April 23, 2024

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There is a well-known-in-Internet-circles joke from a Twitter user known as “wint.”

“[I]ssuing correction on a previous post of mine, regarding the terror group ISIL,” it reads. “you do not, under any circumstances, ‘gotta hand it to them’ ”

That combination of flippant praise for a bunch of murderers with the belated acknowledgment of the mistake — and the underrated formality of issuing a “correction” — fits any number of exchanges on speak-first-think-later social media platforms.

But it can also apply to other formats. Like radio talk-show interviews.

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In February 2021, businessman Carl Paladino appeared on such a program. Paladino has long been an ally of Donald Trump’s and is a well-known name in New York business and politics. He recently announced his candidacy for New York’s 23rd Congressional District, quickly earning the endorsement of House Republican Conference Chair Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.).

But 16 months ago, he was just Carl Paladino, a guy who called in to local Buffalo radio shows. And who, without prompting, offered praise for Adolf Hitler.

At the time, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo was under fire, facing allegations of inappropriate conduct that would lead to his resignation. Paladino was asked how to get the public engaged in advocating for change.

“I was thinking the other day about somebody had mentioned on the radio Adolf Hitler and how he aroused the crowds,” Paladino said, according to audio unearthed by Media Matters. “And he would get up there screaming these epithets, and these people were just — they were hypnotized by him. That’s, I guess, I guess that’s the kind of leader we need today. We need somebody inspirational.”

He added that the state needed a “doer,” although it’s not clear whether he was suggesting that Hitler was a “doer.” But, of course, noting Hitler’s oratorical skills — and his use of epithets! — as positive is sufficiently cringeworthy on its own.

A request for a response from the Paladino campaign was not received by the time of publication. Paladino did tweet this, however, soon after the Media Matters report was published.

This is not Paladino’s first demonstrated example of saying things that might prompt a sheepish response. In 2016, shortly after Trump won the presidency, Paladino accidentally sent a Buffalo publication a comment about then-first lady Michelle Obama that he claimed he had meant to send only to friends.

“I’d like her to return to being a male and let loose in the outback of Zimbabwe,” he wrote, “where she lives comfortably in a cave with Maxie, the gorilla.”

“I filled out the survey to send to a couple friends and forwarded it to them not realizing that I didn’t hit ‘forward,’ I hit ‘reply,’ ” Paladino said at the time. “All men make mistakes.”

Again, Paladino was not a candidate at the time of his interview in February 2021. But he had been a candidate for governor in 2010 (losing handily to Democrat Cuomo) and was still involved in Republican politics. He was a member of the Buffalo school board … until soon after the Michelle Obama incident. The standard for Americans generally is to be cautious about how and when one might praise Hitler, should you for some reason feel an urge to do so. For a well-known businessman and politician, the standard is far higher.

It’s hard to disentangle Paladino’s comment about Hitler’s appeal from his support for Trump and the drift of his party. Trump rose to prominence within the GOP specifically because of his ability to rile up audiences — often using epithets that reflected the anger of the far right. In 2017, more than 4 in 10 Republicans expressed support for a system of government predicated on a strong leader unencumbered by legislative constraints, which is to say favoring an autocrat or dictator who held power in the same manner as Hitler. Paladino didn’t express support for Hitler’s policies or for Nazi Germany’s political system, but he did note with approval Hitler’s willingness to inflame his audiences. To what end?

I would not have thought this needed to be said, but apparently it does. There are not many people in human history for whom there’s no benefit in pointing out positive qualities, but the man who orchestrated the mass murder of millions of predominantly Jewish Europeans is one of them. The guy who triggered a global conflict between freedom and fascism at a cost of hundreds of thousands of U.S. soldiers is not someone that it’s valuable to treat as having some useful skills. There are other people who did a better job of energizing populations than a man who also tried to murder a lot of that same population.

In other words, politicians, I would say this: You do not, under any circumstances, have to praise Adolf Hitler’s ability to rile up a crowd.

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