06/28/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Time for the Wingnut Circus to Close Its Star Attraction

Now that they've come out in support of Arizona's "papers please" law, isn't it time for the ringleaders of the Wingnut Circus to fold up that Freedom and Liberty Tent and retire the old "Stalinist Nazis" sideshow?

I don't think it's unreasonable to observe that you cannot support a law that requires foreign-born American citizens to carry documents proving they belong here any time they leave the house, and police to demand to see them at any "lawful" interaction and call yourself a protector of freedom and liberty in this country. In fact, if you can even stomach such a law, you probably shouldn't even be using words like "freedom," "liberty," or "rights." You don't know their meanings and, if you do, you're certainly no friend to the concepts.

Oh, and all that fear-mongering some of you have been doing, invoking Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia to panic people into staying through the next commercial break? You don't get to do that anymore, either.

You see, you can't cry, scream and moan about how this country is turning into an authoritarian police state every time someone says something you don't agree with if you also think that some citizens should be required to carry "their papers" or be hauled off to jail and deported.

I remember the horror stories I would hear as a child at the end of the Cold War. Aside from the scary-as-all-hell nuclear threat, we were frequently told horror stories about life in the Soviet Union: People arrested who had never committed a crime, journalists intimidated and information suppressed, homes raided and lives shattered all in the name of official truth. It was just like working at Gizmodo.

A friend reminded me yesterday of one of the more oft-repeated horror stories about life in the USSR: You could be walking down the street, minding your own business--or perhaps absentmindedly committing a small infraction like jaywalking--when the police approached you and demanded to see "your papers." These documents identified you as a citizen and showed that you were where you were legally supposed to be. You had to carry them at all times and if they weren't in order, you could be in serious trouble. Parallels to the holocaust were almost always drawn.

The practice was a horrendous affront to human liberty, of course, but the Nazi comparison (like all Nazi comparisons) was not entirely apt. In the USSR and China, internal passports have been used to control population flow (and maybe persecute a few suspected political enemies). Just as often, the system has been used to intimidate and control minorities. During apartheid, South Africa required all black residents to carry "pass books." By the time German Jews were forced to carry papers in 1938, they had already been demoted from citizens to "subjects," and barred from owning land, marrying outside of their "race," editing newspapers, serving in the military, teaching and most other occupations, owning nearly any kind of business and, yes, cut off from the national health plan that Rush Limbaugh seems to think Hitler created. (That crafty Adolf must have traveled back in time to 1883).

In short, while the ultimate goal of the Soviet internal passports was not the same as the Nazi ones, the Chinese ones, or the apartheid-era South African ones, they all shared an exceptional disregard for the rights of those required to carry them and there are no other modern examples. The idea that such a thing would even be considered in 21st century America is, frankly, appalling. Does it mean we're going to be sending people to concentration camps? Of course not. But it does mean that the state of Arizona doesn't care if they regularly harass and arrest Latino citizens and legal residents if they can get rid of some of the illegal ones while they do it. This kind of law is the very reason we have a Bill of Rights.

So where are the self-appointed guardians of civil liberties on this one? With such an obvious allusion to be made, where have all the Nazi-hunters gone? I know that I sure as hell pity the officer who stops me on the street and asks me for my papers. These champions of liberty and justice must be fuming--fighting mad and sobbing about Hitler and Stalin day and night!

Glenn Beck, for instance, sees Hitler every time he blinks. When Beck saw the G20 protests, he said the event was just like Kristallnacht. Why? Some stuff was burned in a street. (Gasp! My neighbor's yard clippings are just like the holocaust!) When Glenn Beck heard that some churches (meaning nearly all,) were preaching social justice, he said, folks, that's just like the Nazis! Why? A famous American anti-Semite used the term "socially just" once in 1939. (I know I've feared my neighbor was a Nazi ever since I heard her say something about "truth and justice," a term once used by Adolf Hitler himself.) When President Obama called for an expansion of the foreign service, Beck said it was right out of Hitler's playbook. When Obama used the word "empathy," Beck saw classic Hitler. When Democrats moved toward health care reform, Beck cleverly surmised that it was a step toward eugenics--you guessed it, Hitler-style! When the White House PR machine took some jabs at Fox News, what was Beck's warning to other "news" outlets? "First they came for the Jews..." Beck has even cited events that haven't happened, and nobody has any reason to believe will happen, to compare Obama to Hitler. In fact, Beck has likened Democrats to figures in Nazi Germany so many times that if I were to list them all, you'd forget we were talking about immigration before I could get halfway through. Beck's totalitarian histrionics don't stop at Berlin, either. Stalin and Lenin were also, apparently, just like those villainous Democrats with whom Beck holds historically-minor policy disagreements.

Thus far, Beck's sobbing and self-soiling seems to be best justified by the fact that those of us who can afford to do so will likely soon be required to purchase health insurance.... just like in al-Bashir's Sudan.

What does Glenn Beck, champion of freedom and liberty and mom and apple pie, sometimes known as the Communist Nazi Finder General, have to say about a system that has only in modern times been tested by the cruelest regimes? He thinks it's just hunky-dorey! Apparently, it's fine to trample on the civil liberties of citizens and legal residents who are obeying the law if some other people who might look or sound like them are breaking it. Apparently, when we're counting our freedoms, we skip the brown people.

I know what you're saying: "But, Larry," or more likely, "whoever you are (as I have forgotten your name,) that's Glenn Beck. Nobody takes the Stalinist-Nazi Finder General seriously." And you're half-right. Like any freakshow star, about half of his audience has come just to gawk. Hasn't that half, at least, had its eyeful already?

And what about the slightly-more-serious pundits / secret agents for the OSS / pinheads?

What about Rush Limbaugh? He's always been a righteous watchdog for your civil liberties and mine and, as it turns out, another avid Nazi-hunter. "This health care plan mirrors Nazi Germany's,"

As it turns out, he doesn't. He's more concerned that the "regime is moving to take away our salt, our light bulbs!"

Want some irony with your salt? Limbaugh calls Obama's timid rebuke of the law:

"The regime at its racist best. What's the regime doing? Asking blacks and Latinos to join him in a fight. What is a campaign if not a fight? He's asking young people, African-Americans, Latinos, and women to reconnect, to fight who?"

That's right: If you don't think that Latinos should be stopped in the street by cops who demand to see "their papers," Limbaugh thinks you're a racist. If you include anyone who isn't white or old in movement, you are even at your "racist best." Oh, and if you're at all politically active, you're clearly violent.

Luckily, the vast majority of mainstream Republicans have run away from this thing screaming--except for John McCain and Sarah Palin, who have sought shelter in the tent. I can hear the chanting for Senator McCain: "We accept him, one of us. We accept him, one of us..."

When a universally-recognized symbol of medicine is proof that the President is a Nazi and "papers, please," is just getting tough on immigration, you're nothing but a sideshow, folks. When your only consistent philosophy is, "I'll sing in praise of your vices if you keep tuning in," you're doing nothing more than playing to the lowest instincts of the crowd.

Does anyone else wonder if these guys ever get tired of doing it? Of playing to crowds who don't care if the police are hauling their neighbors off the streets because they left their wallet at home, so long as they still have their salt, their light bulbs and the ability to buy a semi-automatic at a gun show while they're still shootin'-mad? Honestly, I'd much rather work with a bearded lady.

The Becks and Limbaughs and Palins and McCains of the world, of course, will say that it's a minor inconvenience to some that will result in very few people actually being wrongly arrested or deported. And that's every supporter's excuse, isn't it. "We have a problem with illegal immigration and something needs to be done." Well, that's true. They'll get no argument from me there. But that's a justification for things like tighter border patrol and, when we're not facing the economic situation we are right now, comprehensive immigration reform. Or, if you want extreme solutions, things like employer crackdowns or a militarized border. But internal passports? There is simply no legal, moral or logical justification for that, and no amount of crying or blame shifting over the evils of illegal immigration or lack of enforcement will ever change that.

...And then they'll call someone a Nazi. Guys, it's time to get another act.