Culture Notes: It’s De-Fascist

It is gratifying that the recent Republican push to shift its criticism of the Obama administration from “socialist” to “fascist” has been exposed as a laughably calculated strategy. Saul Anuzis, who ran for the Republican Party chairmanship and has recently joined a Newt Gingrich-led group called American Solutions for Winning the Future (in the future, all men may have at least two divorces and still preach family values), flatly admitted the cynical nature of the strategy. “We’ve so overused the word ‘socialism’ that it no longer has the negative connotation it had 20 years ago, or even 10 years ago,” Anuzis said. “Fascism — everybody still thinks that’s a bad thing.”

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Cole Porter: I Get a Kick Out of Benito?

We will ignore the probability that there are undoubtedly people who think fascism is a good thing. As head-bending as it is to equate socialism with fascism, and even though it seems to erase all the decades of devoted effort by conservatives who regularly branded liberals as communists, this strategy has been around for a while. It has been popularized in Jonah Goldberg’s book Liberal Fascism, and picked up by the Fox newsies thereafter. The absurdity of it was anticipated long before that, in the opening newsreel of Citizen Kane, in that moment when two outraged commentators brand Kane as a communist, then a fascist.

Naturally, Fox’s Glenn Beck, the pride of Mount Vernon, Washington (where the tulips come from), has taken up the cause of re-branding. The resulting slams against the current administration are expected, and maybe you can even understand conservatives trotting out their old resentments of (in Beck’s April 10 program) Woodrow Wilson and Theodore Roosevelt. But when Goldberg and Tulip include Cole Porter in their fascist-trolling nets, I have to draw the line.

The limp connection is that a few years ago somebody wrote something suggesting that Porter’s brilliant song “You’re the Top” included the couplet “You’re the top/You’re the great Houdini/You’re the top/You are Mussolini,” which is not actually part of the song’s official lyric. That was enough to declare Porter a fascist sympathizer. Googling around, it appears the line might have been in an early draft of the song (which, like a number of Porter tunes, has endless variations on the central wordplay idea) or possibly added by P.G. Wodehouse for a British production of the show, as many of Porter’s references are U.S.-centric. Or it might not have been part of the lyric at all, since there doesn’t seem to be any evidence.

It would not have been odd, or inappropriate, if Mussolini had been in the 1934 song’s litany. Porter’s zany cascade of metaphors includes Ovaltine, next year’s taxes, the tower of Babel and (a favorite rhyme) the pants on a Roxy usher and the steppes of Russia. (Check for possible socialist sympathies on last point — the steppes, not the pants).

If we really have to get explicit about it (and nothing kills wit like over-explanation), the song doesn’t list “good things,” but things that are, you know, at the top. Thus Garbo’s salary, broccoli, and Jimmy Durante’s nose are among the items listed as the opposite of de trop. To muddy the ideological waters, Porter also name-checks the “Coolidge dollar” and the G.O.P. itself. The real requirements are the sound of the word and its rhyme (thus, Fred Astaire and Camembert).

“Saul Anuzis” would have found an amusing place in a Porter lyric, come to think of it. (To go with “whoozis”?) “Glenn Beck” could’ve been fitted into the existing lines about “I’m a worthless check/A total wreck” etc.

Of course Glenn Beck’s researchers, if not Tulip himself, already know this, as does Jonah Goldberg. But it was more convenient for them to throw a celebrity name into their story about “leftists” who worshipped Mussolini. (That intelligent people were once optimistic or at least intrigued about Mussolini — who came to power in 1922 — is true, although most of those people were on the right, politically.)

Since the majority of Fox News viewers are too busy worried that Obama is stealing their guns to note the slander against Cole Porter, this is a minor bit of hoo-hah, but it deserves to be answered. It gives a handy measure of how wrong-headed and corrupt Beck and his kind are. You might say Beck is a toy balloon that is fated soon to pop, but Porter’s been quoted enough. 

You can read the Anuzis story here. Transcript of Beck’s show (where he says, “Like it or not, fascism is on the rise” — like it? Calling Dr. Freud!) begins here.