Hank Williams Jr. cites tea party in defense of 'Hitler' comments

Hank Williams Jr., on a Monday TV program, likened President Obama to Hitler. In trying to explain his remarks later, Hank Williams Jr. talked about the tea party being painted as racist and extremist.

John Raoux/AP/File
In this July 14 file photo, Hank Williams Jr. performs during the recording of a promo for ESPN's broadcasts of 'Monday Night Football,' in Winter Park, Fla.

The “Hitler” signs that popped up at some early tea party rallies had an echo on Monday, when country singer Hank Williams Jr. likened President Obama to the late Nazi dictator.

Mr. Williams, a tea party supporter, appeared on “Fox & Friends” on Monday morning. When asked about his pick for president next year, he pointed to a golf game between Mr. Obama and House Speaker John Boehner this summer, saying it was "one of the biggest political mistakes ever."

"It'd be like Hitler playing golf with [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu," he said, adding that he considered Obama and Vice President Joe Biden "the enemy."

As word of the remarks spread, ESPN yanked its intro to “Monday Night Football,” which featured a takeoff of Williams’s hit song “All My Rowdy Friends.” The song has been an “MNF” staple for 20 years and has earned Williams four Emmys. ESPN has not said whether it will use that music again.

As many tea party protesters have learned, drawing analogies between the man who ordered millions of Jews killed and modern-day US politicians may be potent political theater, but it’s not a good way to broaden your base.

From its beginning in 2009, some critics have called the tea party "racist" and "extremist" because of various signs at tea party rallies and allegations that a racial epithet was directed at black members of Congress from a tea party crowd during passage of the health-care reform law.

The tea party eventually toned down its sign rhetoric. It activists maintain that the core of the movement is about peacefully bringing constitutional principles and fiscal responsibility back to Washington.

Williams himself alluded to the tea party in a statement that partially apologized for his comments (“I have always respected the office of the President,” he wrote).

“Every time the media brings up the tea party it’s painted as racist and extremists – but there’s never a backlash – no outrage to those comparisons," he said.

In the statement, Williams also buckled down on the point he had been trying to make: that the American people are tired of business as usual in Washington, from both Democrats and Republicans.

"Working class people are hurting – and it doesn’t seem like anybody cares. When both sides are high-fiving it on the ninth hole when everybody else is without a job – it makes a whole lot of us angry. Something has to change. The policies have to change," he said.

Williams’s political commentary on “Fox & Friends” is likely to discomfit many Americans, including some who may be tired of politics as usual.

"As an American, to compare any American President to Hitler is disturbing and speaks volumes to the hate these media clowns spew forth every day," said one commenter at The Tennessean news website in Nashville, where Williams is considered the heir to the king of country music, the late Hank Williams. "If you don't like the President vote him out but to say things like that just makes the south look like it always has ... stupid!"

But others said Williams shouldn't have to apologize for, as he himself said, having "strong opinions." More than 60 percent of respondents in an informal poll on The Tennessean site said ESPN was wrong to call a foul in using "All My Rowdy Friends."

Country musicians don’t tend to do well when broaching politics. When the Dixie Chicks told an audience in 2003 that the band was "ashamed the president of the United States is from Texas," the group was quickly blocked from a majority of country radio stations.

But Williams, who campaigned for John McCain in 2008, may find more sympathy in Middle America for his comments than the Dixie Chicks did, writes The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Jay Bookman.

"I hope this doesn’t become a career boost for Williams, but I can imagine it happening. I can imagine DJs putting his songs on air because of what he said, rather than despite it. I can imagine him becoming a martyred hero in certain eyes, and that reality is more troubling than what some in-over-his-head, not-so-bright, trying-to-live-up-to-a-stereotype entertainer had to say on national TV."

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