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. Northdakotax

    " Democratic leaders have publicly condemned them despite President Obama's call for civility in the wake of the Arizona shootings."
    That speaks for itself!

    January 20, 2011 09:15 am at 9:15 am |
  2. a in austin

    Just like Pence ended his little statement "lock, stock, and barrel"....please. If people are going to lie to their constituents, then they ought to be called out on it....

    January 20, 2011 09:15 am at 9:15 am |
  3. Trythefacts

    More of the same hatrid from the Democrats . . . they do not like Obama either as is shown in they do not respect his statements are better conversation

    January 20, 2011 09:18 am at 9:18 am |
  4. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    Stand firm Dems!!!! Do not back down.
    The comparison was long overdue and entirely ACCURATE in the scope in which it was framed.

    Way to go for calling liek like it is, and still being civil. The truth when spoken does not make one disrespectful of others.

    Deal with it Rethugs. It took us a while, but we found our silver bullets.

    January 20, 2011 09:18 am at 9:18 am |
  5. Charlie from the North

    Lies are lies and the bigger they are the more likely they will be believed. But be careful with that label. The Nazis used their lies to eliminate a race of people, destroy their own country and bring the world to near colapse. The GOP is lying to protect their rich friends there is a huge difference in the context and the results. Plus about half the people know they GOP is lying. Big difference.

    January 20, 2011 09:18 am at 9:18 am |
  6. Sam Sixpack

    When you repeat baseless gossip, it becomes your baseless gossip.

    January 20, 2011 09:20 am at 9:20 am |
  7. PrincessRoxana

    Use the phrase 'blood libel' BIG PROBLEM, compare conservatives to Nazis, NO PROBLEM. Not that there's any bias, no not at all.

    January 20, 2011 09:21 am at 9:21 am |
  8. Joan

    Be fair and honest about what he really said. He did not say the Republicans were like Nazis. He said their propoganda tactics of telling small lies over and over and over until it is in people's consciousness and they believe it is similiar to the propoganda tactics of the Nazi leaders. Actually that is true and the media have helped to perpetuate the lies. Again you are twisting the facts just slightly enough to make a sensational sounding story. When are you guys going to report things accurately? When you folks in the media fact check every story and speech and honestly reports any exaggerations and lies, then you will be respected again.

    January 20, 2011 09:23 am at 9:23 am |
  9. razorspain

    As a Democrat who often crosses the party line to vote for a good candidate, I really wish that Mr. Cohen would just apologize. The Nazi comparisons whether to policies or people on the left and the right are just not constructive. You don't need to bring up Nazis to say that the Republicans are repeating lies.

    January 20, 2011 09:26 am at 9:26 am |
  10. Dan

    They stretch it from the truth. They make it short. They repeat it. They use all the resources at their disposal to repeat it, again and again and again. They use a strategy that has been historically proven to work. There is no lie in Rep. Cohen's comment. There may be outrage in the verbiage of the headline ABOUT the comment, but nothing false about the comment.

    January 20, 2011 09:29 am at 9:29 am |
  11. jae

    Please do not apologize I stand by u THE TRUTH

    January 20, 2011 09:30 am at 9:30 am |
  12. Marcus

    Liking it or not Goebbels, that crazy guy who gave orange juice (with raticide) to his own kids when his boss (Hitler) was dead because he couldn't stand them growing up in a world without his leader (or Fueher), was a genius when it came down to political propaganda.
    I AM NOT A NAZI, but to deny that he knew what he was doing (most of the time) when it came to promote is political ideology/agenda is simply stupid.
    Considering that the GOP' strategy to almost anythng that the POTUS says or does is repeat a mantra against his actions or words EVEN IF THEY ARE PROVED TO BE WRONG over and over without any respect to the facts, then Mr. Cohen's claim is not at all baseless.

    January 20, 2011 09:34 am at 9:34 am |
  13. jules sand-perkins

    Goebbels was not the only celebrity to use "the big lie."
    Cohen might have compared the Republican criticism to Joshua, who fit the battle of Jericho, when the lambs' horns, rams' horn began to blow, in the Holy Bible.
    Or to mezzo-soprano Marilyn Horne's description of press relations.
    But Cohen chose a NAZI, Goebbels.

    January 20, 2011 09:36 am at 9:36 am |
  14. highlander

    He didn't call Repugs Nazis. He compared their propaganda tactics to the Nazis "big lie" theory which states that if you repeat a lie often enough it becomes truth. This is exactly what the Repugs have bveen doing since Obama took office. The comparison is apt.

    January 20, 2011 09:37 am at 9:37 am |
  15. John

    I saw the congressman on Anderson Cooper last night and it was quite clear he was comparing the TACTICS of Goebbels to that of the Republican party which is, IMO, 100% CORRECT!!! He wasn't calling anyone a Nazi. If anybody asked me who was most effective at propaganda in history, Geobbels will instantly come to mind and I think it will for most others as well. However, and very surprising as I like his show somewhat, Anderson COULD NOT GRASP that. The guy just didn't get it and kept repeating his tired 'you're calling them Nazi's' rant being all combative for NO REASON. I could swear he turned into a defensive Rebuplican right before my eyes (or maybe he is). Anyway, cudos to you congressman for standing firm and not being swayed by Anderson bullying tactics. You said NOTHING WRONG.

    January 20, 2011 09:38 am at 9:38 am |
  16. Mark L

    There's nothing to apologize for. Are you kidding? The Republican party is using the exact tactics used by Goebbels. They just keep telling lies over and over until people believe them. This is extremely dangerous. What good is a democracy when so many people cast their vote based on misinformation? I received an email just the other day from the Tea Party wherein they misquoted the Constitution. It was either an outright lie or outright stupidity. Nonetheless, the Tea Party lovers now believe the Constitution says something that it most definitely doesn't say.

    January 20, 2011 09:38 am at 9:38 am |
  17. Michael

    He compared the tactics being used to, if you know anything about history, a politician who wrote the book on how to lie to people and deceive them in order to get them to fall in lock step to your way of thinking. If you hold up a mirror and the person doesn't like what he/she sees, then they need to change. That goes for both ends of the political spectrum.

    January 20, 2011 09:39 am at 9:39 am |
  18. T'sah from Virginia

    Even though this comment does not seem so "damning" (just like the RepubliCAN'Ts taking "killing the bill" out after the Tucson event and then putting it back in a little over a week later), I wish the hostile rhetoric would STOP!!

    All during the TP Rampage shown in the media for the past two years, it's redundant and BORING for it to continue because it does not accomplish being CIVIL!!

    January 20, 2011 09:39 am at 9:39 am |
  19. GI Joe

    The republicans did run a lot of ads about death panels, unplugging granny, killing jobs and a lot of other lies. Even now they run constantly the thing by Huck (lies) and it is probably costing enough to pay for healthcare for thousands.

    Then there are the birthers, the ones who believe the Obamas as Muslim, etc. The repubs DO LIE A LOT.

    January 20, 2011 09:40 am at 9:40 am |
  20. Liza

    Any reference to Nazis in any context is ridiculous and makes the person look foolish. He should be called out for inciting hatred and using hate talk and issue a real apology. Good grief Dems you can't have it both ways – tell the Rebulicans to clean it up and then support your guy on this.

    January 20, 2011 09:41 am at 9:41 am |
  21. Angry Vet2

    I applaud Congressman Cohen for his honesty. History repreats itself and I, for one, am tired of the GOP using opinion as fact and repeating lies without consequence. Like the GOP health plan, if poor, get sick, die quick. No compassion and no honesty.

    January 20, 2011 09:42 am at 9:42 am |
  22. Tony in Maine

    It wasn't a comparison. What Mr. Cohen did was mention the best known employer of that tactic. How many victim cards have the Republicans got in their deck. It seems like there's a daily whine about being picked on by this or that progressive.

    January 20, 2011 09:42 am at 9:42 am |
  23. gt

    ok... then dont ever say a word if someone on the other side use nazi, hitler , or any other evil person... cohen is a jew so i guess he thinks he can say anything,,, stupid , little evil man....

    January 20, 2011 09:42 am at 9:42 am |
  24. paul

    not that I am a fan of ANY politician, right or left, but now lets see how the media plays this. You can rest assured, if this were a right winger, the left AND the media would be ALL OVER IT!! So far, have not heard a peep!!

    January 20, 2011 09:43 am at 9:43 am |
  25. Paul from Phoenix

    So much for changing the rhetoric. Looks like it's back to business as usual.

    January 20, 2011 09:44 am at 9:44 am |
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