The GOP and far-right media have been working hard to define socialism down. Now everything is socialist: healthcare reform, the New Deal, the Great Society, even presumably Bo Obama, the president's federally housed dog.
Even GOP icons are socialists under the new definition: Ike's Interstate Highway system, Teddy Roosevelt's parks, Richard Nixon's Environmental Protection Agency, George W. Bush's enormous government debt and spending. The only people who aren't socialists: Conservatives who take Social Security, use Medicare, farm on land irrigated and electrified by the feds, grow crops according to the latest federal farm program giveaways, drive on freeways, listen to FCC-licensed talk radio stations, and have their mail delivered by a uniformed agent of the federal government six days a week. No, these people hate socialism.
Now that we've established who's a socialist, the new argument is whether or not you're a Communist socialist or a Nazi-style National Socialist. Last April, I wrote about the right's creeping Nazi rhetoric against Obama in a story on fake populism called "Sieg Heil Obama". One of the dangers is that formerly fringe ideas and claims are being mainstreamed. The healthcare debate, with Congressional representatives being branded as Nazi eugenicists for programs that don't even exist (the so-called "death panels"), is a logical, planned outcome.
The result can be seen in absurdities like a lecture on National Socialism by Rush Limbaugh. Hitler, he tells us, was a socialist. Well kind of. He was an anti-communist fascist dictator who fused the nation's and corporate interests under an iron hand. He was a kleptomaniac who ran a regime that looted Germany and numerous other countries for the benefit of a few. He went to war against the world and massacred millions of people in the Holocaust. Limbaugh says, when discussing National Socialism, you have to put the Holocaust aside — the implication being, aside from not killing Jews and gypsies, Obama, the Democrats, and healthcare reformers are in the same Hitler mold.
Some Republicans are honest enough to call this insane, from David Brooks to former Reagan administration supply-sider Bruce Bartlett, who bravely says what the GOP ragers are really mad about is George W. Bush. It was he, even more than Bill Clinton, who grew government, broke the financial system, failed to address health care. He also expanded the national security state. Republicans, like Limbaugh, spent years defending these depredations. Now they're out of power and they've only got themselves to blame.
Thus, it's easier to hurl the worst insults to obscure the fact that your guy screwed up. As Bartlett wrote on The Daily Beast: "Until conservatives once again hold Republicans to the same standard they hold Democrats, they will have no credibility and deserve no respect. They can start building some by admitting to themselves that Bush caused many of the problems they are protesting."
If they do that, though, they will have to admit that the Bush/Cheney regime, as many liberals once proclaimed, was by their own definition a National Socialist one. Sieg heil, Rush!