If you’re entertained by Hitler comparisons, this has been your week. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer attempted to show how terrible Bashar al-Assad is by stating that even Hitler did not use chemical weapons. This line has been ridiculed as it deserved, and even though no one seriously considers Spicer to be a Holocaust denier, his comment could not have come at a worse time than the week Passover begins.
People, even those whose job it is to communicate, tend to step in it when they make such specious comparisons. Too often, they are simply employed as an ad hominem attack in a stupid debate. There are a number of reasons that Hitler comparisons should be retired for good.
Someone should tell North Carolina General Assembly member Larry Pittman, who called Abraham Lincoln “the same sort if (sic) tyrant” as Adolf Hitler. On Tuesday, the Republican lawmaker was using his political Facebook page — another inadvisable decision — to defend a bill he introduced that “would restore a ban on same-sex marriage, in defiance of the US Supreme Court,” according to Business Insider.
A commenter told him to get over it; same-sex marriage is the law of the land. Pittman was not ready to get over it, responding, “And if Hitler had won, should the world just get over it? Lincoln was the same sort (of) tyrant, and personally responsible for the deaths of over 800,000 Americans in a war that was unnecessary and unconstitutional.”
What the final sentence has to do with the rest of Pittman’s point, I have no idea. Hitler comparisons in all their forms are silly, but at least Sean Spicer was comparing the leader of the Third Reich to an authoritarian who had gassed his own people. Assad could reasonably be considered a tyrant. Lincoln cannot, despite the pro-Confederacy, anti-historical meme that he was.
South Carolina began the train of secessions and Confederate forces began to lay siege to Fort Sumter before Lincoln even took office. His actions were intended to hold together the country the Constitution of which he had sworn to uphold. Some argue that the right to secession is immutable and certainly applied here, as the North was about to take the South’s slaves.
That was untrue, but even if it were, the claim does not hold up against the views of the founders of the United States. Lincoln, a studied aficionado of Thomas Jefferson, was well aware that the Declaration of Independence — purportedly a document of secessionist precedence — argued that prudence dictates that “Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes.”
The colonies’ secession, if you want to call it that, the Declaration states is justified only “when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism.” There was absolute despotism in the United States at the time. It was called slavery and it existed in states which were attempting to secede. Far from having the rights listed in the Declaration violated, they were in fact hoping to escape the prospect that their violation of those rights toward others would be stopped.
Lincoln, inarguably, was standing for freedom, as well as the preservation of the country he was sworn to defend from enemies foreign or domestic.
So far, so good, but what of his means? Lincoln suspended habeus corpus, it is true, but only after wrestling with the constitutionality of it. The placement of the clause pertaining to habeus corpus is in Article I, implying that it is Congress’s to suspend. Lincoln’s conclusion was that Congress was compromised, fractured by the split in the states which its members represented. He took action, ordering the suspension, which was later upheld by Congress.
Even with as pressing a matter as the Civil War to consider — a war that Lincoln had to micromanage militarily in the beginning due to lack of competent generals — the details of individual rights mattered to him. In response to roving bands of Sioux that were killing and plundering in the Minnesota territory (part of little known, but fascinating and sad part of American history), Lincoln dispatched troops to end the matter.
Upon the Sioux surrender, hundreds were arrested and tried without due process. 303 were sentenced to be hanged. The overworked Lincoln was told simply to sign off on their execution, but instead had every case reviewed for evidence of participation and, finding none in the vast majority of cases, commuted the sentences of all but 38.
More tyrannical actions were undertaken by the president of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis. For example, he unilaterally expelled British consuls, whose purpose, among others, was to protect British citizens from conscripted into the war.
The evidence against the “tyrannical Lincoln” foolishness is nearly endless. The evidence for the badness of Assad is strong as well. Horrific images out of Aleppo and elsewhere have been enough to jolt most out of complacency, even if most still are unsure the best way to help.
Ham-handed comparisons to Hitler are as unnecessary as they are stupid, for White House press secretaries (or MSNBC hosts) as well as internet commenters. It’s about time to retire them once and for all.