Today commenter “Artfldgr” asked the following question, “anyone else realize that what happened in germany took 12 years to go from start to finish?”
Coincidentally, last night (before that comment was posted) I had spent some time reading “The Rise of Hitler” at The History Place. It’s a relatively short summary of a relatively long process, rather than a comprehensive book such as The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (which I had read as a young teenager but not understood). But I read it with a new sense of urgency; I suggest you do so, too.
The urgency comes not from the idea that Obama=Hitler. I am not sure what figure in history Obama most resembles, although I don’t think it’s Hitler. Nor do I know Obama’s plans. But I have observed that every single step of the way he has shown his propensity for consolidating government and his own power, stomping on or eliminating the opposition (this propensity goes back to his very first election; see also the second half of this), affiliation with figures of the far Left, lying and misrepresenting himself in a host of ways, secrecy about his past, and cozying up to dictators such as Hugo Chavez.
At present, it’s Chavez whom I see as closest to Obama, both in goals and in modus operandi. Fortunately, our Constitution is more of a stumbling block to tyranny than that of Venezuela, but it’s not an absolute impediment. I wrote here (before I had even an inkling of anything about Obama other than the fact that he would probably run for president, and that he was an articulate young man who seemed to be a rising star in the Democratic Party) of what I called “the vulnerability of an easily amended constitution.”
I think some of my words then bear repeating now [emphasis mine]:
I haven’t followed every in and out of Chavez’s rise to power and his successful grab at more power, but I am under the distinct impression it was done with the appearance of following the rules of democracy.
You might think that, as a neocon, I champion democracy in all its guises. But the type of democracy I support (and I actually prefer a republic, but we’ll leave that aside for the moment) is one that includes a constitution that explicitly protects freedoms and individual rights, and features a system by which it is extremely hard to change that constitution and expand a leader’s powers as Chavez has done.
…Chavez gained his expanded powers through a vote by Venezuela’s Congress, which is at present overwhelmingly composed of his supporters. This unanimity was gained because the opposition boycotted the last election, held in 2005…[T]he boycott enabled Chavez to attain––between his own party and allied parties––virtually 100% control of Congress, far more than the 2/3 it would need to amend the Constitution. One thing appears true: the election was controlled by a National Election Council totally sympathetic to Chavez, and the opposition perceived that, even if they participated, the voting would be rigged.
The entire process points out the utmost––and I mean utmost––importance of guarantees against such usurption of powers (which, by the way, Hitler used, as well, in his ascendance to becoming Fuehrer; Germany had a similar clause that allowed dictatorial powers to be given a leader by a 2/3 vote of the Reichstag, which Hitler then proceeded to abolish).
If you follow the Hitler link in the above paragraph, you’ll find an excellent summary of Hitler’s rise to power that contains the following statement:
Unfortunately, the [German] constitution also contained several fatal flaws. One of the worst was Article 48 of the constitution, which granted dictatorial powers to the president in times of national emergency.
Our own constitution is different. The process of amendment is more arduous: a vote of 2/3 of both houses Congress is required for the initial proposal, and then approval by 3/4 of the states’ legislatures or special state ratifying conventions.
This makes for a longer course of action in passing amendments, and involves a far less centralized decision-making process, one that includes many stages. So even if Congress ends up with a strong majority of representatives who are in the pocket of a President with tyrannical ambitions, subsequent usurption of power through changing the Constitution would have to be approved by three-quarters of the states.
Wartime has always been a period of special vulnerability, when US presidents tend to assume greater powers. But they cannot throw out the Constitution (or rewrite it, as Chavez did Venezuela’s). The story of how Chavez and his supporters rewrote the Venezuelan constitution can be found here. Note for our purposes that the process involved a single national referendum, and then a vote for delegates to a new constitution-writing assembly. The most recent move in Chavez’s consolidation of power has been a referendum to abolish terms limits for the presidency and allow him to become more fully Venezuela’s Castro.
If you really want to delve into some of the many twisting and turnings through which Chavez undermined the electoral process in Venezuela, in both little ways and big ones, please study this for details. I would bet that Obama is studying it (or its equivalent), too.
Our founding fathers understood tyranny. They could not foresee the future, and they could not protect us against any and every eventuality. With a strong enough cult of personality, a friendly enough Congress, and a rigged voting system, even this country can end up giving up its freedoms.
The writers of our Constitution were determined to avoid that eventuality if possible. But they were not naive enough to think that protection would not be needed, because they understand the seduction of power and the vulnerability of the people to the machinations of smooth-tongued tyrants. Therefore, the framers realized they needed to make sure the Constitution was not so rigid that it could not be changed in ways that were desirable, but rigid enough to protect us as best as possible against the sort of power grab we’ve seen in Venezuela and elsewhere.
I keep speaking of Venezuela, although I began with Hitler. Each case is different, and some more relevant than others, but there are lessons to be learned from all of them. One could also study the regimes of Bolivia, Ecuador, and so many others. One of the commonalities is the drive to pervert the voting process by intimidation and/or rule changes; to dramatically amend, rewrite, or even abolish constitutions; and most particularly to do away with term limits.
Regular readers of this blog know that I have written quite a bit about Obama’s policy on Zeleya and Honduras. This isn’t just because I am concerned for the people of Honduras—although I am that—but for what Obama’s support of Zeleya’s attempt to expand his power in these time-honored ways tells us about Obama himself, and his own propensities and possible plans.
It’s not a mere question of Obama looking on and doing nothing while a Chavez-inspired Zelaya grabs more power; I could understand non-intervention in the Honduran process. But Obama has gone out of his way—in a manner that contradicts his own stated preference for the autonomy of other nations—to actively intervene in Honduran affairs in order to protect Zeleya and his undermining of Honduran due process and its constitution.
There is no benign explanation for this policy of Obama’s. If the American people don’t understand what it tells us about him, it would mean that we have failed to understand history and learn from it.
The study of history is of vital importance. Not only has that discipline been watered down and even distorted in our schools in recent years, but even back when I was in school I believe the emphasis was wrong. Dates and battles are all very well and good, but we need to know more about the deeper patterns: for example, the ways in which tyrannies become established. There are commonalities there, and lessons to be learned from them.
But even if these things had been taught me in school, I wonder if it would have mattered. Would I have been able to understand and relate to them, or would I have considered them boring and irrelevant, from another time and place, an example of “it can’t happen here?” For most non-history-buffs—and that would include most people, including me—these facts have little meaning out of context, in the dry pages of a history text.
Until suddenly they do. Unfortunately, by that time it is often too late.