Commentary Magazine


Topic: U.S. House of Representatives

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.

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.

Read Less

Republicans and the Hispanic Vote

Rep. Lamar Smith gets it partially right when he touts the election of Hispanic Republican candidates and of non-Hispanic pro-border-enforcement Republicans with the help of a significant number of Hispanic voters. “Exit polls reported by CNN and updated this week reveal that a historically robust 38 percent of Hispanic voters cast ballots for House Republican candidates in 2010 — more than in 2006 (30 percent) and 2008 (29 percent).” He observes:

Univision anchor Jorge Ramos, one of the most trusted commentators on Spanish-language television, concluded that “the United States moved to the right, and Latino politicians did so too — among them, a new generation of Hispanic Republicans who support policies that are essentially opposed to the undocumented immigrants in this country.”

Who are these pro-rule-of-law Hispanic rising stars in the Republican Party? Voters elected Susana Martinez governor of New Mexico, Brian Sandoval governor of Nevada and Florida’s Marco Rubio to the U.S. Senate. Bill Flores, Francisco Canseco, Jaime Herrera, Raul Labrador and David Rivera went to the U.S. House of Representatives.

But we should add a couple of caveats. First, Smith notes that Gov. Jan Brewer got 28 percent of the vote, a good result, he suggests, since in 2006 the GOP candidate got 26 percent. Umm … I don’t think barely exceeding the vote totals for 2006, a wipe-out year for the Republicans, should be the goal for the GOP. (Moreover, the percentage of voters who are Hispanic has been increasing in each election, so Republicans will need to do better with each election if they are to retain that share of the general electorate.) And while Rick Perry got 38 percent of the Hispanic vote, he got 55 percent of the overall electorate, suggesting that a huge gap still remains in the GOP’s appeal to Hispanics.

Second, Smith ignores the real issues: tone, rhetoric, and position on legal immigration. Marco Rubio believes in border control, but his life story is built around the immigrant experience, and he eschews inflammatory language that has plagued Republicans like Tom Tancredo. As Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell pointed out to me a few years ago, if the Republicans want to continue to make progress among Hispanic voters, they need to object to the “illegal” part, not the “immigration” part, of the equation.

Smith is on solid ground with his conclusion:

On many of the most important issues of our day – jobs, education, support for small businesses and the economy – the Republican positions line up with Hispanic values. Republican approaches to better education, small businesses and job creation demonstrate that the GOP will put policy over politics when it comes to Hispanic outreach. The right way to attract Hispanic support is to emphasize our shared values.

Too often, Republicans assume that their positions are so intrinsically true that they need no explanation. Wrong. If they want to attract a growing portion of the electorate, they need to explain both that Republicans value Hispanics’ contributions and participation in American society and that school choice, low taxes, reasonable regulation, and other mainstays of the GOP agenda are the best avenue to upward mobility and progress for Hispanics, and for all Americans. Election of impressive candidates like Rubio, Gov. Susana Martinez, Gov. Brian Sandoval, and Reps. Bill Flores, Francisco Canseco, Jaime Herrera, Raul Labrador, and David Rivera is a good start but hardly sufficient.

Rep. Lamar Smith gets it partially right when he touts the election of Hispanic Republican candidates and of non-Hispanic pro-border-enforcement Republicans with the help of a significant number of Hispanic voters. “Exit polls reported by CNN and updated this week reveal that a historically robust 38 percent of Hispanic voters cast ballots for House Republican candidates in 2010 — more than in 2006 (30 percent) and 2008 (29 percent).” He observes:

Univision anchor Jorge Ramos, one of the most trusted commentators on Spanish-language television, concluded that “the United States moved to the right, and Latino politicians did so too — among them, a new generation of Hispanic Republicans who support policies that are essentially opposed to the undocumented immigrants in this country.”

Who are these pro-rule-of-law Hispanic rising stars in the Republican Party? Voters elected Susana Martinez governor of New Mexico, Brian Sandoval governor of Nevada and Florida’s Marco Rubio to the U.S. Senate. Bill Flores, Francisco Canseco, Jaime Herrera, Raul Labrador and David Rivera went to the U.S. House of Representatives.

But we should add a couple of caveats. First, Smith notes that Gov. Jan Brewer got 28 percent of the vote, a good result, he suggests, since in 2006 the GOP candidate got 26 percent. Umm … I don’t think barely exceeding the vote totals for 2006, a wipe-out year for the Republicans, should be the goal for the GOP. (Moreover, the percentage of voters who are Hispanic has been increasing in each election, so Republicans will need to do better with each election if they are to retain that share of the general electorate.) And while Rick Perry got 38 percent of the Hispanic vote, he got 55 percent of the overall electorate, suggesting that a huge gap still remains in the GOP’s appeal to Hispanics.

Second, Smith ignores the real issues: tone, rhetoric, and position on legal immigration. Marco Rubio believes in border control, but his life story is built around the immigrant experience, and he eschews inflammatory language that has plagued Republicans like Tom Tancredo. As Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell pointed out to me a few years ago, if the Republicans want to continue to make progress among Hispanic voters, they need to object to the “illegal” part, not the “immigration” part, of the equation.

Smith is on solid ground with his conclusion:

On many of the most important issues of our day – jobs, education, support for small businesses and the economy – the Republican positions line up with Hispanic values. Republican approaches to better education, small businesses and job creation demonstrate that the GOP will put policy over politics when it comes to Hispanic outreach. The right way to attract Hispanic support is to emphasize our shared values.

Too often, Republicans assume that their positions are so intrinsically true that they need no explanation. Wrong. If they want to attract a growing portion of the electorate, they need to explain both that Republicans value Hispanics’ contributions and participation in American society and that school choice, low taxes, reasonable regulation, and other mainstays of the GOP agenda are the best avenue to upward mobility and progress for Hispanics, and for all Americans. Election of impressive candidates like Rubio, Gov. Susana Martinez, Gov. Brian Sandoval, and Reps. Bill Flores, Francisco Canseco, Jaime Herrera, Raul Labrador, and David Rivera is a good start but hardly sufficient.

Read Less

Like 1994 — But Worse

Gallup reports:

An average of 59% of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents have said they are more enthusiastic than usual about voting this year compared with past elections, the highest average Gallup has found in a midterm election year for either party since the question was first asked in 1994.

The prior high for a party group was 50% more enthusiastic for Democrats in 2006, which is the only one of the last five midterm election years in which Democrats have had an enthusiasm advantage. In that election, Democrats won back control of the U.S. House of Representatives for the first time since 1994. . . Republicans’ net score of +14 more enthusiastic in the latest poll compared with the Democrats’ net score of -21 represents the largest relative party advantage Gallup has measured in a single midterm election-year poll.

We’ll see if this phenomenon lasts through the fall, but for now, it seems that the Republicans’ decision to oppose Obama and his agenda at every turn — rather than accommodating it and splitting the differences — was precisely the right strategy. The GOP’s base is energized; the Democrats’ base is demoralized. Democrats who stuck with Obama and who hoped liberal support would emerge to counteract the tide of opposition from angry conservatives and independents will, I suspect, look back upon that decision (a career-ender in some cases) with regret.

Gallup reports:

An average of 59% of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents have said they are more enthusiastic than usual about voting this year compared with past elections, the highest average Gallup has found in a midterm election year for either party since the question was first asked in 1994.

The prior high for a party group was 50% more enthusiastic for Democrats in 2006, which is the only one of the last five midterm election years in which Democrats have had an enthusiasm advantage. In that election, Democrats won back control of the U.S. House of Representatives for the first time since 1994. . . Republicans’ net score of +14 more enthusiastic in the latest poll compared with the Democrats’ net score of -21 represents the largest relative party advantage Gallup has measured in a single midterm election-year poll.

We’ll see if this phenomenon lasts through the fall, but for now, it seems that the Republicans’ decision to oppose Obama and his agenda at every turn — rather than accommodating it and splitting the differences — was precisely the right strategy. The GOP’s base is energized; the Democrats’ base is demoralized. Democrats who stuck with Obama and who hoped liberal support would emerge to counteract the tide of opposition from angry conservatives and independents will, I suspect, look back upon that decision (a career-ender in some cases) with regret.

Read Less

Unsurprisingly, Crist Is Friendless

It’s not clear to which voters Charlie Crist will appeal. He’s burned his bridges with the GOP. And his independent status isn’t gaining him any new supporters:

The labor union AFL-CIO has endorsed a Democrat in the race for Florida’s open U.S. Senate seat after an unusual sales pitch by the state’s governor, who’s running as an independent. The labor union chose on Sunday to back U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek in the Senate race. Meek served seven years in the state Legislature before being elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2002.The decision comes two days after Gov. Charlie Crist appeared before the union’s leaders to ask for their support. Crist, a lifelong Republican until this month, had never before sought the help of the union that typically endorses Democrats.

Big Labor is savvy enough to know that Crist is an untrustworthy ally. The labor bosses, not unreasonably, may figure that Crist is headed for third place. And even if Meek loses (quite likely), Big Labor won’t have burned its bridges with its devoted beneficiary, the Democratic Party. In politics, loyalty counts for something. Perhaps Florida voters, unlike those who turned out for primaries in Pennsylvania and Arkansas, have a yen for mushy moderates with no defined ideology other than self-promotion. But I doubt it.

It’s not clear to which voters Charlie Crist will appeal. He’s burned his bridges with the GOP. And his independent status isn’t gaining him any new supporters:

The labor union AFL-CIO has endorsed a Democrat in the race for Florida’s open U.S. Senate seat after an unusual sales pitch by the state’s governor, who’s running as an independent. The labor union chose on Sunday to back U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek in the Senate race. Meek served seven years in the state Legislature before being elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2002.The decision comes two days after Gov. Charlie Crist appeared before the union’s leaders to ask for their support. Crist, a lifelong Republican until this month, had never before sought the help of the union that typically endorses Democrats.

Big Labor is savvy enough to know that Crist is an untrustworthy ally. The labor bosses, not unreasonably, may figure that Crist is headed for third place. And even if Meek loses (quite likely), Big Labor won’t have burned its bridges with its devoted beneficiary, the Democratic Party. In politics, loyalty counts for something. Perhaps Florida voters, unlike those who turned out for primaries in Pennsylvania and Arkansas, have a yen for mushy moderates with no defined ideology other than self-promotion. But I doubt it.

Read Less

Bibi Is Right to Be Nervous

The New York Times reports:

Brushing aside international calls for stricter sanctions against it, Iran said Tuesday it had begun enriching uranium for use in a medical reactor to a higher level of purity, raising the stakes again in its dispute with the United States and other countries over its nuclear program. The United States responded by saying it would seek United Nations backing for new sanctions within weeks.

Doesn’t sound like a very swift process, does it? Especially since the Chinese remain vocally opposed to sanctions. (“But news reports on Tuesday quoted a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman , Ma Zhaoxu, as urging continued ‘dialogue and negotiations,’ refusing to be drawn on the question of sanctions.”) Bibi Netanyahu responded with a statement that seems as much aimed at the Obami as at the Iranians: “I believe that what is required right now is tough action from the international community. … This means not moderate sanctions, or watered-down sanctions. This means crippling sanctions, and these sanctions must be applied right now.”

What Bibi is referring to is no secret. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have both been downplaying the “crippling” part of the “crippling sanctions” that the Obama team has been promising for months. They insist the sanctions must be focused so as not to impact the Iranian people. What those might look like and how we could possibly impact the regime by such narrowly focused measures have been left vague. Meanwhile, there are very serious sanctions that in slightly different forms have passed both the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate, but the Obama team has been noticeably cool to those. Too crippling, I suppose.

So let’s see if, in the face of the abject failure of its engagement strategy, and with bipartisan support in Congress for very tough sanctions — “not moderate sanctions, or watered-down sanctions” — the Obami can make a final stab at preventing the revolutionary Islamic state from going nuclear. I suppose we’ll know “within weeks” — but then the Obama team was supposed to get serious in September, and again at the close of 2009. We’ve seen this routine before. Bibi is right to be nervous.

The New York Times reports:

Brushing aside international calls for stricter sanctions against it, Iran said Tuesday it had begun enriching uranium for use in a medical reactor to a higher level of purity, raising the stakes again in its dispute with the United States and other countries over its nuclear program. The United States responded by saying it would seek United Nations backing for new sanctions within weeks.

Doesn’t sound like a very swift process, does it? Especially since the Chinese remain vocally opposed to sanctions. (“But news reports on Tuesday quoted a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman , Ma Zhaoxu, as urging continued ‘dialogue and negotiations,’ refusing to be drawn on the question of sanctions.”) Bibi Netanyahu responded with a statement that seems as much aimed at the Obami as at the Iranians: “I believe that what is required right now is tough action from the international community. … This means not moderate sanctions, or watered-down sanctions. This means crippling sanctions, and these sanctions must be applied right now.”

What Bibi is referring to is no secret. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have both been downplaying the “crippling” part of the “crippling sanctions” that the Obama team has been promising for months. They insist the sanctions must be focused so as not to impact the Iranian people. What those might look like and how we could possibly impact the regime by such narrowly focused measures have been left vague. Meanwhile, there are very serious sanctions that in slightly different forms have passed both the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate, but the Obama team has been noticeably cool to those. Too crippling, I suppose.

So let’s see if, in the face of the abject failure of its engagement strategy, and with bipartisan support in Congress for very tough sanctions — “not moderate sanctions, or watered-down sanctions” — the Obami can make a final stab at preventing the revolutionary Islamic state from going nuclear. I suppose we’ll know “within weeks” — but then the Obama team was supposed to get serious in September, and again at the close of 2009. We’ve seen this routine before. Bibi is right to be nervous.

Read Less

The Media vs. the American People

Are reporters above the law? Should they be?

We have lately been running laps around this block in connection with the 2005 leak of the NSA terrorist surveillance program and the 2003 exposure of Valerie Plame’s CIA status. The first of these two episodes did not land any reporters into trouble, but a federal grand jury is still hearing evidence in the case and there was movement in it last month. The second led to Judith Miller of the New York Times being put in the slammer by a court. There she remained for 85 days, until she disgorged the identity of her confidential source: Scooter Libby.

Another issue is now compelling us to running around the block yet again: the anthrax attacks of 2001 that killed five people. Steven J. Hatfill, the bioterrorism expert who was named in the media as a suspect, has brought a civil suit against the government for violating his rights under the Privacy Act. In order to demonstrate how the government trampled on his privacy, Hatfill wants to obtain the notes of journalists who received disparaging information about him from confidential sources in the FBI and Justice Department.

Read More

Are reporters above the law? Should they be?

We have lately been running laps around this block in connection with the 2005 leak of the NSA terrorist surveillance program and the 2003 exposure of Valerie Plame’s CIA status. The first of these two episodes did not land any reporters into trouble, but a federal grand jury is still hearing evidence in the case and there was movement in it last month. The second led to Judith Miller of the New York Times being put in the slammer by a court. There she remained for 85 days, until she disgorged the identity of her confidential source: Scooter Libby.

Another issue is now compelling us to running around the block yet again: the anthrax attacks of 2001 that killed five people. Steven J. Hatfill, the bioterrorism expert who was named in the media as a suspect, has brought a civil suit against the government for violating his rights under the Privacy Act. In order to demonstrate how the government trampled on his privacy, Hatfill wants to obtain the notes of journalists who received disparaging information about him from confidential sources in the FBI and Justice Department.

U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton, the same judge who presided over the trial of Libby, is hearing the matter. Yesterday, he dealt a blow to the five reporters whose notes are being sought. “The names of the sources are central to Dr. Hatfill’s case,” he wrote in a 31-page opinion.

Is this good news or bad? Attorneys and lobbyists for the news media argue that forcing a breach of confidentiality in this way will impair the ability of reporters to gather the news. Government officials are unlikely to tell reporters what they know, goes the argument, if their identities might one day be disclosed.

True enough, but the law is the law. Journalists cannot merely declare themselves above it, whether they are disclosing U.S. counterterrorism programs or besmirching the reputation of an innocent individual. (Hatfill was never charged with any crime but in 2002 was named by Attorney General John Ashcroft as a “person of interest” to the investigation.) The press, of course, does enjoy First Amendment protection, but this is hardly unlimited and does not constitute a license to do or say as one pleases regardless of the consequences, as so many journalists seem to believe.

If members of press think we are ill-served by the laws as they stand, they can lobby to change them. A bill to do just that and establish a “shield” for journalists is currently before the U.S. House of Representatives. But successive congresses have considered such a bill only to reject it. I have argued, on a number of grounds, that such a bill is a bad idea whose time has not arrived. Thus far the American people, acting through their elected representatives, would seem to concur. Until such a law is passed, journalists are obliged to follow the rules as they stand or, as Judith Miller chose to do, defy the courts, which means defying the duly passed laws of the United States and taking the consequences.

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.