In last Friday's edition of Oregon State University's daily newspaper, The Barometer, I found an article criticizing Barack Obama's tax policies. The writer, Peter Druckenmiller, a junior in new media communication, basically argues that Obama is opening a can of worms by raising taxes for the rich and will as a second step raise everybody's taxes as well. Therefore, the author opposes any type of financial support for people who haven't paid many taxes in their lives, for example students.

So far, so good. Druckenmiller finishes, however, with a curious Third Reich comparison:

Martin Niemöller once said, "When they came for me, there were none left to speak out." He was referring to the Nazi's ideology of selecting one group to persecute, and laid out the Nazi progression from Communists to Jews and finally to himself. The same logic should be employed when examining the class warfare of Obama and Biden: if we allow any to be exploited (wealthy or not), then we are allowing all to be exploited.

Unlike many of my fellow Germans, I am usually not sensitive to nazi comparisons (I must confess: I am a fan of Seinfeld's soup nazi). However, this one struck me as so inappropriate that I decided to write a letter to the editor. Comparing the systematic extermination of political and ideological opponents with any type of tax policy is going too far.

Here is the short comment I wrote to the paper:

Congratulations, Peter. By making a grotesque nazi comparison in the last paragraph, you managed to lose every ounce of credibility you tried to build up in the entire article before. That, my friend, takes serious skills only few will ever master. Quite ironically, your apparent, kafkaesque fear of "communism" was much more a property of national socialism than financial support for society's most needy members, that you choose to compare so inappropriately with it. It doesn't even matter if people follow your--admittedly weak--arguments or not (you may have missed that "richer people pay more" is not an unknown concept even in the US, with a progressive income tax like most countries), if you want to convince, not deceive, people, you first need to get your research straight. Maybe you shouldn't have stopped reading that history book of yours after the first page after all.

Writers, please learn a lesson from Peter: Arguing with extremes is hardly ever convincing, in particular if you mess up the comparison. If you have a nazi reference readily available for your next submission to your school's newspaper, I suggest you leave it in your pocket and consider arguing differently. Chances are people may read, maybe even agree with you, and above all, you avoid making a complete fool of yourself.

Update: Jean Pierre points me to Godwin's Law, which, in turn, led me to the logical fallacy named "Reductio ad Hitlerum". Druckenmiller abuses a Nazi comparison in an apparent attempt to avoid rational discussion of the issue at hand.

Update: Tara mentioned an article in today's edition of the Barometer, entitled "Don't fall to trappings of Godwin's law". Columnist Bill Bradford writes:

"I dislike criticizing fellow Barometer columnists, but Wozich and Druckenmiller deserve it. In fact, I'm not just calling them out, but demanding they have their GOP American flag lapel pins removed and placed in safekeeping until they can prove they are capable of avoiding Godwin's Law."

Thanks, Bill, for reminding me that student journalism isn't completely out of its mind quite yet.

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