Friday, April 20, 2018
Opinion

No, (fill in the blank) is not like the Nazis

Enough already with the Nazi analogies.

Invoking Adolf has been a noxious habit these last 10 years, a symptom of our debased political culture, and today the tactic seems more popular than ever. On the left and the right, Nazism is grist for the rhetorical mill. Politicians and commentators, to score points in the news cycle, continue to commit unspeakable acts of historical disproportion.

A few years back, for instance, Democratic Tennessee congressman Steve Cohen complained that the Republicans were lying about President Barack Obama's health care reform — "a big lie, just like Goebbels." But Richard Land, a Baptist leader, saw things differently. He said Obama's health care reform "is precisely what the Nazis did." Elsewhere, Hollywood director Rob Reiner said that the tea party was "selling fear and anger, and that's what Hitler sold." But Fox News chairman Roger Ailes had a different target. He said that the people who run National Public Radio "are, of course, Nazis. They have a kind of Nazi attitude."

Though this rote hyperbole, this disrespect for the genocidal victims of Nazism, has been common, at least there was no talk of Nazis among our presidential candidates.

Until now.

I'm referring, of course, to the rhetorically challenged Rick Santorum. What follows are verbatim remarks that the surging candidate uttered this month. You may need to read it twice, because Santorum tends to ramble through the English language like bison trampling amber waves of grain. He was arguing that Americans need to be vigilant about Obama:

"But remember, the Greatest Generation, for a year and a half, sat on the sidelines while Europe was under darkness, where our closest ally, Britain, was being bombed and leveled, while Japan was spreading its cancer all throughout Southeast Asia. America sat from 1940, when France fell, to December of '41, and did almost nothing. Why? Because we're a hopeful people. We think: 'Well, you know, he'll get better. You know, he's a nice guy. I mean, it won't be near as bad as what we think. This'll be okay.' Oh yeah, maybe he's not the best guy — and after a while, you found out things about this guy over in Europe, and he's not so good of a guy after all. 'But you know what? Why do we need to be involved? We'll just take care of our own problems. Just get our families off to work and our kids off to school, and we'll be okay.' "

Once you prune that verbal thicket, the point is clear. Obama is like that "guy over in Europe," the bad guy we ignored for too long; if we don't wise up, America's latter-day Hitler will conquer us.

Naturally, when Santorum was asked whether he had likened the president to Hitler, he replied: "No, of course not." He said: "It's a World War II metaphor. It's one I've used hundreds of times."

Indeed he has, and that's the problem. His latest outburst is disgraceful not merely because he equated Obama with Hitler, but also because he botched the actual history. It is factually wrong to say that America "did almost nothing" prior to entering the war. Recognizing the Hitler threat, FDR goaded Congress to pass the Lend-Lease law, which allowed the United States to ship material to Hitler's enemies — in today's dollars, $620 billion's worth. We also shipped destroyers to Britain. And contrary to Santorum's faux history, we never saw Hitler as a "nice guy" — as evidenced by the numerous domestic boycotts of German goods during the '30s.

Newt Gingrich went the Nazi route last June, declaring during a debate that he would require Muslim Americans to sign a loyalty oath to work in his administration; after all, he said, "We did this in dealing with the Nazis" — an apparent reference to America's postwar de-Nazification program in Germany. It seemed over the top to equate Muslim Americans with Nazis, but Newt touts himself as a historian.

I can see why Nazi analogies are popular. Politicians and commentators want to grab our attention, which explains why Glenn Beck, during his first 18 months on Fox News, reportedly invoked Adolf 147 times. But that tactic doesn't stimulate debate; it stifles it. Regardless of what we may think of Obama, or the tea party, or NPR, a Nazi "metaphor" (Santorum's word) dishonors the tens of millions who were beaten, tortured, bombed, and sent up the chimney. Facile comparisons have no place in our civic discourse. By continuing to make them, we dishonor our own politics.

© 2012 Philadelphia Inquirer

Comments
Editorial: When they visit Nature’s Classroom, kids are right where they belong

Editorial: When they visit Nature’s Classroom, kids are right where they belong

The Hillsborough school district planted a fruitful seed with the opening of Nature’s Classroom five decades ago on the cypress-lined banks of the Hillsborough River northeast of Tampa. • The lessons taught there to some 17,000 sixth graders each yea...
Published: 04/20/18
Editorial: Why single-member districts would be bad for Hillsborough commission

Editorial: Why single-member districts would be bad for Hillsborough commission

Anyone looking to make Hillsborough County government bigger, costlier, more dysfunctional and less of a regional force should love the idea that Commissioner Sandy Murman rolled out this week. She proposes enlarging the seven-member board to nine, e...
Updated: 10 hours ago
Editorial: Improving foster care in Hillsborough

Editorial: Improving foster care in Hillsborough

A new foster care provider in Hillsborough County is poised to take over operations in May, only months after its predecessor was fired for what was alleged to be a pattern of failing to supervise at-risk children in its care. Many of the case manage...
Published: 04/18/18

Another voice: Back to postal reform

President Donald Trump is angry at Amazon for, in his tweeted words, "costing the United States Post Office massive amounts of money for being their Delivery Boy." Yet in more recent days, Trump has at least channeled his feelings in what could prove...
Published: 04/17/18
Updated: 04/18/18
Editorial: Congress should protect independence of special counsel

Editorial: Congress should protect independence of special counsel

A bipartisan Senate bill clarifying that only the attorney general or a high-ranking designee could remove a special prosecutor would send an important message amid President Donald Trump’s attacks on the investigation into Russia’s inter...
Published: 04/16/18
Updated: 04/17/18
Editorial: Don’t fall for Constitution Revision Commission’s tricks

Editorial: Don’t fall for Constitution Revision Commission’s tricks

The Florida Constitution Revision Commission has wasted months as a politically motivated scam masquerading as a high-minded effort to ask voters to improve the state’s fundamental document. The commission on Monday added amendments to the Nove...
Published: 04/16/18
Editorial: Redner’s court win on medical marijuana sends message

Editorial: Redner’s court win on medical marijuana sends message

Florida regulators have done far too little to make voter-approved medical marijuana widely available for patients suffering from chronic illnesses. A circuit court judge in Tallahassee ruled last week there is a price for that obstruction, finding t...
Published: 04/15/18
Updated: 04/16/18
Editorial: Hillsborough commission should quit expanding urban area

Editorial: Hillsborough commission should quit expanding urban area

Any movement on modernizing local transportation is welcome, even small steps like the million dollars the state recently approved to design a Tampa Bay regional transit plan.But the region won’t make any progress on transportation, its single most p...
Published: 04/13/18
Updated: 04/18/18

Editorial: Fight harder on citrus greening

A new report by scientists advising the federal government finds no breakthrough discovery for managing citrus greening, a chronic disease killing Florida’s citrus industry. This should be a wake-up call to bring greater resources to the fight.The re...
Published: 04/11/18
Updated: 04/13/18

Editorial: Floridians should focus more on health

A new snapshot of the nation’s health shows a mixed picture for Florida and the challenges that residents and the health care community face in improving the quality of life.Americans are living longer, exercising more and doing better at managing th...
Published: 04/11/18
Updated: 04/13/18