The Madoff scandal remains in the news and one response that continues to surface, especially among Jews, is as disturbing as Bernie Madoff’s ponzi scheme. People keep comparing the resulting damage from Madoff’s theft of 50 billion dollars to Adolph Hilter and the Holocaust!
I wish I were kidding, but the evidence abounds, including responses to some of my earlier posts about Madoff. Say what you will, but comparing Bernie Madoff to Adolph Hitler is simply nuts. In fact, it’s more than nuts; it reflects at least three pathological trends, all of which must be actively resisted.
First, comparing the loss of any amount of money to the planned destruction of global Jewry and the murder of six million human beings simply because they were Jewish is truly disturbed. Ultimately, however devastating, the calculated theft of billions is not as bad as the calculated murder of millions. Even taking into account the good works which will no longer be supported because of the philanthropic dollars Madoff made off with, the comparison offends any sense of decency.
And for Jews, or anyone else to even entertain the comparison, only fuels the ancient anti-Semitic slur that we love money as much as life itself. Unless one believes that to be the case, there is nothing more about which to speak.
Should any doubt remain, I suggest asking yourself if you would compare Madoff and Adolf to a survivor of Auschwitz. Could you look in the eyes of one who stood in the shadow of the ovens and declare that the damage done by a crook equals that done by Hitler? Either the answer is clearly no, or the anti-Semites may know Jews better than we think.
This leads to the second problem raised by the ugly analogy between Hitler and Madoff, namely the popularity of comparing just about anything bad to Hitler, Nazis, and the Holocaust.
Used as the ultimate insult, and used so easily, that it’s not clear if these words have any real meaning anymore.
Anyone who hates is the next Hitler. Any movement based on racism or ethnic supremacy is a new form of Nazism. And any loss of life on a large scale is compared to the Holocaust. That’ just not right.
To be sure, I am NOT a proponent of the eternal uniqueness of the Shoah, nor do I believe that Jews have cornered the market on human suffering. But for words to have any real meaning they must be employed with some discipline. Too often, they are not.
Is Darful a Holocaust? Arguably, it is. Is, as I was told this weekend, the current Israeli incursion into Gaza? Absolutely not! It may be wrong for many reasons, but it’s simply not a Holocaust and the need to call it one diminishes both the Holocaust and the real tragedies that are unfolding on both sides of the Gaza-Israel border.
If anything, the casual comparison of anything seriously objectionable enables those who should pay close attention to it, to ignore it by hiding behind the ridiculousness of the comparison itself. The comparison is so outlandish that ignoring it seems less perverse than the comparison itself.
This last trend is born out by those who compare President-elect Obama’s choice of Rick Warren to offer the inaugural invocation to him choosing the Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan. More than a few people wrote to tell me that the two are synonymous and that my support of Obama’s choice of Warren was no different than supporting him had he chosen the Klan’s leader.
And you know what? It’s simply hard for most people to take anyone seriously when they fail to distinguish between the sponsors of 100 years of lynching, bombing and terror with a pastor whose politics may be objectionable.
So if such comparisons are neither factually accurate nor tactically effective, why do we engage in them? Because we have lost virtually any sense of proportionality in our culture, particularly when it comes to political and social matters. The more grandiose the comparison, the more we seem to like it. Who cares if it is true, as long as it is big?
We live in a culture of super-sized meals, super-sized ponzi schemes, and pretty much everything else. We have created a culture of super-sized analogies and indictments in which we debate issues without any degree of nuance or proportionality. While that approach will grab a quick headline on talk radio or cable news, it only makes things worse by ratcheting up the tension on precisely those issues which demand that cooler heads prevail.
The award-wining documentary, Super Size Me, showed how super-sizing our meals was killing our bodies. Perhaps it’s time to acknowledge how super-sizing every debate could be killing our culture. But who knows, that may be just another example of super-sized argumentation. But this is not: Bernie Madoff is guilty of some terrible crimes with even worse outcomes, but Bernie Madoff, is not Adolph Hitler. Nor is Rev. Rick Warren the Grand Dragon of the Klan. And the sooner we learn to make these distinctions, the better off we all will be.