Commentary: Hitler comparison is always out of bounds

The Philadelphia InquirerOctober 10, 2011 

Are you ready for some fallout?

This week’s poster boy for political incivility is country singer Hank Williams Jr. During a frequently awkward “Fox and Friends” interview Monday, Williams said President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner’s “golf summit” last summer was analogous to a pairing of Adolf Hitler and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

I think we all know who was supposed to be the Hitler figure in Williams’ mind.

His comment is yet another reminder that Hitler references never work. I cringed every time someone likened George W. Bush’s America to Nazi Germany, and the offensive comparisons have only grown more common since Obama’s election in 2008. And as I’ve written in the past, their prevalence threatens to cheapen the unimaginable tragedy of the Holocaust.

In Williams’ case, the irony is that his empty reference to one of the most reprehensible criminals in history only served to obscure several legitimate criticisms of the president.

In fact, as I read about the ill-fated interview on Tuesday, my quick scan of newspaper front pages found several valid points of disapproval that Williams — a frequent critic who once said then-Sen. Obama was “not real crazy about” the national anthem — could have highlighted.

He could have talked about newly released e-mails showing that the administration had overlooked written concerns about Solyndra, the solar-equipment manufacturer that was the beneficiary of a $528 million government loan and is now in bankruptcy. The e-mails show that the White House was so eager to orchestrate a presidential visit to the company’s California factory that caution was thrown to the wind.

Speaking of e-mails, another batch shows that the Department of Justice was aware that operatives from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives had lost track of roughly 2,000 guns whose illegal purchase and transport to Mexico were being monitored as part of the “Fast and Furious” program. The weapons have since started turning up at crime scenes — including the site at which a U.S. Border Patrol agent was killed.

Third, Williams could have raised constitutional questions about the killing of U.S.-born terrorist Anwar al-Awlaki.

Fourth, he could have highlighted reports that Pakistan’s military had engaged in several firefights with U.S. and Afghani troops patrolling the Afghan-Pakistan border over the last year, and wondered why our government continues to send billions of dollars to the Pakistanis.

And surely he could have found fault in some aspect of the president’s $447 billion American Jobs Act.

My point is that there is plenty of room for legitimate debate about the direction of the country.

But sometimes substance doesn’t sell. What does? Openly wishing for the president to fail. Saying he has a deep-seated hatred of white people. Or now, a misguided Hitler reference.

What always amazes me is when such cheap shots are offered by observers anxious to proclaim their own patriotism. No, you can’t have it both ways. There is nothing patriotic about calling the commander in chief the enemy, which Williams also managed to do.

Whether the occupier of the Oval Office is George W. Bush or Barack Obama, that sort of commentary is un-American.

Williams’ “apology,” meanwhile, was unconvincing.

After initially calling the comparison “extreme — but it was to make a point,” Williams said in a statement Tuesday that he was “very sorry if it offended anyone.” Then added: “This was not written by some publicist.”

We know, Hank, because a professional would have told you to take out the qualifier. Clearly, you did say something offensive — and the rest of us are recoiling in disgust with good reason.

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ABOUT THE WRITER

Michael Smerconish writes a weekly column for The Philadelphia Inquirer. Readers may contact him via www.smerconish.com.

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