The Third Rail in Political Discourse

The Third Rail in Political Discourse

Subject: A sure sign

A sure sign of a weak argument is to bring up the Nazis. While I agree with much of what you say, I like many reasonable people find equating Bush’s treatment of gays and concentration camps both nauseating and intellectually lazy.

Re: A sure sign

I am so over this line of thinking, and I won’t be cowed by it.

You have things backward, as far as I’m concerned. It’s intellectually lazy to refuse to look at something square in the eye, call it what it is and face the truth. It’s intellectually lazy to refrain from letting to your mind expand and accept certain possibilities. It’s intellectually lazy to guard your every thought so as not to face painful realities.

It’s time we drop this idea that nothing––let alone the Bush administration––can be compared to fascism, the Nazis, or Hitler. I realize that the impulse comes from well-meaning people not wanting to diminish the atrocities of the Nazis. But don’t we run the risk of making the comparison so off limits that we refuse to acknowledge frightening patterns and events happening all around us?

How can we spout the old mantra “Never again!” when we refuse to allow even the remotest comparison to what once occurred? If we were to follow your logic to its ultimate conclusions, we couldn’t make comparisons to fascism and past fascist regimes until it is far too late––when our very right to make those comparisons without being censored would be long gone!

You are referring to a recent syndicated column I wrote in which I alluded – without mentioning Hitler, the Nazis, or even fascism – to a “certain previous German leader” when detailing comments made by George W. Bush while he was meeting with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder. Bush was asked in front of Shroeder about the issue of the federal marriage amendment and he actually said that marriage between a man and a woman is “ideal” and that it is his job as president to make sure the country follows “the ideal.”

I did not say that Bush was planning on exterminating gays or anyone, nor do I believe he has some secret desire to do so. But why must we refrain from calling a fascistic impulse a fascistic impulse and why are we not allowed to compare this kind of talk to the dangerous talk of the past? Hitler promoted ideals, and promoted enforcing those ideals to the point of constructing laws against a broadly despised, moderately successful minority group. Why can’t we say that that particular aspect of the Nazi regime resembles the impulse that George W. Bush is expressing, even it doesn’t necessarily include a plan for extreme brutality?

There’s no reason why we should police our language, and doing so enforces the very kind of silence that in fact allows fascistic regimes to grow and flourish.

And why is it a “sure sign” of a “weak argument” to make the comparison, however subtly, particularly since you say that you “agree with much” of what I say? You obviously don’t think my argument is weak if you agree with it, so why would my making this comparison somehow prove it is in fact weak?

What you are really saying is that such comparisons are out of bounds and somehow make an argument weak even if it is not. But, though this line of thinking may have arisen with good intentions––as I noted above––it is now exploited by those who would like us to never make the comparison again.

John Ashcroft and the USA Patriot Act are stripping people of their rights in a way that is surely reminiscent of fascism and the Nazis. Recently, Senators Chuck Schumer and Ted Kennedy described Ashcroft’s new zeal to confiscate the medical records of women––to see if they have undergone so-called partial birth abortions––as comparable to the tactics of Nazi Germany and Stalin. The Pentagon’s Total Information Awareness project––which had a broad-reaching plan to spy on all Americans––was as fascistic as they come, in terms of a government policy. It has been shut down, but the latest reports claim that most of its programs have actually been folded into other government agencies.

Recently, the government was exposed for spying on anti-war protestors. The Bush administration is talking about bringing 5,000 troops into New York during the Republican National Convention––in essence, creating martial law in New York. As for concentration camps, well, a lot of people would say that is exactly what we are operating in Guantanamo Bay, as no one has been charged with a crime. I could go on and on.

It’s not wrong to make comparisons as a way to warn of the kind of frightening road we’re on, particularly now that this administration wants to amend the U.S. Constitution to make a group of people second class citizens. If we don’t speak up now and call it what is––and break our polite log jam that claims it’s alarmist or disrespectful for us to do so––we only diminish what the magnitude of what has happened to America and what may happen next.

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