September 4, 2003, 9:45 a.m.
The politics of dangerous stupidity.
Nazis murdered millions of unarmed people. They put them in ovens. They made soap out of them. They carted off children in boxcars to die and used some of the kids for medical experiments, including injecting dyes into their eyes to see if they could improve their looks. Lower on the list of charges, the Nazis enslaved millions and launched wars for territorial and egotistical gain (and sent many of the conquered populations to death camps as well). Lower still, they banned books and burned them too. They expropriated homes and businesses, banned religions, etc.
An intelligent person wouldn't normally assume these are the sorts of facts people forget. It's not quite the same thing as saying that the Mork and Mindy was a spin-off from Happy Days, is it?
I could, of course, get more graphic about what the Nazis did, but I don't much like writing about the Holocaust. It's not merely a depressing subject, its enormity is so depressing, so compacted down with evil and barbarity and cruelty that it folds in upon itself like a black hole. The gravitational pull of its tragedy has permanently bent the trajectory of mankind. Suffice it to say that the Nazis weren't simply generically bad, they were uniquely and monumentally evil, not just in their hearts but also in literally billions of intentional, well-planned, and bureaucratized decisions they made every day.
And yet, in polite and supposedly sophisticated circles in America today it is acceptable to say George Bush is akin to a Nazi and that America is becoming Nazi-like. Indeed, in certain corners of the globe to disagree with this assertion is the more outlandish position than to agree with it.
In the September 1, 2003, issue of National Review, Byron York chronicles (read the piece here) some of the Bushphobia. He writes,
A staple of Bush-hating is the portrayal of the president as a Nazi. That has, of course, been a prominent part of other attacks against other presidents, but today it seems to be deployed with particular aggressiveness against Bush. There are thousands of references, across the vastness of the Internet, linking Bush to Adolf Hitler and the Third Reich. Do you want to buy a T-shirt with a swastika replacing the "s" in Bush? No problem. Do you want to collect images of Bush in a German army uniform, with a Hitler mustache Photoshopped onto his face? That's easy. Do you want to find pictures of Dick Cheney and Tom Ridge and Ari Fleischer dressed as Bush's Nazi henchmen? That's easy, too.
As York observes, It's not just the intellectual poltroons of the Internet who feign bravery by loudly saying what is patently stupid so that people a fraction dumber than them might mistake it for boldness and conviction. It's not just the masses of undifferentiated cattle who sport their Hitlerfied George Bush T-shirts and who chant slogans with a verve more truly reminiscent of Nuremberg than anything ever uttered by George Bush.
Indeed, "smart" people mouth this nonsense too. Scholars at Berkeley insist that George Bush shares a psychological profile with Hitler. An editorial writer for the Kansas City Star invokes Martin Niemoller's "First they came for the Jewsâ€¦" mantra to decry the alleged excesses of the Patriot Act. Various Muslim activists are constantly suggesting that they are the Jews of the Nazified America. Almost, everyday I get dozens of e-mails from seemingly intelligent liberals â€” and a few conservatives â€” who insist that I "can't deny it" anymore â€” it's 1933 Germany in America. Retired Princeton University professor Sheldon Wolin writes of the "inverted totalitarianism" of the Republican party â€” "a fervently doctrinal party, zealous, ruthless, antidemocratic, and boasting a near majority" â€” as a stand-in for a Nazi party which doesn't need to use "totalitarian thugs" to attain power. He writes:
No doubt these remarks will be dismissed by some as alarmist, but I want to go further and name the emergent political system "inverted totalitarianism." By inverted I mean that while the current system and its operatives share with Nazism the aspiration toward unlimited power and aggressive expansionism, their methods and actions seem upside down. For example, in Weimar Germany, before the Nazis took power, the "streets" were dominated by totalitarian-oriented gangs of toughs, and whatever there was of democracy was confined to the government. In the United States, however, it is the streets where democracy is most alive â€” while the real danger lies with an increasingly unbridled government.
You may think that's brilliant stuff and that Wolin is a savant. As for me, I'm simply reminded of Walter Bagehot's observation that "In the faculty of writing nonsense, stupidity is no match for genius."
"It's going a bit far to compare the Bush of 2003 to the Hitler of 1933," writes Dave Lindorff in "Bush and Hitler: The Strategy of Fear," which according to York's article appeared in February on the site Counterpunch.org. "Bush simply is not the orator that Hitler was. But comparisons of the Bush administration's fear-mongering tactics to those practiced so successfully and with such terrible results by Hitler and Goebbels . . . are not at all out of line."
In the September issue of Vanity Fair a photo of Richard Perle is placed alongside Joseph Goebbels and the caption asks: "Separated at Birth?" The editors of Vanity Fair ran the pictures because a letter-writer noted a similarity between the two. "Perle isn't the first government official to use deceit and fear mongering to force an extremist, irrational, and ultimately violent view on an entire nation, or globe." In the face of this idiocy the editors of The New Republic were forced to ask: "Does someone really need to explain to Vanity Fair that nothing Perle or President Bush will ever do can invite a comparison to Nazi Germany?"
But The New Republic misses the point. They believe Vanity Fair mistakenly took a "crank" correspondent too seriously. Unfortunately, The New Republic isn't taking Vanity Fair seriously enough. For while it's by no means an extraordinarily serious magazine, Vanity Fair is a near-perfect barometer for what is fashionable and what passes for intelligent conversation among the chattering classes.
Show me the camps. Show me the millions of people being gassed. Show me the tattoos on people's arms. Show me elderly Muslim men being beaten in the streets, their stores smashed, and books burned. Show me huge piles of emaciated bodies stocked high like cords of wood.
Instead, on the web we find juxtaposed pictures of Bush with a dog and Hitler with a dog; Bush posing with children and Hitler posing with children; Bush appearing before large crowds and Hitler appearing before large crowds. By such "standards" every president â€” every politician â€” since at least the day photography was invented is a Nazi. To assume the mantle of "reasonableness" â€” as Lindorff does â€” by conceding that Bush isn't as good an orator as Hitler was, is to claim soundness of mind by conceding that a clock doesn't melt because vests have no sleeves.
The likes of Wolin and Abbot Gleason are more clever. They, too, say that Nazism is coming, but they don't refer to the Holocaust. They simply mean an illiberal regime with imperial ambitions is in the offing. I think this is ludicrous, too. But it's a different argument. Nevertheless, the intellectuals insist on using Nazism as a way of decrying what they see as American militarism. But comparing America to Nazi Germany in this way is like saying Jonah Goldberg is just like the "Son of Sam" serial killer because they both get lots of parking tickets. To leave out all the genocide and murder is to leave out a pretty important part of the story.
So if you can't show me the death camps and the horror, find another example. Compare Bush to Bismarck or Franco or Mikey from the Life cereal commercials for all I care â€” because any of those would make more sense.
By the way, I don't say this because I feel a passionate need to defend George Bush. I would make the exact same points if Al Gore were president. I would make the exact same points if anybody running for the Democratic nomination were president. This has nothing to do with partisanship. It has to do with the fact that such comparisons are slanderous to the United States and historical truth and amount to Holocaust denial. When you say that anything George Bush has done is akin to what Hitler did, you make the Holocaust into nothing more than an example of partisan excess. Tax cuts are not genocide, as so many Democrats have suggested over the years. (For example,. during the Contract with America debate, Charles Rangel complained that "Hitler wasn't even talking about doing these things" that were in the Contract with America. In other words, the Contract with America was in some way worse than what Hitler did. At the end of the day, that is Holocaust denial.)