Friday, September 5, 2008

Republican Pundit Denis Prager: "They’d still be gassing Jews" if liberals had their way.

I recently wrote about Republican radio chatterer and opinion-mongering cottage industry Dennis Prager's advocacy of shooting those who write graffiti. (Read here.) I thought that was pretty absurd -- sort of like Swift's Modest Proposal without the irony. Well, it seems that Prager's on a roll. In a speech to an elite group of Republicans at their national convention, Prager has said that, if liberals had their way, they'd still be killing Jews at Auschwitz.

I wonder if Prager has forgotten that Franklin Delano Roosevelt, a decidedly liberal Democratic president, was the Commander in Chief responsible for fighting the Third Reich. In fact, if memory serves, it was largely conservative Republicans who objected to our involvement in that fight and interfered with Roosevelt's assisting Britain and preparing for our own defense. I guess Prager and his Republican audience don't let historical facts get in the way of a good smear.

While none of the Republicans in the audience, including several Republican governors, were willing to speak out on the record against Prager's statement, read below for the reaction of one anonymous Republican unwilling to read from the Republican talking points.


from The Forward: Radio Host: Pacifists Couldn’t Stop Auschwitz

Likening liberals to those who appeased Nazi Germany in the run-up to World War II, conservative radio talk show host Dennis Prager told 400 Jewish Republican leaders, “They’d still be gassing Jews” if liberals and peace activists had their way.

“The left does not understand that Auschwitz was not liberated by peace activists,” Prager said during a reception honoring GOP governors at the Republican National Convention. “They’d still be gassing Jews if we listened to peace activists,” he said. “Gandhi said to the Jews, ‘Do not resist Hitler.’ Gandhi did a lot of great work in India. You know why? Because when you advocate peaceful resistance against the British, it works. Peaceful resistance against evil does not work.”

Asked later whether some would perceive his remarks as insensitive, Prager called it “inconceivable” that anybody could be offended.

Told that some people might be sensitive about comparisons involving appeasement and the Holocaust, he said, “That’s fine with me, so what?”

At a September 2 event — which was hosted by the Republican Jewish Coalition and attracted a who’s who of Jewish Republicans, several governors, state lawmakers, major donors and Sallai Meridor, Israel’s ambassador to the United States — a Jewish leader called the comparison inappropriate.

“The Holocaust is a unique episode in world history and is an issue that should not be used for contrast and comparison with other political or nonpolitical events,” he said. “I think it lessens the memory of those who were murdered in the Holocaust.”

As I have said before, broad historical analogy is the stuff of propaganda, not analysis. Whether coming from the left or the right, using analogies to the Holocaust to score cheap political points is outrageously insensitive to the human suffering behind the history. This is true of anyone who inappropriately throws around the terms "Nazi" and "Holocaust". It was true of George Bush in his bizarre "appeasement" speech before the Israeli Knesset; it's true of Rush Limbaugh with his corny "feminazi" shtick; and it's true of those on the far left and far right who equate Israel with the Third Reich. (The latter is, to my mind, the ultimate in "blame the victim" role reversal, motivated by a psychology of denial similar to that which cast American Indians and black people as villains in U.S. movies and dime novels. It represents the mass-denial of collective guilt by a racist majority.)

The misuse of history to demonize any group is wrong. To debase Holocaust history in this manner to win a presidential election is inexcusable. About this, Prager and his Republican friends have simply lost all perspective.

4 comments:

Iron Chef Kosher! said...

Fabulous post. I'll be alerting friends of mine to it.

Tim (Random Observations) said...

Adam!

"I wonder if Prager has forgotten that Franklin Delano Roosevelt, a decidedly liberal Democratic president, was the Commander in Chief responsible for fighting the Third Reich."

I believe the original quote was about "peace activists", not "liberals" as your paraphrase incorrectly implies. FDR was indeed a liberal -- he was not a pacifist. But liberalism today is increasingly pacifistic, whereas it was not during the time of FDR, Kennedy, and Johnson.


"In fact, if memory serves, it was largely conservative Republicans who objected to our involvement in that fight and interfered with Roosevelt's assisting Britain and preparing for our own defense."

Not sure about "conservative" (given party shifts over time), but you're quite right about the "Republican" part of that. I've listened to Prager a number of times, and I expect he would point out to you that he was a Democrat in the 1960s, back Democrats believed in countering aggression with force.


"... read below for the reaction of one anonymous Republican unwilling to read from the Republican talking points."

There's nothing in the quote which indicates the "Jewish leader" was a Republican. (That is, of course, the problem with "anonymous" sources which seem increasingly popular today -- you can't even find out for sure if any personal actually said that.)

There's a place for anonymity, such as when ones life would be in danger (no doubt the case here, given the well-known murderous fanaticism of Prager-admirers ;-)), or when the credentials of the arguer are utterly unimportant to the argument.


"Whether coming from the left or the right, using analogies to the Holocaust to score cheap political points is outrageously insensitive to the human suffering behind the history."

I agree that Holocaust references are a bit overused, by both sides, and thus can be diluted.

But "cheap" is a subjective word: You mean that the person isn't making a serious argument about a serious topic.

To the contrary, I think the discussion of whether "peace activism" actually creates peace is a very serious and important question, given its importance and popularity today. And if you can't evaluate the effectiveness of such policies by looking at history, then how could we ever learn anything?

To me, regardless of the example one would wish to pick (Japan in the pacific, then? North Korea's invasion of the south?), it seems his argument is right: I don't know that pacficism does offer an antidote to aggression in the world.

Care to debate the substance of the statement?


"I guess Prager and his Republican audience don't let historical facts get in the way of a good smear."

Err, I suppose I could reasonably suggest the same, regarding your failure to look up the original quote here, no?


"The misuse of history to demonize any group is wrong. To debase Holocaust history in this manner to win a presidential election is inexcusable."

I don't think Prager was "demonizing" peace activists (he often says they have good intentions*) but, again, I get the impression it's just wrong to use history to prove the wrong lessons.

(* Speaking of which, it seems "demonize" is also being overused, and thus diluted. If saying a person is wrong, but has good intentions can be called "demonization", and "demonization" is wrong, then it seems political speech and public debate as a whole is proscribed. But how can you protest "demonizing" when you yourself seem to be imputing base motives?)

Adam Holland said...

tim (random observations):

You can claim all you want that Prager's comments weren't directed at liberals in general and Obama in particular, but I find your parsing entirely unconvincing and I suspect the majority of readers will as well. (The Bush administration played a similar game with respect to the Bush "appeasement" speech in Jerusalem. Before the speech, his former speechwriter and anonymous current administration people billed it as directed at Obama. After the speech, the White House claimed that it wasn't.)

You must know that conservative Republicans such as Senators Taft and Borah and Congressman Fish were in the forefront of the isolationist opposition to Roosevelt's war preparations. Moderate Republicans such as Wilkie were supportive of vigilance against the Axis. On the left, isolationism was largely restricted to a very small group of Communists (before the Nazi invasion of Poland) and absolute pacifists. Those left anti-war views were not represented in Congress. Others in the anti-war left were extremely small in number. In my view, leftist participants in groups like America First were duped by a pro-fascist agenda. (I'm not sure what your statement about Prager's having been a Dem in the 60s has to do with this.)

The Jewish leader quoted was attending the Republican convention. You rightly point out that I don't know that he or she is a Republican. It is possible that NO Republican was willing to condemn Prager's offensive political use of Holocaust imagery. Thanks for the correction.

Cutting to the chase about the rest of what you wrote: the Republicans seem to agree with you in their belief that liberals are endangering the peace of the world. I think that oversimplification is in itself dangerous. I have been and will continue to be critical of those in the peace movement who demonize the U.S., liberal democracy, Israel and Jews at the same time they cover up the crimes of our enemies. To put all liberals, peace advocates or Barack Obama in that group is simply wrong. Obama is taking a very strong stand on the Taliban and al-Qaeda -- stronger, in fact that McCain. McCain is, in his rhetoric, willing to follow bin Laden to the gates of hell. Why the hell isn't he willing to follow him to Pakistan? Is he appeasing the Pakistanis?

Adam Holland said...

My prior comment was in error with respect to the political orientation of the isolationists. A number of isolationist senators were in fact progressives. The political orientation of America First, the main isolationist organization, was ambiguous. See this article for more information on America First and the isolationist movement.

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