Decade of Outrageous Comparison

Washington Times  1.21.97
Balint Vazsonyi

Future historians examining the 1990s might decide to call it "The Decade of the Outrageous Comparison." Latest arrival on the roster is Sam Donaldson who appeared on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno on January 8th, and spoke about the recently re-elected Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, third-in-line to the Presidency of the United States. "Newt is like Lenin," he said. "The only difference is, Lenin shot everybody. Newt only shoots Democrats." Shocking? For sure, but then Oliver Stone has taken to comparing himself to Shakespeare. Liberals will call opponents "fascist" at the drop of a hat. Any killing of people by other people is a "Holocaust."

How did we get here?

The twentieth century produced the combination of a monstrous ideology, human beings utterly devoid of humanity, and technology able to kill on a mass scale. Many who know little about the history of other times and peoples are vaguely familiar with a handful of recent events, names, labels, and the most outstanding horrors. An appreciable rise in the overall temperature characterizes most human interaction in our land, followed by a proliferation of emotive words. Add to this the "Cult of the Wronged" which dominates our society, and the mixture turns explosive.

But none of this explains how the man recently appointed co-anchor of This Week with David Brinkley can abuse privilege the way Mr. Donaldson did. And it was not a momentary lapse. "After Lenin had shot all his enemies," the top-of-the-heap journalist went on, "he continued to shoot their relatives. Newt is like that."

Increasingly, the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States has been mistaken for a general license. It is nothing of the sort. Far from prescribing what everyone can (let alone ought to) do, it merely proscribes a specific act by specific people: "Congress shall make no law...abridging the freedom of speech." Nothing in this wording eliminates the requirement of a civilized society that its members, especially when speaking in public, adhere to the truth in stating facts, and apply due diligence before expressing opinions.

One of the most easily noted differences between the animal world and homo sapiens is our use of articulated words, as opposed to assorted sounds. Persons who spend too much time with animals tend to overlook this. Commentators heard on the Discovery Channel are given to phrases such as: "Jellyfish are every bit as successful as humans." Or: "To value the freedom of a wild creature is to become free ourselves." Obviously, somewhere along the line, a separation occurred between "homo" and "sapiens."

How else does one explain that Oliver Stone, who merely converts to celluloid the adolescent obsessions of his generation, compares himself to William Shakespeare, whose characters and phrases represent Humanity as a whole and Time as far as the eye can see? How does one account for the indiscriminate use of "fascist" by people who might be hard-put to spell it?

Yet even those who can spell it might be hard-put to define it. Benito Mussolini, after breaking with the international Socialist movement, formed his own Socialist party. In order to give it the appearance of "Italian" legitimacy, he borrowed a page from ancient Rome, where "fasces" (a bundle of rods) was a symbol of unity and authority. That's all the word means. In all the volumes written by Mussolini, there is not a single definition of "Fascism." The idea to apply this word to Germany's National Socialists was hatched by Josef Stalin in an effort to conceal the obvious ideological link connecting his Soviet Socialism with Hitler's German variety.

While the Soviets were making this all-out effort not to be seen identical to the Nazis, assorted Americans took up the habit of painting this country in the colors of the Third Reich. To wit, "After Pearl Harbor, people of Japanese ancestry were put in concentration camps." No one today is especially proud of the detention of Japanese Americans, but the term "concentration camp" was invented by, and is forever connected with the Nazi Germany. Its purpose was to eliminate, by the forced inhalation of gas and the use of high-temperature ovens, an entire category of people who, incidentally, had contributed the basic law by which our entire civilization professes to live.

Which brings us to "Holocaust." That particular word means total destruction by fire. However strongly we wish to condemn mass killings in Bosnia, however we abhor slavery on America's Southern plantations, there is not the slightest comparison in either case. Supposedly, we are working to reduce tensions between various segments of Americans. The application of outrageous comparisons, so as to create emotive analogies, produces the opposite effect and, worse still, instantly destroys the credibility of the speaker.

And, speaking of the Speaker, journalist Donaldson surely knows that Lenin's revolution, at last count, produced an aggregate of some 100 million dead. Did he liken Newt Gingrich to Vladimir Ilych in a lapse of good taste, or with partisan intent?

You decide.