I understand why Rush Limbaugh has made a long series of abhorrent comparisons between President Obama and Adolf Hitler. His sole purpose is to shock, to offend.
According to Limbaugh, President Obama’s health care logo was “right out of Adolf Hitler’s playbook”; “Obama is asking citizens to rat each other out like Hitler did”; the president “is sending out his brownshirts to head up opposition to genuine American citizens who want no part of what Barack Obama stands for and is trying to stuff down our throats”; and “Adolf Hitler, like Barack Obama, also ruled by dictate.”
Along the same line, the president of Republican Women of Anne Arundel County, Md., wrote on the group’s Web site only one year ago that “Obama and Hitler have a great deal in common in my view. Obama and Hitler use the ‘blitzkrieg’ method to overwhelm their enemies.” Tea Party activists demonstrated with posters depicting President Obama with a Hitler-like moustache. The head of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission declared at a Christian Coalition of Florida banquet in Florida last September that the Democratic health care policy “is not something like what the Nazis did. It is precisely what the Nazis did.” And radio talk show host Glenn Beck disparaged the president’s plan to expand the Peace Corps and AmeriCorps as “what Hitler did with the SS.”
More recently, two mainstream establishment political personalities – one Republican, the other a Democrat – have joined Limbaugh and Beck in making similarly repugnant moral equivalences. According to Newt Gingrich, the former Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives, the Obama Administration’s policies represent “as great a threat to America as Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union once did.” And now California Attorney General Jerry Brown, the Democratic candidate for his old job as that state’s governor, has likened his Republican counterpart, Meg Whitman, to none other than Hitler’s propaganda minister, the virulently anti-Semitic Joseph Goebbels.
Commenting on Whitman’s enormous war chest, Brown told a radio reporter while jogging, according to the reporter’s blog, that, “It’s like Goebbels. Goebbels invented this kind of propaganda. He took control of the whole world. That’s her ambition, the first woman president. That’s what this is all about.”
Goebbels was not just a run of the mill propagandist. One of Hitler’s closest associates, he masterminded the Third Reich’s campaign to ostracize and demonize Jews from the instant the Nazis came to power in 1933. He directed book burnings, called for the boycotts of Jewish businesses, and, in November 1938, spearheaded the burning of synagogues throughout Germany and Austria in a violent pogrom known as Kristallnacht, the Night of the Broken Glass.
“The Jews have deserved the catastrophe that has now overtaken them,” Goebbels wrote in his diary on Feb. 14, 1942. And a few weeks later, on March 6, 1942: “I am of the opinion that the greater the number of Jews liquidated, the more consolidated will the situation in Europe be after this war. … The Jews are Europe’s misfortune. They must somehow be eliminated, otherwise we are in danger of being eliminated by them.”
To be fair, Brown has since apologized, sort of. “I regret making the comments,” he said in a statement released by his campaign on Friday. “They were taken out of context.”
Not surprisingly, Brown’s political adversaries demand greater contrition.
“Jerry Brown needs to take responsibility for the full impact of his words, however carelessly spoken,” declared Dr. Joel Geiderman, the chairman of California’s Republican Jewish Coalition, whose mother survived the Nazi death camps. “The offensiveness of his likening Meg Whitman to Joseph Goebbels, for Holocaust survivors and the families of Holocaust victims, is obvious and demands accountability.”
Geiderman is right, of course, but his focus is too narrow.
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee’s 2007 pronouncement that “more than a million people … would have been in our workforce had we not had the holocaust of liberalized abortion under a flawed Supreme Court ruling in 1973,” was as misguided and out of place as last year’s observation by U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.) that that the absence of adequate health care resulted in a “Holocaust in America.”
It is not enough for Democrats to condemn the likes of Limbaugh and Gingrich, or for Republicans to attack Brown. Republicans and conservatives must condemn all comparisons of President Obama to Hitler and of the Obama administration’s policies to Nazism, and Democrats and liberals must similarly denounce any and all comparisons of Republican political figures to Nazis.
Analogies between present-day America and Nazi Germany are historically absurd and morally unseemly. Every time President Obama is accused of being a Nazi, every time a controversial Democratic policy or a woman’s legal right to abort a fetus is compared to the greatest carnage ever perpetrated, every time a Democratic politician evokes Third Reich imagery in describing a Republican opponent, our civil discourse is dumbed down and the memory of millions of murdered men, women and children is trivialized and desecrated.
For once, a genuine bipartisan effort is required. As we approach the 2010 midterm elections, and as the 2012 presidential campaign is about to launch, the leaders of the Republican and Democratic Parties must join together and declare once and for all that Nazi analogies have no place in our political rhetoric.
(Menachem Z. Rosensaft, an adjunct professor of law at Cornell Law School, visiting lecturer at the Syracuse University College of Law, and Vice President of the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and their Descendants, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.