June 25, 2004


Today Al Gore upped the ante. He coined a new term for the Internet critics of his positions: digital brownshirts. Yes, yes, itís over the top. But itís not the sentiment that raises eyebrows, itís the position of the person whoís saying it. We donít expect presidential candidates past or present to indulge in Usenet flame-war lingo. We donít expect serious party elders to call the other side Nazis, and for good reason: itís obscene. The brownshirts were evil. The brownshirts kicked the Jews in the streets and made the little kids put their hands on their heads as they stumbled off to the trains. The brownshirts were not interested in refuting arguments. They were interested in killing the people who dared argue at all.

At some point, I fear, the political discourse of 2004 is going to seem horribly irrelevant and misplaced in the face of some loud new wretched horror; it will seem as oddly disconnected from reality as the Condit / Killer-Shark news reports of August 2001. An indolent luxury.

Gore, of course, is an embarrassment to his party. But some regard him as a useful embarrassment. However, he would be well advised to read these comments by Ann Althouse, on a different case of Nazi-mongering:

I think that style of argument (like the Moore style of documentary) appeals to people who are already committed to your side and makes other people not want to listen to you at all. People interested in rational arguments will choose not to engage with you, which you might wrongly read as agreement, leading you to become complacent about the correctness and persuasiveness of your beliefs. But you miss the opportunity to persuade people who don't already agree and you lose touch with how they think about things. You may wind up thinking that people who don't agree with you must be ignorant or ill-willed. Now you're in the end stage where you're calling people stupid and fascist.

Al's there. What I think is interesting is that if you call actual fascist dictators like Saddam Hussein fascist, you're regarded as over-the-top by some of the same people who don't mind using such terms to describe their own fellow citizens who simply disagree with them.

UPDATE: Jonah Goldberg notes an additional irony.