A polarizing Republican candidate, annoyed by the presence at a campaign rally of a videographer hired by his opposition, uses a metaphor that suggests a profound cultural insensitivity. Sound familiar?
In 2006, during a vicious senatorial campaign in Virginia, Sen. George Allen jeered a videographer for his opponent's campaign, calling him "macaca." That videographer, S.R. Sidarth, was of Indian descent, so comparing him to a monkey was a racial slur -- intentional or not.
But does West's invoking the Gestapo constitute an ethnic slur?
That's from a talk West gave Thursday at the South Florida Bible College in Deerfield Beach. The Democratic Party of Florida hired this videographer, who happens to be Jewish -- with a grandparent who is a Holocaust survivor, no less.
The campaign of his opponent, Democratic incumbent Ron Klein, has called on West to apologize for the remark. Fat chance.
In West's defense, he had no way to know whether the videographer would have such a powerful reason to be offended by a reference to Nazi Germany. So this remark wasn't a Freudian slip in the way that Allen's may have been.
But it is yet another example of the loss of civility in modern politics, from Joe Wilson's "You lie!" to Sarah Palin's "death panels."
It's all too easy for us citizens to be cavalier about making comparisons to Nazi Germany -- Seinfeld's Soup Nazi certainly didn't help. But political candidates should hold themselves to a higher standard, given their power and the variety of backgrounds of the people they address.
A former history teacher, West shouldn't be scolded for this episode so much as he should be ashamed of constantly invoking Nazi Germany in making some hyperbolic point.
He's compared Obama campaign events to Nazi rallies. He has accused Obama and Pelosi of Gestapo tactics. Obama's desire for a civilian army reminded West of Hitler's brown shirts. The Second Amendment right to bear arms, West says, is what keeps America from turning into Nazi Germany. He has compared the modern media to the Nazi propaganda machine. He's even compared an entire religion -- Islam -- to Nazism.
Meanwhile, West himself is a charismatic speaker who makes highly emotional, fear-based appeals to voters, warns of the dangers of cultural tolerance, and conjures ultranationalist fervor about how this nation is superior to all others. But that doesn't mean he's a Nazi. It just means he should be careful throwing the term at others or it's liable to bounce back.