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Israel The Political Animal

Maureen Dowd and her Critics

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A couple of interesting comments from Noga and David on my post, “A Political Hall of Mirrors,” prompts these further considerations on the reaction to Maureen Dowd’s neocon puppet master column. I don’t think this is a subject in which people need necessarily hold hard positions unwaveringly and completely opposed to differing views. Of course, I had read the Jeffrey Goldberg post that David directed me to, and what Goldberg does very well in it is demonstrate the deep history of “puppet master” as an anti-Semitic trope. But Goldberg himself says more than once that he does not believe that Dowd was drawing on that history – had intended to invoke it and thereby evoke an anti-Semitic feeling in the reader. That is why I end in the ambiguous place I do in my last post and title it as I do – considering the multiplicity of lenses and perceptions.

If one has the sense that Dowd was not herself being anti-Semitic, even though she employed a term that can succor anti-Semites, then that raises questions about the vociferous response to her column. It is one thing to believe that a writer, in a particular context, made an ill-advised choice of words; it is another to roundly attack her as if she were being, actually, anti-Semitic in her views. Much of that attack (though not all – just as not all neocons are Jews) came, in fact, from conservatives and neocons, just the people who would wish to invalidate Dowd’s attack on them by trailing the red herring of any actual anti-Semitism. It is true that much anti-Semitic sentiment and parlance has become routinized among segments of the left, which now offer ugly mockery of anti-Semitic concerns. It is also true that there is a very bold and unattractive right that aggressively seeks to exploit this current weakness of the left in order to fully align support of Israel, and identification with Jewish concerns, with conservatism. Many on the right view this as a historic opportunity – and they are right to do so – to alienate Jews from their long, historic liberal leanings. The reaction to Dowd was an opportunistic attack on a facile representative of liberalism.

Why, then, do I seem to come around a bit, on this topic, in my response to Andrew Sullivan’s commentary? First, because Sullivan makes it so easy. Israel is one of those subjects on which he is completely emotive and unsubtle in his thinking, driven by animus and entirely injudicious.

David makes the following point, drawn from Goldberg responding to a sympathetic, but nonetheless divergent James Fallows:

I think his most telling point consists in pointing out that James Fallows can recognize that Newt Gingrich’s referring to Obama as “the food-stamp president” is a racist dog-whistle, in spite of Gingrich having made no explicit reference to race, while claiming that Dowd’s “neocon puppet master” cannot be an antisemitic dog-whistle because Dowd made no mention of Jews, Israel, or religion.  What is sauce for the goose (and properly so in the case of Gingrich) is sauce for the gander.

“Food stamp President” and “puppet master” are not equivalent code terms. They operate differently as verbal signs. No one has argued – no one can – that “puppet master” cannot be used without anti-Semitic reference. All one need do to clarify that point is use the term in a context in which there are no Jews. It can be used that way, is used that way, and retains a full charge of meaning without reference to Jews. It is only in a context with Jews that the possibility of anti-Semitic reference arises. This is not so with “food stamp President.” The complete history of that term is in a context in which racist coding arises: there is not context in which the term has ever been used in which it did not offer the possibility of racist coding. With Barack Obama – a black president – there is not even the possibility of the “not all neocons are Jews” argument. There is only one President and he is black.

Then, too, there is the context of common usage by the speaker of the term: just in the past couple of years we have had Newt Gingrich referencing Obama’s “Kenyan, anti-colonial” world view, and Obama’s pursuing the dreams (of his father) of a “Luo tribesman,” a “philandering, inebriated African.”

Why would anyone think that Gingrich has concertedly sought to identify Obama with black Africanness, with a primitive threat to civilization and the moral social order? Why?

If there is a comparable personal vocabulary and context for Maureen Dowd, I have yet to be presented with it.

What we see, then, is the contrast between purposeful messaging and message enabling, but this last is why I end, finally where I do on Dowd. The attack on her, from some, offered just the vile opportunism imputed to her, but it also enabled the likes of Sullivan and Mondoweiss, which also cheered her on for its own reasons, not hers, and that is why the language she used, in the context she used it, always needs to be called out, if not called a crime.

AJA

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Israel The Political Animal

A Political Hall of Mirrors

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Puppet Master (franchise)
Puppet Master (franchise) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Bob from Brockley writes (from Brockley, I presume) to offer compliment and commentary to my last post on Maureen Dowd. Bob and I are usually in close alignment on such issues as have arisen from Dowd’s recent column on the neocons. In this case not. Bob (whom, if you don’t, you really should be reading over at BobfromBrockley) thinks, like other of her critics, that Dowd used problematic language in a subject that seems to touch on Jewishness. Contrary to my more common thoughts on these matters, I think Dowd’s critics got it all wrong this time. And then again…

I have to say that I do not read Dowd often. I find her brand of snark far too facile and empty of nutrition. Sort of like Cheetos, which have their place, mind you. So I don’t know if Dowd has a history here. I suspect not, though others are welcome to enlighten me. I think history, context, matters. For the sum of Dowd’s offense in this instance is that she used the term “puppet master” in relation to behind-the-scenes necons influencing the foreign policy pronouncements of international neophyte Mitt Romney; her editor adopted the word “slither” from Paul Wolfowitz, used against the Orthodox Barack Obamawitz, for the title of Dowd’s column, back against the neocons; and as we all know, a pretty fair number of influential neocons – by no means all, including some very influential figures – are Jewish.

Absent any history on Dowd’s part, and considering that there is nothing even close to a Jewish reference in her column – despite the gross distortion of some, like Dylan Byers, in reporting on Dowd’s column – I find this an attack (and it was swift and serious) to have been very misguided. It is misguided because, I think, wrong, and because it tends (mistakenly) to confirm the common dismissals these days of all those lined up against Israel of unfounded charges of anti-Semitism. It is very much to the point that many (not all) of the most damning critics of Dowd are representative of the kind of foreign policy positions she was decrying, American politicos deeply invested in devising an umbilical tie between support of Israel and the most conservative, jingoistic expressions of American foreign policy.

It seems apparent to me that Dowd was incensed – as we all should be – that American neocons are still part of any foreign policy discussions in our politics, just as Romney-Ryan are running on the similarly failed GOP plutocratic economic policies that failed just as miserably under George W. Bush and before. The anger comes through very clearly, if the brief particulars are not deeply thought out. Dowd’s neocon opposition is as extreme and simplistic as are neocon ideas themselves. The Jewishness of some neocons is entirely incidental to the column, and even that incidental nature is never even alluded to – unless, of course, it is now considered to be so that the very use of the terms “puppet master” and “slither” conjures up Jews. That is an ill-considered destination.

James Fallows has written an excellent post on the issue, all of which should be read, and that makes the essential points quite well.

– For what it’s worth, I know that the term “puppet-master,” which Dowd uses about the likes of Paul Wolfowitz and Dan Senor, fits some anti-Semitic tropes. But it also is a normal part of English that has nothing necessarily to do with anti-Semitism. I remember hearing a college lecture about Iago’s role as “puppet-master” of Othello; one biography of J. Edgar Hoover had the title Puppetmaster. As a kid I read a Robert Heinlein sci-fi novel of the same name. The very ugliest term in Dowd’s column, the statement that a certain group was “slithering” back into control, was something that Paul Wolfowitz had said about President Obama! No one is identified by religion, Jewish or otherwise, in what Dowd wrote.

I agree exactly with what Kevin Drum said:

There’s nothing anti-Semitic in Dowd’s column. She just doesn’t like neocons, and she doesn’t like the fact that so many of the neocons responsible for the Iraq debacle are now advisors to Mitt Romney’s campaign.

People who are not members of a certain minority group should be careful to avoid terms that that can do harm. But we all have a stake in keeping discussion as free and open as possible. In my view Dowd, with whom I often disagree, was making a valuable point [about the resurgence of the neocons]

Well, there I stand – except I just caught a glimpse of the politics of all this in a mirror, and there is another mirror reflected in that mirror, and some fun-house distortions begin to appear.

Bob commented on my last post a second time, to direct us all to Andrew Sullivan’s post on the matter, from yesterday. It’s getting to where you can begin to term this sort of thing “pulling a Sullivan.” It’s about how one gets to be un-PC and wrong at the same time.

Sullivan does not just defend Dowd, unsurprisingly – he actually manages to upend my argument and confirm the currents in American politics that Dowd’s critics feel. I don’t think it confirms anything in the least about Dowd – but offering a bat to someone  likely to use it for bashing someone else over the head ought to give one pause. Of course, if Dowd’s column had been allowed to pass without the attack, the likes of Sullivan would not have had the opportunity on one day to show himself, and we ought to see him clearly.

What did Sullivan do and say?

To begin, there is in the post title, “Another One!” and the photo of Dowd with a Hitler mustache, and the mockery of concerns over, and charges, of anti-Semitism. This kind of thing is common today, in quarters, too, where the denizens would be outraged by a like display showing Dowd with a KKK conical hat and mocking concerns over anti-Black racism. Or anti-Latino or, in many instances, anti-Muslim. An observable reality is, too, that whenever resentment of, for instance, charges of anti-Black racism are expressed, anti-Black resentment itself, indeed, is not often hard to see. So it is with Sullivan regarding Jews.

In the obverse action of Dylan Byers, distorting Dowd’s column in order to criticize her, Sullivan performs the identical distortion in order to promote an anti-Israel argument that Dowd did not make.

Dowd wrote a column in which she noted how Greater Israel fanatics run the Romney campaign’s foreign policy (which they do), and their neoconservative bubble is part of what explains Romney’s nasty and divisive attempt last week to politicize the recent flare-up of violent anti-Americanism in the Middle East.

Dowd wrote a column noting no such thing: Dowd makes no even implied reference to “Greater Israel fanatics” or the issues that would follow from such a reference. This is all Sullivan: Sullivan confirming, indeed, that when a Maureen Dowd writes what she did, there are people like Andrew Sullivan who will always see the Jew in it.

So many mirrors.

AJA

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The Political Animal

The Stink Bomb

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There is so much messy farting going on, the political arena smells like an outhouse. Of course, why should it not? It is an outhouse.

Between the craven opportunists and the reflexive ideologues, even a dash past the entrance with cotton plugs in your nose will not spare you the stench.

The Muslim world has a problem. Clearly. Is it all Muslims? No. Is it most Muslims? Check with Gallup. Is it a lot of Muslims. Yes. What’s a lot? I don’t know. I didn’t take statistics. But something is going on in the Muslim world, has been for a long time, that is not quite going on in any other religious culture. It’s a problem. You do not see a problem?  I’ll be seeking insight and advice elsewhere.

American conservative – that’s GOP – foreign policy talk is simpleminded. Talk tough – solve the Muslim problem. No one thought of that before. President Obama does not talk tough enough. (He just kills the enemy.) He does not posture tough enough. (He just kills the enemy.) The Israelis talk tough. They posture tough. Hell – they are tough. They kill the enemy too. And I’m not saying they should not be or do any of those things. But. Solve the problem? No.

Tina Brown’s Newsweek thinks Muslims have a problem. The magazine called it Muslim Rage. Newsweek these days, along with co-0wned and published online sibling  The Daily Beast, cannot separate itself from sensational, opportunistic journalism and covers, the way a boy grown too old cannot unsink his teeth from his mother’s tit. Tina Brown is angling for a Pulitzer. No, not that Pulitzer. The first one. The yellow one.

Culturally sensitive leftists think Muslim Rage headlines and generalizing are more of a problem than, well, Muslim Rage. I guess you have to be there.

The culturally sensitive created a Twitter hashtag to represent their scorn and ironic superiority to any conception of, well, you know, Muslim Rage. They called it #MuslimRage. (Why didn’t you think of that?) At least they have identified the true problem.

Maureen Dowd (how’d she become part of this) inked, penned, tapped out digitized a column decrying quite angrily the influence of neocon advisers and that simpleminded policy talk on the Romney-Ryan campaign. Maureen (we called her “Mo” back in the hood) (I made that up) thinks this is not a good thing. I don’t agree with all of her particulars, but in support of her general message, I offer you the two thousand oughts. Some people thought they caught, in Dowd’s column, a whiff of something. That is probably because when you live in an outhouse, your nose is going to be full of it.

Wrote Dylan Byers in what I can only, unfortunately, call the most dishonest blog post of the day,

Dowd … asserted [Romney and Ryan’s] strategy was orchestrated by a “neocon puppet master” who was leading the neocon effort to “slither back” into power.

“Puppet master” and slither” are supposed to be, according to some, including Byers, references to Jews. Except the only reference to “slither” in Dowd’s column is by Paul Wolfowitz in regard to the first Jewish president, Barack Obama. But that’s okay, because Byers also wrote, characteristic of the entire post,

Dowd’s assertion that Jewish neoconservatives — chiefly Paul Wolfowitz — dictated the Bush administration’s handling of Iraq also ignored the influences of the other individuals most often credited with that responsibility, namely Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and Condoleezza Rice — none of whom are Jewish.

You would be forgiven for concluding – in truth, you would be expected to believe – from the above that Down made an “assertion [about] Jewish neoconservatives.” Says it right there – move your eyes up – “Dowd’s assertion that Jewish neoconservatives….” You would not know that neither the words Jewish nor Hebrew nor Brothers-in-the-bagel appear anywhere in Dowd’s column. Byers certainly leaves the impression they do, does he not? From here on, if ever before, you trust not what Dylan Byers writes to characterize the words of others. If you do, it’s on you Bubbies and Babes.

Whence cometh this concerted attack on Dowd after her attack on neocons, Jewish or not? We have it from none other than The Times of Israel that

Republicans have launched unprecedented efforts to attract the Jewish vote this year, including funding television, print and billboard ads criticizing Obama’s policies on Israel and the economy. Last week, the Republican Jewish Coalition conducted a large grassroots canvassing campaign in Jewish communities in the battleground areas of South Florida, Philadelphia and Cleveland.

The nature of these “unprecedented” efforts we see in the smear of Dowd, the now daily GOP smear of Obama – counter to the whole historical record –  as having “thrown Israel under the bus” and as having apologized for the United States, which, actually could stand to apologize for some things, but not for defending without flinching the right of anyone to express any idea no matter how offensive to anyone else.

Anyone who has a problem with that has – a problem. Like Muslim Rage, and misguided cultural sensitivity, and simpleminded jingoism, and dishonest reporting, and all of it stinks. It stinks – how would my mother have put it? To high heaven. It stinks to high heaven. And if I’ve offended anyone, I apologize.

AJA

 

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