In 1936, after he formed the leftist “Popular Front” in France, Léon Blum became the first Jewish leader of a major western European power. Benjamin Disraeli, who served as Prime Minster of the United Kingdom in the 1870s, was an ethnic Jew, but had been converted to Christianity in 1812 by his parents. The election of Blum as Prime Minister, who was a disciple of the great French socialist leader Jean Jaurès, the moderate social democrat who had led the struggle to free Alfred Dreyfus in the late 19th Century, caused a ferocious antisemitic backlash on the extreme right. French conservatives in the late 1930s would regularly raise their glasses with the toast “better Adolf Hitler than Léon Blum.” They meant it. When Germany invaded France in 1940, France was already in the middle of a low-grade civil war, socialists against nationalists, Catholics against secularists. Blum, who refused to leave France during the German occupation, paid a high price for his moral courage. The Vichy government Pierre Laval and Philippe Pétain had him deported to Germany, where he spent most of the war in a concentration camp.
Blum was among “The Vichy 80”, a minority of parliamentarians that refused to grant full powers to Marshal Pétain. He was arrested by the authorities in September and held until 1942, when he was put on trial in the Riom Trial on charges of treason, for having “weakened France’s defenses” by ordering her arsenal shipped to Spain, leaving France’s infantry unsupported by heavy artillery on the eastern front against Nazi Germany. He used the courtroom to make a “brilliant indictment” of the French military and pro-German politicians like Pierre Laval. The trial was such an embarrassment to the Vichy regime that the Germans ordered it called off. He was transferred to German custody and imprisoned in Germany until 1945.
Say want you want about the French, they like clarity, especially clarity of language. When a Frenchman’s a Nazi, he comes out and says it. When he’s an Islamophobe, he picks up the latest copy of Charlie Hebdo and chuckles over the obscene drawings of the prophet. Here in the United States, on the other hand, where culturally you’re also an Anglo Saxon and a Calvinist, whatever your religion or ethnicity, the very worst Nazis tend to believe that they’re the very best, most moral people in the world. Sexual, moral, intellectual and political repression have damaged the American mind. That brings us to Chris Mathews, the gross neoconservative cable news pundit who masquerades as a moderate Democrat on Russia obsessed MSNBC. After the Vice Presidential debate in 2004, Mathews, who bragged about how he voted for George W. Bush twice, was so taken with Dick Cheney’s performance over the admittedly hollow John Edwards, he almost seemed like a 1990s high-school girl swooning over Leonardo DiCaprio in Titanic. When the far-right-wing Democrat Zell Miller, who by that time was far into senile dementia, threatened him on the air, you almost got the sense that he was ready to be Miller’s prison bitch.
You can always tell what a right-wing American like Chris Mathews thinks by what he accuses you of thinking. Indeed, if you hacked open an American neoconservative’s brain, you’d probably find two little men, one labeled “straw man” and the other labeled “projection” running on a hamster wheel. While the most prominent face of MSNBC and the most prominent Russiagate conspiracy theorist is of course Rachel Maddow, the guiding intellectual light behind MSNBC is Chris Mathews. Mathews, who’s now venturing into the same shadow of senile dementia as Zell Miller had been in 1994, has veto power over who gets hired and who gets fired at MSNBC. If you want to know why an otherwise decent liberal like Chris Hayes watches himself so carefully, it’s basically because he’s afraid of Chris Mathews. And now Mathews has compared the victory of Bernie Sanders in Nevada to Rommel’s Blitzkrieg in France. So get ready for the inevitable when Mathews, Maddow, Jennifer Rubin, David Frum and the rest of the “never Trump” neoconservative far right soon change their tune. There has always been a strong whiff of antisemitism about Russiagate. Get ready for the mask to come off. I can already hear them.
“Better Donald Trump than Bernie Sanders.”