State House Report

Drop Hitler Hype in Favor of Respectful Debate

By Andy Brack
Wednesday, May 14, 2014

There’s too much talk about Adolf Hitler at the State House. It needs to stop.

In April, state Sen. Mike Fair, R-Greenville, spouted off about the genocidal German leader in a reaction to a Planned Parenthood poll surrounding a controversial bill to ban abortions in the state at 20 weeks or more.

Fair reacted, “I have no more confidence in Planned Parenthood than I do in Adolf Hitler, if he were around, to ask about whether his signature is binding.”

Then, this month during the Senate budget debate, state Sen. Tom Corbin, another Greenville Republican, spewed Hitler’s name during a floor argument over whether the state should withhold college funding over an award-winning gay-themed book students were asked to read. Here’s the back and forth between Corbin and Democratic Sen. Brad Hutto of Orangeburg, who accused some who want to withhold funding of being homophobic:

HUTTO: I’m glad you gave me this book. Actually, it says, Time magazine’s number one book of the year, National Book Critics’ Circle Award finalist. This is a critically acclaimed book.

CORBIN: Senator, did you know there was a time in history when all of Germany thought Hitler was an acclaimed leader? Did that make it so? Did that make it right?

HUTTO: No, that did not, but this is totally different.

CORBIN: Time magazine made him Man of the Year (in 1938).

HUTTO: Made who?

CORBIN: Hitler.

HUTTO: They may have. They may have.

CORBIN: I rest my case.

HUTTO: What is your case? That’s what I’d like to know.

Why are people invoking the name of Hitler to make their rhetorical points — because they’re lazy or because they want a guaranteed way to get in the news, or both? One thing is for sure — both Fair and Corbin crossed the line. Invoking the name of a man who spawned the genocide of millions is not parallel to the funding of a book.

Greenville communications strategist Chip Felkel says stepping over rhetorical lines with inflammatory, hyperbolic language makes it more difficult for public officials to discuss issues reasonably.

“I think it would be very nice if our elected officials could make their case without all of the hyperbole,” he says. “I think the public would like to hear more substance and less hyperbole. For both sides to be talking about issues with extreme comparisons is no better than CNN’s over-coverage of this tragic plane crash. It’s hype and helium as opposed to serious prudent leadership.”

College of Charleston Department of Political Science Chair Gibbs Knotts says the ultimate jury for officials who make extreme comments is voters, but their verdict is sometimes far removed in time from a politicians’ rhetoric.

“Cranking it up to level 10 out of 10 is not necessarily the way to make the best public policy,” he says, adding that Hitler comments chill compromise and debate from multiple perspectives.

House Democratic operative Tyler Jones of Charleston says he finds comparisons to Hitler to be “the epitome of brainless sensationalism.”

“This man authorized the killing of 11 million people,” Jones says. “If you compare a modern day politician to Hitler, you’re either grossly ignorant or unbelievably insensitive. Hitler references in politics should be treated by the media the same way punches are treated by referees in professional sports — automatic disqualification.”

Warren Gress, executive director of the Alliance for Full Acceptance in Charleston, finds Corbin’s comments ironic because Hitler suppressed expression by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people and sent them to death camps. And Corbin, in trying to suppress a book expressing views about LGBT issues, invoked Hitler’s name to make his point. 

“It’s nonsensical stuff when people take two completely divergent things that Time may have highlighted and say that these two things are the same,” Gress says.

There’s nothing wrong with robust debate. In fact, more of it is needed. But it needs to be respectful and not cross the line. Chill out, Fair. Cool it, Corbin.

Andy Brack is editor and publisher of Statehouse Report; reach him at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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