Fostering Intelligent Conversation Through "Obama's A Nazi" T-Shirts: One Houstonian's Perspective

If you're like us, when you see Tea Partiers displaying imagery associating Obama with Hitler, your benefit-of-the-doubt well goes bone dry.

But when we received an e-mail about a local clothing company that's gotten into the Obamanazi business, it seemed like a good opportunity to explore this sort of rhetoric in the halfway sane context of a phone interview. Brad Hamm of Houston, who runs Truthwearshop.com with his wife as an offshoot of their custom-clothing business, was happy to talk.

Hamm, who says he didn't care much about politics until Obama took office, has had the site up for about 40 days and has done a few thousand in business. His stated goal is to sell 250,000 of each design. Hamm plans to introduce about half a dozen new designs, but right now there are only two currently available, the one above and this charmer:

Naturally, we had a few questions. Those questions led to a half-hour discussion; we've snipped it way, way down to the fleisch of our discussion. That is, until Kristall-'rack comes and the feds burns the Press to the ground.

Hair Balls: What troubles you the most about Obama?
Hamm: Primarily, the biggest problem I have, is, for the most part, it seems that he is, I don't know, again, politicians do this a lot -- they talk out of both sides of their mouth...You ask him a direct question, and yes he will dance around it, like all politicians do. However, it just seems like it's coming from the top down...And during the election, I was probably one of the biggest cheerleaders for him. I read both of his books. I thought he had great ideas. And now that I look at it and I've reread his books, it's like, "Well, now it seems like you have already had your agenda in place, you've had a certain amount of people already working on your agenda,"...At least the other presidents, at least they would semi-listen.

Hair Balls: And you're including Bush "the Decider" in this, or...
Hamm: With earlier administrations, there was a certain level of apathy [among the general population]. With I guess some of, I don't know, some of the people that he's surrounding himself with, and some of their backgrounds...I don't need somebody to tell me what my opinion should be. And it just seems at this point in time that maybe the American populace, we've just come to the point where we're like, "I really don't like the way you're saying this, and I'm gonna say something back to you."

Hair Balls: But where was the anger during [the Bush administration]? I'm not trying to make it a black-white thing --
Hamm: No, and even though we don't want to do a black-white thing, I think that's going to be an underlying theme.

Hair Balls: I know you said [race doesn't matter to you], but do you think that's a big issue with some other people?
Hamm: I do. I think it's a big issue with some people...

Hair Balls: But how prevalent is race with other folks in determining their dislike for the current administration? Do you feel qualified to gauge that?
Hamm: No, I don't. I do think there is an undercurrent there, though. I really do.

Hair Balls: Do you find that troubling?
Hamm: Well, I don't necessarily think it's troubling. I just think that for some people, they haven't gotten past it yet. Depending upon the issue or what is being said at the current time -- a lot of people form their opinions on a knee-jerk reaction anyway.

Hair Balls: The whole Nazi thing -- wondering what your thoughts are on that.
Hamm: For the most part, I think that the Nazi symbolism...is more or less just a shock factor...It brings back memories of things a lot of people would want to forget about...

Hair Balls: Are you actually saying Obama has anything in common with Hitler?
Hamm: (Sighs) On a personal level, or on a professional level, as far as being president, I don't know. I don't care. It just seems that, like I said, some of the rhetoric coming out of the White House is reminiscent of some of the programs or some of the things that were perhaps tried or perhaps done --

Hair Balls: Under the Third Reich?
Hamm: Under the Third Reich, yeah.

Hair Balls: Can I get a specific example?
Hair Balls: One of the things that kind of concerns me is when Obama announced the national civilian security force, or whatever. [Editor's note: It's pretty scary stuff.] You can draw the correlation and look back in history, and well, that's basically the Nazi youth. I'm not a conspiracy theorist -- please believe me, I'm not -- and maybe for some people, maybe I stepped over the line with the imagery...It's more for people to at least look at them and say, hey, you know what, why? Then we have the opportunity [to talk].

Hair Balls: You think the best way to go about fostering intelligent debate...is through imagery associated with the Holocaust? I would say it could be offensive to Jews, to World War II veterans...
Hamm: Well, I agree, and with the older generation -- and please, I have nothing but respect. But to be honest with you, all of us have gotten so compartmentalized in our thoughts that again, we throw out intelligent discourse and civility and all of these catchphrases...but I think we've as a country gotten very, very soft with each other.

Hair Balls: I agree with you about [promoting dialogue], but it seems like with a Swastika and that kind of imagery, trying to shock people into intelligent discourse -- I guess an analogy would be if you had a problem with your neighbor, going up to him and saying, "Hey buddy, I fucked your wife. Now let's discuss those hedges that need trimming."
Hamm: (Laughs) Wow.

Hair Balls: Well, you can't shock people into intelligent discourse, can you?
Hamm: Maybe not shock them into intelligent discourse, however -- this is the one thing I've had happen to me over and over again -- is that people walk up and I'll get a real quizzical look. Then all of a sudden, it'll be "I like it," or "I hate it." There's no gray area.

Hair Balls: But shouldn't the gray area be the goal -- finding common ground? So we can actually work through issues? You basically just said "this is divisive" --
Hamm: Oh, it is.

Well, there you have it. Keep shocking 'em, guys.

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