U.S. Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-6th, has apologized for invoking the Holocaust during a discussion of student loans, but a middle-class economics advocacy group is calling for him to resign.
Molly Katchpole, a campaign associate with Rebuild the Dream, a nationwide advocacy group that focuses on such issues as underwater mortgages and student loan debt, said the group has collected about 35,000 signatures calling for Bartlett to step down.
Asked Wednesday at a town hall meeting in Cumberland whether he supported federally subsidized college loans, Bartlett said such loans are unconstitutional.
Bartlett said although he supports education, ignoring the Constitution to do something good can lead down a “very slippery slope.” Bartlett referred to the Holocaust in Germany as an example of what could happen.
He apologized Thursday, calling the statement an “extreme example” of making a political point.
Katchpole said she has been tracking what politicians across the country are saying about student debt and found Bartlett’s comments outrageous and insensitive.
“Trying to use the Holocaust as a political point is ridiculous,” she said.
In April, Rep. Todd Akin, a Republican from Missouri seeking election to the Senate, compared the federal government’s involvement in student loans to living with stage 3 cancer, Katchpole said.
“I don’t understand where this ridiculous rhetoric is coming from,” she said.
Federally subsidized college loans allow millions of Americans to attend college, said Katchpole, who herself has taken out such loans.
Moreover, people from their teens and 20s to well past their 60s have directly benefited from these loans, Katchpole said.
Bartlett is battling Democrat John Delaney to keep his 6th District seat after 10 terms representing Western Maryland.
“Congressman Bartlett’s comments about the Holocaust are terribly insensitive and shockingly inappropriate,” Delaney said in a statement. “His comments about federal student loans reflect an utter lack of understanding of what’s needed to move America forward and create good-paying jobs.”
Joshua Hochschild, associate professor of philosophy at Mount St. Mary’s University, said on a personal level he is sensitive in general to such remarks because he had relatives who were Holocaust victims.
While he did not want to comment on Bartlett’s remarks because he did not know their entire context, Hochschild said people in general often cite the Holocaust, the Nazis or Adolf Hitler as examples of evil when making a larger point.
There are many areas where people question the notion of right and wrong, so they reach for an instance when something incontestably went wrong, Hochschild said.
“That’s an argument style that can be abused, but the fact that it can be abused doesn’t mean it’s a bad argument in all cases,” he said.
Rabbi Daniel Sikowitz, of Frederick’s Kol Ami Congregation, said Friday he had read about Bartlett’s statement and his subsequent apology.
Mentioning the Holocaust in such circumstances devalues the terrible significance of what happened, he said.
Sikowitz said he wrote a sermon on the matter a few years ago, when Nazism was invoked in relation to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, sometimes referred to as Obamacare.
“I have no patience for people who invoke the Holocaust because they’re trying to make a point,” Sikowitz said. “To equate that to anything except another Holocaust is just shameful. I hope (Bartlett) and others have learned you just can’t use it in everyday language.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.