Newt Gingrich And The Reductio Ad Hitlerlum
Yesterday on Fox News Sunday, Newt Gingrich became the latest politician to compare the Obama Administration to the Nazis:
Wallace: You also write this on the screen: “The secular socialist machine represents as great a threat to America as Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union once did.” Mr. Speaker, respectfully, isn’t that wildly over the top?
Gingrich: No, not if by America you mean….Just listen to President Obama’s language. He gets to decide who earns how much. He gets to decide when it’s too much.
Wallace: We’re not talking about any company. We’re talking about companies that the government has put billions of dollars in…
Gingrich: No, no..he has said publicly and generically. Some Americans earn too much. So now he’s going to decide that?
Wallace: No, he’s not. He has said that some Americans earn too much.
Gingrich: …As a threat to our American way of life. The secular-socialist left represents a fundamental replacement of America, a very different world view, a very different outcome. I think is a very serious threat to our way of life.
Trotting out the “Nazi” insult has become such a common part of the American political lexicon that it’s hardly a surprise anymore. The left put a Hitler moustache on George W. Bush while he was in office, and now, the right does the same to Obama. Its become so common, in fact, that seems like it’s starting to lose it’s emotional resonance. If everything your opponent does is “Nazi-like,” then using the word just becomes part of the regular background chatter of the political world.
As Kathleen Parker argued nearly a year ago when the Nazi analogy was a common part of the town hall protests and counter protests, what it really displays is massive intellectual weakness:
Invocations of Hitler usually mean two things: one, a poverty of imagination, and two, a paucity of good arguments. It is nearly axiomatic that any protest against government action will feature Hitler in some form. Left and right are equally guilty. Trivializing such evil is an insult to the memory of millions who suffered and died by his order, as well as to the intelligence of all sentient beings.
It may no longer be possible in this country to have a serious debate about anything. Inevitably, substance devolves into silliness. Even the most dignified of statesmen become caricatures when juxtaposed with the ridiculous.
It seems like it would be possible to have a vigorous political debate without comparing one’s opponents to the most one of the most evil regimes in history. For one thing, it trivializes the evil that the Nazis did and insults the memory of their victims. For another, it’s not really a political argument, it’s a way of shutting your opponents up.
Ideally, people who do things like this, whether their name is Newt Gingrich, Glenn Beck, Keith Olbermann, or Michael Moore, would be laughed out of the political arena. The fact that they aren’t indicates that we’ll be hearing Nazi analogies for some time to come.