A Teachable Moment

Mary Miller, a newly-elected Republican congresswoman from the U.S. state of Illinois, got off to a shaky start when she conflated Adolf Hitler with the importance of transmitting decent values to young Americans.

She should have known better than to invoke his name to promote an exemplary idea. But being inexperienced, she stumbled into a minefield of her own making.

At a rally in Washington, D.C. on January 5, two days after being sworn in as a member of the House of Representatives, she said, “Each generation has the responsibility to teach and train the next generation. You know, if we win a few elections, we’re still going to be losing, unless we win the hearts and minds of our children. This is the battle. Hitler was right on one thing: He said, ‘Whoever has the youth, has the future.’ Our children are being propagandized.”

To hardly anyone’s surprise, her clumsy comments were the immediate object of outrage.

The governor of Illinois, J.B. Pritzker, deplored them as “unfathomable and disgusting. The chairman of the Illinois Republican Party, Tim Schneider, condemned them in similar fashion. Three Democratic congresswomen from the state, Tammy Duckworth, Jan Schakowsky and Marie Newman, called for her resignation.

The conservative organization that sponsored her rally, Moms for America, defended Miller: “Truth is truth regardless of the source.”

Miller’s office released a statement claiming she had done nothing more than to denounce “the evil dictator’s” attempts “to re-educate young people and similar efforts by left-wing radicals in our country today.”

As the criticism swelled, Miller had a change of heart and issued an apology “for any harm my words have caused.” She then expressed “regret” for having referenced Hitler “to illustrate the dangers that outside influence can have on our youth.”

In closing, she said, “While some are trying to intentionally twist my words into something antithetical to my beliefs, let me be clear: I’m passionately pro-Israel and will always be a strong advocate and ally of the Jewish community.”

As apologies go, this one will suffice. Miller, a 61-year-old mother of seven children and a grandmother of 17, should not be ostracized or penalized for her faux pas. She obviously did not mean to glorify Hitler or to hold him up as a role model. That much seems clear.

But one hopes that this incident has been a teachable moment for a freshman politician who may not be entirely familiar with the history of Nazi Germany and its crimes against humanity.

Just the mere mention of Hitler’s name to promote a worthy cause is an invitation to a public relations disaster, which is precisely what happened when Miller carelessly invoked his name. By doing so, she muddied her message and, perhaps, sullied her own reputation.

Objectively speaking, Hitler attained popularity in Germany by reducing Depression-level unemployment, building the autobahn, clawing back territory lost in World War I, and restoring Germany’s grandeur in the world order.

But all these markers were blotted out by Hitler’s brutal fascist dictatorship, his relentless demonization and persecution of German Jews, his invasions of neighboring countries, and his mass murder of European Jews in the Holocaust.

Miller should have been far more thoughtful before she foolishly thrust Hitler’s name into the mix.

About the Author
Sheldon Kirshner is a journalist in Toronto. He writes at his online journal, SheldonKirshner.com
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