But why should Nazi analogies be verboten? If we thought about it sensibly, we'd realize that Nazi analogies have their place. If anything, our public discourse could use more Nazi analogies.
The main complaint against Hitler analogies in American political discourse is that they're inherently hysterical, comparing run-of-the-mill conservatives or liberals with the most evil force in human history. And of course, it's crazy to compare one's political opponents to Nazis, unless they happen to be genocidal totalitarians, a category that's fortunately very small in American politics.
But when Nazis are invoked, it's often not to make a moral comparison but to establish a logical principle. That's the main mistake made by those who decry Nazi allusions. They ignore, or fail to grasp, the distinction between comparing someone to Hitler and using a historical analogy that draws on the Nazi era.
Yeah, right. If you're trying to establish a logical principle, establish a logical principle. You don't need Nazis to do that. If you think republicans are stifling dissent, say so. If you think that's a bad thing, goes against everything that the US Constitution says and could lead us to some seriously fucked up places, say so. If you think the Dems blocking judicial nominees is unprecedented and unconstitutional, say so (even though you'd be wrong if you said so).
Nazi analogies are irresistible, for two reasons. First, the history of World War II is widely known. Sure, it would have been just as logically sound for Santorum to invoke Ottoman Sultan Murad I's invasion of Bulgaria, but it would have left a lot of his listeners scratching their heads.
And second, everybody can agree the Nazis were evil. Analogies don't work unless everybody agrees on their meaning. Suppose somebody compared the Democrats' position on the filibuster to, say, the U.S.-Mexican War of 1848.
Neither points works to support the position Chait wants them to. Chait says that the history of WWII is well known. Well, relative to other wars, it is. But it's not that well known. People know some basic facts about WWII: Pearl Harbor, Nazi death camps, Hitler takes over France, Hitler gets defeated by an otherwise unlikely alliance of US, Britain, and the Soviet Union. But most people probably don't know much beyond that. In fact, as several people have pointed out, Santorum himself doesn't seem to know much beyond that. The allied bombing of Paris that he referred to in his remarks never took place.
All of which is to say that Santorum might not have been trying to argue that Democrats filibustering is as bad as Nazis invading France or something else. But surely what people heard was "Democrats = Nazis" or "Dems' behavior = Hitler's behavior" especially if they're unfamiliar with Santorum's fictionalized account of the war.
This is political discourse 101. If you want to get a point across, get it across, don't distract from the point with something irrelevant, and in this case, historically incorrect.
As for Chait's second point, "everybody can agree the Nazis were evil" -- I find it totally inscrutable. Of course everyone agrees that the Nazis were evil! That's why you shouldn't compare your colleagues to them! Let's think strategically about this for a second.
Now, I've never been one for bipartisanship, or even getting along with republicans, really. But I am (as are many of my lefty colleagues) continually frustrated with the pathetic political discourse in this country, in which no real deal debate happens, in which identification with a party comes before all else -- including facts and policy choices. If we go around comparing republicans to Nazis all the time, some people will start believing that republicans are Nazi equivalents, whether you want them to or not. And if republicans do the same thing to Dems, we'll see the parallel situation.
In fact, that's already happened. And it's one our biggest problems. The republican noise machine, as someone wise calls it, has convinced large segments of the population to vote against Democrats based on precisely this sort of demonization. Since republicans win elections on fear and selfishness (Osama and tax cuts), this demonization helps them more than it helps us.
Making Nazi analogies fair game will only exacerbate that. Republicans win when they convince the public of things that aren't true. We win when they know the real facts. Let's not help our opponents by giving the OK to a tactic that they already use effectively.