Springtime for Hitler

Conservative pundits are drawing far-fetched comparisons between progressive policies and Nazi Germany, writes Eric Alterman.

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Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is interviewed on "Fox and Friends" on May 18, 2010. Gingrich claims that contemporary Democrats, including particularly the Obama administration, are a “secular-socialist machine” that “represents as great a threat to America as Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union.” (AP/Richard Drew)
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is interviewed on "Fox and Friends" on May 18, 2010. Gingrich claims that contemporary Democrats, including particularly the Obama administration, are a “secular-socialist machine” that “represents as great a threat to America as Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union.” (AP/Richard Drew)

It’s Nazi Time again in American politics. Several of America’s most noted right-wing pundits are once again fixated on swastikas and skinny mustaches as they seek to explain why Americans should trust their judgment with regard to how to fix our problems. Their goal? To slime anyone who doesn’t think the policies pursued by a centrist Democrat such as Barack Obama—or even a committed (albeit pragmatic) liberal like, say, Nancy Pelosi—are somehow indistinguishable from those pursued by the Third Reich.

Hard to believe? Let’s take a closer look.

Newt Gingrich appears to be running for president in 2012 as the candidate who is not quite as crazy as Sarah Palin. But apparently Gingrich spied all those “Obama = Hitler” signs at Tea Party rallies and health care town halls and is now worried that too much of the crazy vote is slipping through his fingers. How else to explain why a man who once taught college-level history writing—in a book, no less, not a blog post—can claim that contemporary Democrats, including particularly the Obama administration, are a “secular-socialist machine” that “represents as great a threat to America as Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union.”

This is no throwaway line for the Fox analyst-future presidential hopeful. As my colleagues at Think Progress note, the index of Gingrich’s book cites Nazi references eight times, many of which are attempts to compare Obama and progressivism to totalitarianism. Among the lowlights:

  • p. 48-49: Gingrich quotes David Horowitz arguing that the great atrocities of the modern era, whether from Nazis or communists, were committed by people who believe in a “future that would save mankind.” Gingrich uses Horowitz’s quote to draw a comparison to “the current leaders of the Democratic Party.”
  • p. 295-296: Gingrich argues that “the Left” is pursuing an “international strategy to take away” Second Amendment rights to own firearms. Gingrich writes that if Hitler had not disarmed “Jews and other anti-Nazi groups,” then the “Holocaust would have been virtually impossible to implement.”
  • p. 268-269: Gingrich says that “Marxism, Nazism, and Fascism” each “required the use of a powerful, centralized state authority” where “those who resisted were eliminated, religion was enemy number one,” and “religious texts” were replaced with “nationalist propaganda in schools.” Gingrich then writes that “there are many parallels between the anti-religious governments of the twentieth century and the anti-religious elite of the United States in the twenty-first.”

Even when asked if he was “going a little far” on Fox News—which is a lot like being asked if perhaps you shouldn’t take a break from partying by, say, Lindsay Lohan—Gingrich would not beat a retreat. The reason, he said, is because he was not talking about “evil” but “talking about the end result… The fact is, the values of a secular socialist movement are antithetical—and you hear from President Obama all the time [that] the secular socialist left doesn’t want God anywhere in public life and doesn’t want to acknowledge God anywhere in public life.”

As it happens, many in the media are as yet unaware of some of the weird directions Gingrich’s thinking has taken in recent years. Case in point: The editorial board of the Des Moines Register got together with Newt to ask him, among other things, if he can possibly believe the nonsense he’s spouting about the president and Democrats in Congress. His reply: “I’m trying to say is that we’re at a genuine crossroads and it involves choices,” later adding that “my real job is not to figure out how to find a common ground with the left.”

Well, OK, Newt, if you say so, but me thinks if calling your adversary a Nazi is your best idea, maybe you should leave the “finding common ground” stuff to others. (Need I remind folks that Gingrich, who occupies no official position in the U.S. government, was the most-booked guest on NBC’s “Meet the Press” last year.)

Of course it’s not only Newt. It’s never only Newt, because these days, there’s always Glenn Beck to take Newt’s nuttiness and raise him a few. For instance, Beck thinks that to raise the liability cap on BP would be to contradict “what we fought the Nazis for." Beck also said recently that progressives use “democratic elections” to push dictators like, you know, “Hitler, [who was also] ‘democratically elected.’”

These are, of course, in addition to Beck’s remarks a few months ago, when he decided—speaking of the liberal evangelical leader, Jim Wallace—that “progressive” and “social justice” were to be understood as synonyms of “communism” and “Nazis.” Next, he went off on Simon Greer, the president and CEO of Jewish Funds for Justice, whom Beck insisted was leading America toward “death camps in Germany,” which he said “a Jew, of all people, should know.”

Did you think Ann Coulter would let others have all the fun? Liberals “always” root “for savages against civilization,” including rooting for Nazis, she naturally notes. And who’s a Nazi in the considered opinion of Rush Limbaugh? You guessed it: That Moslem-Kenyan president of ours. But wait, not so fast. Cal Thomas sees Nancy Pelosi goose-stepping across the Capitol.

To be fair, it is largely but not exclusively right-wingers who are corrupting our discourse and disrespecting the victims of Hitler’s genocide. Sarah Palin’s new next-door neighbor, Joe McGinniss, accused the former Alaska governor of using “The same kind of tactic that the Nazi troopers used in Germany in the ’30s,” adding, “And I don’t think there is any place for it in America.”

Really, it’s breathtaking when you take even a moment to consider the circumstance, methods, means, and consequences undertaken by the Nazis during their ruinous reign over Germany. I happen to be reading Peter Longerich’s newly translated history Holocaust: The Nazi Persecution and Murder of the Jews, just published by Oxford this month. If any of those quoted above had spent even an hour contemplating the unspeakable horrors it describes—particularly with regard to Nazism’s victims—they would be forced, I believe, to admit that what they’ve said and written is obscene beyond any measure that mere pornography can achieve.

Eric Alterman is a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress and a Distinguished Professor of English at Brooklyn College. He is also a Nation columnist and a professor of journalism at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. His most recent book is, Why We’re Liberals: A Handbook for Restoring America’s Most Important Ideals . His “Altercation” blog appears sporadically here and he is a regular contributor to The Daily Beast.

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Eric Alterman

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