It is a cardinal rule in American political discourse that one refrain from associating an opponent or an opposing position with Adolph Hitler or the Nazis. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) discovered this all too well when he found himself on the floor of the Senate, apologizing for having associated American military police personnel at Abu Ghraib with Nazi concentration camp guards. That said; it makes for a rather insightful discussion when we stop to analyze several of Rush Limbaugh’s recent insinuations that the present administration of Barack Obama resembles the regime of Adolph Hitler.
Back in August, at the height of the health care town hall follies, Mr. Limbaugh attempted to theoretically tie the Obama administration to that of Adolph Hitler by pointing out that Hitler and the Nazis opposed big business, cigarette smoking, Jewish Capitalism and environmental degradation. Limbaugh’s grasp of the Nazi platform is largely accurate. The Nazi 25 Point Program of 1920 called for the nationalization of all corporations, profit sharing by large industries, a communalization of department stores and, where necessary, the seizure of land without compensation for the good of the community. German doctors were the first to link tobacco consumption with lung cancer and the Nazi regime instituted the world’s first government backed anti-smoking campaign. By the 1930s, Germany had the most powerful conservation program in the world. My problem with Mr. Limbaugh lies in his ipso facto reasoning that reaches back in history to elements of a particular regime and suggests that they are in some way organically linked to the present. Beyond this elementary appreciation for Nazi economic and social policy, Mr. Limbaugh has strayed far from reality in his assertion that Hitler affected a reduction in chronic unemployment by a policy of mass arrest and internment at the Dachau concentration camp. Limbaugh has gone so far as to suggest that Nancy Pelosi has advocated the arrest of those who refuse to purchase insurance under a reformed health care system and have the arrested interned in prisons, which would thereby reduce the level of unemployment.
In a July 2009 interview with Greta Van Susteren, of Fox News, Limbaugh boasted of his “refusal to go to college” as if this were somehow a badge of honor. Perhaps it is this lack of a formal education that lies at the root of his constant misapplication of history as a means of explaining present day politics. With regard to government efforts to stabilize the economy, Limbaugh has wrongly conflated sound Keynesian measures with all-encompassing state control in a centralized economy. Outside of a relative handful of libertarian economists, you would be hard put to find any reputable economic thinker today who does not agree with the fact that government action a year ago prevented the world from sliding into another depression. On the topic of health care it is impossible to deny that the system here is not broken and that the market has failed to adequately deliver affordable care at a reasonable cost to the majority of Americans. Would Mr. Limbaugh and his fellow travelers have preferred a collapse of the banking system and Detroit along with it so as to test conservative economic theories in real life? The mere fact that the federal government has acted to shore up the financial system and the auto industry does not equate with a centralized program of nationalizing all industry nor is it a harbinger of some economy-wide profit sharing scheme. Most educated individuals are sophisticated enough to see this so my question is, why can’t Mr. Limbaugh? Does the fact that the Nazis recognized the dangers of smoking do anything to undermine the now more than established fact that tobacco consumption is unhealthy? With regard to Nazi environmental policy, a recently published book: How Green Were the Nazis? Nature, Environment, and Nation in the Third Reich, points out that the environmental movement’s popularity pre-dated the Nazi regime and many of the policies enacted under Hitler would have come about anyway.
It is in his contention that the Nazis reduced unemployment via a policy of mass arrest and internment that Mr. Limbaugh reveals just how little he actually knows about Nazi policies aimed at reducing unemployment in pre-war Germany. As a college senior, I undertook a yearlong study of German labor policy from 1876 to 1976 and over the course of this project and all of the material examined in the course of a year, I never once came across any evidence that mass arrest and internment were a major component of pre-war German labor policy. During the course of the three-hour oral examination that I took at the conclusion of this study, my supervising professor never once interrupted me to point out that arrest and internment were an essential element in reducing unemployment in Nazi Germany. Rather than through mass arrests, unemployment was reduced by public works and conservation corps projects, paid employment within the Nazi Party, the subtraction of women from the labor force via family building and marriage incentives, the recruitment of one million men into the military and the economic disenfranchisement of Jews, Communists, Socialists and Pacifists and their subsequent classification as being no longer in the work force. While many in this last category did in fact find themselves behind bars that was never the main element in pre-war Nazi labor policy. A concise review of this subject can be found at Nazi Economics: http://www.papillonsartpalace.com/nazi.htm.
It is one thing for Mr. Limbaugh to try to spin historical facts upon the present policies of the Obama administration and thereby attempt to force fit the past into the present. It is an altogether different matter when Mr. Limbaugh misrepresents one narrow element of the Nazi regime as having been it’s main policy tool for reducing unemployment and then, beyond that, to suggest that Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi actually intend to enforce adherence to a reformed health care program by way of mass arrest, which would have the corollary benefit of reducing unemployment. Such a misrepresentation of history goes beyond the pale of a polite and informed disagreement and crosses over into the realm of fraudulent misinterpretation. One can only wonder if Mr. Limbaugh’s actual intent is the undermining a legitimately elected president who, for all of his missteps, is still grappling with the worst economic environment in eighty years. If Mr. Limbaugh has a problem with Barack Obama’s approach to dealing with this nation’s present predicament then let him endeavor to confine his arguments to the realm of established facts. It would benefit Mr. Limbaugh to leave the intellectual flights of fancy and the fantasizing about Hitler and the Nazis to the denizens who inhabit the netherworld of the far right blogosphere. On the other hand if Rush Limbaugh sees his future in reinterpreting history to the point of corrupting facts beyond recognition, then so be it. It will be his reputation that will suffer far greater damage than it already has. Mr. Limbaugh’s content free cackle about Communism, Socialism, Fascism and his conflating of these three ideologies to the point where one can only wonder if he really understands the difference between them in the first place, adds nothing to the national political debate. From what I can observe, the only discernible positive that emanates from Mr. Limbaugh’s commentary is that it further burnishes his image as America’s national buffoon.
Steven J. Gulitti
New York City
28 November 2009