This is how I think.
Dr. Scott Jensen, Minnesota's GOP governor candidate, defending making a Holocaust analogy
Republican candidate for governor Scott Jensen is proud of his wildly offensive Holocaust analogy, actually
If there’s one thing Minnesota Republican gubernatorial candidate Scott Jensen wants the voting public to know, it’s that he is super duper into making analogies between government efforts to mitigate an ongoing, catastrophic pandemic, and Nazi Germany’s systematic eradication of European Jewry during the 1930s and ‘40s. With everything else going on in the world today, this is evidently what Jensen really, really wants to focus on. And folks? If nothing else, it’s certainly A Choice™.
Here’s the background: In April, Jensen — a staunchly anti-choice, anti-urban, pro-COVID candidate — spoke at a conservative “mask off” event, where he compared Minnesota’s various pandemic responses to Hitler’s rise to power in Germany. Specifically, he compared them to Kristallnacht, the infamous “night of broken glass” in which thousands of Jewish-owned stores, homes, and synagogues were destroyed by various Nazi party figures.
“If you remember, go back to World War II. If you look at the 1930s and you look at it carefully, we could see some things happening. Little things that people chose to push aside. ‘It’s going to be okay,’” Jensen explained. “And then the little things grew into something bigger. Then there was a night called Kristallnacht. The night of the breaking glass. Then there was the book burning, and it kept growing and growing, and a guy named Hitler kept growing in power, and World War II came about.”
“In a way,” he concluded, “I think that’s why you’re here today.”
Now to be clear, this is not only a grotesquely offensive analogy that both cheapens and distorts the Nazis’ overt effort to eradicate a distinct ethno-religious group, but also, as far as comparisons go on a purely rhetorical level, it’s a pretty lousy one! There are tons of better analogies Jensen could have used here to describe governmental overreach! There’s the time Ronald Reagan shuttered federal mental hospitals, effectively dumping the residents onto the street; there’s the time the Bush administration enacted a sweeping, warrantless domestic spying agenda in the name of national security; you get the idea. And yet, it’s Nazi Germany’s industrialized extermination of Jews (to say nothing of communists, Roma communities, and queer people) that Jensen thinks is best suited to make his case. Hmm.
Shortly after Jensen’s comments were made public this month, a host of Jewish organizations condemned the remarks for, y’know, being incredibly offensive. The local Jewish Community Relations Counsel even offered to meet with Jensen to explain why.
All of which brings us to Tuesday afternoon, when Jensen took a good hard look at the many Jewish organizations telling him that he’d offended them, and decided that, no, actually, he hadn’t. Sorry, not sorry!
“I want to speak to a little bit of a hubbub that’s been in the media lately about whether or not I was insensitive in regards to the Holocaust,” Jensen explained in a Facebook Watch video. “I don’t believe I was.”
Jensen then solemnly recited theologian Martin Niemoller’s now clichéd “first they came for ... ” poem, like this was a 10th grade book report and not an official campaign statement, and reasoned that “when I make a comparison that says that I saw government policies intruding on American freedoms incrementally, one piece at a time, and compare that to what happened in the 1930s, I think it's a legitimate comparison.”
“It may not strike your fancy,” Jensen concluded. “That’s fine. But this is how I think, and you don’t get to be my thought-police person.”
As far as statements go, this one is something of a mixed bag. On one hand, he’s pulling a sort of Ricky Gervais/Dave Chappelle card by insisting that it’s your fault for being offended because he’s just keeping it real. On the other hand, he did go with the gender-neutral “thought-police person,” so.
Ultimately, Jensen’s biggest misstep may be his obstinate insistence on being absolutely right, 100% of the time, no matter what. In the midst of the MAGAfication of the GOP, I’m not sure if “trivializing the Holocaust” is, in and of itself, the sort of political suicide it once was. But I suspect there may be plenty of voters for whom this sort of stubborn sense of inflated self-importance is enough of a turn-off that whatever hole Jensen has chosen to dig for himself just became inescapably deep.