Echoes: "Country First" and "America First"
Cartoon By Dr. Seuss
It's been more than 65 years. But the slogan of the RNC and of the McCain Candidacy, "Country First" consciously evokes a slogan from America's recent, right wing, isolationist, antisemitic past, "America First." It's troubling, and it's not an accident. The Republicans might appear at first to be tone deaf. Or maybe they don't recall history. But I doubt it. The phrase "Country First", echoing "America First", is a blatant signal to the far right, the very same people to whom the Republicans offered the Palin nomination, that a McCain candidacy shares their extremist ideological goals.
The history is ugly. The America First Committee (AFC) was formed in 1940 and focused primarily on keeping the US out of the Second World War. A primary spokesperson for AFC was Charles Lindbergh.
You will recall Lindbergh's famous, solo flight across the Atlantic. You might not recall that in 1938 Luftwaffe chief Herman Goering presented Lindbergh with a medal in behalf of Adolf Hitler. Following Kristallnacht, Lindbergh sparked enormous controversy by refusing to return that medal.
Lindbergh declined to return the medal, later writing (according to A. Scott Berg) "It seems to me that the returning of decorations, which were given in times of peace and as a gesture of friendship, can have no constructive effect. If I were to return the German medal, it seems to me that it would be an unnecessary insult. Even if war develops between us, I can see no gain in indulging in a spitting contest before that war begins."Two years later, Lindbergh, who still had the medal, remained a spokesman for AFC:
On June 20, 1940 Lindbergh spoke to a rally in Los Angeles billed as "Peace and Preparedness Mass Meeting". In his speech of that day, Lindbergh criticized those movements he perceived as leading America into the war. He proclaimed that the United States was in a position that made it virtually impregnable and he pointed out that when interventionists said "the defense of England" they really meant "defeat of Germany." Lindbergh's presence at the Hollywood Bowl rally was overshadowed, however, by the presence of fringe elements in the crowd.For a full text of the Des Moines speech, go here. To hear it, go here.
However, nothing did more to escalate the tensions than the speech he delivered to a rally in Des Moines, Iowa on September 11, 1941. In that speech he identified the forces pulling America into the war as the British, the Roosevelt administration, and the Jews. While he expressed sympathy for the plight of the Jews in Germany, he argued that America's entry into the war would serve them little better. He said in part:It is not difficult to understand why Jewish people desire the overthrow of Nazi Germany. The persecution they suffered in Germany would be sufficient to make bitter enemies of any race. No person with a sense of the dignity of mankind can condone the persecution the Jewish race suffered in Germany. But no person of honesty and vision can look on their pro-war policy here today without seeing the dangers involved in such a policy, both for us and for them.
Instead of agitating for war the Jewish groups in this country should be opposing it in every possible way, for they will be among the first to feel its consequences. Tolerance is a virtue that depends upon peace and strength. History shows that it cannot survive war and devastation. A few farsighted Jewish people realize this and stand opposed to intervention. But the majority still do not. Their greatest danger to this country lies in their large ownership and influence in our motion pictures, our press, our radio, and our government.
And who were the fringe elements in the crowd in Hollywood? Newspaper headlines before the speech announced, "L.A. NAZI'S PREPARE FOR LINDBERGH RALLY." And it has been widely written that in addition to the Nazis, Lindbergh shared many followers with Father Coughlin.
Later, Lindbergh was on the defensive, claiming that he wasn't really an anti-semite. And the bombing of Pearl Harbor forced the end of the AFC and its arguments for "neutrality."
That's the relevant history.
The RNC's use of the phrase "Country First" clearly echoes the phrase "America First." Both are extreme. Both seek to imply that those who disagree are, if not outright traitors, unacceptably less patriotic, and that those who disagree find primacy instead in foreign, alien, liberal values, values that are unpatriotic, instead of American.
This isn't a dog whistle only the right can hear. As buhdy pointed out in a comment recently, this is a bull horn. And it's typical, old time, right wing Republican politics. This isn't about change, it's about atavism.
And then there's this: