What’s in a meme? On Jason Villalba likening democratic socialist Bernie Sanders to a Nazi

Good morning Austin:

Here is something that Rep. Jason Villalba, the North Dallas Republican, tweeted off Tuesday night’s Democratic presidential debate.

villalba tweet


Hmmm. Wow. Uh oh.

About that meme.

Number 1 is true.

Bernie Sanders describes himself as a democratic socialist.

But number two – and therefore number three –  are indisputably wrong.

Nazis were national socialists, but then again, Saddam Hussein’s elite troops were the Republican Guard. The Republicans were the left-wing government in Spain toppled by Francisco Franco’s Nationalists in the run-up to World War II. Neither of which has anything to do with the Republican Party.

Democratic socialists are not only not Nazis – who are usually and properly described as fascists and never described as democratic anything – but are more exactly in philosophy and history, the opposite and enemy of Nazis.

For more on what Sanders means when he says he’s a democratic socialist, read 8 questions about democratic socialism and Bernie Sanders’s vision for the United States, an excellent post-debate primer by Max Ehrenfreund of the Washington Post’s Wonkblog.

Here’s Ehrenfreund’s point 2:

Sanders calls himself a “democratic socialist.” What does that mean?

This difference between socialism and democratic socialism is actually kind of important. First of all, Sanders isn’t talking about using government to take over large sections of the economy. He doesn’t want to make Comcast part of the government, for example. He’s also not talking about putting an end to the stock market and giving workers control over their companies. Some socialist countries, such as China and the Soviet Union, have sought to nationalize services under regimes that haven’t given their citizens much say in those decisions.

Sanders wants the government to pay for health care and college tuition, but those services would still be provided by a combination of public agencies and private organizations if Sanders got his way.

While Sanders thinks that changes should be made to the U.S. economy, he doesn’t envision doing away with the U.S. system of representative government — Congress, the Supreme Court, elections, all that sort of stuff. He believes in democracy. That’s why he calls himself a “democratic socialist.” In particular, as he repeated in Tuesday night’s debate, he wants to reform the U.S. democratic system to limit the influence that wealthy donors who give money to political campaigns have over the process.

In much of the world — in particular in a number of Western and northern European countries —Sanders would be regarded as a moderate. To get a sense of the way socialism works differently around the world, consider the availability of universal health insurance, conventionally a basic tenet of a “socialist” country.

There is essentially universal coverage in countries such as Canada and the United Kingdom, where socialist philosophy is embraced by many parts of government. In the United States, where socialism is often a dirty word, health insurance has become quasi-universal since the introduction of the Affordable Care Act. About 10.4 percent of Americans are without coverage. And in China, which is nominally communist, many go without access to affordable care.

Add in the fact that Sanders’ father’s family was mostly wiped out during the Holocaust, and you’ve got the makings of one offensive meme.

Villalba’s tweet provoked considerable irritation and anger.

For example.

I was perplexed.

Villalba does like to tweet, but he seemed among the least likely Texas Republicans to call Bernie Sanders a Nazi.

JT Jason Villalba Ledge

Did he mean it? Did he so misunderstand the pertinent history? Did he not anticipate the reaction? Was he trying to outflank Rep. Molly White?

I talked to him yesterday evening and here was what he had to say.

Bernie Sanders  is actually self-described as a Democratic socialist and then to his left (I think he probably meant right, but no matter) are other people who are essentially soft socialists. Any Republican will tell you that, and any Republicans worth their salt believes that Hillary Clinton is a soft socialist, much like this president.

Now including the meme below it is something that struck me as humorous. I attached it and I tweeted it out. So is the history accurate in this? Of course not. Look, was I trying to make a connection between Sanders and the Nazi party? Absolutely not. I categorically reject any suggestion that that  is what I was intending to do. It was meant  just to point out that the Democratic Party, as we understand them today and as they were going through their debate, have exhibited a level of left-wing social engineering that we haven’t seen in our country in decades. And so that was my statement.

Now if you want to try to tie that to that meme I included as a sort of a  second-hand jokey-joke, that’s somebody else laying those intentions over what I was was thinking. But what I was saying was that on the stage tonight was a self-avowed democratic socialist along with a soft socialist, and I stand by that.

You have national socialists and democratic socialists and most people recognize the distinct difference. N-A-Z-I is national socialist. I realize it was a flip, glib sort of commentary on where we are.  Somehow, you invoke the Nazi meme and all of a sudden the Twittersphere breaks through. But  you know, if you’re  socialist, was Stalin any less horrific a leader in his country as a socialist? I don’t think so.

Socialism is wrong for America. It’s not what we want to see from our leadership. I stand by that statement.

Look, if there’s any suggestion for a moment that I was trying to compare Bernie Sanders or anyone in the Democratic Party with Nazis then I categorically deny that and reject that and would tell people who read the  Twitter at night to get their news and information should probably be a little less  focused on some of the bad history included in the memes and realize that it’s a medium to  sort of get broad-themed ideas out there and I stand by the broad-themed idea that the Democrats are on the wrong side of the debate in America today.

Where did he find that meme?

It was on a blog somewhere I don’t even remember. I think it was on another Twitter feed and I saw it and I read it as sort of glib, sort of ridiculous way to accentuate the larger theme that I was making. I slapped it on there as a second thought and obviously that’s what inflamed everyone, because they were suggesting somehow that I was making this comparison between Bernie and the Nazi Party, which is absolutely ridiculous because anyone who knows me knows I know better than that and the history of what that it is.

Now is it sloppy to have anything in a Twitter meme that has the word Nazi in it? Clearly you can’t say something like that and not expect people to react in the way that they do, but clearly it was not intended to be taken as a history lesson for the Twittersphere. It was more meant to again put the emphasis on the broad theme on where the Democrats stand.

Look at my actual quote. Look at what I actually said. And in Twtter today if you’re held liable for anything you either retweet or include in something that’s not yours,  is clearly somebody else’s and is clearly meant to be tongue-in-cheek or satire, then most Twitter statements, you’re going to have to get rid of those because that’s what most of Twitter is. But, if you look at my  actual quote, I stand by my actual quote. It is about democratic socialists and I believe that this  president and most of those who serve in his administration are soft socialists, and we saw that last night.

So, Villalba apparently saw his tweet-with-meme as of a piece with President Obama’s “jokey-joke” about Bernie Sanders at the White House Correspondents’ dinner: “Apparently people really want to see a pot-smoking socialist in the White House,” the president said. “We could get a third Obama term after all.”

But that’s actually funny.

Villalba acknowledged of Twitter: “It really is a dangerous medium.”

I like to use Twiter for a number of different things. I use it to be  playful with an audiences so that they can get to know me as a person.  I use it  to make statements in real time about issues that are developing right before us. I like to use it to talk about important issues of the day in a very light 140-character style way.

If you really want to understand what I’m about, read my op-eds which are 900 words and get a better feel for what I’m about, when I’m clearly being much more thoughtful, much more articulate on these issues, doing the fact-checking necessary to put a statement with my name on it.

If you’re looking to Twitter as your source for news information and historical reference then you’re probably not going to be getting the best information because Twitter is just not that. Twitter is about scenes and not about long thoughtful, thought-out, fleshed-out ideas.

Villalba, a prime target of the tea party and Empower Texans’ Michael Quinn Sullivan, is facing a Republican primary challenge from another Dallas attorney, Dan Morenoff.

Said Villalba:

They hate me on the far right, now they hate me on the left … Most of the country stands center right, which is right where I stand.

As I was talking with Villalba, it was the seventh inning of the the Texas Rangers-Toronto Blue Jays, an unbelievable inning that would end the Rangers’ season, which was followed by the Astros-Royals game which ended the Astros’ season.

It was a terrible few hours for Texas, but, of course, it had less to do with the players on the field than the errant tweet issued earlier in the week by Gov. Greg Abbott, or, at any rate, his official gubernatorial account.

It is a cautionary tale about he perils of Twitter.




“That’s bush league man,” Joe Scarborough said of Abbott’s tweet on Morning Joe this morning. “It ain’t over till it’s over.”



Author: Jonathan Tilove

Jonathan Tilove is the Statesman's chief political writer. He was a Washington correspondent for the New Orleans Times-Picayune from 2008 to 2012. Before that he covered race and immigration issues for Newhouse News Service for 18 years.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s