Outgoing Rep. John Hall, D-N.Y., who lost reelection last month in New York City's outer suburbs, warns us all in a recent interview that fascism is on the rise in America:
“I learned when I was in social studies class in school that corporate ownership or corporate control of government is called Fascism. So that's really the question— is that the destination if this court decision goes unchecked?”
He was speaking about the Citizens United decision. Let's recall what was at question in Citizens United: could Congress prevent a non-profit group from distributing a DVD criticizing a sitting senator who at the time was also the front-runner to be president of the United States?
On which side of that question do you think some historical fascists would have come down?
But I know what Hall is talking about when he invokes “fascism.” The beat I cover — the influence of business on government and vice versa — frequently brushes up against the definition of fascism to which Hall was referring. Readers of my columns, blog posts, and books often chide me for not using the word “fascism” to describe the common phenomenon of big business using big government to guarantee profits, crush smaller competition, rob from taxpayers, and exploit consumers and workers. I avoid the word because I've found that it agitates people too much.
I think liberals tend to get a bit sloppy when they use the word “fascist,” though. For one, they try to use it as the antonym to “communist,” and thus use it to mean “extremely conservative.” Jonah Goldberg wrote a book deftly dispatching this trope.
More specifically, Hall talks about “corporate control of government.” Hall, I think, is using that term to describe the lobbying landscape he thinks he sees, rather than the type of economy and government he thinks he sees. In other words, “corporate control of Congress” is a different thing from “corporate control of government.”
“Corporate control of Congress” doesn't actually tell us much substantive, does it? What sort of taxes, regulations, subsidies, spending, or foreign policy would we have? I suspect John Hall would argue that corporate control of Congress yields deregulation and tax cuts. I think he's wrong. I think the Wall Street bailout, the Chamber of Commerce-backed stimulus, and the PhRMA-backed health-care bill are fruits of corporate-controlled Congress — and Hall backed all of them, of course.
Stimulus, bailouts, mandatory health insurance, lengthy prescription-drug monopolies — these all represent “corporate control of government” in a more precise sense of the word. They involve corporations using government to get things they couldn't get without government.
In other words, if Hall is looking for creeping fascism, he could start with his own voting record.
Or, we could all just agree to be more measured in our word choice.