The Corner

Richard Cohen and Grover Norquist

Right on the cutting edge of the cultural zeitgeist, Richard Cohen writes about a comment made by Grover Norquist in October of 2003. This follows on the heels of his last column in which he confessed that he was “the last person in the world to discover” the word “metrosexual,” months after the pseudo issue came up and died out.

As for his comments about Norquist, I pretty much agree (except where he says that it’s “pretty hard to overstate Norquist’s importance in contemporary Washington.” I think it’s pretty easy to overstate it and people do everyday).

Anyway, Cohen skewers Grover for comparing the estate tax to the Holocaust. Here are the relevant passages:

This remark, so bizarre and tasteless that I felt it deserved checking, sent me to the transcript of the show, where, sure enough, it was confirmed. In it Norquist referred to the supposedly specious argument that the estate tax was worth keeping because it really affected only “2 percent of Americans.” He went on: “I mean, that’s the morality of the Holocaust. ‘Well, it’s only a small percentage,’ you know. I mean, it’s not you. It’s somebody else.”

From the transcript, it seems that Gross couldn’t believe her ears. “Excuse me,” she interjected. “Excuse me one second. Did you just . . . compare the estate tax with the Holocaust?”

Norquist explained himself. “No, the morality that says it’s okay to do something to a group because they’re a small percentage of the population is the morality that says the Holocaust is okay because they didn’t target everybody, just a small percentage.” He went on to liken the estate tax to apartheid in the old South Africa and to the communist regime of the old East Germany. How he neglected Iraq under Saddam Hussein I will never know….

….To my mind, the Holocaust should be compared only to itself. I make some allowance for, say, Rwanda or the massacre of Muslims at Srebrenica or the gulag of Stalin’s Soviet Union. But when it comes to legalized murder by a state, almost nothing can approach it — not in its size, not in its breadth and not in its virtually incomprehensible bestiality. The morality of the Holocaust, I would argue, is somehow different from that of the estate tax.

Now, I understand what Norquist is saying here and there’s considerable validity to his logic. But the analogy is ultimately absurd and offensive and Cohen is right to point it out. The Holocaust was not about over-taxing a small group of very wealthy people.

But isn’t it kind of amazing that Cohen chooses this topic to get uppity about? The same week, nay the same year, that the leftist zanies energizing much of the Democratic nomination process — and, of course, the leftist buzz on the web — have been comparing Bush to Hitler, Cohen decides to zing Norquist on a three month old comment on a topic no longer in the news. At least Norquist was clear that he was using logic to make a generic and defensible point. After all, if it’s okay to stick it to “small” minorities of people, why have civil rights laws?

But those comparing Bush to Hitler and the Republican Party to Nazis aren’t saying that conservatives are akin to Nazis in some abstract sense, they are saying conservatives are Nazis. It seems to me this diminishes the Holocaust a hell of a lot more than some abstract syllogism.

Of course, in Cohen’s defense, he may not have heard about any of this yet. Give him a couple months.