Saturday, April 10, 2010

Hitler and Idiots

Yesterday I drove through the post office on my way to work and saw a booth set up on the sidewalk, sufficiently distanced from the post office door to satisfy any regulations about political affiliation. The booth had a nice little umbrella and several large signs around the sides inviting people to come and sign a petition to impeach the President.

Adjacent to each of those signs were large posters featuring a photograph of Mr. Obama and another man (I couldn't tell, from my car, who he was), both sporting Hitler-esque moustaches.

In our society, people are free to voice their opposition to all kinds of things, including presidential administrations, acts of Congress and decisions made by the Supreme Court. People can satirize our governmental leaders without fear of being arrested during the night or being banished to the wilderness of Iceland. We are free to voice our opinions, right or wrong, and that's okay with me.

I wonder why, every time a president does something people don't like, that president is equated with Adolf Hitler. You remember him, right? He's the German (Austrian, actually) dictator whose close followers revered as God, who took over the State Church, replacing crosses with swords and Bibles with copies of Mien Kampf. He orchestrated the deaths of six million Jews and thousands of others he considered ethnically impure. He invaded neighboring nations, absorbing them into his empire and planned to take over much of western Europe, if not the world, launching a world war that cost between 50 and 80 million human lives.

I have seen caricatures of US Presidents--both Democrat and Republican--with little Hitler moustaches on them. How is it that we equate our Presidents with someone like Hitler? How is it that being the President of a country like the US can instantly be the same as being a deranged European dictator? Given our system of government, is that even possible?

This is not a new thing. After shooting President Lincoln, John Wilkes Booth leaped onto the stage of the Ford Theater, breaking his leg, and shouting (in Latin), "Thus always to tyrants!" It seems that, when we don't like our presidents, we equate them with tyrants and dictators. When you have demonized your opponents, you no longer have to debate reasonably. Raw emotion will do nicely.

The issue is summed up nicely in an exchange between six-year-old Karen and her parents in a clip from the UK comedy Outnumbered. Karen's father has just explained to her that it is important to respect and be tolerant of other people's views about life. Her response is thoughtful and helpful:

"What, even idiots? Even if they want to stab you in the eye with a pencil?"

Well said, Karen.

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