The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #114421   Message #2442647
Posted By: robomatic
16-Sep-08 - 08:58 PM
Thread Name: BS: RFKennedy, Jr., - Palin quotes fascist
Subject: RE: BS: RFKennedy, Jr., - Palin quotes fascist
Here is what Jonah Goldberg has to say about Westbrook Pegler and those who quote Westbrook Pegler and those who label him a fascist when they've inherited a lot of dough from their rich fascist grandpa. He backs up what I writted earlier about writing in other voices a la Mencken, (and he even mentions Mencken). But I'm quoting him with attribution because I think what he wrote is very perceptive in putting Pegler into context:

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Westbrook Pegler

I'm not much interested in defending Westbrook Pegler. But I find this very earnest screed by Marty Peretz, in which he beats up Sarah Palin for a completely innocuous quote by Pegler quite amusing. (Thomas Frank apparently got the ball rolling last week). The line Palin used: "We grow good people in our small towns, with honesty and sincerity and dignity." And from that Peretz launches into a parade of horrible quotations from Pegler, some of which may well be out of context.

I guess Palin should have found some other homage to small town America from a less controversial writer, if for no other reason to avoid this sort of attack during political silly season. But there's an irony here. The New Republic led the chorus of "serious liberals" who said the entire approach of my book was illegitimate because there's no way you can hold contemporary liberals accountable in any way for the nastier views of their heroes of yesteryear (Woodrow Wilson, FDR, Margaret Sanger et al). This was a mischaracterization of what I do in my book (and total bad faith given how that very approach has always been a vital M.O. of the left's attack on the right). But that's an old argument.

Regardless, here's Sarah Palin referencing Pegler — even though Peretz concedes that Palin probably doesn't even know who he was — and Peretz seems to think it says a great deal about...something.

Since I know I'll get email asking what I think of Pegler, I might as well offer some useful clarifications (at least by my lights). I'm no expert on Pegler, but I read up on him a bit for the book and I'd talked about him with my Dad before he died. And my Dad was, simply, the most impressive expert on American political columnists I've ever known.

Anyway, I don't dispute Pegler wrote many indefensible things. Indeed, I never much liked Pegler's style. It struck me as lower-brow Menckenism (and I'm not sure Pegler would have disagreed). That said, while I don't have time to hunt down the context of Peretz's various quotes, it might be kept in mind that Pegler often spoke in other people's voices, often to mock them. In the 1930s — when he was with Scripps-Howard, not Hearst — Pegler skewered the Klan with this literary device. If memory serves, he also pretended to be Jimmy Hoffa in a column attacking Bobby Kennedy. For all I know that's where the gross Kennedy quote is from.

But it is also worth noting that by the 1960s Pegler went off his feed and became even more of a crank. In his prime, however bilious, he was one of America's great columnists and sportswriters and won the Pulitzer in 1941 for his exposé of Chicago labor unions. As a sportswriter he was one of the first to attack discrimination against blacks in professional sports. And while Peretz is careful in some of his wording, the average reader would get the impression that Pegler was nothing but a fascist and a bigot (Robert F. Kennedy Jr., calls Pegler an outright fascist, but it's at least worth noting that RFK Jr. is an unreconstructed buffoon when it comes to his understanding of fascism). It's impossible to defend the totality of Pegler's work against the charge of bigotry, nor would I want to try. But it should be said that Pegler — unlike the decidedly leftwing Father Coughlin — opposed Nazism and Nazi anti-Semitism with admirable passion more passion than could be found in many quarters of American liberalism like, for example, within Kennedy's own family (grandpa Joe was somewhere between an appeaser and outright Nazi sympathizer) or Harvard University. Indeed, Pegler's famous (or once famous) 1936 essay on the Jewish children of Europe puts him ahead of the New York Times in the moral-courage-on-the-Holocaust-department. (Indeed, the Nazis tried to deny Pegler his press credentials at the Berlin Olympics). Some might find it interesting that Pegler initially supported the New Deal, though not as passionately as Coughlin, but broke with it for the right reason: It was too statist. Coughlin broke with the New Deal because it wasn't statist enough.

Anyway, my feelings about Pegler are as follows: To the extent there was such a thing as the Old Right, he was emblematic of its contradictions. He hated big government, hated attempts at social engineering, and had a populist's romantic faith in "real America." He was a man with much hate in him indeed, he championed hate as a universal human liberty which, after all, it is.   Bill Buckley was a nuanced fan of Pegler, but he nonetheless understood the necessity of purging the bigoted strain from modern conservatism that Pegler sometimes represented (today, I doubt 1 in 100 committed conservatives under the age of 50 would even recognize the name). But Pegler was also right about a few important things: the kindred evils of Communism and National Socialism, the racket-like aspects of labor unions and the New Deal, the loony-tunes ideas of one-time New Republic editor and Communist fellow-traveler Henry Wallace and, self-evidently, the goodness of American small towns.

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