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Menachem Rosensaft Headshot

Newt Gingrich and Rand Paul Jump the Shark

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Here we go again. A prominent Republican likens President Obama to Adolf Hitler, and the Republican leadership remains embarrassingly, shockingly silent.

According to former House of Representatives Speaker Newt Gingrich, the President's "secular-socialist machine represents as great a threat to America as Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union once did."

This was not a slip of the tongue. Gingrich has stood by his offensive, morally outrageous comparison on at least two national television programs. And the reaction from House Minority leader John Boehner or his Senate counterpart, Mitch McConnell, or the ever garrulous Dick and Liz Cheney? So far, not even a murmur of disapproval.

Last year, it was Rush Limbaugh who inflamed the Republican base with his irresponsible analogies. Among Limbaugh's gems: "Obama's got a health care logo that's right out of Adolf Hitler's playbook;" "Obama is asking citizens to rat each other out like Hitler did;" the president "is sending out his brownshirts to head up opposition to genuine American citizens who want no part of what Barack Obama stands for and is trying to stuff down our throats;" and "Adolf Hitler, like Barack Obama, also ruled by dictate."

At the same time, Rand Paul, the new darling of the Republican right, the newly minted Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate from Kentucky, proudly tells us that he would not have voted for the 1964 Civil Rights Act because he apparently believes that privately owned restaurants should be allowed to discriminate against African Americans, or, presumably any other minority group. And tellingly, there has been no public outrage from the GOP establishment.

Joe Scarborough, a former conservative Republican Member of Congress, has roundly denounced both Gingrich and Paul on his Morning Joe show on MSNBC, but where are the hapless Michael Steele, and Indiana Representative Mike Pence, and Mitt Romney? Once again, they allow the vitriol to be spewed out in the hope that it will sufficiently poison the body politic in their favor.

Senator Jeff Sessions (R. Ala.), the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has no problem accusing Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan, falsely as it happens, of having "violated the law" when, while Dean at Harvard Law School, she continued the practice of restricting military recruitment in light of the US armed forces' discrimination against openly gay members. But Senator Sessions has not, so far at least, addressed either Newt Gingrich's or Rand Paul's extremist rhetoric. Why not?

Colin Powell explained on CNN that his problem with the GOP was that when Limbaugh "says things that I consider to be completely outrageous, and I respond to it, I would like to see other members of the party do likewise. But they don't." The same appears to be true when it comes to Gingrich or Paul.

Where is House Republican Whip Eric Cantor? Does he agree with Paul that a hotel or restaurant should be allowed to bar me or him because we are Jewish? Does he agree with Gingrich's comparison of President Obama to Hitler and Stalin, two notorious anti-Semites? And if he disagrees with either or both of these Republican luminaries, why hasn't he spoken up?

As we approach both the Kagan confirmation hearings and the mid-term Congressional elections, we must keep the broader political context in mind. Political disagreement is legitimate. Fomenting fear and hatred, or wanting to turn the clock back to the bad old days of Jim Crow and segregated lunch counters is not.

Menachem Rosensaft is Adjunct Professor of Law at Cornell Law School and Distinguished Visiting Lecturer at the Syracuse University College of Law

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