Saturday, December 08, 2007

Romney's Hitleresque Strategy

Yesterday, I wrote some comments about what Mitt Romney had said in his “Faith in America” speech. Today, I want to say a few words about why he said it – or, more specifically, about the type of political strategy his efforts fall into.

Romney’s Hitleresque Political Strategy

Romney’s strategy for the speech was, for all practical purpose, the same political strategy that Hitler used to obtain power. The recipe is to take some subgroup of the culture that is not very popular – that there is a history of vilifying, accept any and all lies and sophistry that are used against this group, and tell the people that “we” must pull together under a common leader who recognizes how bad “they” are and is willing to stand up to “them” for the sake of “us”.

It was, in fact, quite fitting that Romney was introduced by the senior George Bush. Bush himself is quoted as saying:

“No, I don't know that atheists should be considered as citizens, nor should they be considered as patriots. This is one nation under God.”

However, there is no primary source available for this quote – just the word of the reporter who asked the question.

In Romney’s case, we have a primary source. Romney’s assertion that atheists should not be considered patriots, that this is one nation under God, was broadcast on prime time throughout the country.

Of course, in Hitler’s case, the enemy – the people that Hitler targeted were the Jews (among others). This was the easiest target for him to use, since it allowed Hitler to draw upon hatreds that the Christian community had cultivated for hundreds of years. This is not to say that Hitler himself did not hate the Jews and that he merely played off of everybody else’s hatred. Hitler, himself, probably learned this hatred from the Christian culture in which he grew up. None of this changes the fact that this history of hatred of Jews existed, and that it was easy for Hitler to exploit.

To do this, Hitler needed only to give voice to the prejudices and bigotries that were already active within the community – lies that blamed the Jews for all of the troubles that the German people had suffered. To follow Hitler’s example, Romney needed only to give voice to a pack of lies that have been leveled against ‘secularists’ over the years – lies that his target group were likely to accept without question and without evidence.

Secularists, according to Romney, are anti-American and anti-freedom who rightfully deserve no voice in government.

It is important to note that in Romney’s speech, he identified his opponent as a religious minority. Many secularists would deny that secularism is a religion. However, this blog post is about Romney’s strategy, and in this context it is important to note that Romney described secularism as a religion and anticipated that his audience would accept this claim. That it is just another one of the lies that he used to vilify his target group does not change the fact that he used this lie.

Anyway, by calling secularism a ‘religion’ he makes the case that his strategy was like Hitler’s significantly stronger. Romney was targeting a religious subgroup. Though he did this in the context of a speech that talked about the importance of freedom of religion and of respect for differing religious beliefs, he also made it clear that the religion of secularism was “wrong” and that the practitioners of his religion were anti-American, anti-freedom, and unworthy of any respect or consideration. Though Romney made reference to the constitutional prohibition against any religious test for public office, he made it clear that those who belonged to the ‘secularist religion’ had no place in public office, or even in America.

Romney also repeated the common libel that secularists are out to remove all mention of God from the public square – a charge that has as much merit as host desecration did against the Jews.

Though one might be able to find an isolated instances of a secularist arguing for a prohibition on all mention of God in the public square, just as one might be able to find an instance of a Jew who desecrated a communion wafer, one can find no evidence that this is a regular secular proposal (or Jewish practice). Secularists wish to eliminate all government endorsement of religion, and certainly have reason to protest claims that a person has to be under God or trust in God to be patriotic (these claims are inherently insulting and denigrating), I do not know of a secularist who would ban private citizens from standing on public property professing their private belief in God.

The claim that secularists are trying to remove all mention of God from the public square is a lie; a misrepresentation of the fact that secularists are trying to get the church’s hand out of their bank account.

A third lie in Rommey’s speech was to equate ‘secularists’ with people who do not believe in God or do not have faith. As it turns out, a great many religious people are secularists. A secularist is somebody who believes in the separation of church and state – something that people who have suffered religious persecution in the past tend to appreciate more than those who have caused this persecution or who have the power to cause it in the future with relative impunity. Atheists are the actual hated group so, by blurring the distinction between atheists and secularists, Romney (following the conservative religious tradition) should be able to engineer the same hatred of all secularists that had previously been meant only for atheists.

The Reason Behind the Strategy

Romney had good reason to try Hitler’s “Us” versus “them” strategy – complete with the lies and slanders that “us” have been leveling against “them” for countless years. Romney wanted to be accepted as one of “us”. His Mormon religion caused many conservative Christians to view him as an outsider. He needed to find a group that was more disliked than the Mormons and to give a speech that said, “Look! Over there! They are the enemy! We must unite against them!” Buying into every lie and slander used against the target group only added to the acceptability of his argument.

People generally have a desire to belong – to be one of “us”. Hitler became popular by telling the German people that “we” (Arians) are better than “them” (Jews and others). The German people heard the message, they felt the pride, and they gave their power to Hitler, who then acted on that false sense of pride against those that he had declared to be the inferior “them”. Similarly, Romney seems to have been hoping to create a similar sense of pride among “us” who are under God and trust in God, against “them” secularists – for the purpose of generating the same psychological effect.

As long as he could come up with an “us” and “them” so that Mormons were in the “us” category, and some long-standing socially vilified group was in the “them” category. He had everything he needed in targeting secularists, the way Hitler targeted Jews.

The Hitler Analogy

There will be people who will question the Hitler analogy. Any time Hitler is mentioned, they get upset and accuse the person mentioning Hitler of some major offense. However, there are two problems with this response to such an analogy.

First, it makes being “like Hitler” the politically safest thing one can be. By being “like Hitler”, a candidate can instantly disarm all opponents by saying to his accusers, “How dare you say that I am like Hitler.”

Second, this “How dare you accuse me of being like Hitler” response is actually a smoke-screen; a distraction. The individual cannot answer the actual charges that have been leveled against him, so he hopes to change the subject, by changing the accusation into one he can handle.

I have not said that Romney and his supporters are “like Hitler” in that they are just itching for a chance to open up the death camps. I have said that they are “like Hitler” in their use of a strategy of vilifying some subgroup in a community as a way of achieving political power – of creating a false “us” and “them” that he hopes will result in enough votes for “us” to win the election.

Remember, there were no gas chambers in 1933 - not when Hitler was actually making his climb to power.

That charge stands. Any pretend offense at being compared to Hitler in this regard is, like I said, a smoke screen – a way in which a candidate like Romney can behave in ways like Hitler and avoid having anybody present this fact.


I consider it quite important, now, that Romney be defeated and disgraced, and that he is defeated and disgraced precisely because of this speech. If this type of behavior is ever seen as politically viable in this country, we can expect others to keep using it, and for ‘secularists’ to continue to be victimized because of it. The way to put an end to this type of strategy is to make sure that it is political suicide to even try to use this strategy.

And that it is political suicide for any party to seriously consider a candidate that employs this type of strategy. The instant that any candidate tries this type of Hitleresque targeting of a subgroup to gain political power, a sufficient number of Americans should recognize it, and to know that this is not the type of person we want as our leader, that he immediately loses all hope of victory.

Then we would have at least one measure of protection against potential Hitleresque candidates in the future.

A Closing Note on ‘Under God’ and ‘In God We Trust’

I want to close with one final note. The case for allowing under God in the pledge and “In God We Trust” on the currency is that this is a patriotic exercise that has nothing to do with promoting religion. This is an argument that only makes sense if it is reasonable to deny that the Pledge and the motto can be used to target hostility against any group of Americans. Yet, this is precisely what Romney did in his speech, and what he was applauded for doing.

We are a nation 'Under God' and in God, we do indeed trust.

This means nothing less than those who are not under God or who do not trust in God are anti-American. It is a clear-cut instance of these quotes being used to direct hostility against a target group in order to promote one religious belief (belief about religion, not belief within a religion) over another.


Brian Westley said...

There's a bit more than just Rob Sherman's word about Bush Sr.'s quote on atheists:

Hume's Ghost said...

This is why I plug the work of David Neiwert on "transmission" so often. Romney is giving a friendly face to a message (or a meme if you want) that is deeply rooted in hate and bigotry.

To see what it looks like in pure form, go to YouTube and search "Pat Bucanan 1992" and watch his culture war speech. Then the Hitler comparison won't seem as outlandish.

Hume's Ghost said...

Start with PT 2 if you don't have a lot of patience ... that's where he starts in on the culture war stuff.

Matt M said...

I think the Hitler comparison is justified, but it still adds a certain emotional tint (in the mind of readers) that might undermine the important points you're making.

Doug Indeap said...

Good comparison, well explained. I also appreciate the insight about the "under God," etc., language.

Anonymous said...

If it is Hitleresque, to try to convince some of the people, that others represent a very grave threat to all that we hold good, then, you are using this strategy yourself.

I think the Hitler reference is in poor taste, and attempts by revulsion to convince people what your arguments fail to do. Atheists while they may be hated by some, (If I go by work such as the NewYorker's, Atheists with Attitude, are not a small fringe group but represents a significant portion of society, and an even larger proportion of segments like the scientific community. The analogy fails, without even examining Romney's views on democracy.

The reference to Hitler implies that you know Romney has a hidden agenda to eradicate atheists. If you have evidence, show it, because we would all like to see it. Otherwise, I find the debate about which prospective leaders are the most like Hitler, Stalin, Amin, or Franco pointless.

Anonymous said...

Evil is evil, regardless of whether Hitler did it or not. Go for the Joseph McCarthy comparison. ;)

Alonzo Fyfe said...

Doug S.

McCarthyism would actually be a poor analogy for two reasons.

First, many of the accusations under McCarthyism were false allogations based on 'evidence' drawn under durress. I am not talking here about false accusations of atheism. I am talking about an attack on atheism itself.

Second, there is already an unfortunate and misleading association between communism and atheism in the public mind. It would no good to strengthen that assertion.

The Hitler analogy is more accurate. There is no legitimate reason to demand that I substitute a poor analogy for an accurate one.

Anonymous said...

I have a Hitleresque way of putting my pants on. (one leg at a time). Yesterday, someone (we don't know what strain of madness he had, shot up a church) And tomorrow if some sick person attempts to assasinate Romney lets hope he does not say he was trying to prevent another Hitler.

Evil is evil, it is not an evil strategy because Hitler used it. So the use of Hitler is not central to the argument. If the issue is how was Hitler bad, then discussing his strategies is relevant, but when the issue is why is Romney bad, the association with Hitler is at best irrelevant and at worst an impediment to clear thinking about the subject.

Unless you want to argue that I have a very dangerous way of putting on pants.

Alonzo Fyfe said...


Clearly, my argument was not of the form, "X was done by Hitler; therefore, it was evil," so your rebuttal here is against a straw man. Your response would have been effective against that inference if I had made it, but is not relevant to what I actually wrote.

My argument was, "Among the evil things that Hitler did is that he manipulated the crowd by exploiting a cultural divide, backed by myth and sophistry, between 'us' (Ayrians) and 'them' (Jews, among others). This is what Romney did in his speech as well."

Hitler provides the best current example of that type of strategy - one that best explains why it is wrong without a lot of additional explanation being required. I see nothing wrong with using the best example of P when trying to explain P. In fact, I think it is irrational not to use the best example of P when talking about P. If that best available example is some act done by Hitler, then I will use it.

In order to challenge my argument, the form that the rebuttal would have to take is one that somehow argues that this strategy of prying open a divide between 'us' and 'them' that is based on lies and sophistry is somehow not wrong, or that neither Hitler nor Romney used this strategy.

Anonymous said...

I am not challanging that Romney or many other politicians try to evoke feelings of us and them, or that we should keep quite about the use of this strategy.

Is Hitler really the best example of this strategy, of using an external or internal scapegoat to unite and mobilize a majority?

Is Romney more like Bush/Cheney and the gay marriage issue here, or more like Hitler?

Appeals to Hitler, Stalin, Antichrist, may be valid in some contexts, but they seem designed more to evoke fear (of them vs us) than elucidate rhetorical fallacies(like straw man, ad hominem, poisoning the well etc. with which you are undoubtably quite familiar)

If we are strongly opposed to us vs them tactics, I think we should be very reticent about playing the great Satan card, if only so that when the next Hitler comes, and we cry wolf, the example still evokes enough fear that we will rise immediately to action.

I concede that you may think that day has already come, and as such the Hitleresque strategy is warrented.

Alonzo Fyfe said...

A Bush/Cheney analogy on homosexuality would be a poor analogy for two reasons.

First, I would have had to show that this analogy had all of the elements that made it bad. That would take as much work as the original case. I do not have to go through this effort with respect to Hitler, because those elements are already known.

Second, I would have had to deal with the people who support Bush/Cheney who would not be willing to accept a negative portrayal of their policies. Of course, I have to deal with the people who support Hitler, but this is a much smaller portion of the audience.

As for a gunman killing Romney to prevent another Hitler, please note that I did not argue that Romney was another Hitler. I argued that Romney used a strategy that Hitler used. Having one negative quality in common with Hitler does not imply that one is the next Hitler.

Anonymous said...

Romney as I see it is attempting to carve out a constituency. He is entitiled to believe (I am not saying he does) that atheists represent a danger, just like you are entitled to believe that fundamentalist Christians might represent a danger. Both of you can rally to try to get a majority (an "us", to limit "them" from gaining power and so improve or protect all that we hold good.

To say Romney's attempt to rally his "Us" is like Hitler , while yours is not seems to me to be unreasonable.

The beauty of showing an argument is a "straw man" say, is that it shows in a un-emotional way what is wrong with it. You state that you didn't want to use McCarthy as an example, because of all the baggage around Stalin, that would cloud the argument. Hitler has baggage as well.

The creation of us vs them, like in your best 80% vs the worst 20% evokes cooperation amoung the best 80% inspite of theist/atheistic differences, to combat the worst 20%. This is us vs them. The problem is not that it is always bad to be divisive, there are times when we must show that we are different from a them.

Rereading your piece, I get the image of Romney strategists combing the Hitler legacy for tactics that they can use with impunity because no-one will dare accuse them of being Hitleresque. I think the reality is quite different. Like the football coach hoping an opposing player will make some statement to the press, that the coach can then use to motivate his own players.

This is the trap I thing you fell into. Because you were a bit lazy in looking for a less emotional analogy, you resorted to Hitler. And now the other coaches can use this to try to motivate their base, in the same way you are using unjustified aspertions to the patriotism of atheists to rally your base.

You can't expect people not to rally their base. Doing so is not Hitleresque, just as straw man (which Hitler frequently used, is not called Hitleresque. We rarely name strategies after their creators, except for perhaps Machiavelli. But the use to my mind, says more about a certain amorality behind its use, than whether the strategy itself can ever have good uses.)

To me, bringing in the Hitler angle, is almost always an attempt to poison the well. Hitler killed millions of Jews, and that sort of baggage, like Stalin's should not be attributed lightly to anyone.

You rejected the Bush/Cheney analagy because it would take too long to explain. I hope (and trust) it was not a cheap recourse to try to drive a wedge between Romney and Jewish voters.

The real issue, is not us vs them, but rather, what is ethical, when we public express our distrust or disagreement of/with others. For Hilter the distrust was total, and could not be sated. This is what is Hitleresque about it. Your distrust of Huckabee or Romney, and I believe their's of you does not in my mind qualify as Hitleresque.

Best regards