The next time John Kasich talks about his commitment to excellence in Ohio schools, or insists that teachers meet higher standards, think about Debe Terhar, his choice for president of the State Board of Education. On Monday, the board voted 10-6 to keep her in the presidency, the decision coming in the wake of Terhar posting on her Facebook page a photo of Adolph Hitler, along with the words, “Never forget what this tyrant said: ‘To conquer a nation, first disarm its citizens’ — Adolph Hitler.”
At the board meeting, Terhar apologized for her “error in judgment,” expressing her hope “that we can put this issue behind us and continue our important work together for Ohio’s children.” Yet it is just that work she let slip in her posting, borrowing from another Facebook page that features attacks on President Obama, salutes to gun owners, even elements of racism. She has insisted she didn’t intend to draw a comparison to the president. Then, there’s the sequence of events: Obama talks about gun control. Hitler and the quote show up on her page.
Others have traded in such comparisons. Sherrod Brown linked proponents of Senate Bill 5 to Hitler and Stalin. The senator quickly apologized for the outrageous comment. At the time, he wasn’t serving as the state school board president.
The distinction is important. Much has been made about the bogus quote, no record of Hitler actually uttering those words. If Terhar were a high school junior writing a term paper, the teacher surely would mark down for such sloppiness. And if the teacher did not, would he or she be one of those people the governor deems an idiot?
What’s dismaying is how easily comparisons to Hitler are made, the acts no less than a betrayal of history, diminishing the horror of those who fell under his brutal, murderous rule, in death camps, in ghettos, through psychological and physical pain. Is President Obama really headed down that road, even a step or two, by calling for wider background checks or a ban on military-like assault weapons?
The “lessons” spread by Terhar and others feature another disturbing dimension. In his novel Every Man Dies Alone, Hans Fallada tells the story of a modest Nazi resistance, small cards left in public places in Berlin containing simple messages of dissent. What Fallada conveys is the typical Berliner gripped by fear in encountering the cards, wishing to avoid anything that crossed the Nazis.
Compare that mentality to the full-throated roar of the gun lobby and its supporters. They hardly appear intimidated, or vulnerable to a conquering tyrant. Practically everyone likes a bit of hyperbole in a good political argument. Then, there’s going too far, a state school board president succumbing, revealing little interest in excellence.