Playing the Nazi Card
Comparing Obama to Hitler becomes a standard right-wing trope
By Noah Lederman
Comparing anyone to Hitler is egregious. During the 1980 presidential campaign, Walter Mondale released a letter that Ronald Reagan had written to Richard Nixon 20 years earlier, in which Reagan compared John F. Kennedy to Hitler and Karl Marx—though Reagan contended he was only speaking of Kennedy’s economic proposals (UPI, 10/23/84). In 2004, the Bush camp created a video juxtaposing “Wild-Eyed” Democrats like John Kerry and Al Gore with Hitler (Slate, 6/28/04).
The frequency of such thoughtless comparisons popping up online prompted author and attorney Mike Godwin to coin Godwin’s Law (Wired, 10/94): “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one.” Meant to deter people from invoking such analogies, Godwin’s Law affirms that people use the discussion-ending hyperbole when overly frustrated or angry. Godwin’s Law, however, has evolved, leaping from the Net to the corporate media megaphones of the extreme right in their attempt to invalidate Obama and his policies, while simultaneously trivializing the Holocaust, one of humankind’s most heinous crimes.
Last year, extremists disrupted town hall meetings as they marched in carrying Obama’s picture defaced with Hitler’s mustache. Tea Party protesters rallied against Obama’s healthcare plan, brandishing a huge banner depicting corpses piled up, absurdly equating healthcare to the death camp Dachau. But these radicals were not the innovators behind the comparisons. They received their fury and Fuehrer analogies mainly from right-wing radio and television commentators (though cult leader Lyndon LaRouche was responsible for some of the Obama-as-Hitler posters at town halls).
Fox News Radio’s Tom Sullivan played a side-by-side comparison of a Hitler speech and an Obama speech (2/11/08), and Clear Channel’s Bill Cunningham, who has made similar comparisons (10/28/08), declared on his Cincinnati-based radio show (10/30/08) that “Jews [were] for McCain because Obama wants to gas the Jews, like the PLO wants to gas the Jews, like the Nazis gassed the Jews.” (The website of the group Media Matters, which extensively monitors right-wing electronic media, documents many of these examples.) Ann Coulter, as a guest on Hannity and Colmes (4/3/08), called Obama’s autobiography a “dime store Mein Kampf.” When Alan Colmes asked her if Obama was a “two-bit Hitler,” Coulter agreed. Colmes then asked: “We should be as wary of Obama as they should have been of Hitler in Nazi Germany?” Coulter admonished, “If only people had read Mein Kampf.”
The host of ABC Network’s Mark Levin Show (12/16/09) called the healthcare plan “Hitleresque.” Nothing new for Levin, who has been comparing Obama to Hitler since the campaign (10/29/08): “[Obama’s] really into these big German-like events that he creates in this country.”
When the president wanted to speak to students early in September, Michael Savage, host of Talk Radio Network’s Savage Nation, cried indoctrination: “Hitler had the Hitler Youth and Obama would like to have the Obama Youth,” Savage said (11/25/08), adding that our country is “50 leagues below the degeneracy that brought about Hitler.” Savage (8/10/09) has fomented conspiracies of “internment camps,” claiming Obama plans to round up American citizens.
Top conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh, the self-proclaimed “Mobfather” of Premiere Radio Networks, celebrated as his minions stormed the town halls (8/19/09): “It’s fabulous and fantastic and hilarious that a woman shows up at a Barney Frank town hall meeting with an Obama-as-Hitler poster and the Nazi stuff.” Days earlier, when protesters were dismissed from town halls, Limbaugh (8/6/09) accused Obama of “sending out his brown shirts.… This is the president of the United States who is mobilizing against over half the people in his own country.”
On the same day, Limbaugh asked, “What are the similarities between the Democratic Party of today and the Nazi Party in Germany?” He claimed that “the Obama healthcare logo is damn close to a Nazi swastika logo” (because each had eagle wings above a circle) and was therefore “right out of Adolf Hitler’s playbook.” Another connection was that “they were insanely, irrationally against pollution”; “they banned smoking” was another.
By August 13, Limbaugh announced there were “gazillions of similarities between National Socialism in Germany and Obama’s healthcare plan.” “Nobody is saying that Obama is Hitler,” said Limbaugh—before asserting: “What we’re saying is that this healthcare plan mirrors Nazi Germany’s. And the Nazi Germany healthcare plan was the foundation from which they built the rest of their socialist paradise.”
Jonah Goldberg, author of Liberal Fascism and editor-at-large of the National Review Online, seems to enjoy shock value—after all, the cover for his book features the iconic yellow smiley face stamped with a Hitler moustache. Liberal Fascism, as the title suggests, attempts to draw parallels between fascism and modern liberalism, speciously claiming that the two movements are both derived from the early-20th-century progressive movement (History News Network, 1/25/10). The 2008 book, which reached No. 1 on the New York Times bestseller list, has been lauded by conservatives and serves as a template for those who wish to link Obama to Hitler.
For example, Goldberg’s book inspired Jeffrey Kuhner of the Washington Times (7/11/09) to add to the polemic against Obama. Kuhner likened Hitler and Mussolini’s rule to the policies of the left, claiming that it “explains Mr. Obama’s…consolidation of power.” He was careful to say that “Mr. Obama is not a Hitler or a Mussolini.… But Hitler and Mussolini were men of a different age, time and national culture.”
Syndicated columnist Cal Thomas (Fort Worth Star-Telegram, 8/18/09) hinted that Obama’s healthcare reform would lead us down the same path that brought about Hitler’s 1933 Sterilization Law, which targeted those deemed to have “genetic disorders.” Thomas (Myrtle Beach Sun-News, 3/13/09) also took aim at Obama’s executive order expanding federal funding for stem cell research: “At the extreme, unrestrained science has the capacity to produce a Josef Mengele,” Thomas said. “The Third Reich ‘scientist’ and doctor was given the green light to do whatever he wished with Jews, twins, the physically deformed, the mentally challenged, all in the name of ‘science’ and progress.” Of course, this “extreme” point is an extremist’s analogy: Hitler gave Mengele free rein, as Obama is supposedly doing with his executive order.