On Saturday, estimates are that tens of thousands of Americans descended upon DC to protest President Obama’s domestic agenda – from taxes, to cap and trade, to health care reform – Americans took the time to protest. In a nation more known for its political apathy than activism it, like the anti-war protests that became a hallmark of the latter Bush years, was a moment to celebrate, regardless of whether you agreed with the protesters.
As with all mass protests there was no shortage of extreme elements, no shortage of the uninformed or otherwise unhinged. At this summer’s townhall meetings folks comparing Obama to Hitler received quite a bit of coverage. To be clear – these folks are idiots – and any attempt to portray them as “typical” or “representative” of the average protester is unfair and unsupportable. Many on the Left have seized upon this Obama = Hitler fringe and attempted to paint the entire American Right as racist zealots who carry guns to Obama speeches while chanting “No Nazi Health Care.” This must stop. The American Right is no monolithic group and conservative Americans have every right to protest and, even if you disagree with their beliefs, raise legitimate concerns regarding the power of government and the threat posed to our nation by our current obligations and long term deficit and debt projections.
Many on the Left argue that the protesters are not opposed to policies so much as they are opposed to the President, to Barack Obama. They argue that the opposition is in fact personal, and therefore cause for concern. Where was their concern during the past 8 years? President Bush was on the receiving end of an ever escalating level of personal animus from the Left almost from the moment he was declared the winner of the 2000 election. It was during the 2000 recount in Florida that Democratic Representative Jerrold Nadler said that he “detected a whiff of fascism in the air” following Republican protests of recount methods. The Hitler comparisons did not end there, though few prominent elected officials made the comparison, many in Liberal circles did. Even the prominent Liberal organization MoveOn.Org posted two "homemade" videos that directly compared Bush to Hitler in the 2004 campaign. One place that you could always find the Bush = Hitler folks was amongst the tens of thousands who partook in the frequent protests against the war in Iraq. Click here for a link to an assortment of the Bush = Hitler posters at various protest rallies. Now, did most protesters on the anti-war Left consider Bush to be Hitler? Were the Bush = Hitler fringe representative of the average Liberal? No. Rather, just like today, just like the Obama = Hitler folks, the Bush = Hitler folks were a fringe, a group of, well, idiots.
So what does all of this mean? During the Bush years, Republicans and the American Right sought to de-legitimize opposition to George Bush by linking all Liberals, all protesters, to the Bush=Hitler fringe. In so doing, they convinced themselves that opposition to Bush was of little concern and warranted no response. The 2006 mid-terms and the 2008 Presidential election showed the depth of the Right’s miscalculation. Now, Liberals are attempting to paint all who oppose President Obama’s agenda with the broad brush of Obama = Hitler crazies. They de-legitimize the opposition, and seek to dismiss the possibility of any rational basis for the recent passion seen among the grassroots of the American Right. If the Democrats and the Left continue down that road, they will likely face a big surprise come November of 2010.
Be clear – the Right and the Left have brought us to this sorry state of affairs where any and all opposition is attacked, discredited, and dismissed. Both sides of the spectrum need to realize and accept that both movements, Conservative and Liberal, have valid and reasonable arguments to make. The genius of the American system is that it demands compromise from among competing factions (read Federalist 10 and then 51) for anything meaningful to be accomplished. Zero-sum game politics is a recipe for disaster in our system. At some point we need to stop painting our philosophical opponents as “Right Wing Nuts” or “Anti-American Liberals” and instead recognize the need work together within the system.
We could start by collectively accepting that folks who compare our presidents to Hitler, much like the “Birthers” and the 9/11 “Truthers” do not represent either the mainstream American Right or Left. We can dismiss and condemn the fringe without trying to pretend that they are something more.
Just my take…