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Comparing Bush to Hitler No Longer Confined to Loonies

June 27, 2004

Federal appeals court Judge Guido Calabresi got in hot water the other day, or perhaps we should say, he will be in hot water if the mainstream press ever gets around to mentioning his outburst of June 19. Calabresi, former dean of the Yale Law School and a moderate liberal, became the 3,267th Democrat to compare George Bush to Adolf Hitler.

As Bush-is-Hitler rhetoric goes, the judge’s effort was comparatively mild. He said Bush’s rise to power was strikingly similar to the rise of Hitler and Mussolini, with the Supreme Court (in Gore v. Bush) illegitimately propelling him into a damaging presidency.

Bloggers have been debating Calabresi’s remarks, mostly whether a federal judge should be denouncing the Supreme Court and calling for a sitting president to be thrown out of office (no), and whether a judge has the free-speech right to do so (maybe). Law professor Glenn Reynolds at Instapundit said the judge’s remarks “will serve to further encourage those who call the federal courts politicized and overwhelmingly liberal.”

I am more interested in the judge’s remarks as an example of how Bush-equals-Hitler rhetoric is going mainstream. The Hitler insults started with the communist press, the pro-communist “peace” organizers of the anti-war marches, and assorted free-lance crazies of the hard left. Some months ago I did a column showing how almost every prominent member of the Bush administration had been identified with some Nazi or other. (This process continues; Karen Hughes is said to be the new Goebbels.)

At the time, some readers complained that I had filled out the column by citing a few weird and marginal Internet lefties. There was some truth in that, but now it appears that the loonies have succeeded in pushing previously rational and stable Democrats toward sputtering Bushies-are-Nazis insults. Either Bush’s critics are starting to come apart, or they believe that calling people Nazis is a good way to contend for the votes of undecided moderates.

Sen. Robert Byrd, for example, says George Bush reminds him of Hermann Goering, thus forfeiting much of his heralded reputation for political seriousness. There are many strong reasons for opposing the president, but connecting him to Goering is not one of them.

The Rev. Andrew Greeley, a Chicagoan with three careers (Catholic priest, sociologist, soft-porn novelist), depicts Bush as a demagogic Hitler figure who has carried America over to “the dark side.” George Soros, the eccentric billionaire Bush-hater, says Bush’s rhetoric reminds him of the Third Reich. Last week Al Gore, in a speech denouncing Bush, used the term “Brownshirts” (i.e., Nazi street thugs) to refer to Republican computer teams who respond to criticisms of the president and the war in Iraq.

One hallmark of the new mainstream Hitler rhetoric is that the speakers typically try to soften the accusation right after making it. Greeley said, “He is not another Hitler. Yet there is a certain parallelism.” Calabresi said he was “not suggesting for a moment that Bush is Hitler.” No, course not. That was probably the furthest thing from his mind when he decided to link Bush with Hitler. In his heyday, Joe McCarthy used the same rhetorical device. If he wanted to plant the idea that someone was a traitor without quite saying it, he would announce that somebody or other “is a traitor to America’s highest principles,” which is not exactly an accusation of treason.

As a test of the state of “Bush the Nazi” rhetoric, I went to Google and typed in “Bush is a Nazi” and got 420,000 hits, well behind “Hitler was a Nazi” (654,000 hits), but then Hitler WAS a Nazi and had a 75-year head start. (Computer searches like this are very crude instruments. They sweep up many references that cannot fairly be listed as slurs. But they do offer a rough idea of the amount of name-calling.)

President Clinton did fairly well in the Nazi sweepstakes (158,000 hits, but that’s only 20,000 references for each presidential year, compared to 120,000 annually for the 3 1/2 year-incumbency of George Bush.) The odd thing is that I typed in the names of every Nazi I ever heard of, excluding only Hitler himself, and the group total was still less than George Bush gets alone. This might indicate that either that George Bush is by far the second most important Nazi of all time, or that the Democrats and the left now require some sedation.

A modest suggestion: Democrats might want to ease up on the Nazi rhetoric and stick to actual arguments. Our politics are poisonous enough already.

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