Dear Ticked-Off Letter Writer:
Thanks for your recent message -- I'm glad to hear from you! I'm glad to hear from all of you.
What bothered all of you was my recent expression of concern about the deteriorating state of political conversation in this country, and my fear for the safety of the current president.
It seemed to me, I said, that those who make their livings comparing Barack Obama to Adolf Hitler and Josef Stalin shouldn't act surprised -- and certainly shouldn't be excused -- if somebody out there decides to act on their incendiary words. Decides, in other words, to try to eliminate this supposed source of evil in our midst.
Cue the letter writers.
* "Do you remember how President Bush was trashed on a daily basis being called Hitler?"
* "While George Bush was president he was called all sorts of vial names, Hitler, baby killer, war monger and accused of war crimes. Did you speak out than? Again I doubt it."
* "Where were you back when the loons on the other side of the street were shrieking about George Bush and calling him a Nazi?"
Guilty as charged.
I couldn't recall ever writing about any Bush-Hitler comparisons. (Or Bush-Stalin either.) So I went back and Googled myself for the past decade or so: Not a single column that had both "Bush" and "Hitler" in it. I even checked for "Bush" and "Nazi," just to be on the safe side. No dice.
Strange. Or maybe not so strange.
Because I certainly agree with you: Any comparison of any American political figure, past or present, to Adolf Hitler is way beyond the bounds of acceptable comment. (It's also cataclysmically stupid as a matter of history, but that's a different point.)
So why was I so concerned about the comparisons now, when I wasn't concerned about them before? Isn't that a double standard? Good questions.
Are you willing to hear a few tentative answers? Beyond the one you might assume explains everything: "You just like Obama more than you liked Bush," which, true or not, doesn't really get at it. So let's dig a little deeper, OK?
First, while some left-wing extremist types did indeed compare President Bush to Hitler, I'm not aware of anybody doing so who had anything like the audience numbers that Glenn Beck or Sean Hannity or Bill O'Reilly or Rush Limbaugh regularly collects. Which means that the Bush-Hitler comparisons wouldn't have gained nearly as big a foothold with the public as the current Obama-Hitler comparisons do. Fewer people watching, fewer people potentially inclined to fume, to plot, to shoot.
Second, when I think of people -- including whole groups of people -- who have historically been threatened with physical harm, even death, at the hands of others, the oilman sons of oilman presidents just don't make the list. As compared to, say, African Americans, and others who've traditionally been much closer to the fringes of society. So I worry that the underlying inclination toward violence is far greater now with Barack Obama than it ever was with George Bush.
And finally, to the extent that there's any overlap between anti-Obama/anti-government protesters on the one hand, and on the other hand, those who are only too eager to demonstrate how well armed they are and how convinced they are that Obama is scheming right this minute to take their guns away from them --
To the extent that there is that overlap, I think Obama haters are more likely than Bush haters to resort to violence -- and are better equipped to carry it out.
So: If I look at the current situation and see a larger, deeper, more immediate and deadlier threat now than I ever did during the Bush years, I hope you'll understand why.
For what it's worth, I suspect that the Secret Service has come to a similar conclusion.
Again, thanks for writing.
Rick Horowitz is a syndicated columnist. You can write to him at email@example.com.