Back in the halcyon days following George W Bush’s inauguration, detractors and opponents of many stripes referred to W and his administration as Nazi’s. Even before the days of borderline fascist government policies like the PATRIOT ACT or warrantless wiretapping and torture apologists, lefties and others handed out poorly Xeroxed pamphlets featuring W’s face with a Hitler mustache. Now, the jack boot is on the left foot, with hard line right wing conservatives dropping the Nazi card when referring to all things not Right as some form or another of Nazism. Most recently, Fox News chief Roger Ailes called the top brass at NPR “the left wing of Nazism” and said they have a “Nazi attitude.” Allies’ comments refer to the firing of NPR news analyst Juan Williams, after he told Bill O’Reilly that Muslims make him “nervous.”
It seems somewhere along the line the word “Nazi” devolved to something of a schoolyard insult like “dork” or “geek” on the political playground. The fetish American partisan politics has for labeling the opposition party didn’t just show up around the year 2000. Clinton, George H.W. Bush and Reagan all had their detractors shouting “Nazi.” (1)
Maybe a portion of America zoned out when history teachers covered WWII, but Nazi’s didn’t terminate contracts, they terminated people. Nazi’s committed genocide, tortured, brutalized and murdered millions, attempted to conquer the world and committed countless other war crimes and atrocities. While many of the Nazi’s of WWII are long dead, their legacy survives in plenty of folks who don swastika armbands, pray to Odin and assault those who aren’t straight, white and proud. (2)
Often, when the Nazi card gets played, it’s when comparing the actions of a person, organization or government to that of the S.S., or Stasi, or KGB, or other dictatorial secret police organizations. When someone calls an opponent or rival a Nazi – it’s usually referring to some injustice related to the stifling of opinion or dissent, curbing civil liberties, or other behaviors common to most totalitarian societies. In other words, most of the time, Nazi actually means “fascist.”
The right may have a harder time using the term today, since so many U.S. policies and practices stemming from neoconservatives in the last few decades (3) skirt the fascist line pretty closely. But still, not many active politicians or other Americans advocate eugenics, deny or advocate another holocaust, or hope for an Aryan master race to rule the world. Why then, should anyone throw around a word representing something so vial to describe anyone who disagrees with a point of view?
The American political system has become so hyperbolic and so histrionic, we’ve lost some context for things that are truly evil. Comparing partisan politics and the actions of media moguls to that of the behavior of butchers and genocidal maniacs isn’t helping prevent another Hitler from rising to power. If anything, it’s further numbing our understanding of what real Nazi’s were. It’s time to retire the accusation from our political discourse.
- Full disclosure – I’m sure I’ve called plenty of people Nazi’s in the past, so I’m just as guilty here.
- The Nazi legacy also lives on in the U.S. thanks to the CIA and other American intelligence officials giving former Nazi’s safe harbor.
- See the following: PATRIOT ACT, Torture Justification (arguably though, a pretty Naziesque behavior), Pre-emptive war, COINTELPRO, the Information Awareness Office.