After the shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords last week, there was a surge of calls for more civility in national public discourse. NPR was running radio spots calling for a more civil debate, and in Washington there were politicians pleading that the rhetoric be toned down.
It seems like all of these efforts to clean up the debate and play fair got thrown out the window when Democrat Stephen Cohen compared Republicans in Congress to Nazi master propagandist Joseph Goebbels. His speech, which got widespread media coverage, included the comment “They say it’s a government takeover of health care, a big lie just like Goebbels.” In his appearances on television following the media outrage, Cohen defended the comments, making a shaky distinction between comparing the Republicans to Nazis and comparing their strategy to that of the propagandist Goebbels.
Semantics aside, the central issue is that it is unacceptable in public discourse to compare people, especially fellow congressmen and women, to Nazis. This is because Nazis are generally considered the most evil people ever, and the Holocaust is possibly the closest thing to hell on earth in world history. Cohen’s comments stopped a couple steps short of calling Republicans the devil himself.
Although Cohen is himself Jewish, it should be noted that Jewish groups and the Anti-Defamation League have made statements against his comparisons. The fact of the matter is that it is completely unacceptable to compare anybody to the Nazis. Period.
The real losers in this debacle are not Cohen and the Democrats, but the citizens of America. Inflammatory dialogue like this isn’t just disrespectful and unprofessional, but it deepens the existing animosity between Republicans and Democrats. Representatives like Mr. Cohen who make aggressive statements that are blatant jabs at their opponents across the aisle seem to be oblivious, or even worse, indifferent to the paralyzing effect that this has on government.
At a time when governments around the world are taking action to restructure and adapt to rapidly changing economic and political conditions, the inability of the members of Congress to cooperate, or even show each other basic decency, has almost completely halted the legislative process.
It is my hope that there will be a renewed call for civility in politics, not just because it is professional and respectful, but because it is necessary for a dynamic government that responds to the pressing issues we face today.
Charles Godfrey (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a freshman at UW with an undeclared major.