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Are You Ready for Some Hitler? ESPN Benches Hank Williams Jr. After Obama Comparison

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As country singer and Monday Night Football jinglemaster Hank Williams Jr. learned yesterday, Godwin’s Law is real, and there are penalties for violating it. Appearing on Fox News’ Fox and Friends to talk politics, the conservative Williams, in a rambling interview, criticized Speaker of the House John Boehner for playing golf with President Obama, saying that it would be like Hitler playing golf with Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu. And in case it was not entirely clear which party was der Führer in this comparison, Williams elaborated that Obama (along with Vice President Joe Biden) was “the enemy.”

By the end of the day, ESPN had reacted to the controversy, pulling Williams’ intro from Monday Night Football, though Williams is not a direct employee of the network. And Williams was soon amending his comments, after a fashion, saying that his point was that “working class people are hurting – and it doesn’t seem like anybody cares. When both sides are high-fiving it on the ninth hole when everybody else is without a job – it makes a whole lot of us angry. Something has to change. The policies have to change.”

Therefore Hitler! You see? It just adds up!

Honestly, I sort of see Williams’ fuzzily argued defense. If you go back and watch Williams’ entire interview with Fox (above), it’s clear that he does not like Obama at all. But he also doesn’t seem to be trying for some sort of sustained analogy that universal health care is a one-way ticket to concentration camps, or something like that. Instead, he just seems like that old specimen: a celebrity over his head in the wading pool of politics. Williams was fumbling to make a point and he reached for Hitler, the first resort of the chatroom commenter needing a synonym for “Somebody I really don’t like.” (Offered a chance to dig himself out of the hole by the hosts, Williams further argued that he opposed the idea of parties trying to work together to solve problems, while in the same breath saying that America’s problem is that “we’re more polarized than ever.”)

His Hitler line was offensive, yes, but in the general sense that nobody in America, even if they really, really do not like federal stimulus or not being able to buy their preferred light bulb, is suffering oppression comparable to the Holocaust. Conversely, ESPN’s move is probably an overreaction to an opinion that was not intelligent enough to take seriously in the first place (which is why it was perfect for Fox and Friends). But it’s also not censorship. The network is free to work with whomever it wants; it is in the sports entertainment business, not the free-flow-of-political-discourse business; and it is sort of the channel’s job to err on the side of overreacting to anything that risks alienating football fans.

Not to mention golf fans! Why bring Hitler into their innocent sport?