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Hitler in August: Health care protesters show poverty of imagination

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Kathleen Parker
August 23, 2009
— Midway through the month’s town hall meetings on health care, it seems the shark has jumped the shark—and even Hitler must be sick of himself.

The terrible tyrant can’t get a rest these days. For eight years, he was George W. Bush. Now he’s Barack H. Obama. We just can’t quit the monster with the fur lip.


His latest appearance is on a poster of Obama with the iconic mustache, which looks more like a missed crumb than a manly punctuation mark. The poster has become a favored accessory among some of America’s squeakier wheels.


There is some debate about whether the Hitler resurrectionists are haters or faux haters—i.e., Democratic Party plants aimed at making Republicans seem crazed.


Whatever the truth—and truth morphs by the moment—it seems increasingly clear that the erstwhile shining city upon a hill has become ’Toon Town, a circus of media acrobats, political clowns and street-corner barkers.


Step right up and get your cotton candy, it’s only a dollar and the show is free!

One recent sideshow, a town hall in Las Vegas available for viewing on YouTube, features an Israeli-American man railing to cameras when a woman nearby yells, “Heil Hitler.” What?! The man turns to berate her: “You’re telling me, ‘Heil Hitler’? Shame of (sic) you!” The camera rolls; the man continues shouting about the high cost of a recent hospital visit; the woman dabs her eyes to clear away fake crocodile tears. It’s a wrap.


Next up, zoom to Dartmouth, Mass., where Rep. Barney Frank addresses a town hall at the Dartmouth Council on Aging. A woman holding an Obama-as-Hitler poster asks the congressman why he supports a Nazi policy.


To the apparent delight of many, Frank says he will revert to his ethnic heritage and respond to the question with a question:


“On what planet do you spend most of your time?”


Next he says that comparing the president’s attempts to expand health care to Hitler is a tribute to the First Amendment and that trying to have a conversation with this woman would be like trying to argue with his dining room table. He chooses not to.


Hear, hear. Invocations of Hitler usually mean two things: one, a poverty of imagination, and two, a paucity of good arguments. It is nearly axiomatic that any protest against government action will feature Hitler in some form. Left and right are equally guilty.


Trivializing such evil is an insult to the memory of millions who suffered and died by his order, as well as to the intelligence of all sentient beings.


It might no longer be possible in this country to have a serious debate about anything. Inevitably, substance devolves into silliness. Even the most dignified of statesmen become caricatures when juxtaposed with the ridiculous.


While it’s easy to blame “the media,” there’s no longer any single entity to indict. In a world where everyone has video—and distribution is free and easy—every little thing is a “story.” And so the exercised Israeli-American and his mocking nemesis become stars on the world stage. The Obama-Hitler woman may be only infamous, but she is a celebrity of sorts.


One may reasonably oppose Frank’s and the Democrats’ views on health care on the merits—and plenty of informed people do. But when Frank is tossed into the ring with a Hitler-wielding instigator, he looks the sage from Vesuvius and his opponents escapees from the asylum.


Given the choice of company, which would you prefer?


Never mind whether any of the rabble-rousers would be known were it not for the ever-present cameras and microphones. Would they have performed as they did—yelling and aping—had there been no one on hand to record their antics?


Alas, we can’t even critique the phenomenon known as Heisenberg’s Principle of Observation without circling back to Herr Hitler. Physicist Werner Heisenberg, leader of Hitler’s atomic bomb project, came up with an “uncertainty principle” that has been used—some say misused—to suggest that things observed are altered by the fact of observation.


Translation: When you turn on the camera, the presence of the camera alters whatever transpires.


There isn’t much we can do about the convergence of technology and the persistent plague of narcissism, but there is something we can do about Hitler. The moment he shows up in any form, turn off the cameras. Consider it an act of nonviolent protest—and self-respect.
Kathleen Parker is a columnist for the Orlando Sentinel. Her e-mail address is kparker@washpost.com.

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