WP: The Comparison That Ends the Conversation
Senator [Durbin] Is Latest to Regret Nazi Analogy
By Mark Leibovich, Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 22, 2005; Page C01
Someone should post a sign in the Senate cloakroom or wherever Important People Who Should Know Better will see it. The sign would warn politicians against comparing anything to the Nazis or Hitler or the Holocaust. These comparisons are not a good idea. Repeat : Not a good idea. It will only bring a massive headache, as Sen. Richard Durbin has learned (he'll take that Tylenol IV drip now, thanks).
Durbin, the Democratic whip, became the latest politician who couldn't make his point without comparing the matter at hand -- the alleged mistreatment of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba -- with the methods of the Nazis (and those of Pol Pot and the Soviet gulags, too).
All of this is consistent with the escalation of political rhetoric in general, says Deborah Tannen, a professor of linguistics at Georgetown and an expert on political discourse. She mentions the Senate debate over filibusters, in which the "nuclear option" loomed. And conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh, who rails against "feminazis." "It's all part of the same verbal inflation," Tannen says, adding that feminists generally refrain from torturing people.
There is a dictum in Internet culture called Godwin's Law (after Mike Godwin, a lawyer who coined the maxim), which posits that the longer an online discussion persists, the more likely it is that someone will compare something to the Nazis or Hitler.
According to the online encyclopedia Wikipedia, "There is a tradition in many Usenet newsgroups that once such a comparison is made, the thread is over, and whoever mentioned the Nazis has automatically lost whatever argument was in progress."