While Byrd Takes Heat, GOP Suffers From Amnesia

VIEWPOINT

By Ami Eden

Published March 11, 2005, issue of March 11, 2005.
  • Print
  • Share Share

Judging from their rush last week to condemn Senator Robert Byrd, Republicans are either recovering from a collective case of laryngitis or suffering from mass amnesia.

Byrd, a Democrat from West Virginia, recently infuriated Republicans by comparing their plan to ban the filibustering of judicial nominees to the tactics used by Adolf Hitler to consolidate power in the early 1930s.

“Hitler never abandoned the cloak of legality; he recognized the enormous psychological value of having the law on his side,” Byrd declared in a March 1 speech on the Senate floor. “Instead, he turned the law inside out and made illegality legal. And that is what the [proposed filibuster ban] seeks to do.”

Byrd’s Nazi analogy was objectionable on several levels. But more offensive, perhaps, was the sanctimonious and frenzied response of GOP officials and activists who have ignored or downplayed even more egregious Nazi comparisons emanating from their own ranks.

As noted by the blog Wonkette.com, a slew of prominent Republican lawmakers have employed Nazi comparisons in recent years to bash a variety of Democratic positions, including support for tax hikes, abortion rights and stem-cell research.

These attacks failed to draw condemnations from the GOP officials lately leading the charge against Byrd, including Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia, chief deputy majority whip and the House’s only Jewish Republican; Ken Mehlman, chairman of the Republican National Committee, and Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, the Senate’s third-ranking Republican.

Cantor issued a statement declaring that Byrd “should be ashamed to invoke the name of Adolf Hitler in his partisan attacks.” The Virginia Republican accused Byrd of trivializing the Holocaust and of committing “a terrible offense to the American people and our way of life.”

Mehlman and Santorum displayed similar levels of outrage, a stark contrast with their past silence in the face of Republicans directly tagging Democrats as Nazis.

The most glaring example of GOP exploitation of the Nazi issue appears to have come from the Republican Jewish Coalition. The organization’s executive director, Matt Brooks, issued a statement picked up by many media outlets in which he not only slammed the senator, but also called on “the National Jewish Democratic Council to publicly condemn Senator Byrd’s remarks.”

“To be consistent with their previous statements against the use of Holocaust references in partisan policy debates,” Brooks stated, “the NJDC should now condemn these outrageous comments by one of their own.”

In fact, the NJDC’s executive director, Ira Forman, did criticize Byrd, telling the Forward that the senator’s remarks were “unfortunate” and “not useful for his larger argument.” On several other occasions, Forman’s organization has rebuked prominent Democrats for comments perceived as anti-Israel or insensitive to the Jewish community.

In reality, it is the Republican Jewish Coalition that avoids rebuking members of its own party. Democratic strategist Bob Beckel raised this point last week while debating Brooks on the Fox News program “The Big Story With John Gibson.” Beckel criticized Brooks directly, saying that his group failed to take on Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma last year after Cole told reporters that voting against President Bush would be like voting for Hitler. Beckel also accused Brooks of failing to criticize anti-tax activist and White House confidant Grover Norquist after he repeatedly compared liberals to Nazis.

“We said it was wrong,” Brooks said.

“I don’t believe you,” Beckel responded.

Brooks, who was traveling this week, did not return a message requesting comment. A search of his organization’s Web site and major news databases failed to turn up one instance of Brooks condemning Cole or Norquist, or, for that matter, directly criticizing any Republican for crying Nazi.

Of course, no degree of Republican hypocrisy should let Byrd off the hook for essentially comparing the Senate Republicans, and their effort to limit the use of the filibuster, with Nazi officials and their early, violence-laced efforts to consolidate power. And for a senator who famously prides himself as a student of history and has spent decades apologizing for his former membership in the Ku Klux Klan, Byrd seems a bit too eager to hold up the filibuster — used in earlier eras to block anti-lynching legislation and other civil-rights measures — as the bulwark of American freedom.

But at least Byrd’s problematic comparison deals with events that occurred more than a half-century ago, on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean.

His critics can’t seem to remember what Republicans did last year.






Find us on Facebook!
  • "Despite the great pain and sadness surrounding a captured soldier, this should not shape the face of this particular conflict – not in making concessions and not in negotiations, not in sobering assessments of this operation’s achievements or the need to either retreat or move forward." Do you agree?
  • Why genocide is always wrong, period. And the fact that some are talking about it shows just how much damage the war in Gaza has already done.
  • Construction workers found a 75-year-old deli sign behind a closing Harlem bodega earlier this month. Should it be preserved?
  • "The painful irony in Israel’s current dilemma is that it has been here before." Read J.J. Goldberg's latest analysis of the conflict:
  • Law professor Dan Markel waited a shocking 19 minutes for an ambulance as he lay dying after being ambushed in his driveway. Read the stunning 911 transcript as neighbor pleaded for help.
  • Happy birthday to the Boy Who Lived! July 31 marks the day that Harry Potter — and his creator, J.K. Rowling — first entered the world. Harry is a loyal Gryffindorian, a matchless wizard, a native Parseltongue speaker, and…a Jew?
  • "Orwell would side with Israel for building a flourishing democracy, rather than Hamas, which imposed a floundering dictatorship. He would applaud the IDF, which warns civilians before bombing them in a justified war, not Hamas terrorists who cower behind their own civilians, target neighboring civilians, and planned to swarm civilian settlements on the Jewish New Year." Read Gil Troy's response to Daniel May's opinion piece:
  • "My dear Penelope, when you accuse Israel of committing 'genocide,' do you actually know what you are talking about?"
  • What's for #Shabbat dinner? Try Molly Yeh's coconut quinoa with dates and nuts. Recipe here:
  • Can animals suffer from PTSD?
  • Is anti-Zionism the new anti-Semitism?
  • "I thought I was the only Jew on a Harley Davidson, but I was wrong." — Gil Paul, member of the Hillel's Angels. http://jd.fo/g4cjH
  • “This is a dangerous region, even for people who don’t live there and say, merely express the mildest of concern about the humanitarian tragedy of civilians who have nothing to do with the warring factions, only to catch a rash of *** (bleeped) from everyone who went to your bar mitzvah! Statute of limitations! Look, a $50 savings bond does not buy you a lifetime of criticism.”
  • That sound you hear? That's your childhood going up in smoke.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.