Tuesday, January 06, 2004

Libel's In The Air Tonight

Y'know, I remember the days when conservatives would decry the tendency of liberals and leftists to cry "racism" whenever conservatives would question anything about identity politics. Turns out, the problem wasn't convenient identity politics, the problem was the specific identity involved. Given a different identity and a different cry, many self-proclaimed conservatives seem quite fond of the tactic.

To wit, I present David Brooks, who has brought the ludicrous "anybody who attacks neo-conservatives is an anti-semitic" to the New York Times, saying that since there's "no such thing as a neo-conservative", the only possible reason why people might use the label is because they're taking advantage of the fact that many neoconservatives are jewish to try to make veiled anti-semitic remarks. Don't believe me?

In truth, the people labeled neocons (con is short for "conservative" and neo is short for "Jewish")The ones outside government have almost no contact with President Bush. There have been hundreds of references, for example, to Richard Perle's insidious power over administration policy, but I've been told by senior administration officials that he has had no significant meetings with Bush or Cheney since they assumed office. If he's shaping their decisions, he must be microwaving his ideas into their fillings.
Ah, what a nice little dodge this is. First the libel gets slid in there in a little "joke" so that most people don't realize it's a deadly insult, then the argument that because one neoconservative doesn't have "significant meetings" (whatever that means) with the president and the vice president that there's no influence on the administration, despite the president being famous for his delegation and thus almost certainly influenced indirectly by meetings with those policymakers that surround him. Couple it with a nice little bit of deceit by omission in Brooks' failure to mention (hi Nedra!) that Perle was on the defense board until the astounding conflict of interest that that presented forced him to quit.

Still, there's a more important question at work here. The claim that anti-semitism drives criticism of neo-conservatism is monstrous. It not only diminishes the problem of real anti-semitism, it creates a perception that those who criticize neo-conservatism are, well, Nazis- and since Bush's foreign policy is essentially neo-conservative (in that it features the activist, militarist foreign policy that distinguishes neoconservative foreign policy from both neoliberalism and old-style realist conservatism) and that the Democrats have been criticizing Bush along those lines, it seriously implies that the only reason to oppose Bush is anti-semitism (read: Nazism). It is essentially Stalinist, and undermines the entire American political system.

It's ironic that Brooks spends most of the column railing against the cheapening of the debate. I honestly can't think of any line of argument that does so more effectively than the one he's peddling.

(Calpundit has a bit about the creation of the term "neoconservative" here, although keep in mind that the source was an interview with Irving Kristol- he has a vested interest in trying to represent his own view as that of all conservatives.)

Edit: Lots on this on the Daily Howler.

Also another point I hadn't considered. Every action has an equal and opposition reaction. If opposition to neo-conservatism and the Republicans is going to be cast as anti-semitism, it is almost certain that some will react by saying "you wanna know what? Screw it. Fine, I'm anti-semitic." It is likely that some of this has already taken place on the radical left due to the demonization of their opposition to Israeli foreign policy (although an order of magnitude less than "pro-Israeli" conservatives argue) but to have this happen to the general left would a very, very bad thing for both the left and for Jewish Americans.

Of course the right, not truly giving a crap about either of these groups, would no doubt eat it up.

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