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Enough With The Nazi References Already

At what point does the super-charged rivalry between America's two major political parties cross the line from hyberbole to hateful? I think we're there.

Used to be that "feminazi" - that less-than-charming putdown popularized by Rush Limbaugh in the 1990s - was the crowning insult of U.S. political discourse. But that was then. We've since graduated to the point where policy differences regularly lead to dismissals of opponents as Nazis. Yes, Nazis. The Goose-stepping, blitzkrieg-loving, ach du lieber progeny of the Fuhrer himself.

A fresh example: On Tuesday night, a questioner at Barney Frank's town hall meeting approached the microphone to ask why the Congressman supported a "Nazi policy."

Frank wasn't flustered. His response ought to be dipped in bronze for posterity: "You stand there with a picture of the President, defaced to look like Hitler, and compare the effort to increase health care to the Nazis. My answer to you is, as I said before, it is a tribute to the First Amendment that this kind of vile, contemptible nonsense is so freely propagated."

It's unclear what party, if any, the woman asking the question belongs to. During her harangue, she mentioned something about Lyndon LaRouche, the leader of a movement whose politics are from somewhere north of the planet Pluto. But the story here isn't about the rantings of a lone nut job. As the debate over health care reform heated up recently, more and more demonstrators have been sighted carrying placards like, "No to fascism," along with doctored images of President Obama with a Hitler moustache. Last month the White House warned against comparisons between the President and Hitler, saying that the critics are "on thin ice" and should "take that temperature down a bit."

As always, context is everything. The Swamp's Mark Silva notes the impact of Limbaugh and Glenn Beck through their attempts to link the Obama administration's health-care reforms with a fascist government plot. "The fervor surrounding some of the congressional town-hall sessions on health-care this summer carries unmistakable undertones of raw hatred for government," he wrote. "But Nazism?"

Earlier in the week, a camera caught a woman at a Las Vegas gathering organized by conservative radio hosts who shouted, "Heil Hitler" at a Jewish man while he was talking favorably about the government-run health care system in Israel.

Of course, when it comes to deploying out-of-bounds insults, the left can't play holier than thou. There's a long history dating back to the Nixon era of liberals hurling the "fascist" epitaph at Republican presidents and their policies. It doesn't make sense in either era. The only lesson here is that Americans either don't seriously study world history or have astonishingly short-term memories. Or maybe we've become so inured to the ravings of radio shock jocks and television opportunists that most folks no longer bat an eye when imagery from the Third Reich turns into a mere prop to score political cheap shots.

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    Charles Cooper is an executive editor at CNET News. He has covered technology and business for more than 25 years, working at CBSNews.com, the Associated Press, Computer & Software News, Computer Shopper, PC Week, and ZDNet. E-mail Charlie.