Lost in all the fervor over the photo depicting Toledo businessman Rich Iott in a "Nazi costume" is one fact: nowhere on the uniform he is shown to be wearing is the dreaded symbol of Adolf Hitler's once-powerful and chilling Third Reich -- the swastika.
In fact, take a look at the image creating all the controversy. I'd be willing to guess that unless someone pointed it out, many people might be unaware that it was a Nazi Waffen SS uniform.
I've looked at this from a variety of perspectives, and from all of them -- once I gleaned all the facts -- I could only conclude one thing: this is a non-story. It was clearly manufactured by a worried Democratic incumbent only to be eagerly gobbled up by a hypersensitive politically correct liberal media. HBO's super left-wing political pundit Bill Maher was apparently the first to "break" the story on his show (although it actually was the ultra left-wing magazine, The Atlantic, which was spoon-fed the photo by the Dems and ran with only one side of the story). While it may seem to have all the sexy attributes of a scandal at first blush, a deeper look at the banal facts reveal it to be nothing more than a red herring.
It may surprise some people to learn that I am actually Jewish. I always have been. The heritage comes from my mother's side, and I can remember my maternal grandmother telling me stories of how members of our family back in Poland were cast into gas chambers. I am fully aware of the horror the Nazis perpetrated in World War II, so, while I "ought" to be outraged to learn that a U.S. Congressional candidate would dare don himself in the garb of the Germans, I'm not.
This is probably because I lived for a while in York County, and worked as a cub reporter in a town called "Hanover," which is a few miles away from the historic Gettysburg battlefields. I covered quite a few Civil War reenactments in my time (it's tough to write in that area and not cover Civil War reenactments), and I understand that no reenactment can be pulled off without reenactors from both sides of the conflict. So, for World War II reenactments, it would be necessary for a set of reenactors to clothe themselves in the garb of the Germans -- since their army was so important to the axis power.
So, as a Jew who understands the educational importance of never forgetting what happened in the Holocaust seven decades ago, I can no more be angry at Iott than I can be angry at the reenactors portraying Confederate soldiers in the Gettysburg reenactments. Should I be angry at them? I am, after all, a Northerner.
Doesn't make much sense, does it?
In fact, I've always found myself rather grateful that there are people willing to portray the losers of these wars. It can't be easy to go act out these battles in front of crowds that are often very partisan. But just as every plot has its antagonist, so must these recreated spectacles. It's important to note that in virtually every World War II reenactment, Nazi salutes and decorative swastikas are both off-limits, precisely because they might offend some members of the crowd.
It's no surprise to me that the story began to die down as soon as Iott explained that he has a great appreciation for world history and that the costume was worn during reenactments. What is surprising, however, is that in Ohio, the ploy may be backfiring for the Democrats attempting to perpetrate the smear campaign against Iott.
Many prominent local Jews have emerged to side with Iott, as have many prominent local leaders. Nevertheless, Iott was in the crossfire on CNN this morning, being grilled for his reenactment hobby, yet doing a great job of pointing out how the controversy has managed to distract voters from the issues Iott's opponent, Rep. Marcy Kaptur, wants to avoid; namely her votes in favor of TARP, the stimulus package and every other initiative forwarded by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and President Barack Obama.
While most polls have Kaptur solidly ahead, Iott claims internal polls put him within five points of knocking the longest serving woman in the U.S. House of Representatives out of office. Whether his polling is accurate remains to be seen.
One thing is for sure, though; Iott is now the subject of national headlines, and for Ohioans who know better, all this attention may very well help him close the gap.
Photo © Sasha Mordovets/Getty Images