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Friday, January 15, 2010

1928-30, 2008-10

I have frequently noted that Barack Obama has not enjoyed political opportunities comparable to those of Franklin Roosevelt because he was elected in the first, rather than the fourth, year of an economic crisis, and although distress is widespread, our economic and political leadership have not awakened to the depths of the problem we face, as they had by March 1933. In a similar vein, I suddenly remembered a remark from a work of history from several decades ago about the Presidential election of 1928. After showing how a combination of anti-Catholicism and the candidate’s own limitations had led to Al Smith’s catastrophic defeat in 1928, the author remarked that had Smith won, he and the Democracy (as it was then called) would have been saddled with the guilt of the Depression, and Democrats would probably not have returned to power for at least a decade. All this came to the forefront of my mind because of the possibility—which many believe to be real—that a Republican could be elected to the Senate from Massachusetts next Tuesday, reducing the Democratic majority below 60, dooming the health care bill (which Republican Scott Brown promises to oppose) and paralyzing the Senate. But suddenly, another critical analogy came into my head—another election in another major western country, in the same year that Hoover defeated Smith, one that turned out the other way.
Weimar Germany was created in 1919 by a coalition of three parties, the Social Democrats, the Catholic Center Party, and the Democratic Party (formerly the Progressives.) That coalition was immediately discredited by the Versailles Treaty—which it decided to sign—and never won a majority in the polls. But in May 1928, after four years of conservative rule, those three parties won a total of 49.8 % of the vote, and formed a governing coalition together with the German Peoples’ Party (formerly the National Liberals, an upper-middle class party, which won another 8.7%), under a Social Democratic Chancellor, Hermann Müller. The Communists, who were hewing to a revolutionary line, won 10.6 % of the vote, and the Nazis just 2.3%. The German economy, like the American, was doing relatively well in the spring of 1928, and Germany now had a center-left government known as the Great Coalition. Meanwhile, the established Conservative Party, the German National Peoples’ Party, which had disillusioned many of its supporters during three years in power, lost a good deal of its support to various fringe parties.
Germany had lived during the 1920s on infusions of American capital, and the US stock market crash in October 1929 led to immediate withdrawals and a currency crisis. German unemployment—already high at 8.4% in 1928—shot up to 13.1% in 1929 and 15.3% in 1930. Government revenues fell sharply, making it impossible to meet the new demands on the recently enacted unemployment insurance program, and the coalition broke up over this issue early in 1930. The new Chancellor, Center Party leader Heinrich Brüning, began governing by emergency decree, using the emergency powers written into the Weimar Constitution. He also called new elections, held in September 1930. The three Weimar parties, who had received nearly half the vote in 1928, now got just 44.2, while the Nazis jumped to 18.3 % of the vote and the Communists to 13.1%. With a third of the Reichstag, or Parliament, committed to total obstructionism, the government remained paralyzed, and Brüning’s emergency rule continued for two more years of continuous controversy, local elections, a Presidential vote in which the aged Marshall Hindenburg was re-elected over Hitler, and widespread political violence.
By 1932 unemployment had reached 30.1%--the highest of any industrial country. A new election in June of that year gave the Nazis 37.3% of the vote, more than the total of the Weimar coalition, and the Communists 14.3%. Now the largest party in the Reichstag, the Nazis had earned a role in the government, but could not form a coalition with the Center. Yet another round that November saw the Nazis fall to 33.1% and the Communists increase still further to 16.9%, while the Weimar coalition attained 37.2%. But Hitler managed to come into power in a coalition with the traditional conservative party. The Reichstag fire—a terrorist act, we now know, of a mad anarchist—allowed him to proclaim emergency powers and deputize the SA and SS as police auxiliaries, and the Reichstag voted its powers out of existence a few months later.
It is now exactly 80 years since 1930. The election in Massachusetts this Tuesday—which at the very least promises to be much closer than anticipated—offers a preview of what could happen in the fall. The United States isn’t Weimar Germany, not least because of our well-established two-party system. But the Tea Party movement is busily taking over the Republican Party (and in effect already controls its powerful propaganda ministries on Fox News and Clear Channel, something the Nazis never enjoyed.) That movement is based largely upon paranoia and absurd theories about who controls America, what the Obama Administration is doing, and why. (Rush Limbaugh, to whom I listened for a while today, insists that Obama has purposely wrecked the economy to make a statist takeover possible. He could not conceal his excitement over the possible Republican victory in Massachusetts and what it might mean.) And of course, one of their tactics is to pin the Fascist/National Socialist label on President Obama, a moderate liberal.
Now while I am not accusing the Republican Party or the Tea Party movement of Fascism, I do think that we are now threatened with a complete collapse of national authority, brought about in large measure by their mad ideological excess and hatred of liberal elites. Certainly, as a story in today’s New York Times suggests, the Tea Party movement has established itself as the most organized and determined nationwide political movement that we have. Whether the Republicans win in Massachusetts on Tuesday or not, they seem very likely to make gains in the fall. Any gains in the Senate will mean the total paralysis of the government for two years, similar to what happened in Germany in 1930-2 or in France in the mid-1950s (when de Gaulle also used emergency powers, sometimes of dubious legality, to get France back on track.) Let us hope that we do not also have an outbreak of domestic political violence.
After the rise of the Nazis and the Second World War, thousands of trees were felled to try to uncover the unique features of German history that could have led to this catastrophe and the strength of the American political tradition that had allowed us to avoid such a fate. The idea that Germany and the United States were facing a periodic crisis (as they had, with very different results, in the 1860s), and that luck had an enormous amount to do with determining their respective outcomes, did not occur to very many people. 80 years later it seems more and more obvious. Like the Germans in the early 1930s we are deluged with destructive, irresponsible propaganda 24 hours a day. Like them, we have a significant minority of the population that believes our government is a vast conspiracy attempting to destroy our values. Like them, we have undergone several important foreign policy setbacks (although nothing, certainly, on the scale of the loss of the First World War.) Like them in 1928-30, we have a center-left government that has failed to respond adequately to popular resentment. Like them, we are on the brink of total government paralysis. Our hope, as I pointed out last week, remains the younger generation that put Obama in the White House. Let us see if they can save Martha Coakley on Tuesday and reassess after that.


Anonymous said...

David - just checking... the title reads "1928-30, 2008-30." Was that supposed to read "1928-30, 2008-10"?

Unknown said...

Wow, you're really incredible. So, you know, for sure 100%, the Reichstag fire was caused by an anarchist/communist (i.e. the Nazi position) as opposed to deliberate orchestration by Nazis to use as a pretext to assume more power (which is kind of what happened). Well, you must have evidence nobody else has then.
Or, perhaps you are just selectively choosing your evidence, like calling Fox News and Clear Channel propaganda media while conveniently ignoring the blatant sycophantic media (e.g. ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, MSNBC, WashPost, NYTimes, LATimes, AP, etc.) that grovel at the east coast liberal establishment feet and parrot whatever they say.
Actually, I think your fear is completely genuine - not that the Republic will collapse if the militant liberals loose their super-majority - but you, as an east coast elitist, clearly fear any grass roots involvement by the peasants who live in flyover country. You should fear us, we outnumber you and we have the audacity to believe you are no better than us, and you not entitled to rule us like some quasi-royalty.
Its mutual of course; I mean I fear you and your ilk: it is very dangerous anytime a narrow group thinks they are genetically, emotionally, or intellectually superior to another group, and therefore entitled to micromanage their lives, curtail their liberties, tell them what to think, and repress them into perpetual mediocrity. You're a pretty scary guy - just like all the other "intellectuals" providing legitimacy to despots in waiting.

R. George Dunn said...

As a Historian, what is your understanding of what the world leaders behind the Global warming tax and Cap are up to if not a world governance, in light of the fraud portrayed in climategate?

Do you find no relativity to the continued abuse of the U.S. Constitution and the fast track to converting the Union of States into one big State? Do you not see any parallel with the writing of the Declaration of Independence? I am surprised how a biase can affect one's view of history onto today's landscape, and for what purpose? It is a well known fact that the scientists who back the abuse on carbon are paid grants to do their dance. It is also well known that academia has kidnapped the Democrat party with their hand out demanding elitism of their ranks over America. Are you such? It appears.

Anonymous said...

LOL! I was going to say that it was interesting that you're obviously thinking along the same lines I am, and then I read the other two comments. It pains me that my fellow flyover staters seem incapable of seeing that they have just as many warts as their counterparts on the left have. The Age of Enlightenment is well and truly dead, and I imagine the Founding Fathers are rolling in their graves about it.

Back to the original post: You say you hope we don't see violence. I believe it's nearly inevitable at this point if the Millennials DON'T take a stand. The growling is growing and the leaders are tacitly condoning violence. Eventually, someone, somewhere will act on it. I was in the middle of a mob once and I know just how easily the mood can go from anger to outright violence. Once it reaches that tipping point, it's very difficult to stop it.

I used to feel I could discuss almost any subject with intelligent people, but these days, I do literally fear speaking my mind. Better to keep my thoughts to myself and remain anonymous than to be seen as one of "the other."

Unknown said...

"But Hitler managed to come into power in a coalition with the traditional conservative party..."
This I did not know, but I did know that Hitler was no socialist!
There is such fear of socialism in our country because of the perception that Hitler and the Third Reich were associated with socialism, which couldn't be further from the truth...Germany was fascism in sheep's clothing, disguised as a movement of the people...and the Tea Party is just such a "movement", wrapping a fascist agenda in the flag and apple pie and presenting itself as a "patriotic" uprising...
Brian, where did you get the idea that liberals were militant, especially after 8 years of Bush? It was Bush and the Republicans who declared unilateral war on a country that had done nothing. It was also Bush's laissez-faire capitalism, run amok, which caused the economic collapse of our economy. Stop believing everything you hear from Limbaugh and Beck...they're nothing but rabble-rousers and compulsive liars...that's why they get paid the big bucks! What I fear is people who swallow FAUX News hook, line and sinker without looking past the rhetoric, and with some sort of collective amnesia about what has happened to our country since the turn of the century.

clay barham said...

Ayn Rand expressed views of people and how they function, both as herd members and individuals, showing a preference for individual freedom. America was founded on individual freedom, simply because there was no other choice at the time to follow the Old World herd model. Our Founding Fathers gave us a definition of what Americans created, then a system to keep it going. We had three constitutions to define the limits of the national system, as we kept our individual governance close, starting between the ears and in the heart up to the County level that was supposed to be no further than a days horseback ride. In the 21st century, our elected representatives took an Oath to keep what was established, yet turned on it immediately and trashed it in order to reintroduce the Old World system rejected almost 400 years ago, by force just over 200 years ago. They moved government away from the individual to a distant city and founded it as the center of organized crime, as if it were just an extension of Haiti. Then, they picked our pockets and destroyed our economy. Claysamerica.com

MatahariKari said...

We should be looking at how the facists seized control in Germany. There was the Reichstag fire, yes, but in the decade of the 20s the Germans went through bust & boom cycles, including a period of hyperflation -- Weimar Germany got to the point where bales of uncut bills were delivered to businesses everyday at lunchtime and everyone rushed out to spend "their bale" right away before the money devalued further. And still Weimar Germany continued to print money at an insane rate (I think in an attempt to devalue or effectively default on the debt they owed in reparations from WWI). Today reminds me of then, 1923 or so, when the Wiemar republic drove its people to the edge of madness- "30 million and it's still not enough" might be the answer you got when asking someone how much they made that year. It's a danger we face today (though our magic money men seem to think hyperflation can't happen here). I see parallels to 1926, too, when housing crashed in several key markets, especially Florida and Chicago, and did not recover for decades. In other words I think we're still in a time that parallels Calvin Coolidge, not Hoover or FDR, so to speak.

There are parallels to 1918 too, when we had a epidemic killer flu outbreak at the end of a major war. Oh, but our war is not over, and our "Spanish Flu epidemic" is.

For you teapartiers out there, did you ever think of laying out your point of view without abuse?

Anonymous said...

Obama's situation is much like that of Romano Prodi, former Italian premier (2006-2007).

Prodi won the 2006 election narrowly and formed a coalition with the Christian Democrats and the remnants of Italy's left. He selected a team with respectable credentials (especially Tommaso Padoa-Scioppa, the squeakiest cleanest individual in Italian politics). In less than a year, he resigned and Berlusconi was restored to power in the subsequent snap election.

Berlusconi, a media mogul, and friends chipped away at Prodi (someone whom Italy actually needed in a very big way) as Fox News and Clear Channel -let us not forget MSNBC- are doing to Obama. Corrupt Wall Street rating agencies downgraded the country's sovereign debt. A irresponsible newspaper alleged falsely that Prodi had worked for the KBG. The right waived the bloody rag of "stealth communist".

Berlusconi does not dissimulate his love for fascism (his team includes Mussolini's granddaughter and a host of others who are not ashamed to raise their hand in fascist salute in front of the press, not to mention the Northern League, the teabaggers of Italy).

President Obama is going to Boston on Sunday in an attempt to toss Martha Coakley a lifeline. How did this shoo-in suddenly find herself in a life-or-death struggle with her challenger with dire consequences for the rest of us in the offing?

Anonymous said...

When, not IF Scott Brown wins in Massachusetts, it will be quite obvious and crystal clear that taxocracy actually never had a platform.
Subsequently, if there is a paralysis in Washington, it will exclusively be due to the fact that the current administration doesn't want anything bepartisan.
That is quite crystal clear.
The health bill absolutely sucks, and no amount of good intentions will make it any better.
The prsident, being a PUBLIC SERVANT should serve the public and concentrate on economy and creating jobs like everyone is trying, to no avail so far, to tell him plainly and clearly.
It would also serve him much better if he would concentrate much more on people who are working and paying for all his robin hood agenda and the companies that employ them.

As Massachusetts politician Paul Tsongas said:"You cannot be for jobs and hate the people who provide them.:

Anonymous said...

Mr. Kaiser:

I find it very refreshing that even on your own blog page there is an advertisement for Scott Brown. And none for your preferred candidate Martha Coakley.

Thank you for helping Massachusetts prove that all electoral positions in the state belong to the people of Massachusetts and their own agenda.
As Tip O'Neill used to say:All politics is local."

Hence the voters of Massachusetts will elect on Tuesday a senator that will represent them FIRST AND FOREMOST. The voters will elect the candidate that is AGAINST the OsamaCare that would impose new taxes on the voters of Massachusetts that ALREADY HAVE THEIR OWN comprehensive health care and would imposo new taxes on the medical device manufacturers, which is an industry that employs more than 80,000 workers in Massachusetts. Another words, the voters of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts will vote into the office a candidate whose PRIMARY obligation and allegiance is to them and them only.

You can also vote for a Kennedy in Rhode Island if you so desire. You got one there.

As for Massachusetts, the voters there will N E V E R elect anyone who doesn't even know how to spell the name of the state they are running in - check Martha Coakley's Massachusettes TV advertisement - or labels Curt Schilling - of the bloody sock fame - as a YANKEE's fan.
The Red Sox nation would see to that by itself!!!

Rose1992 said...

I agree with your final paragraph in that the Millennials do have the power to keep the tea partiers from repeating Germany's fate all over again in that anyone attempting to create a government coup will need young, warm bodies to pick up arms and fight not aging, balding, fat people used to the luxuries and comforts industrialization provides them.
I think the situation we're in is more comparable to England's Glorious Revolution or Costa Rica's 1948 one (see my thread in the "Beyond America" subforum.)

Dan Vukmanich said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dan Vukmanich said...

on the brink of total government paralysis

In a republic, when the politicians are forcing through programs and legislation that are contrary to the wishes of the voters, the desirable response is to induce paralysis until the time comes when those politicians can be replaced. If you don't like that process, then you don't like our democratic system of govt.

jim galloway said...

In the words of Professor Kaiser in reference to the current “Conservative” movement most clearly demonstrated by the individuals participating in the Tea Party activities: “Let us hope that we do not also have an outbreak of domestic political violence." To my knowledge the only violence that seems to occur regularly are acts of violence by members of the left. I need not list them as we all know quite well where and when those acts took place.

Anonymous said...

To my knowledge the only violence that seems to occur regularly are acts of violence by members of the left

:0 :0 :0 :0 :0 :0 :0 :0 :0 Puh-leeeze, my sides are aching.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Kaiser:

the talking is done at the ballot box. Please examine the results of the senate race in Massachusetts. It is quite telling.

It is not clear to me for a second how could you ever buy the democratic cool-aid that Martha Coakley would win. There was absolutely no chance of that.

As for violence, there is, like I had already said, absolutely no need for that. Ballot box win provides much greater satisfaction.

Dodd is gone. Reid and Nelson are next. And so on.

Until these people read some history and remember 200+ year old Jefferson's prediction:

'It is to me a new and consolatory proof that wherever the people are well-informed they can be trusted with their own government; that whenever things get so far wrong as to attract their notice, they may be relied on to set them to rights."
—Thomas Jefferson

they will be voted out of the office. One by one.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Kaiser:

you might want to read this article to get better idea who is advocating violence.

Actor receives death threats after tweeting about Michelle Obama


Cathy said...

I am currently reading I Will Bear Witness by Victor Klemperer. It is his diary written during the Nazi years of 1933 - 1945. During the early years, the Nazis expressly discouraged intellectualism. Whole departments were removed from universities and student attendance dropped radically. Even grammar school requirements were reworked. Physical pursuits were more valued than intellectual. One would ask why, but I think the answer is obvious; intellectuals are to be feared by those who keep the message simple; say it often, and pit one group to mistrust another, ie. the "fly-over" states and the "east coast elitists".Am I the only person who sees parallels between what's happening here now and then?

CMH said...

  /ˈfæʃɪzəm/ Show Spelled Pronunciation [fash-iz-uhm]
a governmental system led by a dictator having complete power, forcibly suppressing opposition and criticism, regimenting all industry, commerce, etc., and emphasizing an aggressive nationalism and often racism.
2. the philosophy, principles, or methods of fascism.
3. a fascist movement, esp. the one established by Mussolini in Italy 1922–43.

Sorry, I just had to look up the definition of fascism to satisfy my curiosity. As of this date, WHICH party is demonstrating: complete power (Healthcare negotiations behind closed doors), forcibly suppressing opposition and criticism (Net Neutrality) regimenting all industry, commerce,(take over of GM, penalizing the banking system, Cap and Trade,) etc., and emphasizing an aggressive nationalism and often racism (any objection to their ideas is demonized as "racism").

Cathy said...

Your reply puzzles.I don't think there has been a discussion of whom is Fascist and whom is not. My observation was something I related to a book I'm reading, a personal memoir of the Nazi years, written by a "non-Aryan" who had converted to Protestantism.I do see similarities in the messages being sent by some today; they are simplistic, untrue, repeated frequently and often people call others names such as Fascist.

Scott M said...

I believe the NAZI party was the party of National Socialism. I guess not, because that would mean that Hitler was a socialist as well as a fascist (two sides of the same coin).

And Obama is not fomenting economic collapse on purpose, to bring about his "fundamental change" to the economy? Does Cloward-Piven sound familiar, as well as the writings of Saul Alinsky, of whom Obama is a disciple?

Bozon said...

Great great analogies, Professor.

Americans, similarly to 1920s Germans, are not well placed to appreciate, or to take action to drastically reform, their existing political system.

Other, more desperate, and more aggressive, politico-economic systems have already eaten its economic lunch.

Thus the rise of demagogues.

Hitler characterized the diet as a 'heap of special interests', as Kershaw and other have noted.

It seems to me we could go even further back. Speaking of analogies to American particularism, for example, I was entertained by Professor Steinberg's reprise, in Teaching Co. course European History European Lives, Lecture Two, re the Holy Roman Empire, as impossible to understand even by its expert, Moser. Pre Bismarck Germany as analogous to USa seems particularly apt to me.
All the best
Gerald Meaders