The National  Memo Logo

Smart. Sharp. Funny. Fearless.

Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

John Raese is feeling persecuted.

Raese, a West Virginia businessman running for the U.S. Senate, declared in a recent speech that he doesn’t want the government telling him what to do “because I’m an American.” Specifically, he lamented that he is required to place a “huge sticker” on his buildings declaring them smoke-free environments.

“Remember Hitler used to put Star of David on everybody’s lapel, remember that? Same thing,” he said.

Ahem.

For the record, the Nazis did not require the Star of David on “everybody’s” lapel. Only Jews were forced to sew the symbol on their clothing under penalty of being fined, imprisoned or shot. But maybe we should just be grateful Raese did not compare smoker’s lounges to concentration camps — or some tobacco junkie hiding in the toilet to sneak a smoke to Anne Frank, hiding out for her life.

Predictably, Raese has come under fire from Jewish groups, including the Simon Wiesenthal Center. He has refused to back down. “I’m not apologizing to anybody or any organization,” he told the Charleston Daily Mail. He went on to say, “I am not going to be intimidated by a bunch of bull—t.”

Requiring him to put up no-smoking signs, is, he reiterated, “very similar” to requiring Jews to wear yellow stars. “It might be smoking today, it might be Big Macs tomorrow, then Coca-Colas the next day, then Jack Daniel’s, then we’re in trouble.”

Yes, he actually said that. And one can’t help but recall the famous thing Martin Niemoller said about the Holocaust: “First they came for the Big Macs, and I did not speak out — because I did not eat at McDonald’s.

“Then they came for the Coca-Colas, and I did not speak out — because I prefer Pepsi.

“Then they came for the Jack Daniel’s and I did not speak out — because I was not a whiskey drinker.

“Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak for me.”

OK, so that’s not quite what Niemoller said. But does it really matter? Does anyone care? Do the great words, noble precepts and tragic occurrences of yesterday still matter in a nation where reverence is something some of us can no longer even pretend to feel?

Raese made his asinine remark in furtherance of his belief in small government. It is an ideology whose adherents habitually squander whatever appeal it might otherwise hold through extremist statements such as these. Surely reasonable people can debate the proper size and role of government. But one begins to believe people like Raese seek not small government, but no government. And that, putting it mildly, is bizarre.

Worse, he compounds the sin by committing this act of violence against memory, this vandalism of simple respect. At one fell swoop, he manages to illustrate both American political extremism and American incapacity of reverence.

He is hardly unique. The Nazis have become the go-to image of political demonization. We’ve seen Barack Obama as Hitler and George W. Bush as Hitler. But anyone who understands what happened when Hitler was Hitler cannot help but decry such a monumental trivialization of atrocity. The crimes of the Nazi regime were singular, unprecedented in their sheer awfulness. Because of this, thoughtful observers draw Nazi parallels carefully and rarely if at all. And then there are the John Raeses of the world.

For what it’s worth, the experience of a Jew in the Holocaust and a smoker in America are comparable in only one regard: the death toll. The Nazis killed 6 million Jews in 12 years. Cigarettes kill that many Americans every 13 and a half. Of course, a smoker has a choice. A Jew had none.

And the idea of equating the two is ridiculous, offensive and unworthy of serious people. That should go without saying.

The key word there being, “should.”

(Leonard Pitts is a columnist for the Miami Herald, 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, Fla., 33132. Readers may contact him via e-mail at lpitts@miamiherald.com.)

Advertising

Start your day with National Memo Newsletter

Know first.

The opinions that matter. Delivered to your inbox every morning

Rep. Adam Kinzinger

When the flags fly proudly on the Fourth of July, I remember what my late father taught me about love of country. Much as he despised the scoundrels and pretenders he liked to call "jelly-bellied flag flappers," after a line in a favorite Rudyard Kipling story, he was deeply patriotic. It is a phrase that aptly describes the belligerent chicken hawk who never stops squawking — someone like Ted Cruz or Donald Trump.

Like many who volunteered for the U.S. Army in World War II, my dad never spoke much about his four tough years of military service, which brought him under Japanese bombardment in the Pacific theater. But eventually there came a time when he attached to his lapel a small eagle-shaped pin known as a "ruptured duck" — a memento given to every veteran. With this proof of service, he demonstrated that as a lifelong liberal, he loved his country as much as any conservative.

Keep reading... Show less

Liz Cheney

YouTube Screenshot

Rep. Liz Cheney delivered two clear warnings during last week's House Select Committee hearings. One was to Donald Trump aides and allies who conspired with him to violently overthrow our government. The second was to those who merely observed these crimes but refuse to tell what they know.

The first message: the game is up because the J6 committee has the goods on Trump’s conspiracy, the coverup and the witness tampering so it’s time to either rat out Donald to save your own skin or give up any hope of leniency when indictments are handed out.

Keep reading... Show less
{{ post.roar_specific_data.api_data.analytics }}