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September 04, 2008


There is one difference: Josh is a blogger making a humorous political post, while Bush is President of the United States making a supposedly serious political speech.

The other difference is that Marshall makes an explicit comparison between a Nazi and Rudy, while the Bush example falls into the "coded" speech model - they are mentioned in the same sentence, but not explicitly implied to be equivalent - note Brendan's judicious use of the word "implicit".

(BTW, a reference to Goebbels is "humorous"? I wouldn't consider a columnist commenting that a public figure he disagreed with as reminding him of Osama Bin Laden as humorous.)

IMO, some complaints about "coded" messages are probably valid, but too often they require too many a priori assumptions (does the audience understand the code or that the message is even coded?) and mind-reading guesses to be very strong arguments in describing the message as a "moral equivalence" argument.

Such complaints remind me too much of charges of satanic backward-masking in heavy metal music I used to hear about in the 80’s – how is Satan gonna get his message across with backwards english words that english speaking people will hear as gibberish?

FWIW, I have seen both sides of the political aisle use this “coded message/moral equivalence” argument against the other side too many times.

Balderdash; in fact Bush expressly indicates that the Angry Left is far removed from the North Vietnamese Communists. You're reaching, Brendan. W is a good man - a gentleman.


Brendan, I love your blog, but this argument that "casual Nazi analogies demean and cheapen the discourse" is bullshit. This normative application of "Godin's law" has become almost as common as automatic censoring of offensive words, and makes about as much sense.

Every analogy should be subjected to the same standards: Does it connect entities in a way that helps reach a better and truthful understanding? A content-based prohibition of analogies using a whole subset of human society obstructs and biases the discussion. If you want to point out that a behavior (or a person) is authoritarian and unscrupulous, an analogy with totalitarian figures and regimes is a legitimate way to make your point. In response, it would certainly be legitimate to challenge the accuracy of your description of the behavior/person as authoritarian, as well as to challenge the applicability of the analogy; but it is not legitimate to disqualify the analogy based on its content.

To use the Giuliani example, I have observed him for many years and would definitely characterize him as strongly authoritarian and rather unscrupulous. I have used a fascist analogy to mock his seeking Pat Robertson's endorsement, and I stand by that post. (Yes, it was primarily satire, but even satire requires analogies to work - at most, it allows them to be slightly looser.)

I have also given speeches comparing the contemporary American right (especially the religious right) with Communist movement and regimes (which I have experienced first-hand), and again, I stand by the analogies and am always prepared to defend them with evidence and reasoned arguments.

I consider Bush's indirect analogy between the Vietcong and the "angry left" ludicrous, but all my reasons for that are in the lack of any relevant similarities, and not in some notion that it would be anathema to compare anybody to the Vietcong.

Please consider these arguments the next time you are tempted by normative Godwinism.

Sorry about the typo: "Godin's law" should have been "Godwin's law".

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