Hitler, Stalin are long dead: Why must we keep rattling their evil bones?

By JAYSON JACOBY Baker City Herald August 21, 2009 01:09 pm

Hitler died 64 years ago, but his name — or at least his moustache — gets in the news so often you’d think the old monster was still kicking around.

Although he’d be 120, and so possibly incapable of the sort of evil that defined his life.

Probably you’ve noticed that Hitler has become a favorite, albeit a posthumous, tool of propagandists who endeavor to make their political foes look especially nasty, but who disdain devoting a lot of time to assembling a logical case to bolster their allegations.

These lazy molders of public opinion seem to have decided that it’s a silly exercise to exhaust themselves with hours of tedious research when there’s a perfectly good four-letter word available.

That word being “Nazi.”

The current debate over President Obama’s campaign to overhaul America’s healthcare apparatus seems to me an egregious example of this simplistic and sordid technique.

Consider, for instance, people who oppose the president’s proposal. Some have attended town hall meetings arranged by members of Congress and there brandished poster-size photos of the president to which someone with the artistic ability of a kindergartner added black ink to simulate Hitler’s infamous, narrow-gauge moustache.

This is the intellectual equivalent of a toddler who pinches anybody who dares to touch her toys.

There is, to be fair, a basis for comparing Obama to Hitler. Both think the government should strive to ensure that people can go to the doctor when they get sick.

This is hardly a revolutionary notion.

I’m quite certain, though, that emphasizing how Obama and Hitler share certain humanitarian traits is not exactly what the town hall protesters are getting at.

You never hear, in any case, anyone suggesting that politicians ought to be “more like Hitler.”

On the opposite side of the political spectrum, but on equally shaky ground, stand the likes of syndicated columnist Bill Press.

In a column published in Monday’s Baker City Herald, Press not only accuses protesters of “taking a page right out of a Nazi playbook,” he escalates the rhetoric by linking protesters to a killer whose butcher’s bill surpasses even Hitler’s. Press describes the anti-Obama campaign as “Stalinist-style.”

Besides employing that pitiless “playbook” analogy — equating the Nazis with football seems to me a callous downplaying of their crimes — Press eviscerates his credibility with his clumsy attempt to portray, as one homogeneous cabal, people who believe all three of the following: 1) that NASA faked the moon landings; 2) that Barack Obama was born in Kenya; and 3) that the federal government is more likely to exacerbate the health insurance problem than to fix it.

“And now the same tea bagger/moonie/birther fringe element of the Republican Party is turning out to deny Americans health care reform,” Press wrote.

You need to pay your internal editor more, Bill.

Millions of sane, sober Americans — people you’d trust to babysit your toddler — are at least a little bit leery about the idea of the federal government, which struggles to deliver the mail, hanging around hospitals, chatting up the doctors who wield scalpels on our brains and hearts and other relatively vital organs.

These people aren’t all Republicans, either. Nor are they motivated by a desire to deny their fellow Americans anything.

I’m registered as an Independent, myself, and though I’m neither as frightened nor as angered by the various healthcare reform proposals as some protesters seem to be, I would appreciate hearing specific details rather than platitudes from the president and other proponents.

The “moonie” bit, though, is the most specious of Press’ comparisons.

People who insist thta Neil Armstrong took his famous step on a Hollywood soundstage rather than on the lunar surface constitute such a minuscule minority that to conflate them with even a “fringe element” of the 55 million or so registered Republicans convinces me that Press is no more interested in a lucid debate than are the moustache-drawers.

I believe the town hall protests, in the main, represent the essential vigor of American democracy rather than symptoms of its decadence. 

And because we are bombarded daily by such a cacophony of opinions, assembled from such a rich stew of sources, I’m confident that those citizens who want actual answers rather than slogans will readily detect the clear ring of truth amid the static generated by the shouters.

What I mean to say is that I trust average Americans. I am optimistic that they will in the end prevail over the zealots who seek to supplant sober discussion with the sort of banal character assassination epitomized by contrived comparisons between two mass murderers, and people who wonder how they’re going to pay for antibiotics when their kid has an earache.

I think Mr. Obama sincerely believes that there is a role for government in the effort to make health insurance cheaper for everyone, and available to the 47 million Americans who don’t have it.

The president probably has concluded, in fact, that this role is one for which government is uniquely suited.

I suspect he’s right about that.

But I don’t know what that role is, exactly; and it seems to me that neither Obama nor his fellow Democrats who control Congress has yet had a look at the polished script, either.

I suppose we’ll hear a fair amount of yelling — and see a bunch more signs — before this conundrum is solved.

In the meantime I hope we can at least dispense with the nastiest of the name-calling and forego the most ridiculous of the phony associations.

Surely we’re ready to finally let the moldy remains of dictators decay in the dank dungeons of distant memory.

When in the future we need acknowledge their existence I will be pleased if the references are richly endowed with the attitudes of derision and disgust which villains such as Hitler and Stalin so richly deserve.

This approach seems to me vastly more appropriate than our current practice of using them as weapons.

Politics is a sufficiently slimy business. We needn’t befoul it further by rattling the desiccated bones of despicable tyrants whenever standard retorts such as “you’re stupid” seem to lack a certain verve.

Jayson Jacoby is editor of the Baker City Herald.