Using Nazi analogies is typically a loser's game. Comparing someone or something to Hitler or the Third Reich stifles debate, almost always is in bad taste and triggers inevitable side debates about whether calling someone a Nazi is as bad as calling them a "kike" or "nigger." Then there is Godwin's Law, which states that as an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches inevitability.
In the interests of full disclosure, I have broken what for me has been a cardinal rule about not using Nazi analogies. This is when I have written about the Bush administration's embrace of torture techniques right out of the Nazi playbook, as well as the deafening lack of response from most Americans to this and other outrages not unlike the Germans who failed to speak out against the excesses of the Third Reich. My first such reference was in 2007, and I feel even more strongly now that these analogies were apt given the circumstances.
All of which brings us to present circumstances and Dr. Ben Carson, who is an especially nasty example of how really smart people can be profoundly ignorant. Carson's stock in trade -- and presumably a reason that he leads Donald Trump in the latest New York Times/CBS News poll and only narrowly trails him in other polls -- is to use Nazi analogies in characterizing the kind of America that Democrats would bequeath us.
Carson, who has been infatuated with Nazi Germany for years, warns that a Hitler-like figure could emerge in America, that Hitler's Mein Kampf manifesto provides insights into the presidency of Barack Obama, that the Affordable Care Act is akin to something that would have been endorsed in Nazi Germany, that Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger and eugenics advocate Hitler had much in common, that political correctness is a tactic reminiscent of the feared SS, the armed wing of the Nazi Party, and most incredibly of all, that the Holocaust would have been "greatly diminished" if Jews had been allowed to possess guns.
If you haven't been disturbed, let alone revolted, by the myriad aspects of the Republican presidential primary race that are beyond the pale, then you probably need to be medicated. This would seem to especially be the case in Iowa where those stereotypical corn-fed and flannel-shirted folks with high cholesterol levels have elevated Carson to the top of the pack and he now has a double-digit lead over The Donald.
(This may not seem so shocking when you consider that Iowa Republicans have gotten cuddly with other fringe candidates in the past, including Pat Robertson, Rick Santorum and Pat Buchanan, who had his own Third Reich infatuation, all of which further burnishes Iowa's reputation for going gaga over people who are neither fit to be president nor have a chance of becoming president, which is why the vaunted Iowa Caucus doesn't mean squat except to the mainstream media.)
Part of the good doctor's appeal to Iowans, among fringers elsewhere, is that he projects a calm demeanor -- he's so mild mannered! gush his enthusiasts -- which makes his despicable Nazi analogizing less like the ranting of an Allen West, Rush Limbaugh or Glenn Beck, who are all unrepentant Nazi analogizers, and might seem reasonable to someone who may be ignorant of the profound evil of Hitler's Germany, which visited the greatest carnage in history on humankind.
More frightening is when Carson seems reasonable to someone who knows damned well what Hitler was all about and approves of these vile linkages, and more frightening still is that Carson pretty much has gotten a free pass from his competitors over his infatuation with Third Reich comparisons, which he adamantly refuses to back down from, while Trump was excoriated for dissing John McCain's war record. The reason Carson gets a pass although he is the sickest of the presidential wannabe sickos, is that he's the right kind of Negro to many Republicans while Obama is not. And as I have written, he can glower from behind that invisible shield so many of us white folks instinctively erect to seal off strong feelings when we don't necessarily like the message and the messenger is black.
Perhaps most frightening of all when it comes to Carson is that 96 percent of Iowans said in a new poll that they are attracted by his leaps of lunacy because these views show he has a "common sense"-based approach to issues. Overall, 84 percent have a favorable view of him and are especially supportive of his opposition to a Muslim being allowed to serve as president and his dog-whistle suggestions that Obama secretly is one.
THE GHOSTS OF MUNICH
Beyond the fear mongering of a Ben Carson, contemporary politicians too often feel a need to inject Nazi Germany into what passes for discourse. Take Bill Clinton, Vladimir Putin, George W. Bush and Benjamin Netanyahu, to name but a few.
In 1999, Clinton justified his decision to bomb Serbia by asking, "What if someone had listened to Winston Churchill and stood up to Adolf Hitler earlier?"
In 2007, Putin justified Russian bellicosity by stating, "[T]hese threats are not diminishing. . . . [and] in these new threats, as during the time of the Third Reich, are the same contempt for human life and the same claims of exceptionality and diktat in the world."
In 2008, Bush justified his refusal to talk to terrorists by noting that "Some seem to believe that we should negotiate with the terrorists and radicals. . . . We have heard this foolish delusion before. As Nazi tanks crossed into Poland in 1939, an American senator declared: 'Lord, if I could only have talked to Hitler, all this might have been avoided.' "
And just the other day, Netanyahu sparked an uproar in Israel for justifying his hatred of Palestinians by suggesting that a World War II-era Palestinian leader persuaded the Nazis to adopt their Final Solution to exterminate 6 million Jews, a fallacy that was long ago proven to be false. (Netanyahu also happens to be something of a darling of Carson and other Muslim-loathing Republican theocrats.)
CUE THE CONVENTIONAL WISDOM
Carson hasn't been scrutinized as has Trump, and won't be in the debate tonight although he was barely coherent in the first two debates, which of course enhanced his popularity. He has zero foreign and public policy experience, has a tendency to think out loud, let alone outside the box, has been spending buckets full of money to attract more money, not broaden his tiny base, and has nothing that could be remotely described as a personality unless you like a guy who, as one pundit put it, always "sounds like a doctor prescribing painkillers."
The conventional wisdom therefore is that Carson will eventually fade and Republican voters will magically become all serious. But the conventional wisdom has been wrong an awful lot of the time this political season. Just ask Jeb Bush.
The easy rejoinder to people like myself who take offense at the Ben Carsons of the political world is that we're against discussing history when it's particularly unpleasant. Wrong. What we're against is what Carson and his ilk do: Use Nazi analogies to stifle discussion, not to broaden it, and as a scare tactic, not as a reminder of the evil that can be visited upon societies that are not committed to embracing all people and their cultures.
Politix Update is an irregular compendium written by veteran journalist Shaun Mullen, for whom the 2016 presidential campaign is his (gasp!) 12th since 1968. Click HERE for an index of previous Politix Updates.