Tuesday, February 5, 2013

"Hitler Card" Denounced

The webpage, Wikipedia cites an adage of the internet known as Godwin's Law (also called Godwin's Rule of Nazi Analogies) which states, "As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches. In other words, as Mike Godwin observed in 1990, given enough time, in any online discussion--regardless of topic or scope--someone inevitably makes a comparison to Hitler or the Nazis." One corollary following from Godwin's Law is that once such a comparison is made, the thread is finished and whomever mentioned the Nazis has automatically lost whatever debate was in progress. The rationale is that when one invokes Hitler, one has left the terra firma of logical debate and now stands on the less than solid ground of emotional manipulation. As on the net, so in print.

Thus, when a fellow columnist in the Longview News Journal (Feb 2) chose to play the "Hitler Card" while doubling down on his contention that re-electing President Obama reveals a fundamental deficit in public decency and virtue, one would be correct in concluding that the conversation was nearing its end. Of course, the writer attempted to create daylight between himself and his own words, but it was disingenuous at best to attempt to do so after the fact. After all, as the saying goes, one can't "un"ring a bell. Likewise, you cannot easily dismiss the specter of arguably history's most monstrous dictator once you've equated his philosophy with that of your opponents.

Yet, our writer adamantly plunges on, arriving at "irrefutable" conclusions from a welter of generalizations drawn from disparate aspects of the rough and tumble political world. Though its not clear how he quantifies a so called "deficiency in character and virtue" which can neatly been placed at the feet of the President and those who voted for him, that is what he myopically continues to insist upon doing. Chief among the confused arguments he relies on is the mixed message of decrying partisanship, even as he proceeds in the next breath to present a litany of hackneyed arguments that are largely partisan.

The issues that continue to be a burr under his saddle appear to be these: The U.S. deficit; the historically significant, growing acceptance of gay marriage; the requirement for religious organizations to recognize employee rights to access to a full range of health care options, including contraception and abortion. And finally, the curious addition of  "various would-be scandals" such as the largely forgotten Fast and Furious incident, and the raid on a diplomatic outpost in Benghazi. The last two would seem to be typical "grey area" non-scandals that are perennial plagues on our foreign policy. The outing of Valery Plame and the use of torture under the Bush administration come to mind, but I don't recall any Hue and Cry from the right over our lost virtue when these were the talk of the nation.

First, it seems to escape the writer's notice that the deficit existed before this President took office. As to the other issues, it never seems to occur to the columnist that we liberals might take our positions precisely because of our view of morality. Like conservatives, we too vote our ethics and values when we enter the voting booth on polling days. Which brings us to the crux of the matter. It's not the loss of virtue that troubles our writer so much as the idea, enshrined in law, that each of us is free to interpret virtue and morality as he or she sees fit. Though the writer seems to believe that in order to preserve the "eternal verities" he frets about, we should move in lockstep, there is no evidence to suggest that we were ever so monolithic.

When we as liberals, vote to extend marriage equality to members of the LGBT community, it is precisely the virtue of fairness and equality that we are promoting. When we embrace the revenue enhancing aspects of the budget, we are expressing the virtue of generosity to our fellow citizens who, through no fault of their own, are struggling just to survive. Hurricane Sandy and subsequently the funds needed to help its victims is only one example among many of how life can overwhelm good, responsible people. When we fight for the employees (many of whom are not religious) of Catholic and other religious organizations to have access to contraception and abortion to plan their families, it is the virtue of respect for privacy and self-determination that are foremost in our thinking.

A rising star of the Republican Party, Governor Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, recently admonished the RNC:
“We’ve got to stop being the stupid party. It’s time for a new Republican Party that talks like adults. We had a number of Republicans damage the brand this year with offensive and bizarre comments. I’m here to say we’ve had enough of that.” Agreed. To that end, conservatives might begin by learning to see our diversity as a strength rather than a weakness.  As to morality, depending on how they are defined, there are between 217 and  30,000 denominations of the Christian church worldwide. If the church itself is incapable of achieving unity in its interpretation and expression of the faith, is it reasonable to expect a government representing over 300 million diverse citizens to be monolithic on moral issues?

Finally, as conceived by the framers, our constitution does not encumber the government with the task of imposing any moral consensus on its citizenry. That is the job of our religious institutions, which frankly, have been there all along. I fail to see how it is appropriate to blame any administration for the moral and ethical shortcomings that we sometimes see today. The government is a reflection of "we the people," not the other way around. But even if the loss of character and virtue that our writer bemoans is real and can be quantified (I'm not prepared to say that it can), is it really possible to place the blame for this on any particular President? I think not. Nor should we countenance the scapegoating of good, decent Americans who voted their values as well as their highest aspirations for our country on November 6, 2012.

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