Respectful Insolence

I hadn’t planned on writing about this topic again. Really, I hadn’t. The reason is mainly that politics is usually not my bag. I’ve said it time and time again: political bloggers are a dime a dozen, and I have no reason to suspect that my pontifications and bloviations on politics would be any more valuable or worthy of your attention than anyone else’s pontifications and bloviations on politics. Besides, I’ve made quite the little niche for myself in the blogosphere writing about skepticism, critical thinking, and science in medicine, in particular how unscientific or pseudoscientific health care modalities are increasingly finding their way into medicine. Shockingly, even to someone as full of himself (at least on the blog) as I am, I even appear to have become one of a handful of go-to bloggers when it comes to the anti-vaccine movement. All of this represents a good place to be if you’re a blogger, so much so that it even got me a gig being on a panel at TAM7.

How cool is that?

However, another topic that I’ve had an intense interest in since the very beginning of this blog, a topic I first wrote about way back in January 2005. Oddly enough, when I wrote snarky posts about how the opponents of President Obama’s healthcare reform initiative have been delving deeply into Godwin territory, I hadn’t thought that there might be a connection between my interest in skepticism and critical thinking as applied to medicine and Holocaust denial. I hadn’t thought that there would be a way to link Holocaust denial with the sheer idiocy coming from the right about how President Obama supposedly wants to euthanize your babies and kill your grandma. But I should have. Fortunately, for me, a man whom I greatly admire, bioethicist Arthur Caplan showed me the error of my ways (or at least the limitations of my vision):

Rush Limbaugh and those invoking the Nazi analogy to attack President Barack Obama’s effort to reform health care in America are not “insane” as David Brooks pronounced on last Sunday’s “Meet the Press.” Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin and the rest of the loud-mouthed right wing are, when they even hint at an analogy to the Nazis in talking about Obama’s health reform effort, engaged in something far worse than insanity. They are engaged in the vile evil of Holocaust denial.

Dr. Caplan is right. He nailed it. This is exactly what Rush Limbaugh, Sarah Palin, and their ilk are doing whether they realize it or not. They are trivializing the Holocaust. In essence, if they truly believe that the provisions of President Obama’s health care reform initiative are the equivalent of the Holocaust, they are doing the functional equivalent of denying the Holocaust, and Caplan explains why:

For some time now, Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has held the title of the world’s most dangerous anti-Semite due to his denial that the Holocaust occurred. Limbaugh and his ilk who have been throwing around references to Adolf Hitler, National socialism and Nazi medicine without hesitation have surpassed the danger posed by the Iranian president. They are offering a false view of why the Holocaust happened. Their flagrant, deliberate and invidious distortion of what happened to medicine in Nazi Germany must not be allowed to stand. Not just because health reform is too important an issue but also because the truth is too important to let ignoramuses destroy it.

Speak it, brother Caplan! Why didn’t I see this before? Now I know exactly what was bothering me about the casual argumentum ad Nazium and argumentum ad Hitlerium. It was something that was below the surface but profoundly disturbing above and beyond the thermonuclear burning stupid of the brain dead analogies being being so casually thrown about by historically ignorant ignoramuses like Rush Limbaugh. Caplan tells us why:

Contrary to what Limbaugh and other Holocaust deniers would have you believe, German medicine and science were not brought into the Nazi party once Hitler took power. They fueled the fire for what became Nazism with bigotry proffered as science.

What distinguished the doctors and scientists of Germany pre-Hitler was that so many of them were firm believers in racial hygiene — the view that the Aryan race’s very existence was threatened by inferior peoples such as Jews, blacks and Slavs. They felt the only way to protect their “race,” a concept that itself made little biological sense, was to prohibit reproduction with inferior people and, ultimately, to destroy them. It was racism masquerading as science that formed the basis for Nazi science and medicine right down to the gas chambers and ovens that my dad found himself staring at in 1945.

As Caplan points out, Nazi medicine was racist to its very core. Indeed, to the eternal shame of German medicine, physicians were among the most enthusiastic supporters of the Nazi Party. The reason was simple. If you want the full story, I highly recommend Robert Jay Lifton’s The Nazi Doctors: Medical Killing and the Psychology of Genocide and Robert N. Proctor’s Racial Hygiene: Medicine Under the Nazis. Both of them explain how the Nazi vision was a biomedical vision in which the race (Volk) was more important than individual health and physicians had a higher calling than just treating the individuals. They were to be the professional class that both shaped and implemented that vision.

But what did that vision involve?

It involved making sure that the best and the brightest of the “Aryan race” reproduced and that “racial undesirables” did not. It involved making sure that Jews, Gypsies, and other “inferiors” or threats to the Volk were not allowed to contaminate the Volk through interbreeding. This was accomplished through restrictions such as the Nuremberg Laws, which defined who was and was not a Jew and prohibited Jews from citizenship or marrying real “Aryans.” It involved not allowing “worthless eaters” and “life unworthy of life” to survive. It involved killing them under a bureaucratic program euphemistically known as the T4 euthanasia program. It involved the mass murder of millions of Jews. As Nazi Deputy Party Leader Rudolf Hess stated in 1934, a mere year after Hitler came to power, “National Socialism is nothing but applied biology.” As Robert Jay Lifton put it, “The entire Nazi regime was built on a biomedical vision that required the kind of racial purification that would progress from sterilization to extensive killing.”

And, as I mentioned before, to our eternal shame as a profession, German physicians were at the forefront of this movement. Indeed, as Caplan quite correctly points out, it wasn’t the Nazis who inspired physicians to develop racial hygiene. Rather, racial hygiene, which was first proposed by German eugenicist Alfred Ploetz, who introduced the term Rassenhygiene in his “Racial hygiene basics” (Grundlinien einer Rassenhygiene) in 1895. At that time, racial hygiene was more concerned with the declining German birthrate, the increasing number of mentally ill within German institutions, and other common social Darwinist concerns. By the late 1920s, however, racial hygiene had found an ideological soulmate in the Nazi Party, which enthusiastically co-opted this pseudoscientific discipline for its own purposes and infused it with the its paranoid vision of international Jewry as genetically inferior and the implacable enemy of the Volk.

Indeed, even before the ascent of the Nazi Party to power, physicians were a major component of its base. In 1929, at the Nuremberg Nazi Party Congress, a group of 44 German physicians formed the National Socialists Physicians League (Nationalsozialistischer Deutscher Arztebund–NSDAB) to “purify the German medical community of the influence of Jewish Bolshevism.” As Robert Proctor documents, its primary goals were to promote the knowledge of racial hygiene, racial science, and eugenics. By 1933, the League was a huge success, and physicians joined the Nazi Party in larger numbers than any other profession, including lawyers. Indeed, by 1934, the number of physicians wanting to join the League was so huge that the League put a moratorium on new applications until it could process the backlog. Ultimately, as many as 45% of all physicians joined the Nazi Party and 7% of all physicians were in the SS. It is not that difficult to understand why physicians so enthusiastically embraced the Nazi Party. After all, the Nazi Party promised to put them at the center of its biomedical vision and make them “physicians to the Volk.” The Nazi Party promised to make physicians among the most important people in its new Aryan society.

In any case, the biomedical vision of the Nazi Party was racist to its core. Caplan accurately describes the results:

Racism was at the core of Nazi medicine. Racism and a bizarre form of genetics that saw all manner of human frailty and weakness from prostitution to alcohol abuse to petty theft as highly heritable. When Hitler set out to kill the handicapped and the mentally ill he did it to protect the genetic future of Germany. When the “useless eaters” were targeted for euthanasia it was because of the threat they posed to the genetic health of future generations. When Nazi doctors mandated abortion it was to eliminate “mongrel” babies. When Nazi doctors analyzed how many of your ancestors had to be Jewish for you to be a Jew or when they killed all manner of Slavs, it was to remove these dangers from undermining the public health of the Reich.

This is what utter morons like Rush Limbaugh and Sarah Palin are comparing President Obama’s plan to. No matter what reasonable to this plan (and there are quite a few) may exist to be voiced, comparing it to the Nazi biomedical vision is so far beyond the pale as to be a transparently vile and despicable Godwinization of the whole debate. It is not meant as a serious criticism; it’s meant as nothing more than guilt by association. Never mind that the association is more tenuous than Rush’s grip on reality. Indeed, it’s historical ignorance–no, proud historical ignorance–writ large. No, on second thought, it’s a cynical exploitation of the historical ignorance of the vast majority of the America public, most of whom won’t recognize the lie inherent in likening the health care reform bill to the policies of the Nazi regime. Unfortunately, it may work.

Fortunately, Caplan exposes the lie:

Limbaugh, Beck, Palin and other Holocaust deniers ignore the core racist evil of Nazism. They reach for preposterous analogies between counseling people about living wills and the forced, involuntary mass murder carried out in the name of racism in concentration camps.

When the right wing, in their distaste for the President’s push to reform a heath care system that even the American Medical Association and the pharmaceutical industry recognize has to be fixed, suggest that the disabled will be targeted, or that the elderly will be killed or find themselves without health care due to rationing by government bureaucrats as happened in Nazi Germany, they marginalize the gross evil that was the racial bigotry that fueled Nazi programs to euthanize, sterilize, experiment upon and torture people in places that were in no way connected to hospitals, clinics or nursing homes.

Not that evil–yes, evil–idiots like Rush Limbaugh or Sarah Palin, or any of the rest of the right wing machine that is promulgating the lie that “Obama = Hitler,” “Democrats = fascists,” and “health care reform = the Holocaust” care care. Open, vigorous debate is not their intent. Their intent is to scuttle health care reform at all costs, no matter how much they have to lie and minimize the foul evil that was Nazi-ism to do it.

Comments

  1. #1 Janet Camp
    August 12, 2009

    Very interesting. I will read the books you mention as I have already read widely on the Nazis and their “medicine”. In the last paragraph you state the intent of the nutters is to completely scuttle health care reform, and I realize that, but my question is: WHY? Not, why they see some of the aspects of some of the proposals in such a ridiculously skewed way, but why are they opposed to ANY reform (they make no counter-proposal even). Have none of them been negatively affected by the present system or know someone who has?

    The disconnect between these people and their ideology and the rest of the country (which may have differences of opinion but are in the realm of sanity) is truly disturbing. What schools did they go to to get such a distorted view of history? This is all scary enough that I am back to very seriously considering emigration.

  2. #2 Clare
    August 12, 2009

    Janet — I too wonder why people would peddle such despicable lies. Some of it is probably ego — I’m sure they enjoy the attention that making outrageous statements gets them. I also think they feel this is their opportunity to permanently hobble any of Obama’s policy objectives and to make him politically ineffective. I don’t think they care one whit about the current problems in the healthcare system, or how to solve them.

  3. #3 Lexin
    August 12, 2009

    The answer to the question posed @1 is simple. The people you mention are in the pockets of the insurance companies who stand to lose. Those companies do not care how many lies are told (or how many people die without healthcare) as long as it does not affect the bottom line.

    And, as a Brit, I’m getting more and more pissed off with the lies being told about the NHS. It has its problems – many of them caused by underfunding and privatisation – but it beats the US on measures such as infant mortality and life expectancy.

  4. #4 Anon1
    August 12, 2009

    Just to play devil’s advocate here, and because it’s bothered me for a while, isn’t the constant invocation of “denial” and “denialism” around these parts a similar downplaying of the enormity of the horror of the Holocaust, in that it implicitly compares anti-vaccinationists or climate-change skeptics to Holocaust deniers? Not to defend anti-vaccinationists or climate-chage skeptics, but using the same word for them that we use for people who refuse to accept the fact of the Holocaust does let Holocaust-deniers off pretty easily. So does this post.

    Stupid rhetoric like “Obama=Hitler!” or “Bush=Hitler!” is stupid rhetoric, but it’s not Holocaust denial by a long shot, and claiming that is minimizes the very real damage done by real Holocaust deniers.

  5. #5 Christophe Thill
    August 12, 2009

    “with the sheer idiocy coming from the right about how President Obama supposedly wants to euthanize your babies and kill your grandma”

    … and lock you (yes, you) up in internment camps.

  6. #6 Scott
    August 12, 2009

    isn’t the constant invocation of “denial” and “denialism” around these parts a similar downplaying of the enormity of the horror of the Holocaust, in that it implicitly compares anti-vaccinationists or climate-change skeptics to Holocaust deniers?

    No, since Holocaust denial is a particular manifestation of the general phenomenon of denialism. One might make a similar objection to the term “Holocaust historian” (doesn’t it belittle the Holocaust to lump it in with the rest of history? – not meant seriously, of course, just an analogy). The key point in both cases is that the term in question (denialism/historian) is a general concept, not one inherently related to the Holocaust. Hence applying it to other aspects of the general concept has no implications vis-a-vis the significance of the Holocaust.

  7. #7 The Science Pundit
    August 12, 2009

    I saw Caplan speak once (he came to our local frrethinkers meeting to give a presentation about the ethical issues surrounding the right to refuse treatment). He was an outstanding speaker–one of the best I’ve ever seen.

    He’s also exactly right about Limbaugh, etal, which measn, ironically, that Sarah Palin was right when she characterized the health care debate as a struggle of Good vs. Evil. Unfortunately for her, she’s on the wrong side of the fight. (It kind of reminds me of the classic Mitchell and Webb skit where the two Nazis begin to wonder whether they’re the bad guys.)

  8. #8 Andreas S
    August 12, 2009

    Janet :
    As a hypothesis as to why certain people are against a healthreform :
    Any reasonable reform would remove their privilege as rich. They think they deserve better treatment than those who show their inferiority by earning less.

    Anon1. Oh, yes trivializing the Holocaust by invoking it at every unsuitable occasion, is indeed denying the scope and uniqueness of it. ( Note : this is not a new concept : I have come across this before. ) Interesting that you should choose to be anonymous when denying the denial.

  9. #9 Joseph C.
    August 12, 2009

    It has its problems – many of them caused by underfunding and privatisation – but it beats the US on measures such as infant mortality and life expectancy.

    The problem with this argument is that it’s not just health care that influences those two statistics.

  10. #10 gimpy
    August 12, 2009

    Joseph C.

    The problem with this argument is that it’s not just health care that influences those two statistics.

    What is your explanation why the USA spends so much on healthcare and performs so poorly?

  11. #11 Jojo
    August 12, 2009

    Janet – your question reminds me of a Twitter post made by The Onion last week. It reads

    BREAKING:GOP warns health care bill would only inflate costs of defeating Obama in 2012.

  12. #12 Anon1
    August 12, 2009

    Scott, thanks, that’s a fair standpoint to take. In my mind, the word denial in the political sense does seem to have a close relationship to the Holocaust. I poked around a little to try to find a first usage of “denialist” with no luck, but in doing so I did find a 2004 remark from John Quiggin on trying to find a name for people-who-don’t-think-there’s-global-warming, saying, “I toyed with ‘denialist’, but that comes too close to a violation of Godwin’s Law for my liking.” So I’m not the only person for whom “denialist” is a little bit of an uncomfortable term because of its close relationship with Holocaust denial. If it doesn’t have those associations for you, by all means, use it, but be aware that it does for some other people.

    Andreas, what you say may be somewhat true, but it’s ridiculous to lump every clueless zealot who’s ever Godwined a thread or every middle-schooler who’s ever called their principal a Nazi in with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. It’s rhetoric. Dumb rhetoric, but not the same thing as what David Duke does.

  13. #13 trrll
    August 12, 2009

    I think that it is kind of foolish to insist that the concept of “denial” is somehow inextricably linked to the Holocaust. It’s not as if the psychological concept of denial was invented to deal with people who reject the historical reality of the Holocaust.

    It seems to me that the “denial = Holocaust” equation is primarily being promoted by those who deny other well-established facts, such as the value and efficacy of vaccines, the role of HIV in AIDS, the reality of evolution, the moon landing, germ theory, or global warming, and who wish to obscure the growing realization these are all different manifestations of a characteristic form of irrationality.

  14. #14 Scott
    August 12, 2009

    Any reasonable reform would remove their privilege as rich.

    Not necessarily. In fact, almost certainly not (reduce, yes; remove, no). Providing the best available care to everyone is impossible – it simply costs too much. Any system which doesn’t crash the entire economy must necessarily include judgements that treatment X for person Y will be too costly for the benefit provided, and therefore will not be paid for by the general public.

    But unless the system additionally forbids person Y for paying for treatment X out of their own pocket should they be able and so choose, the rich will still be able to get extra care. And I can’t envision any morally viable grounds for placing such a restriction.

  15. #15 TheEnigma32
    August 12, 2009

    I’m just gonna throw some things out there and see if any of them stick. Humans are natural pattern finders, but I think there may be more going on here than we see:

    1: They compare to the Holocaust. I assume they understand the evil of the Holocaust. Only an idiot doesn’t understand it.

    2: Beck et al. Have said that Obama is racist against White people. They whip up their paranoid, latent racist base with this rhetoric.

    3: 2 + 2 = 5? Maybe they’re playing this intentionally, and whipping up fear in their White base, because they’re sounding the alarms to what they see as a “potential Holocaust of the White Race by a Black President?” After all, Obama is racist and the Health Care plan is government controlled, right… right? Maybe they’re gearing up to exterminate the White Anglo-Saxon Protestant People(tm). Figure who their audience usually is. It’s not minorities. It’s White people. “They’re coming after your Grandma and you’ll abort your baby” – I think they understand full well the comparison. They’re doing it on purpose to spread paranoia and racism through their already paranoid and racist base.

    Yes, stupid doesn’t being to describe it. But I wonder if that may be part of the psyche that’s at play here.

  16. #16 Michael Simpson
    August 12, 2009

    When I first heard the Obama=Nazi imagery, it felt vaguely antisemitic. Orac’s post moves me from a vague feeling of unease to one of genuine disgust about the right. I have warned my children that antisemitism lies just over a line that can be easily crossed. It must be that I’m older and I’m in the first generation of Jews after the Holocaust, and I’m more suspicious of any antisemitism.

    @Gimpy. I’ve written about this on my blog, but there are even more damning statistics about our healthcare system. Not only is our infant mortality rate higher than all other developed countries, but if you break it down by socioeconomic status and race, it’s even worse. White infant mortality still is worse than the rest of the world. But the rate for the disadvantaged in the US is nearly twice the white, middle class average. I know that infant mortality is not the overall definitive measure for quality of healthcare, but you’d think that since we spend more than any other developed country for really bad healthcare (sorry Orac, but I have to lump the whole system together, knowing that it is a rhetorical flourish…please accept my apologies), people would be looking for change.

    If only Reid and Pelosi weren’t such useless idiots, maybe the Democratic Party could set the message. They get distracted by strawmen. Obviously these two should be thrown out of leadership roles and get individuals who can lead.

  17. #17 Ginger Yellow
    August 12, 2009

    “Limbaugh, Beck, Palin and other Holocaust deniers ignore the core racist evil of Nazism”

    I’m not so sure they do. Certainly Beck has been harping on about how Obama is a racist and how his economic agenda is based on reparations. Numerous, though usually less high profile, wingnut commentators have stated explicitly that Obama’s position on abortion stems from a belief in eugenics. And it’s been unmistakable amid the name-calling and slogan throwing at the healthcare town hall meetings that many of these people fear (or are playing on a fear of) a race based takeover of America. There’s a full-fledged white panic going on in a certain ideological segment of the US, and Beck and Limbaugh are playing it for all it’s worth.

  18. #18 Ryan Georgioff
    August 12, 2009

    It seems like associating “denial” with “Holocaust” is a problem in itself. We ought to be able to convict these modern “denialists” just as surely (though for not as grave a reason) as the Nazis constructing their own lies over a half-century ago.

    The fact that they continue to ignore and misrepresent facts (and often fabricate them) is destroying the fabric of our democracy. The whole National Socialist metaphor has lost all meaning, and with it has gone our ability to call Sarah and Rush out for what they are — denialists.

  19. #19 Joseph C.
    August 12, 2009

    I know that infant mortality is not the overall definitive measure for quality of healthcare, but you’d think that since we spend more than any other developed country for really bad healthcare

    Is the actual care delivered bad? Or do we have an access problem?

  20. #20 LovleAnjel
    August 12, 2009

    @ Joseph C.

    Yes.

    I have had health care that is excellent but with terrible access (like being restricted to attending a single emergency room in all of Chicago, so when I come down with appendicitis-like symptoms I figure its better to wait it out and see than take 3 buses for 45 minutes to get to the ER), good access to crappy healthcare (just about every college student health center) and crappy access to crappy healthcare (my current doctor, who breaks up visits into increments several weeks apart and can’t even be bothered to find my name in the file before she walks in the door).

  21. #21 Sigivald
    August 12, 2009

    Huh? Seriously?

    One might, as Dr. Caplan does, be able to make the claim that such positions cheapen the Holocaust and Nazi crimes.

    Unlike real Holocaust deniers who do so – even granting your premises here – the people you accuse here are guilty not of trying to make the Nazis look better, but of believing their opponents are worse than they really are; the comparison is honestly meant but mistaken, rather than calculated to redeem Nazis.

    Don’t think that matters? I do.

    (Though I should point out that if the Nazis are off-limits as a comparison to anything but already fully formed genocidal racism, that’s a bit odd, since it would make it impossible to use them as a warning against the very build-up of forces that lead to Fascism. Some of us, after all, remember that the State-Worship of the Fascists was at least as dangerous as their racism.

    After all, it wasn’t racism that caused them to destroy all other parties and murder all those Communists and Social Democrats, was it?)

    To call such claims denial of the Holocaust is not supportable by the evidence or the meaning of the terms “denial” and “Holocaust”.

    I continue to stand as opposed to conflating “accidental cheapening by thinking your opponents are worse than they are” with “denying Genocide was committed by Nazis” as I am to Fascism itself – utterly.

    Call me back when any of them claim the Nazis didn’t commit cold-blooded Genocide, okay? Or when they try to weasel the Holocaust down to “a few hundred thousand” or deny the gas chambers?

    You know, actually denying the Holocaust or making it into a non-Genocide while winking at it still happening.

    Calling any comparison with Nazis you (reasonably or not) disagree with “Holocaust denial” itself cheapens the term, to the point where it will stop being an effective accusation against people who actually do it, like Faurisson.

  22. #22 Michael Simpson
    August 12, 2009

    Sigivald, sorry, but I’m not seeing your point. Obama is not killing six million Jews, elderly or rich WASPS. By comparing the Obama healthcare plan as “Nazism”, you do, in fact, demean and dishonor the victims of the holocaust. Limbaugh, Beck et al. are either in denial about the Holocaust, because they must believe it was simply a radical healthcare plan. Their analogy indicates a serious level of antisemitism and holocaust denial. The Holocaust was murder. Obama’s health care plan is not. Do you now get it? Or are you going to continue to support Limbaugh’s racism?

  23. #23 Anon1
    August 12, 2009

    According to the older post you link to here, Orac, you “didn’t like it when George Soros, Michael Moore, and left wing antiwar protesters would compare George W. Bush to Adolf Hitler and the Republicans to Nazis.”

    By the logic of your current post, George Soros is a Holocaust denier. Let the ridiculousness of that sink in.

  24. #24 Janet Camp
    August 12, 2009

    Thank you to all those who responded to my plea for explanation. Your views are all appreciated and to the point. I acknowledge the influence of all the special interests and the fear of those who have cadillac plans that they might lose some of their privilege, but I still don’t get why the far end of this spectrum (they want to kill granny types), many of whom appear to be Medicare Age, are so viciously opposed to the relatively minor changes that are being proposed. I think it’s a deeper problem and something that Orac and the people in the article are onto although at first I thought the comparison to Holocaust denial was reaching to draw these conclusions.

    Personally, I think it reflects on our educational system which is utterly failing in some sectors. Also, just as with CAM, because we are a tolerant nation (especially in the sacrosanct area of religious freedom), we have ended up with a media that treats all “sides” of an argument fairly equally and an inability to call a naked emperor NAKED.

  25. #25 Janet Camp
    August 12, 2009

    Here’s a link that has some relevance to this topic.

    http://mediamatters.org/columns/200908110005
    Limbaugh yells “Nazi” (and the press yawns).

  26. #26 Shay
    August 12, 2009

    Their intent is to scuttle health care reform at all costs, no matter how much they have to lie and minimize the foul evil that was Nazi-ism to do it.

    Their intent is scuttle any reform of any type that shows even a glimmer of potential. After all, if the Obama administration does not fail, then Limbaugh/Beck/Palin et al, do.

  27. #27 Clay
    August 12, 2009

    Anon1@23,

    Sure, they made Nazi and Hitler comparisions, especially about some of Bush’s tactics, but they never compared any of his policies to the Holocaust, and so they never denied the full scope of the Holocaust by comparing it to something lesser.

  28. #28 justawriter
    August 13, 2009

    OT, but after this post, I think a little levity is warranted. I think SciBlogs and Orac in particular may have found an official comic (ht to Majikthise)
    http://majikthise.typepad.com/majikthise_/2009/08/standup-comic-dara-obriain-on-homeopathy.html

  29. #29 Colugo
    August 13, 2009

    While I generally agree with Caplan’s article, I disagree with these passages:

    “What distinguished the doctors and scientists of Germany pre-Hitler was that so many of them were firm believers in racial hygiene — the view that the Aryan race’s very existence was threatened by inferior peoples such as Jews, blacks and Slavs. …

    Racism was at the core of Nazi medicine. Racism and a bizarre form of genetics that saw all manner of human frailty and weakness from prostitution to alcohol abuse to petty theft as highly heritable.”

    In fact, these were mainstream views of the time, held by many physicians, biologists, and anthropologists. Germany’s racial hygiene movement was not peculiar to Germany but of course an international movement called eugenics that began in the UK. The founders and developers of German racial hygiene were internationally respected. Fischer, Lenz, and Bauer’s book Human Heredity and Racial Hygiene was for a time the international standard textbook of human genetics, as well as an influence on Hitler’s thinking. The authors were considered colleagues by scientists at Woods Hole. The book The Passing of the Great Race by American eugenicist Madison Grant, a friend of Teddy Roosevelt, was another influence on Hitler.

    It is true that pre-Nazi German eugenics had some distinguishing features, namely increasing antisemitism and a heightened fixation on Nordic superiority, but neither of these were unique to Germany although they were more intense there. This is due in no small part to the influence of Ernst Haeckel (who several science blogosphere now want to defend, following the apologetics of Robert Richards). And under Nazism the most virulent and depraved elements of German racial hygiene were amplified and enacted.

    Eugenics – including virulent, white supremacist racial hygiene – was not marginal, not considered bizarre by the scientific standards of the day, was promoted by highly respected scientists and public figures, and not unique to Germany. Rather, although there was increasing scientific criticism, it was the infamy of Nazism and the Holocaust that finally destroyed eugenics as mainstream science.

    Perhaps the single best short article about eugenics on the internet, by molecular anthropologist Jonathan Marks.
    http://personal.uncc.edu/jmarks/eugenics/eugenics.html

  30. #30 Alex
    August 13, 2009

    I think this issue links into a more general one about the cheap use of rhetoric in debate. As an interested brit watching the back and forth, it saddens me to report that similar sloppiness is evident in our healthcare debates. No-one’s getting called a Nazi here, but we do have your other flame word of choice: rationing.

    I think the problem is that people confuse dual meanings of words, perhaps unintentionally but probably deliberately to whip up a debate. In the obama=nazi version, it goes something like this:

    1. I don’t like healthcare reform, for whatever reason good or bad. But I’m too lazy or bad at my job or incoherent or frankly stupid to give you a logical argument

    2. I don’t like Nazis

    Therefore the two are equivalent. It’s lazy and stupid and devalues everything – if you’re against healthcare reform, fine, but how about some logic? It’s better over here, but we have the “rationing” mix up that you do:

    1. By defining what we can afford to pay for, that necessarily excludes some prohibitively expensive treatments of marginal benefit. Since money is not infinite, the idea that human life can have infinite value is clearly meaningless. We must prioritise. This is one meaning of rationing

    2. Rationing means me not getting stuff. This is bad

    Therefore healthcare reform (the premise of 1) is bad (the conclusion of 2). And we see this over here too.

    Its an emotive issue. And so the easiest way of winning a fight is to try to scare people. And it makes me want to facepalm

    Just some thoughts.

  31. #31 Donna B.
    August 13, 2009

    Where the unfairness creeps in for me is that because I consider myself a conservative and oppose the HR 3200, I must be a rabid follower of, and think exactly, as Rush, Beck, Palin… et al.

    And now I’m a Holocaust denier.

    Great. I certainly don’t have the ability to think for myself, else I’d simply agree with those who support, without question, ‘healthcare reform’ without knowing any better than I do what it actually proposes to do and how.

    I am also rich and fearful of losing my gold-plated insurance coverage and no one I know has ever had a problem with access to healthcare or received poor care. (It matters little that I’ve written extensively about recent incidents of both.)

    And I must also be a racist because I am white and, heavens!, I even live in the South. And I’m fat. There’s no way I could have two brain cells to rub together and come up with reasons of my own to worry about what Congress is about to do.

  32. #32 Orac
    August 13, 2009

    Spare me the ridiculous melodramatics.

    Have you likened the health reform bill to Nazi euthanasia, fascism, or the Holocaust? If the answer is no. Then the charge of minimizing or denying the Holocaust doesn’t apply to you.

    Nice whine, though.

  33. #33 Donna B.
    August 13, 2009

    Oh yes it does apply to me because I do not support the reforms, Orac. Most of the time I agree with almost everything you write, be not this time.

    It’s absurd to say that one side is using a dirty paint brush and then pick up the same brush yourself, turn it over and start painting with it.

    And I am very angry at the use of the dirty paint brush from both sides, though I admit I didn’t make that clear.

    Where are your posts about whether you support HR 3200 and why? Or the posts about whether you don’t and why? Searching for ‘hr 3200′ on this blog produces zero results. (My comments on this thread could change that soon.)

    Searching for ‘health care reform’ brings up this post first and one about Lewis Black where you again use the Nazis. The remainder of the posts that come up under that search apparently get there from ‘health care reform’ appearing on your sidebar noting this post.

    I understand you have a deep interest in combating Holocaust denial and I am (always have been) deeply sympathetic to that.

    This particular rebuttal appears to be less about defending the Holocaust against deniers than an attempt to use the dirty nazi paint brush yourself against people you don’t like and against people whose views you likely have made no attempt to understand.

    As for ridiculous melodramatics? Whining? LOL!! Re-read your post and the comments of those agreeing with you. And understand too that my comment was directed at the ridiculous misperceptions of many of the commenters more than it was you… but you picked me out of all of them to reply to.

    The Holocaust is the largest example of eugenics in action and I happen to think that anything that smacks, however slyly or sideways, of eugenics should be very very carefully examined because not only must we never deny the Holocaust, we must never allow it to happen again on any scale.

  34. #34 wfjag
    August 13, 2009

    Orac:
    You might want to stick to commenting on medical topics, since your knowledge of subjects like the intellectual underpinnings of eugenics has great holes. Belief in eugenics was one of the pillars of American Progressive thought. See, e.g., T. Leonard, American Economic Reform in the Progressive Era: What Beliefs Inclined the Progressives to Eugenics?, Dept. of Economics, Princeton Univ., http://www.princeton.edu/~tleonard/papers/otherbel.pdf The Nazis were more organized and systematic, since the National Socialist German Workers Party controlled all organs of the German government and much of the private sector, but, the holocaust was not fundamentally different than what Progressives advocated before WWII (or, what Prof. Peter Singer, Princeton Univ., advocates today). Rather, it was Progressive thought carried out on a mass scale.

    If you seek to understand the holocaust and its link to eugenics, you need to look at eugenics roots in American Progressive thought. US Supreme Court Justice’s Holmes’ assertion that “Three generations of idiots are enough.” reflected Progressive values. Once you understand that there are significant intellectual underpinnings in Nazi ideology coming from American Progressive ideology, you will likely be less dismissive of the idea that nothing like that could happen here.

  35. #35 Orac
    August 13, 2009

    Oh yes it does apply to me because I do not support the reforms, Orac.

    Unless you think that the reforms are the equivalent of Nazi eugenics, no they don’t. May I assume from your offense that you do think that HR3200 contains provisions that are like Nazi eugenics? If you do, then, yes, this post applies to you. If you don’t, then no it doesn’t.

    What’s so difficult to understand about that?

  36. #36 Orac
    August 13, 2009

    Once you understand that there are significant intellectual underpinnings in Nazi ideology coming from American Progressive ideology, you will likely be less dismissive of the idea that nothing like that could happen here.

    Straw man argument.

    I never said nothing like that could happen here (although it’s pretty darned unlikely). However, there is nothing in this bill that suggests that this bill is the harbinger of “something like that happening here.”

    You just wanted to trot out the old Goldberg “Liberal Fascism” argument. Even if Goldberg weren’t full of crap on most things, it would not be an argument in favor of the contention being bandied about on the right that HR3200, if passed, would usher in a new Holocaust.

  37. #37 trrll
    August 13, 2009

    One might, as Dr. Caplan does, be able to make the claim that such positions cheapen the Holocaust and Nazi crimes.

    Unlike real Holocaust deniers who do so – even granting your premises here – the people you accuse here are guilty not of trying to make the Nazis look better, but of believing their opponents are worse than they really are; the comparison is honestly meant but mistaken, rather than calculated to redeem Nazis.

    I don’t see how one could make such a comparison if one did not believe that what the Nazis did to the Jews was not that bad. It’s like announcing, “Hitler was a bad man because he hated cats.” Just as Holocaust deniers almost invariably turn out to have antisemitic sympathies, it is hard not to suspect similar underlying motivation in those who think that what the Nazis did may reasonably be compared to health care reform.

  38. #38 Anon1
    August 13, 2009

    For my own peace of mind and respect for this blog, I’m just going to give up and assume this post was meant satirically. Anyone who even hints at a Nazi analogy for anything besides full-scale genocide is a Holocaust denier, morally equivalent with Ahmadinejad! Why, that’s as ridiculous as people comparing metrics for distributing healthcare to the Holocaust… oh, I see what you’re doing here. Good one, guys. You got me.

  39. #39 nm
    August 13, 2009

    Not, why they see some of the aspects of some of the proposals in such a ridiculously skewed way, but why are they opposed to ANY reform (they make no counter-proposal even).

    Because if any health care bill passes that makes a bunch of people happy, the Republican Party will lose more seats in the midterm elections. It’s that simple.

  40. #40 Joseph Hertzlinger
    August 14, 2009

    This is, of course, a consequence of Jane’s Law (“The devotees of the party out of power are insane.”).

    Can’t my fellow wingnuts compare Obama to Bismarck instead?

  41. #41 Bren
    August 14, 2009

    To: Lexin.
    Your Comment: “And, as a Brit, I’m getting more and more pissed off with the lies being told about the NHS. It has its problems – many of them caused by underfunding and privatisation – but it beats the US on measures such as infant mortality and life expectancy.”

    Request: Do you have any scientific data you would be willing to forward to me in regard to the mortality rate and life expectancy in the UK and USA?

    Thank you in advance.

  42. #42 Robin Levett
    August 16, 2009

    @Bren:

    I’m not Lexin, but I agree with him/her; try:

    http://www.unicef.org/sowc03/tables/table1.html

    2001 Infant mortality (/1000) US/UK: 7/6
    2001 Child mortality (/1000) US/UK: 8/7
    2001 Life expectancy at birth US/UK: 76/78

    Oh, and we spend less than half the money per head of population on health care.

  43. #43 epador
    August 18, 2009

    Oh my, I do believe you’ve jumped the shark on this one, especially your responses to Donna B.

    Insolence has been replaced with arrogance.

  44. #44 Paul
    August 20, 2009

    As little as I like Orac when he delves into politics, the people attacking him in comments aren’t even displaying a shred of rational thought. Let’s see if a paraphrase helps:

    ORAC: People comparing a bill intended to improve insurance affordability and availability to Nazi eugenics is the equivalent of holocaust denial for the following reasons [...].

    DONNA B: I don’t like the bill in question, and that makes me a holocaust denier? *clutches pearls* Fetch me the fainting couch!

    ORAC: Are you even listening? My critique doesn’t even apply to you if you aren’t making the same specious comparisons.

    DONNA B: I don’t support the bill which means you’re calling me a Nazi! I’m rubber you’re glue! I still refuse to mention why I oppose the bill, so I can keep acting offended without presenting any form of rational argument!

    I mean, seriously. At least make a coherent argument before hitting post…