This morning's newspaper had an editorial cartoon showing Adolf Hitler's face, his moustache trimmed into the shape of the state of Arizona. To my knowledge, the worst the state has been accused of to date has been racial profiling, a charge the governor has answered by signing off on a modification of the now-notorious law so that law-enforcement officers can only inquire into a suspect's immigration status when stopped on suspicion of another offense. You would think from the rhetoric, verbal and graphic, that Sheriff Joe Arpaio would be opening a concentration camp for Mexicans. As far as I know, however, no one has inferred a genocidal agenda from the Arizona law. That includes the cartoonist, who drew Hitler as a symbol of Arizona because the late Reichskanzler is a conventional embodiment of hate, not because he believes that Arizonans plan to gas illegal immigrants. The cartoonist also makes the conventional assumption that you could only want to limit the influx of any nationality into this country because you hate them. But unless the subject is genocide, adding Hitler to any present-day political equation is going overboard.
In the American Bipolarchy, people on both sides of the major-party divide are quick to reach for their Hitler holster for the simple reason that, assuming only two choices in politics, the only alternative to your own side is also inevitably the worst-case scenario, the fate worse than death, etc. Liberal Democrats call conservative Republicans Nazis when it suits them, and Republicans are increasingly likely, spurred by Jonah Goldberg's screed on "liberal fascism," to throw the charge back at them. You still find people angrily debating whether Hitler was a man of the "left" or the "right." For some simple minded types, it's enough to note that "Nazi" stands for "National Socialist." For others, the fact that Hitler exalted the state at the expense of the individual makes him part of the historical left. These arguments show a basic ignorance of what socialism really stands for. For too many people, socialism simply means that "the state" controls everything. For actual socialists, the real issue is who controls the state. Where socialists differ irreconcilably from Nazis is their belief that the working class should control the state. While pedants may note that the Nazis were the National Socialist German Workers' Party, Hitler himself was a big believer in leaders and followers; he believed that workers were to be led by the Fuehrer and the Party. It's that simple: if you don't believe in government by the working class, you're not a socialist. If you do believe in workers' government, you're not a Nazi.
My main point for tonight, however, is to chastise everyone who uses Hitler for present-day political or partisan purposes. Adolf Hitler has no side in today's political debates in the United States. He would curse both major parties, and might well see them as interchangeably decadent and liberal. The Democratic and Republican parties have many sins to answer for, but neither one is advocating dictatorship.
As a rule, we should avoid recruiting politicians of the past to one side or another of present-day debates. It's easy enough, for instance, to show that the Founding Fathers would have opposed the welfare state or the empire of military bases the U.S. maintains around the world. As those two examples should show, predicting their opposition to one side's policy doesn't prove that they'd endorse the other side. Most Founders might well regard today's partisan divisions in America the same way that Hitler might. No one in the 21st century should claim to represent the Founders unless he represents them to the letter. Otherwise, you're turning them into cartoon characters just like Hitler -- and what did they do to deserve that?