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Springtime For Slanderers
Who are you calling a Nazi?


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Jonah Goldberg

In South Africa, we call it apartheid. In Nazi Germany, we’d call it fascism. Here in the United States, we call it conservatism,” said Jesse Jackson years ago. There’s no evidence that he’s changed his mind. During the Florida mess he accused Bush of “Nazi tactics” and suggested that Jeb Bush was deliberately targeting Holocaust victims, “once again.”

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This reveals the fundamental psychological defect of the Left today: a failure of the imagination. I’m not trying to excuse these people; but I honestly think they mean it. One of the reasons I’ve reached this conclusion is that some readers of my syndicated columns defending Ashcroft — but especially some newly arrived liberal readers of NRO — seem sincere when they call John Ashcroft a Nazi and me a Nazi or Nazi sympathizer.

Now, clearly tensions are running high over Ashcroft and the fallout over Florida. More importantly, Nazism and the Holocaust are hardly joking matters. So let me be very careful in how I talk about this.

If you honestly think John Ashcroft or elected Republicans in general are Nazis, then you are either a moron of ground-shaking proportions or you are so daft that you shouldn’t be allowed to play with grown-up scissors. And, just to be clear: To all of those people I’ve corresponded with on this topic over the last few weeks, I am talking about you. I’m also referring to those like-minded chaps who were never able to write me because they electrocuted themselves while trying to type e-mail in the bathtub. But they too were idiots.

Why are they idiots? Because they, like the Leftist core of the Democratic party, cannot tell the difference between someone saying, “You can’t have a free car” and someone running people down with his car. They don’t understand that opposing preferential treatment for some minorities or advocating colorblindness in government programs is not the same thing as calling for the restoration of Jim Crow or slavery. They don’t understand that cutting off some entitlement is not a pogrom and that good and honest people can oppose egalitarian agendas without being fascists. And, they do not understand that something can be constitutionally permissible and morally wrong and/or illegal (though I know a few conservatives who struggle with this from time to time too).

My first major lesson in this phenomenon came when I was a researcher at the American Enterprise Institute at the time The Bell Curve came out. Murray, the coauthor of the book and an AEI scholar, was treated to a shellacking in the national press that has not been replicated since. Television networks introduced their segments by showing clips of Hitler screaming and mobs sieg-heiling at Nuremberg rallies. He was called a eugenicist and fascist in code — and in plain language — a thousand times over. His book pointed out a fact that the most entrenched liberals consider sacred scripture — that there are inequalities between the races-but he differed from orthodoxy on the causes and solutions. It is the wonder of liberal double standards that it is racist to say there are differences between the races and it is racist to say there aren’t.

Now, one may not agree with every conclusion in Murray’s book (though I guarantee that 99% of those who say Murray’s a racist, etc., haven’t the first clue as to what he actually wrote), but there’s simply nothing in there that would draw one to conclude he’s a Nazi. I know, like, and respect Murray a great deal but, sadly, he’s a soaked-to-the-bone libertarian. He believes everything from government-run garbage collecting to federal mandates requiring mattress tags are examples of the tyrannical overreach of the U.S. government. And yet Murray’s critics didn’t blink at saying he advocated herding people into camps for mass sterilizations.

Since then I’ve kept a mental file of those who think reducing the role, size, and power of the federal government is synonymous with, or code for, implementing a totalitarian regime.

Just a few of my favorite examples:

  •  During the debates over the Contract with America Rep. John Lewis read Martin Niemoller’s timeless speech about the Nazi takeover: “They came first for the Communists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist. Then they came for the Jews … trade unionists … Catholics … Protestants …” And then with all the gravity he could muster he said, “Read the Republican contract. They are coming for the children. They are coming for the poor. They are coming for the sick, the elderly, and the disabled.”
  •  In addition to his comments that Bush used Nazi tactics and that Jeb targeted Holocaust survivors all over again, Jesse Jackson also said that he saw little to no difference between the Dred Scott case (which upheld slavery) and the Supreme Court decision stopping the Florida recounts.
  •  Remember Ted Kennedy denouncing Robert Bork? He said that in Robert Bork’s America “…blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters, rogue police could break down citizens’ doors in midnight raids.” In 1987, People for the American Way ran ads saying that Bork favored “mass sterilization” and Gregory Peck hosted a commercial suggesting Bork favored restoring literacy tests and the poll tax.

Now, I know the “Contract with America” cut taxes and shifted various social-welfare entitlements to the states. But maybe I missed the Leni Riefenstahl film that depicted Hitler calling for more local autonomy for Bavarian welfare programs or lower income taxes; that’s hardly the central tenet of the National Socialism I read about in college. As for Jackson’s comparison of the Dred Scott and recount cases, the only law school in America that would give this analysis a passing grade would also give you a free refrigerator-repair kit upon graduation. And as for all the stuff they threw at Bork, well, that buffoonery speaks for itself.

Of course, the smear that American conservatism is akin to Nazism is not new. Indeed, over 30 years ago, Gore Vidal, called William F. Buckley a “crypto-Nazi” on TV. To which Mr. Buckley, fed up with the slander, responded: “Now, listen you queer, stop calling me a crypto-Nazi or I’ll sock you in the goddamn face.”

Which brings up the appropriate response to such accusations. Calling someone a Nazi is as bad as calling them a “nigger” or a “kike” or anything else you can think of. It’s not cute. It’s not funny. And it’s certainly not clever. If you’re too stupid to understand that a philosophy that favors a federally structured republic, with numerous restraints on the scope and power of government to interfere with individual rights or the free market, is a lot different from an ethnic-nationalist, atheistic, and socialist program of genocide and international aggression, you should use this rule of thumb: If someone isn’t advocating the murder of millions of people in gas chambers and a global Reich for the White Man you shouldn’t assume he’s a Nazi and you should know it’s pretty damn evil to call him one.

However, if you’re not too stupid to recognize the difference, but you just think saying such things will get you more attention from the press, make you a hero to some constituency, or simply makes you sound impressive, than you deserve to be socked in the goddamn face.

And one last point I feel compelled to point out. I’ve never met a real social-welfare state leftist who could answer the following question without having to think real hard: “Aside from the murder and genocide, what exactly don’t you like about National Socialism?”

And I’ve never met a conservative who didn’t have an answer at his fingertips. So, who’s really closer to being a Nazi?



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