Doesn’t Steve Cohen read JTA? — UPDATE


We had the local yokel GOP guy from Michigan during the most recent election cycle who thought it was okay to call someone Goebbels just because you don’t agree with him.

We certainly covered last week’s Sarah Palin-blood libel business up the wazoo.

And now Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) goes for a twofer and uses both terms on Republicans during the latest health care debate:

From Chas Sisk’s blog at the Tennessean:

U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen brought up Joseph Goebbels’ the­ory of the big lie in remarks last night on the House floor that accuse Repub­li­cans of delib­er­ately dis­tort­ing the debate over health care reform.

“They say it’s a gov­ern­ment takeover of health care, a big lie just like Goebbels,” Cohen said in a speech to a nearly empty House cham­ber that was picked up today by ABC News. “You say it enough, you repeat the lie, you repeat the lie, and even­tu­ally, peo­ple believe it.”

Cohen, the only Jew­ish mem­ber of Con­gress from Ten­nessee, goes on to cite the exam­ple of the “blood libel,” the false claim that Jews use the blood of chil­dren in the prepa­ra­tion of mat­zoh bread.

Seriously, if Democrats are going to maintain credibility after all their attacks on Palin last week, someone needs to carpet Cohen, pronto, for his rhetoric.

Same goes for J Street, which chastised Palin — although what her remarks had to do with its mission, I don’t know — and which endorsed Cohen.

UPDATE: That was fast. The National Jewish Democratic Council just rebuked Cohen:

The National Jewish Democratic Council criticizes the comments of Representative Steve Cohen (D-TN) which compared Republicans to the Nazis and unfortunately reintroduced the Holocaust into the health care debate. As we have said repeatedly, invoking the Holocaust to make a political point is never acceptable—on either side of the aisle. Cohen’s comments and similar comments made by others are not helpful as our leaders and citizens conduct a joint effort to advance civility in our political discourse. We implore Cohen and all our leaders to choose their words carefully as we move forward.

Even though Cohen is a leading progressive figure, the vast preponderance of abusive Holocaust rhetoric still comes from the right-wing. We hope that if there are future uses of abusive Holocaust rhetoric from either side of the aisle that political leaders will stand up and condemn those statements and reiterate calls for civility.

Here by the way is the video, from ABC’s The Note:

UPDATE 2: J Street thinks Cohen should apologize:

J Street strongly opposes the use of Holocaust imagery and Nazi metaphors in American political debate. We have spoken out strongly in the past when it was used by those who we oppose politically, and we also ask our friends to refrain from using such language.

We call on Congressman Cohen to apologize for these remarks, and urge him and all American political leaders to refrain from the use of such imagery in the future.


Cohen won’t apologize. From Greg Sargent at the Washington Post’s Plum Line:

He argued that "civility" was a matter of content as much as tone, and suggested that mendacity itself is uncivil and particularly immoral in the context of the health care debate.

"Lies are being spread, and it’s wrong," Cohen said. "Goebbels was the master of political lies…to lie to take health care away from people is despicable."

Asked whether such a reference risked giving the right ammo to claim that "both sides do it," Cohen reiterated that he wasn’t calling Republicans Nazis.

"In no way did I call them Nazis," he continued. "I did say they’ve been using a big lie."

This is disingenuous. It’s the not the fact of the "lie," it’s its degree. Sarah Palin could credibly claim to have been smeared when some liberal commentators blamed her rhetoric for the shootings in Tucson; comparing her sufferings to the slaughter that ensued when Jews were accused of cannibalizing babies is another matter altogether. Ditto Cohen.

The Republican Jewish Coalition weighs in on Cohen, which is a little bizarre, because they so for have had nothing to say about Palin. At least NJDC and J Street hit both marks. Here’s their statement:

This is a very disturbing development.  After leaders of both parties called upon their rank-and-file members to choose their words with more prudence and sensitivity in the aftermath of the horrible events in Tucson, Congressman Cohen’s outrageous use of Holocaust rhetoric should offend us all.  Even the National Jewish Democratic Council frets that Cohen has ‘reintroduced the Holocaust into the health care debate’ after Jewish community leaders and others worked so hard to push it to the margins.

Unfortunately, Congressman Cohen is not a first-time offender when it comes to debasing our discourse.  He previously described the atmosphere at a demonstration in Tennessee as ‘the verge of Kristallnacht.’  

In the spirit of recent bipartisan comments, Democratic leaders in the House need to prevail upon this habitually uncivil back-bencher to tone it down.

UPDATE 4 (and final update, I hope): Cohen says he regrets his use of Nazi imagery. Here he is, via the NJDC:

I would certainly never do anything to diminish the horror of the Nazi Holocaust as I revere and respect the history of my people.  I sponsored legislation which created one of the first state Holocaust Commissions in America and actively served as a Commission member for over 20 years.  I regret that anyone in the Jewish Community, my Republican colleagues or anyone else was offended by the portrayal of my comments.  My comments were not directed toward any group or people but at the false message and, specifically, the method by which is has been delivered.

UPDATE 5: This never ends. In the Twitter world, the RJC is making a good point about the above "apology:" Cohen doesn’t really own it. He regrets the "portrayal" of his remarks, as opposed to the remarks themselves.

He needs to man up. No one told him to inject "Goebbels" and "blood libel" into his speech. Either those terms are par for the course and Godwin’s law is passe — or it’s wrong to use them, unless referring to actual genocide-inducing propaganda or false accusations of infanticide.

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