Encountering a Tea Party Outrage
Editor’s Note: A bizarre feature of America’s right-wing Tea Party movement is its attempt to equate the mildly reformist administration of Barack Obama with the virulent Nazism of Adolf Hitler.
Fabian Lieschke of Germany encountered this phenomenon on the streets of Washington and found himself nearly tongue-tied as he reacted to the slander, not only to President Obama but to the victims of Hitler’s brutality:
As a young German, I feel responsible for keeping the memory of the Holocaust victims alive. I am determined that no one, whom I can reach with my voice or through my writing, will forget about what happened between 1933 and 1945.
In January, the 65th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, a concentration camp where one million people were put to death, reminded us of man’s potential for cruelty and destruction. Auschwitz is a dark symbol of an unparalleled period that knew no reason, no moral, no God.
That our statistics regarding the death toll from World War II vary by tens of millions is testament to the evil legacy of Adolf Hitler’s Nazi regime.
Just a few days before the anniversary of Auschwitz’s liberation, I was walking down a main shopping street in Washington, D.C., and was confronted by members of the much talked about Tea Party. They had set up a stand offering brochures and displaying posters.
One of the images showed President Obama with a photo-shopped toothbrush mustache, insinuating his similarity to Adolf Hitler.
Most people passed the stand seemingly uninterested or with an air of intellectual superiority. I stood there, bewildered. At first, I was not sure what to do. I could walk by and display indifference to their presence. But frankly, my blood was boiling.
So I approached one of the group’s members to utter words that would not have won a debating contest: “What you’re doing here is irresponsible and a disgrace to the victims of the Holocaust.”
The woman retorted with a statement about a looming socialist government and emphasized Obama’s middle name – Hussein.
Walking away from the stand, my mind raced with ways I could have given more justice to the anger I felt. Then I thought that, while my emotions may have hindered the forceful expression of my thoughts, my words had expressed all I really wanted to say.
Before that encounter, over the previous months, I had witnessed the Tea Party Movement unfold from a distance.
I had heard Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann, R-Minnesota, make outrageous statements; I had watched Fox News personality Glenn Beck get away with nasty references; and I had been repulsed by a larger-than-life poster of mutilated concentration camp captives displayed at an anti-health care rally, another bizarre and tasteless comparison between Nazi Germany and the Obama administration.
I thought to myself then: Where is the public outrage at these excesses?
Sure, the political Left and liberal Democrats were quick to criticize the supposedly conservative Tea Party movement. But this disapproval was largely along party lines and mostly focused on politics.
I have yet to hear a comprehensive rejection of the Obama-Nazi comparisons based on moral grounds; based on a commonly shared understanding of decency and integrity; based on a realistic appreciation of history.
I understand the mentality of the Right’s “populist” political culture, especially when a Democrat “occupies” the White House. I know U.S. sensibilities are different from those in most European countries where “capitalism” is the cuss-word, not “socialism.”
Yet this is not about politics, nor someone’s attitude about “free markets.” This transcends politics and economic philosophy. The rejection of comparisons to a regime that coldheartedly engaged in the organized killing of millions of people based on an ideology of hatred should transcend politics.
Repudiation of careless Hitler comparisons should be a given in a democratic country, especially one that considers itself “the leader of the free world.”
Linking President Obama and his administration’s policies to the most infamous man in history is not only objectionable on moral grounds. It has the considerable side effect of making American politics increasingly incapable of sound policy-making.
If it is socially acceptable to so excessively exaggerate an opponent’s presumed “threat,” then unfounded fear will be a constant variable in decision-making – as if policy-making weren’t already complicated enough.
The fact that the Tea Party Movement has become a force to be reckoned with makes it even more important to scrutinize the means and ends of this group. The historical insensitivity – and the outrageous claims – of Tea Party members like those I encountered cannot go unchallenged even at the risk of accusations of elitism.
The deniers of the Holocaust and people who use Adolf Hitler’s likeness to attack the President of the United States have something in common. Both deny that Hitler was an unparalleled evil force of destruction.
To casually use Hitler in political comparisons is to diminish the terrible suffering of the Holocaust victims. When this happens, it is important to speak up.
“What you’re doing here is irresponsible and a disgrace to the victims of the Holocaust,” it must be said. Everyone should understand this simple, yet important message.
Fabian Lieschke is a native of Cologne, Germany.
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