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. :g

    He has my vote. Dem.

    January 20, 2011 10:12 am at 10:12 am |
  2. EddyL

    The GOP has been for decades a party of narrow ideas, prohibitionist tendencies, and shrieking rhetoric (remember all those deranged tea bags invading town hall meetings?). That anyone would label them NAZIS is nothing new. The name fits.

    January 20, 2011 10:13 am at 10:13 am |
  3. noel

    The r's are protecting the country from more abuses from congress. Please show me in The US Constitution where the gov't can force anyone to purchase anything. it's not there, and the whole thing will end up being shot down in the Supremem court of the land soon enough. Until then, the r's will show the REAL
    Americans what a stupid bunch of morons we had in the house and still have in the senate. Not to mention this lying, cheat we have for a president...
    GOD Bless America!!!

    January 20, 2011 10:13 am at 10:13 am |
  4. Knucklehead61

    He's right. The Republicans are employing Goebbels tactics. They are indeed Fascists. They don't really have an ideology except that they deserve to rule. They incited chaos at town hall meetings to discuss health care. They kicked in doors in Florida during the 2000 election. They are thugs. The Brown Shirts will be with us soon. They do not trust democracy, really, because they employ every means to get around it's protections. They alternately claim to be for the middle class, suck up to religious leaders, make deals with Big Business, sell their own constituencies out so American companies can take their operations overseas, cry for a larger defense budget while simultaneiously neglecting the troops, all the while carrying the cross and wrapped in the flag. Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel. Two years of their crap and the Dems will be back in power.

    January 20, 2011 10:13 am at 10:13 am |
  5. PAUL W!

    Well, Hitler did say, "The bigger the lie, the more people are likely to believe it." and that pretty much sums up the entire GOP agenda. From death panels to government takeover, the GOP have not told the truth once about the health care bill and are only now appointing a committee to explore ideas about how to improve the legislation. These are people many of you voted for. That pretty much demonstrates that most of you are no smarter than the pre-war German people.

    January 20, 2011 10:13 am at 10:13 am |
  6. sheila kind

    The Nazi comparisons are apropo. Republicans have been lying, lying, lying for so long that I'm surprised their noses haven't started to grow. They are the ones who continually say things that are not merely exaggerations but outright lies. That is their message - lies, lies, and more self-serving lies. While Mr. Cohen will undoubtedly take heat for his comment, he's not saying republicans are nazis just that they are using nazi methods, and he's absolutely correct. Goebbels was a master propagandist who inflamed his listeners with comments that were outrageous in context. Mr. Cohen's comment, unfortunately, is actually not so outrageous in the context of the way republicans have been operating, demonizing anything and everything that the Dems and Obama have done the past 2 years, without any restraint or respect for reality.

    January 20, 2011 10:15 am at 10:15 am |
  7. Sniffit

    Nothing makes the "news" media angrier than a Dem who shows some spine. This guy makes one comment containing an accurate analogy and they're all over him beacuse he won't roll over and play dead after some sort of apology, and yet the past 2+ years have been filled to the brim with the the "news" media's bobbleheads treating every lie Cohen is talking about as if they were legitimately debateable positions...all while doing everything in its considerable power to prop up the imbeciles opisoning the debate with their mendacity, like Jaberwocky Barbie and Astroturf Frankenstein. "Death panels," "government takeover," "socialism," "he's a muslim," etc...ALL OF IT...was treated without an ounce of actual critical thought, as if none of it required any factual backup, evidence or even a coherent, cogent supprting argument, avoiding at all costs the risk of de-legitimizing one side of the argument, stupid and false as its premises might be, so that the disagreement and controvery could be sensationalized. Now what? Cohen calls them out with what is unarguably an accurate comparison and we've got ourselves a trumped-up "news" media crapstorm because the "news" media considers his attempt to broadcast an accurate countermessage to the lies as a threat to their ability to perpetuate their false equivalencies and the controversies they love so much. Shenanigans.

    January 20, 2011 10:16 am at 10:16 am |
  8. Samuel Markes

    I would have to agree with an earlier post; this is not a "Nazi comparison"; this was a reference to an infamous propagandist. The practice of the Republicans has been odious enough to merit comparison with someone as corrupt as Goebbels. As a Jew and a victim of anti-semetism, I am duly sensitive to the Holocaust. I do not think, however, that any references to the Holocaust should be instantly condemned. That is the path to censorship and the denial of history. Why shouldn't we use that tradegy to learn and gain what we can?

    January 20, 2011 10:16 am at 10:16 am |
  9. Rabbi David

    I am at a loss as to how any stable, sane elected official can contrast ANYTHING done by the Nazis, Communists or Martians for that matter with the Holocaust.As a Rabbi I am totally DISGUSTED at the way the Holocaust is borrowed by politicians,the media and uneducated hick Jewish Congresspersons who should know BETTER. While there is no such thing as original sin (systematic mass murder), the Holocaust remains a dated event 1933-45 (give or take).To use it OVER and OVER daily is just pathetic.Regardless of excuse or alterior motive of trying to gain political footage on the backs of our dead family members.......Have you NO shame or NO depth you will sink to for the light of attention???

    January 20, 2011 10:18 am at 10:18 am |
  10. Jeremy

    Can we all, please, put the "Nazi" rhetoric to bed? You don't have to compare someone to Joseph Goebbels to say he or she is a master of propaganda. Mentioning Joseph Goebbels is only done for shock value, which is a lowly tactic.

    As a Democrat, I am offended Steve Cohen can't find a better way to express himself.

    January 20, 2011 10:18 am at 10:18 am |
  11. ex-sarge

    Rep. Cohen's comments were not candy coated, they were not the best choice of words, but sadly, they were not totally inaccurate words either. the Republicans are not the Nazis, but, newsflash to the right, neither are the Democrats. Unfortunately, what Goebbles did is not disimilar from what the right wing spin doctors are doing now. If the media is so da&* biased to the left, why is the right so against the Fairness Doctrine? Google the Fairness Doctrine, read it and then figure out for yourself why the right is so dead set against it.

    January 20, 2011 10:19 am at 10:19 am |
  12. Darko

    Funny, I don't remember Joseph Goebbels bothering with FACTS like Paul Ryan has listed plain as day. In fact, Goebbels was more in line with Democrats in how they fabricate numbers and use fantasy scenarios for the CBO to score their legislation. Any business would be sued in a heartbeat by shareholders for using the 'accounting' that Pelosi did to score the cost of Obamacare.

    January 20, 2011 10:19 am at 10:19 am |
  13. Deuce

    Well, if the shoe fits...

    January 20, 2011 10:20 am at 10:20 am |
  14. donkey party

    The truth hurts.

    January 20, 2011 10:20 am at 10:20 am |
  15. Anonymous

    Funny, Obama's campaign for Presidency used Goebbels techniques as well.....

    January 20, 2011 10:20 am at 10:20 am |
  16. Dean

    There are two sets of rules for the democrats, one for them and one for the rest of the world.

    January 20, 2011 10:20 am at 10:20 am |
  17. Knucklehead61

    Latinos are already becoming the Right's Jews...they are to blame for everything. States are lining up to see who can pass more restrictive laws than Arizona...there is glee in their voices as they talk about passing laws that basicallly violate the 14th amendment. Perhaps those on the right don't fully understand this element of their constituency...but they will.

    January 20, 2011 10:21 am at 10:21 am |
  18. Samuel Markes

    and in our current media environment, you do need to use sensationalism to get attention. To simply say the Republicans are lying, denying truth, making lies truth is not sufficiently shocking for our desensitized public. You scream "Death Panel" enough, it became accepted as truth. You deride climate science and it becomes questionable. You decry debt and it becomes more important than growth, you deny the veracity of non-partisan economic offices (CBO) and sew enough doubt to push through your destructive policies that only serve to further the divide between wealth and poverty and further erode the middle ground between the two.

    January 20, 2011 10:21 am at 10:21 am |
  19. Randy, San Francisco

    Why is the GOP so upset? GOP wingnuts have called Obama a terrorist, socialist, communist, and moslem.

    January 20, 2011 10:21 am at 10:21 am |
  20. tstorm

    Really? Republicans are upset? Tea Partiers bringing weapons and calling our president all sorts of racist names? Calling for the overthrow of our own government? Hate speech on Fox News and talk radio against anyone who opposes Conservatives narrow minds and you guys hate being called Nazi's?? Look it up in history. You fit the bill!

    January 20, 2011 10:21 am at 10:21 am |
  21. sean

    What he said is totally true. The repub game plan is to repeat a word, phrase, or lie (ideally a short, simple phrase of one syllable words) over and over to sway public opinion. See: socialist, death panels, or the latest words that every GOP sheep is required to repeat whenever he sees a microphone- "job- killing". The media reports it. A lot of ignoramuses believe it- "if it's in the papers it must be true". They have MASTERED the art of propaganda, learning from Goebbels and others.

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

    I guess the civilty memo was just sent to the Repubs, or this guy can't read. CNN must have liked it; since, they put him on several different programs. When is Piers going to interview him?

    January 20, 2011 10:22 am at 10:22 am |
  23. james Miller

    Sadly, he`s dead on the mark. KISS ( Keep It Simple Stupid) for stupid ( the voter), that`s the politicians motto. --- Too much trust in politicians. ---Basically, if their lips are moving- they`re lying.

    January 20, 2011 10:22 am at 10:22 am |
  24. JC

    No, he was right. But the same thing could be said about the democrats. And as far as the Nazi comparison goes, the Democrats are far closer to the type of registration and justification that the Germans employed. How? Well, first by suggesting that people are like cars, and hence can be forced to buy insurance (despite that line in the Constitution about freedom of association). Second, by supporting the ability of law enforcement to enter your property and place a tracking device on your vehicle without a warrant (i.e., without having to demonstrate probable cause to anyone). By making electronic tracking of your movements and whereabouts possible through radio chip technology and requirements to use credit cards when booking a hotel room. Third, by stamping on anyone in a position to point out the failures inherent in all of our security systems. Fourth, by filing presidential briefs in support of the various George Bush programs which have been challenged in court. It's good that not all Democrats support Obama. This guy is not a liberal, he is the most dangerous autocrat to come along since Nixon.

    January 20, 2011 10:23 am at 10:23 am |
  25. Jake

    Funny how Obama's campaign for presidency used Goebbels techniques as well. Repeating a simple idea over and over again until weak minded people believed it hope and change ring any bells?

    January 20, 2011 10:24 am at 10:24 am |
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