Sunday, July 27, 2008

Zig Heil, herr Stein

Ben Stein's unusual osbsession with Nazis spills the boundaries of Expelled

Ben Stein provoked a great deal of outrage when, in the course of his film Expelled, he attributed the horrors of eugenics to Darwinism.

Even though he took great lengths to add the caveat that Darwinism alone isn't sufficient to lead to full-out Nazism, Stein's envokation of this led some viewers of the film to promptly walk out.

Many people invoked Godwin's Law -- the tenet suggesting that invoking Nazism in the course of debate should be treated as a consession of defeat -- to suggest that Stein had immediately conceded the argument.

In the case of Expelled and the Darwinist principles (even if they are misread and misinterpreted Darwinist principles) at the very heart of eugenics programs -- including the protracted ethnic cleansing undertaken by the Nazis -- these people are wrong. Whether they like it or not, Stein is stating simple historical fact.

Not so much in the course of a recent controversy the now-perpetually-controversial figure has provoked with his comments regarding Barack Obama's planned speech to the Democrat National Convention at Invesco Field in Denver.

"I don't like the idea of Senator Obama giving his acceptance speech in front of 75,000 wildly screaming people. That is not the way we do things in political parties in the United States of America. We have a contained number of people in an arena.

75,000 people in an outdoor sports palace -- well, that's something the Fuhrer would have done.

And I think whoever is advising Senator Obama to do this is bringing up all kinds of very unfortunate images from the past.
Never one to quite be undone, Glenn Beck pitched in with some equally ill-concieved remarks:

"I've been saying that we're headed towards a Mussolini-style presidency forever. ...I mean, it's crazy!"
Of course, for anyone who's bothered paying the slightest bit of attention to the 2008 Presidential Elections -- even for those who haven't -- the differences between Barack Obama and Hitler and Mussolini are so far beyond obvious that they render Stein and Beck's comments nothing short of befuddling.

Some minor similarities are undeniable. Hitler and Mussolini both marketed themselves as visionaries with the courage and intention to drastically transform their countries. Many of Barack Obama's supporters insist the same thing about him.

But the inherent malevolence of Hitler and Mussolini's messages were apparent from the very get-go. Hitler and Mussolini both succeeded because they appealed to the darkest psychological elements of their respective societies. In Hitler's case this was the bitterness provoked by the First World War-ending Versailles treaty coupled with the desperation resulting from severe economic depression.

In Mussolini's case, he appealed to a disturbing lack of confidence in the national character of the Italian state, and a belief that Italians were being left behind in the rush for international prestige.

Obama, meanwhile, has campaigned on a message of hope from the very beginning -- an idea that has slipped by even some of the most astute American conservative commentators. Consider the remarks of National Review editor Jonah Goldberg, again invoking fascism:

"I think one of the things that is decidedly fascistic, or at least just a bad idea, is looking for silver bullets. You know, when Barack Obama campaigns, he's basically saying, 'I'm a silver bullet. I'm going to solve all your problems just by electing me.' FDR, Hitler, all these guys, they basically said, 'All your problems can be solved.'"
Of course, this is an implicitly inaccurate comment. There's little question Goldberg legitimately believes it, but it's still untrue.

Obama's campaign slogan -- "Yes we can" -- emphasizes the Barberian Strong Democratic principle of communal democratic action -- the idea that democracy is built from the citizenry up, not from the government down.

Certainly, Obama argues that electing him would be the first step. But Obama has never really argued that he could single-handedly solve the United States' problems. Rather, he's campaigned on the notion that, with himself as president, Americans could solve many of their problems by working together.

That's a far cry from the authoritarianism that Ben Stein decries in his Glenn Beck comments. He does, however, make on valid point:

"I think he has to recognize some bounds on his own ego. I understand politicians are politicians because they have ego deficit problems and they try to cure them by having lots of worship and adulation and adoration."
Which is certainly fair comment. Certainly, many politicians are drawn to politics in order to resolve their own sense of inadequacy. Indeed, Barack Obama may be one of those individuals.

But in the end, Stein just can't clear that hump of authoritarianism:

"But 75,000 people screaming in an outdoor arena, that's just too much. It's just -- it's scarily authoritarian."
Authoritarian like Hitler and Mussolini. And never mind the fact that Hitler and Mussolini both literally campaigned on a platform of authoritarianism, while Barack Obama has done the exact opposite.

Stein and Beck's Hitler/Mussolini comparisons may be the most resolute invokations of Godwin's law seen in quite a while.


  1. Like you, I'm trying to figure out if it's a good or bad sign that the right is saying such insanely retarded shit about Barack. I just thank goodness that, even though the left can be just as idiotic, at least we all hate each other enough to call each other on it. We have a built-in self-criticism reflex. Doesn't always work, but still, we generally keep our loonies on the fringe where they belong, and where we can find them when we need them.

    Unfortunately for the right, their fringe is in charge of the White House right now, and they ones with brains are beginning to see what a mistake that is. In the meantime we have to put up with entire cable news networks whose raison d'etre is to blare rightwing insanity.

    Yeah, I'm so afraid Barack Obama is going to take over as dictator. Excuse me, who's been trying to broaden the powers of the executive acres beyond the Constitution for the last eight years? Barack Obama? Who's been holding people without trial and tapping phones and torturing?

    Stein is like some kind of geeking sideshow at this point. If Nixon's legacy needed anymore black eyes, Ben Stein's doing his part.

  2. Polarizing politics really brings out the extremists in droves.

    As much as we may worry about the things that right-wingers are saying about Barack Obama, I think there's just as much reason to be concerned about some of the things being said about John McCain by the left.

    Now, that being said, I simply find it hard to believe that the right-wing fringe is in control of the White House. Let's be realistic about this: you still need to collect enough votes in order to be president and if you alienate too many voters you can't do so.

    And if history has shown us anything, it's that American voters simply won't vote for fringe candidates. Barry Goldwater and George McGovern both learned this the hard way (McGovern was, at the time, a fringe candidate -- not so much anymore).

    Obama is the last individual to become a dictator. He's the kind of politician who'll spend so much time talking to people trying to convince them that his agenda is the correct route that he would be too busy to resort to tyranny even if he wanted to.

    I'm less convinced about Stein right now than I was when I saw Expelled. I still admire him on numerous levels (although I'm still more than willing to criticize him when warranted), but there's no question in my mind at this point that he has an agenda. He isn't quite what he's made himself up to be.


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