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June 07, 2008


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Hey Rob,

Couple of questions... Why did you choose Hitler (and the PR tactics he outlines in Mein Kampf) to discuss in this post? Those tactics are discussed, elucidated, and recommended in other places, so I'm interested in why you want to draw a link between Obama and Hitler, or rather the political tactics Hitler recommended and that Obama used. Are you reading Mein Kampf right now and were struck by the similarity? What drew you to this comparison? It just seems an... odd choice? Perhaps overly inflammatory?

Second, it should be noted that Obama has said plenty of stuff on the campaign trail analogous to:

"…you know, no matter what happens in this contest -- and I am honored, I am honored to be here with Barack Obama. I am absolutely honored… Whatever happens, we're going to be fine."

Thus violating the rule that you lay out from Mein Kampf.

Kerry Reid

Aside from Samantha Power's "monster" comment, for which she apologized and was booted from the Obama campaign, what proof can you provide of your assertion that the Obama camp (not the media, not random commenters on DailyKos or whatever) followed a strategy of "demonizing" Hillary Clinton? Where was this made implicit or explicit?



Here are just a few. First, some snippets from the post-ABC debate Obama e-mail. I quoted some of these talking points in the post:

“Regrettably, Senator Clinton seemed all too comfortable with that type of debate. She's running a 100% negative campaign in Pennsylvania, taking every opportunity to make personal and discredited attacks against Senator Obama…”

“Senator Clinton's false, negative attacks are exactly the kind of say-anything, do-anything politics that the American people are tired of….”

And below is a link to some David Axelrod quotes, including a reference to Clinton as "the ultimate Washington inside player" who would allegedly propose “a game of cribbage to choose the nominee,” if that would lead to victory.

According to Axelrod, “They would do anything to win, and that means anything… There is a frenetic energy around them to commandeer this election in any way they can.” They would even “destroy the party,” if necessary, according to another aide.



Both good questions. Your first question, I think, has to do with means versus ends. Using quotes from Hitler (as opposed to someone like Bernays or Lippman) brings attention to the fact that Hitler used these techniques to serve an end we agree to be horrendous. However, these same techniques could be used to serve a morally neutral end, or even one we would agree is morally right. Your criticism, I think, is that using Hitler quotes can confuse the moral nature of the end (the holocaust, WWII) with the moral nature of means (the propaganda techniques) – thus leaving us with no conclusion about the moral nature of these propaganda techniques. This criticism, if this is your criticism, is fair. On what basis, though, can we judge the moral nature of these propaganda techniques? Do they have a moral nature, or should they only be judged by the ends they are used to serve?

Your second question touches on a flaw in my parallel. Hitler was talking about war propaganda. We are talking about political campaign propaganda.

US war propaganda is consistent with Hitler’s prescriptions. You are considered to be on the political margins if you say anything good about Saddam Hussein or Osama Bin Laden. In a political campaign, however, candidates need to pepper attacks with small doses of decency to maintain an aura of propriety, but still maintain a morally dichotomic rhetorical framework. Obama was able to do this in a way that didn’t neutralize his attacks, Clinton was not. She also went well beyond anything Obama said, I believe, by saying outright that the outcome of the primary didn’t matter, that either choice would be “fine.” I don’t think Obama ever made the same insinuation, though feel free to search the web (or your brain) to prove me wrong.

Joshua James

Wow, Godwin's Law.

I have to say, and this is only just my opinion, mind you, but i have to say that I find this whole post in poor taste . . . you could take any book written on war strategy (for example, Sun Tzu's THE ART OF WAR, or Mushashi's BOOK OF FIVE RINGS) and applied it to this campaign, or any campaign . . . taking Mein Kampf and Hitler and comparing them to a recent Democratic nominee carries a baggage, a real negative baggage, a seriously negative baggage, and to my mind, your conclusions don't justify your choice of Hitler Mein Kampf.

Why not some other book of strategy?

Additionally, again this is just me, but that choice that made it hard for me to even see if your conclusions are even correct . . . I think they're flawed, but honestly it's almost too difficult to get past the emotional connotations of a Hitler comparison and be objective enough to do so. I don't even want to google and surf and check it, because of how I feel about that choice you've made.

I dunno, maybe I'm overreacting, and if I am, I apologize.


This is the most intellectually lazy piece of writing I have seen on this site.

Kerry Reid

Rob, pointing out that Hillary was running a kitchen-sink strategy (which her own campaign happily admitted -- remember her "this is the fun part" line about finally going negative?) isn't quite the same as "demonizing" her, which implies saying that the other candidate is less than human or actively evil. And given that Obama stood up for her on the Bosnia stuff during that ABC debate, while she tried to score points off Wright and Ayers and a lot of other guilt-by-association BS, I have to give the high-road points to him on that one, at least. (And FWIW, he also defended her after the tearing-up stuff in New Hampshire, while Edwards pounced on it to suggest that she lacked the fortitude to be a commander-in-chief.)

Also, I agree on the Godwin's Law qualities of this post.

Malachy Walsh

Isaac, the reason Rob used Hitler is because Rob is an egotist.

By making such an inflammatory statement way up front, he is hoping people will read him.

And think he's brilliant. Which he's not.

There's some really poor thinking going on in Rob's work lately.

And it's a real turn off to read it under your name.


When Clinton made her observation regarding late primary campaigns, bringing up both her husband's run and RFK's, which was printed in an article in March, no one commented that it was inflammatory.

When she made the same connection in May? All sirens went off -- and Obama's campaign was the one that distributed the original NY Post slur (which they retracted) to the general press, until her remarks became a call for his assassination.

Yep, there's a bit of Hitler about this, after all -- it's called the Big Lie, and one side got the advantage over the other, thanks to a press corps that wanted McCain to face Obama.

If Rob wanted to go into the Godwin's Law territory, he could have examined Goebbels' precepts and MSNBC shows without much discomfort generated.



If I understand you correctly, you seem to be suggesting that the Obama campaign was characterizing the opponent in a way the Clinton campaign would agree with. However, the Clinton campaign did not agree that Clinton was bent on “destroy[ing] the party” if necessary, or that Clinton was “always asking, ‘How do we wire the vote? How do we wire the system to get the results we want?’” The Clinton campaign called such comments “apocalyptic” and “unhelpful.” It seems clear to me that those quotes were an attempt to make Hilary seem like a really really bad, diabolical person. The word ‘demonized’ seems appropriate to me, though I understand if you find it to be a hyperbolic characterization.

To the others,

I hear and accept your criticism (as I do Kerry’s). For whatever it’s worth (and whether you believe me or not), my intent was to use the comparison in a way antithetical to that predicted by Godwin’s Law. My intent wasn’t to end meaningful conversation by assigning an egregiously negative moral quality to our politicians. My intent was also not to be unnecessarily inflammatory. My intent was to examine the way propaganda functions in our electoral system.

However, flaws in my post can exist on a number of levels. Firstly, the emotional baggage carried by Hitler can blind readers to an academic assessment of the material. This certainly did happen. This was Isaac’s point when he suggested I quote someone else’s descriptions of the same techniques, and Joshua’s when he said he suspected my conclusions were incorrect, but his emotions prevented him from analyzing it in that way.

Secondly, perhaps it is true that these techniques are used in our current electoral process, but I didn’t argue the point successfully. Two specific elements of my argument have been identified as flawed by commenters. The first was by Isaac – that candidates must say nice things about their opponents, which distinguishes it from war propaganda, where any right in the enemy cannot be admitted, so the parallel doesn’t completely hold up there. The second was by Kerry, who believes the word ‘demonized’ to be hyperbolic (please correct me if I am mischaracterizing your criticisms). In my mind, even if one accepts these two points as flaws, they don’t invalidate the conclusion.

Thirdly, perhaps these techniques are NOT in use in our current electoral process, and the central thesis of the post is invalid. I’m guessing that those who believe the post to be “intellectually lazy” and representative of “poor thinking,” and probably most of the commeners thus far, actually, would fall into this category. If the central thesis holds no water, it seems natural to assume that the writer of the post is an egotist substituting controversy for serious intellectual inquiry.

However, I do believe the central thesis to be valid. It’s my understanding that it’s pretty well known that these propaganda techniques were developed by Western nations, adopted by Hitler and Goebbels around WWII, and are now fundamental to the PR industry that runs advertising and political campaigns. Any googling of ‘propaganda’ will tell you this. While reflecting on the primary, Mein Kampf naturally came to mind, and I felt as Naomi Wolf did making her US/Nazi comparison in “The End of America” when she said: “I don’t have to draw an analogy. The analogies are there.”

It is clear to me that I failed to persuade the readership of my view (at least most of those who commented). I wonder if the thesis can be somehow disproved, or perhaps argued in a more effective way.

Joshua James

I think it was just a bad choice, Rob, a very bad choice.

The only metaphor that comes to mind is, what if I used the letters and essays of Ted Bundy as a measuring stick when evaluating your writing and essays?

If I said, "Rob presented his thesis in a clearer manner than Bundy, but faltered when it came to the anecdotal reveals"

It's not fair to you.

What if someone used the paintings of John Wayne Gacy as a base while evaluating someone else's paintings, saying they used bright colors in a way that evoked his clown paintings?

It's not a fair measuring stick, as that both are representative of human events beyond whatever each contributed to the world of words and art.

Therefore, to use Hitler here, when Hitler doesn't represent ideas or PR techniques or strategy but rather death and destruction and fascism, is a bad choice. You're not going to inform, you're only going to inflame.

It also seems to me to be a tad ingenius of you to not recognize that fact.

I mean, do you hate Obama? Are you trying, on a subtile level, to foment us against him? That's what it read to me.

It's like when Rep James King, when interview, always says Obama's full name, he says "Barack Hussein Obama" and they emphasize his middle name.

They grin and say "Hey, it's his name, I'm just saying his name" but what they're really trying to do is send a message that, "he's got a Muslim name".

Sometimes they even say "B. Hussein Obama" to really underline it. Coulter has done that.

It'd code for beware of the scary foreign black man, of course.

Comparing his campaign techniques to Hitler and Mein Kampf reads the same way to me.

Now it's totally cool if you don't care for Obama, you don't support his campaign and presidency, that's you're right.

but I think it's highly unfair to compare him to Hitler, I really do. More than unfair, in fact, it smacks of something else, represented by the Kings and Roves and Coulters of the world.

Now if that wasn't your intention, fine . . . but that is how it reads to me . . . and I slept on it to make sure I wasn't overreacting when I first read it. But it reads the same to me today, just as yesterday.

so file that in the "for what it's worth" file.

Joshua James

I forgot to add, and I will and then move on, but I forgot to add that this also reminded me of Jonah Goldberg's book LIBERAL FASCISM that came out some time ago, in which he engages in all sorts of logical fallacies such as "fascists liked organic food, liberals like organic food, therefore liberals are fascists, etc" . . . he was pretty much dismantled by Stewart on the Daily Show . . .

It's hard for me to see, in light of the post and your comments, that you're not trafficking in the same logically fallacies as Jonah "doughy pantload" Goldberg is.

Again, for what it's worth. I'm just a reader of this blog, nothing more.

Malachy Walsh

- Firstly, the emotional baggage carried by Hitler can blind readers to an academic assessment of the material. This certainly did happen. -

Rob, this certainly has happened. Particularly in this post. But it's a rhetorical habit you've displayed elsewhere.

And however much I might sympathetic I am to what is actually at the heart of what you're saying, I've made it clear that it is nearly impossible for me to get past these metaphors and similes.

I do respect that you're willing to reconsider the approach. Your writing will get a lot stronger without it.

Malachy Walsh

And however much I might BE sympathetic TO what is actually at the heart of what you're saying, I've made it clear that it is nearly impossible for me to get past these metaphors and similes.

Though at least you write in grammatically correct sentences!

Karl Miller

Hitler didn't revolutionize propaganda, he just gave it a modernist chassis. So your choice of Mein Kampf as a catchall metric for the hairsplitting superficiality of the Democratic nomination doesn't help much.

I gotta defer to Jon Stewart: these Hitler comparisons are unfair to everyone ... including Hitler. That's not an easy feat, Rob, but Hitler worked too hard to be that evil only to have some non-Aryan junior senator co-opt his death machine to correct Rovian Washington.

If you're a little sickened, as I am, of the "O" versus "W" icon-worship going on here, then investigate the peculiarities of that phenomenon. You needn't make a clumsy short-cut through the shallows of Nazi Philosophy to do it. If you've still got a copy of Mein Kampf open, please place it side by side with Dreams of My Father to make a fair comparison of national narratives. Then come back and report what you've discovered about our Fathers and Fatherlands.

To be sure, you can put just about any (dis)content into a propaganda machine, but your faith in that machine's efficacy and primacy is the source my particular "emotional baggage."

Because if candidates rise and fall according to their allegiance to a couple chapters of Mein Kampf ... then we're all fascist shills before the fact and any exercise of democratic action thereafter is inexplicable except through the fascist filter you've provided here. You can separate ends and means, correlations and causations, all you like -- it only proves the uselessness of the original inquiry.

I'm still working through my own feelings about Obama's land-speed record for the presidency ...


... and maybe I rely on Freud as much as you rely on Hitler. But if two dead guys from Vienna can't illuminate our situation, who can? I'd really like to know. Between this and your last two posts, I don't see much here to advance that quest.


I think that Hitler makes people upset. I've observed this. I am wise in the ways of the world.

Rob Kendt

I too took a break from this appalling post and only just came back to it to make sure I wasn't overreacting. On second look, for me the problem isn't just the Hitler analogy, which is so over-the-top offensive it's not worth engaging with--it's the arrogant certainty of the central thesis, which Rob Grace apparently seems to think is still valid: that Obama's victory should be no surprise (really? what country does Grace live in?) because he was faithful to the principles of effective propaganda, and Clinton was only fitfully rigorous with same. It's one thing to notice that Obama ran a cooler-headed, more disciplined, long-ball campaign, and Clinton flailed ineffectually. But to posit that this made Obama's victory inevitable seems fundamentally off-base. It's all too easy to Monday morning-quarterback it now. But not only is it ahistorical to credit Obama's nomination more to spin than to real progress fought for by generations of Americans, it's also premature to talk about Obama as an inevitability given that the real fight, and the real victory, still lie ahead.

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Yes, I think comparing Obama and Hitler is a little... harsh. Maybe Hitler was smart, but i don't think the author wants to draw positive parallel between them, and comparing them is just wrong i think

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