The next rung on the rhetorical ladder

THE NEXT RUNG ON THE RHETORICAL LADDER…. It’s become so common for the president’s conservative detractors to equate the White House agenda with “socialism” and/or “communism,” that Media Matters began doing weekly counts. Last week’s “Red Scare Index” clocked in at 306, a big jump over the week before.

The problem for the right, of course, is that the attack isn’t working. The Red Scare has been in full effect for a couple of months, and not only has Obama’a approval ratings remained fairly strong, but even socialism is starting to garner unusually high support.

With “socialism” talk having become tiresome, lazy right-wing voices have decided to climb the attack ladder — “fascist” is one rung higher than “communist.”

“Rhetorically, Republicans are having a very hard time finding something that raises the consciousness of the average voter,” said Saul Anuzis, a former chairman of the Michigan Republican Party who recently lost a bid to became national party chairman.

Workaday labels like “big spender” and “liberal” have lost their punch, and last fall, Senator John McCain of Arizona and Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska gained little traction during the presidential campaign by linking Mr. Obama’s agenda to socialism.

So Mr. Anuzis has turned to provocation with a purpose. He calls the president’s domestic agenda “economic fascism.”

“We’ve so overused the word ‘socialism’ that it no longer has the negative connotation it had 20 years ago, or even 10 years ago,” Mr. Anuzis said. “Fascism — everybody still thinks that’s a bad thing.”

Well, I certainly can’t argue with logic like that.

Casual references to the other “f” bomb have become pretty common in Republican circles, with Glenn Beck embracing it on a nearly daily basis. What was once considered largely beyond the pale in American discourse is now just another insult to be thrown at U.S. leaders by prominent political voices.

But Anuzis’ perspective is especially interesting. He effectively concedes that the right has overused “socialist,” leaving activists like him with no choice but to embrace the worst political epithet they can think of, whether it makes sense or not. The point isn’t to make a coherent argument — perish the thought — but rather to scare the public with the most incendiary insults available in the right-wing imagination.

Anuzis added that it may sound bad to call the President of the United States a “fascist,” but that’s only because “we’re not used to it.” He added, “You’ve got to be careful using the term ‘economic fascism’ in the right way, so it doesn’t come off as extreme.”

Right. A leading Republican activist wants to find a way to attack elected U.S. leaders as “fascists,” without sounding too harsh.

As Michelle Cottle concluded, “Yeah. Good luck with that, big guy.”

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Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.