Let’s Take Hitler Off the Table

12 Oct

I don’t think I can quite do justice to the point I am trying to make, but I will still try.

Act I

In the fall of 2010 I traveled to Montreal for an elongated birthday celebration for one of my graduate school classmates.  It was an idyllic weekend.  We met at Penn Station and rode an Amtrak train from New York to Montreal, taking a break from our studies to gossip, listen to music, and do some leisure reading.  Everything on that ride seemed quaint, from the verbal tour given the passengers by the conductor — and out the left side of the train a bald eagle! — to the request for the safe return of a copy of “The History of Connecticut” which inexplicably went missing to the visa checks by Canadian customs officials.  The weekend continued along in that vein.  There was the perfect bed and breakfast, the beautiful farmer’s market, the Owen Wilson sighting.  There was only one downside to the entire weekend:  the table we came across in the old city that featured a picture of Obama sporting a Hitler-esque mustache and a swastika on his arm.  This was not the first time I had come across such an image.  Walking to school a few months earlier I had seen the same doctored photograph holding court on a fold-out table in Union Square.  Those running the table handed out pamphlets.  I was enraged, insulted, and running late for class.  I scowled at them and hurried on my way, red-faced and breathing fire, trying to push the image out of my head while at the same time grappling with all the reasons it impacted me so severely.

Act II

Today fall appeared in New York City.  It was one of those days with a (mostly) blue sky and a strong sun but with winds that rip down the avenues and a certain damp coldness that pushes through layers.  I was sad I forgot my gloves.  After running a few errands I decided to finish my Friday evening over a glass of wine and last week’s issue of The New Yorker (I am behind once again).  In the section entitled The Political Scene was an article by Chrystia Freeland called “Super-Rich Irony:  Why do billionaires feel victimized by Obama?”  I had read a few other articles of a similar theme in The New Yorker, and elsewhere, in recent months.  One that comes to mind made mention of the super-rich who felt slighted because they never received a proper ‘thank you’ from Obama for previous fund-raising contributions.  (To them I say this:  boo-fucking-hoo.)  Freeland’s article was a little more specific, it revolved around an open letter to President Obama from billionaire Leon Cooperman, the founder of a hedge fund called Omega Advisors.    This letter went viral in the business community and accuses Obama of using language that has led to a class warfare in which the super-rich are the oppressed minority.  In it Cooperman says,

To frame the debate as one of rich-and-entitled versus poor-and-dispossessed is to both miss the point and further inflame an already incendiary environment. It is also a naked, political pander to some of the basest human emotions – a strategy, as history teaches, that never ends well for anyone but totalitarians and anarchists.

And then this,

You might do well at this point to eschew the polarizing vernacular of political militancy and become the transcendent leader you were elected to be.

In follow-up interviews, as well as in a speech that addressed this letter and its impacts, Cooperman, Freeland reports, “has gone so far as to draw a parallel between Obama’s election and the rise of the Third Reich.”  Ugh.  Honestly, I have had enough.  There are a lot of infuriating things in this article about how the super-rich feel about their treatment, and how they think they are being singled out and blamed, and, honestly, I do not feel bad for them.  Maybe that makes me an asshole and maybe someday I will amend that feeling but today is not that day.  This post is not about that.  This post is about the parallel that I see drawn over and over again between Obama and Hitler.  It has got to stop.  Take Hitler off the table.  Comparisons to Hitler should not be allowed.  I am not saying we should alter the First Amendment to allow free speech up until the point that someone draws an erroneous comparison between someone who isn’t Hitler and Hitler.   What I am saying is that there should be some sort of moral stopping point in which we take a moment, look around and we think, “hey, you know what?  Actually, this not-Hitler is actually nothing like actual Hitler because, for one, he or she is not responsible for the deaths of some 11 million innocent people.  Also, this not-Hitler did not spawn the coining of the term ‘genocide,’ like actual Hitler.  This not-Hitler, no matter how much I dislike his or her actions or policies is not the epitome of evil because that position is already occupied…by actual Hitler.”

But jokes aside.  Seriously.  I have always thought about it like this:  as a person of Jewish descent, I find this comparison especially problematic and hateful and wrong.  But now, sitting down here at my computer and working some of these thoughts out, I think that as a person I find this comparison especially problematic and hateful and wrong.  Not only is it erroneous, but every time we draw a comparison between the policies and speeches of, say, President Barack Obama and the speeches and actions of Hitler, we are minimizing the historical significance of Hitler’s existence and actions.  We are minimizing the suffering and death caused so many people.  We are minimizing the essence of evil.  Comparisons to Hitler should be reserved for those heinous few that orchestrate the systematic killing of people based off their background, religion, sexual orientation, disability, or any other single characteristic used by horrible, yet somehow magnetic, people to dehumanize.  Last time I checked, Obama has not done any of those things. Sure, he is charismatic.  But for that charisma to lead anywhere close to where Hitler’s charisma led would take a number of characteristics – narcissism? sociopathy? – that I don’t think any of us have reason to believe Obama possesses.

Now listen, I know the comparison to Hitler is not so much about his concentration camp era, but does it actually matter?  When I think Hitler, I think endless train rides, I think gas showers, I think forced labor, I think shaved heads, I think starvation, I think horrific medical experiments, I think families ripped apart, I think a world that was never the same, I think groups of people dehumanized to such an extreme degree that even to this day it stings.  I could continue but I won’t.  I don’t think any sane person’s thought association with Obama bring up any of those horrific thoughts.  So, come on, people.  Let’s stop being assholes.  Let’s take Hitler off the table.

One Response to “Let’s Take Hitler Off the Table”

  1. creatingcarrie October 12, 2012 at 9:21 pm #

    Indeed! It is good human/moral policy to avoid comparing atrocities to other things. Obama/Romney/Falwell ≠ Hitler. Taxes/IMF/Prices ≠ Rape. And so on! We should all strive for better analogies anyway.

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