Hitler comparisons in our nation's political discourse are dicey gambits.
Certainly most people steer clear of comparing any movement to Nazism and any deranged leader to Hitler himself. It's accepted consensus, left and right, that both this movement and its uniquely evil leader are both in a category by themselves and therefore largely beyond facile comparisons to current events.
So what was Sarah Palin thinking when she recently recommended to her followers on Twitter that they read an article by conservative author Thomas Sowell that likens President Barack Obama to Hitler for engineering the BP oil spill $20 billion dollar restitution fund?
According to Sowell, Obama's deal with BP is like Hitler's power grab because:
"...during the worldwide Great Depression, the German Reichstag passed a law "for the relief of the German people." That law gave Hitler dictatorial powers that were used for things going far beyond the relief of the German people-- indeed, powers that ultimately brought a rain of destruction down on the German people and on others.
If the agreement with BP was an isolated event, perhaps we might hope that it would not be a precedent. But there is nothing isolated about it.
Sowell's bizarre analogy aside, why did Palin recommend this crack-pot article to her followers? Does she actually not know the history of Nazism and the real significance of Hitler's dictatorship?
Can she truly be that ignorant or is she simply a cynic willing to say anything to incite her band of angry followers?
The stories of Palin's deep ignorance about the world are legend. And they come not from the expected chorus of Democratic opponents and pundits, but rather from staffers from the failed 2008 McCain-Pailn presidential bid.
According to Steve Schmidt, the McCain campaign's chief strategist, Palin showed a remarkable lack of basic knowledge - about American history, geography, current events, etc. Schmidt went so far as to call her a "whack job".
While her failed interview with Katy Couric, where Palin could not mention a single newspaper, magazine or web site that she read to get informed, perhaps showed a person not ready for the national political scene, her endorsement of a Hitler-Obama comparison crosses a different line.
With her tweet Palin simultaneously made a highly inappropriate comparison between history's greatest mass murdered and the President of the United States, while also showing her ignorance of the colossal tragedy that the BP oil spill represents for our country.
"Drill, baby, drill" has turned into a disaster -- obviously for the eleven people that died when the BP oil platform blew up, and for millions of Americans who make their living from the myriad industries along the shores of the Gulf of Mexico.
The environmental impact of this accident will be felt for years as ecosystems are destroyed, oceans and wet lands polluted and human lives upended.
While it's tempting to say that Palin, with her highly suspect education record and skimpy accomplishments as a politician from Alaska, is confirming the worst assumptions raised about her qualifications during the campaign, there may be something more sinister at play.
Palin has all but declared her candidacy for President. Her visits to strategic electoral map states, endorsement of Tea Party radicals and raising of serious bucks to support potentially helpful politicians across the country show an easily discernible pattern: a pre-Presidential run in the works.
Palin wants to be in the White House and she is willing to say anything, anything including highly inappropriate comparisons between the President and Hitler, to connect with the far-right in this country who are her natural base.
She is willing to call on the worst instincts of people, to tap anger and hatred -- so that she can succeed in her quest. In that regard, she is the text-book example of a demagogue seeking political power.
This is a time-tested strategy employed by cynical politicians through the ages.
I won't break my own rule here and make inappropriate comparisons. But Palin's actions do matter. And her growing association with radical ideas and radical people should be part of the story as we learn even more about this "pitbull with lipstick" that has sights on our nation's highest political office.