There's Gambling in Vegas, Fascism in D.C.

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During one of my infrequent-as-possible trips to Washington, D.C., which is barely 25 miles south of my home, a local D.C. radio station was interviewing Sam Donaldson who kept repeating, "What would Father Abraham think? What would Father Abraham think?" Having just written a book and over 50 articles about Abraham Lincoln, this caught my attention.

Sam — and, apparently, the entire Washington Establishment — was in a huff about (hide the children; put the horses away; grab the shotgun) commercialism on the Mall! It was Thursday, September 4, and the opening night of the NFL football season. Professional football and several corporations were staging a free concert on the Mall by the Smithsonian Institution and, horror of horrors, there were going to be television commercials aired during the televised concert. To real people this is no big deal, but to the Washington media elite, the bureaucracy, and left-wing academics, it’s an outrage! Making money right there in front of "Father Abraham’s" Zeus-like statue! What would Father Abraham think?!

Actually, Lincoln would not have been so much of a hypocrite as to criticize such a thing and would probably think Sam Donaldson is an ass. He never turned down a legal fee himself; was a lifelong Whig — the party of the moneyed elite — despite his poverty-stricken background; he dumped his fianceé so he could marry Mary Todd, daughter of wealthy slave-owning parents, and he even once defended a slave owner, Robert Matson. He lost the case, the slaves subsequently gained their freedom, and Lincoln presumably pocketed his modest legal fee.

More importantly, the critics of "commercialism on the Mall" are hypocrites of the first order. The Mall is surrounded by all the buildings of the Smithsonian Institution, a government-subsidized "nonprofit" institution that makes every effort to make as much money as it can. Each building has shops; some have restaurants that serve very mediocre and very expensive food; and the Institution has thriving magazine, travel, internet, and seminar businesses. It’s 100 percent commercial, but it prefers to call itself "nonprofit" for tax purposes.

There are also government office buildings circling the Mall in Washington, filled with bureaucrats — the same bureaucrats who fret over "commercialism on the Mall" — who are all full-time lobbyists and propagandists for MORE MONEY for themselves and their agencies. That’s all they spend their days doing — when they’re not out jogging on the mall, taking three hour cappuccino breaks, and surfing the internet at work at taxpayers’ expense.

Indeed, the constant refrain from the Washington bureaucracy is "Send us more money! Send us more money!" The difference between this and the kind of "commercialism" that these bureaucrats so bitterly denounce is that the companies that advertised during the NFL concert provide consumers with great goods and services in return for their money. The Washington bureaucracy, on the other hand, is essentially a gang of bandits that uses the coercive powers of the state that have accumulated over the past two centuries to take our money and actually harm us in return. They ruin our schools, foul up our energy markets, drown our businesses in red tape, turn millions of us into hopeless welfare bums, make everything more and more expensive, cause recessions and depressions, wage a war on drugs that is the main source of violent crime, drive up housing prices, tax everything we consume, turn farmers into beggars and welfare bums, politicize higher education, make enemies all around the world with its military inventions, and on and on.

If the Washington Establishment is so opposed to commercialism on the Mall, you might ask, then why did the government allow it? The answer lies in the nature of the modern American state. Making money is perfectly fine, you see, if it serves the purposes of the state. Otherwise, it is to be condemned, criticized, and frowned upon. In this case, the quid pro quo was that the corporations that sponsored the event were required to make it a big propaganda extravaganza for the U.S. military establishment. They were required to provide seating for some 20,000 military personnel, to have each act introduced by both an NFL star and a member of the military; and to include talk about what a great job the government is doing in Iraq. (A U.S. Airforce Sergeant slipped up by saying, "Two months ago I was flying missions in Iraq and BOY, AM I GLAD TO BE BACK HERE!") So much for his military career.

There’s a name for a system that generally condemns commercialism but allows it only if it serves "official" state purposes: it’s called fascism.

Thomas J. DiLorenzo [send him mail] is the author of the LRC #1 bestseller, The Real Lincoln: A New Look at Abraham Lincoln, His Agenda, and an Unnecessary War (Forum/Random House, 2002) and professor of economics at Loyola College in Maryland.

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