Saturday, October 05, 2013

The US, 2011-13, and Germany, 1930-33

 wice in the last three years, on January 15, 2010 and July 16, 2011, I have explored the analogy between what happened to the Weimar Republic from 1930 until Hitler's rise to power in 1933 and what has happened to the United States during the Obama Administration. (Typing "Weimar" in the search box above will bring up both posts.) In both cases I made clear that I was not accusing the Tea Party of totalitarianism or Fascism.  In many ways they could not be ore different from the Nazis: Hitler wanted (and created) a strong state that could mobilize the entire country, while the Tea Party wants to return government to the size and status it enjoyed during the Gilded Age of the late nineteenth century.  I also said, however, that the Nazis' short-term goals before they seized power were the same as the Tea Party's: to make it impossible for the government to function.  That prediction has now been borne out by the government shut-down, but I am inclined to believe that this will mark the high tide of Tea Party influence and the beginning of a return to a modicum of sanity in American politics.  Here is why.

On the one hand, the Tea Party remains every bit as committed to its version of America and its world view as the Nazis were to theirs.  They, like the Nazis, divide the national community into worthy and unworthy elements.  For the Tea Party the worthy elements are mostly white, well-to-do, and possessed of what they see as a good work ethic, as demonstrated by their long-term economic success.  (In real life the correlation between work ethic and economic success is nowhere near as strong as they think.)  For the Nazis they were supposedly pure-blooded Aryans who put the interests of the German nation first.  The unhealthy elements, for the Tea Party, include liberals, President Obama, the Clintons, immigrants, and the "47%" who supposedly live on the government dole.  For the Nazis they included Marxists and above all Jews.  When one looks at other aspects of the two movements, however, the similarity disappears.

The Achilles' heel of the Tea Party, as everyone understands, is their demographic base: whites from the Silent and Boom generations, now dying at an ever-increasing rate.  Because these people vote in greater numbers than younger Americans and because of gerrymandering, the Tea Party has controlled the House of Representatives for several years and will probably control it for more years to come.  In addition, because so few people vote in primaries, the Tea Party presents a mortal threat to nearly any Republican Congressman or Senator who defies them--the real reason we are having a government shutdown at all.  We shall return to this point more specifically later.  To be sure, not all Tea Party office holders are old--many of them come from Generation X, now 32 to 52 years old--but their generation has voted Democratic in the last two presidential elections.  The Nazis, on the other hand, made their appeal to unemployed youth.  More importantly, they did a better job than any other contemporary German party of appealing to the whole nation, regardless of class or region or religion (although not, of course, regardless of ideology.)  The strength of their appeal varied from group to group, but they behaved more like an American national party than any of their rivals, and that undoubtedly enabled them to reach 40% of the national vote.  The Tea Party, obviously, is appealing to a far narrower base than the Democrats.  It is fair to say, however, that both the Democratic and Republican parties have lost the knack of appealing to the country as a whole, and that is why we face the terrible mess that we do.

The Tea Party also lacked the patience of the Nazis.  Hitler understood that nothing less than total power and his own presence at the head of the government would allow him to achieve his goals.  The Tea Party Congressmen are so convinced of their own righteousness and of the evil of anyone who stands in their way that they thought a majority in the House should allow them immediately to undo the last century of American legislative history.   It was inevitable that they would insist on using the two levers available to them, the federal budget and the debt ceiling, to try to get everything they wanted.  No generation in American history has shown the arrogance of American Boomers from whom their leadership is largely drawn.  Because Tea Party organizations and contributors threaten any Republican who opposes them, only a tiny number of Republicans, led by John McCain, have been willing to stand up even to their worst excesses.  John Boehner as  Speaker has cut a pathetic figure.

Boehner has now demonstrated a species of failed leadership similar to what happened to the German government during the First World War.  By late 1916 should have been clear that Germany had no means of defeating the enormous coalition of Russia, Britain and France arrayed against it, and that peace was the only option.  To secure peace the Chancellor, Bethmann Hollweg, could have turned to President Woodrow Wilson, who made the most dramatic of  a series of offers to help the warring nations bring about a "peace without victory." But instead, Bethmann yielded to the Army and Navy and undertook unrestricted submarine warfare, a step that was almost certain to bring the US into the war.  Wilson sent the German Ambassador Count Bernstorff home at once, and Bernstorff told Bethmann he could have had peace within a couple of months had submarine warfare not begun.  Bethmann explained that that was impossible. Because the German people believed that submarine warfare could win the war, the government had no choice but to undertake it rather than offer peace.  The result was the complete defeat of Germany, the fall of the Empire, and eventually, the rise of Nazism.

Boehner is so in thrall to the Tea Party that he will not allow a House vote on a continuing resolution that does not defund Obamacare--a resolution that would pass easily, albeit with a mostly Democratic majority.  On Wednesday he reportedly assured some of his moderate members that he would allow such a vote on the debt ceiling and that he would never allow the government to default.  Other reports, however, suggest that that is making him hang even tougher on the budget, because he cannot bear to force them to give in twice in a row, and perhaps lose his speakership.  In other words, he evidently has to wait until the government shutdown causes so much hardship--and make no mistake, it is causing hardship for ordinary citizens as well as federal workers--that the Tea Party realizes they have to open up the government again on any terms. 

Boehner's dilemma, however, may be even worse than that.  I do not know as much as I would like about the composition of the House Rules Committee, which actually has the power to determine what votes are taken on the floor. Its chairman, Republican Pete Sessions of Texas, already has a Tea Party opponent in the next primary.  If the Tea Party controls all or nearly all the members of the Rules Committee, then Boehner may not be able to bend them to his will.  In any event he may lose his speakership. Boehner is not a strong man.  Hints have appeared from time to time that he is an alcoholic.  He is no Lyndon Johnson, Sam Rayburn, or Everett Dirksen--Congressional leaders who in a distant age worked with Presidents of the opposite party for the good of the United States.

The Republicans are obviously terrified that Obamacare will be impossible to eliminate once people have signed up for it, as they are now doing.  This may be the turning point for the Tea Party insurgency.  On the other hand, if Boehner really can't control the House, the US may default on its debt and force the President to assert some emergency powers.  Much depends on the younger Congressional leaders like Eric Cantor and Paul Ryan, who are extreme right wingers but who can't help but worry about the long-term political future of the party.  Meanwhile, Ted Cruz has established himself as the most popular demagogue among Republicans.  Never has the United States faced a crisis with such pathetic leadership.  President Obama is, once again, counting on the Republican frenzy to burn itself out.  Let us all hope that it does.


peter forbes said...

I hoped you would frame the current Federal government shut-down in terms of Republican dau tranh, as you have done earlier (type "dau tranh" in the search box).
Shutting down the federal government is consistent with their larger goals of crippling Federal government generally. The shut-down also "works" for them to prevents the success of Obamacare.

Zosima said...

Republicans have to make a big show of trying to stop Obamacare, otherwise what reason is there for a Republican party? Everything they’re doing has been stated in every Republican platform, since Reagan. As long as they stop at the point where it looks like the economy will be seriously damaged, I don’t think this will hurt them politically. In fact, turnout in 2014 could be large and fervent among conservatives who see the congress as their last line of defense. America is a severely divided nation, but as you say they trends are against the Republicans, long term, thanks mainly to immigration. So, what we will see over the next several years will be a series of increasingly futile last stands. However, will this mostly white Southern/Great Plains/ small western state conservative minority be content to be ruled forever by the urban industrial NE/Great Lakes/West Coast, probably permanently supplemented by states with growing Hispanic populations like FL/COL? It’s hard to envision such deeply held ideology being abandoned, which raises the question of how long will such a large segment of the country tolerate being out of power before serious moves toward secession of even armed revolt take place?


Dr. Kaiser,
As always, I greatly appreciate the perspective and reasoning you add to the issues you address.
The current standoff and Government shutdown has obviously generated vast quantities of commentary, but one article I found seems to be very much in your lane, and I wonder if you might comment:

I have long understood that Southern Democrats were not actually committed to the same agenda as Democrats from other areas; ideologically they were Republicans who just couldn't identify with the party of Lincoln (not that Lincoln himself would identify with the GOP at that point). The ideology and the labelling have realigned since the Reagan Administration.

This is what makes The Globalist article's argument appealing to me, that today John C. Calhoun would be a proud Republican, and that if one can dismantle the Federal Government sufficiently, that would yield the same effective result in resisting any significant societal changes and preserving (or regressing to) a comfortably feudal status quo without the unpleasantness of secession

Many thanks,


Bozon said...


Great contrasts.

When you said,'more like an American national party', perhaps you meant: more like a German national party? I don't, one could read it both ways.

When you mentioned the German submarine warfare decision, I wondered if any light can be shed on why the German people had apparently been lead to believe, erroneously, that they could win if they did it?

All the best

Jon Rudd said...

@Bozon: On the Germans in 1917 issue, what Bethmann was really telling Bernstorff was that the German navy had convinced Hindenburg & Ludendorff that the U-boats could win the war. By early 1917 Bethmann had been effectively sidelined (was on the way out in fact), with H & L running not only the German military but also the entire German economy. The German people, needless to say, weren't being consulted on anything at this point.
If there's any resemblance to Tea Party-like behavior here, it's to Ludendorff with his "double-down" approach to strategy, the Navy desperately trying to justify its existence and gain respect, and both Bethmann and the Kaiser unable to think of anything except cave in to the military's demands. Nothing emboldened the extremist parties during the Weimar period like the craven behavior of Germany's civilian leadership during the war, especially after Ludendorff, Tirpitz, & Co. succeeded in shifting the blame for losing the war on...the civilians!

StV said...

Here's a good diagnosis and potential set of solutions for you...