Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Dudes: Opposing a tax increase doesn't make one a Nazi; let's "damp down" the political rhetoric in Amherst

As I've said, this blog is not going to turn into one devoted to local politics, but as I also said, there are occasions when the historical concerns of this site and the larger issues of town affairs intersect.

As my reader will know, I'm always on the lookout for inappropriate historical analogies, particularly when they involve Nazism, which is something that I know something about. They are too numerous to count or address, so I choose to highlight select ones, or sometimes random cases that I just happen across. Here's one local example of the latter.

One of the most contentious issues on the ballot today is the proposed tax override (for you outsiders, Massachusetts Prop 2 1/2, following the pattern set by California way back in the 1970s, requires voters to approve any property-tax increase above the legally mandated 2.5 percent per year).

Tax increases are never uncontroversial, and in the current depressed fiscal climate, advocates and opponents alike can generate strong arguments as well as strong passions. Most people in my circles seem to support the override, whether enthusiastically or reluctantly. However, I know many other people who strongly oppose it for a variety of either ideological or practical reasons. Each group tends to think the worst of the other. This year's debate has been even more heated than usual because it coincides with ongoing controversies over our schools and the extent to which they are managed efficiently (1, 2, 3, 4).

Here's one case in which the political rhetoric got terribly out of hand. Local political gadfly Larry Kelley (self-proclaimed admirer of Robert Kennedy, diehard fan of the American flag, and diehard foe of the town's Cherry Hill golf course) is one of the most widely read local bloggers, known for castigating our liberal-leftist foibles, real or imagined. A strong opponent of this and other overrides, he has of course been posting regularly about it. The comment section of his blog is, let us say, among the more frank and freewheeling sites of local political discussion. Probably most of the anonymous posters are in agreement with his views, but there are the plenty of challenges, as well.

This comment, in which an anonymous reader called Larry a genocidal Nazi, crossed a red line:
Yellow signs = black death said... [the anti-override signs are yellow and black; JW]

In 2007, Amherst voters defeated the proposed override, setting off $7 million in cuts to annual, recurring expenses and changing forever how Amherst gets its work done.

The town is in better fiscal shape than it has ever been. Everyone agrees on that.

Now, what?

There is only $1.7 million left -- the schools.

Now, you want us to...

... finish off the schools?

Yes!!! The children must be made to pay!!

Why don't you just set up a gas chamber at the schools, it would be cheaper.

Start with the youngest.

Leave the oldest, to work in your factories. Someone has to clean up this mess.

Yellow signs = black death
I'm familiar with Godwin's law, and yet, I was taken aback. This is just deeply offensive, thoughtless, and idiotic. As I've said on these pages before, few if any things are "like" the Nazis (Larry himself has been known to slip into that mode of argument). To liken school budget cuts to Nazi genocide is to desecrate the memory of the 1.5 million children murdered in the Holocaust (1, 2). But even if one has no historical-moral sensitivity, one at least should not have a tin ear for political effectiveness. Resorting to this sort of mudslinging just makes one look lazy and stupid and undercuts the cause that one claims to support. Is that so very hard to understand?

Please, folks, let's take a step back and take it easy. Whatever happens on March 23, we are all going to have to live together and pull together on March 24.

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