Reconsidering a Verboten Comparison

LABA Fellow Mark Katz writes about his uncle Stanley’s birthday–which also happens to be Hitler’s birthday.

Many April 20ths ago, I realized that my favorite uncle shared a birthday with a notorious despot.  And just like that, a new family tradition began: the annual phone call to my Uncle Stanley for a rousing rendition of ‘Happy Hitler’s Birthday to You!,’ set to the tune of the traditional song only with lyrics re-syncopated with ‘Hitler’s’ squeezed-in between ‘happy’ and ‘birthday.’

Year in and year out, the song never fails to elicit loud laughter on the other end of the line and more often than not, we wind up singing other Nazi-themed numbers from the soundtrack of The Producers. And when I realized that our upcoming birthday call will take place via Zoom, I knew a little painted-on mustache would only add to the fun!

It is with these happy thoughts in mind that, on the occasion of this April 20th, I propose we reconsider a well-entrenched taboo: the ironclad rule of our national dialogue which dictates that no matter why and no matter what, comparing anyone to Hitler is strictly verboten

We’ve all seen this scenario play out in the back and forth of hardball politics dozens of times. Whenever someone makes the mistake of referencing Hitler or Nazis or even a Reich, it’s game over. The referees of public discourse throw the penalty flag in response to this violation of rhetorical gamesmanship and amazingly, it’s always the Hitler-accuser — and never the Hitler-accused! — who is immediately discredited. Today, this unwritten rule is so strictly enforced that I believe a perfectly good public strategy might look like this: advocate genocide, embrace xenophobic nationalism, wear a Swastika on your arm, grow a little mustache under your nose and then lay in wait for your opponent to take the bait. Wait a minute — is this what those very fine people in Charlottesville were up to?  Perhaps.  Because sure enough the next morning, the poor saps who put “white pride” and “Adolf Hitler” in the same sentence were being pilloried around the table on Morning Joe: “C’mon Mika, everybody knows you can’t compare somebody to Hitler!”

Well, my question is: says who?  I mean, what freedom-hating fascist dictator barked this stupid rule from the steps of the Munich Square?  Or was it America’s strongman-obsessed president who (mis)spelled this edict into his iPhone with his stubby, hateful thumbs?  (Heil, Twitler?)  Admittedly, when I chose to compare my Uncle Stanley to Adolf Hitler based solely on the coincidence of a shared birthday, I connected the dots based on a rather tenuous link.  However, a closer analysis reveals that when compared to a sampling of well-known people who were also born on Hitler’s birthday, the comparison is more apt than might otherwise be suspected:

The basis for comparison becomes more interesting when you compare Hitler-like attributes to just a few of the people in public life who have actually been likened to Hitler by their opponents in just the past decade or so.  (Added to this sampling is the winner of the previous run-off of Hitler-birthday-buddies, my Uncle Stanley.)

Based on this analysis, it is clear to see that people who are compared to Hitler always fall far short of the benchmarks for which Hitler is remembered.  And this goes to the heart of my belief that unbridled umbrage taken by the person who has been likened to Hitler is unwarranted.  In every case, they are being compared favorably to Hitler.  In match-up after match-up, no one comes close to hellfire-hatred Hitler enacted that will forever stain our species.  The results of the human race are in: Adolf Hitler was a moral monster without peer.  [Note: That other autocratic anti-semite Haman ranks 9th and at #14: Agog, ruler of Amelek — a Biblical-era kingdom sworn to the destruction of King Saul’s Israel.]  This is why, in my opinion, there is only ONE person who can justifiably take strenuous exception to these Hitler comparisons — and that is Hitler himself. Can’t you just hear the ferocious tirade The Fuhrer would unleash at the indignity of being likened to, say, Stephen Miller?  (Although in fairness to Miller, he is more often likened to Goebbels.)

For me, the thought of getting Adolf Hitler frothing mad is diabolically delicious. This is why I wait all year to say, “Happy Hitler’s birthday, Uncle Stanley!”