Comparing American presidents with German National Socialist Adolph Hitler is hardly new. Even Harry Truman, the first U.S. President elected after Hitler had died, has been compared with the mass murdering dictator. The analogy is so often infused into arguments, its effectiveness as a rhetorical device is almost nil. And the metaphor or simile is not limted to presidential poltics, or even serious, contemplative discourse.
When I was about 10 years old my mother wouldn’t let me “sleep out” in our front yard because it was too cold (probably about 45 degrees outside). I maturely showed my vocabulary by calling her “a Hitler” and proceeded to get the belt for the only time in my life. I was only calling her the worst name I could think of, which is a dreadful thing to do to your own mother, all because she was looking out for my well-being.
Recently, Catholic Bishop, Daniel Jenky gave a sermon where he rather obliquely drew an analogy of the Obama administration’s requirement that Catholic schools and other institutions must cover (or pay through their insurance premiums) contraception and abortion with Hitler and Stalin’s attacks upon the church in a previous generation. In 2011, Hank Williams, Jr. had his famous “Are you ready for some football” song pulled from Monday Night Football (MNF) because he compared President Obama’s golf game alongside John Boehner as if Hitler was golfing with Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu.
Williams should get an easy pass. He was simply doing what I did: drawing upon the worst figure in world history (and a modern natural nemesis) to make a point. Exaggerated? Yes. Insensitive? Maybe. Nefarious? Highly doubtful.
On one hand, it is certainly true that the comparison is way over-done. Usually, it is pulled out as a rhetorical device whenever someone of the other party does things that you think are really over-the-top. For lefties, it was used against George Bush when he signed The Patriot Act (never mind that many Democrats voted for it, too). For righties, it has been used against Obama whenever he has asked the government to play a bigger role in our lives (forgetting that the government has grown bigger and bigger under Republicans, too.).
Many in the pro-life movement have made the comparison between the killing of Jews and the killing of unborn children. I remember speaking out against abortion at a Holocaust commemoration held during a Des Moines, Iowa, City Council meeting. One little Jewish boy thanked me. Many others were distraught at the comparison. While I think dehumanization is the common thread between the two slaughters, even this comparison must be used with great wisdom. The killing of Jews was not the work of one man, Hitler. It was carried out by thousands of followers, many just like you and me. More importantly, it was done by the permission of the people who tolerated a mind-set of discrimination and hatred. But the Germans are no different than Americans. We have permitted the killing of little babies to go on for decades now.
This brings us to the 2012 election cycle,. The anti-Obama sentiment is running high among rank and file Republicans, conservatives, and many on the Christian Right. For many, it borders on hatred fueled by fear. The Hitler comparison is on everybody’s lips and everybody’s keyboards. If the reason is Obama’s obvious pro-abortion stand, let us yet be “fair.” If we are going to call him Hitler because he never found an unborn baby he would protect, let us use the same standard with Mitt Romney, whose official position is that we can kill some
Jews unborn babies. Perhaps we could compare Romney with the man who wrote, Allowing the Destruction of Life Unworthy of Life, Karl Binding. On this issue, the difference between the two candidates is by degrees, not by kind.
In my new book, With Christ in the Voting Booth, I devote over 25 pages to clarifying a consistent pro-life ethic.