For the French, revisiting the time period when the Vichy Regime ruled what was left of the country after its humiliating defeat by the Germans in 1940 involves trauma. But the lessons imparted by those dark years of Nazi occupation transcend historical era and nationality, touching upon equivalent circumstances in the United States for the past few years. Equivalent, not identical: clearly, phalanxes of Nazi troops aren't goose-stepping down Pennsylvania Avenue. Don't have to: the threat is not swastika-black, but rather red and green and yellow. Indeed, one may hurl many criticisms against America's ruling class, but rainbow-challenged it's not.
A few comparisons are in order. In their fine review of French history since 1870, Alice L. Conklin, Sarah Fishman, and Robert Zaretsky point out that French leaders at Vichy had several bargaining chips they could use against Hitler, but decided not to play them "because they had other priorities on their mind, including a 'National Revolution' to remake France, politically, socially, and economically." France's new leader, the 84-year-old Marshall Petain, was a deeply reactionary veteran who loathed the Third Republic crushed by the Germans and vowed to take advantage of France's crisis to obliterate the past and install a centralized, authoritarian government. His rejection of liberalism, egalitarianism, and democracy prompted measures designed to return France to its pre-revolutionary roots: cities, industrial plants, and factories were rejected in favor of a return to nature, to villages and small shops. On top of this heap of nouveau-peasantry loomed the Marshall himself, whose grandfatherly physiognomy was plastered on buildings in public arenas all over the country to remind French subjects of who was in charge.
Petain was accompanied by legions of experts, administrators, and technocrats, who shared Petain's disdain for ordinary people and democratic processes, and by strident French fascists who even welcomed their country's defeat. Indeed, although fascists hated democracy, they also believed that Petain's measures did not go far enough to remake the country's institutions. The main thing this menagerie of "minorities" -- to use Stanley Hoffmann's phrase -- had in common was the loathing they shared of their own country.
Now let us fast forward to the United States and cast our lamps on a few color comparisons, beginning with red. The coal-scuttle-helmeted hordes of the Third Reich in this case take a more insidious but equally threatening form of deep red -- red ink that is, representing accumulating national debt that can crush this country as thoroughly as Hitler's panzers devastated France. Worse, the enemy is internal, threatens to enslave generations with nearly unpayable obligations, and America's leaders seem either helpless to deal with it or cannot agree on a common policy, which amounts to the same thing.
Further, like his aged counterpart before him, President Obama took advantage of a crisis to "transform" American institutions instead of grappling with the country's main problems -- national debt, unemployment, recession, and burgeoning entitlement costs, to name a few. He made matters worse by augmenting entitlements, exploding federal deficits, exacerbating unemployment, and blaming others for the inevitable mess that ensued. Color him and his ubiquitous images in American media a bright red. No doubt, Petain would be pleased, though likely still frustrated by the President's political base excoriating him for not going far enough in his "reforms."
Green comes next and like the elite in the Petain Regime is represented by hordes of new government administrators, especially EPA-crats whose contempt for free enterprise and democratic processes rivals anything that graduates from Vichy France's elite schools ever dreamed about. Thus, Obama Administration officials forbid offshore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, the Alaskan coast, and ANWR, and block exploration of huge reserves of shale oil in the Rocky Mountain States, the combination of which would make our country energy independent, at least until suitable substitutes are created. America's Petainiacs apparently reason that preserving the United States' oil dependency on regimes that despise us constitutes sound public policy. Go figure. Like their reactionary French bureaucrat counterparts during the forties, American greens yearn for a country bereft of nearly everything that made it modern, that made it great, that made it a superpower. Though Americans suffer, Marshall Petain would be proud.
Our last color refers to those who like Vichy France fascists may not be as numerous but certainly are as noisy. Think of Reverend Wright's "god---- America" profanities, or Markos Moulitsas' "screw 'em" references to Americans being slaughtered in Iraq, or any number of Hollywood egotists like Sean Penn, who hug dictators and seem to delight in America's miseries. All of these America-haters benefit from the liberty and prosperity that only a free, democratic, and capitalist America can provide. Let's mince no words here; color them yellow.
France was saved from its Vichy insanities by a country that was proclaimed, in the words of Abraham Lincoln, as the "last best hope on earth" -- that is, by the United States. The question is: Who will save America from its own Vichy regime?