In the nearly four years that I’ve been with the National Jewish Democratic Council, it seems like at least once a month I draft a press release, blog post or a tweet condemning inappropriate Holocaust references from Republicans. It’s the same thing every time: I see the comment, drop what I’m doing, draft and send our response, and then repeat the process too soon after.
It is deeply saddening that some elected officials — Republicans and Democrats — feel that using the Nazis or the Holocaust to score partisan points is acceptable. It’s not. It’s offensive, and it diminishes the seriousness of the Holocaust when public servants and political leaders are equated with one of the most murderous regimes in human history.
If an exception exists, it would be statements involving Iran or genocidal activities. But politically motivated references demonizing others or attacking issues like gun control, smoking bans and soda restrictions do not come close to that threshold.
Before I started with NJDC, the organization had a clear policy regarding Nazi rhetoric — we speak out against any politician, regardless of party, who uses Hitler or the Holocaust to boost a political profile. We have consistently demonstrated this commitment, even when close friends of ours have used such language. We’ve criticized them both publicly and privately, and accepted their apologies.
Recently, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) recklessly invoked Hitler in a tweet more focused on stirring partisan controversy than having a serious debate about foreign policy.
Before that, the Jewish community was appalled by Glenn Beck’s tasteless depiction of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg — one of America’s top Jewish leaders — in a Nazi-style motif at the National Rifle Association’s convention. Beck was even cheered for his ridiculous stunt by the NRA’s crowd, which might as well have been a GOP adjunct.
In addition, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) refused to say anything when his campaign manager equated the campaign’s leak regarding Ashley Judd with “Gestapo kind of scare tactics.”
In all three cases, Republicans refused to say anything critical. In fact, some even defended Grassley, Beck and McConnell.
McConnell’s fellow Kentuckian in the Senate, Sen. Rand Paul (R), has bemoaned the use of “overplayed” Holocaust rhetoric, despite him frequently using the language and tolerating it from the Tea Party movement that he personifies and represents.
The list of other Republican perpetrators is shockingly long. Some of the worst offenders include Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.), Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), Maine Gov. Paul LePage and Florida Gov. Rick Scott. This list also includes former House Speaker and presidential candidate Newt Gingrich, former Sen. and presidential candidate Rick Santorum, Fox News host and former Gov. Mike Huckabee, former Rep. and current Fox News contributor Allen West and far too many others.
Shockingly, during the 2012 election cycle, failed Ohio House candidate Marisha Agana deliberately compared the president to Hitler in order to raise her visibility. But Agana isn’t the only perpetrator of premeditated Holocaust rhetoric for dollars — talk radio hosts like Rush Limbaugh, Beck and others get paid to do so.
Sadly though, the reactions to our criticisms are often almost as nasty as the actual comments that we denounce. Failed West Virginia Senate candidate John Raese called the uproar over his comparison of smoking bans to the Nazi’s treatment of Jews “bulls--t,” while failed Ohio House candidate Samuel “Joe the Plumber” Wurzelbacher fired back at us after we condemned his ridiculous video connecting gun control to the Holocaust.
Enough is enough.
It’s time for Republicans to start calling out offensive Nazi references from their side of the aisle. Or at the very least, they should stop defending them. If we can publicly call out Democrats who we consider to be our close friends — as we’ve done — then Republicans should be able to call out their friends as well.
This disgusting rhetoric is damaging our political discourse and turning people away from politics and civic engagement. It cannot and should not be tolerated. It is long past time for the Republican Party to make sure that this nasty, disrespectful rhetoric stops.
Streeter is the press secretary of the National Jewish Democratic Council.