Going Too Far

by Keith Yancy

Hyperbole is an uncommon term to describe something very common in our culture: the use of exaggeration for dramatic effect or emphasis.  Saying something “hit you like a tidal wave” or “Dave went nuclear on Steve” are casual examples of such language, and usually it does the job — generating a few laughs, illustrating the degree or magnitude of some event or situation, etc.  It’s usually a fun and colorful way to make an otherwise mundane statement more interesting, and it can be very effective. 

But sometimes, it can go too far. 

I was on vacation with my family a couple of weeks ago — just an overnight visit out-of-town, really — and we were walking down a busy sidewalk.  Despite all the traffic, conversations, people walking, music playing, etc., there was a small commotion near a sidewalk display that drew my attention.  Two women were arguing with an older man, and while I couldn’t make out what he was saying, the women were shouting, “We’re not here for YOU!  We aren’t talking to YOU!”

When we got up close, I began to realize what was going on.  The women were standing behind a table that had posters hanging off of it, all of which showed a picture of President Obama’s face with a Hitler-like mustache, with a headline that compared him to Hitler.  (I later learned that these people were representing Lyndon LaRouche.)  And it was clear that the older man had a problem with it, and the message these women were representing.

Let me be clear: I do not consider myself a “fan” of the current President, and generally don’t believe that he (or the overwhelming majority of our other so-called “leaders”) have done a very good job.  But to characterize a sitting President as some type of Hitler in a business suit is outrageous… and, I believe, even dangerous. 

Why?  Not because it makes President Obama look bad, certainly.  No, this type of “shock value” comparison doesn’t just tear down the President… it attempts to make a realistic comparison to arguably the most evil man of the 20th century — a man responsible for killing millions of people — somehow plausible.  President Obama may not represent your views.  He may do things that you absolutely despise, like creating big government, or increasing taxes on the wealthy, or not fixing the economy.  But to compare a politician’s failings and political views to a man who instituted genocide on a national scale is inaccurate and irresponsible in the extreme. 

And that’s the danger of hyperbole.  Given time and repetition, it can make the implausible — comparing Obama to Hitler — somehow, in some small way, plausible.  Eventually, it can make the plausible somehow legitimate, and ultimately this can lead to actual acceptance.  It not only makes President Obama look bad… it makes comparisons to Hitler — however trivial — acceptable. 

Some things in this world defy comparison, both for good and bad.  And, in the case of Hitler, he stands (justifiably) alone in his evil, cruelty, and hatred.  And, unless the political opponent you’re campaigning against is guilty of genocide or is guilty of institutionalized racial hatred, I think you’re going too far.

The world saw what evil was when they fought and defeated Hitler.  Using Hitler as a comparative tool for the waxing and waning of domestic policy ideology makes an evil man like Hitler a little less evil… a little more acceptable… and is therefore, in my opinion, wrong.


My daughters looked a little confused when we walked past that scene on the sidewalk, and other than a comment from me that such a display was disrespectful, we passed on with little further discussion about it.  The women didn’t seem to be generating a lot of interest, and most people (from what I could see) did a good job of avoiding eye contact and moved quickly past their display.  On the whole, it didn’t look like they were making very much progress.

But I wonder what their next stunt will look like.  And I wonder if my kids will, in time, not have any reaction to seeing an American politician depicted as a Nazi.  Yes, as Americans, we’re protected by the First Amendment.  But that doesn’t absolve us from the responsibility we have to be fair, accurate, and respectful of other Americans’ opinions. 

Free speech is a right — and a responsibility. 

Until next time… : |


6 comments so far

  1. Helen Yancy on

    Thanks Keith for saying it so well. Whether or not I’m a fan of Obama (and I’m not) the people who are dedicating their lives to lead our country should be treated with civility and respect. I am not a Catholic, but I was tremendously thrilled to be in St. Peter’s Square when the Pope returned and I was able to see him. I would be thrilled to be in an audience to hear a former President speak, as you were with Clinton. This is our country – Obama is OUR PRESIDENT – and I believe he, as well as other leaders that are dedicated to their convictions and act in legal and dignified ways, can be differed with but should always be respected.

  2. Carl Hamlett on

    As always, well put sir. I couldn’t agree more. Time and repitition making the inplausible, plausible. The political machines that push this kind of thing are smart, tapping into emotion and making the subject matter less important. The shock value of the image always gets the desired effect. Depending on where your heart takes you it is either disgust in the individual because you agree with the symbolism or disgust in the use of the image in a slanderous way, which generates discussion and publcity – win/win for the presenters. Politics at its finest.

  3. Jeff on

    While I totally agree with your comments about respect for the President, there are some interesting comparisons with Hitler and Obama. No, Obama is not the madman that Hitler was, but it took Hitler years and years to convince Germany that the Jewish bankers were the cause of all Germany’s problems and come to power. Similarly, the OWS movements going on (and condoned by Obama) across the country, are being funded by George Soros’ organizations that are totally against Jews (youtube shows many anti-jewish rants in the streets of New York by these people). Let’s not forget that George Soros admitted that the best day of his life was when went around with an SS agent at age 8 and kicked Jews out of their homes. Rev. Jeremiah Wright preached weekly about why the U.S. needed to stop supporting Israel and the Jews. While I don’t agree with the picture, this President has done more to divide this country than unite it.

  4. Doris Mauricio on

    This particular characture has been in Florida for quite a while. I understand it a little better now that I know that it comes from LaRouche and his organization. I have thought of it as “reverse psychology”. By proclaiming Obama to be a Fascist leader, the American people would not realize a real one when he came along. I am a big supporter of freedom and democracy. We need a strong Federal Government working for the rights of American citizens to have this. I am very concerned that we are losing that.

  5. Fern Henley on

    Perhaps Hitler came to power via the 1% as a demagogue and led the German people in the direction of the present 1% goals. Do the 1% of these different eras have any connection? Do imperialist monetarists of different times throughout history have common enemies? Did you enjoy Jonathan Swift’s books as a child’s tale or did you ever read it as a mature adult?

    • kdyancy on

      Nice try, but your comparing the wrong things. Hitler resorted to violence far before rising to power, whereas Obama (obviously) has not. I can make the same fallacious argument by stating that John Wayne Gacy and I have the same shoe size — but having commonality is one thing, recognizing meaningful, relevant parallels is another. Obamas faults — even if interpreted by the radical far right — pale in comparison to someone who systematically endorsed and enacted mass genocide. You can argue that some of their policies could have similarities, but then why go gratuitous with the Hitler mustache, when you could just as easily (more so, if you’re honest) compare him to FDR? Simple: your argument isn’t strong enough to stand on its own. And denegrating a past beloved US president isn’t enough to grab the attention the LaRouche people so desperately lack.

      We don’t have the same opinions, but I’m glad you wrote. It’s more interesting when people disagree, and I do appreciate and respect your right to your opinions. Thanks!

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