The Limits of Political Protest
By Doni Kandel
In 21st century American culture, political correctness has become a mainstay of the national discourse. While the idea of political correctness is honorable, the practical implications of its virtue are tainted by political interests and subjectivity. While the battle over what is considered politically correct continues to be waged, one specific usage of terminology should be established as strictly taboo. This is the blatant and unconscionable usage of Nazi and Hitler comparisons. While this phenomenon is prevalent in many societies, Israel included, there has been a dramatic and troubling rise in its usage in the modern American political dialogue.
While the 1st amendment protects the free speech of all people, and taking issue with what every single citizen says in the privacy of their own homes is futile, the alarming rise in Nazi and Hitler desensitization on a national political level should not be tolerated and must be combated.
The constant linking of political parties, movements, and policies to Nazi practices is an insult to every soul tortured and slaughtered in the camps. There is no comparison to the heinous actions of the Hitler regime, yet it is shamelessly used to get a rise out of people whenever the political climate darkens. It is egregious for anyone to compare President Obama’s healthcare bill to Nazi policy in a political forum, as it was by a woman who attended a townhall meeting with Barney Frank, who discredited the rhetoric with aplomb). This woman, and others like her, must be reminded that her unfortunate word choice may hold water at a Klan meeting, but certainly not a townhall meeting. Similarly, while one may vehemently oppose the policies of a particular Israeli government, in no rational reality does Zionism equal Nazism. This is exactly the type of unsubstantial delegitimization Israel’s enemies have attempted to achieve in the international community, with worrisome results.
More disconcerting than a pedestrian Obama objector or a pro-Palestinian protestor playing the Nazi match game is the utilization of this tactic by American academia. Noam Chomsky, lauded hero of the American Left and a Jew himself, dared to compare the right-wing media in America to Nazi Germany. Chomsky has a responsibility as a public figure whose opinions shape countless others, to be far more judicious with his words. Using such appalling rhetoric to emphasize a point is wrong no matter how passionately he may believe in his argument. He effectively transforms himself from well respected intellectual to a radical nut who seeks to equate Nazism with any person or group they might disagree with.
Avid internet forum debaters may be familiar with the term Godwin’s Law. Godwin’s Law is an internet decree that states: “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1,” and when this occurs, “the thread is finished and whoever mentioned the Nazis has automatically ‘lost’ whatever debate was in progress.” The American political lexicon needs to adopt Godwin’s Law. It must be regularly recognized that the use of Hitler and Nazi terms in relation to anything else is an inexcusable method of debate. While there is a social stigma in regard to the usage of Nazi lingo, it needs to be acted upon. A ban on this type of language, while effective (as Germany itself has demonstrated), would violate the Constitution. However, the most effective way to stand up to a politician or pundit is with a checkbook and at the polls. Public figures who irresponsibly engage in Nazi and Hitler comparisons, or even abstain from denouncing them, must be shown that their constituency will not stand for it. Letter must be written, funds must be withheld, and votes must be cast elsewhere.
My Grandmother, an Auschwitz survivor, had made a habit of going to sleep with the radio on full blast, always listening with one ear for the news of an approaching tragedy. Sleeping just one floor above her, I was blessed to instead fall asleep to the sounds of a sitcom on my television and a smile of ignorance on my face. In today’s world we are lucky enough to not have to know anything close to the misery our ancestors suffered at the hands of the Third Reich. The difference between my grandmother’s bed-time habits and my own illustrate the absurdity of comparing today’s political situations to the Holocaust.