Monday, September 13, 2010

Crazy People

Kurtz (TPM): The Peretz 'Apology'
The New Republic's Martin Peretz apologies for writing that Muslims don't deserve the protections of the First Amendment, but stands by his claim that Muslims don't value human life.
Fallows: A Harsh Thing I Should Have Said (Martin Peretz Dept)
Usually you regret the harsh things you say more than the harsh things you decide not to say. At least, that's how it usually turns out for me.

Here's an exception. Earlier this week I wrote an item about an incredible instance of public bigotry in the American intelligentsia. I decided not to push the "publish" button, because -- well, I didn't need to say it. Other people were pointing out the bigotry. I had no special standing as attitude-cop in this case.

But Nicholas Kristof's column today makes me realize I was wrong. The upsurge in expressed hostility toward Muslims -- not toward extremists or terrorists but toward adherents of a religion as a group -- creates an American moment that isn't going to look good in historical retrospect. The people indulging in this kind of group-bias speech deserve to be called out.

Kristof has called out one of the people I had in mind: Martin Peretz, listed as editor in chief of the New Republic, someone I have known very slightly since the days when he was a young professor at Harvard and I was a student. What he wrote, which the younger version of himself would have excoriated, was this:
>> [F]rankly, Muslim life is cheap, most notably to Muslims. And among those Muslims led by the Imam Rauf [of the NYC "mosque" project] there is hardly one who has raised a fuss about the routine and random bloodshed that defines their brotherhood. So, yes, I wonder whether I need honor these people and pretend that they are worthy of the privileges of the First Amendment which I have in my gut the sense that they will abuse. <<
What's the point in piling on now, when these words have been so roundly condemned in so many quarters? Here is part of what I meant to say last week:
>> Martin Peretz's stated complaint about mainstream Muslims is that they don't step up to condemn egregious acts by people who could be considered "their own." Let's apply that logic here. Around the world, Martin Peretz would be seen as one of "our own," for people in the press and at his magazine. He is an American, and a prominent member of the media. So by his standards, we should raise our voices to say about one of "our own," this is wrong. Rather than seeming to condone the sentiments through silence, or to grant their author a pass because of his connections and standing, we should, again, say: This is wrong, and un-American. Anyone saying such things does not speak for "us." <<
I can't at the moment think of another mainstream publication whose editor-in-chief has expressed similar sentiments -- whether about Muslims or blacks or Jews or women or any other class -- and not had to apologize or step down. Or a national political figure: compare this with Trent Lott's objectively milder statement about Strom Thurmond, which cost him his job in the Senate leadership. Peretz can of course say whatever he wants. It's a free country, and he is entitled to the "privileges" of the First Amendment, much as I might think he is abusing them here. But Nicholas Kristof has set an example of people stepping up to say: That's him, not us. This representative of "us" is entitled to say what he chooses, but we think he's wrong, and on this he does not speak for us.
John Cole: Nothing New

Adding to my point that there is really nothing new to the hatred bubbling inside the mind of Marty Peretz and it is curious that some people are only now calling him on it, here is a piece from Jack Shafer pointing out that Peretz has not really kept his feelings about Arabs a secret.

The piece is from 1991. This year’s freshman class in colleges across the country was not even born, and Peretz was getting his hate on.

Marshall: Trainwreck A'Comin'

Delaware is not normally where you go for exciting politics. It's a small state, totally dominated for most of the last three or four decades by three or four guys who keep getting reelected, except when they trade one of the state's four major offices and get elected again. Mike Castle's been getting elected for about thirty years. He was Governor. Then the state's sole Representative since 1993. And now he's trading up to be Senator. That's just how things work in Delaware.

Until about a month ago.

Now it looks like he's about to get rocked by totally wild-eyed Tea Partier Christine O'Donnell. She's the one who says it's not enough to be abstinent. You have to eliminate sexual desire entirely. Which suggests she's what you'd call an aspirational politician rather than a realist.

First The Tea Party Express started pouring in money for her. Then Palin endorsed her. Then this morning the Weekly Standard unloaded this hatchet-job on her. And now PPP has just released a poll showing her 3 points ahead of Mike Castle.

In any other year, you'd probably be safe seeing that as basically a tie race and figuring Castle's machine strength could pull it out for him. But after Murkowski, maybe not.

And all that wasn't enough, tonight the Tea Party Express (one of the more cash-n-carry of the national Tea Party groups) released a statement calling for the firing of the head of the state Republican party.

The Tea Party Express (website: is joining with a coalition of Delaware Republicans and conservative activists in calling for the immediate resignation or termination of Delaware Republican Party Chairman, Tom Ross.

"Tom Ross must resign within the next 24 hours or face immediate termination," declared Amy Kremer, Chairman of the Tea Party Express.

"As Mike Castle's chief advocate, Mr. Ross has trashed Republican candidates, beliefs and principles, and shown a complete lack of character or integrity. He is a walking disaster who has brought irreparable harm to the Republican Party.

"Can you imagine the mess Tom Ross will have created when he is Delaware Republican Party Chairman on Tuesday night when Christine O'Donnell becomes the Republican nominee for U.S. Senate? It's unacceptable, and Tom Ross must quit or be fired immediately.

"Mike Castle should be ashamed of himself for conspiring with Mr. Ross to attack fellow Republicans and conservative activists, all in the process of dishonoring the principles of the Republican Party platform that he was entrusted to represent and is supposed to advocate for," Kremer said.

You can read the rest here.

  • DougJ adds:
    I almost feel bad rooting against Castle, because I do respect his record of public service and because O’Donnell’s “unmanly” attacks were shameful, but the entertainment potential here if off the charts.

Adam Serwer: Forbes Embraces Birtherism Lite.

Sometimes it's best to think of racism as intellectual laziness. That is, it reflects a failure to evaluate people for who they actually are, because its easier to slip them into a familiar, predetermined category that doesn't upset other related conclusions a person might have come to as a result. For whatever reason, elements of the right have chosen not to evaluate Barack Obama based on his actions or his policies, but through the kind of post-modern literary interpretation that wouldn't make it through the vetting process of a freshman bong circle at Wesleyan. In these retellings of Obama's personal history, the president's life is an epic, Marxist, sinister version of a Joseph Campbell style heroic journey, with its hero ultimately falling, like Anakin Skywalker, to the dark side of the force.

Emerging from his sinecure as president of a small religious college in New York, Dinesh D'Souza, who has been laundering the racism of the right through an "intellectual" filter since his days at Dartmouth, gets back to where his career began. In an essay for Forbes, he concludes that the animating philosophy of the president is "Kenyan anti-colonialism." The purpose of the essay is to synthesize the most idiotic conservative criticisms of Obama into one handy term:

It may seem incredible to suggest that the anticolonial ideology of Barack Obama Sr. is espoused by his son, the President of the United States. That is what I am saying. From a very young age and through his formative years, Obama learned to see America as a force for global domination and destruction. He came to view America's military as an instrument of neocolonial occupation. He adopted his father's position that capitalism and free markets are code words for economic plunder. Obama grew to perceive the rich as an oppressive class, a kind of neocolonial power within America. In his worldview, profits are a measure of how effectively you have ripped off the rest of society, and America's power in the world is a measure of how selfishly it consumes the globe's resources and how ruthlessly it bullies and dominates the rest of the planet.

For Obama, the solutions are simple. He must work to wring the neocolonialism out of America and the West. And here is where our anticolonial understanding of Obama really takes off, because it provides a vital key to explaining not only his major policy actions but also the little details that no other theory can adequately account for.

This is birtherism with big words. This is the witchdoctor sign without photoshop, WorldNetDaily without the exclamation points. D'Souza doesn't need to stare at Obama's birth certificate for hours to come to the same conclusion as the birthers, which is that the president is a foreigner. But neither is "Kenyan anti-colonialism" a superficial term. At once, it engages all the racialized elements of the conservative critique of Obama--not just that having an African father means he isn't really an American, but that his inner life consists of a deep anger towards white people, and the office of the presidency is merely the means to secure a collective payback. It also manages to nod in the direction of another conservative racist meme, that having a black president makes the United States somehow analagous to African third-world countries run by bloodthirsty despots. Newt Gingrich took a break from his clownish Islamophobia this weekend to embrace this idiocy, and drew a much harsher reaction, in part because we're still so silly about race in this country that we're still disarmed when a person of color makes a blatantly racist argument.

Some people have already asked how an American like D'Souza disparages anti-colonialism, but it's simple really: African self-determination is seen by many in the West, particularly conservatives, as a tragic in comparison to the idealized "stability" of white rule. "Kenyan anti-colonialism" manages to say at once, Obama is a black, incompetent despot who is out for revenge against whites, and who will destroy the country in the process. This is profoundly racist on its face. Yet it's the cover story in Forbes magazine.

Of course, it isn't just racist, but idiotic. D'Souza's grasp of policy is shallow as a puddle of piss in a dark alley, but it's safe to say that someone self-identifying as an "anti-colonialist" would not be escalating an American war in central Asia or claiming the authority to use the entire planet as a target range for flying robots armed with cruise missiles.

If Obama is a Kenyan anti-colonialist for supporting financial regulation, than Scott Brown is a Kenyan anti-colonialist. If Obama is a Kenyan anti-colonialist for supporting the proposed Islamic community center near Ground Zero, then Michael Bloomberg is a Kenyan anti-colonialist. If Obama is a Kenyan anti-Colonialist for supporting health care insurance reform, then Ben Nelson is a Kenyan anti-colonialist. The Center for American Progress is a Kenyan anti-colonialist think tank, MoveOn is a Kenyan anti-colonialist advocacy organization, and Peter Orszag is a Kenyan anti-colonialist intellectual.

All of which to say is there's no need to parse the ethnic origins or political philosophies of Obama's parents to understand the ideology of Barack Obama. He is a center-left Democrat who supports mainstream Democratic policies. But some conservatives don't want to talk about policy. They are unable to engage an argument with liberalism on substantive terms, they know only argument by epithet. They want to talk about the fact that our blackety black president is blackety black. It has been two years since a black man was elected president of the United States, and for a group of conservatives clinging to their cultural superiority, this was a moment of apocalyptic existential crisis, a moment that refuted all they had come to know and understand about themselves, about black people, and about this country. D'Souza is writing for them, the same kind of audience he has always written for.

Sully: Quote For The Day

"If Obama is a Kenyan anti-colonialist for supporting financial regulation, than Scott Brown is a Kenyan anti-colonialist. If Obama is a Kenyan anti-colonialist for supporting the proposed Islamic community center near Ground Zero, then Michael Bloomberg is a Kenyan anti-colonialist. If Obama is a Kenyan anti-Colonialist for supporting health care insurance reform, then Ben Nelson is a Kenyan anti-colonialist. The Center for American Progress is a Kenyan anti-colonialist think tank, MoveOn is a Kenyan anti-colonialist advocacy organization, and Peter Orszag is a Kenyan anti-colonialist intellectual," - Adam Serwer.

For that matter, if Obama wants to return to Clinton-era tax rates, does that make Clinton a Kenyan anti-colonialist? If Obama wants access to private health-care insurance, while Richard Nixon backed a far more expansive program, does that make Nixon a Ugandan Marxist? Once you unpack all this, especially when you consider the multiple crises that Obama had to handle when he came to office - and the extraordinary moderation he has shown throughout (infuriating those to his left) - you realize just how base this kind of "critique" is.

It is pure white cultural identity politics - now touted by a man who once made a mini-career by attacking identity politics. And it is on the cover of fricking Forbes! And fully endorsed by Newt Gingrich.

I suspected that on the right, things would get much worse before they got any better. I under-estimated the plunge toward nihilism and hate.

Sully: Quote For The Day II

"Overreaction is the Terrorist’s Friend: Even in major cases like this, the terrorist’s real weapon is fear and hysteria. Overreacting will play into their hands," - Glenn Reynolds, September 11, 2001.

Watching Instapundit's descent through those years to his current position is a poignant example of how our emotions have destroyed our reason in the years since. I do not exempt myself from this. But I have tried to regain some perspective and make amends for some of my over-reaction.

And yet now, especially, that unreason seems to have taken an almost pathological turn. It is as if America is intent on destroying itself, its civil society, its fiscal future, and its next generation in an endless fit of mutual recrimination, neurotic nationalism, and religious division.

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