Enough about the Nazis

    In the interests of civility, and out of respect for the slaughtered innocents of World War II, would everyone please stop equating everything with the Nazis? This behavior has gotten seriously out of control. Granted, in recent years our civic discourse has been irrevocably coarsened, and, granted, too many ostensibly thinking Americans suffer from intellectual poverty, but it’s really inexcusable to invoke the Nazis as a rhetorical weapon, and to fecklessly fire it at those who displease us.The latest culprit is Fox News chairman Roger Ailes, who said the other day that the people who run NPR “are, of course, Nazis. They have a kind of Nazi attitude.”I particularly love his certitude: of course. Not long after he spewed, he did the ritual apology, explaining that he had gotten too “emotional.” But that’s the whole problem, isn’t it? Too many people these days are hostage to their emotions, and it leads them to indulge in horrific acts of historical disproportion.Rob Reiner, the liberal Hollywood director, recently said of the tea-party crowd, “All they’re selling is fear and anger, and that’s all Hitler sold.” A prominent health foundation recently sponsored an online ad that read, “What does the tea party and the Nazi brownshirts have in common?” Meanwhile, on the other side of the divide, some placard-wielding tea-partiers have morphed Barack Obama into Hitler. Rush Limbaugh has said, “Obama’s got a health care logo that’s right out of Hitler’s playbook…Adolf Hitler, like Obama, also ruled by dictate.” Richard Land, one of America’s top Baptist leaders, has said that Obama’s health care plan “is precisely what the Nazis did.”Back in the George W. Bush era, you could go online and buy a T-shirt that featured a swastika in place of the third letter of the president’s last name. You could click around and find images of Bush morphed into Hitler, courtesy of Photoshop. (This stuff was particularly common back in 2003, at the dawn of the Iraq war.) And on the Senate floor, in 2005, Democrat Dick Durbin equated the conduct of U.S. military guards at Guantanamo with what “must have been done by Nazis.”We could go on, of course. Newt Gingrich recently suggested that the construction of a Muslim community center a few blocks from Ground Zero was akin to Nazis attempting “to put up a sign next to the Holocaust Museum.” Bill O’Reilly complained in 2007 that the liberal Daily Kos website “is like the Nazi party, there’s no difference there.” Glenn Beck in 2009 defended the vandals who painted a swastika on the office of a Georgia Democratic congressman: “They’re saying, ‘We hate you because you’re a Nazi!'”It’s not enough to condemn this lazy rhetorical device as a form of mindless slander, one that inevitably shuts down, and further dumbs down, rational discourse. That’s merely the misdemeanor. The real felony is that these rote Nazi invocations dull American sensitivities to the Nazi reality. When the Third Reich is cited merely for the purpose of dissing Bush or Obama or health reform or peaceful Muslims or NPR, it reduces the Nazis to a facile partisan talking point. They hardly deserve such a perk.Let’s put things into historical perspective. As the conservative writer Jonah Goldberg rightfully pointed out seven years ago, when the Bush/Hitler comparisons were raging, the Nazi era’s “enormity is depressing, so compacted down with evil and barbarity and cruelty that it folds upon itself like a black hole…they were uniquely and monumentally evil, not just in their hearts but also in literally billions of intentional, well-planned, and bureaucratized decisions they made every day.” Ask yourself: Are millions of citizens being herded into camps, for the purpose of sending them up the chimney? Are politically incorrect lawyers and teachers being kicked out of their jobs and beaten on the sidewalk? Are street thugs with armbands marching into Barnes and Noble in search of kindling for bonfires? Please. We Americans deem it an assault on our freedom when the WiFi goes down, when the latte is lukewarm, or when the airport friskers get close to our genitals.So can we please leave the Nazis where they belong, in the rubble of ’45?——-Today, a shocking newspaper headline: “Obama Forces Showdown With GOP on Arms Pact”Amazing. It looks like the president might actually fight for ratification of the new arms control treaty (see yesterday’s post). At a briefing, he brought in a number of Republican treaty supporters – including longtime Bush intimates James Baker and Brent Scowcroft, and ex-Secretary of State Henry Kissinger – and actually confronted the Senate Republicans who predictably insist on saying No.Perhaps he picked himself off the canvas – finally – after hearing what James Carville said about him yesterday morning, at a press breakfast: “If Hillary gave up one of her balls and gave it to Obama, he’d have two.”It wasn’t the most artful of barbs, but at least there was no mention of Nazis.

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