In July of 2012, Gov. Paul LePage made an ill-advised comparison of the Internal Revenue Services to the Nazi Gestapo. Appropriately, much of the state reacted strongly.
Newspapers wrote editorials expressing outrage. Columnists slammed yet another offensive comment made by the governor. Political opposition piled on. And Phil and I started the bipartisan demand for an apology. Thankfully, the governor gave that apology a week later.
Unfortunately, this past week, the same did not occur when the word “Gestapo” was used against him.
Last week, a restaurant in Portland, Mesa Verde, closed its doors after a Jan. 15 health inspection showed fruit flies, clogged drains, improper temperature controls and a drunk cook. Despite these self-inflicted problems, the restaurant decided to blame LePage by writing in the window, “Shutdown by the new Gestapo of Augusta – Governor LePage.”
While I have no idea how the failed inspection could possibly be LePage’s fault (and Lord knows I am more than willing to find fault with the governor), even if it were, it would still be highly inappropriate to use a Nazi reference to describe the action.
Lest we forget, the Gestapo was the secret police for Nazi Germany. Initially imprisoning and killing thousands, the Gestapo in the latter half of the Nazi reign was central in carrying out the Final Solution — the extermination of the Jewish people throughout German-occupied Europe. Obviously, comparing a health inspector to something of this magnitude is trivializing and deeply insensitive to the millions who were murdered.
And this is where the hypocrisy comes in. Although I didn’t see anyone celebrating the use of this word, our state was also silent in condemning this ethnically charged language being used against the governor.
No press releases. No columns. No editorials reminding Mainers of the harm that word can cause or defending the administration against such a disgusting comparison.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I understand the difference between a governor saying something and some schmuck with a can of spray paint. Elected officials should always be held to the highest standards in regard to the language they use, as they represent entire constituencies.
But the word is still the word, and it was displayed statewide in newspapers. All of us in politics and the media should never allow language like this to be used lightly in a political context (or any, for that matter).
When someone compares our governor to the Gestapo, just like when our governor compares the IRS to the same, we must condemn the action forcefully and absolutely.
Posted by Ethan Strimling and dedicated to his grandmother, Edith Steinberg, who passed away this week at the age of 97. Born before women had the right to vote, her personal stationary said, “From the desk of a liberated woman.”
Note: Ethan is on the Board of the New England Anti Defamation League which fights antisemitism and all forms of bigotry, while protecting civil rights for all. However, these words are his own and nothing here should be construed as being written as a board member or on behalf of the organization.