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I don’t usually feel nostalgia for old Republicans. But that happened to me this week when the talk on Fox News channel turned to Hitler.
The führer came up during an appearance by Hank Williams Jr, son of the country music legend and a popular singer in his own right. He was introduced on the Fox & Friends morning talk show as someone who knew about politics and would analyse the 2012 Republican presidential race.
Mr Williams admitted to a certain amount of disappointment with the field. As an explanation, he pointed out that two leading Republicans – John Boehner, speaker of the House of Representatives, and John Kasich, Ohio’s governor – had played golf with Barack Obama, president, and Joe Biden, the vice-president.
“That was one of the biggest political mistakes ever. That turned a lot of people off,” Mr Williams said. “It would be like Hitler playing golf with [Israeli prime minister Benjamin] Netanyahu.” Asked why, Mr Williams said: “They’re the enemy . . . Obama! And Biden!”
The Hitler-Obama comparison seems to have cost Mr Williams his regular gig singing the opening song for Monday Night Football telecasts on ESPN. But it shouldn’t come as a particular surprise for anyone who follows US politics.
Violent language and violent opinions are all the rage these days – particularly on the right. During recent Republican presidential debates, audience members booed a gay soldier in Iraq, cheered when someone said how many people had been executed in Texas and shouted “let him die” during a discussion of the options facing an unhealthy American without health insurance.
Perhaps more remarkably, Republican candidates have tended to react to the rumblings of all their rowdy friends – to use Mr Williams’ terminology – with country club-worthy decorum. In comments made to the Manchester Union Leader newspaper, Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, seemed to imply that it would be impolite to admonish potential voters who behaved badly.
“I will tell you that the boos and the applause have not always coincided with my own views,” Mr Romney said. “But I haven’t stepped in to try and say, ‘This one’s right, this one’s wrong.’ Instead I try to focus on the things I want to say.”
Sounding like someone Hugh Grant would play in a movie, Mr Romney added: “I don’t know that cheering for executions is something I would agree with either, but I don’t raise my hand and say, ‘Please let me talk, I want to tell everyone you shouldn’t be cheering that.’ ”
To her credit, Gretchen Carlson, one of the hosts of Fox & Friends, did disavow the Hitler-Obama comparison made by Mr Williams. But she did not do so until she had wished Mr Williams “a great football season” and put in a plug for a collection of recently discovered recordings by his late father.
It all made me wish that Dwight Eisenhower – the Republican who crushed Democrat Adlai Stevenson (a Silverman-family favourite) in the 1952 and 1956 presidential elections – could have materialised on Fox & Friends and talked some sense into Mr Williams. I say this because of a fascinating document I read a couple of years ago on Andrew Sullivan’s blog. I imagine that many of you know it, too. It was a letter that then-General Eisenhower wrote after he visited Germany’s Ohrdruf concentration camp, which was liberated by US forces during the second world war.
“The things I saw beggar description,” he said. “While I was touring the camp I encountered three men who had been inmates and by one ruse or another had made their escape. I interviewed them through an interpreter. The visual evidence and the verbal testimony of starvation, cruelty and bestiality were so overpowering as to leave me a bit sick. In one room...were piled up 20 or 30 naked men, killed by starvation, [General] George Patton would not even enter. He said he would get sick if he did so. I made the visit deliberately, in order to be in a position to give first-hand evidence of these things if ever, in the future, there develops a tendency to charge these allegations merely to ‘propaganda’.”
The part that gets me is that Patton, the tough guy, couldn’t stomach it, and Eisenhower forced himself to see, so that no one would be able to forget. It’s worth remembering at a dismal time in our political history such as this one. Men like Eisenhower were more than Republicans (or Democrats). Much more.