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“Nazis, Lynching And Obamacare”: In An Era Of Metaphors Gone Mad

You might think that the methodical extermination of millions of Jews by a brutal regime intent on world domination would resist appropriation as an all-purpose metaphor. You might think that genocide, of all things, would be safe from conversion into sloppy simile.

After Paul Ryan’s fact-challenged address at the Republican National Convention last year, the chairman of the Democratic Party in California actually compared him and his compatriots to the Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels. A short time later, the chairman of the Democratic Party in South Carolina likened that state’s Republican governor, Nikki Haley, to Adolf Hitler’s mistress, Eva Braun.

At that point Abraham Foxman, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League, did what he shouldn’t need to do even once, let alone the multiple times that he’s been forced to. He implored politicians and pundits to stop it already.

No matter. Allusions to Nazi Germany were back for debates over gun control and, of course, Obamacare. Ted Cruz, the Senate’s prince of tirades, compared people who claim that the new insurance program can’t be stopped to those who rolled over for Hitler and the Third Reich. This prompted a public reprimand from John McCain, who has developed something of a sideline career of swatting Cruz on the nose. They’re like a hapless master and his hopeless dachshund. The former keeps trying to housebreak the latter, while the latter just beams at every mess he makes.

It’s not only Nazis who are flourishing in this era of metaphors gone mad, of analogy bloat. Lynch mobs are also having a good go of it. A senator who was quoted anonymously in The Times last week used that term to describe the Republican lawmakers who had lit into Cruz during a private luncheon, and lynching was invoked more disturbingly by the chief executive officer of A.I.G., who recently said that public complaints about Wall Street bankers’ bonuses were intended “to get everybody out there with their pitchforks and their hangman nooses.” This, he added, was “sort of like what we did in the Deep South.”

How absolutely bonkers. And yet how unsurprising. We’re awash these days in metaphors as overworked as our political debate is overwrought, and it’s impossible not to wonder how much one contributes to the other. When nuance and perspective exit the language, do they exit the conversation as well? When you speak in ludicrous extremes, do you think that way, too?

Obamacare has proved to be not just ideologically divisive but linguistically fertile. There’s seemingly no event or passage in American history to which it can’t be compared.

The terrorist attacks of 9/11? Check. Back when Mike Pence, Indiana’s Republican governor, was still in Congress, he summoned that day’s horror to characterize the Supreme Court ruling that upheld the Affordable Care Act.

Slavery? Check. Ken Cuccinelli, the Republican candidate for governor of Virginia, has described opposition to Obamacare in terms of stands against fugitive slave laws.

The hyperbole and hysteria make any constructive debate impossible, and they insult the past, robbing important events of the specific meaning and individual detail they deserve. Consider our recurring “-gate” mania. We equate each new scandal, whether extra-large or fun-size, with Watergate, and by willfully misremembering President Richard Nixon’s crimes, we dilute them. It’s just a suffix for the taking, a point of comparison for such wildly unrelated matters as the spilled secrets of Arkansas law enforcement officers who were supposedly privy to Bill Clinton’s private life. Troopergate, that was called.

For President Obama, Benghazi was supposed to be his Watergate, and so was the I.R.S.’s scrutiny of conservative groups, and so were a bunch of other things I can’t even remember anymore. They blur and fade, which is not to say they didn’t matter. It’s to say that when everything is supposedly like everything else, nothing’s distinctive. It’s all one big mush.

For that reason, among others, we should watch our words. They have consequences. As irresponsible and detestable as the recent actions of the most conservative wing of House Republicans have been, we’d be better off without figurative talk of hostage taking and guns to heads, without headlines like one in The Huffington Post that said: “Boehner Threatens to Shoot the Hostage.” That sort of language only turns up the heat.

And I cringe at how pointlessly hurtful it must have been for a 9/11 widow or widower to listen to the right-wing moralist Gary Bauer exhort voters to fight back against President Obama’s agenda the way passengers on United Flight 93 fought back against hijackers. Or for Holocaust survivors to hear all this gratuitous Nazi talk.

You know what’s just like Germany in the 1930s? Germany in the 1930s. We’re in an unfortunate place, but we needn’t travel back there to describe it.

 

By: Frank Bruni, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, October 7, 2013

October 9, 2013 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Master Manipulator Of Emotion”: Mike Huckabee Stokes Fear With Nazi Gun Control Comparison

Pastor-politician Mike Huckabee continues to stoke fear and paranoia regarding the sensible gun safety measures proposed in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shooting that killed 20 children and six adults, the latest gun-related massacre that occurred because of what many consider to be lax gun laws in America, compared to other developed nations.

On his radio show Wednesday afternoon, Huckabee responded to a caller who repeated the lie that Adolf Hitler and the Nazis turned Germany from a democracy into a dictatorship by registering and collecting guns, by saying:

“When you bring that up there are people that get crazy on us. They’ll start saying, ‘oh there you go, comparing to the Nazis.’ And I understand the reaction. But it’s the truth. You cannot take people’s rights away if they are resisting and have the means to resist. But once they’re disarmed and the people who are trying to take over have all the power — not just political, not just financial — but they have the physical power to domesticate us and to subjugate us to their will, there’s not a whole lot we can do about it, other than just plan to die in the course of resistance…in every society and culture where dictators take over, one of the things they have to do is get control of the military and police and ultimately all the citizens and make sure the citizens are disarmed and can’t fight in the streets. Gosh I hope it doesn’t come to that.”

Besides making a slippery-slope argument that modest gun reform will somehow lead to weapon confiscation and a Nazi-style dictatorship, Huckabee and the caller display a dangerously ignorant reading of history regarding gun laws in Nazi Germany. Mother Jones, Salon, and other publications have refuted the oft-repeated assertion among gun rights absolutists that gun control allowed Hitler’s rise to power and made the Holocaust possible.

First, it is worth noting that other developed, democratic nations with stronger gun laws, such as Canada, the United Kingdom, Japan, Australia and others, did not see a dictator rise to power and “domesticate” and “subjugate” their people when they enacted new gun measures. In fact, their democracies are still intact with the people still deciding important issues peacefully through the ballot box. What these countries have done is made their societies safer by decreasing gun violence.

Now back to the right wing’s seemingly favorite comparison when discussing anything President Obama has proposed to help the American people — Nazis.

The reality is that the Weimar Republic following World War I actually had tougher gun laws than the Nazi regime, in part to disarm the violent extremists causing havoc, like the paramilitary SA brownshirts. The Nazi Weapon Law of 1938 actually loosened gun restrictions, except for Jews and other persecuted minorities.

But there were only 214,000 Jews living in Germany when World War II started and between 160,000 and 180,000 were murdered by the Nazis and their collaborators. That is a small fraction of the six million Jews from other countries who were murdered and who wouldn’t have been subject to the Nazi gun laws. The mighty Russian army lost more than 10 million soldiers fighting the Wermacht on the Eastern Front, so it is unrealistic to think that a Jewish armed uprising in Eastern Europe would have beaten back the German military machine. That is why many say a strong Israeli army is so important to preventing another holocaust, the reasoning being that a Jewish state with a modern military is the only match for a genocidal force like the Nazis.

In reality, it is the Tea Party “patriots” intimidating people with loaded assault rifles, Republican efforts to suppress the vote, and right-wing radio hosts like Huckabee stoking fear and paranoia that more closely resemble the tactics used by Hitler’s Nazis to gain power.

Gun control and Second Amendment-analysis website GunCite concludes the following in a story titled “The Myth of Nazi Gun Control”: “There are no lessons about the efficacy of gun control to be learned from the Germany of the first half of [the 20th] century. It is all too easy to forget the seductive allure that fascism presented to all the West, bogged down in economic and social morass. What must be remembered is that the Nazis were master manipulators of popular emotion and sentiment, and were disdainful of people thinking for themselves. There is the danger to which we should pay great heed. Not fanciful stories about Nazis seizing guns.”

 

By: Josh Marks, The National Memo, April 5, 2013

April 6, 2013 Posted by | Gun Control | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

   

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