Commentary Magazine


Topic: paranoia

Of Loughner and Philip K. Dick and Me

A few days ago, I speculated that, based on some things said about him by high-school friends, Jared Loughner was more likely to have been influenced by the world view of the brilliant but schizophrenic science-fiction writer Philip K. Dick than he would have been by Sarah Palin and the Tea Party. For this observation, a writer at the Atlantic said my theory was one of the five strangest suggested about Loughner, along with David Frum’s speculation that marijuana might have had something to do with his behavior.

Well, shut my mouth. Except that, in a long Washington Post story about Loughner’s descent into fantasy, there appears this passage:

Loughner’s favorite writer was Philip K. Dick, whose science-fiction tales travel a mystical path in which omnipotent governments and businesses are the bad guys and the average man is often lost in an identity-shattering swirl of paranoia, schizophrenia and questions about whether the universe and the individual are real or part of some vast conspiracy.

The point I was making is not that readers of Philip K. Dick, of whom there are many millions, are going to go out and shoot people. It’s that people who live in a disordered reality would be especially susceptible to a portrait of the world that suggests disordered realities are real and actual realities are false. That this notion seemed less plausible to many than that Loughner was driven to a murder spree by talk radio says a great deal about the reality distortions that grabbed hold of the minds of eager liberals over the past six days.

A few days ago, I speculated that, based on some things said about him by high-school friends, Jared Loughner was more likely to have been influenced by the world view of the brilliant but schizophrenic science-fiction writer Philip K. Dick than he would have been by Sarah Palin and the Tea Party. For this observation, a writer at the Atlantic said my theory was one of the five strangest suggested about Loughner, along with David Frum’s speculation that marijuana might have had something to do with his behavior.

Well, shut my mouth. Except that, in a long Washington Post story about Loughner’s descent into fantasy, there appears this passage:

Loughner’s favorite writer was Philip K. Dick, whose science-fiction tales travel a mystical path in which omnipotent governments and businesses are the bad guys and the average man is often lost in an identity-shattering swirl of paranoia, schizophrenia and questions about whether the universe and the individual are real or part of some vast conspiracy.

The point I was making is not that readers of Philip K. Dick, of whom there are many millions, are going to go out and shoot people. It’s that people who live in a disordered reality would be especially susceptible to a portrait of the world that suggests disordered realities are real and actual realities are false. That this notion seemed less plausible to many than that Loughner was driven to a murder spree by talk radio says a great deal about the reality distortions that grabbed hold of the minds of eager liberals over the past six days.

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Alan Wolfe’s Silly Essay

Sometimes, well-educated people can write the silliest essays. Take Boston College professor Alan Wolfe, who has written an article — “Why Conservatives Won’t Govern” — in the Winter 2011 issue of Democracy: A Journal of Ideas.

According to Wolfe:

There is much to be learned from the way Republicans behaved during the first two years of the Obama Administration. If that history is any indication, the problem will no longer be that conservatives cannot govern. We are instead in for an era in which conservatives will not govern. [emphasis in the original]

The problem with the GOP, you see, isn’t that it is cynical, because even a cynic cares. “What we witness instead is nihilism,” Wolfe writes, “and in the most literal sense of the term.”

Nihilism, we are told,

is as dangerous a political stance as one can find. Unlike polarization, it guarantees that words become divorced from any underlying reality they are meant to describe, that those watching the spectacle turn away in disgust, that tactical maneuvering replaces all discussion of substantive policy issues, and that political opponents are to be treated as enemies to be conquered. Lacking regenerative qualities of its own, nihilism can never produce new sources of political energy.

In case the point isn’t clear enough, Wolfe goes on to write:

[C]onservative nihilism poisons the soil that allows any set of ideas, liberal or conservative, to grow … a party that will not govern does not wish to replace strong government with weak and decentralized government in order to show how often the public sector fails. It instead much prefers to make it impossible for government to carry out its functions in the first place. If its political strategy is nihilistic, its ultimate outcome is anarchistic … when it comes to government, [conservatives] are as nihilistic as Abbie Hoffman. … No 1960s radical ever went as far as so many twenty-first century conservatives are going now.

All told, Wolfe used some version of the word “nihilism” more than 30 times in describing Republicans and conservatives.

The editor who allowed this essay to be published did Professor Wolfe no favors. His arguments are not only foolish; they are delusional. Read More

Sometimes, well-educated people can write the silliest essays. Take Boston College professor Alan Wolfe, who has written an article — “Why Conservatives Won’t Govern” — in the Winter 2011 issue of Democracy: A Journal of Ideas.

According to Wolfe:

There is much to be learned from the way Republicans behaved during the first two years of the Obama Administration. If that history is any indication, the problem will no longer be that conservatives cannot govern. We are instead in for an era in which conservatives will not govern. [emphasis in the original]

The problem with the GOP, you see, isn’t that it is cynical, because even a cynic cares. “What we witness instead is nihilism,” Wolfe writes, “and in the most literal sense of the term.”

Nihilism, we are told,

is as dangerous a political stance as one can find. Unlike polarization, it guarantees that words become divorced from any underlying reality they are meant to describe, that those watching the spectacle turn away in disgust, that tactical maneuvering replaces all discussion of substantive policy issues, and that political opponents are to be treated as enemies to be conquered. Lacking regenerative qualities of its own, nihilism can never produce new sources of political energy.

In case the point isn’t clear enough, Wolfe goes on to write:

[C]onservative nihilism poisons the soil that allows any set of ideas, liberal or conservative, to grow … a party that will not govern does not wish to replace strong government with weak and decentralized government in order to show how often the public sector fails. It instead much prefers to make it impossible for government to carry out its functions in the first place. If its political strategy is nihilistic, its ultimate outcome is anarchistic … when it comes to government, [conservatives] are as nihilistic as Abbie Hoffman. … No 1960s radical ever went as far as so many twenty-first century conservatives are going now.

All told, Wolfe used some version of the word “nihilism” more than 30 times in describing Republicans and conservatives.

The editor who allowed this essay to be published did Professor Wolfe no favors. His arguments are not only foolish; they are delusional.

According to Wolfe, “the shift from polarization to nihilism is well illustrated by the pre-election fate of Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan’s ‘A Roadmap for America’s Future.’” During the campaign, Wolfe writes, “conservatives shunned Ryan’s plan like a virus.”

“Will Ryan become a conservative hero in the new House? Don’t bet on it,” Wolfe writes. “Once your purpose is to say no to everything the other side proposes, you do not want to put yourself in the position of saying yes to anything else, lest you actually have to spend your energy defending a position.”

In fact, many conservatives not only don’t shun Ryan’s plan; they enthusiastically embrace it. Sarah Palin did so as recently as a week ago. And while it’s true that the GOP leadership in the House hasn’t fully embraced the Roadmap, it is open to key elements of it. Any hesitancy in fully blessing Ryan’s roadmap doesn’t have to do with nihilism; it has to do with fear that reforming entitlements will be politically catastrophic.

More important, Ryan, the incoming chairman of the House Budget Committee, is going to present the GOP’s budget — in effect, its governing blueprint — in the spring. His plan will be far-reaching, bold, intellectually coherent — and it will have the support of the Republican caucus. Ryan will, in fact, be among the most important Republicans in America next year.

On the matter of judges, Professor Wolfe is terribly upset by the fact that fewer than half of Obama’s nominations for judgeships have been approved. “There can be little doubt that conservatives will now feel emboldened to continue and even ratchet-up their policy of judicial refusal in the next two years,” Wolfe writes. “It is, after all, a near-perfect expression of their nihilism; the best way to stop judges from interpreting the law, as conservatives like to call decisions they happen to disfavor, is to have fewer judges.” He goes on to say:

All this suggests that Elena Kagan will be the last judge Obama gets to place on the high court. This is not because openings are unlikely to occur. It is instead because Republicans, confident that Democrats will never come close to the 60 votes necessary to stop them, will use their veto power to block any Supreme Court nominee they dislike, which amounts to anyone Obama selects. On the court, if not in Congress, conservatives believe in an active government; they need judges who will say no to every piece of legislation they want to block.

It’s probably worth pointing out that it was Democrats, not Republicans, who did the most to politicize the appointment of judges and Supreme Court nominations, with their ferocious opposition to Robert Bork and Clarence Thomas. No recent liberal nominee has been treated as disgracefully as were Bork and Thomas. It’s worth asking, too: was Senator Obama a nihilist for not only opposing the confirmation of Samuel Alito but also for supporting the filibuster of his nomination?

Beyond that, assume that Obama nominates centrist-to-conservative judges. Republicans would support them in the blink of an eye. The problem Obama would face would be with his liberal base, not with conservatives. This explodes the theory that Republicans are nihilists; if they were, they would oppose for the sake of opposition, as a means to achieving anarchy. But, of course, Republicans have no interest in such a thing.

And note well: the tax bill that was just agreed to was the product of a compromise between President Obama and the GOP leadership — precisely the kind of compromise that Wolfe says Republicans and conservatives oppose in principle and in every instance.

Professor Wolfe’s essay is instructive in this respect: it shows the kind of paranoia and diseased thinking that afflicts some liberals and progressives. He acts as if no conservative policy world exists and exerts any influence on lawmakers. This is flatly untrue. Professor Wolfe might, for starters, consider visiting the website of National Affairs in order to become acquainted with arguments and ideas he is now blind to.

Moreover, progressives like Wolfe seem to genuinely believe the cartoonish image they have created of Republicans and conservatives, portraying them as if they were characters out of Turgenev’s Fathers and Sons. They cannot seem to fathom that the differences between conservatives and liberals, between the incoming GOP Congress and Barack Obama, are rooted in different governing philosophies, not nihilism vs. non-nihilism. They do not even entertain the possibility that opposition to ObamaCare is based on the belief that a more sustainable, market-based, and patient-centered version of health reform is better for our nation. Conservatives may be wrong about this; but to hold this view does not mean they are pining for anarchy.

The Alan Wolfe approach, of course, makes governing in America much more difficult. If you view your opponents not simply as wrong but as a disciple of Nietzsche, eager to burn down the village, it changes almost everything about politics. It would be all to the good, I think, if people on both sides resisted the temptation — unless the evidence is overwhelming and to the contrary — to refer to one’s political opponents as Nazis, as terrorists, as nihilists, and so forth. This is almost always a sign of the weakness, not the strength, of one’s arguments.

In Fathers and Sons, the protagonist, Bazarov, says to the woman he loves, and hated himself for loving, “Breathe on the dying flame and let it go out. Enough!”

The same can be said about Professor Wolfe’s essay.

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Who’s Angry Now? Brown Compares Whitman to Goebbels

California Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jerry Brown was once known as “Governor Moonbeam” because of his eccentric manner way back in the 1970s, when he served two terms in the same office he’s trying for now. But you would think that after four decades in public life, Brown, who has always fancied himself an advocate of a purer brand of politics than the average lifetime politician, would have learned that calling your opponent a Nazi isn’t so smart.

Politico reports that, in a conversation with a reporter, Brown compared his Republican opponent, Meg Whitman, the former eBay chief who triumphed in this week’s GOP primary, to Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s minister of propaganda. According to KCBS’s Doug Sovern, Brown claimed that:

She’ll have people believing whatever she wants about me. It’s like Goebbels. … Goebbels invented this kind of propaganda. He took control of the whole world. She wants to be president. That’s her ambition, the first woman president. That’s what this is all about.

Brown’s over-the-top paranoia about his opponent speaks volumes about his own view of the world, in which any opponent who brings up the details from his own long and not terribly successful record while holding numerous public offices is a Nazi. And because inappropriate Nazi analogies are one of the few political sins that can guarantee a liberal Democrat like Brown criticism from mainstream liberal Jewish organizations, he should be expecting a call (accompanied by a news release) from the Anti-Defamation League’s Abe Foxman sometime in the next day or two, in which he will be instructed that it is not appropriate behavior to compare a former business executive to the regime that slaughtered six million Jews just because she takes Jerry Brown’s name in vain.

We can expect Brown — who hasn’t denied the slur but instead had his office issue the usual weasel-worded claim that his words were “taken out of context” — to eventually apologize. But in a year in which the liberal media have seized every opportunity to brand Republicans and the Tea Party movement as extremists and as a threat to democracy, it’s interesting to note that invariably, it is liberal Democrats like Brown who are coarsening the public square with attempts to demonize their opponents for having the temerity to question their bona fides. The ADL itself stepped into dangerous territory last fall with a report titled “Rage Grows in America: Anti-Government Conspiracies,” in which it speciously linked Republican critics of the Obama administration with militias and other far-right extremists.

But contrary to the ADL’s inappropriate and highly partisan report, most of the rage this year seems to come from Democrats and liberals like Brown who are willing to say anything to besmirch those who dare to oppose them. While I don’t doubt that the ADL will rightly take Brown to task for his loose talk about Goebbels, the group ought to think seriously about the fact that most of the anger we’re hearing lately is not from Tea Partiers heading to Washington with their pitchforks but from liberals who are crying in their beer about the imminent prospect of defeat at the hands of a re-energized GOP.

California Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jerry Brown was once known as “Governor Moonbeam” because of his eccentric manner way back in the 1970s, when he served two terms in the same office he’s trying for now. But you would think that after four decades in public life, Brown, who has always fancied himself an advocate of a purer brand of politics than the average lifetime politician, would have learned that calling your opponent a Nazi isn’t so smart.

Politico reports that, in a conversation with a reporter, Brown compared his Republican opponent, Meg Whitman, the former eBay chief who triumphed in this week’s GOP primary, to Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s minister of propaganda. According to KCBS’s Doug Sovern, Brown claimed that:

She’ll have people believing whatever she wants about me. It’s like Goebbels. … Goebbels invented this kind of propaganda. He took control of the whole world. She wants to be president. That’s her ambition, the first woman president. That’s what this is all about.

Brown’s over-the-top paranoia about his opponent speaks volumes about his own view of the world, in which any opponent who brings up the details from his own long and not terribly successful record while holding numerous public offices is a Nazi. And because inappropriate Nazi analogies are one of the few political sins that can guarantee a liberal Democrat like Brown criticism from mainstream liberal Jewish organizations, he should be expecting a call (accompanied by a news release) from the Anti-Defamation League’s Abe Foxman sometime in the next day or two, in which he will be instructed that it is not appropriate behavior to compare a former business executive to the regime that slaughtered six million Jews just because she takes Jerry Brown’s name in vain.

We can expect Brown — who hasn’t denied the slur but instead had his office issue the usual weasel-worded claim that his words were “taken out of context” — to eventually apologize. But in a year in which the liberal media have seized every opportunity to brand Republicans and the Tea Party movement as extremists and as a threat to democracy, it’s interesting to note that invariably, it is liberal Democrats like Brown who are coarsening the public square with attempts to demonize their opponents for having the temerity to question their bona fides. The ADL itself stepped into dangerous territory last fall with a report titled “Rage Grows in America: Anti-Government Conspiracies,” in which it speciously linked Republican critics of the Obama administration with militias and other far-right extremists.

But contrary to the ADL’s inappropriate and highly partisan report, most of the rage this year seems to come from Democrats and liberals like Brown who are willing to say anything to besmirch those who dare to oppose them. While I don’t doubt that the ADL will rightly take Brown to task for his loose talk about Goebbels, the group ought to think seriously about the fact that most of the anger we’re hearing lately is not from Tea Partiers heading to Washington with their pitchforks but from liberals who are crying in their beer about the imminent prospect of defeat at the hands of a re-energized GOP.

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The Symbol Fetish

At the New Republic, Leon Wieseltier writes that Israel has lost “the all-important war for symbols and meanings, to Hamas.” Somehow, among all the wars and skirmishes and ambushes that define Israeli existence and threaten to erase the Jewish state, I find it hard to swallow Wieseltier’s post-modern competition “for symbols and meanings” as “the all important war.”

Ethan Bronner writes, in the New York Times, “the world powers have grown increasingly disillusioned with the blockade, saying that it has created far too much suffering in Gaza and serves as a symbol not only of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians but of how the West is seen in relation to the Palestinians.”

You know what else the blockade serves as? A blockade. It separates Israel’s sworn enemies from those who would help them arm and kill Israelis. Oh, and by the way, as a blockade – and not a symbol – the blockade works. So, too, do the fences, check points, and walls that separate Israel from would-be terrorists in the Palestinian territories.

Oops, did I say walls? This comes from a Reuters story that ran last year: “Pope Benedict stood by the wall Israel is building round the West Bank on Wednesday and called it a symbol of “stalemate” between Israel and the Palestinians, urging both sides to break a ‘spiral of violence.’”

What kind of Freudian limbo do Israelis now supposedly inhabit where everything they do and create is just another telling symbol of chauvinism, paranoia, and frustration. Friends of Israel often decry the absurd standards to which “world powers” try to hold the Jewish state. But this isn’t even about selective standards; it’s a category distinction. Here are the rules: Russia, which has been illegally occupying Georgia for almost two years, and facilitating Iran’s nuclear and anti-aircraft programs for even longer, is a state. North Korea, which recently sank a South Korean navy boat full of 46 sailors (not in oh-so-precious international waters, but in South Korean waters), starves its own population, and threatens to destroy Seoul, is a state. Pakistan — the creation of which led to a million deaths and millions more displaced, in order to give a single religious group its own area– is a terrorist Disneyland; it is also a state, achieving independence in 1947. Israel, on the other hand, is the world’s Hitchcock dream sequence. And it better not forget it.

That’s what all this criticism of the flotilla operation amounts to. How dare Israel act in service of its existence as a country when it’s so valuable as a symbol. In this way, those who wag their fingers at Israel for insufficiently weighing optics and PR and world opinion have put an insidious twist on the denial of Israel’s right to exist. For if it is forbidden to act on its own behalf as a state then there is an implicit denial of its right to be one. After all, when a state prevents a fleet of armed enemies from breaking its blockade with no casualties on their side it’s called a smashing success. When it’s done by Israel it’s just another sinister emblem of increasingly violent suicidal tendencies.

At the New Republic, Leon Wieseltier writes that Israel has lost “the all-important war for symbols and meanings, to Hamas.” Somehow, among all the wars and skirmishes and ambushes that define Israeli existence and threaten to erase the Jewish state, I find it hard to swallow Wieseltier’s post-modern competition “for symbols and meanings” as “the all important war.”

Ethan Bronner writes, in the New York Times, “the world powers have grown increasingly disillusioned with the blockade, saying that it has created far too much suffering in Gaza and serves as a symbol not only of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians but of how the West is seen in relation to the Palestinians.”

You know what else the blockade serves as? A blockade. It separates Israel’s sworn enemies from those who would help them arm and kill Israelis. Oh, and by the way, as a blockade – and not a symbol – the blockade works. So, too, do the fences, check points, and walls that separate Israel from would-be terrorists in the Palestinian territories.

Oops, did I say walls? This comes from a Reuters story that ran last year: “Pope Benedict stood by the wall Israel is building round the West Bank on Wednesday and called it a symbol of “stalemate” between Israel and the Palestinians, urging both sides to break a ‘spiral of violence.’”

What kind of Freudian limbo do Israelis now supposedly inhabit where everything they do and create is just another telling symbol of chauvinism, paranoia, and frustration. Friends of Israel often decry the absurd standards to which “world powers” try to hold the Jewish state. But this isn’t even about selective standards; it’s a category distinction. Here are the rules: Russia, which has been illegally occupying Georgia for almost two years, and facilitating Iran’s nuclear and anti-aircraft programs for even longer, is a state. North Korea, which recently sank a South Korean navy boat full of 46 sailors (not in oh-so-precious international waters, but in South Korean waters), starves its own population, and threatens to destroy Seoul, is a state. Pakistan — the creation of which led to a million deaths and millions more displaced, in order to give a single religious group its own area– is a terrorist Disneyland; it is also a state, achieving independence in 1947. Israel, on the other hand, is the world’s Hitchcock dream sequence. And it better not forget it.

That’s what all this criticism of the flotilla operation amounts to. How dare Israel act in service of its existence as a country when it’s so valuable as a symbol. In this way, those who wag their fingers at Israel for insufficiently weighing optics and PR and world opinion have put an insidious twist on the denial of Israel’s right to exist. For if it is forbidden to act on its own behalf as a state then there is an implicit denial of its right to be one. After all, when a state prevents a fleet of armed enemies from breaking its blockade with no casualties on their side it’s called a smashing success. When it’s done by Israel it’s just another sinister emblem of increasingly violent suicidal tendencies.

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Who’s Crazy?

I suppose we’ve reached a breakthrough on Iran when liberal pundits start invoking Richard Nixon — with fondness. Richard Cohen does so by way of considering whether Ahmadinejad is crazy/insane or crazy/dangerous, and whether it isn’t a good idea to upend the Iranian regime’s plans to acquire nuclear weapons. You know, maybe we should give the Iranians the idea that we might do something Nixonesque — like knock out some sites or embargo the country. He observes:

Israel, of all countries, has little faith in the rationality of mankind. It simply knows better. So the question of whether Ahmadinejad is playing the madman or really is a madman is not an academic exercise. It has a real and frightening immediacy that too often, in too many precincts, gets belittled as a form of paranoia. For instance, when Israeli leaders warn that they might take preemptive action against Iran — say, an attempt to bomb its nuclear facilities as they did in Iraq in 1981 — it is dismissed as irresponsible saber-rattling. Former national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski even suggested that if Israel tried such a thing, the United States might have to back it down with force. The Brzezinski Doctrine is refreshing in its perverse boldness: We shoot our friends to defend our enemies.

The Obami’s policy, insofar we know they have one, hasn’t gone that far, though they speak quite openly of the risks of an attack and seem quite focused on making sure the Israelis don’t do anything as rash as preemptively removing a threat to the existence of the Jewish state. But what is crazy, even to the likes of Cohen, is the notion that we can learn to live with a nuclear-armed Iran:

It would upend the balance of power throughout the Middle East and encourage radical/terrorist organizations such as Hezbollah and Hamas to ratchet up their war against Israel. Other Middle East nations, not content to rely on an American nuclear umbrella, would seek their own bombs. An unstable region would go nuclear. (It speaks volumes about Middle Eastern reality and hypocrisy that Egypt serenely lives with an Israeli bomb but breaks out in diplomatic hives at the prospect of an Iranian one.)

And it is equally clear that, as Cohen acknowledges, the Obami have done nothing to dissuade the Iranian regime from pursuing its goal of joining the nuclear weapons club.
The Obama team likes to talk about creating consensus on Iran. Now everyone knows they’re bad guys, Hillary Clinton tells us – as if the  stolen election, the murders, the censorship, the brutality, the hidden nuclear sites, and the vows to exterminate Israel weren’t enough. But instead, the consensus has developed that Obama has behaved irresponsibly and in a very real sense irrationally. He expected a despotic regime to welcome cordial relations with the West, and he imagined that democracy protesters were an encumbrance rather than a remarkable opportunity for Iran and the West.

After a year, liberals and conservatives are reaching a consensus: Obama’s Iran policy is a dangerous flop. I suppose that’s an achievement of sorts.

I suppose we’ve reached a breakthrough on Iran when liberal pundits start invoking Richard Nixon — with fondness. Richard Cohen does so by way of considering whether Ahmadinejad is crazy/insane or crazy/dangerous, and whether it isn’t a good idea to upend the Iranian regime’s plans to acquire nuclear weapons. You know, maybe we should give the Iranians the idea that we might do something Nixonesque — like knock out some sites or embargo the country. He observes:

Israel, of all countries, has little faith in the rationality of mankind. It simply knows better. So the question of whether Ahmadinejad is playing the madman or really is a madman is not an academic exercise. It has a real and frightening immediacy that too often, in too many precincts, gets belittled as a form of paranoia. For instance, when Israeli leaders warn that they might take preemptive action against Iran — say, an attempt to bomb its nuclear facilities as they did in Iraq in 1981 — it is dismissed as irresponsible saber-rattling. Former national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski even suggested that if Israel tried such a thing, the United States might have to back it down with force. The Brzezinski Doctrine is refreshing in its perverse boldness: We shoot our friends to defend our enemies.

The Obami’s policy, insofar we know they have one, hasn’t gone that far, though they speak quite openly of the risks of an attack and seem quite focused on making sure the Israelis don’t do anything as rash as preemptively removing a threat to the existence of the Jewish state. But what is crazy, even to the likes of Cohen, is the notion that we can learn to live with a nuclear-armed Iran:

It would upend the balance of power throughout the Middle East and encourage radical/terrorist organizations such as Hezbollah and Hamas to ratchet up their war against Israel. Other Middle East nations, not content to rely on an American nuclear umbrella, would seek their own bombs. An unstable region would go nuclear. (It speaks volumes about Middle Eastern reality and hypocrisy that Egypt serenely lives with an Israeli bomb but breaks out in diplomatic hives at the prospect of an Iranian one.)

And it is equally clear that, as Cohen acknowledges, the Obami have done nothing to dissuade the Iranian regime from pursuing its goal of joining the nuclear weapons club.
The Obama team likes to talk about creating consensus on Iran. Now everyone knows they’re bad guys, Hillary Clinton tells us – as if the  stolen election, the murders, the censorship, the brutality, the hidden nuclear sites, and the vows to exterminate Israel weren’t enough. But instead, the consensus has developed that Obama has behaved irresponsibly and in a very real sense irrationally. He expected a despotic regime to welcome cordial relations with the West, and he imagined that democracy protesters were an encumbrance rather than a remarkable opportunity for Iran and the West.

After a year, liberals and conservatives are reaching a consensus: Obama’s Iran policy is a dangerous flop. I suppose that’s an achievement of sorts.

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Where the Political Discourse Is Ugly

Yesterday I wrote that if Scott Brown wins the Massachusetts election, “it’s a safe bet that in response [Democrats] and their allies will lash out in rage, angry at the perceived injustice of it all, furious at the fate that has befallen them.”

Enter the increasingly bizarre Keith Olbermann, the public face of MSNBC. In his short commentary last night, Mr. Olbermann offered these measured thoughts:

In short, in Scott Brown we have an irresponsible, homophobic, racist, reactionary, ex-nude model, teabagging supporter of violence against woman and against politicians with whom he disagrees. In any other time in our history, this man would have been laughed off the stage as an unqualified and a disaster in the making by the most conservative of conservatives. Instead, the commonwealth of Massachusetts is close to sending this bad joke to the Senate of the United States.

This was too much for Olbermann’s colleague Joe Scarborough, who called Olbermann’s comments “reckless” and “sad.” Olbermann’s comments come after MSNBC’s Ed Schultz said on his radio program:

I tell you what, if I lived in Massachusetts I’d try to vote 10 times. I don’t know if they’d let me or not, but I’d try to. Yeah, that’s right. I’d cheat to keep these bastards out. I would. ‘Cause that’s exactly what they are.

An impressive duo, no? Any network that makes Chris Matthews appear as a rock of stability, civility, and reason has achieved something that is not easy.

MSNBC, with a few exceptions (like Scarborough), long ago became a circus act. But it’s a circus act that serves a purpose. It reflects the temper and mindset of much of the Left. It is a movement fueled by paranoia and hate, even with Obama in the White House and Democrats in control of Congress. If Olbermann and Schultz’s comments are indicative of how the core of the Democratic Party is reacting simply in anticipation of a loss in Massachusetts, it’s hard to envision what will happen if Brown actually wins, let alone what would happen if Republicans make widespread gains in November.

Such ugliness by any political group or movement — whether from the Left or the Right — is not good for democratic discourse. It’s why each side needs to police its own ranks. But when the Left becomes as unhinged as Olbermann and some of his colleagues are — when the public gets to peer into their dark, angry, and bitter little world — it will have political ramifications, none of them good for Democrats.

Sometimes seeing ugliness on full display, even if it’s a bit uncomfortable, reveals certain realities. America can decide for itself if it wants to support an ideology that produces people like Keith Olbermann.

Yesterday I wrote that if Scott Brown wins the Massachusetts election, “it’s a safe bet that in response [Democrats] and their allies will lash out in rage, angry at the perceived injustice of it all, furious at the fate that has befallen them.”

Enter the increasingly bizarre Keith Olbermann, the public face of MSNBC. In his short commentary last night, Mr. Olbermann offered these measured thoughts:

In short, in Scott Brown we have an irresponsible, homophobic, racist, reactionary, ex-nude model, teabagging supporter of violence against woman and against politicians with whom he disagrees. In any other time in our history, this man would have been laughed off the stage as an unqualified and a disaster in the making by the most conservative of conservatives. Instead, the commonwealth of Massachusetts is close to sending this bad joke to the Senate of the United States.

This was too much for Olbermann’s colleague Joe Scarborough, who called Olbermann’s comments “reckless” and “sad.” Olbermann’s comments come after MSNBC’s Ed Schultz said on his radio program:

I tell you what, if I lived in Massachusetts I’d try to vote 10 times. I don’t know if they’d let me or not, but I’d try to. Yeah, that’s right. I’d cheat to keep these bastards out. I would. ‘Cause that’s exactly what they are.

An impressive duo, no? Any network that makes Chris Matthews appear as a rock of stability, civility, and reason has achieved something that is not easy.

MSNBC, with a few exceptions (like Scarborough), long ago became a circus act. But it’s a circus act that serves a purpose. It reflects the temper and mindset of much of the Left. It is a movement fueled by paranoia and hate, even with Obama in the White House and Democrats in control of Congress. If Olbermann and Schultz’s comments are indicative of how the core of the Democratic Party is reacting simply in anticipation of a loss in Massachusetts, it’s hard to envision what will happen if Brown actually wins, let alone what would happen if Republicans make widespread gains in November.

Such ugliness by any political group or movement — whether from the Left or the Right — is not good for democratic discourse. It’s why each side needs to police its own ranks. But when the Left becomes as unhinged as Olbermann and some of his colleagues are — when the public gets to peer into their dark, angry, and bitter little world — it will have political ramifications, none of them good for Democrats.

Sometimes seeing ugliness on full display, even if it’s a bit uncomfortable, reveals certain realities. America can decide for itself if it wants to support an ideology that produces people like Keith Olbermann.

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Who Talks To Obama?

A story on Zbigniew Brzezinski from the Telegraph:

Mr Brzezinski said “it’s not unique to the Jewish community – but there is a McCarthyite tendency among some people in the Jewish community”, referring to the Republican senator who led the anti-Communist witch hunt in the 1950s. “They operate not by arguing but by slandering, vilifying, demonising. They very promptly wheel out anti-Semitism. There is an element of paranoia in this inclination to view any serious attempt at a compromised peace as somehow directed against Israel.” Although Mr Brzezinski is not a formal day-to-day adviser and stressed he doesn’t speak for the campaign, he said that he “talks to” Mr Obama. He endorsed the Illinois senator, lauding him as “head and shoulders” above his opponents. He said that he was the only candidate who understood “what is new and distinctive about our age”. In turn, Mr Obama has praised Mr Brzezinski as “someone I have learned an immense amount from” and “one of our most outstanding scholars and thinkers”.

I have no doubt that Obama’s staff will rush forward to declare, as they have before, that Brzezinski is only a informal adviser. But the question remains why Obama has had a retinue of advisors (both formal and not) like Brzezinski, McPeak, and Malley who hold views so antithetical to Obama’s supposedly unassailable record and views on Israel. You can understand how rational voters, Jewish or not, would conclude that something is amiss and wonder why Obama does not disassociate himself entirely from these people. But no, those Jews are just hung up on Obama’s name and the phony emails about Obama’s Muslim upbringing. That must be it.

A story on Zbigniew Brzezinski from the Telegraph:

Mr Brzezinski said “it’s not unique to the Jewish community – but there is a McCarthyite tendency among some people in the Jewish community”, referring to the Republican senator who led the anti-Communist witch hunt in the 1950s. “They operate not by arguing but by slandering, vilifying, demonising. They very promptly wheel out anti-Semitism. There is an element of paranoia in this inclination to view any serious attempt at a compromised peace as somehow directed against Israel.” Although Mr Brzezinski is not a formal day-to-day adviser and stressed he doesn’t speak for the campaign, he said that he “talks to” Mr Obama. He endorsed the Illinois senator, lauding him as “head and shoulders” above his opponents. He said that he was the only candidate who understood “what is new and distinctive about our age”. In turn, Mr Obama has praised Mr Brzezinski as “someone I have learned an immense amount from” and “one of our most outstanding scholars and thinkers”.

I have no doubt that Obama’s staff will rush forward to declare, as they have before, that Brzezinski is only a informal adviser. But the question remains why Obama has had a retinue of advisors (both formal and not) like Brzezinski, McPeak, and Malley who hold views so antithetical to Obama’s supposedly unassailable record and views on Israel. You can understand how rational voters, Jewish or not, would conclude that something is amiss and wonder why Obama does not disassociate himself entirely from these people. But no, those Jews are just hung up on Obama’s name and the phony emails about Obama’s Muslim upbringing. That must be it.

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Kicking Hillary and Taking Names

Still on the Rolling Temper Tantrum Tour ’08, Bill Clinton gave a revelatory radio interview yesterday. Losing his cool and discarding any remnants of good sense, he was in top meltdown form, complete with a not-quite-out-of-earshot bit of profanity. Here’s what we learned:

1. The fallout over his comparing Obama’s South Carolina primary victory to Jesse Jackson’s was a matter of the race card being used against him. Though he brought up Jackson in connection with Obama, any connection on basis of race was introduced by the Obama camp in an effort to smear poor Bill.

2. He knows this now for a fact, because of some unearthed memos from the Obama camp.

3. You have to work pretty darn hard to cast Bill Clinton as a racist because . . . he has an office in Harlem.

4. He doesn’t think he “should take any s**t from anybody on that, do you?”

Actually, he should. On that and a great many other things, Americans (especially his wife) are hoping against hope that Bill Clinton will pipe down, get humble, and disappear. His inability to do so approaches the pathological. What’s fascinating about this most recent interview is not the victim mentality, the paranoia, or the commercial real estate approach to civil rights.

It’s that nothing offered in this outburst could possibly help his wife in Pennsylvania today. The temptation to psychoanalyze candidates and their spouses is best resisted, but in the case of Bill Clinton no analysis is required. He’s openly telling you: He doesn’t think he should take s**t from anybody, campaign be damned. With delegate math making things nearly impossible for Hillary, it’s as if Bill has decided to try and fight for some obscure personal validation. Can there be any question that the Clintons are heading for a double defeat?

Still on the Rolling Temper Tantrum Tour ’08, Bill Clinton gave a revelatory radio interview yesterday. Losing his cool and discarding any remnants of good sense, he was in top meltdown form, complete with a not-quite-out-of-earshot bit of profanity. Here’s what we learned:

1. The fallout over his comparing Obama’s South Carolina primary victory to Jesse Jackson’s was a matter of the race card being used against him. Though he brought up Jackson in connection with Obama, any connection on basis of race was introduced by the Obama camp in an effort to smear poor Bill.

2. He knows this now for a fact, because of some unearthed memos from the Obama camp.

3. You have to work pretty darn hard to cast Bill Clinton as a racist because . . . he has an office in Harlem.

4. He doesn’t think he “should take any s**t from anybody on that, do you?”

Actually, he should. On that and a great many other things, Americans (especially his wife) are hoping against hope that Bill Clinton will pipe down, get humble, and disappear. His inability to do so approaches the pathological. What’s fascinating about this most recent interview is not the victim mentality, the paranoia, or the commercial real estate approach to civil rights.

It’s that nothing offered in this outburst could possibly help his wife in Pennsylvania today. The temptation to psychoanalyze candidates and their spouses is best resisted, but in the case of Bill Clinton no analysis is required. He’s openly telling you: He doesn’t think he should take s**t from anybody, campaign be damned. With delegate math making things nearly impossible for Hillary, it’s as if Bill has decided to try and fight for some obscure personal validation. Can there be any question that the Clintons are heading for a double defeat?

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What Juan Williams Said

Juan Williams hit the nail on the head during his appearance on Fox News Sunday. He explained the importance of the Reverend Wright issue . (It is worth watching just for the reaction shots of the other Fox commentators, who can only observe in awe and stifle the urge to interrupt while Williams is on his roll). This goes to “character and judgment,” Williams explains, because we now can see that Obama was playing games on the race question. He exploited, in other words, his connection to Reverend Wright when it was to his advantage in the past, but is now playing to the public’s yearning for racial unity, since it better serves his presidential ambitions. For bonus points, Willaims explains how the brand of noxious black nationalism and paranoia exemplified in Wright’s sermons leads to statements like Michelle Obama’s.

Now, will average Americans be as insightful as Williams? Maybe not. But ordinary voters, I think, will sense that Obama has not been straight with them. Since his entire campaign is focused on him–his authenticity, his judgment, his blinding redemptive power to bring us all together– this is not just a bump in the road. This is the “ah ha!” moment Hillary Clinton has been hoping for, when voters do a gut check about Obama and perhaps decide there’s less there (or something altogether different) than meets the eye. Whether it will be enough to dislodge him from the lead in the race remains to be seen. After all, to do that, Democrats would have to decide that the Clinton they know is better than the Obama they’ve come to doubt.

Juan Williams hit the nail on the head during his appearance on Fox News Sunday. He explained the importance of the Reverend Wright issue . (It is worth watching just for the reaction shots of the other Fox commentators, who can only observe in awe and stifle the urge to interrupt while Williams is on his roll). This goes to “character and judgment,” Williams explains, because we now can see that Obama was playing games on the race question. He exploited, in other words, his connection to Reverend Wright when it was to his advantage in the past, but is now playing to the public’s yearning for racial unity, since it better serves his presidential ambitions. For bonus points, Willaims explains how the brand of noxious black nationalism and paranoia exemplified in Wright’s sermons leads to statements like Michelle Obama’s.

Now, will average Americans be as insightful as Williams? Maybe not. But ordinary voters, I think, will sense that Obama has not been straight with them. Since his entire campaign is focused on him–his authenticity, his judgment, his blinding redemptive power to bring us all together– this is not just a bump in the road. This is the “ah ha!” moment Hillary Clinton has been hoping for, when voters do a gut check about Obama and perhaps decide there’s less there (or something altogether different) than meets the eye. Whether it will be enough to dislodge him from the lead in the race remains to be seen. After all, to do that, Democrats would have to decide that the Clinton they know is better than the Obama they’ve come to doubt.

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Defending Samantha Power, Again

I see that neither Noah Pollak at CONTENTIONS nor Paul Mirengoff at Powerline is convinced by my defense of Samantha Power. I don’t want to belabor the point, but I would like to clarify my argument.

I don’t disagree with them on the merits of Power’s views on Israel and the Middle East. As they know, I am hardly a fan of the “peace process” or of détente with Tehran (although I have suggested in the past that it would make sense to offer to normalize relations with Iran in return for a cessation of its nuclear program and support of terrorism).

What I really objected to is the argument made by Pollak and some other critics that Power is part of a “disturbing number of foreign policy advisers to the Obama campaign who harbor hostile views of Israel.” That is a serious charge that needs to be handled with great care and hauled out only in the most dire circumstances because accusing someone of harboring “hostile views of Israel” is only a step or two removed from accusing them of harboring hostile views of Jews.

That conclusion is one that I think can be justifiably drawn about some people, such as John Mearsheimer, Stephen Walt, and Jimmy Carter. Their vociferous, over-the-top criticism of Israel and the “Israel Lobby” borders on paranoia and displays not just sloppy reasoning and factual mistakes but also active animus toward Israel, and perhaps toward Jews in general. (See Eliot Cohen’s article on Mearsheimer/Walt, and Kenneth Stein’s piece on Carter.)

On the other hand, there are many, many advocates of the “peace process” such as Dennis Ross and Bill Clinton (to say nothing of Shimon Peres and other Israelis) who have never displayed the slightest animus toward Israel. I think we can take it as given that their advocacy is driven by a desire to help, not hurt, the Jewish state. Their policy advice can and should be criticized, but their motives should not be questioned.

Into which category does Samantha Power fall? The first fact to note about her is how little she has had to say on the subject of the Middle East in general and Israel in particular. She is not an expert on the Middle East and does not pretend to be one. The criticisms of her are based on a handful of comments mainly made in response to questions from interviewers. That in itself is significant, because those who are driven by a real animus toward Israel tend to be outspoken and vociferous on the subject.

I don’t find any of the comments made by Power and cited by critics as being anywhere remotely close to anything that Mearsheimer/Walt or Carter have said. To take just one example, the attempts to twist a very ambiguous response to a question in this interview into evidence that, in Powerline’s words, “Power has blamed deference to Israel and the ‘special interests’ that support Israel for the U.S. intervention in Iraq” leaves me unconvinced to say the least. Read the whole answer in context for yourself and see what you think.

Apparently Pollak agrees with me that Power is not “animated by ‘anti-Israel’ sentiment, whatever that might entail.” I’m happy to hear it. That’s really all I was driving at: Let’s debate on the merits without questioning the other side’s motives except in extreme cases, of which this is not one.

I see that neither Noah Pollak at CONTENTIONS nor Paul Mirengoff at Powerline is convinced by my defense of Samantha Power. I don’t want to belabor the point, but I would like to clarify my argument.

I don’t disagree with them on the merits of Power’s views on Israel and the Middle East. As they know, I am hardly a fan of the “peace process” or of détente with Tehran (although I have suggested in the past that it would make sense to offer to normalize relations with Iran in return for a cessation of its nuclear program and support of terrorism).

What I really objected to is the argument made by Pollak and some other critics that Power is part of a “disturbing number of foreign policy advisers to the Obama campaign who harbor hostile views of Israel.” That is a serious charge that needs to be handled with great care and hauled out only in the most dire circumstances because accusing someone of harboring “hostile views of Israel” is only a step or two removed from accusing them of harboring hostile views of Jews.

That conclusion is one that I think can be justifiably drawn about some people, such as John Mearsheimer, Stephen Walt, and Jimmy Carter. Their vociferous, over-the-top criticism of Israel and the “Israel Lobby” borders on paranoia and displays not just sloppy reasoning and factual mistakes but also active animus toward Israel, and perhaps toward Jews in general. (See Eliot Cohen’s article on Mearsheimer/Walt, and Kenneth Stein’s piece on Carter.)

On the other hand, there are many, many advocates of the “peace process” such as Dennis Ross and Bill Clinton (to say nothing of Shimon Peres and other Israelis) who have never displayed the slightest animus toward Israel. I think we can take it as given that their advocacy is driven by a desire to help, not hurt, the Jewish state. Their policy advice can and should be criticized, but their motives should not be questioned.

Into which category does Samantha Power fall? The first fact to note about her is how little she has had to say on the subject of the Middle East in general and Israel in particular. She is not an expert on the Middle East and does not pretend to be one. The criticisms of her are based on a handful of comments mainly made in response to questions from interviewers. That in itself is significant, because those who are driven by a real animus toward Israel tend to be outspoken and vociferous on the subject.

I don’t find any of the comments made by Power and cited by critics as being anywhere remotely close to anything that Mearsheimer/Walt or Carter have said. To take just one example, the attempts to twist a very ambiguous response to a question in this interview into evidence that, in Powerline’s words, “Power has blamed deference to Israel and the ‘special interests’ that support Israel for the U.S. intervention in Iraq” leaves me unconvinced to say the least. Read the whole answer in context for yourself and see what you think.

Apparently Pollak agrees with me that Power is not “animated by ‘anti-Israel’ sentiment, whatever that might entail.” I’m happy to hear it. That’s really all I was driving at: Let’s debate on the merits without questioning the other side’s motives except in extreme cases, of which this is not one.

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Buckley and the Jews

Among his many other accomplishments, William F. Buckley Jr. made the conservative movement a far less forbidding place for Jews.

Conservatism in the early 1960’s was, fairly or not, largely defined in the Jewish mind as a downscale hothouse of paranoia, racism and resentment fronted by such figures as the Christian Crusader Rev. Billy James Hargis, the anti-Semitic columnist Westbrook Pegler and, of course, Robert Welch, whose John Birch Society was never officially racist or anti-Semitic but attracted a fair number of those who could accurately be classified as such.

By basically reading the more conspiratorial-minded organizations and polemicists out of mainstream conservatism (a story engagingly told by the liberal journalist John Judis in his 1988 biography William F. Buckley, Jr.: Patron Saint of the Conservatives), Buckley made it that much more difficult for the media to portray the right as a redoubt of angry kooks and Kleagles. His having done so no doubt smoothed the way for those liberal Jewish intellectuals who would eventually — and at first somewhat ambivalently — make their journey into the conservative camp.

A devout Catholic who wrote with remarkable frankness about the anti-Semitism of his own father, Buckley (who characterized anti-Semitism as an “awful, sinful practice”) always seemed comfortable around Jews. Indeed, several of the editors and writers who helped Buckley launch National Review were Jews; “without them,” wrote historian George Nash, “the magazine might never have gotten off the ground…”

When it came to Israel, Buckley’s support may have been a little spotty during the state’s early years — in 1958, responding to what he took to be Israel’s slow response to an American request that U.S. military aircraft be permitted to fly over Israeli territory, he snappishly wrote, “If Internal Revenue started to disallow tax exemption of gifts to the United Jewish Appeal, Israel wouldn’t be able to pay the cable-cost of sassing our State Department” — but certainly by the mid-1960’s he was a consistent champion of the Jewish state, a position he maintained for the remaining four and a half decades of his life, despite occasional differences with Israeli policy.

In 1972 Buckley famously proposed that Israel become the 51st American state, pointing out that Jerusalem is no more geographically remote from Washington than Anchorage or Honolulu.

The arrangement, Buckley argued, would forever put to rest Israeli security fears: “If Israel becomes a part of the United States, there is no further question of attacking the state of Israel–as well attack the city of Chicago.”

To expedite statehood, Buckley wrote, a “resolution should be introduced in Congress and a national debate should begin. Put me down in favor.”

A fanciful notion, to be sure, and one that most Jews and Israelis (not to mention Americans) would dismiss out of hand. What cannot be dismissed as easily is the suggestion that without William Buckley, the political right might have remained an untenable–even an unthinkable–destination for those Jews who no longer could, in good conscience, remain faithful to the political faith of their fathers.

Among his many other accomplishments, William F. Buckley Jr. made the conservative movement a far less forbidding place for Jews.

Conservatism in the early 1960’s was, fairly or not, largely defined in the Jewish mind as a downscale hothouse of paranoia, racism and resentment fronted by such figures as the Christian Crusader Rev. Billy James Hargis, the anti-Semitic columnist Westbrook Pegler and, of course, Robert Welch, whose John Birch Society was never officially racist or anti-Semitic but attracted a fair number of those who could accurately be classified as such.

By basically reading the more conspiratorial-minded organizations and polemicists out of mainstream conservatism (a story engagingly told by the liberal journalist John Judis in his 1988 biography William F. Buckley, Jr.: Patron Saint of the Conservatives), Buckley made it that much more difficult for the media to portray the right as a redoubt of angry kooks and Kleagles. His having done so no doubt smoothed the way for those liberal Jewish intellectuals who would eventually — and at first somewhat ambivalently — make their journey into the conservative camp.

A devout Catholic who wrote with remarkable frankness about the anti-Semitism of his own father, Buckley (who characterized anti-Semitism as an “awful, sinful practice”) always seemed comfortable around Jews. Indeed, several of the editors and writers who helped Buckley launch National Review were Jews; “without them,” wrote historian George Nash, “the magazine might never have gotten off the ground…”

When it came to Israel, Buckley’s support may have been a little spotty during the state’s early years — in 1958, responding to what he took to be Israel’s slow response to an American request that U.S. military aircraft be permitted to fly over Israeli territory, he snappishly wrote, “If Internal Revenue started to disallow tax exemption of gifts to the United Jewish Appeal, Israel wouldn’t be able to pay the cable-cost of sassing our State Department” — but certainly by the mid-1960’s he was a consistent champion of the Jewish state, a position he maintained for the remaining four and a half decades of his life, despite occasional differences with Israeli policy.

In 1972 Buckley famously proposed that Israel become the 51st American state, pointing out that Jerusalem is no more geographically remote from Washington than Anchorage or Honolulu.

The arrangement, Buckley argued, would forever put to rest Israeli security fears: “If Israel becomes a part of the United States, there is no further question of attacking the state of Israel–as well attack the city of Chicago.”

To expedite statehood, Buckley wrote, a “resolution should be introduced in Congress and a national debate should begin. Put me down in favor.”

A fanciful notion, to be sure, and one that most Jews and Israelis (not to mention Americans) would dismiss out of hand. What cannot be dismissed as easily is the suggestion that without William Buckley, the political right might have remained an untenable–even an unthinkable–destination for those Jews who no longer could, in good conscience, remain faithful to the political faith of their fathers.

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George Romero, Tiers-Mondiste

The allegorical content of mass-market genre films is always amusing to consider, and no director of cheesy flicks is more fond of allegory than George A. Romero, whose four-decade run of zombie movies continues this week with the release of “George A. Romero’s Diary of the Dead.” Romero, who like his buddy Stephen King makes no effort to disguise his leftward leanings, whipped up a parable about racism in 1968′s low- budget creepfest “Night of the Living Dead,” in which a black hero was lynched by white townsfolk. He moved on to a swat against consumerism in 1979′s “Dawn of the Dead,” which was shot in a shopping mall. Lately Romero’s viewpoint apparently has grown more extreme: in 2005′s “Land of the Dead” Romero showed that he saw contemporary America as experiencing another great Depression, dividing starkly into haves and have-nots in which the rich lived in penthouse fortresses and the poor in hovels where they prepared armed onslaughts on their business-suited betters.

“Diary of the Dead,” which, like dozens of recent films, from arthouse flicks all the way down to “Cloverfield,” is shot on jumpy hand-held cameras, says much about the fashionable left’s view of the terrorist enemy today. It takes place in a post- 9/11 world in which the zombies are unstoppable bloodthirsty savages–yet the message is that we should get used to them, sympathize with their plight and more or less admit that we’re doomed and accept it. The zombie outbreak this time starts at a murder scene where a family of dead immigrants being taken to the morgue suddenly rise up off their stretchers and start munching on the carotids of the police and other authority figures–payback time.

As a group of student filmmakers simultaneously flee the area and make a documentary about the carnage erupting around them–everyone who gets bitten by a zombie turns into one–they fight back half-heartedly, talking about their guilty feelings and describing themselves as no better than the supernatural killers. As they talk about society’s failures during, for instance, Hurricane Katrina, and look at news footage about looting and paranoia breaking out all over the country in the wake of the zombie attacks, the tone of the movie evolves from a resolve to fight back to despair and surrender. We, meaning America, have brought this on ourselves, they learn. Now we’ll just have to pay the price.

The allegorical content of mass-market genre films is always amusing to consider, and no director of cheesy flicks is more fond of allegory than George A. Romero, whose four-decade run of zombie movies continues this week with the release of “George A. Romero’s Diary of the Dead.” Romero, who like his buddy Stephen King makes no effort to disguise his leftward leanings, whipped up a parable about racism in 1968′s low- budget creepfest “Night of the Living Dead,” in which a black hero was lynched by white townsfolk. He moved on to a swat against consumerism in 1979′s “Dawn of the Dead,” which was shot in a shopping mall. Lately Romero’s viewpoint apparently has grown more extreme: in 2005′s “Land of the Dead” Romero showed that he saw contemporary America as experiencing another great Depression, dividing starkly into haves and have-nots in which the rich lived in penthouse fortresses and the poor in hovels where they prepared armed onslaughts on their business-suited betters.

“Diary of the Dead,” which, like dozens of recent films, from arthouse flicks all the way down to “Cloverfield,” is shot on jumpy hand-held cameras, says much about the fashionable left’s view of the terrorist enemy today. It takes place in a post- 9/11 world in which the zombies are unstoppable bloodthirsty savages–yet the message is that we should get used to them, sympathize with their plight and more or less admit that we’re doomed and accept it. The zombie outbreak this time starts at a murder scene where a family of dead immigrants being taken to the morgue suddenly rise up off their stretchers and start munching on the carotids of the police and other authority figures–payback time.

As a group of student filmmakers simultaneously flee the area and make a documentary about the carnage erupting around them–everyone who gets bitten by a zombie turns into one–they fight back half-heartedly, talking about their guilty feelings and describing themselves as no better than the supernatural killers. As they talk about society’s failures during, for instance, Hurricane Katrina, and look at news footage about looting and paranoia breaking out all over the country in the wake of the zombie attacks, the tone of the movie evolves from a resolve to fight back to despair and surrender. We, meaning America, have brought this on ourselves, they learn. Now we’ll just have to pay the price.

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Changing the Ground Rules in Gaza

I’ve never quite understood the uproar that Israel’s targeted killings of terrorists always causes. These assassinations are surely the most morally pure way to wage war: they allow minimal, often zero, civilian casualties or collateral damage; the people who bear the greatest culpability for terror attacks are eliminated instead of the lower echelons, which inevitably are comprised of fevered, brainwashed young men; their deterrent power is immense, as terror leaders are driven underground in fear for their lives and are forced to invest large amounts of time in the avoidance of being killed; and perhaps best of all, they instantaneously impose a debilitating paranoia on terror organizations, as the leadership scrambles to figure out who among them is collaborating. All in all, a morally righteous and devastating way to wage war — which is perhaps exactly why the tactic is so frequently condemned.

Over the past two weeks Israel has revived its targeted killing policy, re-instituting a tactic that was vital to winning the second intifada. In Gaza, the IDF and Shin Bet have been methodically picking off Hamas and Islamic Jihad terror leaders, creating a situation, in remarkably short order, in which Hamas is begging for a “cease-fire” (that is, a reprieve from the war it started), and both Hamas and Islamic Jihad are now turning on themselves, desperate to figure out how their rocket crews and terror chiefs continue to be plucked from existence by precision munitions while driving anonymously around the Gaza strip.

Khaled Abu Toameh has an interesting piece in the Jerusalem Post today about the inner chaos that Israel’s assassinations are causing:

The turmoil in Hamas reached its peak this week when a number of top Hamas officials were summoned for questioning by the movement’s security forces on suspicion of involvement in the alleged plot. Among those interrogated was Sami Abu Zuhri, a prominent spokesman for Hamas, the sources told the Post. . . .
The Hamas security forces have also interrogated Muhammad Abdel Al (Abu Abir), a senior commander of the Popular Resistance Committees, an alliance of radical armed groups closely associated with Hamas.

The sources said Abdel Al was questioned following the assassination of one of his colleagues, Mubarak al-Hasanat, and a top Islamic Jihad commander, Majed al-Harazeen. The two, who were responsible for firing rockets at Israel, were killed by the IDF. Abdel Al has also denied the charges.

The arrests have left the top brass of Hamas in disarray, the sources said, noting that tensions between top members of the movement reached a boiling point late Wednesday with the assassination of Hazem Muhammad Khalil.

The only thing more remarkable than the IDF and Shin Bet’s penetration of Palestinian terror groups is the continued calls on the part of a few Israeli politicians — and of course, among so many members of the international cognoscenti — to accept Hamas’s truce. No such cessation should happen. Israel demarcated terrible boundaries for itself after it disengaged from Gaza and allowed rocket fire to go unanswered; that acquiescence vindicated Hamas’s belief that its resistance forced Israel out of Gaza and that Israelis have a weak will to fight. Those boundaries are now, finally, being redrawn — and only the continuation of a relentless military campaign against Hamas will finish the job.

12/29 Update: This piece in Ynet by Uri Elitzur — titled, “Keep on striking” — makes some of the same points. Elitzur, writing about the targeted killings that helped win the second intifada: “very quickly the moment arrived where reality is stronger than fury. People who must hide all the time, who cannot sleep two nights in one place, who cannot speak on the phone, are unable to run a terror group or plan terror attacks. Their motivation may be growing, yet the tools at their disposal are increasingly declining.”

I’ve never quite understood the uproar that Israel’s targeted killings of terrorists always causes. These assassinations are surely the most morally pure way to wage war: they allow minimal, often zero, civilian casualties or collateral damage; the people who bear the greatest culpability for terror attacks are eliminated instead of the lower echelons, which inevitably are comprised of fevered, brainwashed young men; their deterrent power is immense, as terror leaders are driven underground in fear for their lives and are forced to invest large amounts of time in the avoidance of being killed; and perhaps best of all, they instantaneously impose a debilitating paranoia on terror organizations, as the leadership scrambles to figure out who among them is collaborating. All in all, a morally righteous and devastating way to wage war — which is perhaps exactly why the tactic is so frequently condemned.

Over the past two weeks Israel has revived its targeted killing policy, re-instituting a tactic that was vital to winning the second intifada. In Gaza, the IDF and Shin Bet have been methodically picking off Hamas and Islamic Jihad terror leaders, creating a situation, in remarkably short order, in which Hamas is begging for a “cease-fire” (that is, a reprieve from the war it started), and both Hamas and Islamic Jihad are now turning on themselves, desperate to figure out how their rocket crews and terror chiefs continue to be plucked from existence by precision munitions while driving anonymously around the Gaza strip.

Khaled Abu Toameh has an interesting piece in the Jerusalem Post today about the inner chaos that Israel’s assassinations are causing:

The turmoil in Hamas reached its peak this week when a number of top Hamas officials were summoned for questioning by the movement’s security forces on suspicion of involvement in the alleged plot. Among those interrogated was Sami Abu Zuhri, a prominent spokesman for Hamas, the sources told the Post. . . .
The Hamas security forces have also interrogated Muhammad Abdel Al (Abu Abir), a senior commander of the Popular Resistance Committees, an alliance of radical armed groups closely associated with Hamas.

The sources said Abdel Al was questioned following the assassination of one of his colleagues, Mubarak al-Hasanat, and a top Islamic Jihad commander, Majed al-Harazeen. The two, who were responsible for firing rockets at Israel, were killed by the IDF. Abdel Al has also denied the charges.

The arrests have left the top brass of Hamas in disarray, the sources said, noting that tensions between top members of the movement reached a boiling point late Wednesday with the assassination of Hazem Muhammad Khalil.

The only thing more remarkable than the IDF and Shin Bet’s penetration of Palestinian terror groups is the continued calls on the part of a few Israeli politicians — and of course, among so many members of the international cognoscenti — to accept Hamas’s truce. No such cessation should happen. Israel demarcated terrible boundaries for itself after it disengaged from Gaza and allowed rocket fire to go unanswered; that acquiescence vindicated Hamas’s belief that its resistance forced Israel out of Gaza and that Israelis have a weak will to fight. Those boundaries are now, finally, being redrawn — and only the continuation of a relentless military campaign against Hamas will finish the job.

12/29 Update: This piece in Ynet by Uri Elitzur — titled, “Keep on striking” — makes some of the same points. Elitzur, writing about the targeted killings that helped win the second intifada: “very quickly the moment arrived where reality is stronger than fury. People who must hide all the time, who cannot sleep two nights in one place, who cannot speak on the phone, are unable to run a terror group or plan terror attacks. Their motivation may be growing, yet the tools at their disposal are increasingly declining.”

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On the Soapbox

We learn from today’s New York Times that Rosie O’Donnell is in “serious discussions” to return to television “atop a new soapbox: a prime-time show on the cable news channel MSNBC.”

That is a perfect fit. MSNBC, after all, is the cable news channel that features, among others, Keith Olbermann and Chris Matthews. Why not add Rosie to the mix? Her qualifications as a news journalist certainly rival those of Mr. Olbermann, who came to NBC’s news division via ESPN and Fox Sports.

The Times tells us that Mr. Olbermann’s program, which is “riding a ratings wave,” takes “strong issue” with the Bush administration. That would be one way of saying it. Another would be that Mr. Olbermann is afflicted with Bush Derangement Syndrome (BDS)—defined by the Pulitzer Prize winning columnist (and former psychiatrist) Charles Krauthammer as “the acute onset of paranoia in otherwise normal people in reaction to the policies, the presidency—nay—the very existence of George W. Bush.”

Mr. Olbermann’s entire show is tendentious—but nothing quite approaches his “Special Comment” editorials. In his November 5 “Special Comment,” for example, Mr. Olbermann said, “The presidency of George W. Bush has now devolved into a criminal conspiracy to cover the ass of George W. Bush.” He spoke about “the petulancy, all the childish threats, all the blank-stare stupidity.” He referred to the “verbal flatulence of his apologists.” George W. Bush, Mr. Olbermann asserted, is a “mock president,” a “liar,” and, “if anybody had the guts to pursue it, a criminal.” Vice President Cheney is “unstable.” On and on (and on) his editorials go, with Olbermann playing a Lear-like figure, raging against the storm. One half-expects him to sign off his program not with his signature “Good night and good luck,” but with, “Off, off, you lendings! Come unbutton here.”

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We learn from today’s New York Times that Rosie O’Donnell is in “serious discussions” to return to television “atop a new soapbox: a prime-time show on the cable news channel MSNBC.”

That is a perfect fit. MSNBC, after all, is the cable news channel that features, among others, Keith Olbermann and Chris Matthews. Why not add Rosie to the mix? Her qualifications as a news journalist certainly rival those of Mr. Olbermann, who came to NBC’s news division via ESPN and Fox Sports.

The Times tells us that Mr. Olbermann’s program, which is “riding a ratings wave,” takes “strong issue” with the Bush administration. That would be one way of saying it. Another would be that Mr. Olbermann is afflicted with Bush Derangement Syndrome (BDS)—defined by the Pulitzer Prize winning columnist (and former psychiatrist) Charles Krauthammer as “the acute onset of paranoia in otherwise normal people in reaction to the policies, the presidency—nay—the very existence of George W. Bush.”

Mr. Olbermann’s entire show is tendentious—but nothing quite approaches his “Special Comment” editorials. In his November 5 “Special Comment,” for example, Mr. Olbermann said, “The presidency of George W. Bush has now devolved into a criminal conspiracy to cover the ass of George W. Bush.” He spoke about “the petulancy, all the childish threats, all the blank-stare stupidity.” He referred to the “verbal flatulence of his apologists.” George W. Bush, Mr. Olbermann asserted, is a “mock president,” a “liar,” and, “if anybody had the guts to pursue it, a criminal.” Vice President Cheney is “unstable.” On and on (and on) his editorials go, with Olbermann playing a Lear-like figure, raging against the storm. One half-expects him to sign off his program not with his signature “Good night and good luck,” but with, “Off, off, you lendings! Come unbutton here.”

Yet reading Olbermann’s commentaries doesn’t quite do justice to them. What you would miss is seeing the haughtiness, the unsurpassed air of self-importance and arrogance, the sputtering hatred, and the boundless self-delusion (he seems to consider himself not just a journalist, but the heir of Edward R. Murrow). Of course Olbermann’s ratings have increased; this is, in its own way, riveting stuff. Never have we seen the mad utterings of a journalist put on display quite like this. It makes even the shallowness and odd obsessions of Chris Matthews seem normal in comparison. And that is no easy achievement.

One can only imagine what serious, even outstanding, journalists like Tim Russert, Brian Williams, and Pete Williams must be thinking to have their good name, and the name of NBC News, associated with the likes of Olbermann and Matthews. Tim Russert’s tough and fair-minded approach has made him one of the most widely respected journalists in America. How must he, as NBC’s Washington Bureau Chief, feel to have people like Olbermann, Matthews, and perhaps Rosie O’Donnell define the NBC News brand? It takes a long time to build up the reputation of an institution; it takes a lot less time to tear it down. Mr. Russert and his (responsible) colleagues deserve better, and can do better, than this.

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The Tehran-Damascus Axis

The New York Times has an interesting article reporting on the deepening economic ties between Iran and Syria. Hugh Naylor writes from Damascus:

The Syrian government estimates that Iranian investment in 2006 alone surged to more than $400 million, making Tehran the third-largest foreign investor here, behind Saudi Arabia and Turkey. Though exact figures are unavailable, by some estimates Iran has invested a total of $3 billion in Syria, most of that in the last few years.

In September, officials from both countries announced plans to expand Iranian projects in Syria to $10 billion over the next five years, which would cast Tehran as the economic powerhouse here.

But of course this being the New York Times, the writer can’t stick to the facts—facts that suggest that some of us have reason to be increasingly alarmed about the Tehran-Damascus Axis. He has to throw in a jab at the Bush administration, too. Naylor claims that Iran and Syria are cementing their ties only because neither one can do business with America, since they’re both under American-led sanctions. He cites anonymous “Western diplomats and analysts,” who say “that Washington has effectively pushed Damascus and Tehran into deepening their alliance of nearly three decades.”

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The New York Times has an interesting article reporting on the deepening economic ties between Iran and Syria. Hugh Naylor writes from Damascus:

The Syrian government estimates that Iranian investment in 2006 alone surged to more than $400 million, making Tehran the third-largest foreign investor here, behind Saudi Arabia and Turkey. Though exact figures are unavailable, by some estimates Iran has invested a total of $3 billion in Syria, most of that in the last few years.

In September, officials from both countries announced plans to expand Iranian projects in Syria to $10 billion over the next five years, which would cast Tehran as the economic powerhouse here.

But of course this being the New York Times, the writer can’t stick to the facts—facts that suggest that some of us have reason to be increasingly alarmed about the Tehran-Damascus Axis. He has to throw in a jab at the Bush administration, too. Naylor claims that Iran and Syria are cementing their ties only because neither one can do business with America, since they’re both under American-led sanctions. He cites anonymous “Western diplomats and analysts,” who say “that Washington has effectively pushed Damascus and Tehran into deepening their alliance of nearly three decades.”

This is pretty much the party line at places like the Times whenever other countries align against the United States: It can’t be because they don’t like us, or because our interests are mutually incompatible. It must be because we spurned their generous and deeply felt offers of friendship.

Thus, over the years, we have heard all sorts of elaborate fictions about how everyone from Ho Chi Minh and Fidel Castro to Mao Zedong and Josef Stalin was really a good guy, a pro-American, if only we had overcome the paranoia of hawks and reached out to him. In each and every instance, historical research has shattered these illusions, showing that these communist dictators were only pretending to be pro-Western at various points in their careers for tactical reasons, while in reality they were committed Marxists all along.

Yet the illusions never die and now adhere to such unlikely candidates as Bashar Assad and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. How can anyone plausibly argue that they would love to reach out to America if only we would let them? The reality is that the Clinton administration spent much of the 1990′s trying to reach a rapprochement with both countries and never got anywhere. Today they are farther apart from the U.S. than ever before as they support Islamofascist terrorist groups (Hamas, Hizballah, al Qaeda in Iraq) and connive in the murder of American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. Given the strategic alignment between Iran and Syria—symbolized by a defense pact they signed in 2006 that Naylor never mentions—it makes perfect sense that they are also aligning their economic interests. Or, put more crudely, that Iran is using its oil revenues to subsidize the bankrupt Baathist regime in Damascus.

How is this America’s fault?

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Brzezinski’s Paranoia

Writing in the Sunday, March 25 Outlook section of the Washington Post, Zbigniew Brzezinski claims that “The ‘war on terror’ has created a culture of fear in America.” Moreover, he says, “the vagueness of the phrase was deliberately (or instinctively) calculated by its sponsors [to] stimulate . . . the emergence of a culture of fear. Fear obscures reason, intensifies emotions, and makes it easier for demagogic politicians to mobilize the public on behalf of the policies they want to pursue.” The “fear-mongering” of President Bush has been reinforced, says Brzezinski, “by security entrepreneurs, the mass media, and the entertainment industry.” As a result, the American people have been subjected to “five years of almost continuous national brainwashing on the subject of terror.”

This, Brzezinski continues, has “stimulate[d] Islamophobia.” In particular, the “Arab facial stereotypes, particularly in [American] newspaper cartoons,” remind Brzezinski of the “Nazi anti-Semitic campaigns.” The people who do such things are “apparently oblivious to the menacing connection between the stimulation of racial and religious hatreds and the unleashing of the unprecedented crimes of the Holocaust.”

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Writing in the Sunday, March 25 Outlook section of the Washington Post, Zbigniew Brzezinski claims that “The ‘war on terror’ has created a culture of fear in America.” Moreover, he says, “the vagueness of the phrase was deliberately (or instinctively) calculated by its sponsors [to] stimulate . . . the emergence of a culture of fear. Fear obscures reason, intensifies emotions, and makes it easier for demagogic politicians to mobilize the public on behalf of the policies they want to pursue.” The “fear-mongering” of President Bush has been reinforced, says Brzezinski, “by security entrepreneurs, the mass media, and the entertainment industry.” As a result, the American people have been subjected to “five years of almost continuous national brainwashing on the subject of terror.”

This, Brzezinski continues, has “stimulate[d] Islamophobia.” In particular, the “Arab facial stereotypes, particularly in [American] newspaper cartoons,” remind Brzezinski of the “Nazi anti-Semitic campaigns.” The people who do such things are “apparently oblivious to the menacing connection between the stimulation of racial and religious hatreds and the unleashing of the unprecedented crimes of the Holocaust.”

Brzezinski’s goal, he says, is an end to “this hysteria . . . this paranoia.”

How to react to this? Would that one could say simply that it is sad to see a former high official go off the rails, and leave it at that. But the very fact that the Post chose to give the man such prime space shows that he will be taken seriously, although he no longer deserves to be. So here are a few comments.

It is rather rich to decry hysteria and paranoia in the same breath that one likens the slights to Arabs in the American news media to the depiction of Jews by the Nazis, and to imply that these slights may be the prelude to another Holocaust.

It is also rich to hear Brzezinski sneer at “security entrepreneurs.” How, exactly, would Brzezinski describe his own career? The Encyclopedia of World Biography’s entry on him reminds us that “Brzezinski was openly eager to be appointed assistant to the President for nation security affairs and delighted when President-elect Carter offered him the position in December 1976.”

It is amusing to be lectured that “America today is not the self-confident and determined nation that responded to Pearl Harbor” by the national security adviser of the President who delivered the infamous “malaise” speech, telling Americans that our problems arose from “a crisis of the American spirit” and a “los[s of] confidence in the future.” Aside from being rich, Brzezinski’s claim is false. Fear of the enemy is not the opposite of determination and confidence in ultimate victory. There was much fear of the enemy in 1941, including some that was quite hysterical. The main difference in regard to self-confidence between World War II and the war on terror is that after Pearl Harbor, one no longer heard voices like Brzezinski’s claiming that the real enemy was ourselves.

In a further sneer, Brzezinski writes: “President Bush even claims absurdly that he has to continue waging [the war on terror] lest al Qaeda cross the Atlantic to launch a war of terror here in the United States.” Quite a fool, that Bush. Terror here in the United States? Absurd, indeed! How could al Qaeda cross the Atlantic? In airplanes? Ha, ha.

Between sneers, Brzezinski waxes professorial. “Terrorism is not an enemy but a technique,” he explains. Quite so. The enemy might more precisely be described as jihadism, a political ideology that claims that the Christian and Jewish worlds are at war with Islam and that the Islamic world must make war on them. This ideology traces its roots to the Muslim Brotherhood, founded in the 1920′s. But it only took wing after a jihadist government seized power in Iran in 1979, much as Communism only emerged as a major force after a Communist government was established in Russia. And where was Brzezinski when this enemy was taking shape? At the very pinnacle of the American government, flapping about pathetically, pursuing policies that enabled this strategic disaster to happen. His qualification for instructing us about how to deal with jihadism is therefore clear: there are few Americans who did us much as he to create the problem.

* Editor’s Note: You can read Gabriel Schoenfeld’s response to one of Muravchik’s critics here.

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