Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Ignorance of history

I think I've mentioned before that I don't watch much TV, and very little TV news. But while I was waiting this morning in the staffing service's reception area, they had Fox News on.

Senator James Sasser, I believe, was on the morning lineup. I didn't quite catch it when someone called him by name. Really, news channels ought to have name banners up all the time, in case you tune in late. Anyhow, the guest was a former senator who also served as ambassador to China, and Sasser fits. I took note of his absurd remarks once he downplayed the emergence of "democracy" in the Middle East. (I prefer to say "self-rule" because pure democracy is tyranny of the majority). One of his reasons? He claimed that Hitler was elected democratically. Ah yes, the old fallacy that you can't let people elect their own leaders, because they might elect a dictator.

This has been blogged about ever since Ted Rall's rubbish cartoon comparing George W. Bush to Hitler, with the bogus claim that they're alike because both were elected "democratically." Well, no matter what Sasser, Rall and other historical revisionists claim, Hitler was never "elected democratically" -- and let me give my own little rundown of the history.

The Nazis were elected by a plurality, not a majority. They simply had the most seats in the Reichstag, whose seats were apportioned among the various political parties by how much of the popular vote each party won. In the 1930 elections, the Nazis won 18% of the popular vote, making them the second-largest party. However, not being a majority, they had to cope and negotiate with the other factions.

In the March 1932 presidential election, Hitler received only 30% of the vote, while President Hindenburg received 49%. However, winning required a true majority of the vote, so a runoff election was held in April. Hindenburg had a clear victory with 53 percent. In July that same year, the Nazis won 230 out of 608 total seats. They were still not a majority, but they had become the largest political party and could try to exert real power. In the November 1932 elections, though, after all the political struggles and stalemates, they lost 34 seats.

After a two-month stint with the ineffective Kurt von Schleicher as chancellor, President Hindenburg and his advisors decided to name Hitler to the post. They believed they could control him, assuming he'd have to join coalitions and work with other factions -- after all, the Nazis weren't a majority. But Hindenberg was a bit senile and depended greatly on his naïve aides, and as the saying goes, the rest is history. The Reichstag eventually passed the "Enabling Law," effectively giving Hitler dictator powers. It allowed him to pass laws without needing the Reichstag, solidifying the appointed Hitler's totalitarian rule.

So the next time someone claims that Hitler was elected democratically, tell him he's full of it. I wish the Fox News anchor or the other guest had called Sasser on his ignorance of history.

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