Does this picture mean I shouldn’t embrace children anymore?
After Thanksgiving dinner in 1990 I boarded plane to Denver to work a weekend conference of a company whose employ I’ve long regretted. The incident I recall isn’t one of those that I would put in a list of reasons why the company failed, but maybe I should.
The company sent people tickets to a business seminar and promised a free gift of accounting software and some basic business and motivational books. I had been with the company a year and obviously had never read the books, because when a guest at one of the events pointed out a quote, I had to admit I’d never seen it. I don’t remember the quote, but I do remember the author — Adolf Hitler.
Most people would agree that an American motivational book should not include a quote by Hitler, no matter how true it might be. What I do recall about the comment was had it been said by someone else who wasn’t one of history’s greatest murderers, it would have fit just fine.
Now House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said that anti-health-care reform protesters had swastikas on their signs. While she has been denounced as a liar by some, I thought I had seen pictures of it and in looking around the Web tonight, I verified that I had.
On one level, though, so what? Liberals did it to Bush, too. You can’t judge all health care opponents for what a few crazies do.
What if they’re not crazy? The yellers on the left likened Bush to Hitler in reference to totalinarianism, which you might argue is valid. With Obama the yellers on the right might be referring to Germany’s socialism under the Nazis, which many argue is valid.
In a National Review column Andrew McCarthy argues that likening health care reform to the Nazis is appropriate, because the Nazis were socialists and that extended to health care. “The wisdom vel non of policies adopted during over a decade of Nazi socialism cannot be off the table simply because, in the end, the Nazis were monsters,” he wrote.
Well, actually, I disagree with McCarthy. For me it goes back to Godwin’s Law specifically and more generally the “slippery slope” argument we often hear. We won’t legalize something we might approve of because it could lead to us legalizing something we don’t. I hate that argument. You draw a line and you leave it there. In the 1970s we decided 18-year-olds should be able to vote. Have we since decided it should be OK for kids old enough to drive? We let 21-year-olds drink alcohol. We draw lines all the time. Sometimes we move them, but it’s not usually just because we moved them closer years before.
Besides, and this is where it gets dicey for me, it would be foolish to assume that even the most vile, evil, ungodly person in the world was capable of doing nothing good or worth emulating. I’m not saying we should emulate Hitler’s hospitals. But even an article on an Anti-Defamation League site points out that Nazi scientists may have been the first to discover that tobacco is bad for the body.
Here are things Hitler reportedly said. I can’t verify that he really said these things, but I saw it on a Web site, so it must be true. Tell me which ones you disagree with.
“Make the lie big, make it simple, keep saying it, and eventually they will believe it”
“How fortunate for leaders that men do not think.”
“The man who has no sense of history, is like a man who has no ears or eyes”
“The day of individual happiness has passed”
“I love you Mommy”
I have no proof he said the last one, but Hitler was close to his mother, so it’s not inconceivable that he did. And I think the first one was actually his propaganda guy, but Hitler surely embraced the idea even if he didn’t say the actual quote.
Regardless, my main point is that you don’t use Hitler to support your case or to dismiss someone else’s. Health writer Tinker Ready agrees.
Where McCarthy might have a point that sells is when he writes of “a trajectory of socialism,” but again I feel he’s relying on the slippery slope model:
“There is a trajectory of socialism, regardless of the good intentions of many socialists. As he framed it, you take things such as health care, things that are traditionally understood as within the ambit of individual liberty and free choice; you move such things into the ambit of state responsibility as the welfare state emerges and grows, on the theory that it is government’s responsibility to provide for everyone’s needs (by redistributing resources); as more things are moved from private to public control, the state by definition becomes totalitarian; and, inexorably, the totalitarian state gets bad leaders and the society comes to reflect the policy choices of those leaders.”
This suggests that elements of our government are not socialist already. When did government decide it was a good idea to take roads out of the ambit of individual liberty and into state responsibility? How about wars and parks? Dictators and capitalists have both employed slavery. Do we rid ourselves of both? Are all the countries that have adopted some form of socialized medical system on an inevitable path to having their own versions of Hitler?
In the same ADL article mentioned earlier, Penn State history of science professor Robert N. Proctor draws the line pointing where German science failed:
“There is nothing inherently evil about physicians working and cooperating with their government. The moral failure of the German medical profession was its willingness to collaborate with the Nazi state, its willingness to serve Nazi values. There is nothing wrong with physicians working to preserve the health of a larger community; that, after all, is the essence of responsible public health. What differentiated National Socialist public health from genuine public health in a reasonably civilized society was the exclusive nature of what the Nazis considered “the community.” Nazi values excluded Jews and others deemed racially or genetically unfit from the völkisch community. It bears repeating: Most German physicians in the Reich failed to challenge the rotten substance of Nazi values, the murderous directions of Nazi initiatives.”
Opponents and supporters of health care both have solid arguments to make for their cases. Maybe the public option will end up being a Trojan Horse for universal coverage. Maybe insurance companies are driving medical costs up. Maybe Medicare’s doing it. Those are all worth discussing. But as soon as you bring up “Nazi” or “Hitler,” you’ve lost me.