People tape posters, featuring altered photos of U.S. President Barack Obama and Adolf Hitler, to a table at a town hall meeting on healthcare reform sponsored by U.S. Congressman Adam Schiff (D-CA) in Alhambra, California, August 11, 2009.

The GOP embraces the big lie

Republicans are congratulating themselves for their "principled" opposition. Who do they think they're fooling?

Andrew Leonard
August 24, 2009 6:13PM (UTC)

There it was, in broad daylight on my computer screen, a Wall Street Journal headline so shocking in its brazen embrace of an alternate reality that despite my best interests for mental self-preservation, I was forced to react.

The GOP strategy of principled opposition is winning over independents.

You can call the GOP strategy a lot of things, including, no question, "effective." But the one word you cannot use to describe it is "principled." When Sarah Palin talks about "death panels" and Sen. Chuck Grassley warns about "pulling the plug on grandma," they are not being "principled." They are consciously lying for political gain. In my dictionary, that is the opposite of "principled."


South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint has even gone so far as to say the U.S. is "where Germany was before World War II," making, it would seem, an extraordinary analogy between President Obama and Adolf Hitler. It seems incredible, but then you see the posters waved by protesters at town hall meetings featuring Obama as an SS trooper, and you realize that DeMint is being taken at his word by a significant fraction of the general populace.

Yes, the GOP went there. So let's go there too.

Over my break, I started reading Ron Chernow's engrossing "The Warburgs," a history of the German Jewish banking family that was probably second only to the Rothschilds in its international success. In the early 1920s, when the Nazi Party was still only a minor player in German politics, the Warburgs became a target for vicious propaganda. Among numerous other sins, the Warburgs were blamed for directly contributing to Germany's defeat in World War I.


With Jews suddenly prominent in so many areas, the Nazis could hold them responsible for every novelty from industrial consolidation to financial speculation to avant-garde thought ... In this atmosphere, it no longer sufficed to charge the Warburgs with isolated acts of betrayal. Now every random fact of their existence had to be closely spun into a fantastic conspiracy ... The theory was infinitely elastic, weaving every thread of Warburg history into a lurid tapestry. The Nazis didn't worry about internal contradictions. The Warburgs were secret stooges both of Wall Street and Russian revolutionaries ... The point was not to be accurate but to breed suspicion and confusion ... No lie was too preposterous or fantastic.

In 1925, Adolf Hitler described this propaganda technique in "Mein Kampf" as "the big lie."

[I]n the big lie there is always a certain force of credibility; because the broad masses of a nation are always more easily corrupted in the deeper strata of their emotional nature than consciously or voluntarily; and thus in the primitive simplicity of their minds they more readily fall victims to the big lie than the small lie, since they themselves often tell small lies in little matters but would be ashamed to resort to large-scale falsehoods. It would never come into their heads to fabricate colossal untruths, and they would not believe that others could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously.

What makes that passage so monstrously mind-bending is that Hitler was accusing the Jews of engaging in the big lie, when in fact the Nazis would be history's greatest practitioners. Jim DeMint suddenly appears in a different light, because he is actually deadly accurate when he compares the present climate to pre-WWII Germany. The GOP's avid willingness to wield the big lie makes the comparison valid.

Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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Death Panels Healthcare Reform How The World Works Republican Party Town Hall Protests

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