Mr. 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.