September 7, 2009

This Labor Day

Nazis are the preferred group of comparison for your political opponents. It is a cheap shot to just call one's opponent Nazis. And it hurts efforts to learn from the horrible period of time when Nazism had taken hold in the world.

But it is important to remember actual lessons from that time.

One such lesson overlaps with the point of Labor Day, a day we consider the good that the labor movement has done for us and our fellow citizens. Where is the overlap?

You may have heard of a poem by the Pastor Martin Niemöller about his experiences when he and others did not speak out in defense of groups as the Nazis ratcheted up their rhetoric, political attacks, scapegoating and ultimately atrocities. The poem varied over time, and other people have changed it to suit their liking, but this version is considered to accurately reflect his insistence that certain groups be included, even though no definitive written record exists.

First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out--
because I was not a communist;
Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out--
because I was not a socialist;
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out--
because I was not a trade unionist;
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out--
because I was not a Jew;
Then they came for me--
and there was no one left to speak out for me.

-- Pastor Martin Niemöller

I do not feel we're in imminent danger of anything like an American Nazi party. We do not have Nazis hiding among us. Instead we have people with recognizable drums to bang on that we have heard before in history.

I do think that political discourse is in danger of being hijacked by a sensationalist, hyperventilating, anti-intellectual, loud minority. I think they are easily convinced to scapegoat groups that, not coincidentally, distribute power away from the consolidating effect of corporate profits. I believe there are people who hope to ride that wave to political and media success regardless of the cost to the national interest. And I believe that the antidote to this, even though there is a lot of lung capacity and money backing the mob mentality, is to let them have all the freedom of speech that they are entitled to. And then it is up to the rest of us to look at them and call them out.

Someone has draw a line and say "Have you left no sense of decency, sir?"

To those who thrive off attacking unions, bandying about the term "socialist," and worrying about Obama's birth certificate and whether his "stay in school" message will indoctrinate children into ideologies, I further quote Mr. Joseph Welch:

Senator, I think it hurts you, too, sir.

Posted by James at September 7, 2009 7:39 PM
Create Social Bookmark Links

"Someone has draw a line and say 'Have you left no sense of decency, sir?'"
Preach, brother, preach.
Of course, if "sir" is a politician, you draw the line at the ballot box.
And yes, the labor movement has an positive, strong influence in history. Unfortunately, not so much these days.

Posted by: givesgoodemail at September 8, 2009 11:36 AM

Copyright © 1999-2007 James P. Burke. All Rights Reserved