Paul Rosenberg: The week started off with news that former V.P. candidate Sarah Palin had compared the federal debt to slavery, and finished off with the New York Times and “Good Morning America” comparing problems with the rollout of Obamacare exchanges with Bush’s catastrophic non-response to Hurricane Katrina. Such comparisons are both ghastly and ludicrous — 1,833 people died in Katrina, while millions died due to slavery, not to mention the part where tens of millions lived their whole lives as slaves — yet conservatives can’t seem to stop themselves from glibly making them, equating slavery with anything they don’t like (except when they’re praising it), and Katrina with any problem President Obama might have. What’s more, the so-called liberal media seems less likely to challenge them than to follow their lead, or at least give them a pass.
Last month MSNBC’s Morgan Whittaker noted that Obamacare had joined a list of four other things that conservative politicians and media figures had compared to slavery just this year: abortion (Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan and former Gov. Mike Huckabee); affirmative action (Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas in Fisher v. University of Texas); welfare (Sen. Rand Paul [technically just “servitude”] and E.W. Jackson, GOP candidate for lieutenant governor in Virginia); and gun control (Glenn Beck and Fox News host Shepard Smith). The slavery comparison is uniquely offensive, given the unfathomable evil that slavery was, but the way in which conservatives glibly treat it as a political plaything is anything but unique.
Case in point: As early as April 2010, Media Matters had counted eight different things that had been touted as “Obama’s Katrina,” including the BP oil spill (Limbaugh, Drudge, Fox.etc. vs. facts here); the GM bankruptcy (Politico, June 8, 2009); the H1N1 flu (Rush Limbaugh, Nov. 3, 2009); the Fort Hood shootings (Human Events, Nov. 11, 2009); the Christmas underwear bomber (Pajamas Media, Dec. 29, 2009); the Haiti earthquake (Wall Street Journal, Jan. 25, 2010); the Kentucky ice storms (Confederate Yankee, Feb. 1, 2010); and even housing policies in Chicago back when Obama was a state senator (Mickey Kaus, Slate, June 30, 2008).
Of course the list has kept growing since then, with the IRS and Benghazi as two top favorite additions. Conservatives are especially fond of Benghazi, since it lets them tweet things like “You could call #Benghazi Obama’s Watergate, except no one died,” as Texas Rep. Steve Stockman did on May 8, 2013. This elides the entire history of Watergate: It began with the Plumbers, formed to plug leaks in the wake of the Pentagon Papers (burglarizing Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist looking for dirt to smear Ellsberg with), the release of which was necessary because Nixon’s “secret plan” to end the Vietnam War was to continue the Vietnam War, in which tens of thousands of U.S. soldiers died. But it’s damn hard to fit all that into 140 characters. Hence the usefulness of the “Watergate” accusation.