Sunday, October 25, 2009

And Now, Reverend Richard Land

Reverend Richard Land, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, on September 26 at a Christian Coalition of Florida banquet in Orlando declared

What they are attempting to do in healthcare, particularly in treating the elderly, is not something like what the Nazis did. It is precisely what the Nazis did….

The Nazis said people should be euthanized when they had lives unworthy of life. … Well, at the very least Dr. Emanuel, [House Speaker] Nancy Pelosi, [Sen.] Max Baucus and President Obama are saying that some people have lives less worthy of life. And the older you are, the sicker you are, the less valuable your life is and the more likely they want to terminate your care.

After Abe Foxman of the B’nai B’rith Anti-Defamation League termed the Nazi analogies “inappropriate, insensitive, and unjustified,” Land wrote

It was never my intention to equate the Obama administration's healthcare reform proposals with anything related to the Holocaust,….Now that I have had the opportunity to speak with you personally and reflect on my words, I deeply regret the reference to Dr. Josef Mengele,…. I was using hyperbole for effect and never intended to actually equate anyone in the Obama administration with Dr. Mengele. I will certainly refrain from making such references in the future. I apologize to everyone who found such references hurtful. Given the pain and suffering of so many Jewish and other victims of the Nazi regime, I will certainly seek to exercise far more care in my use of language in future discussions of the issues at stake in the healthcare debate.

But on October 21 in the Baptist Press, Dwayne Hastings reported that in an interview with the publication

Land said there are some involved in the health care debate who appear to believe some lives are less valuable and less worthy of medical treatment than others.

In noting he had previously used "imprecise language," Land said he should have said some of the philosophies that are being espoused "bear a lethal similarity in their attitudes toward the elderly and the terminally ill and could ultimately lead to the kinds of things the Nazis did."

"To equate expressing concerns that such a mindset could be carried to such an extreme at some time in the future as the equivalent of saying the Obama administration is like the Nazis or that Barack Obama is Hitler is either delusional or deliberately misleading," Land said.

Steve Benen, who has blogged on Land’s remark on October 3, October 17, and October 24, charges that the claim “health care reform bears a "lethal similarity" to Nazi tactics is obviously crazy” and invoking the Third Reich in referring to health care reform is “completely insane.”

Well, no. It is inaccurate, offensive, and incendiary. But it is not insane A fellow can make a ridiculous comment but have a rational, strategic motive in going beyond the pale. On August 6, Rush Limbaugh claimed “And if you go and take a look at this, you will find that the Obama health care logo is damn close to a Nazi swastika logo. I'm going to show you people watching on the Dittocam this, and there you are. The middle frame is the Obama health care logo. At the bottom is an official Nazi logo, eagle and everything, spread wings, or bird with spread wings” The same day, Glenn Beck compared health care reform to the eugenics program of Nazi Germany.

Such comments by Beck, Limbaugh, and Land are ludicrous and meant to delude listeners and followers of the demagogue. But the men themselves men are not insane- and probably not ignorant- but are attempting to divide the American people (further) for their own strategic interest.

Normally, the media reports a story excessively at first, then proceeds to ignore it, even if details later emerging lend the story greater urgency and relevance. Consequently, in following the story in its twists and turns, Benen is truly performing a valuable, and unusual, service, even if he does miss a subtle, backhanded swipe made by Dr. Land in his initial non-apology apology.

Land had slyly remarked “Given the pain and suffering of so many Jewish and other victims of the Nazi regime.” It is literally true- many groups other than Jews suffered at the hands of Hitler and his henchmen. But it is misleading, as George F. Will argued in 1989, coincidentally during the controversy over the establishment of a Catholic convent on the site of the Auschwitz death camp. A delegation met representatives of the Polish government there and at other Holocaust sites to obtain artifacts which would be exhibited at the Holocaust Memorial Museum, which would open in Washington, D.C. in 1992. Writing from Treblinka, Will noted

Yes, others were killed. But if there had been no Jews in Euroe, there would have been no Holocaust. There would have been no Hitler. No Treblinka…

But here you also see everything. Treblinka is the starkest testimony to the radical evil that gives the Holocaust its stunning uniqueness, its apartness from all other human experiences. The radicalism was in its furious focus on Jews.

Comparisons of health care reform, the Democratic Party, or Barack Obama to fascism, Nazism, or Adolph Hitler do not demonstrate the madness of the opposition, but rather its extremism and utter lack of decency.

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