Home | Opinion | Columnists | Mark Mellman

Tying Obama to Stalin egregious

In 1938, Stalin’s secret police arrested my great-aunt, who was within weeks of being deported to Siberia, where she and her children would have been lost forever. Fortunately, her husband was a prominent American journalist (and later a biographer of Gandhi) whose ability to secure Eleanor Roosevelt’s intercession with the Soviet government saved his family.

Needless to say, my aunt was among the very few lucky ones. From the time Stalin’s reign of totalitarian terror descended on the Soviet Union in 1927 until his death in 1953 some 20 million innocents perished at his hands. Hundreds of thousands were tortured and executed in Moscow’s Lubyanka prison alone. Four to 6 million were exiled to the gulag, where those who did not starve to death survived on boiled grass and less. Most never returned.

Reserving a special enmity for his former comrades, Stalin eliminated all but one other member of Lenin’s original Politburo, a purge that culminated in a secret-police agent driving an ice pick into Leon Trotsky’s brain.

Not merely a murderer, Stalin was a neurotic whose delusions were on vivid display when, after his forced collectivization scheme killed some 10 million peasants, he penned an editorial description of the effort in Pravda, perversely titled “Dizzy with Success.”

Against this historical background, how are we to understand former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and the conservatives who applauded him for comparing President Obama to one of the two greatest villains in human history? What does it mean for Huckabee to deride the president’s policies by asserting, “Stalin would love this stuff”?

Is it that:

Huckabee and the activists of the Conservative Political Action Conference believe President Obama is a murderous and delusional totalitarian dictator

— or —

Huckabee and the conservatives are completely ignorant of recent world history, remaining somehow unaware of Stalin’s crimes against humanity

— or —

that Huckabee and his conservative confreres are so bereft of ideas that they have descended to a despicable level of demagoguery?

 You can guess which way I lean.

Such schoolyard name-calling usually masks the inability to present a cogent critique. It constitutes an admission of intellectual defeat, a concession to the vacuity of one’s arguments.

In this case, it is also sheer hypocrisy.

It was George Bush who, imitating Lenin’s New Economic Policy, began nationalizing the banks and the auto companies — a step President Obama has resisted. Card-carrying conservatives from Sen. Lindsey Graham (S.C.) to Alan Greenspan have encouraged Obama to consider the possibility and more. The former central banker, whom the Financial Times dubbed the high priest of laissez-faire capitalism, told the paper that “nationalization could be the least bad option left for policymakers.”

By a 26-point margin, voters prefer “temporary nationalization” of banks to financial aid without government control.

In truth, neither Graham nor Greenspan nor American voters are Leninists. Such “reasoning” reflects the fallacy of the transposed conditional. The fact that everyone who has been hanged dies does not mean that every corpse has been hanged. The fact that Hitler loved dogs does not mean that every canine aficionado is a Nazi. And the fact that Lenin nationalized banks does not imply that George Bush is a Leninist.

No doubt Huckabee, reading this criticism of his words, would chide me for lacking a sense of humor and urge me to “lighten up.” Honestly, I cannot imagine the governor belly-laughing if I compared him to Adolf Hitler.

Here, however, there is more at stake than logic and debating points. Huckabee’s words stand as an insult to millions of victims of Stalinism whose memories and descendants deserve an apology.

Mellman is president of The Mellman Group and has worked for Democratic candidates and causes since 1982. Current clients include the majority leaders of both the House and Senate.