Steve Cohen and the Nazis

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Jan. 20 2011 1:47 PM

Steve Cohen and the Nazis

I completely ignored Rep. Steve Cohen's (D-Tenn.) minor problem over his health care repeal floor speech, but he's apologized, so I'll run it down quickly. Here was what Cohen said , which got so many proverbial knickers in proverbial bunches.

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They say it’s a government takeover of health care, a big lie just like Goebbels. You say it enough, you repeat the lie, you repeat the lie, you repeat the lie and eventually, people believe it. Like "blood libel." That’s the same kind of thing. The Germans said enough about the Jews and the people believed it – and you had the Holocaust. You tell a lie over and over again. And we’ve heard it on this floor: Government takeover of health care.

This is offensive, I guess, because you're not allowed to compare your opponents to any Nazis. But I ask you: Who do you use as a reference point for propaganda if you don't use Goebbels? How do you explain the "big lie" without pointing out that it was the Nazis who came up with it?

This is lonely turf for me, but I'm bored, bored, bored by the faux freak-out that occurs whenever somebody mentions the Third Reich in a political context. So is Cohen: His statement is below.

"There has been considerable media attention regarding comments I made during Special Orders on the House floor as part of a colloquy Tuesday evening.  While I received no comments or responses from my colleagues on the floor at the time or, for that matter from anyone until midday on Wednesday, someone posted a small portion of the speech on the internet.  Taken out of context, I can understand the confusion and concern.  In speaking about the Republican message of "government takeover of health care" that has been drummed into the heads of Americans and the media for more than a year, I referenced the non-partisan, Pulitzer prize-winning Politfact.com judgment that named the Republican message as the "2010 Lie of the Year."    

While I regret that anything I said has created an opportunity to distract from the debate about health care for 32 million Americans, I want to be clear that I never called Republicans Nazis.  Instead, the reference I made was to the greatest propaganda master of all time.  Propaganda, which is called "messaging" today, can be true or false.  In this case, the message is false.     

I would certainly never do anything to diminish the horror of the Nazi Holocaust as I revere and respect the history of my people.  I sponsored legislation which created one of the first state Holocaust Commissions in America and actively served as a Commission member for over 20 years.  I regret that anyone in the Jewish Community, my Republican colleagues or anyone else was offended by the portrayal of my comments.  My comments were not directed toward any group or people but at the false message and, specifically, the method by which is has been delivered.    

It is disappointing that my comments have been used to distract from the health care reform debate.   It is my hope that we can return our focus to the matter at hand—health care for 32 million Americans."

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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