Kinder Out of Line With ‘Big Lie’ Reference

Last week, the incumbent in the Missouri Lieutenant Governor race, Peter Kinder, appeared in a video online to address his opponent Sam Page’s assertions about Kinder’s record.

One of Page’s assertions was that Kinder had taken money from a developer and then passed a law giving the developer a $100 million tax break. Kinder pointed out that the tax break was not to one developer, and in his response, referred to Page’s assertion as “an outright lie….that’s the Goebbels/Hitler big lie, tell a big lie, tell a lie big enough that you can try to carry the day with it. It is not to one developer. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, which endorsed him, has told the truth about it.”

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Rabbi Susan Talve of Central Reform Congregation provided a poignant and pointed response in asking Kinder to issue an apology. “It is disgraceful to compare Rep. Page’s commercial to the Nazi propaganda machine that led to the genocide of the Jewish people,” said Talve. “In comparing Page to the architect of Hitler’s ‘Big Lie’ technique, Lt. Gov. Kinder crossed a line that should never even be approached.”

We agree wholeheartedly with Rabbi Talve, and would agree regardless of the political party, positions or opinions of the candidate involved. No matter how it was intended, Kinder’s behavior reflects a lack of cultural and historical sensitivity.

Kinder’s comments come in the aftermath of the controversy surrounding the conduct of a small group of sixth graders at Parkway West Middle School, who created a “Hit a Jew Day” as part of Spirit Week at the school (“Middle school incident takes center stage,” Jewish Light, Oct. 29). So issues of sensitivity and respect were already large in the public consciousness during this period, and despite that backdrop, Kinder chose to use this unfortunate and grossly inappropriate analog.

It is one thing to debate the intentions of relatively life-inexperienced sixth graders about a “Hit a Jew Day”; it is quite another to discuss what a grown adult, let alone an experienced public servant, was thinking with this offensive comparison.

Whether intended or not (and we have no idea in that regard), the potential effect of Kinder’s words was to tie his opponent’s conduct to that of Hitler and Goebbels. We are doubtful that Kinder was suggesting that Page, also a well-respected public servant in his own right, is in some way similar to Nazi leaders. Regardless of campaign tactics or political differences, however, such a suggested link is beyond the bounds of public decency.

But if Kinder merely meant the “Big Lie” as something “really bad,” this too is a significant offense.

For to reduce phrases related to the annihilation of the Jews to pop culture renders them cheap and easy. In fact, Senator Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma was quoted as using a similar tactic in 2006 in denying the existence of human-created global warming: “It kind of reminds … I could use the Third Reich, the big lie,” Inhofe said. “You say something over and over and over and over again, and people will believe it, and that’s their strategy.”

Words do matter, and their usage matters — why else do we capitalize the “H” in Holocaust, if not to distinguish its horror from other historical events? Indeed, Hitler and Goebbels fully understood the power of words, as evidenced by implementation of the “Big Lie,” a concept that Hitler remarkably claimed in Mein Kampf was actually originated by Jews.

In this instance, Kinder diminishes the meaning of that heinous period of history in the context of one of a thousand campaigns for a government seat. The casual comparison to the Nazi leaders scratches off yet another layer of significance.

We respect Kinder’s public service and his dedication and commitment to the people of Missouri. But if we are going to use the Parkway West incident as a “teaching moment” to address cultural respect and sensitivity, then we have the same obligation — if not more so — with respect to the words uttered by a civic leader. And that same leader can take the opportunity to come forward to himself teach the community about why what he did was wrong.