The Holocaust, American Slavery and the Republicans' Routinely Repulsive Rhetoric
In the course of American and world history, slavery and the Holocaust are sui generis cataclysms. Any comparisons--especially casual ones--to the Nazi genocide of European Jewry and the bondage and oppression of African-Americans necessarily diminish these unique and unparalleled horrors. To seriously equate the ordinary to the almost unimaginable is a special kind of blasphemy that rightly prompts most reasonable people to recoil in disgust.
Sadly, the ranks of reasonable people apparently don't include many of the leading lights of the Republican Party and its amen corner in the conservative movement. Over just the past several days, former Arkansas Governor and 2016 GOP White House Mike Huckabee accused President Obama of preparing to "march Israelis to the door of the oven" with the Iran nuclear deal. Conveniently forgetting 50 years of history during which the GOP welcomed southern conservatives, the Klan and the Confederate flag with open arms, the Oklahoma Federation of Republican Women displayed an image declaring Democrats had traded the lynching ropes for welfare programs. And just hours before Confederate flags were found outside Martin Luther King Jr.'s Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, the GOP's 2008 Vice Presidential nominee Sarah Palin took to Facebook to ask between the Confederacy and Planned Parenthood, which "killed 90,000 black babies last year?"
And that was just the past week.
As it turns out, these grotesque misappropriations of the Holocaust and slavery aren't the exception to the GOP rule; they are the rule. As a review of recent right-wing rhetoric shows, for today's Republicans Obamacare, the national debt, tax hikes on the rich, abortion, federal regulation of for-profit colleges, gun control, social safety net programs, marriage equality, torture detainee rights and just about everything else conservatives hate are little different than Hitler's slaughter of six million Jews or America's original sin. The only question for GOP sound bite manufacturers now isn't whether to use such abominable analogies, but which one.
The National Debt
Sarah Palin's conflation of slavery and abortion was bad enough. (After all, women exercising sovereignty over their own bodies is the very antithesis of slavery.) Making matters worse, Palin had already dipped into the slavery well to denounce the national debt. Even as Uncle Sam's annual budget deficits were plummeting in November 2013, John McCain's legacy proclaimed:
"Our free stuff today is being paid for by taking money from our children and borrowing from China. When that money comes due - and this isn't racist, but it'll be like slavery when that note is due. We are going to beholden to the foreign master."
Texas Representative and fellow Tea Bagger Louie Gohmert agreed. As he put it that February:
"Slavery and abortion are the two most horrendous things this country has done but when you think about the immorality of wild, lavish spending on our generation and forcing future generations to do without essentials just so we can live lavishly now, it's pretty immoral."
Now, Republican voices were largely silent as Ronald Reagan tripled the national debt and George W. Bush nearly doubled it again. But with Barack Obama in the White House, the GOP discovered, federal deficit-spending to recover from the most severe economic catastrophe since the Great Depression was putting America on the path to the Final Solution. We know this, because Mike Huckabee and Michele Bachmann (R-MN) told us so.
Addressing the NRA during its 2011 gathering in Pittsburgh, Huckabee declared, "Never again." Sort of:
Huckabee gave a speech to the National Rifle Association. He spoke of how, at Israel's Holocaust museum, he looked over his 11-year-old daughter's shoulder as she wrote in the guest book, "Why didn't somebody do something?"
Then he said, "We cannot afford to be a generation that leaves our children with nothing but a huge debt and the very erosion of the freedoms that our founders and our fathers died and gave us so valiantly. And that's why I say, 'Let there never be a time in this country where some father has to look over his daughter's shoulder and see her ask this haunting question: Why didn't somebody do something?'"
Bachmann, who at this time four years ago was briefly the front-runner for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination, couldn't have agreed more. As the AP reported her Holocaust non-analogy analogy:
Bachmann recounted learning about a horrific time in history as a child -- the Holocaust -- and wondering if her mother did anything to stop it. She said she was shocked to hear that many Americans weren't aware that millions of Jews had died until after World War II ended.
Bachmann said the next generation will ask similar questions about what their elders did to prevent them from facing a huge tax burden.
"I tell you this story because I think in our day and time, there is no analogy to that horrific action," she said, referring to the Holocaust. "But only to say, we are seeing eclipsed in front of our eyes a similar death and a similar taking away. It is this disenfranchisement that I think we have to answer to."
For his part, Indiana Republican Richard Mourdock concurred with a resounding Ja! Mourdock, whose previous claim to fame was pronouncing that pregnancy from rape was "a gift from God," explained the threat from Fuhrer Obama last year:
"The people of Germany in a free election selected the Nazi Party because they made great promises that appealed to them because they were desperate and destitute. And why is that? Because Germany was bankrupt...The truth is, 70 years later, we are drifting on the tides toward another beachhead and it is the bankruptcy of the United States of America."
Taxing the Wealthy
At the very time Bachmann issued her warning, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and other analysts reported that the federal tax burden as a percentage of American gross domestic product was at its lowest level since 1950. But something else--income inequality--was at a record high. Ultimately, with federal spending lower now than when President Obama first took the oath of office, one unavoidable step to reducing both America's long-term debt challenges and its currently obscene income inequality will involve increasing taxes on the wealthy.
But that, too, would be a slippery slope to Hitler's crematoria. While Powerline warned, "First they came for the rich," Silicon Valley venture capitalist Tom Perkins fretted that the smashed windows and gold stars could not be far off:
Writing from the epicenter of progressive thought, San Francisco, I would call attention to the parallels of fascist Nazi Germany to its war on its "one percent," namely its Jews, to the progressive war on the American one percent, namely the "rich"... I perceive a rising tide of hatred of the successful one percent.
This is a very dangerous drift in our American thinking. Kristallnacht was unthinkable in 1930; is its descendent "progressive" radicalism unthinkable now?
Not to Blackstone CEO Stephen Schwarzman. President Obama's proposal to eliminate the "carried interest exemption" that helped make private equity titans like Mitt Romney so rich, Schwarzman predicted, would augur a blitzkrieg against the rich. "It's like when Hitler invaded Poland in 1939."
To hear Republicans tell it, President Obama and the Democrats who voted for the Affordable Care Act were like Hitler's henchmen at the 1942 Wannsee conference. Obamacare, which all told has enabled 32 million people to obtain health insurance, is instead akin to a final solution for health care.
In Maryland, for example, the Republican Women of Anne Arundel County explained in 2009 that "Obama and Hitler have a great deal in common." Three years ago, Maine Republican Governor Paul LePage reacted to the Supreme Court's ruling upholding Obamacare:
"We the people have been told there is no choice. You must buy health insurance or pay the new Gestapo -- the IRS."
In 2014, now former Tennessee Republican legislator Stacey Campfield scoffed that "Democrats bragging about the number of mandatory sign ups for Obamacare is like Germans bragging about the number of manditory [sic] sign ups for 'train rides' for Jews in the 40s." While even the Volunteer State GOP denounced his "ignorant and repugnant" comments, Campfield was merely regurgitating a talking point first vomited forth by Idaho state senator Sheryl Nuxoll. State insurance exchanges helping millions of people in the United States obtain coverage are just death trains taking insurers to the market equivalent of Auschwitz, Treblinka, Bergen-Belsen or Theresienstadt:
"The insurance companies are creating their own tombs. Much like the Jews boarding the trains to concentration camps, private insurers are used by the feds to put the system in place because the federal government has no way to set up the exchange."
If the federal government savings tens of thousands of lives each year doesn't sound like Hitler, Himmler and Eichmann extinguishing millions to you, you're not alone. In the fall of 2013, famed neurosurgeon and 2016 GOP presidential contender Ben Carson explained to the Family Research Council's Values Voter Summit that Obamacare isn't like the Holocaust at all:
"You know Obamacare is really I think the worst thing that has happened in this nation since slavery. And it is in a way, it is slavery in a way, because it is making all of us subservient to the government, and it was never about health care. It was about control."
Washington Post columnist and Fox News regular George Will certainly thought so. When the Supreme Court upheld the Obamacare health insurance mandate in 2012, Will was quick to point to the South's "peculiar institution":
"I hear Democrats say, 'The Affordable Care Act is the law,' as though we're supposed to genuflect at that sunburst of insight and move on. Well, the Fugitive Slave Act was the law, separate but equal was the law, lots of things are the law and then we change them."
Will was hardly alone. That famous ersatz libertarian, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, took to the op-ed pages to declare that Obamacare, like slavery and Jim Crow before it, would not stand:
The liberal blogosphere apparently thinks the constitutional debate is over. I wonder whether they would have had that opinion the day after the Dred Scott decision...
Think of how our country would look now had the Supreme Court not changed its view of what is constitutional. Think of 1857, when the court handed down the outrageous Dred Scott decision, which said African Americans were not citizens. Think of the "separate but equal" doctrine in Plessy v. Ferguson, which the court later repudiated in Brown v. Board of Education.
When it came to slavery, of course, the Court didn't "change its view of what was constitutional. It took the Civil War and the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments to the Constitution to do that. Then again, it was just last month that the soon-to-be failed presidential candidate Rand Paul proclaimed, "If we tax you at 50% you are half slave, half free."
This year's 6-3 King v. Burwell Supreme Court ruling upholding the Affordable Care Act's federal health insurance exchange once again prompted conservative catcalls like "the Roberts court's second Dred Scott decision." But to fully appreciate the indecency of that libel, it's important to look back at the 1857 Scott v. Sanford case which helped make the Civil War inevitable. In his odious opinion, Chief Justice Roger Taney didn't merely declare Dred Scott must be returned to bondage in Missouri despite having lived as a free man in Illinois for years. "A free negro of the African race, whose ancestors were brought to this country and sold as slaves, "Taney argued, "is not a 'citizen' within the meaning of the Constitution of the United States." And that, the Chief Justice insisted, was as it should be:
They had for more than a century before been regarded as beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white race either in social or political relations, and so far inferior that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect, and that the negro might justly and lawfully be reduced to slavery for his benefit.
According to the new conservative history, the slave would have benefitted even more if he had just carried a gun. As Gun Appreciation Day chairman Larry Ward explained in 2012, the horrors of slavery and Jim Crow could have been avoided altogether if it hadn't been for gun control:
"I think Martin Luther King, Jr. would agree with me if he were alive today that if African Americans had been given the right to keep and bear arms from day one of the country's founding, perhaps slavery might not have been a chapter in our history."
Rush Limbaugh was quick to bloviate in agreement:
"If a lot of African-Americans back in the '60s had guns and the legal right to use them for self-defense, you think they would have needed Selma? If John Lewis, who says he was beat upside the head, if John Lewis had had a gun, would he have been beat upside the head on the bridge?"
Given the bloody history of Southern white supremacy both before and after the Civil War, Limbaugh and his ilk must be suffering from head trauma of their own. (After all, Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, where self-styled neo-Confederate killer Dylann Roof slaughtered 9 just weeks ago, was burned to the ground by South Carolina whites in 1822 after a slave revolt planned by Denmark Vesey.)
Joe "The Plumber" Wurzelbacher exhibited all the signs of Second Amendment derangement syndrome, too. As a campaign spokesman explained during Wurzelbacher's ill-fated campaign for Congress three years ago, "Well, blacks weren't allowed to own guns in the south, that's a historical fact." And gun control didn't just cause slavery; as John McCain's favorite prop lectured in a campaign spot:
"In 1911, Turkey established gun control. From 1915 to 1917 one-point-five million Armenians, unable to defend themselves were exterminated. In 1939, Germany established gun control. From 1939 to 1945, six million Jews and seven million others unable to defend themselves were exterminated."
In the new right-wing orthodoxy, the next Holocaust is always right around the corner. But this time its victims will be American Christians, rounded up and slaughtered by the LGBT community. As Christian Broadcasting Network founder and one-time GOP presidential candidate Pat Robertson put it 25 years ago:
"Do you also have a ghetto chosen to herd the pro-life Catholics and evangelicals into? Have you designed the appropriate yellow patch that Christians should wear... ?"
As the tidal wave of marriage equality was sweeping over the nation in 2014, Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council sounded the same alarm:
"I'm beginning to think, are reeducation camps next? When are they going to start rolling out the boxcars to start hauling off Christians?"
But when the Supreme Court overturned all state same-sex marriage bans in June's Obergefell v. Hodges case, Republicans and their religious right allies once again dredged up Dred Scott. In a USA Today op-ed, Mike Huckabee rejected the very idea of judicial review settled in 1803 by Marbury v. Madison. Gay Americans, a Taneyesque Huckabee seemed to suggest, have no rights which the straight man was bound to respect:
Let me be clear: If the Supreme Court abuses the limits of its power and attempts to create a right that doesn't exist in the Constitution, it will be the duty of the president to reject this threat to our religious liberty as "the law of the land." As president, I will never bow down to the false gods of judicial supremacy.
But Huckabee and the usual suspects on the right aren't just refusing to "bow down to the false gods of judicial supremacy." He and the other signers of the "Marriage Pledge"--a who's who of the extremist social conservative movement--promised civil disobedience as well. As the self-proclaimed guardians of "family values," including Jim Bob and Michele Duggar, warn, they will never comply with a Dred Scott-like ruling for marriage equality:
We will view any decision by the Supreme Court or any court the same way history views the Dred Scott and Buck v. Bell decisions. Our highest respect for the rule of law requires that we not respect an unjust law that directly conflicts with higher law. A decision purporting to redefine marriage flies in the face of the Constitution and is contrary to the natural created order. As people of faith we pledge obedience to our Creator when the State directly conflicts with higher law. We respectfully warn the Supreme Court not to cross this line.
And by crossing that line and allowing loving couples to marry, Iowa Rep. Steve King, the Supremes may have split the nation in two. Just like--wait for it--the Civil War:
"Well, that turned into a civil war - 600,000 people killed to put an end to slavery - to sort that mess out."
Of all issues, abortion is the one for which both the Holocaust and American slavery most do double-duty for the sound bite scribblers of the Republican Party. The millions tortured, enslaved and butchered by the German killing machine and the American slave industry are just pawns in the conservative campaign to eradicate reproductive rights for women in the United States.
With their casual comparisons of abortion to slavery, Sarah Palin and Louie Gohmert have plenty of company. For them and other Republicans the private decisions women make about their reproductive choices are no different than four million black slaves kept in bondage by five million Southern whites, one-third of whom were slaveholders. In fact, Arizona Rep. Trent Franks argued in 2010, for African-Americans it's even worse today:
"In this country, we had slavery for God knows how long. And now we look back on it and we say 'How brave were they? What was the matter with them? You know, I can't believe, you know, four million slaves. This is incredible.' And we're right, we're right. We should look back on that with criticism. It is a crushing mark on America's soul. And yet today, half of all black children are aborted. Half of all black children are aborted. Far more of the African-American community is being devastated by the policies of today than were being devastated by policies of slavery."
Anti-abortion groups have been running with that message for years. In 2010, Georgia Right to Life rented billboards to declare, "Black children are an endangered species." In 2011, the conservative Radiance Foundation similarly used billboards to mark Juneteenth which read, "The 13th Amendment Freed Us. Abortion Enslaves Us." That same year, billboards in New York and other cities announced:
"The Most Dangerous Place for an African-American is in the womb."
But for many Republicans, those free choices by free people can only mean one thing: abortion is slavery. Ohio GOP legislator and "personhood" supporter Matt Huffman suggested pro-choice Americans are little different than slave owners. Mike Huckabee, too, also reassures his audiences that abortion is akin to slavery. In July 2012, the Texas Tribune reported, "Huckabee compared abortion to slavery, asking if society could reject slavery and 'come to the conclusion that one person can take the life of another person.'" As Huffington Post recounted of Huckabee's Transitive Law of Slavery:
"It's the logic of the Civil War," Huckabee said, comparing abortion rights to slavery. "If morality is the point here, and if it's right or wrong, not just a political question, then you can't have 50 different versions of what's right and what's wrong."
Two years later, he told an anti-choice group that he believed the issue of abortion was resolved "150 years ago when the issue of slavery was finally settled in this country, and we decided that it no longer was a political issue, it wasn't an issue of geography, it was an issue of morality." In 2011, he again argued against abortion rights being determined at the state level, saying that "it was wrong to own a slave in Mississippi and Michigan."
It's more than a little ironic that the Baptist minister Mike Huckabee would present himself as some sort of 21st century abolitionist and declare "the Supreme Court was wrong when it denied Dred Scott his rights and said, 'blacks are inferior human beings.'" After all, Huckabee's Southern Baptist Convention was founded in 1845 on that very claim.
Just in case, Governor Huckabee has a back-up anti-abortion talking point. In 2011, the Fox New host joined the extremists behind Mississippi's failed "personhood" initiative which, among other things, distributed 600,000 DVDs declaring, "Saying it's OK to choose is the same thing as saying it's OK for Hitler to choose." As Salon reported:
Mike Huckabee, who supported Personhood USA's failed efforts in Mississippi, has often compared the Holocaust and abortion, saying of Nazi extermination, "educated scientists, sophisticated and cultured people looked the other way because they thought it didn't touch them." The day before Phil Bryant was elected governor of Mississippi -- at the same time the state's voters rejected the Personhood amendment -- he evoked the Jews of Nazi Germany "being marched into the oven," because of "the people who were in charge of the government at that time" as an argument to vote for it.
In 2013, Virginia Republican Dick Black marked the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade by comparing family planning clinics to the Nazi's death camps:
I recall back to the days of Nazi Germany, there was a place called Auschwitz. And over the gates of Auschwitz was a sign, and the sign said "arbeit macht frei," which means roughly "your labors will make you free." People who went behind those doors never returned. Their labors didn't make them free. And I'm reminded that we refer to our clinics as "women's health clinics" and we talk about women's reproductive rights and so forth.
And so it goes. Conservative talking head Michelle Malkin denounced the contraception coverage mandate in the Affordable Care Act, warning "first they came for the Catholics." North Carolina Congresswoman Virginia Foxx attacked federal regulation of for-profit colleges by declaring, "They came for the for-profits, and I didn't speak up." Three years ago, Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R-MD) explained that federal student loan programs were unconstitutional and represented "a very slippery slope" to "something bad," like "the Holocaust that occurred in Germany." In 2008, Bush torture enthusiast David Rivkin agreed with Newt Gingrich that the Supreme Court's Boumediene ruling recognizing the habeas corpus rights of Guantanamo terror detainees was "one of the worst decisions by the Supreme Court I've ever read, on par with Dred Scott decisions and Plessy v. Ferguson."
And if Boumediene was the equivalent of declaring human beings property and codifying the racial segregation and white supremacy of Jim Crow, then the P5+1 nuclear agreement with Iran must be "a Second Holocaust" and "a death sentence for Israel" and its citizens in which President Barack Obama will "march them to the door of the oven."
As President Obama lamented this week, "The particular comments of Mr. Huckabee are I think part of just a general pattern we've seen ... that would be considered ridiculous if it weren't so sad."
Part of a general pattern, indeed.