The turmoil in the United States surrounding the Affordable Care Act, better known as “Obamacare”, has baffled onlookers around the globe. Most Americans pay far more for their medical expenses than people in other countries. Yet a sizable percentage of them seem to equate this state of affairs with freedom. Conspiracy theories about the new government program are rampant, creating perfect conditions for the confusing radical politics of Lyndon LaRouche and his followers, who have been making outrageous claims about world leaders for decades.
If you read the LaRouche organization’s literature, you will learn that he was the first person to demonstrate the connection between cost-saving measures incorporated into the Affordable Care Act and the medical policies of Nazi Germany. Sarah Palin and other right-wing commentators would follow his lead in deploring the “Death Panels” supposedly empowered to cut off treatment for purely financial reasons, but only because his organization had laid the groundwork for them.
In Germany, the home of LaRouche’s wife Helga, these charges resonate differently than they do in the United States, where the specter of fascism can seemingly be invoked now with the slightest provocation. Calling someone a “Nazi” is an insult in Washington, but a matter of considerably more gravity in Germany, where the nation’s Basic Law was specifically drafted in response to Adolph Hitler’s reign.
Because the LaRouche organization works hard to synchronize its various national chapters, Obamacare remains a primary target regardless of the setting. This leads to some curious effects, as in this protest recently photographed in Stuttgart. While LaRouche operatives have been implying that the President is a fascist for years, sometimes going so far as to display a photograph of him sporting a Hitler moustache, identifying him with the slogan “Nie wieder Euthanasie!” — “Euthanasia: never again! — in a German context feels more serious somehow.
It’s also an example of the smears that the LaRouche organization is famous for. Whatever one thinks of the Affordable Care Act, it’s immediately apparent to anyone who actually reads it that “Death Panels” are a paranoid fantasy. The reality is not far removed from what happens in the American private sector right now, where one’s health insurance is meted out by companies with a mandate to pursue profit above all else. To equate the act with the Nazis’ efforts to euthanize the disabled and mentally ill is libelous, particularly in a place where such an accusation is not to be — indeed, can not be — taken lightly.
Tellingly, the members of BüSo, the German LaRouche party, displayed this attack on the President next to a placard featuring the now-ubiquitous image of Edward Snowden. Titled “Hero or traitor?”, it reminds the people who see it that Barack Obama is implicated in the massive NSA surveillance controversy that has soured the relationship between the United States and her closest allies. In other words, the juxtaposition of these two superficially unconnected placards hints that the White House’s fascist tendencies are manifesting themselves in two distinct areas.
Whether anyone who saw this protest took it seriously is unclear. But if the LaRouche organization’s success at getting its messages picked up by mainstream American politicians is any indication, it may not even matter whether BüSo is considered a credible party. Although LaRouche ran repeatedly for President, attracting a miniscule percentage of votes, his purpose was not to win an election, so much, as to win attention. If only a dozen of the people who saw these placards went away with the Obama-Hitler analogy stuck in their heads, the damage to the Presidency would be great.
Commentary by Charlie Bertsch. Photographs courtesy of Joel Schalit.