Down to the Wire: Hitler Hysteria

You know the gubernatorial campaign is heating up when Adolf Hitler gets dragged into it. In today’s development, two prominent Jewish leaders have called upon Jerry Kilgore to pull his pro-death-penalty ad that mentions Hitler — and to apologize. The Jewish leaders were Richmond lawyer Tommy Baer, a former president of B’Nail Brith International, and Rabbi Jack Moline of Alexandria, a former president of the Washington Board of Rabbis.

According to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, the two men directed their criticism at Stanley Rosenbluth (himself Jewish), who had appeared in the Kilgore ad. Rosenbluth, whose son and daughter-in-law had been murdered, chastised Tim Kaine for his tangential involvement in saving the couple’s killer from execution. As paraphrased by reporter Tyler Whitley, Baer and Moline said that Rosenbluth, “by invoking the name of Hitler, had trivialized the Holocaust and insulted its victims.” Said Whitley: “The two used such terms as blasphemous, sacrilegious, callous and cynical to describe the ad.”

My, my, my. I would characterize such scathing criticism as fully justified for someone who, to pick a hypothetical example, not that it would ever happen, compared President George Bush to Adolf Hitler.

But Rosebluth didn’t compare Tim Kaine to Adolf Hitler. He referred to Kaine’s own words in an interview with Times-Dispatch reporters some time ago, in which Kaine was asked whether, given his faith-based opposition to the death penalty, he would have executed Hitler, Josef Stalin or Idi Amin. The T-D’s summary of his response:

While he said they deserve the death penalty, he said, “God grants life, and God should take it away. … They deserve the death penalty. I just — you know, I look at the world. Most nations have decided not to have a death penalty. And — many are very safe. I don’t think — I don’t think it’s needed to be safe.”

Draw your own conclusion as to whether Kaine would have pulled the switch on ol’ Adolf. To me, it doesn’t sound like he would have. And decide for yourself if Rosenbluth was out of line by saying, “Tim Kaine says that Adolf Hitler doesn’t qualify for the death penalty.”

You can agree or disagree, given the vagueness of Kaine’s remark, but Baer and Moline are just flat-out wrong. Neither Kilgore nor Rosenbluth “invoked” Hitler’s name gratuitously. They were addressing Tim Kaine’s response to a hypothetical question. I find nothing “blasphemous,” “sacrilegious,” “callous” or “cynical” about Rosenbluth’s remarks, or Kilgore’s decision to run the ad.

As Whitley wryly observed in his story, “Baer and Moline said they had not read the full transcript of Kaine’s remarks about the death penalty.” Looks to me like they jumped the gun. What I find “cynical” is the way Baer and Moline “invoked” the sanctity of the Holocaust and the suffering of the Jews to make a partisan attack on Jerry Kilgore.

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  1. Mitch Cumstein Avatar
    Mitch Cumstein

    Stupid mistake on the part of the Kilgore campaign. They could have easily gone with an ad that hammered the point home without stirring up controversy. This ad loses him more votes than it gains him and motivates the Democratic base. Way to think it through, Jerr!

  2. Anonymous Avatar

    Sorry Jim, but I think you’re all wet on this one. The Hitler reference was explosive and sickening, taking the race to a place it didn’t need to go. It’s like taking a stance against torture and turning it into: Jim Bacon: wouldn’t even torture _Hitler_. It’s a gratioutos way to insert an explosive and emotional meme into the debate in order to distort it. Kilgore handily deserves all the criticism he’s getting on this one.

    As has been pointed out over and over, Kaine’s stance is no different than any number of celebrated Republican executives, Senators, and most recently Judge Roberts (who said he would recuse himself if he ever found his Catholic beliefs at odds with the law, and faced no criticism from the right). Chad et al are exceptional hypocrites on this one for defending the indefensible, especially given past criticisms of people on the left (well justified) that used Hitler references. Now, suddenly, it’s fair game. How quickly things change when what should be a natural 7 point lead becomes a dead heat.

  3. Anonymous Avatar

    It was unnecessary to drag old Adolph into this. Lowers the debate to the level of a freshman bull session. Three years ago I was expecting the debate to be over the DC sniper, and whether Tim Kaine would reject that clemency petition, which is likely to actually face the next governor. That will get the attention of everyone in Northern Va.

    But of course then we’d be dealing with the NAACP instead of Bnai Brith. Maybe that ad was all lined up until Bill Bennett shot off his mouth. (And this year’s Wingnut Foot In Mouth Award goes to…)

    All the hoopla in the media and on the blogs is just underlining Kilgore’s basic message, which cuts badly against Kaine. Kaine needs to change the subject in a big way.

  4. Anonymous Avatar

    I dunno. Kaine’s people seem to have hit a nerve on this. Not only does it brings a lot of money to Kaines coffers and shores up the base that had no strong reason to pay attention and support him in a race about boring bread and butter issues: now he’s being attacked by same-old same-old smear machine, and they’re waking up. Kilgore, on the other hand, is pretty underwhleming to most Republicans I know, and quite a few are disgusted by this new low being brought into Virginian politics. Some are ready to jump ship at this point. It’s only the true believers that seem to be excited by this. It also killed any public recognition over the endorsements Kilgore got: he basically rained on his own parade. All in all, a pretty flimsy move.

  5. Jim Bacon Avatar

    Maybe we need to take “Adolf Hitler” out of the debate. Someone needs to ask if Tim Kaine would be willing to execute Saddam Hussein. Saddam’s not evil on the same scale as Hitler, but he’s the best we’ve got in the world today. And the question has the virtue of not being a hypothetical. Saddam will undergo trial in the short future and may well be put to death.

    Admittedly, the question is irrelevant to Virginia. The governor of Virginia has no say in Iraqi jurisprudence. But it gets to the core question about Kaine’s death penalty beliefs — is there anyone evil enough to merit the death penalty — without creating all the distractions entailed by bringing Hitler into the picture.

  6. Not Guy Incognito Avatar
    Not Guy Incognito

    You know, Jim, for calling the death penalty issue “a debate of no practical consequence” to the voters of Virginia, you seem to be spending a lot of time on the issue.

    Republicans should be ashamed of these ads, plain and simple. My only fear is that they are going to work.

  7. Mitch Cumstein Avatar
    Mitch Cumstein

    Sorry, Jim, too late for that. The Kilgore campaign should have that this one through a little better. I agree, Saddam would have been a more relevant reference. But Hutch and Co. decided to go all out and have instead stepped on a land mine. Can’t put Adolph back in the box now.

  8. Will Vehrs Avatar
    Will Vehrs

    When Bush or Republicans are compared to Hitler, those on the left seldom summon any outrage.

    It’s like Bart Hinkle said: You’re nobody ’til somebody calls you Hitler.

  9. Married Man Avatar
    Married Man

    Will – Great point! The press compares Bush to Hitler ALL THE TIME!!!!! (Remember the political cartoons who paint a Hitler Mustache on W.) There’s NEVER any outrage from the left.

  10. Anonymous Avatar

    Full disclosure on one of Kilgore’s ads:

    ”Stanley” is Stanley Rosenbluth, founder of death penalty advocacy group, Virginians United Against Crime. While his son, Richard, and daughter-in-law Rebecca were murdered in 1993, the ads fail to inform viewers that the two were murdered by their cocaine dealer when they apparently ran short of cash. Apparently, both of the Rosenbluths “had traces of cocaine in their body at the time of their death, a fact that is not mentioned in the television ad or more recent accounts of their murder.

    More info. can be found at about half way down the page.

  11. Avatar

    I’m stunned at the silence of the Hitler campaign in all of this as I don’t understand how his people would let him be used as electoral fodder in this manner. Additionally, he’s got to feel like his moustache is getting short shrift due to all the attention on Jerry Kilgore’s twin brother, Terry….

    Basically, between the “we didn’t see the transcript but ridicule Kilgore” pro-Kaine supporters, the cokehead victims that Kilgore cries for, and the absolutely asinine suggestions that somehow because a majorty if people in a poll believe something that nullifies the moral & ethical dimensions of it, this whole issue – and election – has veered totally into the theater of the absurd. Meanwhile, my property tax payments keep going up, traffic worsens, and we still don’t see enough of the downticket folks….

    — Conaway

  12. Anonymous Avatar

    Whoa! I didn’t know Hitler was on Virginia’s death row – or even Saddam. What are the chances?

    Man, you learn something every day.

  13. criticallythinking Avatar

    So, A democrat-leaning reporter uses the name Hitler in an interview with the democrat candidate, and nobody complains.

    But when a person giving a PERSONAL testimony mentions what he read in the paper, NOW it’s off limits?

    I should also note that the normal rules about invoking hitler involve comparing people to hitler, or calling people hitler, not to references to the person who was Hitler.

    When I wrote my column, I almost use Idi Amin instead of Hitler, but I wasn’t sure everybody would know why he deserved the death penalty.

    Since Kaine said in the same interview that there was NO person he could think of that deserved the death penalty, maybe somebody should ask what character of person would sign a death warrant for a person who doesn’t deserve to die.

    Other, that is, than a person who would say what it takes to get elected.

    And don’t give me that “its the law” crap. The law specifically gives the Governor the right of clemency, and it is used in cases where the Governor has a good-faith belief that the person to be executed DOES NOT DESERVE TO DIE. That has always been the rule — we commute the sentence if we don’t think the person deserves to die.

    But Kaine said he doesn’t think ANY of the death row inmates deserve to die.

    Is he sending a signal?

  14. criticallythinking Avatar

    BTW, I would love nothing better than to see Kaine run an ad which says “Of course that person doesn’t deserve to die, his kids were coke-heads and were killed by their dealer”.

    Think he’d run that ad? No, but I bet he doesn’t mind his minions running around repeating it under the radar.

  15. criticallythinking Avatar

    Conaway –
    small correction. Kilgore’s ad is expressing sympathy with the FATHER, not the victims. I’m guessing the victims don’t care much whether their killer is put to death, being as they are dead.

  16. Anonymous Avatar

    Polticial ad: Jim Bacon: he’d even lower HITLERS taxes. The worst criminal the world has ever known!

    “When Bush or Republicans are compared to Hitler, those on the left seldom summon any outrage.”

    Kaine hasn’t used such references. Why should he have to answer as a hypocrite? It’s those on the right who were outraged by the references but now find it perfectly civil who are hypocritical, not centrist Democrats who supported people other than Gore or Dean (there are a heck of a lot of us you know, and quite a lot of them in Virginia).

    It’s either sticking to principle or sticking to party and trying to change the subject to the deeds of non-involved parties. You can’t do both.

  17. Anonymous Avatar

    “The governor of Virginia has no say in Iraqi jurisprudence. But it gets to the core question about Kaine’s death penalty beliefs — is there anyone evil enough to merit the death penalty — without creating all the distractions entailed by bringing Hitler into the picture.”

    For the purposes of the race, the distractions were brought in, making having any sort of substantive debate over the issue impossible between the two candidates. Kilgore’s previous ads hadn’t gone that far and kept it mostly in the range of legitimate questions. These new ones didn’t just cite Hitler: they mangled the facts and tried to make a complex subject into a matter of Kaine wanting murderers to go free and unpunished in the most exploitative way imaginable. I guess Ken Starr, Santorum, and other Catholic Republicans must be monsters too.

    Other than that, we are left with what Kaine said: he doesn’t personally like it, but as Governor, that’s his job: he isn’t being elected king of Virginia after all. The idea that he’d waste his political capital and scant 4 years fighting a battle he can’t win in Virginia is just laughably absurd. Given that Kaine could have lied, or had a public change of heart on the DP after, say, the sniper killings, and made his political road much much easier, I’m inclined to trust his word. His stance is too complicated and potentially vulnerable to be anything other than human.

  18. Walt Ball Avatar

    That Tommy Baer guy gave $450 bucks to Kaine in the last filing…over at VPAP. check it out. How lame is Shear to use the father of a Kaine staffer and a donor to the campaign? Lazy reporters are lame.

  19. Anonymous Avatar

    Let’s not forget…it was the Times-Dispatch, NOT Kilgore, who invited A. Hitler into the fray!

  20. Anonymous Avatar

    “That Tommy Baer guy gave $450 bucks to Kaine in the last filing”

    Oh my goodness: a guy at a Kaine press conference SUPPORTS KAINE!?!?! What are the odds! What an outrageous development this is!

    Geez, and YOU complain about lazy?

  21. Anonymous Avatar

    It would have made no difference and would make no difference now if the “Hitler question” had been the “Hussein question.” We all should be keenly aware that Kaine would have answered it the same. That is the nature of his faith.

    The question then is who really cares. I have no solid opinion on the death penalty, I don’t really care one way or the other because I know it has little to no relevance for the future of Virginia, certainly not as much relevance as such issues as say, education, transportation, and health care. Furthermore, Kaine has stated unequivocally that he will enforce the death penalty. Anyone with half an understanding of politics should know that he cannot now simply grant clemency unilaterally if elected. With such overwhelming support of the dealth penalty in Virginia, Kaine would effectively kill any and all other policy issues on his agenda by doing so. He wouldn’t have the political capital to tie his own shoes in the morning.

    That being realized, the Kilgore ads do indeed introduce a new low to Virginia politics, at least new to a 23 year old VA native. It is quite clear from the debates and the current ads that Jerry Kilgore has nothing positive to offer VA voters. He couldn’t even pledge 51% of his ads would be positive. He is relegated to tearing down his opponent and trying to paint himself as the lesser of two evils.

    I’m not saying this isn’t smart or effective politics, it probably will be effective, but that doesn’t make it any less shameful.

    Personally, I think Potts is the lesser of three evils, Kaine the lesser of two electable evils, and Kilgore, especially in light of these new ads, an evil worth avoiding at all costs. I furthermore think it sad that that is the current state of our democracy; the only decision we get to make is to decide who will screw up the Commonwealth the least.

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