Godwin's Law of Political Campaigns

Brian Snyder / Reuters
Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

“Not everything is like the Holocaust,” David Frum wrote this weekend. Are you sure? Rand Paul replied.

Even though it’s often said that Holocaust analogies are a bad idea—even though the reductio ad Hitlerum is a standing joke on the internet—presidential hopefuls just can’t get enough. This summer, Mike Huckabee said that President Obama’s Iran deal would “take the Israelis and march them to the door of the oven.” Last week, Ben Carson got some harsh scrutiny for defending the claim, originally made in his book, that if there hadn’t been gun-control laws in 1930s Germany, the Holocaust might never have happened.

Rand Paul apparently didn’t notice what happened, and said this over the weekend during a conversation with a newspaper editorial board about anthropogenic climate change: “It has become sort of like you’re a Holocaust denier if you question any of the religious cult that says, ‘You have to believe as I do.’ I think we’re in an absurd situation.”

Something here is indeed absurd.

It is true that climate change, like the Holocaust, is a historically attested phenomenon—but presumably that unflattering parallel between doubters is not what Paul meant to suggest. What about the social ostracism? Is that comparable? Paul specifically gestured to the question of whether climate change is caused by human activity or natural changes. (Of course, its dire effects are an argument for policy actions either way, but set that aside for now.)

Here’s a CBS News/New York Times poll from September on that question:

Is Climate Change Occurring or Will It Occur?


Slightly more than half the population believes (along with most scientists!) that human activity is responsible for warming. This might seem dishearteningly low if you’re inclined to go with the science, but it’s good news for deniers feeling persecuted.

How does it compare to Holocaust denialism? As one might imagine, it’s tough to find much polling on the topic, but a 1994 survey found that 91 percent of Americans were confident the mass extermination of Jews occurred, versus one percent of deniers and eight percent who weren’t sure. It seems the Holocaust analogy here isn’t just rhetorically ill-advised—it’s invalid.