The Joy of Argument by Analogy

Rush Limbaugh has been saying Obama is Hitler for a long time now, ticking off various Jewish groups – there was only one such guy, and whatever you think of Obama, you don’t make such comparisons for a quick, cheap political hit. That’s not taking Hitler seriously enough. Limbaugh scoffs – he has no use for self-hating Jews. Don’t they know Obama is out to wipe Israel off the map? Why Limbaugh thinks that is another matter, but he stands by his comparison. He and Glenn Beck had been telling us that the president speaking to America’s schoolchildren meant that public schools would become Gulags, Nazi death camps and Chinese concentration camps all rolled into one. When the speech turned out to be the usual call to stay in school, work hard and aim high, they let it drop. But the placards are at every public event, Obama with the little moustache and all the rest.

But it’s settled down to one issue – one of the five healthcare reform bills to be reconciled with the other four calls for reimbursing doctors when a patient requests a session covering end-of-life issues, like living wills and hospice care and that sort of thing, and authorizing such payment somehow became requiring that all doctors force all patients to have such session with them – everyone knows what that word, authorize, really means – which would probably lead to some scheduling difficulties, where doctors might have to hold a group session, which then might turn into panels, and the those panels might turn into inquisitions where three government doctors would sit on a dais in a spooky room with cold lighting and, as each person was called before them, decree whether they’d be permitted to live or should be put to death – and there’d be no appeal.

There are some leaps in logic there, but the progression is linear. That’s what Sarah Palin and all the others were talking about – authorize reimbursing doctors when someone requests a discussion of their end-of-life options, and, well, that would inevitably lead to those death panels. They saw that as logical thinking.

And the next thing that occurred to them, logically, was that when a government has a policy of killing off the weak and useless, that’s eugenics. And, you know, Hitler was big on eugenics, building his master race, killing all the degenerate Jews and gypsies and gay folks. And then you make the next quite logical step. Those death panels would be a form of eugenics, and thus Obama is just like Hitler – or he is Hitler. A Republican poll asked if you were worried that the death panels would provide a means to put all registered Republicans to death in gas chambers (not really) – the question only implied that, as Republicans would be denied all health care of any kind. Later a spokesperson for the Republican National Committee conceded that a mailing was inartfully worded – but of course people knew Obama was Hitler anyway, and that all registered Republicans and evangelical Christians are the new Jews. They call it connecting the dots. That’s what Glenn Beck says he does. But one thinks of Seurat and that pointillism stuff – it’s all a bit impressionistic, you see.

Of course it’s not new. There’s this video – Obama’s campaign rallies and the symbols he used looked like just like Nazi rallies – just saying. And there’s this one – the Nostradamus Barack Hussein Obama Prophecy.

Yeah, Nostradamus was born in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence – a lovely place (photos on request) – way back in 1503, and was obviously French. But it seems some French folks are okay. But you also know that Vincent van Gogh was locked up in the Monastery Saint-Paul de Mausole in Saint-Rémy after he cut of his own ear down in nearby Arles. They were worried about him. The monastery is still there, you can get tours. Saint-Rémy is a crazy place. But nevertheless, Nostradamus was onto something, as they say. And 2012 will be the end of everything. And it’s Obama’s fault. Just connect the dots.

Of course the Daily Show has been all over this. There’s this video clip – Jason Jones chats with two religious leaders who think President Obama is either Hitler or the Anti-Christ. Which it might be is unclear – Reverend Daniel W. Blair, a Baptist minister, thinks Obama is “The Beast” who will usher in the end times. Pastor James David Manning, on the other hand, thinks the President is Hitler (and also a bisexual, or a bicycle). Sean Hannity invited Manning on his Fox News show to discuss his Hitler comparison. These two got a lot of coverage.

For a discussion of this, see this item from Daily Kos:

The first interviewee, Rev. Daniel W. Blair from Texas, speculated that Obama shares qualities with the anti-Christ because: 1) People “worship” him. 2) People agree with his message. 3) He “came from the sea” (code for Hawaii, apparently) and 4) He is swift like a leopard, has the feet of a bear, and has the mouth of a lion.

The writer adds this:

I did a little digging into Blair, and found the same stupidity on his own blog. I will not do him any service by linking to it, but I will point out that part of Blair’s “evidence” that Obama is the anti-Christ is because the stimulus bill includes “a mental health provision that will ultimately give companies power over their employees by requiring that they get psychological counseling and drugs to improve their productivity.” I actually couldn’t find anything in the bill that lets any company “require” any employee to get “psychological counseling and drugs,” but oh well. Let’s forget about it and move on.

But the second pastor, James David Manning, said that anybody who would call Obama the anti-Christ was a fool. He would have none of that nonsense. Obama was Hitler’s “twin” – everyone knows that. Hannity does.

So Obama will do to Americans just what Hitler did to the Jews, for obvious reasons:

1) America is in dire economic straits, just like Germany was in the 1930’s. 2) Obama is an effective speaker. 3) Obama is a bisexual. (When pressed for comment, Manning said he had “no empirical proof” of this.)

The writer at Daily Kos:

I should explain that last one (as though the rest of it is worth explaining). Manning said that Obama is a bisexual because he’s “like a bicycle, rolling on both ends, of the sexual spectrum.” That’s right, he claims Obama is a “bisexual” because he’s “like a bicycle.” Amazing, no? “Bisexual” sounds like “bicycle,” ergo they are the same thing, and Obama happens to be both!  That’s like one of those convoluted ways that the sixties television Batman would figure out how a crime was being committed and who was behind it just by stringing together words that sound alike – “Money was stolen from a bank… piggy bank… pigs live on farms… Old McDonald had a farm… McDonalds has a new Happy Meal… Happy meal makes kids smile… my GOD Robin!  The Joker is going to rob a kindergarten!”

Jason Jones had time to ask Manning if he thought before he spoke, to which Manning replied, “I think very carefully and long before I speak.” “I don’t think you thought long enough,” Jones said in return.

Of course there’s Barney Frank. There’s this famous clip, here from Larry King Live, where Frank is asked by a woman waving an Obama as Hitler picture at a town hall meeting, and asking Barney Frank why he is supporting Obama’s “Nazi policy” on health care. Frank’s response became a classic:

When you ask me that question I’m going to revert to my ethnic heritage and answer your question with a question. On what planet do you spend most of your time?

And this:

You want me to answer the question? Yes. As you stand there with a picture of the President defaced to look like Hitler and compare the effort to increase health care to the Nazis, my answer to you is as I said before, it is a tribute to the First Amendment that this kind of vile, contemptible nonsense is so freely propagated. Ma’am, trying to have a conversation with you would be like trying to argue with a dining room table. I have no interest in doing it.

Of course the folks at Fox News were livid with Frank, but he had a point. It’s hard to argue with such political pointillism. There’s not much point.

In fact, in 2006, in Time, Brendan Nyhan offered this:

A well-known rule of Internet discourse is Godwin’s law, which states that, as an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches inevitability.

Let me propose Nyhan’s corollary: As a foreign policy debate with conservatives grows longer, the probability of a comparison with the appeasement of Nazis or Hitler approaches inevitability.

He points out that now his corollary to the original rule has been proven true – except within hours of President Obama’s decision to cancel an antiballistic missile system in Eastern Europe for something that actually worked, and might get the Russians to cooperate with us on a few issues, Obama stopped being Hitler entirely. Obama is really Neville Chamberlain. Isn’t that obvious?

Yes, you do need to keep up to speed on such things. The Weekly Standard gave us this – “As with Chamberlain’s appeasement of Hitler, appeasing the Russians is not likely to produce any positive results.”

Sam Roggeveen comments:

There are echoes of the Afghanistan debate here: sure, American policy is self-defeating and counter-productive and there is a cheaper option that would achieve the same goals, but reversing our current course would look like weakness. So let’s stay the course.

That’s my vent out of the way.

Brendan Nyhan points to the Hudson’s Institute Seth Cropsey in this Weekly Standard item, Obama’s Appeasement:

The likely harm that results from the administration’s surrender on missile defense goes far beyond Europe.

The Obama administration chose an historic month to appease the Russians by reneging on the U.S. proposal to place ballistic missile defenses in Poland and the Czech Republic. September 1st of 2009 was the 70th anniversary of the Nazis’ unprovoked attack on Poland. In the middle of the same month the Red Army invaded Poland – 70 years ago to the day. At the end of this month is the 71st anniversary of the Munich agreement in which England and France agreed to allow Hitler to annex large portions of western Czechoslovakia…

Obama’s appeasement of the Russians in the same two countries is an eerie recapitulation of Western weakness…

As with Chamberlain’s appeasement of Hitler, appeasing the Russians is not likely to produce any positive results…

This decision is the clearest and most definitive evidence yet that what the Obama administration means by a “reset” of our relations with Russia is simple appeasement…

In Central Europe the decision is a pointed reminder that U.S. policy has thrown the Central Europeans under the Russian bus once since the end of World War II…

This capitulation is all the more inexcusable because, unlike the situation that Chamberlain faced at Munich in 1938, Russia, unlike Nazi Germany, is still a relatively weak power. The Obama administration has as little to fear from Russia’s military as it has to expect that Russian goodwill or self-interest will have a moderating effect on Iran’s plans to become a nuclear power.

The man uses that word, appeasement, quite a few times, but Nyhan is not impressed:

This sort of argument by analogy is a substitute for rational thought. (Who cares if it’s almost the 71st anniversary of Munich?) People may disagree about the merits of Obama’s decision, but it’s absurd to say that it’s comparable to the appeasement of Hitler.

But there’s Mike Pence:

Republican Congressman Mike Pence (IN) harkened to the days of the Cold War and warned the administration against bowing to a burgeoning powerhouse, Russia, “The Obama administration is continuing a policy of appeasement at the expense of our allies. History teaches that weakness and appeasement invite aggression against peaceful nations.”

And there’s Roy Blunt:

One Republican, Representative Roy Blunt of Missouri, went as far as to accuse Obama of appeasement, noting that yesterday marked the 70th anniversary of the Soviet invasion of Poland. “Appeasement of dangerous nations does not inspire peace,” Blunt said in a statement.

Okay – one guy says Obama is the Antichrist, and another calls him a fool – Obama is Hitter, you see, and everyone knows it – and the whole neoconservative crew at the Weekly Standard, and then, as required, the whole Republican Party, says no, no, no – he’s not either of those, he’s Neville Chamberlain. It gets confusing, and if argument by analogy is a substitute for rational thought, we have a pretty good demonstration here. But all parties involved are certainly worried.

Are the Czechs and Poles worried? See Andrew Roberts of Northwestern University – the public in both countries has been decidedly unenthusiastic about the treaty, to say the least. Czech public opinion over the past three years hasn’t changed – two-thirds of the public has been opposed to construction of the giant radar system there, and an even higher percentage wanted a referendum on the issue, but didn’t get it. They were told about the Russian Bear, again, and told they didn’t have a say in the matter. In Poland, where the missiles themselves would be placed, a poll from August 2008 – when the treaty was signed – showed that 56% of the public opposed the missiles and only 27% supported them. That changed in October 2008 – the Russia-Georgia crisis – but a plurality, 46% to 41%, still opposed the whole business.

Matthew Yglesias comments (and the italics are his):

It can’t be much of a betrayal of our Czech and Polish allies to decline to build a radar system that neither the Czech population nor the Russian population wants us to build. The right wants us to at great expensive build a missile shield that doesn’t work, in places it’s not wanted, to protect Western Europe from Iranian missiles that don’t exist, in order to antagonize the Russians.

The fact that it would make the Russians happy to kill the system somehow makes it a bad idea to kill the system. The Russians would also be mad if we bombed their naval bases – is it appeasement to decline to do so?

And, writing from Germany, he wonders about the lessons of Munich:

When considering the right’s “everything is the same as appeasement of Hitler” approach to foreign policy, it’s worth wondering what general principle it is they think the failure of the Munich conference demonstrates. Obviously the calculation by France and (especially) Britain that allowing Hitler to integrate Austria and the German-speaking portions of the Czechoslovakia into a unified Germany would secure “peace in our time” was mistaken. At the same time, it’s important to remember (something that I suppose is easier to recall when you’re in Dresden) that invading Poland and launching World War II was a disaster for Germany. The strategy of appeasement on Czechoslovakia plus guarantees to Poland should have worked; everyone would have been much better off had the deal stuck.

Is the conservative view that, in general, when you offer foreign countries a deal that they rationally ought to accept they will, as a general matter, usually back out of the deal even though doing so will have disastrous consequences for them? That can’t be right. At the end of the day, the reason analogies to World War II strike people so vividly is that they were so unusual. You can’t base your everyday decision-making on an extreme historical outlier.

And as he wrote that, this:

Russia said Saturday it will scrap a plan to deploy missiles near Poland since Washington has dumped a planned missile shield in Eastern Europe. It also harshly criticized Iran’s president for new comments denying the Holocaust.

Neither move, however, represented ceding any significant ground. A plan to place Iskander missiles close to the Polish border was merely a threat. And while the Kremlin has previously criticized Tehran for questioning the reality of the Holocaust, Russian leaders have refused to back Western push for tougher sanctions against Iran.

But it’s something. If Israel wants to be protected from Iran, getting Russia on board helps quite a bit. But Limbaugh and Beck say Obama hates Israel. It’s hard to keep all this straight.

Frank Rich’s column from Sunday, September 20, covers some of this, particularly Beck:

Beck has notoriously defamed Obama as a “racist,” but the race card is just one in his deck. His ideology, if it can be called that, mixes idolatrous Ayn Rand libertarianism with bumper-sticker slogans about “freedom,” self-help homilies and lunatic conspiracy theories. (He fanned Internet rumors that FEMA was establishing concentration camps before tardily beating a retreat.) It’s the same crazy-quilt cosmology that could be found in last weekend’s Washington protest, where the marchers variously called Obama a fascist, a communist and a socialist, likening him to Hitler, Stalin, Castro and Pol Pot. They may not know that some of these libels are mutually exclusive. But what they do know is that they need a scapegoat for what ails them, and there is no one handier than a liberal, all-powerful president (who just happens to be black).

It’s no coincidence that Beck is a recovering alcoholic with severe Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) – really. That explains a lot, as Rich notes this:

Beck captures this crowd’s common emotional denominator – with appropriately overheated capital letters – in his best-selling book portraying himself as a latter-day Tom Paine, “Glenn Beck’s Common Sense.” Americans “know that SOMETHING JUST DOESN’T FEEL RIGHT,” he writes, “but they don’t know how to describe it or, more importantly, how to stop it.”

No kidding. So you do tend to get argument by analogy as a substitute for rational thought. That’s easier when you just can’t pay attention. And as for Hitler, somewhere he’s giggling.

About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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2 Responses to The Joy of Argument by Analogy

  1. Geir (Gerhardt) Smith says:

    Obama is the antichrist and is now torn down
    see my page

  2. M. Bouffant says:

    At the end of the day, the reason analogies to World War II strike people so vividly is that they were so unusual. You can’t base your everyday decision-making on an extreme historical outlier.

    Yet that’s just what Cheney & Bush, w/ their One Percent Doctrine, did.

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