A few days ago I opened my email inbox and was surprised to see a message, from a member of a conservative online publication, stating they’d used my column “Sixty Years after Hitler” but had forgotten to tell me – much less ask permission to use it. The member further noted that many people had posted insulting remarks disagreeing with some of my opinions about what Hitler would do if he were in charge of various countries today. I was asked to respond in writing, and spent a couple of hours crafting a letter that zinged the most insipid and historically imprecise objections. The member gleefully responded, “Touché, Mr. Clark. Too, too ‘shay!’ I’ll notify each of these posters of your replies. You are much too erudite to be pestered by these dolts.”
That marked the farewell of cordial emails between the member and me. In my next message I mentioned that I was liberal to moderate on most issues, and therefore “shocked by the poster of Hillary Clinton wearing a swastika and saluting like Hitler… The swastika is a symbol of mass murder and aggression. Surely, most of Hillary’s political opponents wouldn’t approve of the poster,” which, by the threads of posted commentary, was at least graphically linked to my column.
“When a (Democratic) party thinks it is acceptable to label the President of the United States ‘Hitler’ and other shockingly pejorative terms,” the member responded, “then I suppose that whatever posters the right puts up, aimed at Hillary, are tolerable.” That was another jolt. Though some of the “doltish” readers had oh-so-cleverly called the aforementioned New York Senator “Hitlery Rodham,” or just plain old “Hitlery,” I hadn’t expected such truculence from an ostensibly reasonable citizen.
Nevertheless, I was obligated to immediately investigate her assertion. At that point I was starting to believe Bush really must have been “Hitlerized.” I just needed proof. Thanks to the long reach of the net, I soon had two distorted images. The first is from a late 1930’s photograph of a political appearance by Mussolini and Hitler. The uniformed Duce, with Dick Cheney’s face superimposed, is saluting high with his right arm. And a determined Bush, left arm ablaze in a swastika, is standing erect by his ally. In the second, on a large banner, Bush and Hitler are pictured side by side, Hitler’s torso bearing a swastika and Bush’s part of the American flag. The caption reads: “Same shit, different asshole!”
Assuredly, both sides are doing it. Rather, the most fanatical members of each fringe are doing it. And it’s neither funny nor fair. For those who need a historical reminder, once Hitler acquired the requisite power, he was ceaselessly dedicated to conquest and genocide. Neither G.W. nor Hillary are within a light year of that, and wouldn’t want to be, and you know it, and so do the people creating the images as well as those cranking out flabby essays that try and fail to link liberal or conservative behavior to Nazism.
So what the hell is going on? I decided to write Jeff Danziger, whose editorial cartoons are nationally distributed by the New York Times Syndicate. Danziger last fall was himself bombarded by accusations of ideological excess when he portrayed Condoleezza Rice barefoot and grimacing like an ignoramus as she cradles a baby-like aluminum tube for (nonexistent) Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. And she says, “I knows all about aluminum tubes… (Correction)… I don’t know nuthin’ about aluminum tubes.” Realizing he’d inadvertently pushed parody into a racial stereotype, Danziger and the syndicate pulled the cartoon.
“How do you feel about what seems to be an increasing tendency of liberals and conservatives to call each other fascists?” I asked.
“I have only ever done Bill Gates and Tom DeLay as Nazis,” Danziger wrote. “And those were done in broad Hogan’s Heroes-like form. My own feeling is that most human beings have fascist tendencies, and without the threat of getting caught, will exercise them readily. Not because they hate their fellow men, but because it makes decisions easier.”
Indeed, fascist states often resolve disputes by jailing or killing opponents. In democracies, debate and compromise take the places of incarceration and murder. Elected politicians understand that, and shouldn’t be branded with swastikas. Reserve those for people who really do dwell in the darkest corner of the soul.