I’ve spent most of the last 12 hours debating whether or not conservative hero Thomas Sowell jumped the shark with a recent article he wrote about Senator Ted Cruz.
In it, Sowell warns against the politics of self-interest and the dangers of failing to unify at delicate points in history. More to the point, he accuses Ted Cruz of working against such unity and invokes some historical context as part as an example of the potential consequences of what Sowell apparently believes to be recklessness.
The example he uses has been the source of much controversy.
In the German elections of 1932, the Nazi party received 37 percent of the vote. They became part of a democratically elected coalition government, in which Hitler became chancellor. Only step by step did the Nazis dismantle democratic freedoms and turn the country into a complete dictatorship.
The political majority could have united to stop Hitler from becoming a dictator. But they did not unite. They fought each other over their differences. Some figured that they would take over after the Nazis were discredited and defeated. Many who plotted this clever strategy died in Nazi concentration camps. Unfortunately, so did millions of others.
It’s considered such bad cliche to invoke Nazi analogies that Godwin’s law is often mentioned in politics as a no no. This doesn’t stop anyone from doing it, but normally it’s directed at the other side.
In this case, Sowell doesn’t directly invoke Godwin’s law. He uses some other form of it that isn’t comparing anyone to Nazis but rather to those who failed to stop them. There’s been some disagreement about whether or not that was the point of the comparison but given the quote above it is hard to find another context.
Of course, the defenses of Sowell’s piece are annoyingly predictable as they are hypocritical. People have been screaming that any defenders of Cruz in this little tiff are “hero worshippers” while ignoring the fact that they only think this because they can’t stand to hear the slightest disagreement with Thomas Sowell. You won’t hear the likes of me asking for Sowell’s head on a pike. I just think he’s wrong and that his analogy, while misplaced, is far better suited for those that supported Cruz in the fall than those who still claim he’s the destroyer of the party.
In fact,Sowell is essentially laying out precisely the concern that Ted Cruz has been voicing. And not just Cruz but many others known collectively as “Tea Party” or “Grassroots” (as well as some less charitable descriptions I’ve seen).
Right prior to his Nazi analogy, Sowell says this:
The most charitable interpretation of Ted Cruz and his supporters is that they are willing to see the Republican party weakened in the short run, in hopes that they will be able to take it over in the long run, and set it on a different path as a more purified conservative party. Like many political ideas, this one is not new. It represents a political strategy that was tried long ago — and failed long ago.
Actually it represents exactly the caution that Sowell is hoping Ted Cruz will embrace. Namely, that the cost of not unifying and rallying behind a common goal will ultimately result in the very people we are fighting amassing more power and pushing us further into irrelevance. Much like those opposition party members in 1932 who couldn’t stop bickering with one another long enough to fight the actual threat. It just so happens that this “purity” that is often spit out like a curse word is what we want unity behind. This so-called “purity” is really just an attempt to establish a set of lines we won’t cross so that we can stop the step by step dismantling of democratic freedoms before the country is turned into a complete dictatorship. Without those lines, without ensuring that there is unity behind those lines, we are doomed to lose.
Given his chosen analogy, Sowell clearly understands this which means I can only conclude that since he is both supportive of this long view while also decrying Cruz for employing it, this is really about what it has always been about: what kind of purity we’re going to unify behind. And make no mistake, the establishment’s own brand of “purity” is precisely what these attacks on Cruz are about.
The most charitable interpretation of Sowell’s position is this: he seems to be on board with those who believe that if we could bite our tongues and just join forces long enough to provide a unified front, that we could win some elections and start pushing some reforms. That, while in the short term some of the alliances and concessions would be painful, they’re worth it for the overall common purpose. And he’s right that that’s what has to happen.
Unfortunately, as is always the case with the so-called Establishment (though less often with Sowell who I’ve rarely seen take such a strong position in their favor), they believe they have the monopoly on what that common purpose is. As far as “they” are concerned, the common purpose has already been vetted, printed, and handed out. Get on board or you’re inadvertently helping the Nazis.