Dem stands by Nazi comparison
January 20th, 2011
09:16 AM ET
12 years ago

Dem stands by Nazi comparison

(CNN) – Rep. Steve Cohen, the Tennessee Democrat who compared Republican efforts to criticize health care to the works of a famous Nazi propagandist, is standing by his heated rhetoric on the House Floor Tuesday night.

But in an interview with CNN's John King, Cohen said he was not directly comparing Republicans to Nazis, but rather merely suggesting they are employing the same techniques of that of infamous Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels.

"I didn't compare the Republicans to Nazis," Cohen told CNN Wednesday. "Goebbels was the master of political propaganda. He said repeat it. Make it short. Make it simple and repeat it over and over. And that's what they've done. It's not a - you just heard [Minnesota Republican Rep.] Michele Bachmann call it socialistic. That's just - they're lies."

The original comments came Tuesday night when Cohen, speaking to a virtually empty House Floor, said, "They say it's a government takeover of health care, a big lie, just like Goebbels. You say it enough, you repeat the lie, you repeat the lie, you repeat the lie and eventually people believe it."

In his interview with CNN, Cohen insists the press has blown his comments out of proportion.

"Some have in the press…seem to want to jump on anything," he said, adding later, "I think that people are looking for something. I think the press was hypersensitive. Certainly I didn't intend to do that, but the way they lied has been the same way that the master political propagandist of all time Goebbels said to lie."

Also speaking on Anderson Copper 360 Wednesday, Cohen said he wouldn't make the comparison again but declared, "I was right."

Earlier Wednesday, Cohen told CNN that he has not heard from his party leadership about his remarks and no Democratic leaders have publicly condemned them despite President Obama's call for civility in the wake of the Arizona shootings.

Few Republicans have weighed in either, though the Republican Jewish Coalition called the comments "a very disturbing development."

"After leaders of both parties called upon their rank-and-file members to choose their words with more prudence and sensitivity in the aftermath of the horrible events in Tucson, Congressman Cohen's outrageous use of Holocaust rhetoric should offend us all," said Republican Jewish Coalition Executive Director Matthew Brooks.

The Tennessee GOP has also demanded Cohen apologize for the remarks.

Update: Cohen has issued a statement further attempting to clarify his comments.

“There has been considerable media attention regarding comments I made during Special Orders on the House floor as part of a colloquy Tuesday evening. While I received no comments or responses from my colleagues on the floor at the time or, for that matter from anyone until midday on Wednesday, someone posted a small portion of the speech on the internet. Taken out of context, I can understand the confusion and concern. In speaking about the Republican message of “government takeover of health care” that has been drummed into the heads of Americans and the media for more than a year, I referenced the non-partisan, Pulitzer prize-winning judgment that named the Republican message as the “2010 Lie of the Year.”

While I regret that anything I said has created an opportunity to distract from the debate about health care for 32 million Americans, I want to be clear that I never called Republicans Nazis. Instead, the reference I made was to the greatest propaganda master of all time. Propaganda, which is called “messaging” today, can be true or false. In this case, the message is false.

I would certainly never do anything to diminish the horror of the Nazi Holocaust as I revere and respect the history of my people. I sponsored legislation which created one of the first state Holocaust Commissions in America and actively served as a Commission member for over 20 years. I regret that anyone in the Jewish Community, my Republican colleagues or anyone else was offended by the portrayal of my comments. My comments were not directed toward any group or people but at the false message and, specifically, the method by which is has been delivered.

It is disappointing that my comments have been used to distract from the health care reform debate. It is my hope that we can return our focus to the matter at hand—health care for 32 million Americans.”

Filed under: Congress
soundoff (160 Responses)
  1. jboh

    It's about time someone stood up and said this. It is 100% true. Propaganda like "govt takeover", and "death panels", are just a few. Add the birthers' BS, the babble from weepy Glen, delusional rants of Rusher Limbaugh, and quitter Palin, and the similar propaganda style is clear to anyone but their cultists.

    January 20, 2011 10:49 am at 10:49 am |
  2. Jim

    As a Dem, I think this is a horrific choice of words. Much like I call Sarah Palin out when she uses words like 'Blood Libel', I am calling Mr. Cohen out for his choice of comparisons. Goebbles was responsible for popularizing 'The Holocaust' to the people of Germany, getting them to believe that the "Ultimate Solution" was patriotic and justified, neither of which was true. The Republicans, on the other hand, have been very quick to compare President Obama to the Nazi's as well, and that's wrong too. Very few people alive today are like the evil, loathsome people behind the Nazi regime. No one deserves that comparison.

    January 20, 2011 10:50 am at 10:50 am |
  3. RandNoir

    Both parties seem to compare each other's tactics to those used by the Nazi party to gain power. The GOP has harvested and indeed encouraged the Tea Party assertion that the DEM's health care system shares similarities with the national socialist society programs of the late 30's. The DEMs alluded to GOP's use of rhetoric as similar in spirit to that used by the nazis in order to undermine their enemies. I suppose the one big difference between the Dems' plans and the nazis is that the Dems want the benefit (healthcare in this case) for everyone. The nazis wanted it only for a select and therefore deserving group of people, the mythical "aryans", everyone else being actively exterminated or passively allowed to starve.

    The one big difference between the GOP's rhetoric and that used by nazis.... Let's see.... GOP: "Your healthcare is a part of plan of communist subversion. It is bad because communism is bad. Socialism too. You're socialist. So you're bad. Unamerican. Not like us." vs. nazis: "By being who you are (communist/gypsy/jew/gay/wearing white after Labor day) you are the enemy of the people. You are not the majority. We are. We are the aryans – princes of the universe. We invented everything, we are the best at everything and therefore should rule over you. Therefore we can take whatever we want. Because we are awesome." Not a whole lot of difference there. Wake up, GOP – someone is using a stupefying form of populism to hijack your conservative principles of efficient government and personal liberty and turn them to another, sinister use. Beware of idealogues like Beck, Palin and Limbaugh. By pretending to be the voice of the masses, they subvert the masses and gain power over the political process. They don't need to be elected to rule. They just need to be heard. Remember the lessons of Ayn Rand!

    January 20, 2011 10:51 am at 10:51 am |
  4. Midwestmatt

    He never compared the Republicans to the Nazis. Watch the video and actually HEAR HIS WORDS. He noted that propaganda techniques used by Goebels is the same one used by the RNC. In fact, they've even upped the ante because they've turned Americans against Americans instead of a country against a religion. Go ahead and get on your high horse about Republicans being compared to Nazis because you look like idiots doing so. It didn't happen and CNN should quit running stories with entirely misleading headlines.

    January 20, 2011 10:51 am at 10:51 am |
  5. Darryl Schmitz

    Thank you, razorspain. Well said.

    January 20, 2011 10:53 am at 10:53 am |
  6. Todd Collins

    It may come as a surprise to everyone, but not everything the Nazi's did was horrible. Everyone just learns about the bad stuff in school. I have german friends, I've been to germany and discussed these things with them. There are a lot of things we could learn from them, how to avoid their mistakes and how to replicate the things they did that worked well. People are afraid of the word "socialism" but they don't even know how it works. Any time somebody has a great idea, if the nazi's had the same idea everybody will shoot it down just because the nazi's also did horrible things.

    January 20, 2011 10:53 am at 10:53 am |
  7. nick

    To compare anyone to Nazi's regiemne is gust as bad as the words crosshair shame on you.

    January 20, 2011 10:54 am at 10:54 am |
  8. Nicole

    I'm glad he said it. I've been thinking the same thing for at least a year. And for the record, my parents were children during WWII in Germany and I am a historian. Just because people as heinous as Goebbels and Hitler perfected the art of propoganda doesn't mean comtemporary political strategists aren't going to borrow their tactics.

    January 20, 2011 10:54 am at 10:54 am |
  9. historian

    Another case of the left accusing the right of something they do even better.

    January 20, 2011 10:55 am at 10:55 am |
  10. Jim

    Webster's defination of Socialism This fits the Obama Health care plan Please note #3
    1: any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods
    2a : a system of society or group living in which there is no private property b : a system or condition of society in which the means of production are owned and controlled by the state
    3: a stage of society in Marxist theory transitional between capitalism and communism and distinguished by unequal distribution of goods and pay according to work done
    So who's lying?

    January 20, 2011 10:55 am at 10:55 am |
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