Politics

Roger Ebert, Hypocrisy, and "the Big Lie"

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The J. Goldberg Effect

As I observed on Twitter last night (which you would have known if you were following me), the strangest thing about Markos Moulitsas's stupid new book American Taliban: How War, Sex, Sin, and Power Bind Jihadists and the Radical Right is that it is blurbed by David Coverdale, the leather-faced former Whitesnake front man. Quoth Mr. Tawney Kitaen, "American Taliban shines a blinding light on the conservative right's dark agenda. Anyone who genuinely cares about America should read this book."

The title of Moulitsas' book is pretty self-explanatory, but according to the promotional materials provided by the publisher, the DailyKos founder "pulls no punches as he compares how the Republican Party and Islamic radicals maintain similar worldviews and tactics." To my comrades on the left, congratulations on the acquisition of your very own Dinesh D'Souza. But today I noticed a few other effusive blurb writers praising the Republican-Taliban connection:

MSNBC host Rachel Maddow is, I am often told, a paragon of reason on cable news. Indeed, she opined to Rep. Joseph Cao (R-La.): "Do you feel like it's possible to have a constructive debate, even about hot-button issues like abortion, like some of the other things that have attracted some of the most extreme rhetoric? Or do you feel like things have now been so heated, for so long, and there's been so many exaggerations that the prospects for civil discussion are dim?" Yes, purge the extreme, over-heated rhetoric from the debate…by providing a blurb for a book comparing the Republican Party to the Taliban! Because, as Maddow says, "It isn't possible to understand American politics now without understanding the worldview and arguments of Markos Moulitsas."

In a recent blog post upbraiding Glenn Beck for his reckless invocations of Nazism and Communism, Roger Ebert, the boring movie critic turned heavy-breathing political blogger, laments the "increasing tendency of the extreme right to automatically describe its opponents in negative buzz words." Couldn't agree more, Roger. But wait! Here he is, offering a warm encomium to American Taliban and Moulitsas, who "alerts us to a clear and present danger in America: radical zealots who disregard our Constitution and our freedoms and who disguise themselves as patriots."

In Ebert's post on Beck, he rightly bemoans the lazy use of Nazi references, "This whole argument is described by a term widely familiar on the internet (sic), the (sic) reductio ad Hitlerum. It is also known, Wikipedia explains, as playing the Nazi card." But that's only when the other side calls people fascists; when Ebert does it, it's with a certain measure of precision and élan. So in a more recent post, Ebert writes that, in her silly effusions on the so-called Ground Zero mosque, Sarah Palin "employs the methodology of the Big Lie, defined in Mein Kampf as an untruth so colossal that 'no one would believe that others could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously.'" No need to explain the implication.

A few things about the frequent invocation of the "big lie" theory, which Ebert, like many others, imply was a Nazi tactic outline by Hitler in Mein Kampf. When dumping on those when deserve to be dumped on for historical illiteracy, it is probably worth knowing that the "big lie" was an accusation against political enemies, not a tactic to be employed by National Socialists. It is a bipartisan mistake, but one that needs to be corrected. So here is Rush Limbaugh, back in February:

In his 1925 autobiography Mein Kampf, the expression was coined by Hitler "to describe a lie so 'colossal' that no one would believe that someone 'could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously.'" The Big Lie had to be so big that nobody would believe that anybody would have the audacity to lie that way.  If you're going to lie, go big, put your lie on an Atlas rocket and launch and fire that sucker….That was Hitler's theory, because "For the grossly impudent lie always leaves traces behind it, even after it has been nailed down, a fact which is known to all expert liars in this world and to all who conspire together in the art of lying." 

Or this story in the San Jose Mercury News, explaining that former California Governor Jerry Brown described Meg Whitman's campaign as using "the tactics devised by Nazi Josef Goebbels, Adolf Hitler's propaganda minister and the inventor of the Big Lie principle in politics." Note that this time it's Goebbels who "invented" the "Big Lie principle." NPR host Neal Conant cites "the big lie theory, practiced by Nazi propagandists in the 1930s," also attributing it to Josef Goebbels. Naomi Wolf, who knows less about fascism than your average 14-year-old Call of Duty obsessive, also invokes the "big lie" as coming from the fascist playbook. And so on.

But the "big lie" theory, mentioned only once in Hitler's rambling manifesto, is part of a larger argument about the supposed Jewish betrayal of Germany in the First World War. It isn't the blueprint for a Nazi media strategy, but a mad exposition on what is considered a "Jewish" way of media deception; i.e. the Jews, via socialist newspapers like Vorwärts, have spread a "big lie" that the First World War was lost militarily when, in fact, said those on the radical right, it was lost in the salons of Berlin and Munich. So here is the important context of the "big lie," from Mein Kampf:

By branding [General] Ludendorff as guilty for the loss of the World War, [the Jews] took the weapon of moral right from the one dangerous accuser who could have risen against the traitors to the Fatherland. In this they proceeded on the sound principle that the magnitude of a lie always contains a certain factor of credibility, since the great masses of the people in the very bottom of their hearts tend to be corrupted rather than consciously and purposely evil, and that, therefore, in view of the primitives implicity of their minds they more easily fall a victim to a big lie than to a little one, since they themselves lie in little things, but would be ashamed of lies that were too big.

So while it might seem a nitpicking detail, it is a rather important distinction, especially when lampooning the historical illiteracy of others.