There is an old Dave Barry column about how to win an argument in which he suggests various tactics like drinking liquor, making up facts, and using snappy and irrelevant comebacks. The "heavy artillery," Barry writes, "for when your opponent is obviously right and you are spectacularly wrong," is to compare them with Adolf Hitler.
I don't know if half-term Gov. Sarah Palin and conservative columnist Thomas Sowell are familiar with Barry's work, but they certainly seem to have embraced this last piece of advice, in this case comparing President Obama with the Nazi dictator. (I'll let readers weigh in below about how many of Barry's other nuggets they employ.)
Late last night Palin tweeted that people should not believe the assertion--best illustrated by Texas Rep. Joe "Sorry, BP" Barton--that the GOP is defending British Petroleum in the little matter of the unceasing flow of oil into the Gulf of M. Rather, she added, the Republicans are defending the Constitution, as argued in Sowell's latest column.
So as to be clear about where he is going, Sowell opens his column with the Hitler analogy:
When Adolf Hitler was building up the Nazi movement in the 1920s, leading up to his taking power in the 1930s, he deliberately sought to activate people who did not normally pay much attention to politics.
(As an aside, trying to activate people who do not normally engage in politics is not, I would think, an inherently Hitlerian tactic--I'm pretty sure it's at least a stated goal of most modern political campaigns and movements, including the Tea Party.)
Sowell goes on to quote Lenin as describing these uninformed voters as "useful idiots." On second thought, I don't think Sowell was going for clarity as much as for ludicrous provocation. You could literally cut the first four paragraphs out of his column and replace the last sentence (which comes back to the "useful idiots" quote) and it would actually be stronger. That edit would make his piece merely alarmist rubbish rather than farcical alarmist rubbish.
There is an ongoing and legitimate debate in this country about the role and reach of government. Should the government have stepped in to prevent a Great Depression-like catastrophic economic collapse? Or to prevent the demise of the U.S. auto industry? Should every American have the right to adequate healthcare coverage? Should the wealthiest in our society pay a larger share in taxes than those less well off?
We disagree on these matters. Through elections we move the country in different directions on the U.S. ideological spectrum, and then course-correct through subsequent elections. The republic has survived the tenure of not only amiably inept presidents but also those effective ones revered by one party while vilified by the other.
But Hitler (and, for that matter, Stalin) comparisons are just unhelpful. As I've written before, deploying Hitler both dilutes the extent of Hitler's evil and also trivializes through caricature whatever wrong one is criticizing.
People who indulge in such comparisons are, to borrow from Stalin's quote, not useful.