N word

No, not that one– “Nazi.”  Diane McWhorter has a very provocative article in Slate about how the term “Nazi” has become political anathema– you are guaranteed to set off a firestorm by making any comparisons to the Nazis.  Yet, there are certainly places where the comparisons may be apt and she argues that these are among the greatest failings of the present administration.  The highlights:

For some reason, I keep thinking about an observation Eleanor Roosevelt
made in an unpublished interview conducted in May of 1940, as the
German Wehrmacht swept across France. She expressed dismay
that a “great many Americans” would look with favor on a Hitler victory
in Europe and be greatly attracted to fascism. Why? “Simply because we
are a people who tend to admire things that work,” she said. So, were
the voters last month protesting Bush's policies?or were they
complaining that he had not made those policies work? If Operation
Iraqi Freedom had not been such an unqualified catastrophe, how long
would the public have assented to the programs that accompanied the
“war on terror”: the legalization of torture, the suspension of habeas
corpus, the unauthorized surveillance of law-abiding Americans, the
unilateral exercise of executive power, and the Bush team's avowed
prerogative to “create our own reality”?…

The extent to which it is verboten to bring up Nazi Germany has now
become a jape. “Can't pols just have little Post-its on their
microphones reminding them not to compare anything to the Nazis?”
Maureen Dowd wrote in the Times recently, after yet another off-message senator was taken to the woodshed…

The taboo is itself a precept of the propaganda state. Usually its
enforcers profess a politically correct motive: the exceptionalism of
genocidal Jewish victimhood. Thus, poor Sen. Richard Durbin, the
Democrat from Illinois, found himself apologizing to the
Anti-Defamation League after Republicans jumped all over him for
invoking Nazi Germany to describe the conditions at Guantanamo. And so
by allowing the issue to be defined by the unique suffering of the
Jews, we ignore the Holocaust's more universal hallmark: the banal
ordinariness of the citizens who perpetrated it. The relevance of Third
Reich Germany to today's America is not that Bush equals Hitler or that
the United States government is a death machine. It's that it provides
a rather spectacular example of the insidious process by which decent
people come to regard the unthinkable as not only thinkable but doable,
justifiable. Of the way freethinkers and speakers become compliant and
self-censoring. Of the mechanism by which moral or humanistic
categories are converted into bureaucratic ones. And finally, of the
willingness with which we hand control over to the state and convince
ourselves that we are the masters of our destiny.

It is a powerful and thoughtful essay.  It was tempting to just paste the whole thing.  Just read it.

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

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