Friday, August 11, 2006

The Bigot Card

Were there voters in the Connecticut Democratic primary who voted against Joe Lieberman because he's a Jew? Probably a few, here and there; you’ll never go broke underestimating the intelligence with which some voters approach the ballot box, and bigots hold the franchise too.

Nevertheless, it is objectively insane to suggest, as Rush Limbaugh has, that being Jewish had anything to do with Lieberman's primary loss. Connecticut has sent Joe to Washington three times, and it’s hardly likely that voters there, even were there enough anti-Semites among them to make this kind of a difference, have only now plumbed the secret of his religious identity, which (a) he wears on his sleeve and (b) the national media shouted from the rooftops six years ago, before and during his previous Senate campaign.

(Voting against him because he’s Jewish is to be distinguished from voting against him on account of specific political views that he derives from his particular band of conservative religiosity, viz. the delusion that the United States should have or ever has had a ”dedication … to God and God's purpose”. I’d have gladly voted against Lieberman on the basis of that alone, all other things being equal, just as I’d have voted against a Methodist—George W. Bush, say—espousing the same nonsense, without, I hope, risking being labeled anti-Wesleyan.)

As crazy as Limbaugh’s suggestion may be, though (a good friend has declared it “the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard”), it doesn’t come straight out of the blue. In fact, it fits right in with a trope dear to conservative pundits, which is to imply that liberals think and act the way they do not because they have any good or creditable reasons for so thinking or acting, but out of some dark, irrational and ultimately disgraceful motive. Anti-Americanism (hatred of America, of the troops, of God—if not yet of Mom and apple pie) is, of course, a favorite; racial, sexual or religious prejudice is a close second.

There’s a fair amount of chutzpah in this, and more than a hint of the Rovian strategy of attacking where the enemy is strongest. After all, it wasn’t the Democratic party chairman who recently had to apologize to blacks for his party’s history of racial divisiveness, nor was it the Republicans who nominated the first female and Jewish candidates on a national ticket, and both nominated and elected the first Catholic. (The KKK Democrats who forty years ago opposed the Civil Rights Act have long since either repented or become Republicans, not that Limbaugh et al. have noticed.)

Nevertheless, when some liberals raised questions about Condoleezza Rice’s fitness to be Secretary of State on the perfectly reasonable ground that she was either incompetent or a liar (cf. her testimony to the 9/11 Commission that “no one could have foreseen” that terrorists might fly airplanes into buildings), Hannity, Coulter and Malkin were only a few who flung the charge that their real problem with Rice was that she was a black woman. Never mind that Rice was replacing a black man who had enjoyed, throughout most of his tenure, enormous popularity and respect across the political spectrum, or that the previous occupant of that post had been a woman serving a Democratic administration, and never mind that some who were calling Rice incompetent were themselves black; what mattered was not the justice or even rationality of the accusation, but rather the fact that it might cut some ice with the inattentive and unthinking (their natural constituency).

Even the comparatively genteel David Brooks has played this game, in this case too leading with the anti-Semitism card. The occasion was a New York Times op-ed piece in praise of then-Deputy Secretary of State Paul Wolfowitz. Wolfowitz was, according to Brooks,

the focus of much anti-Semitism in the world today -- the center of a zillion Zionist conspiracy theories, and a hundred zillion clever-Jew-behind-the-scenes calumnies.
In an earlier NYT piece, Brooks had cast his net even wider, to take in not just critics of Wolfowitz (who had certainly earned criticism), but of the whole neoconservative enterprise. Even using the term “neocon” was enough to suggest anti-Semitism, since, according to Brooks,

con is short for “conservative” and neo is short for “Jewish”

to hear these people describe it, PNAC [the Project for the New American Century] is a sort of Yiddish Trilateral Commission
This too made no sense on a rational level. Signatories to the PNAC’s various documents include such well-known non-Jews as Bill Bennett, William F. Buckley, Jr., Steve Forbes, Francis Fukuyama and Gary Bauer (and those are just the B’s and F’s), not to mention Donald Rumsfeld, who from what I can tell is a Presbyterian. The fact that a significant number of prominent neocons are Jewish has absolutely nothing to do with whether their political project is objectionable, or the fact that a large number of moderates and liberals do actually object to it. To think otherwise is nonsense; to claim otherwise is (if not deluded) just a rhetorical dirty trick.

I have to think that Brooks, if perhaps not Limbaugh, knows this to be true. On the other hand, that line about “a hundred zillion clever-Jew-behind-the-scenes calumnies” gives me pause. I don’t think that way, and I don’t know anyone who does (let alone enough people to come up with even a fraction of “100 zillion” such calumnies). What sort of company do these people keep?