Richard Cohen’s Selective Outrage

Today Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen goes on a bender, in a column titled “Out of Their Anti-Tax Minds.” The theme of Cohen’s diatribe is that those who advocate lower federal taxes are insane. What set him off, apparently, was an observation by Grover Norquist that seemed to equate the estate tax with the Holocaust:
In an NPR interview, “Norquist referred to the supposedly specious argument that the estate tax was worth keeping because it really affected only ‘2 percent of Americans.’ He went on: ‘I mean, that’s the morality of the Holocaust. “Well, it’s only a small percentage,” you know. I mean, it’s not you. It’s somebody else.’
Asked by a disbelieving Terry Gross whether he had just compared the estate tax to the Holocaust, Norquist responded: “No, the morality that says it’s okay to do something to a group because they’re a small percentage of the population is the morality that says the Holocaust is okay because they didn’t target everybody, just a small percentage.”
To Cohen, this is utterly beyond the pale; indeed, a symptom of mass insanity: “It’s hard to overstate Norquist’s importance in contemporary Washington….He presides over a weekly meeting of important Republican activists and lobbyists where the agenda — at least Norquist’s — is to ensure that taxes are reduced to a bare minimum, the government is starved and everyone, the rich and the poor, is taxed the same, which is to say almost not at all.
“The Bush administration has mindlessly applied this doctrine. It has three times reduced taxes — mostly on the rich — careening the federal budget from a surplus to a deficit without end. The rich, who can afford their schools or health care, will not suffer. But the poor and the middle class will hurt plenty….”
Now, this is simply bizarre. I, personally, wish that the administration would cut spending on education and health care. But to suggest that it has done so is ridiculous; federal spending on education has increased by 90% since 1997. And spending on health care has skyrocketed, culminating in a brand-new entitlement program whose cost is conservatively estimated at $400 billion.
Cohen’s overheated tirade ends with this allegation of mass insanity: “At his next meeting of GOP activists, someone ought to ask [Norquist] if he’s out of his mind. If no one does, it’s because they all are.”
But let’s go back to the starting point–Norquist’s likening of the estate tax to the Holocaust. The analogy is silly, although Norquist’s point–that an unjust policy should not be defended by pointing out that it is unjust only to a minority–is not. But can Cohen really be unaware that Hitler/Third Reich/Holocaust analogies are a staple of liberal rhetoric about the Bush administration? Does he really not know that at every anti-war demonstration, protesters carry signs with pictures of President Bush with a Hitler mustache? Didn’t he read about the MoveOn.org television ad competition in which two of the entries showed President Bush morphing into Adolf Hitler? Doesn’t he know that likening Bush to Hitler is the tritest staple of liberal discourse?
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Hasn’t he seen the cover of the Eurpean edition of the latest book by the New York Times’ Paul Krugman, arguably the foremost liberal pundit?
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Cohen cannot possibly be unaware that “Bush=Hitler” is the mantra of the contemporary left. So what are we to make of the fact that he has never criticized liberals for their intolerant rhetoric, but has gone absolutely bananas when Grover Norquist had the temerity to mention the Holocaust?
I, personally, would like to see a moratorium on all references to Hitler, the Third Reich, Nazism and the Holocaust in the context of domestic political debate. Such a rule would have no perceptible effect on conservative discourse, but it would render the left virtually mute.

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