Commentary Magazine


Topic: Christian right

Rand Paul Can’t Fool Pro-Israel Christians

Last week we noted that if Rand Paul wanted to be a serious presidential contender as opposed to a libertarian gadfly he was going to have to distance himself from his father’s extreme anti-Israel views. No one should be holding their breath waiting for the Kentucky senator to speak a word against Ron Paul, but there’s no question he is preparing to cast himself as a different kind of candidate in 2016. To that end, not only did he take the trouble to engage in an exchange with COMMENTARY about his views on Israel, but as Business Insider reported last week, he is also planning a trip to the Jewish state next month.

Trips to Israel by senators and members of Congress are so common that they are hardly newsworthy. But for a devoted opponent of military aid to the Jewish state to be journeying there for the first time is a clear sign that Rand Paul wants to be seen as someone whose views on foreign policy are not the sort of grab bag of libertarian cant and isolationism that characterizes his father’s stance. Even more telling is that Paul will be accompanied on his trip by a group of evangelical leaders. The signal being given here is that the senator wants to be seen by the Republican base as a mainstream conservative and not a libertarian outlier.

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Last week we noted that if Rand Paul wanted to be a serious presidential contender as opposed to a libertarian gadfly he was going to have to distance himself from his father’s extreme anti-Israel views. No one should be holding their breath waiting for the Kentucky senator to speak a word against Ron Paul, but there’s no question he is preparing to cast himself as a different kind of candidate in 2016. To that end, not only did he take the trouble to engage in an exchange with COMMENTARY about his views on Israel, but as Business Insider reported last week, he is also planning a trip to the Jewish state next month.

Trips to Israel by senators and members of Congress are so common that they are hardly newsworthy. But for a devoted opponent of military aid to the Jewish state to be journeying there for the first time is a clear sign that Rand Paul wants to be seen as someone whose views on foreign policy are not the sort of grab bag of libertarian cant and isolationism that characterizes his father’s stance. Even more telling is that Paul will be accompanied on his trip by a group of evangelical leaders. The signal being given here is that the senator wants to be seen by the Republican base as a mainstream conservative and not a libertarian outlier.

Given his opposition to military assistance and his worldview that calls for a weaker U.S. presence in the world, that won’t be easy. But the trip to Israel and Jordan is a start. But the outreach here isn’t to AIPAC and its donors, who rightly regard the younger Paul as just a more presentable version of a father who remains an implacable foe of the U.S.-Israel alliance.

Ron Paul was able to build up a passionate following of libertarians who applauded his rants about the Federal Reserve as well as his isolationist tirades that sounded at times as if they were lifted from the left’s playbook. But he was never able to break through to conservative Christians. His son understands that he will also fail with that demographic and have little chance to win the GOP nomination if they view him as a clone of his father. Christian conservatives view support of Israel as even more of a litmus test than most Jews, so it is incumbent on Rand Paul to either moderate his views or to present them in such a way as to avoid being classified as an opponent of Zion.

However, Christian supporters of Israel won’t be so easily fooled as liberal Jewish supporters of the Jewish state.

Barack Obama was able to pass inspection by liberals by mouthing some platitudes (some of which he quickly retracted) and making an election-year campaign trip to Israel in 2008. So long as he was reliably liberal on other issues, few would look closely at his questionable associations and views on the subject.

But pro-Israel evangelicals are made of sterner stuff than that. Though he is being accompanied by a delegation of pastors and will, no doubt, make the usual stops in Jerusalem and perhaps even be schlepped to southern Israel to inspect the damage done by Hamas missiles, they will judge him on his record, not mere symbolism. Unless he truly changes his views on the subject, he is not likely to make much headway in a community that will judge him harshly for being a false friend to Israel.

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Liberals Comparing Conservatives to the Muslim Brotherhood?

What does Sarah Palin have in common with the Muslim Brotherhood? The answer to that question is, of course, absolutely nothing. But don’t tell myriad pundits and academics that. Cheap analogies between the Tea Party and al-Qaeda, Sarah Palin and the Muslim Brotherhood, or the Taliban and the Christian Right have become a bit too commonplace for comfort among those who are supposed to inform public debate or provide expertise. Politicization, intolerance for opposing views, and false moral equivalence each suggest a profound ignorance of what groups like the Taliban and Muslim Brotherhood stand for.

Here are just a few examples:

  •  MSNBC’s Chris Matthews: “So the Muslim Brotherhood has a parallel role here with the Tea Party?”
  • John Esposito, Georgetown University:  “The political Salafis believe that they have a true vision of Islam and that their version of religion is the one that they practice and the one that other people should practice too in their personal lives. Moreover, they are working to implement this vision in society as a whole… What you see in Christianity is that you have some very conservative Christians, you see them in the U.S. for example, many of them very conservative in their personal lives, and then there is the Christian Right in the U.S. that is involved in politics, another kind of Christianity that tries to impose its own will on other people.”
  • Princeton University’s Gregory D. Johnsen: “comparing [Tawakkol] Karman to [hardline Islamist Abdul Majid al-] Zindani is something akin to making Colin Powell responsible for what Sarah Palin says.”
  • Oxford University’s Richard Dawkins: “The fundamentalist Christian Right is America’s Taliban.”
  • University of Michigan Professor Juan Cole: “The mainstream Republican Party’s view on many social issues thus resembles that of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party and the Muslim Brotherhood and related parties in the Muslim world far more than it does the ‘conservative’ parties of Scandinavia and continental Europe.”
  • And, Juan Cole, again: “Is Sarah Palin America’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad? The two differ in many key respects, of course, but it is remarkable how similar they are. There are uncanny parallels in their biographies, their domestic politics and the way they present themselves — even in their rocky relationships with party elders.”
  • Cher: “We talk about how radical Muslims take away the Rights of their woman, but HOW CAN WE LET These RW [right wing American] Misogynistic Cretins take away.”
  • Occasional  Nation contributor David Lindorff: “But John Walker Lindh… is not the real American Taliban. That title surely belongs to our new Republican vice presidential candidate, Sarah Palin.”
  • Filmmaker Michael Moore:  Appearing on “Real Time” with Bill Maher on Friday, film producer Michael Moore said that we should consider people such as Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin “our Taliban” because “their level of bigotry is so un-American.”
  • Markos Moulitsas, Daily Kos founder: “In their tactics and on the issues, our homegrown American Taliban are almost indistinguishable from the Afghan Taliban.”
  • New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof: “We tend to think of national security narrowly as the risk of a military or terrorist attack. But national security is about protecting our people and our national strength — and the blunt truth is that the biggest threat to America’s national security … comes from budget machinations, and budget maniacs, at home.”

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What does Sarah Palin have in common with the Muslim Brotherhood? The answer to that question is, of course, absolutely nothing. But don’t tell myriad pundits and academics that. Cheap analogies between the Tea Party and al-Qaeda, Sarah Palin and the Muslim Brotherhood, or the Taliban and the Christian Right have become a bit too commonplace for comfort among those who are supposed to inform public debate or provide expertise. Politicization, intolerance for opposing views, and false moral equivalence each suggest a profound ignorance of what groups like the Taliban and Muslim Brotherhood stand for.

Here are just a few examples:

    •  MSNBC’s Chris Matthews: “So the Muslim Brotherhood has a parallel role here with the Tea Party?”
    • John Esposito, Georgetown University:  “The political Salafis believe that they have a true vision of Islam and that their version of religion is the one that they practice and the one that other people should practice too in their personal lives. Moreover, they are working to implement this vision in society as a whole… What you see in Christianity is that you have some very conservative Christians, you see them in the U.S. for example, many of them very conservative in their personal lives, and then there is the Christian Right in the U.S. that is involved in politics, another kind of Christianity that tries to impose its own will on other people.”
    • Princeton University’s Gregory D. Johnsen: “comparing [Tawakkol] Karman to [hardline Islamist Abdul Majid al-] Zindani is something akin to making Colin Powell responsible for what Sarah Palin says.”
    • Oxford University’s Richard Dawkins: “The fundamentalist Christian Right is America’s Taliban.”
    • University of Michigan Professor Juan Cole: “The mainstream Republican Party’s view on many social issues thus resembles that of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party and the Muslim Brotherhood and related parties in the Muslim world far more than it does the ‘conservative’ parties of Scandinavia and continental Europe.”
    • And, Juan Cole, again: “Is Sarah Palin America’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad? The two differ in many key respects, of course, but it is remarkable how similar they are. There are uncanny parallels in their biographies, their domestic politics and the way they present themselves — even in their rocky relationships with party elders.”
    • Cher: “We talk about how radical Muslims take away the Rights of their woman, but HOW CAN WE LET These RW [right wing American] Misogynistic Cretins take away.”
    • Occasional  Nation contributor David Lindorff: “But John Walker Lindh… is not the real American Taliban. That title surely belongs to our new Republican vice presidential candidate, Sarah Palin.”
    • Filmmaker Michael Moore:  Appearing on “Real Time” with Bill Maher on Friday, film producer Michael Moore said that we should consider people such as Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin “our Taliban” because “their level of bigotry is so un-American.”
    • Markos Moulitsas, Daily Kos founder: “In their tactics and on the issues, our homegrown American Taliban are almost indistinguishable from the Afghan Taliban.”
    • New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof: “We tend to think of national security narrowly as the risk of a military or terrorist attack. But national security is about protecting our people and our national strength — and the blunt truth is that the biggest threat to America’s national security … comes from budget machinations, and budget maniacs, at home.”

Since the Arab Spring, Muslim Brotherhood activists have called for the eradication of national borders to form a global Islamic state and in recent weeks, a Muslim Brotherhood rally in Egypt called for armed insurrection should the election not go their way. The Brotherhood’s website is rife with anti-Semitism. Other examples are here. The United States and, more broadly, the West, will be paying the price for the Muslim Brotherhood’s rise in Egypt, and we have already paid the price for the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Arguing, in effect, that such groups have parallels on the American political spectrum is both dishonest, destructive, and bolsters an illusion that such groups hold pragmatic politics above intolerant ideology.

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