The dynamic in contemporary American political warfare tends to treat any offenses by those figures that we consider to be on “our side” on many of the great issues of the day as insignificant while treating those of our opponents as earth-shaking crimes. There are conservatives who may overcompensate for this by joining in the liberal demonization of some of the left’s favorite targets, but that kind of disappointing appeal for the respect of the mainstream media ought not prevent us from holding the right accountable for bad behavior.
That’s why Glenn Beck’s appearance at last weekend’s National Rifle Association convention is the sort of thing that cannot go without comment here. In his remarks to the conclave, Beck denounced New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg for financing campaigns against politicians who defend Second Amendment rights. Placing it in the context of Bloomberg’s nanny state style of governing New York, which has led to soda bans as well as a myriad of other measures designed to tell people how to live, Beck put forward a critique of the mayor that rightly painted him as an opponent of individual liberty. But then, as he has often done in the past, Beck went too far.
It wasn’t enough for Beck to depict Bloomberg as a nanny state petty dictator. Instead, he spoke in front of a large backdrop that photo-shopped Bloomberg’s face into what appears to be a famous photo of Adolf Hitler with his arm extended in the infamous Nazi salute. This is more than merely unacceptable political commentary. It is an offense that diminishes the horror of the Holocaust and casts a dark light on both Beck and those who thought his little joke was funny.
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.
Over on Twitter, The Atlantic’s Jeff Goldberg and COMMENTARY contributor Jamie Kirchick have been debating whether the threat to the Jews from neo-Nazis is worse than that of Muslim Jihadists. This argument was brought up by the allegation, which may now turn out to have been a false lead, that the Toulouse massacre was perpetrated by neo-Nazis rather than Islamists. Goldberg’s point is a good one. The Nazis stand alone in history and ought not to be compared to any other genus of Jew-hater or tyrant. Goldberg is also right that Nazi analogies are almost always wrong since there really is nothing in history that compares to the Holocaust. As bad as Iran or Hamas or Hezbollah might be, and they are deadly threats, they are not the same thing as Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany.
However, if we are discussing what Jews and other civilized persons should be worrying most about today, the idea that there is any comparison between the danger posed by the scattered bands of neo-Nazi extremists and that of Islamism is not a serious proposition. The neo-Nazis are a nasty bunch and capable of violence. But Islamist terror has at its command, terrorist armies, control of sovereign territories (Gaza, Lebanon and a major state such as Iran) as well as the resources to finance a nuclear weapons project. While the persistence of Nazism, even in its current truncated form is upsetting and makes us wonder whether Western civilization really is in trouble, Islamism is a real threat, not a symbolic one.