It’s possible to make a rational, although not necessarily persuasive, argument that those conservatives who are unreconciled to the notion that the Republican Party now belongs to Donald Trump are wrong. It’s also possible to view the policies of the Obama administration and their possible continuation under Hillary Clinton as dangerous to Israel. It’s also easy to dismiss the efforts of some of those conservatives to conjure up a third party alternative to Trump and Hillary Clinton out of thin air this late in the election cycle as a foolish waste of time that can’t possibly succeed.
But it is not possible to view David Horowitz’s hit piece against Weekly Standard publisher William Kristol published yesterday by Breibart.com under the headline of “Republican Spoiler, Renegade Jew,” as anything but an utter disgrace that sullies the name of the founder of that once estimable site and helps further discredit the pro-Trump camp for which Breitbart.com now serves as a mouthpiece. It also shows once again that, when it comes to the author of this piece, you can take the boy out of the Bolsheviks but you can’t take the Bolshevik out of the boy.
Kristol is the public face of those working to come up with a third party alternative. Count me among those that think those efforts are futile even if I understand why he, and others who support the idea, long to have someone to vote for in November other than Clinton and Trump. Moreover, the notion that anyone associated with this effort thought Mark Cuban, another bad boy billionaire reality television star, was a palatable alternative to Trump, strikes me as mad. But none of that could possibly justify an article that reads like a Stalinist denunciation of a Trotskyite dissident, including the use of a headline that seems to accuse Kristol of being a traitor to the Jewish people and/or Israel.
Horowitz is the author of the justly acclaimed memoir Radical Son that explored his personal journal from the far-left to the ranks of conservatives and a host of other polemics. He is the poster child for those “second thoughts” left-wingers who rejected the politics of the left after the excesses of the 1960s and his contributions to the critique of the radical left were strengthened by the fact that he was once an editor at Ramparts magazine. That Horowitz might be attracted to Trump doesn’t surprise me because he has been an exponent of applying the vicious tactics of the left that he grew up with on behalf of the right. Like many who like Trump because he is gutter fighter with no scruples when it comes to fighting dirty, the man who helped launched the “slap Hillary” game on the Internet not only on the side of the billionaire but is ready, like the candidate, to say just about anything to discredit an opponent.
That is the only way to understand why Horowitz would write and Breitbart.com would publish the “Renegade Jew” smear of Kristol.
Horowitz’s defense of Trump shouldn’t detain us long. We know that many Trump supporters like the candidate precisely because he is a vulgar braggart who can defy political correctness with impunity, even if many of them know that a lot of what he says is self-contradictory nonsense. Many other Republicans are now getting behind him because they view American politics as a binary choice in which the person running under the Republican label is always preferable to any Democrat. But Horowitz goes further and claims than either of those positions and proclaims Kristol’s critique of Trump’s bad character to be at fault. In doing so, he actually defends former boxing champion and convicted rapist Mike Tyson. The notion that Tyson is a symbol of repentance, or “an icon to an important segment of the voting population” is risible and so foolish as to not even be worth the space it would take to fully debunk it.
Even worse, Horowitz actually claims that Kristol is wrong to assert that Trump is a “crackpot conspiracy theorist.” In making such an unsupportable argument, Horowitz conveniently fails to mention that Trump was the nation’s number one birther when it came to Barack Obama. Nor does he take into account that Trump has given his support to the left’s canards about George W. Bush knowingly lying the nation into the war in Iraq. But he doesn’t hesitate to rationalize and even endorse Trump’s despicable effort to spread the notion that Ted Cruz’s father was associated with Lee Harvey Oswald, the man who assassinated John F. Kennedy, a smear that originated in the Trump-friendly National Enquirer fabulist tabloid. According to Horowitz, lies like that are okay because they are merely “dirty tricks” intended “to throw a rival off balance and gain an advantage.” Which is to say that it is okay to lie, and to even spread a conspiracy theory. If such a stance seems incompatible with any notion of the requirements of a citizen in a constitutional republic or of conservative ethics and values, so much the worse for ethics and values. For old Marxists, the ends always justify the means even if it requires you to justify gobsmackingly stupid canards or threats against an opponent’s wife.
As for policy, Horowitz further embarrasses himself by defending Trump’s vapid and inconsistent “America First’ foreign policy. That Trump’s isolationism and his attraction to authoritarians like Vladimir Putin are antithetical to the conservative effort to promote a strong America that Horowitz has spent the last few decades supporting ought to be obvious even to the readers of Breitbart. Indeed, Trump makes no bones about not being a conservative and mimicking the far left critique of conservative foreign policy. On that, as on many domestic issues, Trump is closer to the left than he is to any recognizably conservative position. But to a polemicist like Horowitz who has always — whether on the left or the right — eschewed nuance, any deviation from the current Trump party line must be stamped out with fervor and total destruction of not only the position but also the character of the opponent.
But the real offense here is not Horowitz’s laughable defense of Trump’s behavior or his vapid policy positions. It’s his attempt to wrap him in the Star of David and to somehow brand his opponents as traitors to the pro-Israel cause that should trouble everyone including those that believe Trump is the lesser of two evils in 2016.
Horowitz is right to label the Iran nuclear deal as a threat to Israel as well as to the West. It was one of the seminal issues of the last four years and one on which Trump was notably silent until he started running for president. If he is elected, perhaps it will be one topic on which he won’t be as “unpredictable” as he promises to be on most issues. If so, that would be good for both Israel and the United States.
The deal didn’t happen on Hillary Clinton’s watch at the State Department and might never have occurred without her being replaced by John Kerry, but she still should be judged for being one of its supporters. On this point, as with Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians, we know what we would be getting with Clinton. She is less willing to bash Israel than President Obama or Bernie Sanders, but the person who served as the “designated yeller” at Prime Minister Netanyahu can’t be counted among its reliable defenders.
By contrast, Trump is a mystery. He claims at times to be a fervent supporter of Israel especially when he reads from scripts. But at other times, his deal-making hubris makes him sound as if he might repeat the folly of Obama and Kerry while proclaiming himself to be “neutral” between Israel and the Palestinians. His isolationist tendencies must also trouble supporters of Israel since an American retreat from the Middle East (other than a war against ISIS that Trump claims he will fight without intervening in the region) will weaken the Jewish state and strengthen foes like Iran.The Republican Party has become a bedrock supporter of Israel in recent decades while many Democrats — especially their liberal base — have drifted away from that position. But the nomination of an isolationist like Trump has undermined the thesis that the two parties are so different on foreign policy.
Again, it is possible to argue from these facts, as some ardent members of the pro-Israel community have done, that Trump is the better choice from the point of view of strengthening the U.S.-Israel alliance. But it is not possible to conclude that someone who believes Trump can’t be counted on or viewed as much of an improvement over Clinton is a traitor to Israel. It is certainly not possible to say that to Kristol, who has devoted so much effort to support of Israel throughout his career and especially as a leader of the opposition to Obama’s policies.
In the last two decades, Horowitz’s publishing and activist projects have prioritized support for Israel, which is why his confession in the last paragraph of his piece that he has never visited the Jewish state is puzzling. But even if his concern for Israel should be considered both sincere and heartfelt that doesn’t justify his use of Stalinist dialectical tactics to smear Kristol.
Neither Horowitz nor Breitbart.com have the right to assume the pose of a Jewish pope with the right to excommunicate all those who cannot stomach Trump as heretics. Indeed, his invocation of “America First” and the use of a term like “renegade Jew” in the headline (though not in the text of the article) seems to echo the smears of the pro-Trump alt right racists who have attacked conservative critics of the candidate with an avalanche of anti-Semitic invective. Such tactics may be standard operating procedure on the far-left, but they have no place in the conservative movement even in the Donald Trump era. While Horowitz has exhibited the sort of blind partisan loyalty required by Trumpites, with this article he has discredited himself — and Breitbart.com — in the pro-Israel community and among fair-minded conservatives.
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Breitbart’s ‘Renegade Jew’ Disgrace
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Banality and evil.
A week ago, I wondered what was going on in Sunspot, New Mexico. The FBI had swept into this mountain-top solar observatory, complete with Black Hawk helicopters, evacuated everyone, and closed the place down with no explanation whatever. Local police were politely told to butt out. It was like the first scene in a 1950’s Hollywood sci-fi movie, probably starring Walter Pidgeon.
Well, now we know, at least according to the New York Post.
If you’re hoping for little green men saying, “Take me to your leader,” you’re in for a disappointment. It seems the observatory head had discovered a laptop with child pornography on it that belonged to the janitor. The janitor then made veiled threats and in came the Black Hawks.
In sum, an all-too-earthly explanation with a little law-enforcement overkill thrown in.
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The demands of the politicized life.
John Cheney-Lippold, an associate professor of American Culture at the University of Michigan, has been the subject of withering criticism of late, but I’m grateful to him. Yes, he shouldn’t have refused to write a recommendation for a student merely because the semester abroad program she was applying to was in Israel. But at least he exposed what the boycott movement is about, aspects of which I suspect some of its blither endorsers are unaware.
We are routinely told, as we were by the American Studies Association, that boycott actions against Israel are “limited to institutions and their official representatives.” But Cheney-Lippold reminds us that the boycott, even if read in this narrow way, obligates professors to refuse to assist their own students when those students seek to participate in study abroad programs in Israel. Dan Avnon, an Israeli academic, learned years ago that the same goes for Israel faculty members seeking to participate in exchange programs sponsored by Israeli universities. They, too, must be turned away regardless of their position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
When the American Studies Association boycott of Israel was announced, over two hundred college presidents or provosts properly and publicly rejected it. But even they might not have imagined that the boycott was more than a symbolic gesture. Thanks to Professor Cheney-Lippold, they now know that it involves actions that disserve their students. Yes, Cheney-Lippold now says he was mistaken when he wrote that “many university departments have pledged an academic boycott against Israel.” But he is hardly a lone wolf in hyper-politicized disciplines like American Studies, Asian-American Studies, and Women’s Studies, whose professional associations have taken stands in favor of boycotting Israel. Administrators looking at bids to expand such programs should take note of their admirably open opposition to the exchange of ideas.
Cheney-Lippold, like other boycott defenders, points to the supposed 2005 “call of Palestinian civil society” to justify his singling out of Israel. “I support,” he says in comments to the student newspaper, “communities who organize themselves and ask for international support to achieve equal rights, freedom and to prevent violations of international law.” Set aside the absurdity of this reasoning (“Why am I not boycotting China on behalf of Tibet? Because China has been much more effective in stifling civil society!”). Focus instead on what Cheney- Lippold could have found out by Googling. The first endorser of the call of “civil society” is the Council of National and Islamic Forces (NIF) in Palestine, which includes Hamas, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and other groups that trade not only in violent resistance but in violence that directly targets noncombatants.
That’s remained par for the course for the boycott movement. In October 2015, in the midst of the series of stabbings deemed “the knife intifada,” the U.S. Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel shared a call for an International Day with the “new generation of Palestinians” then “rising up against Israel’s brutal, decades-old system of occupation.” To be sure, they did not directly endorse attacks on civilians, but they did issue their statement of solidarity with “Palestinian popular resistance” one day after four attacks that left three Israelis–all civilians–dead.
The boycott movement, in other words, can sign on to a solidarity movement that includes the targeting of civilians for death, but cannot sign letters of recommendation for their own undergraduates if those undergraduates seek to learn in Israel. That tells us all we need to know about the boycott movement. It was nice of Cheney-Lippold to tell us.
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Convenience, wrote Columbia University law professor Tim Wu, is a tyrant. It makes our lives easier and more enjoyable, but everything comes with a price tag. We may not recognize that which we are sacrificing in the pursuit of convenience, but we are sacrificing nonetheless.
The instant gratification associated with on-demand society has made America’s shared cultural moments a thing of the past. The explosion of online shopping has eliminated the time consumers wasted traveling from store to store, but physical retail is dying as a result. The modern public square and the daily human interactions that it encouraged will disappear along with it. Machine learning has the power to introduce a “more compassionate social contract” and reduce physical risk associated with workplace hazards or lifestyle choices. But risk is just another word for freedom and, in the pursuit of convenience, we risk sacrificing our independence along with our hardships.
“We’re really reinventing the traditional insurance model with our vitality program,” said Marianne Harrison, the CEO of one of North America’s largest life insurers, John Hancock, in a recent appearance on CNBC. The beaming insurance executive boasted of her firm’s effort to marry a “technology-based wellness program” with an “insurance product.” That’s a loaded way of saying that this American insurer is soon going to charge based on the real-time monitoring of your daily activities. Behavior-based insurance will track the health data of policyholders through wearable devices or smartphones and distribute rewards based on individual choices. You don’t have to wear a tracking device to participate in this program—at least, not yet. Harrison assured skeptics that they could also dole out rewards to policyholders who take simple steps like reading preapproved literature, the consumption of which they presumably track.
This innovation is optional today, but the savings it yields for both consumer and insurer guarantee that it will soon become a standard feature of the insurance landscape. Your freedom to eat poorly, use tobacco products, drink alcohol, or perform any number of physical activities that include varying levels of risk are not limited. You’ll just have to pay for them. And if Democratic policymakers succeed in nationalizing the private health insurance industry under the auspices of Medicare-for-all or single-payer or whatever other euphemisms they apply to the public confiscation of private property, these “tools” will only become more pervasive.
A similar rationale—the primacy of collective health—can be applied to any number of activities that invite unnecessary risk that technology can mitigate. Foremost among these is the terribly dangerous American habit of driving a car.
In 2017, there were over 40,000 automobile-related fatalities. This was the second consecutive year in which the roads were that deadly and, if observers who attribute this rate of fatal traffic accidents to an increase in smartphone ownership are correct, there will not be a decline anytime soon. A 2015 study purported to show that replacing manual vehicles with autonomous cars or vehicles with advanced driver-assistance systems could eliminate up to 90 percent of all fatal accidents and save as many as 300,000 American lives each decade. It is perhaps only a matter of time before the option to own a driverless vehicle becomes a mandate with a hefty financial penalty imposed on those who opt out.
“[T]he threat to individual freedom that the driverless car is set to pose is at this stage hard to comprehend,” wrote National Review’s Charles C.W. Cooke. Presently, the car transports its diver to wherever they’d like to go, whether there are roads to facilitate the journey or not. In a driverless world, as Cooke noted, the driver becomes a mere occupant. They must essentially ask the car for permission to transit from point A to point B, and the whole process is monitored and logged by some unseen authorities. Furthermore, that transit could ostensibly be subject to the veto of state or federal authorities with the push of a button. That seems a steep price to pay for a little convenience and the promise of safety.
The pursuit of convenience, as Professor Wu explained, has resulted in remarkable social leveling. We enjoy more time today for “self-cultivation,” once only the province of the wealthy and aristocratic, than at any point in history. And yet, we cannot know true liberty without hardship. “The constellation of inconvenient choices may be all that stands between us and a life of total, efficient conformity,” Wu concluded.
There is more to celebrate in the technological revolutions of the last quarter-century than there is to lament. But in the pursuit of convenience, we’ve begun to make spontaneity irrational. In life, the rewards associated with experience are commensurate with that which is ventured. In a future in which the world’s sharp edges are bubble-wrapped, your life may exceed today’s average statistical length. But can you really call it living?
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Podcast: Christine Rosen on Brett Kavanaugh.
The podcast welcomes COMMENTARY contributor and author Christine Rosen on the program to discuss the allegations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. Have his confirmation hearings have transformed into another chapter in the national cultural reckoning that is the #MeToo moment?
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Justice both delayed and denied.
According to Senate Judiciary Committee Democrat Chris Coons, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, the woman who has accused Judge Brett Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her when she was a minor, did not want to come forward. In an eerie echo of Anita Hill’s public ordeal, her accusations were “leaked to the media.” With her confidentiality violated, Ford had no choice but to go public. Coons could not say where that leak came from, but he did confess that “people on committee staff” had access to the letter in which Ford made her allegations. Draw your own conclusions.
Though many observers insist that what we have witnessed since Ford’s allegations were made public is about justice, it’s hard to see any rectitude in this process. Ford has been transformed into a public figure apparently against her wishes. The details of the attack that Ford alleges are deeply disturbing, but they are not prosecutable. Ford’s recollection of the events 36 years ago is understandably hazy, but what she alleges to have occurred is too vague to establish with much accuracy. She cannot recall the precise date or location in which she was supposedly attacked. Contrary to the protestations of Senate Democrats like Kamala Harris, the FBI cannot get involved in a matter that is not within the federal government’s jurisdiction. And even if local authorities were inclined to involve themselves, the statute of limitations long ago elapsed.
With precious few facts available to congressional investigators and without the sobriety that public scrutiny in the age of social media abhors, the spectacle to which the nation is about to be privy is undoubtedly going to make things worse. A public hearing featuring both Ford and Kavanaugh will be a performative and political display, if it happens at all. It will be adorned with the trappings of courtroom proceedings but with none of the associated protections afforded accused and accuser alike. It will further polarize the nation such that, whether Kavanaugh is confirmed or not, public confidence in Congress and the Supreme Court will be severely damaged. And no matter what is said in that hearing, it is unlikely to change many minds.
Given the dearth of hard evidence, it is understandable that observers have begun to look to their own experiences to evaluate the veracity of Ford’s allegations. The Atlantic contributor Caitlin Flanagan is the author of a powerful and compelling example of this kind of work. Her essay, entitled “I Believe Her,” is important for a variety of reasons. Maybe foremost among them is how she all but invalidates defenses of Kavanaugh that are based on the positive character references he’s assembled from former female acquaintances and ex-girlfriends. Flanagan was assaulted as a young woman, and her abuser—a man she says drove her to a suicidal depression similar to what Ford has described to her therapist—was not interested in a romantic relationship. CNN political commenter Symone Sanders, too, confessed that “there is no debate” in her mind as to Kavanaugh’s guilt, in part, because she was the victim of a sexual assault in college. The similarities between what she endured and what Ford says occurred are too hard for her to ignore.
These are harrowing stories, but they also reveal how little any of this has to do with Brett Kavanaugh anymore. For some, this has become a proxy battle in the broader cultural reckoning that began with the #MeToo moment. Quite unlike the many abusive men who were outed by this movement, though, the evidentiary standard being applied to Kavanaugh’s case is remarkably low. His innocence has not been presumed, and a preponderance of evidence has not been marshaled against him. It is not even clear as of this writing that Kavanaugh will be allowed to confront his accuser. At a certain point, honest observers must concede that getting to the truth has not been a defining feature of this process.
In the face of this adversity, there are some Republicans who are willing to sacrifice Kavanaugh’s nomination. Some appear to think that Kavanaugh’s troubles present them with an opportunity to advance their own political prospects and to promote a replacement nominee with whom they feel a closer ideological affinity. Others simply don’t want to risk standing by a tainted nominee. The stakes associated with a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court are too high to confirm a justice with an asterisk next to his name—a justice who may tarnish future rulings on sensitive cases by association. Those Republicans are either capitulatory or craven.
Based on what we know now, Kavanaugh does not deserve an asterisk. Maybe he will tomorrow, but he doesn’t today. Those who would allow what is by almost all accounts an exemplary legal career to be destroyed by unconfirmable accusations or outright innuendo will not get a better deal down the line. Some Republicans are agnostic about Kavanaugh’s fate and believe that his being stopped will make room for a more doctrinaire conservative like Amy Coney Barrett. But they will not get their ideologically simpatico justice if they allow the defiling of the process by which she could be confirmed.
The experiences that Dr. Ford described are appalling. Even for those who are inclined to believe her account and think that she is due some restitution, no true justice can be meted out that doesn’t infringe on the rights of the accused. Those in the commentary class who would use Kavanaugh as a stand-in for every abuser who got away, every preppy white boy who benefited from unearned privilege, every hypocritical conservative moralizer to exact some karmic vengeance are not interested in justice. They want a political victory, even at the expense of the integrity of the American ideal. If there is a fight worth having, it’s the fight against that.