On Thursday's Parker-Spitzer, CNN's Kathleen Parker acted as an apologist for Rep. Steve Cohen's uncivil comparison between Republicans and Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels: "He was talking about the saying that if you repeat a lie over and over and over again, it becomes the truth. I don't think he was necessarily saying Republicans are Nazis- come on!" (audio available here)
Parker and co-host Eliot Spitzer devoted the first full segment of their 8 pm Eastern hour program to "zeroing in on a couple of examples of where it's [political rhetoric] gone wrong," and brought on Tea Party critic and CNN contributor John Avlon for an extended version of his "wingnuts" segments from American Morning. Before even getting to Cohen's remark, the three spent most of the 10-minute segment critiquing Rush Limbaugh's recent stereotyping of the Chinese language and Alabama Governor Robert Bentley's inaugural address where he stated that non-Christians weren't his "brothers and sisters," as if those two examples were somehow on the same plane as the Tennessee Democrat's invective.
Unsurprisingly, Avlon blamed Limbaugh and other talk show hosts for the heated political rhetoric, and the two CNN hosts concurred:
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AVLON: ...That's his game- and again, you can argue that Rush Limbaugh is an entertainer. The problem is, he's also a political leader. He's a political leader without real responsibilities, and we're living in a time where politics is following the talk radio model- conflict, tension, fear and resentment- and politicians are acting like talk radio hosts, in which there is no such thing as too extreme. So that's part of the cycle we're in right now- the cycle of incitement.
SPITZER: Doesn't he have to make a choice? In other words, when comedians do certain things, they are given greater latitude. But as you just pointed out, Rush Limbaugh's not a comedian. Rush Limbaugh was using that stereotype, that mockery to make a point, to be disdainful, to put down, and to do things that are heinous, that are just bad.
PARKER: He would argue, though- look, I'm an entertainer. I'm a radio personality. I represent no one. I'm- you know, yes, he's been granted a great leadership position- I'm just playing devil's advocate here-
AVLON: Sure, sure- I got you.
PARKER: By the White House, by the way, and- you know, so I think he can defend himself, to the extent that he's not representing anyone except himself. But it was embarrassing, and it was goofy and it was just bad form. Can we just- can we condemn him on that basis?
AVLON: Oh, yeah (Parker laughs). I mean, that shouldn't be a long ball. But, I mean, here's the thing, is that Rush Limbaugh- he has a huge amount of influence in the contemporary Republican Party and conservative circles of debate, and the problem is, is that folks are very quick to excuse the inexcusable when it comes from their side. That's the problem with our politics today. We really want to reset our politics. We need folks to step up and criticize extremism on their own side, like William F. Buckley did, criticizing the John Birch Society back in the early 1960s. We haven't seen that lately. It's a lack of courage.
PARKER: Well, nobody wants to criticize Rush Limbaugh. We've seen what happens when you do-
AVLON: That's right. That's why it's a good fight.
PARKER: All right, let's go to the governor.
SPITZER: That's why he doesn't see himself as an entertainer, and I think you just made the critical point, John. The self-criticism needs to be self-criticism. It's easy to throw it across the aisle. It's easy for me to criticize- you know, Rush Limbaugh. We also, as Democrats- and I'm going to be a little partisan here for the right reason- have to be quick to say when Democrats have also crossed that line, if, in fact, we're going to bring it back to the middle. But I think Rush Limbaugh really has got to acknowledge that that sort of commentary is just wrong. To mock a foreign leader- let alone the racial stereotyping- but to mock a foreign leader, when he knows he's one of the two or three most powerful people in the Republican Party, just doesn't speak well for our nation. I don't think it's good for us.
One wonders if Spitzer also objects to all mocking of Kim Jong Il, Ahmadinejad, and Chavez as well.
After Parker raised Gov. Bentley's speech, Avlon added that the Republican's possibly insensitive proselytization was somehow part of a "cycle of incitement." Spitzer also went so far to compare it to a former Republican president's infamous use of slurs on tape:
PARKER: He [Bentley] was preaching to the choir, clearly-
AVLON: Yeah, he was preaching to the choir-
PARKER: But very exclusionary and- you know, I don't- he explained it after he apologized. He said- look, I was speaking to people like me, who understand. People in Alabama get it. But I've lived in Alabama, and not everybody gets it.
AVLON: No. I mean, clearly, he's not used to being governor yet, right? I mean, he was speaking as a deacon, as an evangelical. He was not speaking in his new role, which is the higher responsibility, to represent all people. That's the inclusive responsibility of leadership in a democratic society- and, look, we've had a whole string of these things, right? I mean, we- you know, every day, every week over the last two years, we've seen examples of the cycle of incitement. Sometimes it's stupid, idiotic- you know, innocent comments that are relatively innocent. Sometimes it's really people throwing bombs. But it's a cycle of incitement. It feeds off itself, and that's what we really- if we really want to reset, that's what we really need to do, is learn that lesson.
SPITZER: Let's not forget that these comments probably have been made all through our history-
PARKER: Sure, they have.
SPITZER: And I'm not saying this to justify any of the comments. I'm thinking back to Richard Nixon's tapes, for instance, which are only now beginning to come to light-
AVLON: Richard Nixon (unintelligible)-
SPITZER: In which- yeah, I mean, his tapes are just full of a litany of abusive, derogatory, racist comments about African-Americans, about Jews, about virtually every ethnicity one can imagine. That's sitting in the Oval Office, and again, this is just to put into historical context. One of the realities we have to deal with is that with microphones everywhere, with the Internet, hardly any individual comment can go unexamined, and therefore, additional sensitivity is required by those who are making the comments that will be heard.
Near the end of the segment, the former New York governor finally raised Rep. Cohen's slur against Republicans. Spitzer himself was actually tougher on his fellow Democrat than Parker was, as she made excuses for the congressman:
SPITZER: John, another politician whose rhetoric is getting a lot of criticism- and rightfully so- Steve Cohen, Democrat, who compared the Republican attacks about health care to the Nazis and to Joe Goebbels, who was the heinous propagandist for the Nazi regime. Again, one step, at least, beyond- one giant step beyond any sort of metaphor that should be used in the sort of ideological combat we're involved in. But let's take a listen. I think we have it on tape, and then we can talk about it.
REP. STEVE COHEN: They say it's a government takeover of health care- a big lie, just like Goebbels. You say it enough. You repeat the lie, you repeat the lie, you repeat the lie- and eventually, people believe it.
SPITZER (live): All right, John, react to that one.
AVLON: Well, look, first of all, it came a couple days after he'd penned an op-ed calling for greater civility. That's count one- hypocrisy is the unforgivable sin. Count two is that he refused to apologize right away. I mean, this is not a complicated case here, right? I mean, Hitler is Hitler. The Holocaust is the Holocaust, and we need to sort of reground our American political debate. When folks start throwing around that kind of language, making these comparisons, it degrades everybody, and it's idiotic-
PARKER: Yeah. John, John-
AVLON: I mean, you know, it's like we're talking about tyranny and oppression in American politics.
PARKER: I agree with you to a degree, and I'm not defending anybody's speech here. I think- first of all, I think any time you bring up Hitler or the Nazis, you're disqualified from further conversation. You don't get to participate because it's just hackneyed-
AVLON: Godwin's law-
PARKER: It's bad thinking. But- you know, he was talking about the saying that if-
SPITZER: The big lie-
PARKER: You repeat a lie over and over and over again, it becomes the truth. I don't think he was necessarily saying Republicans are Nazis- come on!
AVLON: No, no- I mean, he was- that was his defense, right, is that he was making a metaphor about the big lie, and the big lie is a powerful concept. But still, you've got to be better than that. You've got to think bigger than that, and it's not like- you know, we've had- that's a pretty mild example of some of the rhetoric we've seen from congressmen recently- Democrats and Republicans, right? Trent Franks called President Obama the enemy of humanity. Alan Grayson called the Republicans the enemy of peace. We got to remember that our political opponents are not our personal enemies. We've forgotten that in our politics today, and that's part of that cycle of incitement. It encourages it.