‘Meathead’ makes Holocaust comparison, and why we need a serious study of this rhetoric

Why do they do it?

Now the Anti-Defamation League is going after film actor and producer Rob "Meathead" Reiner,  who likened the Tea Party movement – which has been wrist-slapped for it’s own numerous Holocaust comparisons – to the Nazis.

Appearing on HBO’s Real Time, Reiner, the onetime All in the Family star,  said “My fear is that the Tea Party gets a charismatic leader. Because all they’re selling is fear and anger. And that’s all Hitler sold.”

The ADL has warned of extremism within the anarchic Tea Party movement, but that’s no reason to bring Hitler into the picture when criticizing them, said national director Abe Foxman.

“There is simply no comparison between followers of the Nazis, a fascist regime that perpetrated the slaughter of millions of Jews and others in the Holocaust, and followers of a democratic political movement in the United States,” Foxman said. “Such comparisons only serve to trivialize the Holocaust and are deeply offensive to Jews and other survivors, as well as those Americans who fought valiantly against the Nazis in World War II.”

But it sure looks like Foxman is fighting a losing battle.

Right, left and center, politicians can’t seem to resist the allure of Holocaust comparisons. No election is too trivial, no issue too local, to invoke images of storm troopers and gas chambers. Don’t like your candidate for alderman? Say he’s a propagandist like Goebbels. Don’t like your county commissioner? Say his campaign reminds you of Hitler’s early days.

What I don’t get: when I hear a Nazi comparison, I immediately tune out the person making it – Democrat, Republican, Tea Partier whatever – because I assume this is not a serious person, or not smart enough to know that being politically wrong isn’t the same as advocating the most murderous regime in human history.

But I also know that politicians are pragmatists; they generally don’t keep doing stuff that doesn’t work. So on some level, there must be evidence using Nazi ideologies works; why else would so many candidates risk provoking the ADL?

So here’s what I propose: a serious study by some serious political scientists. Does using Nazi and Holocaust analogies make politicians more credible to voters – or less credible? Do other parts of their message get absorbed by others better when punched up with Holocaust talk or not?

Maybe we can get the ADL to fund the study to help find out why politicians don’t seem to heed calls to stop using allusions that, as Abe Foxman said, “demean the American political system” and “trivialize the Holocaust .”

About the Author
Douglas M. Bloomfield is a syndicated columnist, Washington lobbyist and consultant. He spent nine years as the legislative director and chief lobbyist for AIPAC.