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“An Analogy Offered With A Nudge And A Wink”: Is Bernie Sanders A Nazi? On Our Epidemic Of Bad Analogies

The internet rewards hyperbole. Maybe that’s why bad — incendiary, wildly inaccurate — analogies seem to be spreading throughout the media landscape, and especially on the right.

Analogies are an indispensable tool of reasoning and rhetoric, highlighting similarities between two or more things, people, or events. But deploying analogies can be complicated, since the things, people, or events being compared are invariably dissimilar in a multitude of ways. The trick in deploying an analogy effectively is to highlight a similarity that reveals something important and underappreciated about the main thing, person, or event. The key to making a mess of an analogy is drawing a comparison in which the dissimilarities are so vast that they overshadow and even undermine the comparison altogether.

Consider Kevin Williamson’s much-discussed article from National Review calling Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders a Nazi. Now, Williamson doesn’t actually use the term Nazi. But he does say that Sanders “is, in fact, leading a national-socialist movement.” Just in case readers failed to make the link to the National Socialist movement led by Adolf Hitler, Williamson immediately concedes that it’s “uncomfortable” to draw such a comparison about “a man who is the son of Jewish immigrants from Poland and whose family was murdered in the Holocaust.” Still, Williamson insists, “there is no other way to describe his view and his politics.”

It turns out, though, that what Williamson really means is not that Sanders dreams of world military conquest and the extermination of Jews and other inferior races in the name of Aryan purity — you know, like an actual National Socialist. What Williamson really means is that Sanders is both a socialist and a nationalist. Which makes him “a national socialist in the mode of Hugo Chávez.”

Oh, that kind of national socialist.

By the time we come to this big reveal toward the end of Williamson’s article, it’s impossible not to feel manipulated, even duped, by the “national socialist” analogy that forms the backbone of the story — because the author utterly failed, and never even really intended, to demonstrate a relevant similarity between Sanders’ campaign and the fascist political movement that swept Germany in the 1930s and went by the name of National Socialism.

The Williamson article is somewhat unusual in that its core analogy is offered with a nudge and a wink. Other conservatives draw their inflammatory comparisons with complete sincerity.

Perhaps no recent event has inspired more spurious analogies than the Supreme Court’s defense of a constitutional right to same-sex marriage in Obergefell v. Hodges. The decision has inspired some defenders of traditional marriage to call Obergefell the Dred Scott decision of our time (because, like Dred Scott, Obergefell was supposedly an act of lawless judicial usurpation that subverted the democratic will of the people).

Others have likened Obergefell to Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that declared a constitutional right to abortion and ended up conjuring the national pro-life movement into existence. Still others have described a future in which the “Gestapo” will begin knocking on the doors of those who oppose same-sex marriage, or compared life for conservative Christians post-Obergefell to life under “the lie” of communist totalitarianism.

Let’s take these one at a time:

Unlike Dred Scott, Obergefell and same-sex marriage enslave no one. Moreover, whereas upholding the rights of slave owners led to immediate and total loss of liberty for large numbers of human beings, opponents of same-sex marriage have had a difficult time demonstrating to courts that granting the right to marry to the nation’s tiny population of homosexuals, in itself, does any measurable harm at all to those who define a marriage in traditional terms. (As for the harms to the exercise of religious freedom that may well follow from Obergefell, they are not a direct consequence of same-sex marriage itself but are rather a product of an anticipated expansion of the nation’s anti-discrimination laws to cover gay marriage. This complication is obviously something obscured by the Dred Scott analogy, as is the likely prospect of legislating carve-outs from anti-discrimination laws for religious organizations.)

Unlike with the consequences of Roe, no one can plausibly claim that a person is killed as a result of exercising the right proclaimed by Obergefell. That would seem to render the comparison somewhat lacking in cogency. (It also points to why the constitutional triumph of same-sex marriage is exceedingly unlikely to spark powerful, enduring grassroots opposition like the pro-life movement.)

The Gestapo? You’ve got to be kidding. Let me know when the secret police begins pounding on your door, and I will pledge my life, fortune, and sacred honor to prevent you from being sent to a concentration camp for your traditionalist Christian beliefs. But until that time, please get a grip. Outbursts like that only make you look paranoid, self-pitying, and bizarrely out of touch with both present American reality and the bloody history of real political oppression.

As for the analogy to communism, the same admonition applies. Even in the realistically worst-case scenario predicted by opponents of same-sex marriage — the forced compliance of religious schools and other church-affiliated institutions with anti-discrimination laws protecting gay marriage; the loss of tax-exempt status for churches — the United States would resemble contemporary France far more than the Soviet Union. The advent of French-style ideological secularism (laïcité) in the U.S. would mark a significant (and in my view unwelcome) change, including a significant constriction of religious freedom from historic American norms. But that’s a far cry from totalitarianism. (Last time I checked, France was a liberal democracy, albeit one with a somewhat different understanding of the proper relation between church and state.)

I could go on, pointing to other false comparisons deployed by the right. (Keeping up with neoconservative invocations of Munich, 1938 could be a full-time job all on its own.) But it would be a mistake to think that liberals never make unconvincing analogies. As far as many conservative Christians are concerned, the entire effort to portray opposition to same-sex marriage as equivalent to opposing interracial marriage is profoundly misleading. And they have a point. (Allowing people of the same sex to marry is a much more radical change to the institution than opening marriage to men and women of different races — and the sexual morality wrapped up with male-female marriage is far more deeply intertwined with the theological traditions of Western Christianity than racialized theories of matrimony ever were.)

The point is that politicians and commentators on both sides of the aisle do themselves no favors by drawing false analogies. It’s a form of hype — sloganeering used in place of reason. Sometimes, as with the purported parallel between interracial and same-sex marriage, a weak analogy succeeds as propaganda. But more often, the analogy persuades no one who wasn’t already convinced.

In such cases, argument and evidence will always have a greater likelihood of prevailing. Accept no substitutes.

 

By: Damon Linker, The Week, July 23, 2015

 

By: Damon Linker, The Week, July 23, 2015

July 27, 2015 Posted by | Bernie Sanders, Media, Nazis, Socialism | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“It Isn’t Rhetorical Or Hypothetical Anymore”: North Carolina’s Magistrates Now Can Legally Ignore Marriage Laws

Sometimes, in the course of writing columns about “religious freedom” laws like the one Gov. Mike Pence tried to pass in Indiana, I’ve mused about what would have happened if such laws had been in effect in 1967, back when the Supreme Court decided Loving v. Virginia. It was in Loving—decided 48 years ago today—that the court ruled it unconstitutional for states to prevent mixed-race marriages. I asked my question rhetorically, hypothetically, to try to highlight the absurdity of states where same-sex marriage is the law also passing laws to permit certain citizens to flout that law.

In North Carolina, it isn’t rhetorical or hypothetical anymore.

On Thursday, the state’s general assembly overrode an earlier gubernatorial veto of Senate Bill 2, meaning that civil magistrates can now refuse to perform not only same-sex marriages if they say that doing so violates their religious beliefs, but any union of which they disapprove on religious grounds.

The vote happened first thing in the morning. “They gaveled us right to order, and they didn’t allow any time for debate,” says assembly member Mary Price “Pricey” Harrison, Democrat of Greensboro. In North Carolina, an override is achieved with three-fifths of present and voting members. SB2 had originally passed the assembly by 67-43, which is 61 percent. Thursday’s vote was 69-4, or 62.7 percent. Harrison told me that some Republicans who might have voted against the bill weren’t present, and that a few members were off at their children’s high-school graduations.

Here’s the background. The state started out with a broad religious-freedom restoration bill of the sort becoming law in more conservative states. There was an outcry; after some wrangling, legislators settled on this bill, limited to magistrates. So this is a “compromise” bill. Remember that North Carolina’s legislature and its governor, Pat McCrory, are about as right-wing as any in the country—all those “Moral Monday” protests have come in response to radical actions the governor and legislature have taken on education, voting rights, the environment, and other matters.

So when legislators walked away from the broader religious-freedom act, they settled on SB2. Some compromise. “The legislation is in some ways even worse than Indiana’s,” Christopher Sgro, the executive director of Equality North Carolina, told me. “These are taxpayer-funded government employees.”

The law is really aimed at same-sexers, but of course legislators knew that they couldn’t single gay people out by name or category, because that would have been too obviously discriminatory. The only way to get around this was to write it more broadly, so the law says: “Every magistrate has the right to recuse from performing all lawful marriages under this Chapter based on sincerely held religious objection.”

Read that again. Recuse from “lawful marriages.” In other words, disobey the law. So, magistrates who still think the races shouldn’t mix can now take that brave stand with the weight of the law behind them. What about a Southern Baptist marrying a Jew? OK, it’s probably a stretch to think anyone would object to that. But what about a Southern Baptist marrying a Muslim? A Muslim marrying an atheist? A citizen marrying a non-citizen in what appears to the magistrate to be mostly a matter of helping the noncitizen gain permanent resident status? As a practical matter, experts think recusals will likely be limited to same-sex marriages, not that that makes this any better, but we’re about to find out what’s theoretical and what’s not.

This is shocking stuff. It’s pretty much at the level of George Wallace defying integration, albeit without the pulse-quickening, schoolhouse-door histrionics. Except this is arguably more extreme because here, North Carolina isn’t defying Washington, but itself. The state passed a ban on same-sex marriage back in 1996 and amended the state constitution in 2011 to emphasize the point. But then, a mostly religious coalition of North Carolinians brought suit, and last year a federal judge seated in North Carolina ruled the state’s ban unconstitutional. The governor, extremist though he is, knew enough law not to fight it, and indeed knew enough law to veto the magistrates’ bill when it came before him.

But now the legislature has spoken, or re-spoken, and overridden him. “It’s unconstitutional, and we all know it’s unconstitutional, and a court is going to throw it out,” Pricey Harrison told me. “It’s a heck of a way to run a legislature.”

The point needs making: Laws like this magistrates’ law and those Pence-style religious-freedom laws have turned the original intention of the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 completely on its head. That law was meant to protect the religious rights of minorities. It emanated from a lawsuit brought by two Native American men who took peyote, they claimed, as a religious rite. The Supreme Court backed them, and then President Clinton signed the RFRA. Protecting minorities from the tyranny of the majority has a long history in this country, back to the famous Federalist No. 10, and in fact the concept goes back to ancient Greece. But now, the majority (or near-majority, depending on which poll you believe) in North Carolina that opposes same-sex marriage can bully the minority.

Now, imagine if these religious-conscience laws had existed in 1967. How long would it have taken for interracial marriage to become the accepted norm in the South? As it happens, we have a partial answer to this question in the form of a story that emanates, again, from North Carolina. In 1976, Carol Ann and Thomas Person, she white and he black, walked into their local courthouse to get their marriage license. As she recently told the story in a column in the Raleigh News & Observer, the magistrate said no. A second magistrate on duty said the same thing, and one of them “took out a Bible and began to lecture us about their religious views and why Thomas and I should not be together.” This was nearly a full decade after Loving.

A court ruled against those two magistrates, and the Persons were soon married. Presumably, a court will toss this magistrates’ law, too. But who’ll be denied a license in the meantime? And what constitutes religious freedom, and what is simply bigotry?

 

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, June 12, 2015

June 15, 2015 Posted by | Bigotry, Discrimination, Marriage Equality, North Carolina | , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Bringing His Own Bile To The Party”: Backwards Moron Richard Cohen Is Not Fooling Anybody

Before we proceed to today in the continuing saga of “What in God’s Name Are You Talking About, Richard Cohen?” here’s a warning — get your gag reflex ready.

In a typically rambling screed about… something, Cohen, who recently became the first man to connect the dots between Miley Cyrus’ MTV Video Music Awards performance and what he likes to call “the so-called Steubenville rape” that happened one full year earlier, Cohen unleashes some choice nonsense thoughts on “Chris Christie’s Tea Party Problem.” In it, he ostensibly looks at the New Jersey’s governor’s political future and declares that “At the moment, it is Cruz, not Christie, who has seized the imagination of Iowa Republicans.” He also lets loose a truly outstanding array of bizarre assessments of prominent political figures, calling Sarah Palin “the Alaska quitter who, I think, actually now lives in Arizona,” Rick Santorum a man who’s “neither cuddly nor moderate” and Christie “too Joisey for the tea party — too brash, as well.”

But the true kicker of the piece comes near the end, when he swerves away from concern trolling Chris Christie to laughably state “Today’s GOP is not racist” — a declaration that the antics of party members would seem to contradict –and to consider what must be “troubling” the Tea Party right now. “People with conventional views must repress a gag reflex when considering the mayor-elect of New York,” he writes, “a white man married to a black woman and with two biracial children. (Should I mention that Bill de Blasio’s wife, Chirlane McCray, used to be a lesbian?) This family represents the cultural changes that have enveloped parts — but not all — of America. To cultural conservatives, this doesn’t look like their country at all.”

Cohen would likely argue he’s just calling it like he sees it – reporting on incredibly offensive ideologies but not engaging in them himself. And hey, you want to suggest that political extremists might have a problem with a high profile mixed family? You might be right. Look how berserkers they went over that Cheerios commercial. 

But we all know this isn’t Jon Stewart on “The Daily Show,” brightly announcing that “I think New York City might be ready for a charismatic biracial family with their own signature, synchronized dance moves.” This is Richard Cohen — a guy who thinks that “conventional” people would have a vomit response to a mixed marriage – and who then parenthetically throws in a little gay panic to boot. Because in his mind, being a backward moron is “conventional.”

This is a man who, let us never forget, has written creepily of the “sexual meritocracy” of older men and declared Clarence Thomas “condemned of being a man.” This is Richard Cohen, the writer who applauded Switzerland for it leniency toward Roman Polanski, who admitted, “There is no doubt that Polanski did what he did, which is have sex with a 13-year-old after plying her with booze” and then proceeded to dismissively refer to that girl as a “victim” in scare quotes. (Note to Cohen: Just like with the Steubenville case, this behavior is called rape.) The same man who, fascinatingly enough, has reportedly been reprimanded for “inappropriate behavior” toward a much younger colleague. This is a man who in July explained that he could “understand why [George] Zimmerman was suspicious” of Trayvon Martin, because the young man was “wearing a uniform we all recognize” and who lamented, “Where is the politician who will own up to the painful complexity of the problem and acknowledge the widespread fear of crime committed by young black males?” A man who thinks maybe there’s something to this whole torture thing. One who hasn’t quite worked it out about homosexuals either, who’s decided that prejudice is bad but thinks “Gays don’t get some sort of pass just because they’re gay.”

You can almost understand how a guy like Cohen, who was spent his entire career amply demonstrating that he has a boatload of issues around women, sex and race, really hit the jackpot with Chirlane McCray. My God, look at her, all seemingly normal and living under the same room as a white man. Did I mention she used to be lesbian? Because she totally was. Surely, Cohen wants the world to understand, some people might have a problem with this. Not him, no, he’s just observing. Maybe asking for a friend.

It’s almost sad – almost – to watch a bigot try to cloak himself in the guise of concerned citizen. But rest assured, nobody with a track record like Cohen can use the phrase “gag reflex” without bringing plenty of his own bile to the party. And his transparently ugly shtick is fooling no one.

 

By: Mary Elizabeth Williams, Salon, November 12, 2013

November 13, 2013 Posted by | Bigotry, Racism | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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