January 28, 2014

JAMES TARANTO: Tu Quoque ad Hitlerum: A brief history of Kristallnacht analogies.

Today’s New York Times column from Paul Krugman, titled “Paranoia of the Plutocrats,” typifies the prog-left’s reaction. “You may say that this is just one crazy guy,” Krugman writes. “But Mr. Perkins isn’t that much of an outlier.” Rather, according to Krugman, Perkins belongs to “a class of people who are alarmingly detached from reality.” . . .

Are they? A little context is in order here. Krugman notes that Perkins isn’t “even the first finance titan to compare advocates of progressive taxation to Nazis.” (Nor is he in fact the latest; his letter is about what he hears as a hateful tone, not about taxes or any other substantive question of policy.) Krugman cites an earlier example, from 2010.

But Kristallnacht references have been a part of public debate for decades. And their use hasn’t been limited to “finance titans” or people on the right. Blogger Ed Driscoll notes an example nearly a quarter of a century old: a March 1989 op-ed titled “An Ecological Kristallnacht. Listen.”

“In 1939, as clouds of war gathered over Europe, many refused to recognize what was about to happen,” wrote the op-ed’s author. “In 1989, clouds of a different sort signal an environmental holocaust without precedent. Once again, world leaders waffle, hoping the danger will dissipate. Yet today the evidence is as clear as the sounds of glass shattering in Berlin.” (Kristallnacht actually occurred in 1938.) In case that wasn’t heavy-handed enough, he also invoked Neville Chamberlain.

The author of that piece was one Albert Gore, then junior senator from Tennessee. It appeared–where else?–in the New York Times. . . .

In March 2010, Krugman’s then-colleague Frank Rich experienced 1938 flashbacks. Congress had just enacted ObamaCare, by a partisan vote and over public opposition that was both broad and intense. “How curious,” Rich wrote, “that a mob fond of likening President Obama to Hitler knows so little about history that it doesn’t recognize its own small-scale mimicry of Kristallnacht. The weapon of choice for vigilante violence at Congressional offices has been a brick hurled through a window. So far.”

Ninety-one Jews were murdered on Kristallnacht, and some 30,000 were rounded up and taken to concentration camps. In the 2010 “vigilante violence,” not only was no one killed, but the Daily Beast’s John Avlon reported only four windows hurt. Yet Avlon was as excited as Rich: “The parallels, intentional or not, to the Nazis’ heinous 1938 kristallnacht . . . are hard to ignore.” (As an aside, has an adjective ever done less work than that “heinous”?)

Well, there’s a class of rich people who are out of touch with reality, all right. . . .