What is it with Republicans and Hitler? I mean, really, how difficult is it to avoid Hitler gaffes? Some of the best GOP stumbles in recent memory have involved one of two topics: Hitler or rape. Republicans become complete spastic morons when trying to negotiate those two subjects, which is odd, because the other party rarely seems to have any trouble with either. If I were running the RNC, I’d mandate that every time someone registers to run as a Republican, in any race no matter how small (gotta catch ’em young), that person will be presented with an index card with two very simple rules printed on it: (1) Don’t mention rape (and if you do, limit your remarks to “rape is bad”), and (2) Don’t mention Hitler (and if you do, limit your remarks to “Hitler was bad”).
Considering the GOP’s history, Sean Spicer’s amusing Hitler flub (and equally comical attempt at recovery) was probably inevitable. The poor guy’s already been working overtime to craft one of the finest real-life sitcom dumb-guy characters I’ve ever seen; if the White House were a bar called Cheers, Spicer would be Woody. Spicer’s Holocaust stumble immediately reminded me of my favorite Dan Quayle moment. In ’88, the coherence-averse vice-presidential candidate found himself in the hot seat after it was revealed that back in 1980, when he first entered the Indiana Senate race, he’d given a lengthy interview to The Spotlight, Willis Carto’s conspiracy-theory-ridden, Holocaust-denying newspaper (Quayle also accepted a $500 donation from Carto’s PAC). With reporters bombarding the VP candidate with questions regarding his “association” with Carto, Quayle realized that the best way to make the whole affair evaporate into the ether would be to articulately and dynamically explain that he was no Holocaust denier. Knowing he had to bring his A game, the Mighty Q held a press conference…and gave us this masterpiece of lucidity and reason:
Millions of innocent people lost their lives because of the…[pause]...bigotry…[pause]...and Hitlerism that permeated Germany and other parts of the world. It was an obscene period in our nation’s history. No, not our nation’s, but World War II. I mean, we all lived in this century. I didn’t live in this century. But in this century’s history. Because we did not have…[pause]...matter of fact we fought…[pause]...Hitlerism, which was a totalitarian form of government.
Well, that silenced the skeptics! It’s a damn good thing Dukakis was such a lousy candidate. (Treat yourself to the video of Quayle’s admission of being a time traveler from another century here.)
Two years later, George H.W. Bush stepped in a similar steaming pile of kot when he used the ol’ “even Hitler wouldn’t do that” approach while condemning Saddam Hussein’s use of “human shields” (foreign visitors and journalists who, so the claim went, were being used as strategic shields to discourage U.S. “coalition” bombing): “I don’t believe Adolf Hitler ever participated in anything of that nature.” When asked to clarify those remarks, Bush stated, “I was told that Hitler did not stake people out against potential military targets,” adding that Hitler, unlike Hussein, respected “the legitimacy of the embassies.”
And with that one completely unnecessary Hitler analogy, Bush was forced to pause his relentless march to war in order to do major damage control. Even Jewish organizations, which were generally quite supportive of Bush’s anti-Hussein rhetoric, castigated the president over his “worse than Hitler” moment.
And now here comes Sean Spicer with his own foray into “even Hitler didn’t do that” territory:
We didn’t use chemical weapons in World War II. You know, you had someone as despicable as Hitler who didn’t even sink to using chemical weapons.
When given the opportunity to dig his grave deeper, Spicer enthusiastically grabbed the nearest spade. With all the skill of a credentialed historian, he waxed Hitleric about “Holocaust centers” (which I assume are like community centers, but with a way higher turnover of users):
I think when you come to sarin gas, there was no—he was not using the gas on his own people the same way that Assad is doing. I mean, there was clearly—I understand your point, thank you….thank you, I appreciate that. There was not—he brought them into the Holocaust center, I understand that. But I’m saying in the way that Assad used them, where he went into towns, dropped them down to innocent—into the middle of towns. It was brought—so the use of it—I appreciate the clarification there.
Let’s add another rule for Republicans: If, at any time, you find yourself about to speak a sentence that contains the words “even Hitler didn’t” or “even Hitler wasn’t” or just “even Hitler,” stop. Please, stop. You will not help your cause. And although this rule is simple and clear enough to be understood by a child, for the GOP, it might as well be the Voynich manuscript.
Now, some Trump supporters have pointed out that technically Spicer was correct. Even The Washington Post had to concede that, in the manner in which the mush-mouthed press secretary obviously intended to use the term “chemical weapons,” he got it right: Hitler, though sitting atop a stockpile of battle-ready nerve gases, never used them, even as his defeat became more and more imminent. Churchill, on the other hand, sitting atop his own pile, was practically chomping at the bit to cry “Havoc!” and let slip the fogs of war. I’m even willing to concede that from a Nazi homicidal gas-chamber perspective, Spicer wins on a technicality with the “not using gas on his own people” line, as almost all German and Austrian Jewish Holocaust victims were shot rather than gassed (the gas chambers were semi-exclusively reserved for the Polish Jews).
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