A TEST OF CHARACTER…. You can learn a lot about a group of people by how they choose to fight for what they believe in. It is, in a sense, a test of character and an opportunity to see what they’re made of. Faced with a challenge and a passionate zeal, will they use the people who trust them in good faith? Will they tell the truth? Will they sacrifice honor and dignity to get what they want?

Take the opponents of health care reform. Brian Beutler posted an item this morning with a video of a Patients First bus tour event in Colorado. Patients First, a project of the right-wing Americans for Prosperity, had a speaker telling activists a bogus claim — that reform will mandate physician assisted suicide. The Patients First speaker said, “Adolf Hitler issued 6 million end of life orders — he called his program the final solution. I kind of wonder what we’re going to call ours.”

We’ve been hearing this kind of talk from all kinds of conservatives for a quite a while now, but that doesn’t make it any less disgusting. Josh Marshall notes that it’s “worth taking a moment” to ponder what goes into comparing health care reform to the Nazi Holocaust.

Most significant here is not the right-wing liars and demagogues making this stuff up but the fact that they’ve convinced a significant number of their followers that this stuff is true. That’s a very dangerous situation.

We should also keep in mind that the birther-mania, as comical as it is on one level, is all part of the same fabric with the Hitler and Holocaust comparisons, an aggressive process of denigration and dehumanization, dressed up around claims about paperwork and places of birth, but all escalating and churning the belief of a minority of Americans that President Obama is not a legitimate president but rather a usurper.

It’s always important for us to remember what the last eight years have again taught us, which is that America has a very strong civic fabric, one that can withstand, absorb and conquer all manner of ugly behavior. It can take in stride a lot of angry rhetoric, townhall fisticuffs and more. But as this escalates we should continually be stepping back and thinking retrospectively from the vantage point of the future about where this all seems to be heading.

It’s tempting, at times, to feel a little sorry for the right-wing mobs, made up of people who may not know better. They’re convinced that fascism is upon us and competition between private and public insurers will mean the end of Western civilization. Clinton-era tax rates represent Soviet-style governing, and those FEMA concentration camps, staffed by ACORN volunteers, are right around the corner.

But the pity quickly dissipates when I see them applauding the clown comparing health care reform and the Holocaust. They may be victims of a right-wing con, but they also have a responsibility to at least give decency and critical thinking a try, and resist a mass movement that’s more than a little dangerous.

Policy fights like the one we’re watching unfold put their character on display, and it’s not a pretty sight.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.