Hitler and Political Speech

Wed, August 19, 2009

Changing the World, Republicans

hitler1Mr. PunditMom and I have been talking recently about the apparent increase by so many on the right who seem to find nothing wrong with comparing Barack Obama to Adolph Hitler.  As someone who lost many family members during the Holocaust, Mr. PunditMom has been sorting through this recent phenomenon.  As we chatted, I knew he had to write about it, so I asked him to be my guest here today.

Hitler was already dead when I was born, but my family and millions of others lost loved ones in the Holocaust and still suffer the scars from Nazi Germany.  Maybe that is why the appearance of political signs and slogans comparing our President to Hitler sends a particular chill up my spine.

First, I want to be clear that I am a strong believer in free speech, including political speech, and I do not mean to suggest that those who make such comparisons have no right to do so. But that is also not to say that I think there is any validity to their point.  Indeed, in my view, the comparison of Obama to Hitler is so off the mark that one has to conclude one of two things: either the sign carriers have no idea what Hitler was all about or, if they really know, then their comparison is simply the equivalent of shouting an expletive, with the intent to shut down any real dialogue about the issues.

But there is more to my concern than the lack of any validity in the comparison.  For me, the use of Hitler’s name and image for purposes of political sensationalism obscures and thereby minimizes the reality of who Hitler was and what he and his Nazi followers stood for and what they did.  I worry that if Hitler becomes a routine ingredient of political sloganeering, we as a society are inherently allowing ourselves to become numb to the horrors of the Holocaust — in effect, emotionally denying it.

For the vast majority of Americans who, like me, have no actual memory of the time when Hitler and the Nazis rose to power, it is all too easy to forget that Germany was a highly industrialized, civilized and cultured country, in many respects like ours, when it essentially went psychotic. The German people were faced with severe economic hardship and were fed a toxic brew of  hate speech, racism and xenophobia by the Nazis, and it is astonishing even now, in thinking of all that happened, to contemplate how fragile a seemingly civilized society can be. We forget or ignore that lesson of history at our peril.

Allowing “Hitler” to become just another epithet in political sloganeering is a dangerous thing. It disconnects us from the reality of the Holocaust, thereby making us more susceptible to sliding down that insidious slippery slope of social disorder, which allowed Hitler to come to power in the first place. Our political debates can and should be vigorous, but it is in all of our interests to keep them constructive.

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17 Responses to “Hitler and Political Speech”

  1. Houseonahill Says:

    So well put, thank you for sharing this emotional subject in this light.
    I could not agree more.

  2. Steve Says:

    Ditto!!! The parallels to what happened in 1930′s Germany and what is happening here are very scary. There is no constructive debate going on right now. I fear for our democracy because of the lack of constructive debate. That’s why they liked the Bush/Cheney dictatorship. The minority were controlling the majority.

  3. Rob Says:

    Excellent post and great insight.

    We forget or ignore that lesson of history at our peril.

    There is much truth in that statement. As a foreigner observing events from outside, it sometimes looks like the US is flirting with getting on that path to a fascist state. It’s only a hop, skip and jump from there to inflicting similar horrors on people either inside, or outside, the US borders.

  4. Chris Wysocki Says:

    Can you please point me to a similarly worded statement made by you and/or “Mr. Punditmom” on the 8 years of Bushitler and such emanating from places like The Huffington Post, Daily Kos, etc? I tried The Google but it didn’t turn one up. You’ve been blogging for a long time, surely this can’t be the first time you’ve encountered a US President being compared to Hitler so I’m sure there’s one out there, right?

  5. Tonggu Momma Says:

    Amen. My best friend in high school was the child of two survivors of the Holocaust. She had no grandparents… no aunts and uncles… no cousins. Why? Because both of her parents were the only members of their families to survive the Holocaust. There is no comparison.

  6. PunditMom Says:

    I don’t seem to recall any town hall meetings held by Bush or his representatives where people showed up and in uncontrollable shouting sprees compared Bush’s policies to that of the Nazis. When those who don’t understand what the Nazis were about try to draw comparisons that are inapt, that’s when we start down a very dangerous and slippery slope.

  7. Bill Dawson Says:

    I generally agree with the article’s sentiments while at the same time I wish similar attention had been paid to this exact same misuse of history during the previous administration. PunditMom, I can only assume that you’re blowing off of Chris Wysocki’s comment comes from willful blindness, or were you actually unaware of the “Bushitler” phenomenon as it was happening?

    As much as it displeases me to see it happening now with the current administration — I find it embarrassing since it is coming from people who, like me, are opposed to nationalization of the heath industry — at least it is not yet anywhere near the level of absurdity as it reached during the previous administration. And I hope it never reaches that point.

    People: comparisons of the President to Nazism are ridiculous, laughable and ahistorical, as much so as Rob’s hop-skip-jump comment above. Do us all a favor and stick to rational criticism.

  8. BAC Says:

    I’ve felt this same way for years listening to Rush Limbaugh refer to feminists as “feminazis”.

    BAC

  9. Bob Says:

    Well put, Mr. P.

    Chris — feel free to hop on down from your high horse and show a little cultural sensitivity. I don’t recall either Mr/Mrs PunditMom volunteering as apologist of the left, and I don’t see you taking that role on for the right. You’d have to quit your day job just to keep up with Rush.

  10. Lawyer Mama Says:

    Thanks so much for posting this, Mr. PunditMom. Apparently many of those making the comparison have no idea what fascism is or what the Nazi party stood for. Or, as you said, they do and are more interested in making an offensive statement.

  11. Dani Says:

    I don’t understand how someone trying to help our great country improve serices get compared to one of the most evil men of all time nor am I understanding how the term “death squad” is used for the current health care plan. Is it just me?

  12. Daisy Says:

    Thank you, Mr. Punditmom, for your sincere and straightforward discussion. As for “Bushitler”? I’ve never heard that term, and I’m very aware of the political world.

  13. @sweetbabboo Says:

    A phenomenal, reasoned, and intelligent response to idiocy that these people are spewing. The thought that Hitler could become merely a slogan or slander terrifies me. To remember that those atrocities happened in such recent history makes it all too real that it could happen again.

    -Abby

  14. Mitch McDad Says:

    Great post. I find it curious that the bulk of those so causally using the Hiltler comparisons are so closely in league with Hitler regarding racism. Sure I making assumptions and generalizations, but that’s my 1st amendment right I suppose. Plus, let’s face it–it’s true.


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