By Robert Schlesinger, Thomas Jefferson Street blog
It's an underappreciated but important notion in political discourse that people use Hitler and Nazi allusions too often. They tend to dilute the enormity of Hitler's evil and absurdly caricature whatever wrong is being criticized. I suggest a lesser but not-unimportant corollary: People should also hesitate before comparing their foes to the Soviet Union or the villains from George Orwell's 1984.
I write this because former House Speaker Newt Gingrich appears to have made such comparisons a staple of his current stump speech, likening the U.S. government to both the historical and fictional repressive regimes.
Human Events reports today on a recent conference of something called the Young Americans Foundation, where Gingrich was a featured speaker (emphasis mine, h/t GOP12):
... he shared a new slogan with the youth in attendance “2 + 2 = 4”.
This slogan, he explained, came from George Orwell’s famous book 1984, in which the main character has a dialogue with the government officials who are torturing him trying to make him say two plus two equal five, and realizes that “Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four. If that is granted, all else follows.”
Gingrich magnified the need in today’s political environment to allow the truths that work—that are true—to be policies. He demonstrated how far the government has moved from this by asking the audience to finish off the sentence “If you can’t buy a house…” The audience responded “don’t.” the government, Gingrich said, chooses to respond “we give you a sub-prime loan with zero down and zero interest, so that you can move in temporarily before filing for bankruptcy." Gingrich stressed one policy is successful, and the other isn’t; one works, one doesn’t.
Elsewhere Gingrich has noted that the "2+2" formulation was a rallying cry of the Polish freedom movement in the 1970s and 1980s. Is it just me or is it a bit much to compare the U.S. government in 2009 to Orwell's Oceania or the U.S.S.R. (an "evil empire," remember)? This is of course the inflamed and inflammatory rhetoric one would expect from the likes of Glenn Beck chorus, but one would hope (perhaps futilely) that Gingrich would be a bit more responsible.
Except for the fact that he's pondering a presidential run. Such red meat is certainly useful for rallying the faithful. But it's bad for the general civic discourse.
(Interesting literary side note I stumbled upon while writing this, especially given the GOP talking points about an Obama-led slide into U.S. Socialism: Writing in June, 1949, Orwell said that 1984, "is NOT intended as an attack on Socialism or on the British Labour Party (of which I am a supporter) but as a show-up of the perversions to which a centralised economy is liable and which have already been partly realised in Communism and Fascism." Some conservatives would do well to recall that there are distinctions between liberalism, Socialism, Communism and Fascism.)