Marcus Gilmer at Chicagoist asks:

Ben Stein on Obama’s planned stadium speech at the convention: “Seventy-five-thousand people at an outdoor sports palace, well, that’s something the Fuehrer would have done.” Wait…what???

What, indeed–it’s actually quite interesting. Stein’s observation didn’t come from nowhere. Ideas have histories; this one has two.

1) Attack your opponent where he’s strongest.

This is a fairly old idea, but the Republican party, on the national level, has been particularly skilled at this recently–think of the swiftboating of military hero John Kerry. Right now, Obama’s greatest strength is the enthusiasm and excitement about his campaign. As distinguished from actual political support–clearly he’s polling well and has a healthy chance against McCain, but the buzz and hype over his candidacy, fairly or not, far exceeds that of McCain, who seems to be running for dogcatcher this week.

That’s a hell of a dilemma. Obama has a lot of strengths that make logical sense to attack, like his youth, his education, his diverse background, and so forth. Attacking someone because he’s popular, because people like him, is, um, tough. The McCain camp actually made a good attempt, with an ad purporting to show how the media is in the tank for Obama. And it’s pretty funny and not unconvincing, for the medium. But watch it, and see if there’s not at least some cognitive dissonance. After all, it’s an ad about how you should not like Obama because lots of people like him. It’s just a tough pitch: VOTE MCCAIN. AMERICA, IT’S TIME FOR YOUR CHECKUP.

Hence former Nixon speechwriter Ben Stein: “you know who else was popular? HITLER!” And Stein’s not the only one making this pitch:

Erik Erickson (husband of famously incompetent former DOJ official Monica Goodling; emphasis, error his): “Barack Obama is using propaganda FILMED IN GERMANY MADE POSSIBLE BY THE NAZIS RELOCATING THE FREAKING STATUTE!!!!!!!”

David Plotz of Slate (who supports Obama!): “That’s slightly fascistic…. That’s a very, like, let’s rally the nation [style of speaking]. I don’t want to be rallied.”

Patrick Ruffini: “This is pretty extraordinary. A candidate for the American Presidency is using flyers printed in German to turn people out for his campaign rally in Berlin on Thursday.”

Tom Sullivan of Fox News Radio: “it harkens back to when I was younger and I used to watch those deals with Hitler, how he would excite the crowd and they’d come to their feet and scream and yell.”

And so forth. It’s much more of a thing on blogs than it is in media outlets, but increasingly that’s where these ideas take hold. Does it make any sense? Of course not, but that’s not really the point. The point is to figure out a way to negate his strengths, and when that strength is popularity, it takes something especially ingenious–a radical version of the “personality cult” meme that you’ve been hearing from people like John Kass since time immemorial.

2) Liberal Fascism

You may remember that Tribune Company Star Columnist Jonah Goldberg wrote a book arguing that the liberal wing of the modern Democratic party is fascist, based on the “purity test” principle–check off certain similarities to the Nazis, like environmentalism, organic food (seriously), animal rights (no, seriously), the New Deal, and so forth, and get a fascism score. This is of course total lunacy, but thanks to his prominence (thanks, LA Times!) the argument has enough pull to become an undercurrent in the exciting new Obama=Hitler meme. Hullabaloo and Jesse Taylor have much, much more on this.

Why belabor the point? Ideas have consequences; columnists have very big consequences. On an abstract level it’s interesting–to me, at least–to see how these things evolve and mutate over the short and long term. On a practical level, it’s helpful to not be caught off-guard by the crazy. Because it’s not actually crazy–it’s a strategy.