Can We Please Stop Comparing Everyone We Disagree With To The Nazis?

Inevitably, the Nazis made an appearance during yesterday's debate over health care reform in the House. It's time for it to stop, or at least time for the rest of us to stop taking seriously anyone who resorts to such arguments.

As I noted yesterday, Tennessee Congressman Steve Cohen made waves yesterday when he compared the GOP to Nazis during the debate over repeal of the Affordable Care Act. Despite being the subject of criticism from both sides, Cohen isn’t backing down:

Uh oh. Dem Rep. Steve Cohen has no intention to apologize for insisting in a controversial broadside on the House floor that GOP lies on health reform are worthy of Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels. In a lively interview with me just now, he doubled down on the claim — hard.

“I don’t think calling out liars is uncivil,” Cohen told me. “No reason to apologize. You have a duty to respond. if they were telling the truth and I said they were lying, then I would apologize,” Cohen continued, referring to Republicans.

(…)

“I said Goebbels lied about the Jews, and that led to the Holocaust,” Cohen said. “Not in any way whatsoever was I comparing Republicans to Nazis. I was saying lies are wrong…I dont know who got everybody’s panties in a wad over this statement.”

Cohen insisted that the invocation of Goebbels was legit, given the larger context: He said that Repubicans had, in fact, repeatedly used a big-lie technique on health care.

(…)

Pressed on whether such rhetoric was appropriate, given that Dems and liberals are trying to get Republicans to condemn incendiary and “eliminationist” rhetoric on the right, Cohen didn’t back down. He argued that “civility” was a matter of content as much as tone, and suggested that mendacity itself is uncivil and particularly immoral in the context of the health care debate.

“Lies are being spread, and it’s wrong,” Cohen said. “Goebbels was the master of political lies…to lie to take health care away from people is despicable.”

Cohen also appeared on CNN last night, and, to put it mildly, Anderson Cooper was less than convinced:

None of this is a new to the health care debate, of course. During the Town Hall protests of 2009, Nancy Pelosi compared American citizens going to meet their representatives to Nazi, Washington Congressman Brian Baird compared them to the Brown Shirts that accompanied Hitler’s rise to power, the “Dean of the House” John Dingell compared them to the KKK.

And, it happened on the right too.

Senator Jim DeMint compared America under Barack Obama to pre-World War II Germany, Rush Limbaugh equated the President with Hitler, Americans for Propserity compared the health care reform bill to the Holocaust, and we even got this from SNL alumnus Victoria Jackson:

Hitler did this. He killed the weak, the sick, the old, and babies and races/religions he didn’t like. Hitler also controlled the media. (Where’s the public debate between scientists on “Climate Change/Global Warming?”) Hitler had the VW bug invented as the state car. What will O’s nationalized car be? So… kill off the weak. That’s the plan. Tax the workers to death. Erase the middle class. Sounds like the evil governments we studied in high school long ago. The evil governments were : kings, oligarchies, facist, socialist, and communist. Now it’s called the Obama Administration. Sounds like candy or a rock band.

Let’s leave aside for a second the question of just how it is that one of the least talented people to ever appear on Saturday Night Live has suddenly turned into a political analyst, I doubt there is a rational explanation for that.

The reductio ad Hitlerum seems to a required part of American politics these days. George Bush did it in the run up to the Iraq War, and then again last year when talking about the Middle East. Bill Clinton used analogies to the Third Reich to justify American intervention in Serbia. And then there’s Al Gore.

As David Frum pointed out while all of this was going on, there’s something about these constant analogies to one of the most evil regimes ever to exist that is just distasteful:

Contra Rush Limbaugh, history’s actual fascists were not primarily known for their anti-smoking policies or generous social welfare programs. Fascism celebrated violence, anti-rationalism and hysterical devotion to an authoritarian leader. To date, the Obama administration has fallen rather short in these departments. Perhaps uncomfortably aware of the shortcoming, the hardliners have developed–okay, invented really–their own mythology about Obama “brownshirts.” (The popular conservative website Red-State.org literally uses the term.) The complaint rests on a single case—that of conservative activist Kenneth Gladney, who got into a scuffle at a townhall in St. Louis, Missouri. The altercation was captured on video and you can watch it on YouTube. What you’ll see is a man, already on the ground, and another man stepping back in order to avoid tripping over him. The man on the ground is Gladney. Gladney walked away from the confrontation and later went to hospital, where he was treated for light injuries and released the same day. Whatever happened and whoever started it, this happily bloodless encounter bears not even the most glancing resemblance to the brutality that made Hitler’s brownshirts notorious. And yet, look up Gladney’s name online and he’s suddenly a poignant martyr.

Can we get a grip here? It is possible to express opposition to a president’s policies without preposterous name-calling–without diminishing and disparaging the unique experiences of those who did actually suffer from actual persecution by actual Nazis. After all, you know who else trafficked in hysterical exaggeration? That’s right: Hitler!

And what, exactly, has this constant invoking of the memory of a dictator and the man who, in the judgment of history, made most of the worst aspects of World War II possible, accomplished ? Nothing really, because it pretty much makes debate and disagreement impossible. Once you bring the Nazis — or the Communists, or Mao, or any number of bloodthirsty tyrants — into a political debate you really ought not to be taken seriously by anyone interested in rational discussion, regardless of which political party you belong to.

FILED UNDER: US Politics
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020.

Comments

  1. In addition to reading the Constitution, many members of the political class (and the commentariat) need a remedial course in political theory/comparative regime types.

  2. mantis says:

    Fine. Republicans are constantly lying to the American people about health care reform in a concerted effort to insure that more Americans suffer, go broke, and die.

    There, no Nazis. Happy?

  3. john personna says:

    Godwin’s Law is more comedy than concern to me. But on another level it seems a misunderstanding of the Tuscon cycle. True civility, Miss Manners, all the time probably too much to ask for.

    Critics like me asked for a lot less – just that that we drop violent and especially lethal metaphor.

    It may not be “civil” to talk like a football coach, but IMO not dangerous.

  4. @JP:

    On balance, I agree.

    The Nazi thing, well apart from the Tucson thing, just gets on my nerves because it is not only lazy, but it is almost always used incorrectly.

  5. Before someone stops calling people Nazi’s isn’t it a prerequisite that they first stop believing their political opponents are the equivalent of Nazi’s? I think we have a long way to go based on the political rhetoric of just the last couple of days. Or they can continue to think and act like mantis.

  6. mantis says:

    Before someone stops calling people Nazi’s isn’t it a prerequisite that they first stop believing their political opponents are the equivalent of Nazi’s? I think we have a long way to go based on the political rhetoric of just the last couple of days. Or they can continue to think and act like mantis.

    I don’t think Republicans are the equivalent of Nazis. I do think they are constantly lying to the American people about health care reform in a concerted effort to insure that more Americans suffer, go broke, and die. What other conclusion can one draw from their actions and rhetoric?

  7. Wayne says:

    I saw the interview on CNN last night. I have to give Cooper credit for it. Wolf and Cooper may be liberals but they often seem to at least try to be fair. Getting by one’s bias is a difficult thing to do.

    Deal is as Cooper pointed out Dem Rep. Steve Cohen was one of those fervently blasting people using heated language and the need for civility. Yet this is what he does and as Cooper showed is by no mean the first time Cohen has done so.

    Cohen though wouldn’t even acknowledge his use of inflammatory language. To him it is perfectly OK for him and others on his side to use such language but not the other side. Just like in the point I try to exemplify in a post the other day. Many condemn others for what they do themselves and don’t even realize they are doing it themselves.

  8. Wayne says:

    IMO I don’t think Democrats are the equivalent of Nazis. I do think they are constantly lying to the American people about health care reform in a concerted effort to insure that more Americans suffer, go broke, die and to acquire a great deal more power for themselves. They also are socialist in heart except when it applies to their assets. What other conclusion can one draw from their actions and rhetoric?

  9. Modulo Myself says:

    The funniest thing is that being called a name is the only thing that gets anyone in the GOP out of bed now. You all love it! The ‘moderates’, because it allows for some of pseudo-wisdom to be offered and another day of service to be crossed off the list. And the nuts: for whom pretending to be persecuted is why they are nuts in the first place.

    I mean, what else do political parties do? Think, read, count, learn?

  10. mantis says:

    It’s amusing that now we have not one, but two wingnut commenters at OTB who can do little more than cut & paste others’ comments and give them a nonsensical Mad Libs treatment rather than attempting to squeeze out an original thought. Way to adopt the 2nd grade model of debate from Master Misspelling, Wayne! You’ll be moving on to fart jokes in no time.

  11. legion says:

    Doug, it’s not the constant reference to Nazi propaganda tactics that is depressing and disturbing – it’s the fact that, quite often, those comparisons are accurate.

  12. legion says:

    Wow, Wayne, project much? The Dems has put together a system that actually, demonstrably, improves healthcare access and coverage for a great many Americans (especially children). The GOP, OTOH, want to repeal all of that, with absolutely no ideas whatsoever for a replacement, and go back to the old system that everyone (even Republicans) agreed was full of fail. You, sir, are the liar in this equation.

  13. mantis says:

    Let us look at all the big lies that wingnuts have absorbed as facts about health care reform:

    – destroys the economy
    – will put doctors out of business
    – kills medicare
    – ballons the deficit
    – will put you in jail if you dont buy insurance

    Each one a lie. But they believe them all, because they’ve been repeated constantly by Republicans in Congress, Republican state governors, the RNC, and all of the wingnut media personalities and “think” tanks. And if the Republicans are given enough power, the result of an actual repeal would increase the deficit, would take insurance away from millions of Americans, and would result in the increased suffering, economic destruction, and death of many Americans. This is their goal.

  14. Wayne says:

    Mantis when can we expect the first fart joke from you?

    I believe I illustrated my point pretty well. You think Republicans lie and I think Democrats lie.

    Most outburst comments about one side can be said about the other and it is often believed by both sides. The difference between you and me is I recognize it is often a matter of perspective. People often think when their comments are flip and repeated back to them that they are faulty statement. However when they say it it is not because in their mind it is true.

    General name calling and accusation does little but irate people. Drill down into the details of why you think someone is lying and you “may” get somewhere. More likely you will end up with people disagreeing with each other but once in a while a person gets lucky.

  15. mantis says:

    You think Republicans lie and I think Democrats lie.

    No, I think all politicians lie. I think the Republican Party is specifically lying, in a concerted and widespread campaign, about health care reform. They are telling very specific lies, which have been repeatedly shown to be lies. I am talking about that, not speaking generally.

    Drill down into the details of why you think someone is lying and you “may” get somewhere.

    I did. The only conclusion I can possibly draw is that Republicans want more Americans to suffer, go broke, and die. That is the end result of their desired course of action, and they know it.

    I believe I illustrated my point pretty well.

    Keep thinking that. At least you’ll know what you’re point is.

  16. Vast Variety says:

    There are lots of things that when a person brings them into a political debate you should just write them off and not take them seriously, Nazi’s certainly aren’t alone. Besides Nazi’s and Communists you can include God and the Bible.

  17. george says:

    Maybe we could just limit references to Nazis to policies that include concentration camps and gas chambers? Because that’s the connotation that the person using the term is trying to invoke. Now for all I know both the democrats and republicans have accused the other of being Nazis (again, trying to get the full connotation for a small amount of actual similarity) – I’m open to evidence from either that the party they’re accusing of being Nazis has been running death camps.

  18. Wayne says:

    mantis
    Where did you drill down in detail? Is sure isn’t in any of your post above.

    Your above statement I could repeat back to you and substitute Democrats instead of Republicans and it would be “as true”. In prior threads many included myself have pointed to the propaganda lies that the Democrats have told about healthcare.

  19. mantis says:

    Where did you drill down in detail? Is sure isn’t in any of your post above.

    Cause and effect. The Republicans know what effects their policy proposals would cause, and we can only assume that is exactly what they want.

    Your above statement I could repeat back to you and substitute Democrats instead of Republicans

    I know. You already did that. You thought it was clever. It got deleted because it was unbearably stupid (I’m guessing).

    and it would be “as true”.

    Except not. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act will enable around 70% of currently uninsured Americans to get medical insurance, many of them members of the working poor. The PPACA allows dependent children to stay on their parents’ insurance longer. The PPACA act gives options to all those people with pre-existing conditions who can’t currently get medical coverage. The PPACA, according to the CBO, will decrease the deficit.

    If Republicans were to succeed with their “Repeal and Do Nothing” plan, all of that would go away. It’s is an undisputed fact that lack of access to medical coverage causes people to suffer more from health problems, go deeper into debt, and die sooner than those who have medical coverage. It’s an undisputed fact that policies like existing condition denial and recision cause sick people to suffer more, go deeper into debt, and die sooner.

    You can play word games all you want, Wayne, but what you can’t do is wave away the fact that the policy changes Republicans are seeking will take medical insurance away from millions of Americans and restore some of the worst, most inhumane policies of the industry. You can’t wave away the fact that not having insurance is a terrible burden that destroys lives and families.

    It’s simple cause and effect, Wayne. You can’t dispute it, so you play games.

  20. sam says:

    @Wayne

    “They also are socialist in heart except when it applies to their assets”

    GODWINACHEV ALERT!!!

  21. Wayne says:

    Re “I know. You already did that. You thought it was clever. It got deleted because it was unbearably stupid (I’m guessing).”

    My above repeat post I did of you is still there. If it was unbearably stupid and it basically repeated what you said, what does it say about your original post? My point is your original post I repeated was unbearably stupid.

    Re “Cause and effect. The Republicans know what effects their policy proposals would cause, and we can only assume that is exactly what they want”

    That is still a generalized opinion statement without details.

    Republican “repeal and start over” is not “Repeal and Do Nothing”. So who is lying now?

    It’s is an undisputed fact that socialist medical coverage are inefficient and result in lower quality of care and more people dying sooner. It’s is an undisputed fact that government run programs are inefficient a very costly.

    You can try and twist and turn it all you want but in the end the Democrats policies are just feel good measure with inhumane results that cause people to suffer.

  22. Wayne says:

    Sam
    The point is anyone can throw around a bunch of opinion and\or accusation statements. In the end that is all they all unless you back them up with substance. Mantis tries to use such statements as undisputed facts. When call on it he uses more of the same.

    Sometime when you throw the same type of argument back at people, they realize what they have done, often times not. You and Mantis seem not to have caught on.

  23. mantis says:

    My above repeat post I did of you is still there

    Yeah, I thought it got deleted with the rest of the idiotic Mad Libs posts.

    If it was unbearably stupid and it basically repeated what you said, what does it say about your original post?

    Well, mine was true, whereas yours just does the childish Mad Libs word swap, making it the opposite of true. So it doesn’t really say anything about my post, only your maturity.

    My point is your original post I repeated was unbearably stupid.

    Say what?

    That is still a generalized opinion statement without details.

    I provided details. You ignore them.

    Republican “repeal and start over” is not “Repeal and Do Nothing”. So who is lying now?

    You are. The Republicans have offered no “start over” plan. They have no alternative. They just want repeal. That would make people suffer more, go broke, and die earlier.

    It’s is an undisputed fact that socialist medical coverage are inefficient and result in lower quality of care and more people dying sooner

    Then how come our healthcare system is ranked so much lower than other systems? Why do we have higher infant mortality rates than socialist systems? Your assertion is far from indisputable. It is demonstrably false.

    The World Health Organization ranks the US health care system 37th overall worldwide, lower than many, many “socialist” systems. We are ranked 24th in healthy life expectancy. We are ranked 14th in preventable deaths. We’re 33rd in infant mortality. And we spend more money on healthcare than everyone else! Why would we want to change anything!

    But really, keep cutting and pasting my comments, making them mean the opposite of what I wrote, regardless of facts, evidence, or logic. It’s a very convincing tactic, if your aim is to convince us all that you’re a third grader.

  24. sam says:

    “You and Mantis seem not to have caught on.”

    You’re way to subtle for us, Wayne.

  25. John Burgess says:

    I can put together, in 15 minutes, a health care plan that will cover every man, woman, and child, here legally or not, for every penny of medical, dental, and optical expense.

    The problem is, the country cannot afford this plan.

    We have a smaller, less expansive plan given to us from the last Congress. We can’t afford that, either.

  26. tom p says:

    Doug, good piece, but I do have a nit to pick.

    >>>”Bill Clinton used analogies to the Third Reich to justify American intervention in Serbia.”<<<

    I assume you are speaking of Kosovo (where the Albanian Kosovars were hardly pure of heart), however, considering the recent events which had taken place in Bosnia-Herzgovinia, the conflict that gave birth to the term "ethnic-cleansing", most of which were committed by Bosnian Serbs with the tacit support of the Serbian (as I recall it was still technically a "Yugoslavian" Gov't) Gov't.

    When over 8,000 muslim men and boys are machine gunned after the capture of Srebenica, when women are continually raped as an act of war, …

    Well, that IS Hitlerian.

  27. matt says:

    Tom : I’ve had Christian and Catholic true believers tell me straight up that Srebenica never happened and that it was a fabrication of the mainstream media…

  28. george says:

    “When over 8,000 muslim men and boys are machine gunned after the capture of Srebenica, when women are continually raped as an act of war, …

    Well, that IS Hitlerian.”

    Actually that was pretty standard war behavior for many (or most) countries until very recently. Not uniquely Hitlerian at all. The reason Hitler and the Nazis are brought up is because people want to associate their enemies/opponents with the most extreme connotation they can find – and that was the planned genocide of Hitler’s regime.

    The Bosnian Serbs just weren’t doing that – there were no concentration camps, no trains full of muslims brought in from all over to be exterminated. What they did was horrible, but it would have been more accurate to call them medieval (as that was common in medieval wars), or Roman, or Japanese, or American (against the Indians). The reason Clinton invoked Hitler was because of the extra connotations.

  29. tom p says:

    >>> I’ve had Christian and Catholic true believers tell me straight up that Srebenica never happened<<<<

    Did they also tell you that those mass graves they have been digging up all over Bosnia don't exist??? Matt, it happened.

  30. tom p says:

    >>>”Actually that was pretty standard war behavior for many (or most) countries until very recently. Not uniquely Hitlerian at all.”<<<>>The reason Hitler and the Nazis are brought up is because people want to associate their enemies/opponents with the most extreme connotation they can find – and that was the planned genocide of Hitler’s regime.<<<<

    George… What part of "ethnic cleansing" do you not get?

  31. tom p says:

    >>>”Actually that was pretty standard war behavior for many (or most) countries until very recently. Not uniquely Hitlerian at all.”<<

    Left out was: "Yeah, Hitler just perfected it. Therefor it wasn't really all that bad."

    Not the first time a part of my comment was left out of a post.

  32. tom p says:

    Matt, on 2nd reading I pick up a little snark in your post. If so, I apologize.

  33. matt says:

    I just found it utterly amazing that a person who is otherwise intelligent and reasonable (he started his own business rebuilt his house etc) can believe that something which is wholly documented is a lie because he thinks it’s impossible for a fellow Catholic to commit an atrocity because that’s “something that only Muslims do”….

  34. matt says:

    Well in this case Christian not Catholic..

  35. wr says:

    John Burgess — Of course we can afford it. We simply have to choose to afford it.

    Yes, we have a large debt now. We choose to have a large debt because we have incurred huge expenses while refusing to raise taxes to pay for them.

    We can, as a nation, choose to raise taxes. We can, as a nation, choose to stop fighting pointless wars and put that money into our health care. We can cut our military spending so that it only equals that of all other nations put together. We can stop giving corporations money to send jobs off shore. We can charge oil companies more to take the oil from our national lands.

    We can rejigger our finances in lots of ways. And yes, we can afford a decent health care system for all.

    We just have to deciede that that’s the priority.

  36. An Interested Party says:

    “Nancy Pelosi compared American citizens going to meet their representatives to Nazi…”

    Tere were some people who had signs with swastikas on them, as she claimed…how, exactly, is that comparing them to Nazis?

    The irony of someone who writes…

    “Getting by one’s bias is a difficult thing to do.”

    …later writing this…

    “They (Democrats) also are socialist in heart except when it applies to their assets.”

    Hmm, maybe the latter was just satire…

    “Maybe we could just limit references to Nazis to policies that include concentration camps and gas chambers?”

    Indeed…along those same lines, perhaps we could just limit references to Communists and socialism to policies that include the actual government takeover of industries and gulags…

  37. Axel Edgren says:

    They ARE using the “big lie” and are using the same kind of rhetorical subterfuge and misdirection of the public despots and fascists have used throughout history.

    HOWEVER, they are not trying to achieve anything as evil as the holocaust, albeit something equally stupid and economically ignorant.

  38. mantis says:

    I can only assume Wayne has no response. Not surprising…