Even Hitler would be offended by the repeated invocation of the Nazis by opponents of changes in health care provisions.
This past week's examples -- related to a requirement that contraception be included in health insurance -- are only the latest examples. Here's Chuck Colson's Nazi comparison. Here's Eric Metaxas doing it. And just for context, here was Newt Gingrich doing it last year.
I'm not going to be able to improve on Jon Stewart's rebuke from earlier this week on The Daily Show. As he pointed out, there was really nothing incremental about the Nazis. They didn't start by shifting insurance coverage. There was nothing hidden or subtle about the Nazis' ambitions. Hitler's virulent anti-Semitism was central to his writings long before most Germans knew who Hitler was. And when the Nazis held power, their brutality was enforced with brownshirts and bullets, not so much with bureaucratic maneuverings.
As Stewart nailed it: "When the Nazis came for people, they also left with them. It wasn't a metaphor."
But that's not why the repeated use of Nazis in this discussion is so offensive. A cavalier tossing around of Hitler comparisons disrespects every victim of the Third Reich and every soldier -- American and otherwise -- who fought and in many cases died to defeat it.
The Nazis were not simply bad guys. Weren't simply brutal. Weren't simply evil. The Nazis were the Trinidad scorpion peppers of evil. Once you turn there with your rhetoric, you have no place else to go.
History is replete with examples of lesser but still massive brutality, hatred and oppression. Heck, Stalin and Mao killed more people. Al Qaeda has lasted longer. Saddam Hussein's use of poison gas on his own people was incredibly horrific.
But none of them, and no other example you want to name, measures up (or down) to the Nazis. Here's what made the Nazis the Nazis: An open, massive, systematic, deadly destruction of peoples -- Jews, homosexuals, Roma -- in unprecedented numbers and for no rationalization beyond the decision to declare them un-people.
When Stalin created the gulags, he was targeting people who were, ostensibly, political opponents and a potential threat to his power. Mao's Cultural Revolution was flat-out crazy, nearly as random in its victims as an earthquake. Other examples are smaller or contain at their core a battle over power or land or property. The recent example of the Sudan, to pick one, involved people living on oil-rich land who were targeted for murder. Evil, yes, but understandable in the same way one can understand the motives behind a bank robbery or a kidnap for ransom.
But what was the potential upside for Hitler of exterminating the Jews et al? Sure, there was a bit of property and money involved. But I've never seen that the Nazis did a balance sheet -- cost of the Final Solution versus the cash benefit. And while there's no doubt that the Jews opposed the Nazis, they never held enough political power to make an ounce of difference.
And then there was the systematic nature of the Holocaust. This was not an operation that the Nazis did in the dark. They kept records to shame any bureaucracy you can name. Those numbers you see tattooed onto the arms of the few survivors? Those are the 1930s equivalent of post office tracking numbers -- a way for the Nazis to carefully account for each victim.
And account, they did. That so many of those records survived the end of the war is among the reasons why Holocaust denial is so obviously a matter of simple hate and not an intellectually defensible historical discussion.
The Nazis were also masters of best technology of the era. There were other evil and hateful regimes in history. But they were forced to operate murder-by-retail, one victim at a time. The Nazi gas chambers, not to mention the open trenches and machine guns, enabled them to dispose of their innocent and helpless victims by the millions in a relatively short time.
So when a politician or putative pundit pulls the "Nazi" comparison, here's what they're saying: Their American political opponents are on the way to approving massive, systematic, open, meticulously measured, murders of innocent and helpless victims without apparent political or material benefit using the latest in technology and on a scale that beggars the imagination.
Even if their targets are wrong, even if their targets are evil, to say they're anything like Nazis demonstrates either demagogic cynicism or an ignorance of history. Unless they believe that their opponents really are like the Nazis.
I will grant that some who are engaged in the health care debate may actually want to go there. For some, abortions (and even birth control) represent a massive system of murders that are comparable to the Holocaust.
To them I would respectfully say: You do realize that you are vastly outnumbered by your fellow citizens? Only the small minority who would eliminate abortion for any reason except to save the mother's life (essentially self-defense) actually, literally equates abortion with murder. I've never seen a poll to indicates that represents anything more than a fringe of American public opinion.
And while morality is not necessarily a matter for referendum, do you really want to declare that the vast majority of Americans are tantamount to Hitler and the SS? That they represent an evil that is as evil as the most evil institution in modern history? Does the level of disagreement not at least give you some pause before you issue such a blanket and absolute condemnation?
You'd need to be very, very sure of yourself to do something like that. Like these folks.