CAMPAIGN CONFIDENTIAL

By Eric Marx; With Reporting by E.J. Kessler.

Published January 16, 2004, issue of January 16, 2004.
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Despite pressure from various sources, the Republican National Committee and allied organizations are declining to speak out against two conservatives, anti-tax activist Grover Norquist and New York Post columnist Ralph Peters, who compared opponents of the Bush administration to Nazis.

The RNC led the charge last month against the liberal Web site MoveOn.org for allowing users to post two 30-second videos comparing President Bush to Adolf Hitler. The videos were posted as entries in a MoveOn.org contest soliciting model campaign ads and sparked a flood of protest from across the political spectrum.

In a telephone call to the Forward and in later statements to the general press, MoveOn.org founder Wes Boyd voiced “regret for not having filtered… out” the Bush-as-Hitler submissions. He noted that the controversial ads “of course got very bad scores and are not at all finalists in our contest.”

The Hitler ads and the Peters column were both criticized this week in a statement issued by the Anti-Defamation League calling on both parties to refrain from using Holocaust language as a political attack tool. It made no mention of Norquist, a prominent conservative activist with strong ties to the White House.

When contacted by the Forward, RNC spokeswoman Heather Layman declined to condemn Norquist for comparing proponents of the estate tax to the perpetrators of the Holocaust. Meanwhile, the execu- tive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, Matt Brooks, who also criticized MoveOn, has kept quiet about Norquist.

Officials at the Democratic National Committee and the National Jewish Democratic Council noted that they had criticized both Norquist and the Hitler videos.

“The Grover piece strikes me as much more ludicrous because he compares those who favor tax increases to Nazis, and he is someone of great power and influence in this country; he claims he drives administration policy,” said Ira Forman, executive director of the Jewish Democratic council.

“You expect the RNC to play partisan politics and that’s fair,” Forman said. “But,” he added, referring to tax cuts, “you don’t expect them to be so crass and so insensitive with one of their favorites on something as sensitive as the Holocaust.”

In addition to not rebuking Norquist, conservatives have refused to condemn Peters, who in a January 5 column headlined “Howard the Coward,” compared Democrat frontrunner Howard Dean to Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels, and Dean’s supporters to “Hitler’s Brownshirts” and the Gestapo. Writing in the New York Post, a key component of Rupert Murdoch’s pro-Bush media empire, Peters compared “Herr Howie” to such Soviet Communist leaders as Vladimir Lenin, Leonid Brezhnev and Mikhail Gorbachev.

The apparent unwillingness of conservatives to speak out against members of their own camp was criticized by Ann Lewis, an official at the DNC who served as White House communications director in the Clinton administration. “Until we are prepared to use a single standard for excesses on both sides, you don’t bring much credibility to the debate,” Lewis said. “I’m still waiting to hear from the RNC what they think about Grover Norquist.”

Norquist made his comments during an October interview with NPR, but they have drawn increasing attention after Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen ridiculed them in a recent article.

In his interview with NPR, Norquist criticized the argument that the estate tax was worth keeping because it affects only “2% of Americans.”

“I mean, that’s the morality of the Holocaust,” Norquist said. “‘Well, it’s only a small percentage,’ you know. I mean, it’s not you. It’s somebody else.”

Layman said any comparison between Norquist’s commments and the ads on the MoveOn site was unfair. The RNC spokeswoman added: “I think there is a difference there from comparing the president of the U.S. to Adolph Hitler.”

Another RNC spokeswoman, Christine Iverson, said that her party would denounce any Republican presidential ad comparing Democrats to Hitler.

When the MoveOn controversy first surfaced, Brooks of the Republican Jewish Coalition was quick to condemn the liberal Web site, arguing that “this brand of hateful rhetoric is damaging to the electoral process — regardless of which side of the political spectrum in originates from.” Asked about Norquist this week, Brooks said, “My [previous] statement speaks for itself.”






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