“You never get into a political discussion unless you bring the word ‘Hitler’ in. You have to have ‘Hitler,’ so let’s put ‘Hitler’ out there. Here’s ‘Hitler.'”
That was Rob Reiner on HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher – and it would have been funny, as everyone loves to invoke Hitler, the all-purpose end to all political arguments. But Reiner was talking about the Tea Party and he took a lot of heat for that – the Tea Party crowd was appalled and the Anti-Defamation League was all over him. Their National Director, Abe Foxman, issued a statement:
Regardless of one’s views of Tea Party adherents, likening them to potential Nazis and implying that all they need is another Hitler is inappropriate and offensive. There is simply no comparison between followers of the Nazis, a fascist regime that perpetrated the slaughter of millions of Jews and others in the Holocaust, and followers of a democratic political movement in the United States. Such comparisons only serve to trivialize the Holocaust and are deeply offensive to Jews and other survivors, as well as those Americans who fought valiantly against the Nazis in World War II. Such Nazi analogies also demean the American political system in an election season when the rhetoric has already turned nasty and divisive. We hope that Mr. Reiner will reconsider his words and take them back.
That’s the usual boilerplate. Reiner, who is quite Jewish, offered no response. He didn’t take it back. He went back to work out here in Hollywood, doing whatever it is he does. And of course there are Jews who think Abe Foxman is a jerk, as Foxman had earlier twisted himself in knots explaining why he didn’t agree with Mayor Bloomberg and most every rabbi in the city on the matter of that Ground Zero Mosque, which isn’t a mosque and isn’t at Ground Zero. Foxman did not want it built there, or anywhere – in the name of religious tolerance we must stop folks from building mosques, as people building houses of worship only inflames passions, or something. Mayor Bloomberg is quite Jewish too. He’s not a fan of Abe Foxman these days.
But you can imagine another reason for Rob Reiner’s silence, or, if you will, his implicit shrug. Foxman never says much about this:
Led by Glenn Beck – who was once condemned by the Anti-Defamation League for saying Al Gore used “the same tactic” as Adolf Hitler – Fox News personalities have frequently invoked Nazi Germany in their political commentary, often comparing progressives to Hitler, Joseph Goebbels, and the Nazi “brownshirts.”
Foxman did object to the Gore-is-Hitler message from Fox News’ Glenn Beck, but then Foxman seems to have thrown in the towel. That’s what they do over there at Fox News. There’s no point fighting it. You’ll just get tired. And the Media Matters item carefully documents a hundred or so similar examples from Beck and O’Reilly and Hannity and the whole crowd.
And that’s just a sample. The message is unified. There’s a reason the Tea Party crowd at the rallies has all those Obama-as-Hitler signs and slogans. That’s what they see on the news, if Fox News is your news. It’s just a given, even if sometimes it gets a little odd:
Beck: Putting “the common good” first “exactly the kind of talk that led to the death camps in Germany.” Attacking criticism of him by Jewish Funds for Justice’s Simon Greer, Beck asserted on his May 28 radio show that Greer’s comments about putting “human kind and the common good” first “is exactly the kind of talk that led to the death camps in Germany,” adding, “a Jew, of all people, should know that.”
Where does one begin? The recent convert to the Mormon Church is explaining to the Jews how to be better Jews? He tells them that talking about kindness and the common good will lead to another Holocaust? And he knows that because he’s a better Jew than any of them will ever be? No wonder Foxman says little about Fox News now. What is there to say?
And this from Beck is a real gem:
“You can’t just change the law” to raise BP’s liability cap; “Is that what we fought the Nazis for?”
Huh? Okay, everyone, go back and read your history. We fought the Nazis so BP wouldn’t have to pay actual damages. You didn’t know that? Aren’t you ashamed of yourself, and in awe of Glenn Beck? No?
Actually look at this video of one of Lewis Black’s rants – Black goes through clip after clip of this stuff, Beck transitioning from what seems innocuous, if not boring – Al Gore or the Peace Corps or whatever – and it always ends in a Nazi analog. Black says like playing Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon – except “there’s just one degree and Kevin Bacon is Hitler.” He says there’s only one reasonable explanation for this – “Glenn Beck Has Nazi Tourette’s.”
No, Beck just knows how to win an argument. It is that kind of like what the Nazis did? Say that and you win – cased closed, or QED if you like Latin. But what Reiner was saying was an opening, not a closing. Reiner noted that Hitler never got more than a third of the vote in Germany but he was charismatic:
And they were having bad economic times, just like we are now. People were out of work, they needed jobs, and a guy came along and rallied the troops. My fear is that the Tea Party gets a charismatic leader. Because all they’re selling is fear and anger. And that’s all Hitler sold. “I’m angry,” and “I’m frightened,” and “You should hate that guy over there.” And that’s what they’re doing.
He was speaking as a Jew. Abe Foxman should have been proud of him. We’ve seen this sort of thing before. Unlike Beck, Reiner wasn’t stretching.
And, as Sam Stein reports in the Huffington Post, sometimes things just get absurdly obvious:
House Minority Leader John Boehner will campaign this weekend with Rich Iott, the Ohio Republican congressional candidate who found himself embroiled in controversy several weeks ago when photos surfaced of him dressed in a Nazi SS uniform. The Iott campaign confirmed to the Huffington Post that the two will appear together at the Lucas County Republican Party headquarters. It is, if nothing else, a risky stop for Boehner to make just days before the election.
Iott’s chances at winning the seat were seemingly downgraded after photos of him dressed in Nazi garb surfaced. But Boehner’s visit suggests that Republicans feel the seat is within their grasp. Iott claimed that he was merely partaking in a historical reenactment and not out of latent sympathies for the Third Reich. Still, his candidacy became somewhat symbolic for the extremities of the GOP.
Boehner, through it all, stood by his fellow Ohioan. The House Minority Leader declined to return the campaign funds he had sent to Iott. The campaign swing on Saturday is, however, a step towards an even fuller embrace of Iott’s candidacy. A spokesman for Boehner did not immediately return a request for comment, but the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee did.
This is very odd, as Boehner’s second in command in the House, House Minority Whip Eric Cantor – had said there was no place for a Nazi fan in the Republican Party. Of course Eric Cantor is Jewish and a little sensitive about such matters. Boehner may have to have Glenn Beck sit down with Cantor and explain things to Cantor, about how to be a better Jew or something.
Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokesman Ryan Rudominer had this to say:
Not only has John Boehner recruited, embraced, and financed a disgraced Nazi enthusiast running for Congress, but now Boehner is pouring gasoline on the fire by throwing a campaign rally for him. Thumbing his nose at our nation’s veterans, women, and people of the Jewish faith, all the while refusing to stand up for basic American values in order to try and win an election, apparently this is what Boehner meant when he said, “We’re not going to be any different than what we’ve been.”
Yeah, yeah – but this is an important election, as Digby adds this:
Keep in mind that Iott is not just your friendly neighborhood Nazi re-enactor. He truly believes the Nazis were fighting for freedom. (And I think you know who and what they wanted “freedom” from.)
But Boehner has a responsibility to turn out every single fascist in America and he’s going for it. (And anyway, he’s just following in the footsteps of the great GOP strategist James Baker, who famously said “fuck the Jews, they don’t vote for us anyway.”)
As she says, it looks like the Republicans aren’t taking the Nazi vote for granted this time. And Iott has said the Nazis were seriously misunderstood. But Boehner might worry about the prospect that all of Iott’s war-games buddies will show up in full Nazi regalia, with the swastikas flying. That would be awkward – or maybe Boehner could do an Iott, and say that’s cool – Nazis really were freedom fighters, just like the Tea Party Republicans. Eric Cantor might be upset. But Beck can talk to him.
And James Baker did say that – forget those guys, they don’t vote for us anyway. Let’s see. The Republicans wrote off the gays, the blacks, then the Hispanics, and the young, and the college-educated, and anyone who lives in a city or on the coasts – reducing things to the Real Americans. They can do without the Jews too, of course. Going all-out to support Iott moves them in that direction. The idea seems to be that people really respect principled purity. Maybe they do. But the number of those who have been told that they are impure, or at least overly sensitive, grows and grows. That does present a problem. Beck cannot sit down and talk to them all.
But this Nazi thing is a bother. Those guys were notorious thugs and bullies, even if Rich Iott maintains they were seriously misunderstood:
I’ve always been fascinated by the fact that here was a relatively small country that from a strictly military point of view accomplished incredible things. I mean, they took over most of Europe and Russia, and it really took the combined effort of the free world to defeat them. From a purely historical military point of view, that’s incredible.
And from the website of Iott’s group:
Nazi Germany had no problem in recruiting the multitudes of volunteers willing to lay down their lives to ensure a “New and Free Europe,” free of the threat of Communism. National Socialism was seen by many in Holland, Denmark, Norway, Finland, and other eastern European and Balkan countries as the protector of personal freedom and their very way of life, despite the true underlying totalitarian (and quite twisted, in most cases) nature of the movement. Regardless, thousands upon thousands of valiant men died defending their respective countries in the name of a better tomorrow. We salute these idealists; no matter how unsavory the Nazi government was, the front-line soldiers of the Waffen-SS (in particular the foreign volunteers) gave their lives for their loved ones and a basic desire to be free.
You see, the Nazis were kind of Tea Party folks, just protecting personal freedom and their very way of life. What’s so wrong with that?
What’s wrong is that they were thugs and bullies. And you can learn the wrong lesson from that. In fact, Amanda Terkel has a little list – in this election season, 1) a man was arrested for hitting a protester at a rally for Washington GOP Senate candidate Dino Rossi, 2) a man stomped on the head of a woman at a campaign event for Kentucky GOP Senate candidate Rand Paul, 3) local police wrestled to the ground a Democratic man at an event for Eric Cantor, 4) Congressman Raul Grijalva was sent suspicious powder to his office, 5) biker supporters of Florida Republican congressional candidate Allen West harassed a Democratic tracker, and 6) Alaska Senate candidate Joe Miller’s private security force handcuffed and detained a reporter.
And as she says, “all that was in just the past two weeks.” And there’s this:
“It’s been quite amazing over the last couple months, but really over the last two years,” said Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors hate groups and extremism. “I’d date this, in many ways, to the rise to power of Obama. Many people we saw coming with AR-15s to town halls and so on, and all of that. But I do think that it’s gotten even hotter out there. I think the reaction to the stomping of that woman’s head has been quite amazing. The idea that the guy could say that he needed an apology and that he’s not being condemned by the political class from sea to shining sea is astounding.”
And there’s much more – a spike in violence or threatened violence during the healthcare debate toward lawmakers who supported it – and people vandalized congressional offices and threatened to assassinate officials and their families. James Clyburn had a picture of a noose faxed to his office after he voted for healthcare reform – and so on. And Terkel notes all the violence-tinged rhetoric – Sharron Angle talking about “Second Amendment remedies” as a “cure” for an out-of-control Congress. And there was that Republican House candidate in Texas who said a violent overthrow of the government is “on the table” – and Sarah Palin, who keeps telling her supporters to “reload” and all that. You can see a pattern.
And Terkel offers this detail:
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, last year, hate groups stayed at record levels, and “anti-immigrant vigilante groups” soared by nearly 80 percent. The largest, jump, however, came from so-called “patriot” groups, made up of militias and other groups that distrust the federal government and believe its plotting to impose a “one-world government.” Those rose 244 percent in 2009, going from 149 groups to 512.
There’s much more at the link – and of course after the stomping at the Rand Paul rally, Tim Profitt – the stomper, as it were – said yes, he gave that young woman a concussion, but she should actually apologize to him. There are certain political folks you don’t mess with. You don’t even hold up signs. She was asking for it.
And Rob Reiner was being unfair?
Of course there’s the editorial board of the Louisville Kentucky Courier Journal:
The ugliness outside a U.S. Senate debate in Lexington Monday night was not a mere act of incivility. It was a violent assault. It was the kind of thuggish intimidation you expect against a political protestor in Tehran today or a civil-rights marcher in Birmingham in 1963. It has no place in an American election today or ever.
Rand Paul supporters knocked down an anti-Paul activist who was trying to get her picture taken with Paul as he and Attorney General Jack Conway arrived at KET for their last debate. A man identified as a Paul campaign volunteer from Bourbon County used his foot to push the woman’s head into the concrete. Video of the assault is being watched around the world.
The Paul campaign condemned the attack, disassociated itself from the volunteer who stomped the woman’s head and called on activists “on both sides” to avoid “physical altercations of any kind.” The problem with the Paul statement is that only one side, his side, resorted to violence.
We keep hearing this is the year of the angry voter. But what motivates people to physically assault a woman who’s carrying a political sign they don’t like? Certainly not respect for the Constitution, which enshrines the right of all citizens to express their opinions without fear. Not a belief in the rule of law. Not common decency.
Some members of Paul’s Tea Party issue paranoid warnings that President Barack Obama and Democrats are totalitarians out to impose Marxist control over our country.
But look which side produced the goon squad.
And Boehner is off to the Akron area to stump for the Nazi guy, and Rob Reiner was being unfair.
And you don’t even want to read this:
In recent days, the media has turned its attention to Ginni Thomas, wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas – not for her troubling ties to right-wing extremist groups, but for her bizarre demand for an apology from the woman who accused her husband of sexual harassment more than a decade ago. Yet Mrs. Thomas’ Tea Party think tank, Liberty Central, promotes the causes of groups that take pride in intolerance, including one right-wing Catholic group, Tradition, Family and Property, whose founder declared the Spanish Inquisition “the most beautiful page in the history of the Church.”
This is an anti-gay, anti-woman, anti-democratic Catholic group founded in 1960 in opposition to Brazilian land reform, with ties to the American lobbying group for the apartheid regime in South Africa during the Reagan years, which was headed by Jack Abramoff. And they’re into reenactment too – it’s an all-male organization that recruits adolescent boys and trains them in the use of the combat stuff from the Middle Ages – maces, crossbows and so on. Maybe they’ll show up in Ohio to fight the enthusiastic fake Nazis.
Yeah, yeah – Obama is just like Hitler and the progressives are just like the Nazis. And there’s such a thing as projection. And maybe we should worry. Beck and all the rest talking about Hitler is a warning. There’s a reason they talk about that stuff.