I don’t subscribe to the view that any invocation of Hitler in a debate is an automatic defeat (the so-called “Godwin’s Law“) but it is definitely true that equating various people to Hitler appears to be a national pastime in election silly season. Case in point: the Republican Jewish Conference has declared Obama’s presidency would usher in a new Holocaust:
Pennsylvania Democrats are calling on U.S. Sen. John McCain’s campaign to disavow the letter from the state Republican Party’s “Victory 2008” committee.
The letter, which reportedly was sent to 75,000 Jews, was signed by
three prominent Jewish Republicans, including Sandra Schultz Newman, a
former state Supreme Court justice, and I. Michael Coslov, the campaign
chairman of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia.
The e-mail, after extolling McCain’s record and questioning U.S.
Sen. Barack Obama’s commitment to Israel — as well as his associations
with William Ayers and the Rev. Jeremiah Wright — says that “Jewish
Americans cannot afford to make the wrong decision on Tuesday, November
4th, 2008. Many of our ancestors ignored the warning signs in the 1930s
and 1940s and made a tragic mistake. Let’s not make a similar one this
Both Coslov and Newman are distancing themselves from the letter,
saying they hadn’t actually read its contents before signing on.
Of course the signatories are now back-pedaling; after all, they hadn’t expected anyone to find out what they were doing, now, did they? The official reaction from the Republican Party in PA is typically unrepentant:
Michael Barley, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania Republican Party, told
The New York Times that the e-mail “definitely went a little bit
farther than the facts would support” and that the political operative
who composed it had been fired.
“a little bit farther” ? How about a mile beyond? Disgusting that they can’t even bring themselves to – ahem – condemn.
I’d like to praise my fellow Beliefnet blogger Rabbi Hirschfield, who took exceptional umbrage to the invocation of the Holocaust, pointing out correctly that doing so defames the memory of the Holocaust itself and trivializes it for mere political posturing:
How can the same people who pride themselves on maintaining the
importance of Holocaust memory invoke the real horrors of the past as a
political tool? Ironically, mobilizing that kind of fear and memory of
past defeat was used by early Nazis to mobilize Germans in support of
National Socialism in its early stages.
… do they not
see that the comparison itself denigrates all that they value about the
strength of this country and the accomplishments attained by Jews
precisely because this is not Weimar Germany? America now is not
Germany then, and it shows a profound lack of appreciation for American
Jewish experience to miss that point.
I’d only add that the repeated invocation of the Holocaust has already diluted it’s impact as a great moral warning. It’s almost the corollary of Godwin’s Law – by equating minor political disagreements with something so enormous as the Holocaust, it is the Holocaust that is trivialized, not the other way around. This tendency to analogize everything to Hitler and the Holocaust is what feeds the crazies’ Holocaust-denial and further anti-Semitism.
I also note that John Kerry did not come under this kind of attack from right-wing Jewish groups. Could that be because Kerry was white, and had a non-foreign sounding name? I think it’s clear that the signatories of this email – their lame protestations aside – were banking on tapping into the fear of Obama’s Otherness and the latent muslim smear to amplify their message of fear.
Also note that this is not an isolated incident. In Florida, for example, the following sign was displayed at a McCain campaign field office in Pompano Beach:
In other ODS news, here’s a few more gems courtesy of Kevin Drum.