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Phil Harriman, a former town councilor and state senator from Yarmouth, is the founding partner of Lebel & Harriman, a financial services firm. Ethan Strimling, a former mayor and state senator from Portland, is the president of Swing Hard. Turn Left, which promotes progressive policy at the local, state and national levels.
Ethan: Do you remember back in 2012 when we posted a column in the Bangor Daily News beginning a bipartisan call for Gov. Paul LePage to apologize for comparing the IRS to the Gestapo?
Phil: I do. I was thankful that within a week of that post he apologized in his weekly radio address. He quickly understood how out of bounds and insensitive his comment was.
Ethan: I believe it was the only time he apologized for one of his off-color remarks, but I thought his words were very helpful: “Millions of innocent people were murdered and I apologize for my insensitivity to the word and the offense some took to my comparison of the IRS and the Gestapo.”
Phil: I also appreciate that a couple of years later you called out an angry restaurant owner, who had been shut down for health violations, for comparing LePage to those same Nazi police. There is no place for minimizing the Holocaust to simply score political points by Republicans or against Republicans.
Ethan: Agree, and that’s why it was so disappointing to recently see two Maine political leaders go off the deep end with similar language. First our political analyst colleague on News Center Maine and conservative talk show host, Ray Richardson, likened a proposed requirement that federal workers receive vaccines to “Obama-Biden’s brown shirts” and then eight days later Rep. Heidi Sampson claimed Gov. Janet Mills was Joseph Mengele, the Nazi “Angel of Death.”
Phil: Really disheartening. For our readers who don’t know, the “Brown Shirts” carried out Kristallnacht. Over two days, Hitler’s enforcement arm, who were called the “Brown Shirts” due to the color of their uniforms, marched through the streets of Nazi Germany destroying hundreds of synagogues, thousands of Jewish businesses and arresting up to 30,000 Jewish men who were then sent to concentration camps.
Ethan: And the “Angel of Death,” Joseph Mengele, was responsible for selecting who would get gassed at Auschwitz, he often administered the gas himself, and he performed experiments on live Jews in his sadistic drive to prove and replicate racial superiority.
Phil: I read one story of how he tortured a 6-year-old twin named Renate (he was obsessed with “experimenting” on twins). He took blood from her neck, strapped her to a table, cut her with a knife and injected her with chemicals to make her throw up and have diarrhea.
Ethan: Those stories are sadly endless. And they make it so vivid why comparing anything happening today to what was done by the Nazis is very troubling.
Phil: Richardon and Sampson’s comments were inappropriate, painful and ethnically insensitive. For those who lost loved ones to the racist hand of Hitler’s charges, their comments simply trivialize the pain.
Ethan: And are historically inaccurate. One may believe that federal or state mandates that require a vaccine for employment are a bad idea (I do not), but to trivialize the Holocaust to make that point shows both ignorance of history and a deep insensitivity to other cultures and ethnicities.
Phil: Deciding whether to inject an FDA-approved vaccine into your body to keep your job, is a legitimate public debate. Holocaust comparisons just distract and are insulting. We called on the governor to apologize back in 2012 and within a week he did. Here’s hoping these two do, too.
Ethan: Here, here. And let me add a note of thanks for you being the first Republican in Maine to condemn these remarks. You were one of the only to do it against LePage, and you are showing leadership here again. I know how hard it is to take on your own.