NABA-NABA

Naomi Wolf's "Fascist America in 10 easy steps" has gotten quite a bit of attention. It's a worrisome list.

Wolf's use of the "F-word" has prompted a lot of NABA-NABA, all of which might be true but is, as always with NABA-ism, an irrelevant response.

"NABA," again, stands for "Not As Bad As." As in, "Yes, the executive now has the power to declare anyone an enemy combatant, to detain them without charge, subject them to torture, and use the 'evidence' collected from that torture to sentence them in extrajudicial military tribunals, but the executive hasn't used this unchecked power against that many people, and not yet against any well-known white U.S. citizens, so let's not get carried away with the F-word because we're Not As Bad As the most heinous villains of history."

NABA-NABA is meant to be reassuring, but it's a feeble kind of reassurance. It's like trying to tell the people of New Orleans to cheer up since, after all, Katrina and the broken levies were Not As Bad As the Boxing Day tsunami. That may be technically true, but it's hardly the point.

So, yes, I agree with Wolf's critics who leap to defend President Bush by insisting he is Not As Bad As Hitler/Stalin/Mao/Saddam/Galactus. I agree so wholeheartedly that I think this should be the engraving on the archway to the George W. Bush Presidential Library: "Not As Bad As Saddam."

NABA-NABA erodes our standards and expectations — lowering the bar like we're in some kind of limbo contest. Consider this from Wolf:

Once you have got everyone scared, the next step is to create a prison system outside the rule of law (as Bush put it, he wanted the American detention centre at Guantánamo Bay to be situated in legal "outer space") — where torture takes place. …

With its jails in Iraq and Afghanistan, and, of course, Guantánamo in Cuba, where detainees are abused, and kept indefinitely without trial and without access to the due process of the law, America certainly has its gulag now.

The facts here are not in dispute. Everyone agrees that Guantanamo Bay has become a place where "detainees are abused, and kept indefinitely without trial and without access to the due process of the law." You can either respond to those facts, or you can reassure yourself with NABA-NABA, desperately latching onto Wolf's use of the word "gulag" and indulging in the comforting distraction that, as bad as it may be, Gitmo is NABA the Soviet gulags.

That's true. It's also not the point.

Guantanamo is incompatible with democracy. I don't care, and it doesn't matter, if we can list a dozen or a thousand examples of places that were worse. That's not how this works. We're not grading on a curve. Guantanamo Bay is intolerable.

Shut it down. Burn it down, gentlemen. Burn it down and salt the earth.

  • Bruce Garrett

    You know…I remember back in the Nixon years, that a pretty standard response to anyone who criticized the Nixon administration’s assaults on civil liberties back then (the one’s we knew about before Watergate), and their attacks on dissent, the beatings and jailings of protesters, the Kent State shootings, their attacks on the free press, was that the US wasn’t as bad on free speech and civil liberties issues as the Russians/communists are so just shut up.
    I Swear some days…I’m going to wake up and it’ll still be 1973…

  • Scorpio

    A-freakin’-men!
    The not as bas as crap has gone way too far. What kind of recommendation is it to know our government is “not as bad as Hitler”, anyway?

  • Nix

    Serendipity strikes again. I watched _Primeval_ for the first time in three years tonight. My system auditing logs show that it ended at 21:44 BST… and *one minute later*, in a different timezone halfway across the world, Fred posts this, with a reference to the last lines of _Primeval_ and a link to a years-old post with the last lines blockquoted.
    *shiver*
    (*shiver* in regard to the subject matter of the posts, as well. As someone whose grandparents narrowly escaped Auschwitz, no, Guantanamo Bay isn’t as bad: but they take leaves from the same book. Unfortunately the only thing filled in with concrete here seems to be Bush’s head :/ )

  • forestwalker

    “So, yes, I agree with Wolf’s critics who leap to defend President Bush by insisting he is Not As Bad As Hitler/Stalin/Mao/Saddam/Galactus. I agree so wholeheartedly that I think this should be the engraving on the archway to the George W. Bush Presidential Library: ‘Not As Bad As Saddam.’”
    Simply brilliant.

  • Spalanzani

    http://fafblog.blogspot.com/search?q=Galactus
    I knew that “Hitler/Stalin/Mao/Saddam/Galactus” bit seemed familiar. I wonder if the Fafblog reference was intentional or if great minds really do think alike.

  • X

    I don’t know whether I should be serious about this, but I honestly have thought at times that there are protests and activities that I probably should not go to, because I might not be allowed back into the States when I go home (I’m Canadian). I really truly, honest to God at some points have thought “yeah, don’t say that,” and haven’t said it.
    Sweet land of liberty.

  • David

    So, yes, I agree with Wolf’s critics who leap to defend President Bush by insisting he is Not As Bad As Hitler/Stalin/Mao/Saddam/Galactus.
    Well, sure, Hitler/Stalin/Mao/Galactus… it really disturbs me, though, that Bush’s deliberate long-term campaign of deceit has, so far, led to far more Iraqi civilian deaths than those for which Saddam was executed. It’s not even close, in fact, the numbers are separated by multiple orders of magnitude. So while I’ll grant Saddam may be worse than Bush, it’s not a claim I’m willing to accept by mere assertion…

  • X

    David,
    are we holding Bush here responsible for the deaths that Iraqi’s have inflicted on other Iraqi’s?
    Believe me, I’m no defender of Bush, but civilians killed by a war are not AS BAD as civilians killed for political reasons by governments in times of peace. Bush’s presidential library motto is not in jeopardy quite yet.

  • fe_man

    I agree. It seems people get too caught up on comparing things to other things in general. I guess it’s easier/more accesible to compare two things in the present than to compare now to then. What we should look at (I think) is change over time.
    Democracy and human rights are on a decline… that’s bad.
    Sexism is getting better, that’s good. Shameless plug: I wrote about that here – http://ironforfun.blogspot.com/2007/04/fix-it-unless-is-was-already-broken.html
    Why compare apples to oranges, or even apples to apples, when you could compare an apple to itself?

  • David

    X,
    “civilians killed by a war” is a disingenuous description, especially compared to “civilians killed for political reasons by governments in times of peace.”
    There was no war before Bush deliberately lied to start one. We did have times of peace, at least insofar as Iraq is concerned, until Bush deliberately lied, for political reasons, to make things otherwise. The only part of your contrast that remains is that the civilians who died were not deliberately and individually targeted by the government responsible — but their potential death was weighed against Bush’s potential political gain, and they lost.
    Now, even as terrible as I think that is, I still agree with you that this is Not As Bad As the deliberate and systematic murder of specific civilians.
    But that’s where we come to the “multiple orders of magnitude” part of my comment. So, maybe on a person-for-person basis, the deaths Bush knowingly caused by his deceit are Not As Bad As the deaths Saddam ordered and for which he was executed. But how many of these deaths do there need to be before Bush again reaches Saddam levels? 100 for every 1 of Saddam’s? As I understand it, we aren’t out of that ballpark, and the war is far from over…

  • X

    David,
    it’s an interesting moral calculus you suggest, but I think its too slippery a math for me. When you start weighting number of deaths by badness of death, like that Bush may be worse than Saddam, but the cigarette executives would be worse than both, and the inventor of the automobile the worst criminal in history.
    Some things like wars and mass markets are just inherently life intensive than others. I think you might be able to say a big war is worse than a small one, but comparing across types by using # of deaths is just inherently dodgy.

  • Lauren

    This reminds me of the catch-phrase of one of the right-wing talk radio hosts (maybe Michael Medved?). He would sign-on by saying he was in “the greatest nation on God’s green Earth.” And of course time to time people would call in to object to that statement, and of course he would respond, “well, what nation is greater?” and proceed to shoot down any suggestion they might have. Which is easy enough with an adjective as vague as great.
    It is the kind of statement that rubs people the wrong way, without them knowing why. And besides the fact that it is proud and vain, I think the reason some people like thinking of the USA as the “greatest nation” and GWB as “not-as-bad-as” is that it is just an excuse for inactivity. If you are the greatest, you can rest on your laurels. If you aren’t at the bottom, you can stay the course and everything will be all right.
    I eventually came to the conclusion that it isn’t all about the y-value, it is the slope that matters.

  • FungiFromYuggoth

    I am the devil, come to do the advocate’s work.
    Set aside the issue of Iraqi death squads, which are part of the government, do target people, and have an odd tendency to follow Negroponte to his foreign postings.
    Is indirect death caused by the forcible disintegration of the Iraqi state less reprehensible than direct government massacres and disappearances? The victims are still dead. Their families still mourn.
    (Of course, by this standard we add a number of Iraq/Iran war casualties to Saddam’s total. Bush’s inscription is still safe.)

  • David

    X,
    I didn’t suggest we should weigh things by the number of deaths someone innocently and indirectly causes, as with the inventor of the automobile — I can’t see any way of reading my post that would make any sense with that example. You could maybe make more of a case for tobacco executives, since some of them actually did deliberately deceive people, target teens, etc… but I was very explicit about the fact that it isn’t just that Bush indirectly caused deaths, but that he did so deliberately, with foreknowledge, through deceit, for political gain. This is not a mere game of “how many lives would have been spared if this person never existed,” this is a case where someone deliberately took deceptive actions that he knew would lead to many thousands of deaths, and — this is probably the most important part as far as moral responsibility — he did so not because it was the right thing to do, but for essentially selfish political purposes.
    “Some things like wars and mass markets are just inherently life intensive than others.”
    Very true. Which is why deliberately starting an unnecessary war through deceptive means is, rightly, considered a grievous crime. That’s what I was getting at in the first place. You can’t just say “oh, well lots of people always die in wars,” and then shrug that off as though those deaths were somehow inevitable. This war was not inevitable, or necessary. The inevitable deaths produced by any war are precisely why war should be a last resort, pursued only in the most serious circumstances.
    So, no, automobile manufacturers are a bad comparison. This isn’t like “Oops! My otherwise helpful actions led to some negative consequences.” It’s like “Oops! My attempt to kill many people for political convenience led to many deaths!”… the fact that “it’s a war” doesn’t mean you weren’t still trying to kill people for political convenience.
    So… like I said, I think that the individual deaths were not as bad as Saddam’s. But there are an awful lot more of them, at least insofar as the justification for the death penalty, and they were just as premeditated — merely less targeted and systematic.

  • ako

    Is indirect death caused by the forcible disintegration of the Iraqi state less reprehensible than direct government massacres and disappearances? The victims are still dead. Their families still mourn.
    Do you believe that intent matters when killing someone? I do. Virtually every legal system in the world does. Killing someone in an accident that one couldn’t rationally avoid or killing someone in self-defense is generally not considered a crime. Killing through negligence is a crime, and killing through recklessness is a greater one. But still not as bad as willful and deliberate murder.
    So even if Bush were subjected to the treatment I feel he deserves, that of a common criminal, the deaths of people he didn’t mean to kill would count against him less than the deaths he caused intentionally. So unless someone found a way to calculate how many people killed through reckless indifference to human life equal one person willfully murdered, it would be hard to balance the scales that way.
    Incidentally, how pathetically weak of expectations does it reflect for our country that people think not being as bad as Saddam Hussein is something to brag about, or even a justification for our nation’s deeds? And they claim anti-war protesters are the ones who hate America.

  • X

    “Your honor, while I willing admit that I did in fact, rape and kill the victim, I would like to point out that I am not as bad as Jeffry Dahmer, because he killed and raped a lot of people, and ate some of them too. Therefore I request that I be released from jail and freed forthwith. And I’d like an apology from all the people who hate me, too.”
    Ako So unless someone found a way to calculate how many people killed through reckless indifference to human life equal one person willfully murdered, it would be hard to balance the scales that way.
    This is what I was getting at. David was trying to do this math of: (bad reason for killing someone times P thousand lives) > (worse way of killing people times Q thousand lives), where P is greater than Q. In his exact terms, 1 person killed by Saddam ~= 100 people killed in unnecessary war. I was trying to extend this logic to include other ways of killing people (e.g., tobacco) that were less bad still, but killed VASTLY more people numerically… Ako puts it more incisively.

  • Waterlooain

    Really, the death penalty isn’t called for with Mr. Bush. His deaths, as pointed out, are due to reckless negligence, rather than deliberate intent.
    In part, the purpose of judicial punishment is to prevent harm to the rest of society. In the case of the death penalty (morality of that itself aside), the idea is that keeping the condemned alive would put society at a significant, unnecessary risk of harm.
    In the case of Mr. Bush, the deaths were caused entirely by his misuse and/or abuse of power. Were he a private citizen, he would be entirely unable to have caused these deaths or to cause more in the future.
    Thus, the proper punishment for Mr. Bush would be to remove him from power.

  • mcc

    The great thing about the Not As Bad As is that it works both ways. When American abuses in occupied Iraq came to light, they were justified under the grounds they were Not As Bad As the abuses under Saddam. When Saddam was later pulled out of his hole and put on trial for his crimes, he stood before the court and justified his own abuses on the grounds that they were Not As Bad As the abuses under the American occupation.
    A surprising number of the people we point at to say we are Not As Bad As them, were themselves at the time pointing and explaining that they were Not As Bad As somebody else further down the chain of defining deviancy down…

  • ericblair

    Really, the death penalty isn’t called for with Mr. Bush. His deaths, as pointed out, are due to reckless negligence, rather than deliberate intent.
    As far as I see it, “his” deaths occured as a result of a felony (war crime). When a victim dies without intent in the commission of a felony, in most places that’s felony murder. If you accidentally run over a pedestrian while driving to the grocery store, that’s involuntary manslaughter. If you accidentally run over a pedestrian while driving away from a bank robbery, that’s felony murder and can get you the death penalty.

  • mmack

    Bruce Garrett,
    When George W. Bush makes Richard M. Nixon look sane and competent, you know something’s wrong.
    mmack

  • Chris_C

    You can NABA within the Bush administration as well.
    Gitmo is Not As Bad As the secret CIA ‘black’ prisons, which in turn are Not As Bad As extraordinary rendition to Syria.

  • John Lott

    One point worth noting about NABA-ism is that Hitler early on was NABA Hitler later became. I listened to this audio presentation one time (I think it was one of those Great Courses things) where the lecturer or reader or whatever it was said that the horrors of the Nazi regime came in stages, that each one was not really THAT much worse than the one that immediately preceded it, but of course if you could have looked at the end from the beginning it would have been inconceivable that you could get there.

  • Iain

    the horrors of the Nazi regime came in stages, that each one was not really THAT much worse than the one that immediately preceded it, but of course if you could have looked at the end from the beginning it would have been inconceivable that you could get there.
    Yes, and the interesting thing is how this seems to have been a deliberate strategy. At least, I can’t see a more likely explanation for some of the early things (e.g., Jews weren’t allowed to own pets). Not only do you get to lead the people step by step into the unimaginable, I suspect you also drive away those with the resources and wit to fight back.

  • Ian

    Mussolini wasn’t as bad as Hitler either.
    Also, I think Fred’s being unfair to Galactus, lumping him in with Stalin like that. He’s just looking for a bite to eat — is it his fault he can only eat planets?

  • Jeff

    civilians killed by a war are not AS BAD as civilians killed for political reasons by governments in times of peace
    Well, they’re just as dead… Also, note that Rumsfeld and Cheney were responsible for getting the nerve gas to Hussein in the first place — he just used it against other Iraqis instead of Iranians, the intended target. So this administration has those deaths on its hands as well.
    (In other words, what David said.)
    BTW, Bush may not have intended to unleash catostrophic civil war upon the Iraqis, but once it became apparrent he had done so, it became morally imperitive for him to do whatever it took to quell the violence. All Iraqi deaths after “Mission Accomplished” can be laid at Mr Bush’s door.
    the cigarette executives would be worse than both, and the inventor of the automobile the worst criminal in history.
    Cigarette CEOs lied repeatedly; about the illnesses caused by tobacco, about how addictive it was (while they were making it more addictive), about the seriousness of second-hand smoke, in defense of a product with no benefits. Cars at least ake us, and our stuff, from one place to another.
    I was very explicit about the fact that it isn’t just that Bush indirectly caused deaths, but that he did so deliberately, with foreknowledge, through deceit
    Also true for tobacco execs. They did it for financial gain rather than political gain. Whoop.

  • Alex

    Sigh. The post is great as usual.
    But that Fafblog reference. Why must you remind me that the world’s only source for Fafblog has been dark for almost a year now?
    I can think of no other blog where the most recent post is a year old but still getting, “PLEASE COME BACK. WE LOVE YOU.” comments.

  • X

    (In other words, what David said.)
    To which I counter: What Ako said.
    (talk about efficient conversation). Maybe we should just give all these points numbers, like in the old joke, so we can save a lot of time by just shouting numbers at each other.
    “4″
    “27″
    “96″
    “Ah ha, 7!”
    “You bastard, you got me.”
    Cigarette CEOs lied repeatedly;
    so basically you’re cool with the idea that the ciggie executives are worse that both Bush and Saddam? (lesser evil per death, times many more deaths)?? Just so’s we’re all clear here.

  • Xanthippas

    Shut it down. Burn it down, gentlemen. Burn it down and salt the earth.
    Amen brother.

  • Jeff

    so basically you’re cool with the idea that the ciggie executives are worse that both Bush and Saddam? (lesser evil per death, times many more deaths)?? Just so’s we’re all clear here.
    If death were the only evil from Bush or Hussein, yes. The CEOs are as evil as Bush in this “calculation”: they were just as callous of human life as Bush or Hussein.
    However, for Bush and Hussein, we have to add in torture and rape (by proxy for Bush). There are other factors as well, but I’m sleepy, so I’ll add them later if needed.
    Question for you, then: How do you compare the Eeeeeeeeeevil Factor (© and ®) (Evilosity?) of the Menendez brothers vs the 9/11 hijackers?

  • X

    Question for you, then: How do you compare the Eeeeeeeeeevil Factor (© and ®) (Evilosity?) of the Menendez brothers vs the 9/11 hijackers?
    I don’t. Some things are just incommensurate. Like art vs. natural scenery, there’s simply no meaningful metric.

  • Jeff

    I don’t. Some things are just incommensurate.
    I think it’s pretty easy to measure gross degrees of harm, even if some may be harder to reconcile. A petty shop-lifter does less harm than a mass murderer; less than a robber; less than a kleptomaniac, etc. There may be no units (yet), but that doesn’t mean that harm can’t be compared.

  • ako

    As far as I see it, “his” deaths occured as a result of a felony (war crime).
    If you could get the war formally declared illegal (tricky, but with “war of agression laws” not something to rule out), then every civilian death at the hands of US soldiers (and I believe some military deaths, but that gets into a tricky area) would constitute a crime. The felony murder rule is relatively unpopular, and is being narrowed, but deaths caused by a war of agression would be considered criminal. A separat kind of criminal offense, and a less severe one than deliberate slaughter, but criminal in a way that doesn’t apply to deaths in a legal war.
    BTW, Bush may not have intended to unleash catostrophic civil war upon the Iraqis, but once it became apparrent he had done so, it became morally imperitive for him to do whatever it took to quell the violence. All Iraqi deaths after “Mission Accomplished” can be laid at Mr Bush’s door.
    That would fit fairly neatly under the category of reckless homicide, and is considered under most legal standards 1) a crime and 2) less bad than deliberate murder.

  • X

    Bush may not have intended to unleash catostrophic civil war upon the Iraqis, but once it became apparrent he had done so, it became morally imperitive for him to do whatever it took to quell the violence. All Iraqi deaths after “Mission Accomplished” can be laid at Mr Bush’s door.
    Which, of course, assumes that after the aircraft carrier there WERE things he could do to stop the civil war. There may well have been, in terms of competent reconstruction or diplomacy, but I think you’d have a hell of a time proving that any of those things would definitely have worked, and that any reasonable person would have known that they would definitely work. Short of that, you haven’t shown negligence, I wouldn’t imagine.

  • X

    Ako: That would fit fairly neatly under the category of reckless homicide, and is considered under most legal standards 1) a crime and 2) less bad than deliberate murder.
    going back to the original assertion, you could ask how many reckless homicides equals one deliberate murder. I think it’s a pretty meaningless question on a moral level (their values are “incommensurate” – I saw this in the one law class I visited at NYU), but in terms of a criminal justice system which has the impossible job of gradating crimes according to a proscribed scale of punishment, how would they stack up?

  • ako

    going back to the original assertion, you could ask how many reckless homicides equals one deliberate murder.
    There isn’t any neat legal equivalent. The nearest you’d get would be comparing penalties, and that gets into a lot of tricky questions. It’s relatively easy to ranks some things in terms of comparative badness/severity, but it’s hard (and sometimes impossible) to quantify how much worse X is than Y. (Too bad we don’t have a commentator Y. ;-)
    For instance, life without parole is obviously more severe than life with parole, but by how much? How does a life sentence compare mathematically with a thirty-year sentence? Do you look at average lifespan? Does a life sentence against a forty-year-old count as more severe than one against a forty-five year old? What if the first guy’s a diabetic with a bad heart, and the second guy’s a fitness buff?
    Plus, in the US, penalties vary state by state. They’re reasonably similar, for the most part, but there isn’t any universal rule saying “man who commits negligent homicide will get this many years in jail.” Also, there usually isn’t a number specifying what the sentence should be, more of a range, and the judge has a lot of discretion to play around with.
    So you could probably do a really interesting study looking at what the practical exchange rate is, on how many years difference between reckless homicide and first-degree murder, once you’d equalized the other factors, but there isn’t any formal answer, and the legal system’s largely set up to avoid having to answer that very question.

  • Jeff

    Which, of course, assumes that after the aircraft carrier there WERE things he could do to stop the civil war. There may well have been, in terms of competent reconstruction or diplomacy, but I think you’d have a hell of a time proving that any of those things would definitely have worked, and that any reasonable person would have known that they would definitely work.
    Not necessary. He instigated the action, it was apparent fairly early on what the problems were, and Bush acted like the proverbial deer in the head-lights.
    If he had taken any action which a reasonable person could see would mitigate the disaster, he might not be so obviously guilty. But all he did was add fuel to the fire whenever possible.


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