Lou Dobbs: ScumbagS

Last week, Dorothy Thompson's 1941 essay "Who Goes Nazi?" was made available to non-subscribers at Harpers.org. The hook: "It is an interesting and somewhat macabre parlor game to play at a large gathering of one's acquaintances: to speculate who in a showdown would go Nazi. By now, I think I know." We haven't "gone through the experience many times," as Dorothy had, but a couple media figures are so obviously jonesing for a bit of totalitarianism that anyone can see they'd fit in just swell at an old fashioned putsch. Like lovable old CNN anchor Lou Dobbs.

You probably know the basics of Dobbs' populist schtick. Immigration: bad! Borders: broken! You might not know how far he goes with those themes. For example: did you know that Mexicans want not only to cross our broken borders and steal our jobs, but also to reconquer the Southwestern United States and rename it Aztlan? It's true, according to a graphic Dobbs showed provided by SPLC-identified hate group "The Council of Conservative Citizens"!

On Dobbs' nightly show he and his correspondents provide viewers with the sort of insane, old people-terrifying conspiracy theories—your leaders are in collusion with Mexico to turn all of North America into one country and we'll all have to spend Ameros and also fight to the death in the Thunderdome!—formerly found only on late-night AM radio and the weirder far-right reaches of the internet. He generally falls just short of 9/11 Truther levels of evidence-manipulating and Occam's Razor-ignoring, all gussied up with the professional production pizazz and respectable cachet of the most "serious" cable news network. And Lou Dobbs Tonight is CNN's second most watched program!

The bloated modern-day Father Coughlin got his start as a staid and boring economics expert at the staid and boring early CNN. His Moneyline program was, as described by The New Yorker, "a sort of video clubhouse for corporate America." Harvard grad Dobbs soon became CNN's executive vice president, founded CNN fn, and then, when CNN becan covering President Bill Clinton too much for his liking, Dobbs went off to start a website about astronomy called Space.com. It was 1999!

Dobbs returned to CNN in 2001, just in time for 9/11 to change everything. Specifically, it changed Dobbs from a harmless old jackass who loved sucking up to the ruling classes into a man who'd milk every last bit of jingoistic fervor that tragedy stirred up into a highly profitable career as a mouthpiece for the sort of nativist bullshit that went out of style with the John Birch Society. Proving conclusively that it was decency and not irony that died that year, it paid off:

"In December 2003, the show was reaching an average of 463,000 households a night; by August 2006, it was reaching 646,000 families, according to Nielsen Media Research." Dobbs' rising ratings and influence allow him the freedom—not shared by any other marquee CNN anchor—to express his toxic opinions at will, in the context of a nightly news report. Even Brit Hume hides behind a farcical sliver of "objectivity."

Lou Dobbs: Scumbag

With miraculously color-shifting hair and bitter, jowled face atop his 6+ foot frame, Dobbs is reportedly as petty, cruel, and vindictive to his little guy staffers (take a couple guesses) as he is emphatically on the side of the imaginary "little guys" in his audience, each watching religiously for further tips on how best to beat back the coming wetback menace. (Did you know that the President of Mexico "demanded the United States surrender its sovereignty, abandon the rule of law and accede to Mexico's inherent supremacy"? Ignore him at your peril! They'll steal your job, replace "The Star-Spangled Banner" with that polka bullshit the cholos blast at all hours, infect you with comically archaic diseases, and force your kids to wear sombreros while pledging allegiance in Spanish to a chimichanga!)

(It's not just the Mexicans who want to enslave us, by the way—the filthy red Chinese have declared war on the American consumer and are sending us lead-filled toys and poison dog food on purpose. See: "Dangerous Imports" at the Lou Dobbs Tonight website. Every insane crusade has a little logo and catchy title, yes.)

So: is Dobbs a Nazi? Not really. Because Mexicans aren't Jews! And because he's not calling for their extermination. Just calling for them to be relocated, by force, out of our motherland! But the question posed up top is whether he'd turn Nazi when it become the expedient thing to do in suburban Jersey (it could happen here!). Using populist "concern" for der Mittelstand to rile up the folks about an imagined, darker-skinned threat is a pretty good indicator of the direction he'd fall.

Now Lou wants to run for President! Or, at least, he's not ruling it out. Anything's possible, and anyone who can so effectively split the difference between the most despicable and craven aspects of both major parties would surely gain more popular nationwide support than Michael Bloomberg. But Dobbs ain't a Hitler, he's a Goebbels—an educated gentleman used to the finer things in life pretending at solidarity with the workers in order to fatten his coffers and improve his standing.

Who goes Nazi? [Harper's]
Mad As Hell [New Yorker]
Photo illustrations: Josh Abraham