Commentary Magazine


Civility Watch: Cohen Won’t Back Down on Comparing GOP to Nazis

In the wake of the Arizona shootings, the idea that this tragedy was to some extent the result of the lack of civility and verbal violence that has characterized political debates in the past two years has been a staple of liberal commentary. Indeed, even many of those who have acknowledged that the actions of an insane shooter with no discernible political ideology can’t be linked to the health-care debate have insisted that the atmosphere of discord somehow set the stage for this crime. Even more than that, they have argued that there is no doubt that conservatives in general, and Tea Party activists in particular, as well as garden-variety Republicans, are principally if not solely to blame for all the verbal mayhem. This sort of assertion is treated as self-evident, even though liberal TV talkers such as Keith Olbermann and Ed Schultz and a host of other leftists who have consistently smeared their opponents need no lessons in talking smack about the right.

But last night, this claim was once again contradicted when we were treated to yet another instance of liberal verbal violence. But this time the slur wasn’t voiced by a talking head on MSNBC but, rather, on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives by a member of Congress.

As Peter Wehner wrote, during the debate on the repeal of ObamaCare, Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) told the chamber that the majority’s argument that the health-care bill passed last year would dangerously increase the power of the government was “a big lie, just like Goebbels,” referring to Nazi Germany’s chief propagandist. He then likened the GOP campaign against the bill to the process by which Europe’s Jews were slaughtered in the Holocaust: “The Germans said enough about the Jews and people believed it — believed it and you have the Holocaust.”

A day later Cohen wouldn’t back down and told CNN that he wasn’t calling the Republicans Nazis, just liars. But, of course, if his goal was to merely say that they weren’t telling the truth, he needn’t have compared them to Goebbels or analogized their campaign to mass murder.

Cohen’s explicit comparison of Republican tactics to the Nazis is incredibly offensive as well as false. Surely Americans can disagree about health care without either side invoking Hitler, something that ought to be considered out of bounds for anybody who is not actually talking about real Nazis. But this was no slip of the tongue. Cohen’s sleight-of-hand invocation of the process by which Jews were delegitimized was specifically intended to create the idea that there is no difference between the Tea Party and the Nazi Party. His goal is not to expose the deficiencies of the arguments of his opponents; it is their delegitimization.

In other words, Rep. Cohen is doing exactly what liberals have claimed that conservatives have done: poisoned the political atmosphere with outrageous and false assertions. Cohen may have some counterparts on the right, but he, and the many others on the left who have employed the same kind of tactics against the Bush administration and Obama’s Republican critics, are living proof that the left is equally responsible for the decline of civility.