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. Dwyer Jones

    If the GOP is not Nazi in actuality, it IS Nazi-like in its rhetoric and methods. The GOP does employ the Big Lie, which Goebbels and his fellow Nazis used to demonize Jews, the disabled, homosexuals, Romany, Poles, and anyone else who did not, in their opinion, have societal worth. When the GOP has nuts like Michelle Bachmann speak for it, what does that say about the party? The GOP uses scare tactics, bullying, humiliation, etc., when repeating FACTS would support their points. (If you don't want to be accused of being Nazi, don't employ Goebbels' and Hitler's tactics.) If the GOP has ideas about improving health care, it should list and explain them in open forums, support their arguments with facts, and behave responsibly in governance. If the Democrats respond unfairly, dishonestly, or manipulatively, they should be called out as part of the debate. We need less BS from both sides.

    January 20, 2011 10:33 am at 10:33 am |
  2. debbie

    I've said this for YEARS. This guy is not saying Republicans are Nazis. He's saying that they are using the same TACTICS to convince ignorant, ill-informed and frightened Americans that black is white, and white is black. Just like the Nazis convinced normal German citizens that their Jewish neighbors were animals. Why do they do this? Because it works! In our arguably more "polite" society, it's called "PR".

    January 20, 2011 10:33 am at 10:33 am |
  3. JSP

    The guy is right. The GOP uses propaganda techniques, including misinformation, much in the same way the fascists of Nazi Germany used to practice it. What is really shcolking isn't what Rep. Cohen said, it;s the fact that there is "uproar" over his comments. Give me a break! For the entire two years of Obama's presidency the right has called him every name in the book; socialist, terrorist, Muslim, etc. So basically what the right-wingers is saying is that it is o.k. to disrespect the President and the office of the Presidency by hurling slanderous lies at him, but it's not ok for guys like Cohen to speak a little bit of truth. Keep it coming Cohen, let the truth ring!

    January 20, 2011 10:34 am at 10:34 am |
  4. Bill

    This is a typical ploy often used in the legal field .... When questioning the witness... push your point ... even if you are over ruled the idea is out there.... a good example is Dominican mama 4 obama ... look at her statement ... she is insipred by it. She does not think that there is any incivility in the comment. Is Cohen a lawyer????

    January 20, 2011 10:34 am at 10:34 am |
  5. Steve in Denver

    @Patriots salute: You are aware that recent polling has the idea of repeal down to 18%? Even when Obamacare was at it's lowest polling, if you took the people who liked the bill and those who disliked it because it didn't go far enough (presuming they would vote for it and want it improved) the bill would still be law. Despite all your tea party bs, like death panels, "government takeover" (which it does nothing of the sort), and all the other outright lies your ilk has told of the bill, it is now becoming understood and becoming popular.

    January 20, 2011 10:35 am at 10:35 am |
  6. Sniffit

    "It took us a while, but we found our silver bullets."

    To be fair, there is a distinct difference between an accurate comparison to the principles and theory underlying Nazi propaganda versus re-injecting the gun-type references into the debate. If people want to maintain, accurately I believe, that such rhetoric has overwhelmingly come from the right wing nutjobs over the past few years, then we can't resort to it ourselves.

    January 20, 2011 10:35 am at 10:35 am |
  7. Kenfolk

    I normally don't like any comparisions to Nazis other than overt genocide like in Rwanda. However, the congressman did not compare Republicans to Nazis. He did compare the tactics of the "big lie" to the way the Republicans have been acting. This is an utterly accurate observation. The fact is that the big lies stated by people like Beck, Hannity, and most of the people in Faux "News" as well as many Republicans officeholders have not been challenged by the mainstream media. When added to the misrepresentation of the Congressman's statement, it really gives the lie to the myth of the "Liberal Media". Actually, Eric Alterman had already devastated that myth in the book "What Liberal Media?".

    January 20, 2011 10:36 am at 10:36 am |
  8. Sniffit

    "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."

    That costs far too much overhead in comparison to just playing the he-said-she-said game.

    January 20, 2011 10:36 am at 10:36 am |
  9. Joshua Ludd

    Oh, so now that a Democrat is doing it... its controversial. Nevermind all the times the comparison to nazis and nazi policies was made over the last two years or so by those on the right.

    January 20, 2011 10:36 am at 10:36 am |
  10. It is what it is

    Whether or not the republican party is acting like the Nazi party, doesn't make it something to bring up in the House. Cohen acts like the media never blows anything out of proportion. It's the MEDIA we're talking about. I'm pretty sure he knew the consequences well enough to make an informed decision whether to say that or not. Idiotic on his part, even worse for him to not apologize and stick to what he originally said...

    January 20, 2011 10:36 am at 10:36 am |
  11. Jerry

    The reason the Democrats have to resort to personal attacks is, they have DONE NOTHING positive for our country that they could proudly point their finger at and say, "That's mine, I did that."

    January 20, 2011 10:36 am at 10:36 am |
  12. Bill

    Joan ... Is there a new definition for the words like and similiar???? I have always thought they were about the same ... you could phrase a sentance ... That rose is like this other one over here.... or you could say That rose is similar to this other one over here.... Perhaps you don't see that as calling conservatives nazis... but I do...

    January 20, 2011 10:39 am at 10:39 am |
  13. Jim

    So no Dems and few Republicans have said anyhting about the comment, yet your headline is that it "causes an uproar"????? It should say "media created uproar, or so we hope".

    January 20, 2011 10:39 am at 10:39 am |
  14. Joshua Ludd

    Yes, people at protests compared Bush to Hitler... but they waited till he.. unlike Obama.. had actually started aggressive wars, detained people without trial or charges, and denied them access to council.

    January 20, 2011 10:40 am at 10:40 am |
  15. MaryR

    I emailed Rep Cohen and asked that he apologize for his inflamatory and inappropriate remarks. I really think that it will be busines as usual unless all of us–regardless of party affiliations– demand a higher standard from our representatives. As we've already heard: We can do better.

    January 20, 2011 10:42 am at 10:42 am |
  16. Captain Awesome

    This kind of hate speech should not be tolerated any longer. I thought democrats were compassionate and tolerant. I guess not after hearing this vitriol coming from Rep. Cohen. Will Nancy Pelosi do anything about these remarks? Don't hold your breath. Btw, why are some people on this blog talking about 'silver bullets' and such. Don't you know that kind of rhetoric could lead to violence such as what happened in Tuscon?

    January 20, 2011 10:43 am at 10:43 am |
  17. Joshua Ludd

    "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."

    Oh, yes.. the press has been overly sensitive... and was trying to find something.. they were trying to find a Democrat saying something.. anything.. that would allow their little narrative that its both parties that need to improve their tone to have a leg to stand on when its been wholly the right using violent rhetoric and gun imagery.

    January 20, 2011 10:43 am at 10:43 am |
  18. WorldPeace

    The comparison to nazis is meant to point out the extreme and radical mind twisting the Republicans are using to scare Americans.
    How many times have we heard that Obama is a "marxist" and healthcare is "socialism" ? Most of the western world looks after their people with access to medicare. These right wing nuts want no social care at all and promote further military spending. Sounds a lot like former empires that have come and gone.
    Hey "patriots salute the flag" almost see the flag as a religious icon huh ? Your tea party will never get in power...Do you realize how despised you guys are around the world by all free thinking and educated people ? You truly represent a backwards and outdated thinking in a global world.

    January 20, 2011 10:44 am at 10:44 am |
  19. Rick CT

    Wordsmith it as you will libs, any reference to Nazis is inciteful speech. Obviously the Dems feel the call to civility only applies to those who oppose them. Bet Obama doesn't scold his own.

    January 20, 2011 10:44 am at 10:44 am |
  20. call me crazy

    Spin it how ever you want,The fact is,IT'S TRUE!!!!The other truth is they all LIE,Rs & Ds,And the sheep nod!!!We need a true third party... Nuf said!

    January 20, 2011 10:45 am at 10:45 am |
  21. maine liberal

    This is different how ?:

    FOX's Glenn Beck compares Obama to the Nazi's
    Limbaugh then proceeded to describe the ways Democrats are like Nazis
    In his new book To Save America, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich repeatedly argues that the Obama administration and congressional Democrats make up a “secular-socialist machine” that “represents as great a threat to America as Nazi Germany
    Bush's "Obama Nazi Appeaser" remark offends Jews and Israel

    January 20, 2011 10:45 am at 10:45 am |
  22. Patriotchick

    Behaviors and ideas are NOT immune from criticism, nor should they be. This is distinctly different from attacking anyone personally. Anyone who has a problem with their ideas or methods being challenged is either a tool to propogate the lies, or they are asking for special treatment. In either case, no concessions or apologies are due. The analogy was quite correct. Besides, how many times have the republicans and their media jockies compared Obama and the democrats to Nazis? Sounds like the pot calling the kettle black, when when the kettle is actually a spoon.

    January 20, 2011 10:46 am at 10:46 am |
  23. Marge

    He should of just used Goebbels name. Many people already know he's a Nazi, and those with enough curiosity would of looked up the name...The media arm of the right wing is Fox and they practically use Mein Kampf as their play book. Look at how many times death panels, muslim terrorists, Tiller the baby killer, poor persecuted Christians, war on Christmas, gay agenda, evil anybody that doesn't think or act the way they want you to...

    The congressman is right, but he should of let people make the association on their own.

    January 20, 2011 10:47 am at 10:47 am |
  24. Four and The Door

    Face it. Obamacare would not have passed without a $60 billion nod to union supporters, tons of pork spending included for several Democratic Senators and then a Reconciliation maneuver finally to get it through the Senate. It is a terribly written bill and it's only usefulness was supposed to be a political win for Obama. Didn't quite work out either way, did it?

    January 20, 2011 10:48 am at 10:48 am |
  25. Richard in Houston

    He should apologize for the reference but the statement is true. The methods used by the Republicans is the same. Nobody in the Democratic party hate America, are Socialist or Communists. However the words are either said or implied constantly by Republican or the talking heads or as they like to be called "entertainers".

    January 20, 2011 10:48 am at 10:48 am |
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