‘National Thinking Courses’ Alive and Well in America: Limbaugh as Teacher

Introductory Remarks

There are two events that led me to write this article.  First, I was requested by a reader of this blog to consider writing a piece about how Rush Limbaugh is filling a role similar to the ‘national thinking courses’ that occurred in Germany during the Post WWI era.  The other is an Op-Ed piece recently published by Paul Krugman in the NY Times.  I found the two to be related.

The individual making the request for an article (whom I respect for being well-educated, well-travelled and well-read) was doing some additional research on Germany and made the observation that what Rush Limbaugh is doing during his broadcasts is similar to the ‘national thinking courses’ in Bavaria following the Treaty of Versailles that helped shape public thinking on issues.  The concern was that Limbaugh was conducting a ‘thinking course’ with every broadcast by giving the question and then the answer, essentially laying down thinking tracts for his followers.  The individual considers the practice as dangerous to this country as it was to Germany in the long run.  Indeed one of the things that motivated me to create this blog was my experience with some loyal Limbaugh followers who would give quick pre-prepared, non-factual, talking point responses to issues.  What does one do with such responses unless one has taken the time to study matters, and few do.

For those who follow this blog you know how I have railed against the tactics of Limbaugh.  His overtly racial, anti-feminist and other choice remarks allow those having similar values to bond with him and like any effective propagandist he becomes a trusted friend who can then deliver his message to a loyal following.

I was reluctant to undertake the article as comparisons of our politicians, both Democrats and Republicans, to Naziism have been recklessly and frivolously thrown about over the years with pictures of piled bodies at Dachau regarding Healthcare reform or pictures of politicians sporting Hitler-style mustaches or Nazi armbands.  I actually mocked the practice in my satire ‘Mad Political Disease’ (24).  However, in doing my research into this article, what caught my attention in a spine-chilling way were the political beliefs that were being reinforced by the ‘national thinking courses’ in Germany.  In large part those beliefs parallel, point by point, what we are seeing today from the hard-right conservative activists in this country and they are being reinforced by the rhetoric of Limbaugh.

So as to not be accused of writing a reactionary or emotional piece and to separate this article from the reckless use of Holocaust pictures and the like, I am going to be quite specific in my comparisons and will give my sources.  I will lay out point by point Hitler’s political beliefs that shaped the Nazi party and will then give the words of Mr. Limbaugh himself on each of the points.

Background

I thought it useful to present a brief background regarding the ascent of Hitler following WWI.  Referenced articles are provided should any be interested in a more comprehensive review.

The Treaty of Versailles was one of the peace treaties at the end of WWI; it ended the state of war between Germany and the allied powers and required Germany to accept sole responsibility for the war (1).  The treaty deprived Germany of various territories, demilitarized the Rhineland leaving the German military quite weakened, and imposed economically damaging sanctions.  The treaty re-created Poland which even moderate Germans considered an outrage (2).  This wounding of the German national pride was something that Hitler, a nationalist, used as a reason to re-build Germany.  The civilian politicians who signed the treaty (he referred to them as the ‘November Criminals’) were made the scapegoats for what happened to Germany whereas in reality these individuals actually had little say in the matter.

Following the war he returned to Munich (capital of Bavaria) where he took part in ‘national thinking’ courses organized by the Education and Propaganda Department (Dept Ib/P) of the Bavarian Reichswehr Group, Headquarters 4.  Scapegoats for Germany’s ills included ‘international Jewry’ (Jews, a frequently discriminated group in Europe, were an easy target and were blamed for everything from the failing economy to Marxism), communists, and politicians especially the parties of the Weimar Coalition (a democratic coalition).  The Nazi party was but one of several small extremist groups in Munich at the time, but Hitler found his talent as a charismatic and influential public orator who could inspire loyalty – his attacks on Jews, social democrats, liberals, communists and others began to attract adherents (3).

Hitler was tried for high treason following a failed coup to seize power in Munich, referred to as the Beer Hall Putch, and was imprisoned where he dictated most of the first volume of ‘Mein Kampf’ that was both an autobiography and an expression of his ideology.   Although he had gained some prominence from the failed coup, he faced various bans regarding both his party and his public speaking following his release from prison.  However, what finally pushed him forward in the German political world was when the Great Depression hit the country in 1930 (4) (remember, ‘it’s the economy, stupid’?).  In May of 1928 his party had received only 2.6 percent of the vote and occupied only 12 seats in the Reichstag; in September of 1930, following the economic crisis, his party had won 18.3 percent of the vote and held 107 seats.  As the parties loyal to the democratic parliamentary republic found themselves unable to agree on countermeasures (What was that Will Rogers’ statement?  Democrats never agree on anything, that’s why they’re Democrats?), their grand coalition broke up and was replaced by a minority coalition.  In a few years Adolf Hitler was appointed as Chancellor.

Political Beliefs

The source for what follows is a published summary of Hitler’s political beliefs (5).  Under each belief I have given an example of language issued by Mr. Limbaugh.

Anticommunism

Leftist political dissidents were the first victims to be targeted by the Nazi regime, well before Racial discrimination was applied.

Today the conservative airways are filled with chatter claiming that politicians on the left, including the Obama administration, are not only changing the US into a socialist country but are themselves communists.  In a town hall meeting I attended on health reform this summer a protestor made an emotional statement before the crowd that our country was becoming a socialist republic and that is just one step from communism – those same sentiments have come over the conservative airwaves.

In the words of Limbaugh, these just recently issued on his radio show (6): “..we may not have a Soviet threat, but we have a communist threat. … Now we have an administration with members saying their favorite philosopher is Mao Zedong.  Next we’re going to learn that somebody else in the administration admires Josef Stalin.  We have avowed Marxists, self-proclaimed communists in this administration.”   Limbaugh’s teaching point?  What has gone wrong with our country is that we have a communist threat in our own backyard.

Racial Nationalism

Well known to many was Hitler’s belief in the superiority of the Aryan race that resulted in national discriminatory behavior and eventually contributed to the Holocaust.  “Every manisfestation of human culture, every product of art, science and technical skill, which we see fefore our eyes today, is almost exclusively the product of the Aryan creative power.  This very fact fully justifies the conclusion that it was the Aryan alone who founded a superior type of humanity…”  (Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf).  Indeed it was during the 1930’s when African American athletes became national heros, despite the continuing discriminatory behavior in their own country, by sticking it to Hitler’s Aryan supremacy claims.  Included was Joe Lewis in his 1938 rematch (7) against Max Schmeling (who did not agree with Hitler’s propaganda) and Jesse Owens who claimed 4 gold medals at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin (8).

Today, following the candidacy and election of Barack Obama, we are seeing an intensification of the race issue in our country.  The lack of diversity in the crowds that attended the Republican political rallies during the last election or the recent protests against health reform has drawn attention – one TV commentator said the make-up of the crowd that gathered recently in Washington looked reminiscent of an apartheid rally in South Africa a few decades ago.  And one only has to listen to the overtly racist language caught on tape at a Palin rally during the last election – one from the network Al Jazerra was played before international audiences – indeed an embarrassment for a country that preaches equality amongst men.

Limbaugh has a long history of manipulating racial hatred.  I have not included citations here as there is so much of this on the internet that one can easily perform their own search.  Of statements/words he has issued that I have been able to confirm: Halfrican American; Magic Negro; telling a black female caller to phone back after she removed the bone from her nose (early in his career and not during his present radio show); accusing favoritism for NFL Quarterback Donovan McNabb because of a desire by the league/media for a black quarterback to succeed (that one cost him his job at ESPN in 2003); that ‘the NFL all too often looks like a game between the Bloods and the Crips without weapons.  There, I said it’; that composite pictures of wanted criminals look like Jesse Jackson; and that he ‘spawned’ Glenn Beck and felt that Beck was on target – this following Beck’s statement that Obama has a deep seated hatred of white people or the white culture.  It is hard to deny that Limbaugh is contributing to a racial nationalism in this country, and it recently cost him a business opportunity to take an ownership position with an NFL franchise.

This should not be taken lightly as his language reinforces behavior that has shown the capacity to engage in hate crimes, such as the case in Jasper, TX (a documentary was made of the incident) where a young black man was roped to the back of a pick-up and dragged to a bloody death.  I have wondered what this population would be capable of should the current restraints we have in place be removed.

Social Conservatism

Anti-feminism

At the top of the list of Nazi social conservatism is anti-feminism.  It was believed by Hitler that with traditional German values there was no need for a woman to be emancipated.  In our country the feminist movement is credited with women expanding their rights including their right to vote, equal pay for equal work and the right of a woman to choose on the abortion issue.  I view the women involved in this movement as being part of the same American spirit that founded this country, indeed heros who were incarcerated, ostracized and even abused during their protests to gain voting rights, but held their ground.

Limbaugh has spread anti-feminist propaganda over the air.  As broadcasted on his Aug 12, 2005 show: “Feminism was established so as to allow unattractive women easier access to the mainstream of society” (9).   His teaching point?  It isn’t that women are intellectually capable or talented, feminism was really about unattractive vengeful women who asserted themselves into the rightful place of men in our society.

He has also referred to feminine activists who supported choice on the abortion issue as being “Feminazis”.  ‘In an interview, Gloria Steinem characterized Limbaugh’s use of the term “feminazi” as ironic since feminists and other political dissenters were among the victims of Nazi concentration camps and Nazi work camps.  According to Steinem, “Hitler came to power against the strong feminist movement in Germany, padlocked the family planning clinics, and declared abortion a crime against the state—all views that more closely resemble Rush Limbaugh’s.”  In her book Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions, Steinem elaborates on the repression of feminism under Hilter, noting that many prominent German feminists like Helene Stocker, Trude Weiss-Rosmarin, and Clara Zetkin were forced to flee Nazi Germany while others were killed in concentration camps” ‘. (10).

Extreme Homophobia

A part of Hitler’s social conservative beliefs was ‘extreme homophobia’ that led to the extermination of homosexuals.  Not only has our gay community been subjected to hate crimes, some of them losing their lives, but conservatives were successful in getting President G.W. Bush (who needed to galvanize an important part of the Republican base prior to an election) to attempt a constitutional amendment that would have banned same sex marriage (11).

Commenting on the 2009 unanimous ruling of the Iowa Supreme Court that overturned legislation banning gays from civil marriage on the basis that the law violated both constitutional equal protection and fairness (12), Limbaugh likened the Supreme Court as having the values of a dictatorship that was placed over that of the people (13).

Strong Rejection of Youth Sex

This element of Hitler’s social conservativism is also seen in this country in the abstinence-only sex education movement voiced by conservative politicians including Sarah Palin.  Limbaugh, a supporter of abstinence-only sex education, issued a satirical essay on the matter entitled: “Condoms: The New Diploma” where he claims that the effort to distribute condoms to our youth is ‘ridiculous and misguided’ and even ‘lethal’.  A thoughtful analysis of his work by a college student can found at the attached link (14).  The teaching point?  Youth sex should not be occurring (we all that it has for centuries) therefore there is no need to offer protection or education.

Anti-intellectualism

The term ‘elitist’ is used derogatorily in today’s conservative dialogue to describe those on the left.  There were the days when our nation could be inspired by the rhetoric of politicians or other influential individuals such as JFK, Franklin Roosevelt, Teddy Roosevelt, and Edward R. Murrow – all of whom were highly educated.  A statement commonly made today is how political language has been ‘dumbed down’.  Limbaugh has spread anti-intellectual sentiments over the air.  As an example, he described Nobel Prize winners as “clowns” and “egghead elitists who can’t even  button their shirts” (15).  The teaching point?  Highly educated, intellectual individuals are elitists who do not understand us or our values.

Distrust of Democracy

Hitler blamed Germany’s parliamentary government (a democratic coalition) for many of the nation’s ills and wrote that he would destroy that form of government.  Additionally, separate militias began to form including the Sturmabteilung (“Stormtroopers” or SA); Hitler founded the more reliable Schutzstaffel (“Protection Unit” or SS).

The conservative dialogue filling the airways is contributing to individuals claiming that their country is being taken away by leftists and that they would gladly give their lives to protect the Constitution.   A recently published article documents one such individual, Kyle Mortenson, who is a passionate defender of what he imagines the Constitution to be (16).  He claims that ‘our very way life is under siege’.  His understanding of the Constitution is derived not from a reading of the document but rather talk-show pundits and books by television personalities.  He claims that far-left traitors are attempting to strip the Constitution of its religious foundation and claims that the line ‘One nation under God’ is right up front in the preamble of the Constitution because of its importance; the words actually come from the Pledge of Allegiance.  Interestingly, Rush Limbaugh, misquoted the Constitution earlier this year at CPAC on national television (Fox), attributing words from the Declaration of Independence to our Constitution’s Preamble.  Mortenson claims Madison and Jefferson were moved by the ideals of Christianity when in fact historians are in general agreement that both men rejected Christianity.  Although his like-minded friends listen to and repeat what he says, members of his family remain more critical, his college aged daughter saying, “Dad’s great, but listening to all that talk radio has put some weird ideas into his head”.  It would seem that the ‘thinking courses’ of Limbaugh and the like are doing their job in filling the heads of the uninformed and gullible with much mis-information.

Another concern is the rise in anti-government militias that has occurred since the election of President Obama (17).  One law enforcement agency has found up to 50 new militia training groups.  A key difference from the militias that formed in the 1990’s is that the federal government – the entity that the radical right views as its enemy – is headed by an African American president that has helped to racialize the movement.  ‘Militiamen, white supremacists, anti-Semites, nativists, tax protesters and a range of other activists of the radical right are cross-pollinating and may even be coalescing’ giving authorities concern.  An agent of ATF who infiltrates racist hate groups has said “you’re seeing the bubbling [of antigovernment sentiment] right now.  You see people buying into what they’re saying.  It’s primed to grow.  The only thing you don’t have to set it on fire is a Waco or Ruby Ridge”.  Despite president Obama’s favorable polling statistics in this country, it has been reported that he faces 30 death death threats a day, stretching the US Secret Service (18). This number represents a 400% increase over that reported for former President George W. Bush who had historically low approval ratings toward the end of his presidency.

Frankly, the last thing we need with this movement afoot is filling the airwaves with propaganda such as communists in the administration, racist statements and the like to reinforce the beliefs of this radical movement and destroy trust in our democratic process.

The Big Lie

Hitler contended that people are more likely to believe big lies than small ones because people are used to small lies.  He used the concept of the Big Lie against his enemies but also used it to his own advantage.  One of the great Nazi hoaxes was the Gleiwitz incident, a phony Polish attack on a German radio station that gave the Nazis an excuse for invading Poland.

Every key reason (WMD’s, both biological and nuclear, and an alliance between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda) presented to the US public, to Congress, and before the United Nations (the mushroom cloud as the smoking gun) that  took us to war with Iraq was shown to be false.  Included here was the allegation that Iraq was obtaining uranium out of Niger in the form of yellowcake that was refuted by CIA special envoy Joseph C. Wilson following his trip to Niger.  In a retaliatory move the identity of Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame, as a covert CIA officer (19) was leaked to the press eventually leading to the felony conviction of Scooter Libby, VP Cheney’s former chief of staff (20).  The aluminum tubes that were claimed to be centrifuge tubes for enriching uranium, a belief held by a junior member of the US Atomic Energy Commission but refuted by much of the rest of experts around the world, wound up being rocket tubes.  Interestingly, at the time of the leak of her identity, Valerie Plame, whose area was anti-proliferation (WMDs), was reported to have been working on the centrifuge tube issue and was generating information refuting the administration’s claim (21).  The areal photographs that allegedly showed the existence of WMD infrastructure wound up being incorrect.  And an alliance between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda was unfounded.  With the exception of Great Britain, we went to war with Iraq without the support of our major allies.

In describing Iraq war protestors in 2003, Limbaugh is reported to have made the following statement: “It’s beyond me how anybody can look at these protesters and call them anything other than what they are: anti-American, anti-capitalist, pro Marxists and communists” (22).  The teaching point?  The intent of his words speaks for itself.  The words he used to falsely characterize American citizens, who were practicing their right to dissent, references the same ‘scapegoats’ targeted by the ‘national thinking courses’ in Bavaria.  I submit that the statement is frank propaganda, a ‘thinking course’ statement, that will be listened to and believed by his loyal following.  Further, Mr. Limbaugh would have done well to remember the words issued by Edward R. Murrow during the red scare days of the 1950’s, those being that  we must not confuse dissent with disloyalty.

The Krugman Article

Paul Krugman, last year’s Nobel Prize winner in economics, has written about a recent rally outside the US capital on the healthcare legislation (23).  There were large signs showing piles of bodies at Dachau with the caption “National Socialist Healthcare”.  He noted that the rally was not a fringe event but rather was sponsored by the House Republican Leadership, officially billed as a GOP press conference, and that senior lawmakers in attendance apparently had no problem with the tone of the proceedings.

Krugman’s point was that the GOP has been taken over by the very people it used to exploit.  With the loss of the presidency, House and Senate, conservative hard-right activists of the party lost their patience.  Additionally, a power vacuum was created in a party accustomed to top-down management.  The real power in the party now resides with the likes of Limbaugh, Beck and Palin (who he describes as more of a media figure than a conventional politician) who have no real interest in governing (although I do not agree with him regarding Palin) but feed the base’s frenzy rather than trying to curb or channel it.  It is possible that the ‘party of Limbaugh and Beck’ could make major gains in the midterm elections as job creation efforts have fallen short.  He points out that in California the GOP was reduced to a small ‘rump’ party that remained big enough to be obstructionistic and prevent the State from effectively addressing its economic crisis.  His concern is that the same could easily happen on a national level and that the country could become ungovernable in the midst of an economic crisis.  He describes this as no laughing matter, something unprecedented, and that it would be very bad for America.

Concluding Remarks

So what price might we pay for the ‘national thinking courses’ being conducted by Limbaugh and the like?  ‘Thinking courses’ that have filled the heads of the uninformed, the gullible and the bigoted with misconceptions that we have communists in the administration and that democratic politicians are socialists and pro Marxists that are destroying our Constitution and America along with it?  ‘Teaching courses’ that reinforce a mentality that results in block voting of ‘no’ on major legislation?  These ‘thinking courses’ could indeed contribute to this country becoming ungovernable during an economic crisis, especially as the democrats have shown little ability to agree as a party as was the case with the Weimar coalition.

What is missing in this mix is a charismatic, highly conservative leader with public presentation skills who could take charge of the hard-right conservative base.  And this is the one point where I disagree with Dr. Krugman.  That individual may be blowing down from Alaska in the form a media-trained Sarah Palin who has demonstrated herself time and again to be uninformed, but who shares the values of the conservative base.  Her recent book tour is concentrating on the battleground election states.  And should the language and beliefs of the hard right-conservative activists that have been ‘taught’ by Limbaugh find its way into policy, that would indeed be bad for America.

Reading and Sources

1.  Treaty of Versailles

2.  Adolf Hitler and WWI.

3.  Adolf Hitler – Entry into Politics

4.  Adolf Hitler – Rise to Power

5.  Adolf Hitler’s Political Beliefs

6.  MediaMatters for America, Oct 28, 2009

7.  Joe Louis versus Max Schmeling

8. Jesse Owens

9. The ‘Truth’ According to Limbaugh, Aug 16, 2005

10.  Feminazi (antifeminism)

11.  Bush Re-Enters Gay Marriage Fight, Washington Post, June 3, 2006

12.  Unanimous ruling: Iowa marriage no longer limited to one man, one woman, Des Moines Register, April 3, 2009

13.  Limbaugh says Iowa ruling on gay marriage is evidence of “the values of a dictatorship”, MediaMatters, April 7, 2009

14.  Condom Distribution in Schools, March 6, 2006

15.  Limbaugh called Nobel Prize winners “clowns” and “egghead elitists who can’t even button their shirts”, MediaMatters, May 12, 2005

16.  Area Man Passionate Defender of What He Imagines Constitution To Be, Nov. 14, 2009

17.  Southern Poverty Law Report: Return of the Militias, Aug 12, 2009

18.  Barack Obama faces 30 death threats a day, stretching US Secret Service, Aug 3, 2009

19.  Valerie Plame Biography

20. Plame Affair

21.  Valerie Plame Career

22.  Limbaugh calls War Protesters Anti-American, Anti-Capitalist Marxists and Communists

23.  Paranoia Strikes Deep, Paul Krugman, NY Times, Nov 9, 2009

24.  Mad Political Disease, Art on Issues Blog, Sept 15, 2009

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