“Arbeit Macht Frei.” Literally translated, the words mean, “Work makes (one) free.” Taken out of context, these words, while perhaps harshly industrialist, are innocent enough. However, history has placed these words in a very real, and for many, viscerally horrifying context. “Arbeit Macht Frei.” For prisoners of Nazi concentration camps, these three words were their introduction to their impending fate. These three words are the motto, of sorts, of the death camps. They were, and still are, placed atop the entrances of many of the camps, including, most notably, Auschwitz. These three words are now permanently locked into that single, abhorrent context.
A friend of mine forwarded me the Obama picture above after seeing it on a someone’s Facebook page. Unfortunately, it’s nothing new for conservatives and Republicans. The Obama/Nazi references have been going on for far too long now. The Free Republic has a page entitled, “22 Hitler quotes reveal a great deal about the current administration and their Plan.” A conservative blogger calls him “Barack the Black Hitler.” The Presidential frontrunner, Newt Gingrich, called Obama a “Nazi-Commie,” which the historian should know are on opposite ends of the political spectrum. Glenn Beck is absolutely obsessed with Obama/Nazi imagery. A simple Google search brings up so many instances of Rush Limbaugh calling Obama a Nazi that it’s almost laughable. Almost. Even Forbes magazine published a recent article comparing Obama to Hitler. I could go on.
For Jewish people, these references are nothing short of insulting. Not only do they make light of one of the most tragic periods in Jewish history, but the constant reminders are forcing some to relive their nightmares.
Perhaps the most ironic part of this rhetoric, is that the right is trying hard to court the Jewish voter. They all seem to be in a contest to be Israel’s biggest cheerleader. Don’t think for a minute that their “I love the Jews” rhetoric is about the Jewish people. Their interest in Israel is two fold, 1.) Israel, while having no oil of its own is strategically placed near oil rich countries. A close alliance to Israel helps the US maintain regional control. 2.) Evangelical Christians (aka the Republican base) love Israel, because they see it as the promised land and they see Jews as pet projects, as people in need of conversion.
To some very naive Republicans, calling the political enemy “Hitler” or a “Nazi” might seem to be a way to convince Jewish people to vote their way, but the majority know that goal is unrealistic. Jews vote, but they vote Democratic. Even if they could have an “in” with the Jewish people, they represent a tiny minority (just 1.7%) of the population. Although that number is slightly misleading. Jews are heavily concentrated in New York and Florida, key states in nearly all national elections. New York is pretty firmly blue, but Florida can go either direction. As we saw in 2000, Florida can make or break an election.
There is an expression, it goes something like this, “All rational debate stops at Hitler,” Most powerful conservatives know this. Republicans know that on issues such as the healthcare debate, they are on the losing side. But, when Hitler is mentioned, the rational side of the brain is shut off. One can argue cost savings and the fact that so many more more people will have coverage under “Obamacare” till they’re blue in the face. One can also argue that the program is anything but state run healthcare and that it is in fact, just giving more customers to the healthcare industry. None of these facts will ever register, as long as the word “Hitler” becomes part of the conversation. It’s the same with all other rational debates.
Modern day Republicans have no rational points of view. They have one constituency, and it’s not their average voter. Their one and only loyalty is to the very wealthy multinational corporations. They play lip service to social conservatism, as a way to get the 99% to vote for them, but they will never, ever legislate in a way that will benefit the 99%. When this reality starts to crystalize in a large enough number of voters, Republicans distract. They create artificial wars (Christmas, Christianity, terrorism, drugs, Iraq). They create artificial scandals (birth certificate, Solyndra, pretty much any innocuous thing involving the First Lady). They evoke Hitler. All rational debate ends.