April 21, 2011
The Left's Hitler ObsessionBy Jeffrey Folks
My childhood has long passed, but I still have a clear memory of one particular occasion when I found myself squared off against a grammar school bully -- a young misfit who roamed the playground just looking for trouble.
How the altercation began I don't recall, but it soon escalated into rounds of all-out name-calling.
My young adversary probably led off with a profound observation like, "You're a stupid idiot."
"You're not just stupid," I countered. "You're a fool."
"You're worse than a fool," he offered. "You're yellow."
"That's not as bad as being a rat!" I replied.
"Well, you're a liar," he asserted, adding a bit of questionable historical proof, "just like Benedict Arnold."
I was about to point out that Arnold, as we had been informed just that morning, was a traitor, not a liar. But I thought of something better, something that would put the argument to rest and leave my adversary reeling.
"Well, you're Hitler!" I pronounced.
It worked. My opponent was indeed speechless. Nothing could top that accusation. This, after all, was just a few years after the flesh-and-blood Hitler had dispatched hordes of goose-stepping storm troopers all over Europe while rounding up and liquidating millions of Jews, gypsies, and Slavs. So my comparison of this playground ne'er-do-well with the worst figure in human history was pretty stunning. The young villain stood silent for a few seconds, then stumbled away at a total loss for words. I was victorious on the field of battle that day. But was I fair?
For one thing, the analogy was hardly credible. It was not quite accurate to accuse my adversary of sending millions off to the concentration camps and causing a world war. Clearly, the 70-pound villain standing opposite me was not Hitler. No matter how badly he developed, he would never grow up to commit the sorts of crimes of which I was accusing him. In truth, he probably would grow up to be a kind-hearted, generous, decent member of society.
My retort was inaccurate, but it was worse. Even at that age, I realized it was something that should not have been said, and I don't recall ever saying it again.
For the rest of my life, though, I would hear it repeated by others. In fact, it became so familiar that one could expect any hard-pressed leftist to insinuate the Hitler line into his argument. The variations were endless, but they all involved the same basic analogy: anyone who is the least bit cautious or conservative is a fascist -- only leftists and anarchists are not.
I've always found the analogy distasteful, not just because it is unfair but because it diminishes the real evil of the past. Taunting Richard Nixon with cries of "fascist," as his U.S. Senate opponent Helen Douglas did in 1950, trivialized the horrific evil of actual fascism. The suggestion of a liberal blogger that the "road to fascism began with Ronald Reagan" was just as distasteful.
As socialistworker.org admits, the left routinely applies the term "fascist" to any Republican political leader. In Britain The Guardian, BBC, and other liberal media pounced on purported links between the Bush family and corporations that had dealings with Nazi Germany. The fact that Prescott Bush, George W. Bush's grandfather, was a "director and shareholder" with companies that had indirect financial dealings with Germany in the 1930s would hardly seem damning, however. Much the same could be said for many other affluent individuals in America or Britain at the time. Every American today with mutual fund holdings is invested, at least indirectly, in Hugo Chavez's Venezuela. Does that make them Marxist revolutionaries?
Talk of Hitler became a lot more common during the Bush years, when it was accepted wisdom on the left that George Bush was worse than Hitler. Then there was Nancy Pelosi, who spent weeks back in 2010 complaining of the Tea Party's so-called "swastika signs" -- signs that did not signal an alliance with fascism but opposition to it. Pelosi was hardly alone in accusing the Tea Party of fascism. Marc Rubin, writing for examiner.com, referred to Tea Party members as "text book fascists." He went on to pin the neo-fascist label on Tom Tancredo, presumably because of Tancredo's concerns over illegal immigration. If those concerns make Tancredo a fascist, they would make the majority of Americans who share those concerns fascists as well. But that's pretty much how the left sees America.
The immediate response of liberals such as Chris Matthews to the Ryan "Path to Prosperity" was to characterize it as a killer not just of babies and old people but of "half the people who watch this show." This attempt to portray the GOP plan as genocidal is just another example of the fascist rhetoric. It appears that Matthews is attempting to portray the Ryan plan as some sort of Final Solution.
It's not just loose cannons on MSNBC who resort to fascist innuendo. Obama's speechwriters are good at crafting sinister suggestions even without using the "F" word. Obama's budget speech of April 13 actually set the tone for the current debate. With Rep. Ryan sitting on the front row, Obama lectured his audience that the GOP plan would kick "someone's grandparents" out of nursing homes and cause children with autism and Down's syndrome to "fend for themselves." It is well known that Hitler sent legions of the disabled to concentration camps to be gassed, but the suggestion that a plan to actually save Medicare and Medicaid resembles the Holocaust, if that is what Obama intended, is repellent. It was one more proof, as if we needed any more, of a fatal weakness in the character of this President. He is a man whose entire existence is devoted to gutter politics. For such a man, statesmanship and dignified leadership are inconceivable.
The plan truth is that America can no longer afford this sort of reckless partisanship on the part of the chief executive. The fact that Obama disagrees with Rep. Ryan's budget plan does not justify accusations of killing sick children or tossing old folks out on the street. That kind of rhetoric may pass for wit in the sixth grade, but it is juvenile coming from the President.
When is the left going to grow up, stop tossing around irresponsible charges of fascism, and discuss issues in a mature way? Not, I suppose, until they can win the argument on the facts, and that will be a long, long time.
Jeffrey Folks is the author of many books and article on American culture.