Why the Shock Over Newt Gingrich's Nazi-Muslim Comparison?

Ol' Newt did the president a favor when he came out and said "Nazis don't have the right to put up a sign next to the Holocaust museum in Washington... We would never accept the Japanese putting up a site next to Pearl Harbor."

Just a short while before that, all the talking heads had been up in arms over Obama's supposed vacillating over the so-called Ground Zero Mosque. Never mind that it's entirely possible to argue that the Cordoba Initiative has every right to put up its planned mosque/community center in a refurbished Burlington Coat Factory a couple of blocks from Ground Zero, while at the same time being unsure of the wisdom of doing so. Nuance is, of course, anathema to the pundit class.

But suddenly, what Obama thinks of the mosque has been overshadowed by what Newt Gingrich thinks of the mosque. The mushy middle, boring stance taken by Obama wholly supplanted by the swirly-eyed crazy of Gingrich's comparison of any and all Muslims to the jack-booted Pure Evil that killed millions more than half a century ago.

Nazi comparisons are, of course, de rigueur in demagoguery. It's a simple metaphor to describe unmitigated evil. After all, rarely have we been so sure that we were on the right side of history as in World War II -- I mean, the SS uniform included a skull and crossbones insignia. Skulls, for Pete's sake!

But when Newt painted a billion Muslims the world over with the swastika, it sparked outrage even among his fellow conservatives. Joe Scarborough has spent the last two episodes running of Morning Joe freaking out over it.

And, sure, it's a deeply insulting, wholly absurd comparison. But why in the world is anyone shocked over Newt Gingrich using it? Newt Gingrich is the worst demagogue of my lifetime. People complain loudly and often about the level of partisanship in Washington today. And while I'm just as likely as anyone to remind such complainers that the Thomas Jefferson campaign accused John Adams of being a "howling hermaphrodite" -- and so this sort of partisanship has been with us more or less since the nation's founding -- the fact is that the partisan rancor today is pretty damn ugly. What we should remember is that a great deal of the blame for this lies with Newt Gingrich.

After Newt and his boys took over Congress in 1994, they looked toward the 1996 election and maintaining their power. Newt released a memo from his GOPAC political action committee entitled "Language: A Key Mechanism of Control."

In that memo, Gingrich advised his fellow Republicans in Congress as to how to draw a difference between Republicans and Democrats. He avoided entirely any actual comparison of Democratic and Republican policy initiatives. Instead, he recommended that Democrats and their ideas be described with a list of words that he helpfully provided. They included "traitors," "destructive," "betray," and so on. Check out the whole memo. The words carefully crafted by Speaker of the House Gingrich are still commonly used by Republicans running for office today.

Well, notoriously spineless as they are, even congressional Democrats didn't take to being called traitors at every available opportunity. And so the partisanship built and built, and now, we are where we are.

So when Newt Gingrich compares all Muslims, even the moderate ones behind the so-called Ground Zero Mosque, to Nazis, sure it's an outrageous comparison. But it's far from surprising. From his very rise to power a decade and a half ago, Gingrich has always taken the low road, and he has done it better than just about anyone else in politics. What I wrote earlier is true: He's the most vicious demagogue of my lifetime. I'd compare him to Hitler's propaganda minister, Joseph Goebbels, if I was the type to compare people I loathed with Nazis.

But I can't do that. Newt Gingrich is no Nazi. He's worse. At least if we go by the words of that great poet-philosopher Walter Sobchak. Hell, Newt Gingrich has more in common with a Jewish legend than he does the Jews' worst enemies. Newt is like a golem: An unthinking mud beast, given life by the hatreds of his day. If it weren't Muslims, it would be something else. Because the only way people like Newt win is by casting their opponents not merely as the opposition, but as traitors and terrorists, never once considering that, by nourishing hatred and fear, they become something far worse than what they despise.