Monday, December 21, 2009

Obama is Hitler?

The other day I went to the post office in my neighborhood to mail some Christmas cards, and there was a guy and a girl with a small table in front heckling people as they passed by. As I walked into the post office, the girl said in a smart-ass tone: "Would you like to mail Obama to the North Pole?". I ignored her and went inside.

What really caught my attention about these two was the posters they had displayed and hanging from their little table. They were pictures of Obama with a Hitler-like mustache drawn in. This is the first time I have seen that. (To put it into perspective and see similar pictures, click this link to see some images that come up in a Google search result for "obama hitler")

After a little bit of research, it is clear that this is not a new idea. I found Obama/Hitler references dating back over 2 years ago (2007). It is also clear that this is not an obscure idea, as a simple search pulls up a plethora of information on the topic.

It seems that some people feel there are similarities in both Hitler and Obama's rise to power. I can see that, in a stretch I suppose. Although, the similarities are not great enough for me to accept it. Here's a few similarities people are claiming, and my response to each:

1. Hitler rose to power during a period of great economic depression for Germany, similar to how Obama rose to power during national economic hardship.

I don't think economic conditions in the United States can even remotely compare to those in Germany after WWI. Germany was war- torn and heavily sanctioned by the Treaty of Versailles in the time between WWI and WWII. The Treaty called for the trial of Germany's leadership as war criminals, restricted Germany's future military growth, changed Germany's borders, forced Germany to pay war reparations (thus crippling any prospect of future economic growth), and forced Germany to accept sole and full responsibility for the entire war! The United States before Obama, on the other hand, was in an economic recession (not depression) that, although serious, did not even end up comparing to the worst US economic depression in history (The Great Depression). Germany after WWI had it far worse.

2. Hitler rose to power under the Nazi Party on a platform of change and reform, and especially appealed to the young people of Germany - similar to how Obama's "campaign of change" did in the 2008 US Presidential election.

I will give supporters of this theory a slight nod here. There are similarities in how Hitler's early platform of change can be compared to Obama's. However, there are glaring (and I do mean GLARING) differences in how Obama rose to power over how Hitler rose to power.

First off; Hitler attempted on several occasions to overthrow the German government before he gained power. The most famous of which was the Beer Hall Putsch of 1923, in which Hitler attempted a coup. It failed, 23 people died, and Hitler was convicted of treason and sent to prison. It wasn't a total loss though, as it gave Hitler and the Nazi party the exposure it needed to become known to the German public. I don't recall Obama attempting a coup, being convicted of treason, or being imprisoned as part of his rise to power.

Next; Hitler used a series of legal measures to gain power. He basically gained support in the government over time after the Beer Hall Putsch and used this support to change the German constitution. The Reichstag Fire Decree and the Enabling Act in 1933, combined with the Night of Long Knives in 1934, swept the Nazi's into power.

The Reichstag Fire of 1933 (the equivalent of there being a fire at the US Capitol today perhaps, hypothetically) caused fear and panic among the German population that Communist forces were at hand trying to overthrow the government. It is still unknown what caused this fire, but it was considered an act of arson and terrorism in Germany at the time. The government responded by passing the Reichstag Fire Decree which nullified civil liberties, gave the Nazi's legal authority to imprison anyone who stood against the Nazi party, and suppressed anti-government publications. This sounds a lot more like the Bush administration's response to 9/11 and the Patriot Act than it does about Obama's rise to power!

Soon after the fire, an Enabling Act was passed in Germany. This act changed the German constitution so that the government can act without the consent of the Reichstag. The equivalent of this in the US today, hypothetically, would be the house & senate voting to pass a law that would grant the Obama administration power to pass laws without needing to go through the house, senate, and veto process (thus making the house/senate powerless). Not only is it unconstitutional, it didn't happen! Obama must adhere to the same checks and balances as his predecessors, and Obama has not changed the Constitution.

With these new powers, the Nazi's staged the Night of Long Knives in 1934. Hitler executed many of his political adversaries (some sources say 85 people, others say 400 people), and passed a law retroactively legalizing the murders. To my knowledge, NO ONE was killed during Obama's rise to power for being a political adversary of Obama.

3. There was a wave of nationalism and admiration for Hitler during his rise to power, similar to what was experienced during Obama's rise to power.

It is true that the there was a wave of nationalism and admiration for Obama when he came to power. Obama represented a reminder and living proof that the American political system works. We had a peaceful transition of power. A black man from an unlikely upbringing became President, something many people thought would not happen in their lifetime given the history of slavery, segregation, and racism in the United States. There was a wave of nationalism and admiration for him indeed.

It's what happened and what is happening after the election that matters to me most in debunking this point.
Hitler changed the German government's authority structure after he came to power. He made himself a dictator. Obama is not a dictator. Obama is not changing the government in that way. There will be another election in 2012. The 22nd Amendment will ensure Obama has to step down one day, no matter how popular he is. What will not change is that he will have to give up power one day in a peaceful transition, just like the day he received power. That is the beauty, really, of the American political system.

That said, it is still a good time to take a lesson from history here. History reminds us to beware of fascism. A wave of nationalism, however, is not automatically fascism. Nationalism can be a very positive force. It could galvanize a country to change for the better. With knowledge of the past and political safeguards in place, nationalism can be just that...

I wish there was a way for me to have portrayed in an instant all of this information to those 2 people standing in front of the post office that day. It would have been useless though, as I think they were there to just get a rise out of people. As I walked out of the post office, the guy said to me "Are you grateful for Obama?". I said "Yes, I am. I like him.". As I walked off, not interested in getting into a debate, he said "You should be, he's Santa Claus. He's got presents for everyone." (perhaps referring to the stimulus/bailout package or health care?). As I said in my tweet that day, I respect their right to speak freely on the street. (Ironically, if Obama really were like Hitler they would have been executed for speaking out).

Their message did make me think for a moment though about whether or not I was missing something. After doing my own research though, it's clear to me that they are entirely ignorant to compare Obama to Hitler. I didn't even need to mention the obvious antisemitic atrocities Hitler was responsible for to come to this conclusion. Making this comparison is not only in bad taste, but it is offensive. Whatever anti-Obama message these people had, they are not winning any new support with that poor comparison and are just clouding their possibly legitimate argument. There are a lot of reasons not to like Obama, but comparing him to Hitler is just plain ridiculous.

Now for something a little less serious, Jon Stewart made me feel much better about this situation after watching this: :-)

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