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. ThinkAgain

    Cohen compared the Republicans' messaging strategy to that of Goebbels – and he's right. People making the leap to saying that Cohen called Republicans Nazis are wrong.

    Once again, instead of debating facts, Republicans are twisting them in their attempt to demonize their critics (their favorite smoke screen to hide the fact that all of their policies are PROVEN FAILURES and that all they have to offer our country is fear, lies, division and hate).

    January 20, 2011 09:57 am at 9:57 am |
  2. Ed

    Finally someone calling these right wing clowns what they really are – LIARS.

    January 20, 2011 09:57 am at 9:57 am |
  3. jim

    The crazed liberals are completely out of control. The dems need leadership that can reign them in and it certainly is not Pelosi and Reid.

    January 20, 2011 10:00 am at 10:00 am |
  4. Chumlee

    Good for you Representative Cohen – you hit is exactly right.

    The Republicans in the House and Senate, and throughout the country, are lacking in mental stability, nut jobs and
    all worthy of being removed from office in 2012 and 2014 and 2016. Good bye wingnuts!

    January 20, 2011 10:00 am at 10:00 am |
  5. Dan Cleveland

    I'm not an American.....but as an outside observer I see a country being torn apart from within....alot of hate and it's eating you alive from the inside out.

    January 20, 2011 10:01 am at 10:01 am |
  6. joe

    The MSM seams to be keeping this one quiet. No front page images, no running "scoop" full of generalizations on Yahoo. We get it loud and clear Democrat Party and you Liberal-Progressive movement... there is a party of Nazi's in congress and they are represented by a donkey.

    January 20, 2011 10:01 am at 10:01 am |
  7. U.R. SoSimple

    Bad form. Definitely bad form.

    January 20, 2011 10:02 am at 10:02 am |
  8. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    No apology necessary.
    Mr. Cohen DID NOT draw pictures of Republicans making them look like Hitler.
    He did NOT lie,hes imply stated that the Republicans used lies JUST LIKE GOEBBLES to undermine, and achieve their ends.

    Cohen spoke the TRUTH. If it hurts to hear it perhaps the Republicans need to stop LYING.

    January 20, 2011 10:03 am at 10:03 am |
  9. Sally Li

    People who use the Nazi card to discredit others (Iran, the Republicans, or anyone who disagrees with the Israeli government, or anyone who disagrees with US government aid to Israel) are discrediting themselves. The fact is, the anti-American left in America, especially the feminist movement and its shrillest advocates, and the minority militants, draw the closest parallels to the Nazi propagandists in their own behavior.
    What Cohen is really doing is blatantly displaying the fact that he is irritated by the right to freedom of speech as exercised by others. This is a sign of political immaturity, and so is the namecalling and mud-hurling which goes along with it.

    January 20, 2011 10:03 am at 10:03 am |
  10. Joe

    Cohen spoke the truth, the Republicans are more like Nazi's. They want the best health care for themselves, but could care whether middle or poor Americans have quality care or not. They think they are the "elites" and only cater to big business, foreign loving CofC, and big oil. I'm finished with them. I voted for McCain last election, but it will be a cold day in Hades when I EVER vote for another Republican.

    January 20, 2011 10:03 am at 10:03 am |
  11. dave

    Propoganda has been spread in every country, in every election I have ever witnessed in this country. There is no pretense of the truth in political advertising, why should there be any in Congress? The Republicans believe the propoganda because the lobbyists said it was true. All propoganda is self-serving and the truth no longer matters in this country. Look at all the wrongly accused now being set free because the truth is NOW known. The rhetoric onboth sides is shameful.

    January 20, 2011 10:03 am at 10:03 am |
  12. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    ...And the President said to be CIVIL. He DID NOT say to shy away from speaking out against lies.

    January 20, 2011 10:05 am at 10:05 am |
  13. Dish it out, but can't take it.

    Republican propagandists, Limbaugh, Beck, and others, rolled out the Nazi talk first. Likely, as a pre-emptive strike against it being used applied to them for their own authentically Nazi like rhetoric and redundantly broadcast social and political opinions in contravention of what the promise of America has been to most. If the swastika fits Republican extremists, let them wear it.

    January 20, 2011 10:06 am at 10:06 am |
  14. K

    I don't think there's anything to apologize for. He didn't accuse anyone of being a Nazi. He compared Republican tactics to those practiced by one of the most masterful political tacticians of all time. BIG difference. And in choosing Goebels for the comparison, Cohen himself showed strategic finesse. Who would be talking about this if he used someone else?

    January 20, 2011 10:06 am at 10:06 am |
  15. Chris Kinter

    I think he would have been far more accurate to call them fascist. The way republicans refer to socialism is even worst. What is the Federal Reserve, The U.S. Military, Social Security, These are all Socialist institutions incorporated into the American System to provide safety chute for retirement, common defense, and sanity to the financial system. They may not be perfect and many politicians have managed to screw them up somewhat.

    January 20, 2011 10:07 am at 10:07 am |
  16. J

    It's just another day where people in suits are calling each other Nazis. It's self incriminating behavior. The people we elect would rather waste our time and money taking cheap shots at their opponents whenever a camera is in front of them.

    January 20, 2011 10:07 am at 10:07 am |
  17. kd

    Bad timing. He's right, of course, but I'm sure he could use a smarter comparison.

    But what the Republicans have been doing the past 10 years (hell, the last 30) has been nothing short of extremely offensive. The safest bet, always, is to hear what a Republican says and then believe the 180-degree opposite. They have been trained and told to lie and obfuscate to confuse their base and gullible 'independents' to agree with their horror scenarios so that these dastardly Republicans can continue to try and make laws that are beneficial only to themselves and the super-wealthy. It's been a con-gamen that's been going on far too long. It IS propaganda. Every bit of what they do is.

    January 20, 2011 10:08 am at 10:08 am |
  18. Byrd

    Even a casual student of history should have no problem drawing the parallels between republican hate rhetoric and Goebbels' propaganda. Of course, if these conservative apologists received their history education from either the pulpit or a book printed in Texas, then all bets are off.

    January 20, 2011 10:08 am at 10:08 am |
  19. Greg Gilbert

    The Republicans could counter by telling people to go look up the Nazi party on wikipedia. It looks almost like the Democratic party platform.

    January 20, 2011 10:08 am at 10:08 am |
  20. Mike

    Typical hypocrite in Washington. We will see what happens in 2012. Better luck next time Democrats.

    January 20, 2011 10:09 am at 10:09 am |
  21. Cincinnatian

    "death panels", "socialism", "government takeover", etc, etc, etc. We've all heard it repeated over and over by Republican politicians and talk radio, and none of it is truth. How dare someone point it out!

    January 20, 2011 10:10 am at 10:10 am |
  22. Annie

    Totally agree with razorspain – just call the lies for what they are without drawing any comparisons. Combat the lies with the truth take the same tactic – for every lie they tell, counter it with the truth. Too much time is spent whining about how much lies the republicans have spread and not enough time is being spent telling the truth and selling what's good about this law! This is where Dems have failed in my eyes – they're too darn busy being defensive and not doing a good enough job of explaining things accurately – and so all the public absorbs is 1. the lies and 2. the controversy about the lies! Please – enough already!

    January 20, 2011 10:10 am at 10:10 am |
  23. Craig Smith

    Cohen was right and I'll keep voting for him. If anything his comments, being about the hate-filled, hypocritical and untrue Republican rhetoric of the last 17 years, really didn't go far enough.

    January 20, 2011 10:11 am at 10:11 am |
  24. Joe

    I'm with razorspain – clearly the faux-christian republicans have made of lies about this legislationa dn evry other. Still, comparing the tactic to what Nazi's did is unnecessary. Just call it a lie and ask them if that is what Jesus would do. Clearly there are not now nor was there ever death panels in the bill. Outright lie by someone claiming to be a follower of the prince of peace. Yet no republican has the guts to stand up to her or the Limbaugh's and Beck's of the world.

    January 20, 2011 10:11 am at 10:11 am |
  25. Me-Myself & I

    It’s a miracle a politician that knows history. The media should get over it. The Representative stated the “OBVIOUS” if the Republican Party can’t deal with it, they should learn to speak the facts and not embellish or incite fear and panic into people for their personal gain

    January 20, 2011 10:12 am at 10:12 am |
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