January 23rd, 2011
For two years, like migrating birds, the shouts of “Nazi” have been all flying in the same direction — from right to left. That the Obama administration advocates setting up “Death Panels,” has been the most common flight from reality. They’ve been comparing end-of-life counseling to Nazi behavior. Or the Socialists. Or communists. Or Idi Amin, or whoever.
Tennessee congressman, Steve Cohen, a democrat, called them out on it: “They say it’s a government takeover of health care, a big lie, just like Goebbels. You say it enough, you repeat the lie, you repeat the lie, you repeat the lie and eventually people believe it.”
During WWII, the United States Office of Strategic Services prepared a psychological profile of Adolph Hitler: “His primary rules were,” the report said, “never allow the public to cool off; never admit a fault or wrong; never concede that there may be some good in your enemy; never leave room for alternatives; never accept blame; concentrate on one enemy at a time and blame him for everything that goes wrong; people will believe a big lie sooner than a little one; and if you repeat it frequently enough people will sooner or later believe it.
In Mein Kampf (1925) Hitler said the Jews were the creators of “The Big Lie.” In 1941, Josef Goebbels said it was the tactic of the British.
So it was in WWII that our public first became aware of the phenomenon of “The Big Lie.” The fingers pointed in all directions, but the hub of the accusations was Nazi Germany. Steve Cohen spoke the truth. The question is, as a society, how much tolerance do we have for the truth?
Most often, when politicians or pundits compare somebody’s actions to those of the Nazis, they succeed in merely trivializing Germany’s legally sanctioned murder of six million Jews and countless other enemies of the state.
But Steve Cohen wasn’t calling Republicans Nazis. He was reminding the public that they were using a Nazi technique. If you give more credence to the OSS (as I do) than to the accusations of Hitler or Goebbels, then Cohen was right.
We have to step lightly in our Nazi similes, but when one fits so well — and when no other simile is as accurate — it is fair to use it. “The Big Lie” is the best description of the power of bare-ass falsehood.
Mr. Cohen did not back down, although the newsmen gave him a good hectoring. I’m glad he hung tough.