State School Board Leader Sinks Public Discourse

State Board of Education President Debe Terhar drew criticism recently for posting a politically motivated picture on Facebook comparing Adolf Hitler to President Barack Obama.

State Board of Education President Debe Terhar must think everyone else is really stupid.

Terhar, a Cincinnati Republican, drew criticism recently for posting a politically motivated picture of Adolf Hitler on Facebook. The caption read, “Never forget what this tyrant said: ‘To conquer a nation, first disarm its citizens.’ — Adolf Hitler.” Many critics quickly observed the picture was drawing a comparison between Hitler and President Barack Obama — an absolute no-no at all levels of politics.

But Terhar, in a follow-up Facebook post, claimed, “Someone took offense to it and apparently believed that I was making a comparison to an individual. I was not.”

Considering the context surrounding the picture, it’s hard to believe Terhar’s claim. The picture was posted amidst a national debate about gun violence — a debate Obama has gotten involved in by proposing more regulations on guns. If the picture Terhar posted isn’t referencing Obama or his policies, who or what is it in reference to?

In that context, there seem to be two possibilities to Terhar’s post: Either she really was drawing a comparison to Hitler — and she’s hoping everyone else is dumb enough to believe her when she says she wasn’t — or Terhar truly lacked the faintest level of judgment required to realize what comparisons could be drawn from the picture. In their kindness to Terhar, most people have assumed the former is true, but the latter isn’t much better for Terhar’s reputation or standing as a public official.

There is very little that can bring down public discourse like a reference to Hitler or the Nazis. The Third Reich is seen as such a dark stain in humanity’s history that any comparisons to it are absolutely unfair.

But that hasn’t stopped the comparisons. As Mike Godwin observed in 1990, “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1.” Godwin’s claim has proven to be so accurate that it’s become an Internet adage known as Godwin’s Law, and Terhar managed to prove its accuracy once again.

The Obama-Hitler comparison led Democrats to call for Terhar’s resignation. In a statement, Ohio Democratic Party Chairman Chris Redfern argued, “While there is always room for respectful differences in opinions, State School Board President Terhar’s Facebook posting crossed a clear line by connecting the president’s national discussion on guns to Adolf Hitler. President Terhar’s invocation of Hitler is dangerous and should not be tolerated by Gov. Kasich and the rest of the state school board.”

Some members of the State Board of Education are calling for a special meeting to discuss Terhar’s comments. The same members — Deborah Cain, Ann Jacobs, Jeffrey Mims and Mary Rose Oakar — have also called on Terhar to issue a public apology, which she has not done.

Gov. John Kasich doesn’t seem too interested in the controversy. In statements, he has supported Terhar, saying she made a mistake and apologized. But as Redfern points out in the rest of his statement, Kasich has called for more civility in public discourse in the past. He even suggested golf as one way lawmakers can get to know each other and improve the tone of their politics.

Removing Terhar from the board is Kasich’s chance to put his words into action. If he doesn’t take it, he’s letting Terhar play Ohioans for the fools she seems to think we really are.

Other News and Stuff

• The city of Cincinnati plans to tear down about 600 vacant buildings this year, or 10 times more than the usual number. Some of the opened space will go to new development, but a lot of it will go to greenspace. The extra plant life could help urbanites better deal with global warming. As climate change kicks in, cities will warm considerably faster than other regions due to the “urban heat island effect.” The effect is caused by cities having more buildings and pavements that absorb and contain heat, more pollution that warms the air and fewer plants that enable evaporation and transpiration through a process called evapotranspiration. With more green spaces, the city can curtail the urban heat island effect by allowing more evapotranspiration.

• U.S. Speaker John Boehner, a West Chester Republican, says ending abortion is “one of our most fundamental goals this year.” The comment is odd given the results of the most recent election. Republicans lost big in 2012 largely because women, who support abortion in bigger numbers than men, overwhelmingly voted for Democrats.


[email protected] or @germanrlopez

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