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Posted at 12:50 PM ET, 01/20/2011

Steve Cohen: I regret that Goebbels crack created "distraction," but Republicans are still liars

By Greg Sargent

Dem Rep. Steve Cohen, who refused to back off last night in the face of criticism of his reference to Goebbels and the GOP's "big lie" technique, is out with a new statement on the matter:

Taken out of context, I can understand the confusion and concern. In speaking about the Republican message of "government takeover of health care" that has been drummed into the heads of Americans and the media for more than a year, I referenced the non-partisan, Pulitzer prize-winning judgment that named the Republican message as the "2010 Lie of the Year."

"While I regret that anything I said has created an opportunity to distract from the debate about health care for 32 million Americans, I want to be clear that I never called Republicans Nazis. Instead, the reference I made was to the greatest propaganda master of all time. Propaganda, which is called "messaging" today, can be true or false. In this case, the message is false.

"I would certainly never do anything to diminish the horror of the Nazi Holocaust as I revere and respect the history of my people. I sponsored legislation which created one of the first state Holocaust Commissions in America and actively served as a Commission member for over 20 years. I regret that anyone in the Jewish Community, my Republican colleagues or anyone else was offended by the portrayal of my comments. My comments were not directed toward any group or people but at the false message and, specifically, the method by which is has been delivered.

"It is disappointing that my comments have been used to distract from the health care reform debate. It is my hope that we can return our focus to the matter at hand-health care for 32 million Americans."

Parse this and it's clear Cohen is not budging. He reiterates that he didn't compare Republicans to Nazis, and rejects the claim that his remarks diminshed the Holocaust. Meanwhile, he's expressing regret that his remarks allowed others to create a distraction from the health debate. And he regrets the fact that some people were offended by "the portrayal" of what he said, not the comments themselves.

Meanwhile, by making the unabashed claim that today's GOP health care "messaging" is "propaganda" by another name, Cohen is standing by his core allegation about a massive Republican campaign of mendacity. He's not backing off one bit.

By Greg Sargent  | January 20, 2011; 12:50 PM ET
Categories:  Health reform, House Dems, House GOPers  
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Next: Newsflash: Founders favored "government run health care"


"I regret that anyone in the Jewish Community, my Republican colleagues or anyone else was offended by the portrayal of my comments."

Is that an apology?

Posted by: sbj3 | January 20, 2011 12:55 PM | Report abuse

sbj -- he regrets that people were offended by the "portrayal" of his comments. No apology. Sticking to his guns.

Posted by: Greg Sargent | January 20, 2011 12:58 PM | Report abuse

"Is that an apology?"

From an elected official? Yes. Anyone else? No. Elected officials are never in the wrong. Their words, however, are often misinterpreted.

Posted by: NoVAHockey | January 20, 2011 1:00 PM | Report abuse

*tempest in a teapot*

Posted by: KaddafiDelendaEst | January 20, 2011 1:02 PM | Report abuse

Why should he apologize? Republicans are, in fact, liars.
And why is it okay for Republicans to call Democrats socialists? Are they comparing us to Stalin?
What's the problem here?

Posted by: DKB755 | January 20, 2011 1:02 PM | Report abuse

This would have read better if he had changed:

"I regret that anyone in the Jewish Community, my Republican colleagues or anyone else was offended by the portrayal of my comments."


"I regret that anyone in the Jewish Community, my Republican colleagues or anyone else was offended by my comments."

Rep. Cohen isn't responsible for how his comments are "portrayed", therefore he has no need to apologize for what others do and by framing it that way is actually being disingenuous. The classic non-apology apology.

If he regrets making the comments themselves because they were insensitive, uncivil, impolitic, or just a bad idea, then he should say so straight up. If he doesn't regret making them then he shouldn't issue a fake apology.

Posted by: jnc4p | January 20, 2011 1:02 PM | Report abuse

Fine, I believe him. How many people now will pull back on their statements about Palin and Blood Libel?

Posted by: Bailers | January 20, 2011 1:03 PM | Report abuse

Blue on blue... heartache on heartache...

Posted by: KaddafiDelendaEst | January 20, 2011 1:05 PM | Report abuse

It is time for Rep Cohen to change tactics. Since the right insists on focusing on the Rep's poor choice of words, it is time for him to come clean about what he meant. Clearly, he meant the comparison as a form of admiration; for the GOP's ability to perpetuate the big lie about Health Care Reform is right up there with the biggest lies ever told. If you're spreading propoganda, really, can you do any better than that? Clearly the Repubs agree - they aren't defending their claims as truthful, they're trying to win by applying Godwin's law. That is telling.

Posted by: bsimon1 | January 20, 2011 1:11 PM | Report abuse

[Bailers observed: "How many people now will pull back on their statements about Palin and Blood Libel?"]

Guess that was Greg's angle all along?

...but nobody howled back. *sob*

Grade: F (fail)

Posted by: KaddafiDelendaEst | January 20, 2011 1:14 PM | Report abuse

Now Rush hit back at Cohen. Anderson Cooper finally took the Congressman to task.

Posted by: clawrence12 | January 20, 2011 1:18 PM | Report abuse

So much for Democrats taking the high road. Cohen is no better than Limbaugh or Beck in his use of deceit.

Posted by: WashingtonDame | January 20, 2011 1:25 PM | Report abuse

I remember when Dick Turban caused an outrage with his Pol Pot slam on the US military. He tried the same weasel words as this fool is using.

It must be page 17 of the die hard liberals field manual.

this isn't an apology at all. And that's fine. I never believed that the left's call for "civility" was sincere and I am proved to be right daily.

the left wants a fight. OK, we're standing here guys. Put down the bong, break up the hacky sack game, disband the drum circle and go for it. We're here, we're conservative and we're in your face.

sound familiar? It should.

Let me paraphrase one of Obama's BFF's "them chickens have come home to roost!"

Posted by: skipsailing28 | January 20, 2011 1:27 PM | Report abuse

WashingtonDame, Rush is right more often than Cohen.

Posted by: clawrence12 | January 20, 2011 1:35 PM | Report abuse

Is he kidding us? He didn't *realize* what mentioning Nazis does? Is he that clueless about how this will get twisted? I suppose he doesn't care but I'm wondering if he judgement isn't off-you don't hand the idiots on the Right free meat like that.

Posted by: ChuckinDenton | January 20, 2011 1:39 PM | Report abuse

The left's knee-jerk reaction to this, as evidenced by comments here, would be funny if they weren't so sadly predictable. Apparently "civil discourse" to the left means lockstep agreement. They can't bear the thought that there are legitimate, reasoned arguments against policies they support, and in desperation, resort to smearing rather than engagement. The typical liberal playbook in refuting political arguments from the right seems to be:

- Discount opponents as ignorant and uninformed (i.e. "wingnuts")
- Allude to conspiracies involving Cheney, Bush, Koch, big business, et al
- Personal attacks
- Smear opponents as Nazis (Cohen, Gore, Durbin, Grayson, etc).

The left's typical reactions remind me of Jack Nicholson's famous quote in a Few Good Men: "You want the truth? You can't handle the truth!"

Grow up, libs! We have serious issues to debate and the country needs leaders, not crybabies.

Posted by: Illini | January 20, 2011 1:41 PM | Report abuse

Cohen was absolutely right. Americans supported health care reform until Republicans clearly and unabashedly lied about things such as "death panels." They used Goebbels' tactics clearly, repeating a known lie over and over again until people started believing it.

I'm Jewish. People in my family survived the Holocaust and others didn't. I understand that Cohen in no way meant they were Nazis, just that they are America's greatest inheritors of the tactic perfected by Goebbels.

Meanwhile, every time Beck doesn't like someone, he attempts to directly link them to being Hitler, Stalin or both. There are plenty of sites clearly showing all the many references he's used.

When the people on this chat who are whining about Cohen shut down Beck, I'll begin to think there's any ethics or morality in their complaints.

Posted by: groucho42 | January 20, 2011 1:43 PM | Report abuse

"Cohen is standing by his core allegation about a massive Republican campaign of mendacity."

Which, let's be clear, is a non-controversial allegation.

RIGHT NOW, Republicans are making the absurd claim that repealing health care reform won't raise the deficit. They are arguing that every independent observer--including the CBO!--is wrong or lying.

This is after an entire year spent aggressively mis-representing this bill in the must lurid terms as a ""job-killing" "government takeover," that includes "death panels," and "pulling the plug on grandma," etc etc.

There's no question Republicans have repeatedly lied about this bill. THEY ARE LYING ABOUT IT RIGHT NOW. Seriously, suggesting that the doc fix should be included in this bill? WTF? Why not throw in the defense budget while we're at it?

Posted by: theorajones1 | January 20, 2011 1:45 PM | Report abuse

Good for Cohen. He shouldn't back down from the Big Lie analogy. This is one time when a Nazi analogy was appropriate. And he didn't call the GOPers Nazis, just the tactics. The onus in on Jon Karl and CNN here for ginning up fake outrage with an out of context clip. Watching the full remarks that you kindly provided Greg, makes it clear Cohen wasn't trying to be mean or controversial, and the analogy made sense in context.

Posted by: LibbySpencer | January 20, 2011 1:47 PM | Report abuse

- Discount opponents as ignorant and uninformed (i.e. "wingnuts")
- Allude to conspiracies involving Cheney, Bush, Koch, big business, et al
- Personal attacks
- Smear opponents as Nazis (Cohen, Gore, Durbin, Grayson, etc).


Ummm...both sides do those things, as is well illustrated by your post.

You call liberals crybabies and refer to a conspiratorial leftist handbook (interesting that consecutive conservative posts reference the liberal handbook/field manual).

Posted by: ashotinthedark | January 20, 2011 1:49 PM | Report abuse

""On CBS News’ “Political Hot Sheet” blog, Brian Montopoli writes: “Bachmann of Minnesota, a Republican and founder of the Tea Party Caucus in the House, today cast last year's health care reform law … as "the crown jewel of socialism." ""

See above, for the ongoing attempts to perpetuate the big lie. Health care reform isn't socialism, or a government takeover of healthcare. It perpetuates the existing system, which is largely built on people buying health insurance from private insurers - not the government. The average american cannot get government-provided healthcare, even if they want to pay for it.

So what does Rep Bachmann mean when she calls health care reform a 'socialist crown jewel'? We don't know. She doesn't appear to know, or care, quite frankly. All she wants to do is perpetuate the big lie and continue to attract attention and support from people who don't stop to question whether she even knows what she's talking about. But the lie sounds good, so she keeps it going.

Posted by: bsimon1 | January 20, 2011 2:02 PM | Report abuse


I think this is about the tone of the rhetoric and the appropriateness of his invocation of Goebbels, not whether or not compared Republicans to Nazis, diminshed the Holocaust or offended people. Right?

If he wants this to go away he needs to take full responsibility for what he said.

He needs to address why he believes that the Goebbels reference was the right way to make his point (I assume he was refering to Goebbels' statement that "The English follow the principle that when one lies, one should lie big, and stick to it. They keep up their lies, even at the risk of looking ridiculous"), acknowledge that he could have made his point in a way that was less inflammatory, and apologize for adding to the frenetic negativity of the rhetoric.

I think it's possible to apologize and make one's point at the same time, but politicians are notoriously bad at doing that.

Posted by: mmyotis | January 20, 2011 2:06 PM | Report abuse

This wacky Cohen character is all right. Seems to be the only liberal that is the least bit honest about his feelings. He's a genetic leftist, dyed-in-the-wool, through and through.

We know where he stands. He is poking his finger in the eyes of the phony, let's all be civil and polite liberals.

Liberalism withers under harsh critcism borne of free speech. That is obvious. Liberals want an all-encompassing "FAIRNESS DOCTRINE" to protect their pimpley rears from being verbally kicked.

When liberals are losing any battle, they seek some way to hobble their competition.

Leftists always seek to level the playing field in THEIR favor. It's as sure as taxes and death.

Posted by: battleground51 | January 20, 2011 2:08 PM | Report abuse

More important than Cohen, the House has released its list of $2.5 TRILLION in proposed spending cuts:

Posted by: clawrence12 | January 20, 2011 2:14 PM | Report abuse


To some extent Cohen acknowledges that this wasn't the best way to make his point. He apologizes for the distraction it has created. He, like any good politician (pg 17 of the liberal field book, not sure what page it is in the conservative manual), dodged the apology.

Posted by: ashotinthedark | January 20, 2011 2:14 PM | Report abuse

No one should be offended by Cohen's comments. Afterall, lies, slurs, and inuendos are signature traditions of the leftwing democrats whose concept of "civility" is to hurl insults and trash their opponents who object to wild and irrational comments.

Posted by: nmg3rln | January 20, 2011 2:16 PM | Report abuse

No one should be offended by Cohen's comments. Afterall, lies, slurs, and inuendos are signature traditions of the leftwing democrats whose concept of "civility" is to hurl insults and trash their opponents who object to wild and irrational comments.

Posted by: nmg3rln | January 20, 2011 2:17 PM | Report abuse

No one should be offended by Cohen's comments. Afterall, lies, slurs, and inuendos are signature traditions of the leftwing democrats whose concept of "civility" is to hurl insults and trash their opponents who object to wild and irrational comments.

Posted by: nmg3rln | January 20, 2011 2:19 PM | Report abuse

"Rush is right more often than Cohen."

You must also believe Fox is "Fair and Balanced."

Posted by: mikefromArlington | January 20, 2011 2:21 PM | Report abuse

Disclosure: Longtime Cohen fan.

The claim that the GOP is using the Big Lie is plainly true by my lights. This doesn't mean that they were in anyway inspired by any Nazis; you could make a case that abject lies on such a large stage are often done this way. I wouldn't have mentioned Goebbels obviously, because it so quickly spun into "you're saying they're a Nazi."

Anderson Cooper, an often illuminating interviewer didn't seem willing to hear Cohen out on the substance; everything circled back to the Goebbels name. There's no way to convince someone that a charge can be substantiated -- that Group R is using a tactic once used by Group N, but that absolutely doesn't mean Group R = Group N or was inspired it -- if the person won't ever dig deeper than the a prominent person from Group N known for using the tactic was cited. You could have an eloquent, thorough, historically accurate description, but it's not going to get a fair hearing -- and considering the virtually unparalleled seriousness of the Holocaust, this is totally understandable.

How many times has "The Big Lie" been referenced in political coverage, articles, books over the last few years? I'd bet this is not as rare as its being made out to be. If Cohen is guilty of something, it's not just referencing The Big Lie and describing it, or saying that "a lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is still getting its shoes on."

Calling out liars is not "uncivil." Accuracy has got to matter or debate becomes pointless. There's nothing virtuous about intellectual, moral, and political welfare for the consistently unconcerned with accuracy lunatic right.

Cohen was right about The Big Lie. He should have stayed away from the Goebbels mention. But overall, the fretting about the easily hurt fee fees on the right does a great disservice to the kind of discussion that needs to take place. The right still accuses Obama of wanting to kill elderly people. If that's not a big vile lie, I don't know what is.

By the way, cognitive research is starting to shed a light on why "The Big Lie" works and debunking this stuff is so difficult. I wish more journos would elaborate on that.

Posted by: michael_conrad | January 20, 2011 2:22 PM | Report abuse

This Cohen character has every right to call Republicans liars. Republicans are 100%, anti-socialist politicians so they will do most anything to defeat the socialistic regime of Obama-Reid-Pelosi. It is correct that they do this.

America's, creeping socialism staged a full, frontal, suicide charge under the Obamanation and Republicans had to repel it any way they could.

Remember, the liberal Democrats are the masters of all liars. They even lie to their own in order to get their way. The Pelosites convinced the hapless, House Obamacrats that if they passed Obamacare, America would love them again. BIG LIE.

And we will not see the real Obama again unless he is successful at triangulating his way into a second term. His next two years will be a BIG LIE.

Posted by: battleground51 | January 20, 2011 2:29 PM | Report abuse

michael_conrad, do you know who Rahm Emanuel's brother is? Try reading this article:

Posted by: clawrence12 | January 20, 2011 2:33 PM | Report abuse

battleground is a perfect example of the modern "debate" style: If you're not a fascist like him, you must be a socialist.

Obama continued the TARP bailout to the wealthiest Americans while not helping victims of those people. Some socialist.

Obama's Administration refused to re-regulate the markets which Shrub's de-regulation's allowed to create the market crash. Some socialist.

Obama kept many of Shrub's financial advisers and appointed one of the people who caused the crash as one of his key officials. Some socialist.

Obama didn't push for a public option to health care. Some socialist.

Meanwhile, the people Battleground support shout "don't retreat, reload", demands "Second Amendment remedies" when people decide differently then they want and, as Beck has done repeatedly, conflate anything they disagree with as Stalinist or Hitler's way. Threatening from the right side of the political spectrum to use violence if people don't do as you demand: That is clearly and unabashedly fascist

Posted by: groucho42 | January 20, 2011 2:35 PM | Report abuse

"Cohen is no better than Limbaugh or Beck in his use of deceit."

Geesh trolls can you ever get your FACTS right? This is not about Cohen's's about his manners...from a righty perspective if you wish to accuse him of hyperbole...I disagree but at least I could understand your point.

Polifact named the "Gov't Takeover" meme as the biggest LIE OF 2010. Cohen wasn't lying he was stating the truth...we can all debate how inartfully or his lack of manners but it doesn't change the facts that the R's betrayed our nation in this debate and what they've done is scandalous.

So call Cohen what you will it doesn't change the fact that the R's have been pathological liars throughout the HCR debate. Since they can't all be that ignorant one can only assume they have no morals or compunction about matter how critical the issue as long as it is for R partisan gain. IOKIYAR!!!!!!

Posted by: rukidding7 | January 20, 2011 2:35 PM | Report abuse

All, it looks like the founding fathers favored government run health care:

Posted by: Greg Sargent | January 20, 2011 2:37 PM | Report abuse

The big difference, of course, with John Adams approving a tax for government healthcare of seaman is that maritime law falls under exclusive FEDERAL jdx. Obama specifically argued that ObamaCare was not a "tax" (which is now causing him a big problem in the court challenge ; )

No one disputes that the VA should provide healthcare either.

Posted by: clawrence12 | January 20, 2011 3:06 PM | Report abuse

Notice the people who claim they're not lying keep calling it "Obamacare". However, let's review.

Shrub handed a voluminous Patriot Act to Congress, most members read nothing and passed it. We don't refer to it as "Shrub's anti-Constitutional Law" though it is.

Shrub handed TARP, already written to Congress. We don't call it "Shrub's 'help the wealthy at the expense of the rest of us bill'", though it does.

However, each House of Congress wrote their own health care bill, they passed their own, they reconciled the bills, then passed that. The bill did not originate in the Administration but in Congress. Yet people who are upset that they're being linked to Goebbels continue to push the Big Lie and call it Obamacare.


Posted by: groucho42 | January 20, 2011 4:51 PM | Report abuse

A memo to Rep. Cohen: I was born during Hitler times, lived during socialist/communist reign. I know the socialised health care. You will not like it if it comes. I have experienced it. For you it's a theory.

I was listening to your rant: you just spoke like propagandist. And the pronunciation is Goebbels nor Gerbels. It is too bad that your judgement is not disturbed by knowledge of facts.

Posted by: kulisz | January 20, 2011 6:40 PM | Report abuse

kulisz, are you really claiming that the health care you received 60 years ago is relevant today? Sadly, I probably think so.

I, on the other hand, have a much more modern experience. In 2009, I moved back from a few years overseas. While there, I worked as an independent consultant. Here, in the US, I could not have afforded any health insurance, so that:
1) When I destroyed my ACL, I couldn't have had it fixed
2) When I got a basal cell carcinoma, I couldn't have had it removed.

However, since I lived in a place with socialized medicine, where costs were spread across the entire population and drug prices weren't inflated by enormous advertising, I was able to get those problems taken care of with very little cost. Yes, there was some out of pocket money that had to be paid, but nothing like our corrupt and degenerate system.

Socialized medicine is not only the right thing to do, it works.

Posted by: groucho42 | January 21, 2011 12:34 PM | Report abuse

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