I noticed in the news today the North Iowa Tea Party took down a billboard which created a firestorm of controversy by suggesting a common theme of danger and radical opportunism in what it labeled as Hitler’s National Socialism, Lenin’s Marxist Socialism and Obama’s Democrat Socialism. Understandably, there are complaints that it is crazy to suggest – even indirectly – that Obama would ever murder his political opponents – as did Hitler and Lenin. It is also just plain boring, at a certain point, to compare President Obama to Hitler or Lenin. (Although comparing him to the Joker still seems to me to be fresh and original.)
Apparently, the local Tea Party leaders got an earful of complaints like this and took down the ad. This strikes me as a little sad, in part, because I think it is perfectly fair to point out the eerie links between Hitler, Lenin and Obama in terms of their affection for socialism. Most people do not realize that Hitler’s NAZI party is actually the National Socialist German Workers’ Party. For my part, I’ve labeled the young Obama – who I met while he was a sophomore at Occidental College – as a Marxist socialist because this was the accurate description for his ideology back during the 1980-1981 school year.
The young Obama was insistent, for example, that a revolution was coming soon. Neither he nor any of his Marxist socialist friends – me included – ever assumed that this coming revolution would be a bloodless affair. Our understanding of Marxist socialist thought was developed in the context of successful, but extremely violent revolutions in Russia and China.
Personally, I’d feel more comfortable with President Obama if he dealt with his intellectual history and explained how – as most of us now assume – that he ended up quitting this inherently violent Marxist socialist perspective.
My larger take on this billboard is that it illustrates one of the weaknesses of a grass-roots, volunteer driven political movement like the Tea Party. It is difficult to produce hard-hitting, effective advertising in the context of a volunteer organization. The volunteers are usually unfamiliar with political discourse and easily get offended at tough tactics. There may be fear, for example, that tough ads will harm their standing with centrist and independents.
As a political campaigner, my experience is that ads like this generally work and that most voters are sophisticated enough to not take things literally or in a historically inaccurate manner.
As a political scientist, I would point out that the billboard ad was more historically accurate than many assume to be the case. In particular, the ad was useful in reminding people that – at first – Hitler and Lenin were greatly loved by the people in their own countries, people who shared a desire for “change” but did not understand the full implications of a seemingly well-meaning socialist agenda.