for all, a military budget that was concerned only with defense and not imperial projection around the world would be a good start. Economic policies that emphasized saving jobs and not maximizing profits for a few bosses. Maternity leave paid for all and stipends for families. These are a few things that would show we had a government that cared for the people. Not a trick government that constantly does a bait and switch and is placing the interests of international capital over the people. Then issues like Gay rights and equality before the law would be moot. When all the people are treated fairly and priorities are putting families first, then people will become generous and will certainly want all people to feel they have a place in the society. But when the government creates artificial scarcities and turns black against white and pits the educated against the disadvantaged and forces people to compete on a dog eat dog basis simply to survive, well then you get a society where groups are pitted against one another with winners and losers. We can change that. We have to reach out to our brothers and sisters who believe in Jesus and Mohamed and whatever and tell them that we respect them and find a common ground or a way to work through our differences and make America a republic of, by and for the people.
I am not saying the civil rights movement was wrong. No I am saying we got side tracked by the right when they killed great leaders in the sixties and turned the working class against the racial minorities, the left fell for it and instead of finding points of unity they retreated into alternative lifestyle views that became irrelevant to the main stream culture. Not all of it, pot smoking has become mainstream, but in the process of gaining our lifestyle privileges those of us on the left have alienated millions and given ammunition to the right wing. Now it is time for us to admit that we need our right arm just as much as our left and if we are going to have a nation of Americans we need to come together and stop allowing the media and capitalists divide us over petty lifestyle issues.