False Nazi analogies poison health debate

http://www.sun-sentinel.com/news/opinion/sfl-accol-town-halls-nazis-m0826sbaug26,0,1876681.story

August 26, 2009

False Nazi analogies poison health debate

As a rabbi, I believe our ultimate health care mandate is the one vetted by the good Lord. But as a U.S. citizen, my diagnosis is that injecting analogies with Hitler and Nazi Germany into America's current debate over health care reform is bad for our democracy's health. What historian Richard Hofstadter called "the paranoid style in American politics" has never been the monopoly of right or left or one major party or the other.

So here we are in the dawning of the Age of Obama with posters equating the president with Batman's nemesis, the Joker, with a few protestors likening doe-eyed House Speaker Nancy Pelosi with the SS.

Fortunately, they're only a few but any are too many.

There is no doubt that America's political back-and-forth would be poorer without Rush Limbaugh airing his opinions. Yet Limbaugh's claim that ObamaCare's logo, based on the ancient Greek caduceus, is "damn close to the Nazi swastika logo" is over the line. According to Walter J. Friedlander's The Golden Wand of Medicine, 76 percent of professional health associations use the caduceus' two serpents entwined in a double helix, while the rest use the alternative "rod of Asclepius." Are those 76 percent also somehow akin to the Third Reich?

In America, free speech is our touchstone, and comedians can spoof the Third Reich all they want. However much in bad taste, almost everybody chuckled at parts of Springtime for Hitler, the play-within-a-play inside Mel Brooks' spoof, The Producers. Yet signals abound that 70 years after the outbreak of World War II, there are too many eager to forget what the real Nazis did, and too willing to turn a deaf ear to the pain and suffering of the victims of the Holocaust.

Survivor Antek Zuckerman, second in command of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, summed up the black hole of suffering the remnants of the Nazi genocide feel every day. He told documentary filmmaker Claude Lanzmann: "If you could lick my heart, it would poison you." Yet now when Roseanne Barr poses as Hitler baking "burnt Jew" cookies in Heeb Magazine, it's presented as political satire by a PR-hungry celebrity eager to vilify Israelis and Americans who support them as worse than Nazis for mistreating Palestinians.

It's time for us to call an end to the pollution of political debate with false Nazi analogies that simultaneously trivialize ultimate evil while poisoning our national dialogue. We've got enough crackpot and conspiratorial clunkers on the road without manufacturing more.

Abraham Cooper is associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.


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