The only time you can be really sure that both the Republicans and Democrats are wrong is when they all agree with each other. This is certainly true in the recent case of poor Representative Mary Miller, besieged and berated on all sides for saying something that very few of us would ever really dispute.
My favorite tune from “Cabaret” is unquestionably the doleful love song, “Maybe This Time.” Even for those lucky few of us who have found true love in this lifetime, Liza Minelli’s heartbreaking yearning to be a winner in love after repeated failings has an easy time tearing at almost every heartstring. But the most riveting, startling song from that same musical is “Tomorrow Belongs to Me.” Spoiler alert to those few readers who have never seen the musical or movie: The song begins with a close-up of a classically angelic Aryan youth, blue-eyed and blond-haired, sweetly singing this melodic tune. It is only halfway through the song, when the camera pans outward that you realize that this cherubic looking youth singing this sweet, lyrical song is a member of Hitler’s Youth. The director could have chosen another way to convey the fact that Germany’s youth had been captivated by the false promises and half-truths of the Nazis, but putting the words in the mouth of this young singer made a far more profound impact on the audience. I have not seen the film in several decades, but the only scene that I can still remember is that song being sung in some German beer garden.
I suspect something of the same sort of reasoning went through the mind of the freshman Republican representative from Illinois, Mary Miller, when she decided to quote Adolf Hitler in a speech, declaring that “Hitler was right on one thing. He said, ‘Whoever has the youth has the future.’” This comment drew swift and severe bipartisan criticism, with Republicans vying with Democrats to outdo each other in castigating Representative Miller for such an “outrageous” statement. It reminded me that I have always taught my children not to think one political party is always right and the other always wrong, that they will find that the Democrats are right sometimes and the Republicans are right other times, and that the only time you can be really sure that they are wrong, is when they all agree with each other. This is certainly true in this instance. Poor Representative Miller, besieged and berated on all sides for saying something that very few of us would ever really dispute.
Her Hitler reference also reminded me of my own prepared statement before a Senate Subcommittee after I had been nominated to be the United States Ambassador to the Kingdom of Cambodia in 2005. In my prepared remarks—which were fully vetted and cleared throughout the Department of State—I thought I should include some reference to the horrific genocide perpetrated by the Khmer Rouge on its own people during the Seventies. Searching for a suitable explanation, I considered relevant quotes by Gandhi, Arendt, Sophocles, and many others, but settled on a line often attributed to Stalin: “The death of one man is a tragedy. The death of a million is only a statistic.” Perhaps it was because we were not so politically correct 15 years ago and the cancel culture had not yet reared its ugly head, but no one seemed upset at all that before a subcommittee of the US Senate I had quoted a genocidal monster as reprehensible as Hitler. Or perhaps it was because, body count aside, we are more comfortable quoting a mass murderer who does not discriminate based on “race, religion, or national origin” in orchestrating his slaughter.
Of all the absurd commentary attacking Representative Miller, however, none can rival the self-righteous silliness of Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker, a Democrat, who called the remarks “unfathomable.” He went on to explain himself thusly: “Let me be clear: Hitler got nothing right. This reprehensible rhetoric has no place in our politics.” Wow. That’s quite a ridiculous statement even for an American politician. Hitler got nothing right? So, if someone quoted Hitler as believing that the earth revolves around the sun, we should insist like a latter-day Ptolemy that the solar system is geocentric? Of course, that example is not quite fair, because to quote Hitler about astronomy would make no sense when there are so many more qualified and eminent thinkers to rely on. But when it comes to manipulating an audience and deceiving the youth of a country, who better than one of history’s most despicable and ruthless leaders? To quote Hitler in this narrow manner is a far clearer and more riveting way to convey an important truth than quoting just about anyone else, just as quoting Stalin on genocide during my Senate hearing was a more jarring and edifying way to express the horror and banality of mass murder.
I understand the universal loathing for Hitler (and Stalin), but this unwillingness to have any objectivity and to demand (as Senator Tammy Duckworth did) an elected official’s resignation because of appropriately quoting such a vile creature is absurd. Shall we shut down our nationwide Interstate highway system just because Eisenhower was inspired to support that system of roadways after seeing Germany’s massive construction of the Autobahn system during the Nazi period? Shall we ban Volkswagens from those same highways because the Volkswagen was a huge propaganda success for Hitler? Shall we again outlaw homosexual relationships because some of Hitler’s earliest and most violent followers were gay? Or perhaps, we should start treating animals cruelly and ban PETA since Hitler hated hunting animals and the Nazi regime was quite enlightened when it came to protecting animal rights? Did they really get nothing right?
This entire sordid episode by Democrats and Republicans to get on the bandwagon to pummel Representative Miller reminds me of the now-long-forgotten outrage, initiated on the Right, but echoed almost immediately on the Left, back in 2001 when the liberal comedian Bill Maher had the effrontery to question former President George W. Bush’s ridiculous assertion that the 2001 terrorists were cowards. One can plausibly argue that the acts themselves were cowardly since civilians were targeted, and certainly the acts themselves were evil and unjustifiable, but describing 19 men who willingly gave up their lives for what they pathetically thought was a higher cause as cowards was and remains silly. But Maher then, like Miller now, had to retract a truth in order to keep the guardians of political correctness at bay. This is too bad and sadly distracting from the points that Maher in 2001 and Miller today were trying to make. Someday, Americans may grow up and be able to assess matters in a mature and unbiased manner, but that day is nowhere to be seen on the horizon.
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The featured image is the official portrait of Representative Mary Miller, and is in the public domain, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.