One of the most distressing trends of Holocaust commemoration is the way the destruction of European Jewry has become a metaphor for anything anyone doesn’t like. Many in our governing class may be aware of the history but fail to understand that using it as a talking point in denouncing their opponents is not merely in bad taste but actually contributes to the trivialization of the topic. In recent years, a number of politicians from both major parties have made the same mistake. But, just in time for today’s Yom HaShoah commemorations, Politico reports that a Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate in West Virginia has chimed in by comparing regulations in the state’s Monongalia County requiring buildings to state they are smoke-free to the Nazi policies of forcing Jews to wear Stars of David.
John Raese’s criticisms of the nanny state at work may be on target, but like other recent offenders (a list that includes Democrats like California Governor Jerry Brown, Tennessee Rep. Steve Cohen and Florida Republican Rep. Allen West who all compared political opponents to Joseph Goebbels), he needs to understand that comparing such things to the Nazis is both inappropriate and ill-informed.
After decades of attempting to perpetuate the memory of the Holocaust, it is dismaying to think that the effort has succeeded to the point where it has become a universal metaphor for unpleasant political rhetoric or unpopular government policies. But while all forms of tyranny are to be despised and all acts of genocide (actual or potential) must be resisted, the Holocaust is a unique chapter in history and should be respected as such.
As for Raese, listening to the video of his speech, one sees that his problem is he can’t seem to understand there is a difference between the impulse to liberal fascism – in which the left mobilizes the power of government to compel society to accept their ideas — and the actual Holocaust. He also wrongly says that Nazis forced “everybody” to wear Stars of David. No, they didn’t. It was just the Jews who did so, and that’s the point of bias he fails to understand. That he referred to Franklin Roosevelt in his speech as “Fidel Roosevelt” while criticizing the New Deal’s excesses just adds to the impropriety of his remarks.
But while Raese, a perennial GOP candidate who has little chance of defeating Democratic incumbent Joe Manchin, isn’t significant, the trend his comments exemplify is troubling. It’s high time American politicians stopped using the Holocaust as a catchall metaphor. It ought to be clear by now that an iron rule of political discourse is that he or she who mentions Hitler first generally loses.