"I'm saying with great respect closing with this
:‘First they came for the rich,
And I did not speak out because I was not rich.
Then they came for the property owners,
And I did not speak out because I did not own property.
Then they came for the right to bear arms,
and I did not speak out because I was not armed.
Then they came for me and denied me my medical care, and there was no one left to speak for me…’
If you think there’s something wrong with this poem, that's because…. there is.
First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a trade unionist;
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew;
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak out for me.
… and it is about the apathy of German intellectuals following the round up of targeted people in Nazi Germany.
The new version comes from Laura Ingraham
[radio host and Foxnews star] during a Tea Party
gathering in Washington DC this week.
[Tea parties, for those of you who might not have been in the US for the last year, are gatherings of conservatives who protest against possible future tax increases or healthcare reform.]
And yes, you read it right, Ingraham compared the healthcare reform and raising the marginal tax rate to…. the Holocaust! As Jon Stewart pointed out
, she didn’t have to say ‘with great respect’
, it is… implied!
And it wasn’t just a few fringe demonstrators at this tea party, there were elected officials too, like former House majority leader Dick Armey, or Republican senators Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, Jim DeMint of South Carolina, Richard Burr of North Carolina and Johnny Isakson of Georgia or Minnesota Representative Michele Bachmann. (CBS
Of course, the Hitler comparison is nothing new and should not be a surprise. Hitler is the epitome of the villainous monster and the perfect boogeyman who gives people a simplified binary view of life down to good v. evil, and allows them to overlook the differences in the present situation.
It is called Reductio ad Hitlerum
, a term first used by Leo Strauss
as early as 1953. Reductio ad Hitlerum
has been used ever since the very end of WWIIar. It has also been used in American political discourse for a long time: during the Gulf Crisis in 1990, or in the war in Kosovo in 1999 to name just a few examples. However irrelevant the parallel was, it usually meant that the ‘enemy’ (in war) was compared to Hitler and it was used in the context of genocide and tyranny.
But there have been variations of the Hitler metaphor like when in the 1990s, the pro-life movement (Operation Rescue) started comparing abortion to the Holocaust. Little by little the semantics started to shift towards the domestic sphere. Other Americans become the Nazis.
Of course, you always had some extremists who compared US presidents to Hitler, but they were seen as lunatics on the fringe.
Things probably started to change even more under George W. Bush, mostly because of Gitmo, the disregard of his administration for the rule of law and for international institutions, and the use of torture which seemed to make the comparison to the Nazi more relevant for some people. As in any other instance, the Hitler/Nazi metaphor was ludicrous there as well of course.
Meanwhile, as the use of the internet became more widespread so did populist forms of hate speech. Of course, on the Internet, anything goes. In fact, that may be the most important reason why the Hitler comparison has become so widely used in the last decade as we have grown accustomed to online extreme rhetoric and it has seemed to become more acceptable. In fact, it has been observed that
"As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches
This is called Godwin’s Law
. Although it originally referred to Usenet newsgroup discussions, it has gained relevance for other online communication: electronic mailing lists, message boards, chat rooms, blog comment threads, wiki talk pages, or social networking sites.
On top of that, the influence of Fox News, right-wing radios and the Christian far-right within the Republican Party, along with Lyndon La Rouche has increased the acceptability of extreme rhetoric in the regular media and for politicians. In the meantime, the more moderate elements of the Republican Party have been sidelined, leaving room to extremes. (see our posts
Finally, the election of Obama unleashed the fury of those on the far-right who, as Jon Stewart put it, are confusing tyranny with losing elections
to the point that it has become okay to make all sorts of comparisons between totalitarian regimes and the Obama administration, including the Hitler or the Stalin metaphor, and who cares about historical accuracy!
So here we go now in this Orwellian world in which someone like Laura Ingraham can get away with actually changing the meaning of words, turning the rich into the oppressed, the gun owners into victims, and healthcare reform or raising the marginal tax rate into Nazi oppression.
Thank God for Jon Stewart for making it look all so ridiculous that it actually becomes less scary, and for reassuring us that he’ll be there no matter what:
"If the government begins to round up and kill the rich and the landowning and those who choose to exercise the right to bear arms...I'll speak up.".