Atrios calls my attention to this fascinating quote from Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa:

“I am sure voters will get their fill of statistics claiming that the Bush tax cut hands out 40 percent of the benefit to the top 1 percent of the taxpayers. This is not merely misleading, it is outright false. Some folks must be under the impression that as long as something is repeated often enough, it will become true. That was how Adolf Hitler got to the top.”

[His remarks are in the Congressional Record for Oct. 1, 2002, p. S9657

This is the link to the on-line Congressional Record; enter S9657, and the page will (slowly, slowly) come up. Or just trust me.]

Atrios recalls the enormous fuss when the German Justice Minister suggested that Bush was pushing war with Iraq to distract Americans from domestic problems. “That’s a popular method. Even Hitler did that,” added the minister (who has since lost her job as a result).

Here’s the lead from the resulting AP story:

As tensions rise between the United States and Germany over differences on Iraq policy, the White House on Thursday called a German government minister’s comparison of President Bush to Adolf Hitler “outrageous and inexplicable.”

(“The White House” being shorthand for Ari Fleischer, who certainly qualifies as an expert on outrageous and inexplicable statements, starting with his immortal assertion that all those Holocaust survivors in Palm Beach really intended to vote for Pat Buchanan.)

Atrios wonders why there has been no comparable fuss about Grassley. So do I, especially since the 40% figure, while debatable (it depends on how one estimates the distributional impact of repealing the estate tax), is certainly not “outright false.” [Unlike, for example, Bush’s claim that the cuts wouldn’t lead to huge deficits.]

Calling one’s political opponents Nazis is, in general, a bad thing to do, both because it needlessly inflames emotions and because it tends to trivialize the enormity of the Hitler era.

Arguably, though, pointing out that someone’s rhetoric or political tactics are Nazi-like isn’t quite the same thing. After all, it’s true that Hitler used foreign conquest to build domestic political support — though he was hardly the first to do so — and that Goebbels, Streicher, and Hitler himself made major contributions to the theory and practice of political lying and invective. Politicians who really do ape Hitler’s tactics have, it might be said, no just complaint if someone calls them on it.

All this reminds me of a flap in the Boston Globe about a decade ago. Some divers had found a WWII German U-boat on the floor of the Atlantic, and there was talk of refloating it. The Globe’s liberal columnist, Paul Szep, ran a nasty and (I thought) funny cartoon showing two divers, one with his helmet pressed to the U-boat’s hull saying “Yes, this must be the Nazi U-boat. The radio is tuned to Rush Limbaugh.”

Naturally, the dittoheads wrote in protesting this horrible slander, and the liberals responded that the man who had popularized the term “feminazi” really didn’t have any kick coming. Nothing new said on either side.

And then there appeared a letter from an elderly man with a German name, who claimed to have lived in Germany in the 1920s. He said he had listened to Goebbels on the radio then, and that Limbaugh’s technique seemed to be a direct copy.

Having heard neither Goebbels or Limbaugh, I can’t say whether that comparison was accurate. But insofar as it was, is there anything unfair about saying so in public? John Peter Zenger was right: in general, truth is a good defense, morally as well as legally.

On the other hand, falsely accusing someone of “big lie” tactics, and tying that accusation to Hitler’s name, is certainly a despicable thing to do. And that’s what Grassley just did, slandering Al Gore and most of his supporters. Where, quoth Bill Bennett, is the outrage?

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: