Newt Gingrich is an astute politician who knows the Holocaust is not something to be trifled with.
So the speaker of the House wasted no time in cashiering Christina Jeffrey, whom he had just named House historian, after it was publicized that years ago she made some impolitic comments about the Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan.
Gingrich’s swift action demonstrates he is decisive. The Republican firebrand from Georgia sees himself as a pivotal figure in American history, and he is not about to allow his crusade to reshape society be sidetracked by the 8-year-old musings of an expendable underling.
Jeffrey, prior to her short-lived appointment as House historian, was a professor at Kennesaw State College in Marietta, Ga.
In 1986, she served as a member of a federal Education Department panel charged with evaluating a course for eighth- and ninth-graders called “Facing History and Ourselves.”
The course was designed to teach about social morality and the role of citizens in fighting tyranny. It included treatment of the German genocide against Jews during World War II and the Turkish genocide against Armenians earlier in this century.
Jeffrey was quoted in the record of a congressional subcommittee, and included the comment: “The program gives no evidence of balance or objectivity. The Nazi point of view, however unpopular, is still a point of view and is not presented, nor is that of the Ku Klux Klan.”
The comments created a stir when first released in 1988, and they created a furor this week. What exactly do they mean? That Hitler and Goebbels’ points of view should be given equal billing to Roosevelt’s and Churchill’s? Or that the imperial wizard should be quoted in school texts?
Jeffrey claims that she is being slandered by critics, and resents the implication that she is antiSemitic.
The issue may not be anti-Semitism, but gross stupidity, not unlike that displayed last year at the University of Miami. In April, the student newspaper, with the acquiescence of a pliant administration, accepted an advertisement that questioned whether the Holocaust ever took place.
Students defended their decision to run the ad by arguing their newspaper was a “vehicle for information” and that printing this point of view was a noble demonstration of academic freedom.
What nonsense. Printing lies in the interest of academic freedom, and thereby giving them a semblance of legitimacy, will quickly turn a university into an academic slum.
Gingrich is aware that on the far fringes of his party there are some pretty bizarre points of view floating around.
Conspiracy theories abound, centered on a secret, evil cabal of corporate and media elite working to destroy freedom, undermine racial purity and impose a one-world tyranny on us all.
The ultra-right has its own demonology that includes the Jews and the Masons, the Rothschilds and the Rockefellers, the Trilateral Commission and the Council on Foreign Relations.
Many people in the right-wing extreme interpret the New Testament’s Book of Revelation literally, and believe the Antichrist has arrived and Armageddon has begun.
Millions of Americans, who endorse Republican efforts to reduce the size of government and restore the idea of individual responsibility, are frightened by the rhetoric and conspiracy theories of the ultra-right.
Gingrich has a big task ahead of him, and he needs the center of his party more than the fringe to achieve success. He can’t afford to put on the payroll Republicans whose words seem to give credence to the points of view of Klansmen and Nazis, and it’s good to see he recognizes this.