Friday, August 07, 2015

It's Outrageous To Suggest Feeding Tablet Editors To Fire Ants

Tablet Magazine has a sternly-worded editorial which concludes as follows:
We do not accept the idea that Senator Schumer or anyone else is a fair target for racist incitement, anymore than we accept the idea that the basic norms of political discourse in this country do not apply to Jews. Whatever one feels about the merits of the Iran deal, sales techniques that call into question the patriotism of American Jews are examples of bigotry—no matter who does it. On this question, we should all stand in defense of Senator Schumer.
Alas, as has become the norm of Tablet columns in this ilk -- and it is depressing to see the flaw migrate from Lee Smith articles to the editorial board itself -- what's missing in the editorial is any evidence that anybody in the Obama administration (or that matter, anybody at all) has subjected Senator Schumer to "racist incitement". Certainly, the Obama administration has opposed Schumer's opposition -- surely that's not objectionable -- but there is nothing in their comments that is remotely outside the bounds of normal political discourse. Nothing about "dual loyalty" or lack of patriotism, or even the more benign bugaboo complaints about "lobbyists" (and, to reiterate, if complaining that one's opinions are being influenced by big money and lobbyists is an anti-Semitic dog whistle, then every political debate our country has seen in the past half-century has apparently been dominated by neo-Nazis). The absolute worst thing you can find is a tweet by a former Obama staffer "the base won’t support a leader who thought Obamacare was a mistake and wants War with Iran," The "War with Iran" bit might be a cheap shot, but just the normal kind. And aside from that, everything one hears is entirely unremarkable political jostling.

All together, it is remarkably thin gruel. Yet paucity of evidence did not stop Tablet from deploying an orgy of histrionic rhetoric to back up its non-case: "It's the kind of dark, nasty stuff we might expect to hear at a white power rally, not from the President of the United States", "the kind of naked appeal to bigotry and prejudice that would be familiar in the politics of the pre-Civil Rights Era South," "This use of anti-Jewish incitement as a political tool is a sickening new development in American political discourse, and we have heard too much of it lately—some coming, ominously, from our own White House and its representatives." It would be exceptionally lovely if any of these allegations were connected to anything the President actually had said, but it's hard to collect quotes whilst hyperventilating I suppose. "It’s gotten so blatant that even many of us who are generally sympathetic to the administration, and even this deal, have been shaken by it," but not so blatant that one can find a direct quote by the President to back up the case.

All that being said, I certainly do not disagree with the statement that Chuck Schumer should not be subjected to racist incitement of any sort stemming from his opposition to the Iran deal. Since the fact that this hasn't, you know, happened apparently is no bar, allow me to go on the record with a few other non-occurrences which all people of goodwill should sternly oppose:

  • Mitch McConnell should not be beaten and left in a ditch.
  • It would be grotesque for anyone to call for Nancy Pelosi to be buried neck deep in sand at the low-tide mark.
  • Regardless of whether or not you like the Dallas Cowboys, it is uncalled for to demand cleansing the entire state of Texas with a holy fire.
  • Jewish representatives who vote for the Iran deal should under no circumstances be forced to parade naked through King's Landing as a condition for entering their synagogues.
  • Even if the United States men's boxing program fails yet again to medal at the 2016 Olympics, we absolutely should not reinstate the Roman policy of "decimation" as a punishment.
  • No matter how he performs at the next debate, Donald Trump should not be hanged from a noose constructed from his own hair.
No matter what one's views are on the Iran deal, surely we can agree that none of these outrageous actions is tolerable in American society. I look forward to a Tablet editorial devoted to each of them over the coming weeks.

Thursday, August 06, 2015

Professor Robert Burt Passes Away at Age 76

I am sad to report that Yale Law Professor Robert "Bo" Burt has passed away at age 76. I never met Bo personally, but we did get the chance to correspond about what turned out to be his final book, In the Whirlwind: God and Humanity in Conflict. We exchanged several emails about our competing interpretations of the Book of Job, and even though I was a mere law clerk at the time (and not a former student of his either), he responded to my perspective with a seriousness and respect that I was honored to receive. Later, when I published my review of the book in the Loyola University (Chicago) Law Journal, he was effusive with his praise while responding thoughtfully to our areas of (mild) disagreement.

When I was a law review editor, my single most important criteria for evaluating submissions was simple: does it cause me to think interesting thoughts? Burt's book triggered a welter of interesting thoughts, some of which I hopefully was able to transcribe into my review. But whether I was successful or not, I was grateful and humbled to have been treated as a colleague and a fellow in the process. That is something I will never forget, and if God-willing I ever achieve anything close to his eminence in academia, a model I hope to emulate.

May his memory be a blessing.

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

How Many Angels Can One Pinhead Support?

Conspiracy theories are a funny thing. They often start with a small mistake -- an implausible inference elevated to obvious truth, an unremarkable coincidence elevated to a dastardly plot, or just a simple mistake of fact -- and then build elaborate structures of belief upon that basic, but flawed, foundation. Done long enough, the core mistake can be buried under so much debris that it can be difficult to suss out again. But for those who were there from the beginning, it is an amazing thing to watch one tiny miscomprehension spiral into so much more.

A few weeks ago, I remarked on Lee Smith's astounding attempt to convert boilerplate rhetoric by the President against "Washington lobbyists" into an "anti-Semitic dogwhistle" regarding the Iran deal. Smith provided no reason why such generic, and commonplace, language should in this case be read as a sly attack on Jews, and I spotted none in my own analysis. The week following on Facebook, I tackled Smith's next layering of the charge. This time, in addition to bizarrely asserting that the release of Jonathan Pollard was an attempt to tar Jews with "dual loyalty" accusations, he misquoted Secretary of State John Kerry as saying Israel would be "to blame" for the failure of the Iran deal, when in reality he said Israel would be "blamed" for it. While I understand that grammar can be difficult, this is not a small distinction given that the former is dubious while the latter is unquestionably true to anyone who understands how anti-Semitism and Israel interact in international political discourse. But from the initial misplaced inference we now have a pattern for Smith, a pattern so obvious only a blind sheep could miss it.

And so we get to this week's entry, which contends that Obama is targeting three Jewish Democratic Senators -- Ben Cardin of Maryland, Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, and Chuck Schumer of New York -- with "dual loyalty" accusations if they break with the administration on this issue. What's his evidence? A New York Times editorial entitled "Republican Hypocrisy on Iran" that does not ever refer to any of the three putative targets. This is a masterstroke of the genre: the proof that (a) the Obama administration is (b) targeting these three Jewish Senators is a column (a) not authored by the Obama administration that (b) doesn't even allude to the three Senators. Sprinkle in some unsupported talk of an Obama-backed primary challenge to any defectors, and the hysterical assertion that generic urgings that politicians evaluate the deal on its merits rather than be swayed by lobbyists (that word again!) is "'Jew-baiting' of the sort that one might associate with Father Coughlin back in the 1930s," and you've got a column worthy of a 9/11 troofer.

And yet no doubt for Smith each layer, enforces the others, until the whole thing carries an aura of invulnerability unbreachable by simply sniping at this or that element. Isn't it odd that the President would resort to anti-Semitic rhetoric in pursuit of a policy most Jews support? Not odd, says Smith, just even more "perverse". Is it weird that a President supposedly so hostile to Jewish influence would engage so directly with the Jewish community on this issue? Nay, it is merely so he can elevate his "good Jews" (which, to reiterate, is apparently "most of us"). From such tiny scraps such grand conclusions drawn. It's awe-inspiring, in its way. But it's not serious political analysis.