I don’t do factchecks, I do ethics checks. Both GOP Senators Ted Cruz and and Josh Hawley have leaped on a Joe Biden attack and said that the President Elect called them “Nazis.” Many conservative pundits and websites have similarly accused Biden of the ultimate “otherizing.”
Biden did not call Cruz and Hawley Nazis.
He told reporters in Wilmington, Delaware, where Joe is God,
“They should be just flat beaten the next time they run. The American public has a real good, clear look at who they are. They’re part of the big lie.Goebbels and the great lie. You keep repeating the lie, repeating the lie.”
Because Joseph Goebbels and Adolf Hitler defined the Big Lie tactic–that’s what Biden is referring to when he says “Goebbels and the great lie”— and though they authored one of the biggest Big Lies of all time, saying that a politician or a political party is using the Big Lie tactic cannot be the equivalent of calling that politician Hitler, Goebbels, or a Nazi. The reason is that long before the two Nazi propaganda experts mastered the Big Lie, it had been used extensively for centuries, and it has been used ever since often with great effectiveness, always unethically, by parties and politicians who could not possibly be called Nazis in their beliefs, policies, values or methods. The Big Lie is now a standard political weapon. The idea is to make a public assertion that is so horrifying and outlandish that the public demands that it be denied by its target, and argued about. The genius of the Big Lie tactic is that forcing the argument itself gives the Big Lie credibility. The approach of simply ignoring Big Lies and saying by word or action, “That doesn’t even justify a rebuttal, and I won’t dignify it with one” usually doesn’t work.
I swear, the first example of this that jumped into my head was Harry Reid’s intentional slur during the 2012 Presidential campaign that Mitt Romney had paid no taxes for the previous decade. When asked about his Big Lie after the election, Reid answered, “Romney didn’t win, did he?”
The Big Lie tactic is all about the ends justifying the means.
So many current politicians have used the tactic that to accuse Biden of calling Cruz and Hawley Nazis is itself a Big Lie. The claim that Barack Obama wasn’t born in the U.S. was a Big Lie, one that Donald Trump used. Joe Biden told black voters in 2012 that the Republicans intended to put them all “back in chains.” Feminists continue to say that women are only paid 76 cents for every dollar a man is paid for the same job: that’s a Big Lie. The Black Lives Matter movement is built on many Big Lies; modern feminism has embraced the Big Lie that every sexual touching that isn’t verbally consented to by the woman is sexual assault, violence, and even rape. Opponents to the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh called him a serial rapist. That was a Big Lie.
It is especially—What, ironic? Brazen? Hilarious? Hypocritical?—for the leader of the Democratic Party to condemn the Big Lie strategy. The entire, four-year effort to destroy President Trump was waged on Big Lies; Ethics Alarms has kept a running tally of them. One of the longest lasting and most effective has been that Trump is a Nazi!
Nonetheless, the objections of Cruz and Hawley are themselves dishonest. After all, if Joe is calling purveyors of the Big Lie tactic Nazis, he’s calling himself one, as well as Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, Donald Trump, Barack Obama, Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, and so, so many more, Nazis as well.
“Really sad. At a time of deep national division, President-elect Biden’s choice to call his political opponents literal Nazis does nothing to bring us together or promote healing. This kind of vicious partisan rhetoric only tears our country apart.”
Except that Joe didn’t call anyone “literal Nazis,” and using the Big Lie tactic means you are a politician. Today that’s all it means. Now THAT’s “really sad.”
Hawley’s response was more accurate:
“President-elect Biden has just compared me and another Republican Senator to Nazis. You read that correctly. Think about that for a moment. Let it sink in. Because I raised questions in the format prescribed by the laws of the United States about the way elections were conducted in the state of Pennsylvania, just as Democrats did about other states in 2001, 2005, and 2017, he is calling me a Nazi. This is undignified, immature, and intemperate behavior from the President-elect. It is utterly shameful. He should act like a dignified adult and retract these sick comments. And every Democrat member of congress should be asked to disavow these disgusting comments.”
Although evoking the “Big Lie” is not the automatic equivalent of comparing a politician to Hitler and Goebbels, suggesting two Republicans are nefarious for doing exactly what the Democrats have done in every Presidential election they lost in this century is itself a Big Lie. How much of the public knows that Hawley and Cruz were protesting exactly as the Democrats had before them? If you say what Biden said, you’re betting that most of the publc doesn’t, an essential condition precedent for Big Lies to work.
Another Big Lie Joe is wielding is the claim that there was nothing amiss in the 2020 election. There was, if only that it was handled in such a way that a large portion of the public distrusts the results. A thorough investigation is crucial, and if Democrats block one, that will be one more piece of circumstantial evidence that the election was corrupted. However, it is also a Big Lie to say, as the President has said repeatedly, that Trump won in a “landslide.” Neither Cruz nor Hawley have supported that nonsense, so if this is the “big lie” that Biden accused Cruz and Hawley being “part of,” that is a lie.
- Saying a politician uses a Big Lie is not per se the equivalent of calling him or her a Nazi.
- That may be the intent, however.
- Biden did not suggest Cruz and Hawley were “literal Nazis”
- What he implied was a Big Lie on their part was not, and
- …was in fact identical to what Democrats have done three times since 2000
- That false implication by Biden is very close to being a Big Lie itself.
The connection of the Big Lie tactic to ruthless propagandists like Hitler and Goebbels is worth keeping in mind because the tactic is corrosive, dishonest, dirty politics and also, obviously unethical. As I wrote in the post linked above,
Becoming addicted to relying on Big Lies as a political strategy is not the sign of ethical political parties, movements, or ideologies. Perhaps there is a useful distinction between Big Lies and “false narratives,” but I can’t define one. Both are intentional falsehoods designed to frame events in a confounding and deceptive manner, so public policy debates either begin with them as assumptions, thus warping the discussion, or they result in permanent bias, distrust and suspicion of the lie/narrative’s target. For simplicity’s sake, because I believe it is fair to do so, and also because “Big Lie” more accurately reflects just how unethical the tactic is, that is the term I will use.
Democrats disgraced themselves and sullied our political culture by using Big Lies as a primary tool against Donald Trump. As absurd as it is for Democrats to now cry “Foul!” at the tactic—especially in a case where there has been no Big Lie used by those accused—it is also absurd after its full embrace by all of American politics to still identify it with a dead German party.
After the past four years, it would make more sense to identify the Big Lie tactic with the Democratic Party.
Added:Most of the mainstream media accounts I found actually omitted Biden’s mention of “Goebbels and the great lie.” Thanks to commenter Null Pointer for flagging it.
The degree to which the media is already protecting Biden is astounding,