Angry progressives are calling for Chris Matthews’ resignation after the “Hardball” host compared Bernie Sanders’ campaign to the German army’s 1940 blitzkrieg across France.
The “thrill” that famously went up Matthew’s leg during the 2008 Obama campaign has not turned to a chill running up his spine. Instead, Matthews was using a historical metaphor to describe Sanders’ victories in New Hampshire and Nevada.
“I was reading last night about the fall of France in the summer of 1940,” Matthews said during MSNBC’s live coverage of the Nevada caucuses on Saturday. “And the general, Reynaud, calls up Churchill and says, ‘It’s over.’ And Churchill says, ‘How can that be? You’ve got the greatest army in Europe. How can it be over?’ He said, ‘It’s over.'”
First off, let me stipulate than comparing anyone in American politics to Nazis is not a good idea. The only people who should be compared to Nazis are actual Nazis. The Nazis were uniquely evil and vilified in the history of the world. Bernie Sanders is not a Nazi and Donald Trump is not Hitler. We should all be able to agree on that.
Godwin’s Law aside, whenever you bring Nazis into a discussion, the discussion becomes more about Nazis than its original topic. That was the case with Matthews’ comments as legions of offended progressives began to point out the obvious facts that Bernie Sanders is Jewish and lost family members in the Holocaust. (Sanders himself was born in Brooklyn in 1941.)
Mike Casca, communications director for the Sanders campaign, was one of those who attacked Matthews’ panzer-laden characterization of the Democratic primary with this tweet:
In the second place, a much better metaphor for Bernie would be the Red Army. There are plenty of examples that Matthews could have used that would have been more ideologically correct. For example, “The Sanders campaign is rolling over Nevada like the Red Army rolling across Poland.”
No? Maybe something more current? How about “The Sanders campaign is crushing opposition like Vladimir Putin’s tanks rolling into Georgia and Ukraine?” Incidentally, Sanders blamed Russia’s 2008 invasion of Georgia on the Georgians but was critical of Putin’s annexation of Crimea in 2014.
As Erick Erickson pointed out on Twitter, there is a difference in the way we react to Nazis and communists even though both were very similar, at least in the fact that they were both murderous, authoritarian police states.
The difference may be in the details. The Soviets were on our side against the Nazis and mostly killed their own people. Rather than mass firing squads and gas chambers, many of Stalin’s murders were committed through deliberate starvation. But the communists were more than capable of using Nazi methods when it suited their purpose. The Katyn forest massacre of 5,000 Polish military officers by Soviet troops in 1939 is only one example.
The facts that communist mass killing was often done in secret and that they also fought the Nazis was enough to partially rehabilitate the Russians. You can make a critically-acclaimed movie called “Reds” celebrating an American revolutionary but you could never make a “National Socialists” film the same way. Thirty years after the fall of communism, a Soviet sympathizer can be a frontrunner for a major political party but 75 years after the fall of Berlin, avowed Nazi candidates still get rejected.
I don’t think Matthews was calling Bernie Sanders a Nazi. His comment was likely due to the foot-in-mouth disease that is relatively common when people have to talk extemporaneously for extended periods of live television coverage. To the extent that Matthews thought about it at all, it probably sounded good – even intelligent and historically relevant – in his head.
But both odious ideologies should be piled onto the ash heap of history. In practical terms, there was very little difference between living under communism and living under nazism. Endorsement of either failed political philosophy should be disqualifying for American political figures.