Saturday, November 05, 2016

Marco Rubio Losing Would Be the Best Thing That Could Happen to the GOP

I'm assuming -- perhaps too brightly, although even the most pessimistic projectors have Hillary Clinton the sizable favorite -- that Hillary Clinton will win Tuesday night, and Donald Trump will lose. Other Republicans will lose next week as well. Mark Kirk will lose. Ron Johnson will almost certainly lose (though the "almost" is a recent addition, and not the right trendline). Joe Heck might lose, if the massive Democratic wave in the early voting is any indicator.

Marco Rubio, by contrast, probably will not lose. And that's a shame.

It's not, truth be told, that I have any personal objections to Marco Rubio -- at least, no more so than come standard to pretty much any Republican these days. If anything, Rubio is probably an above-average Republican (not that that's saying much). In any event, my argument isn't based around Rubio needing to lose because he's particularly bad or malicious or anything of that nature. Rather, what I care about is whether there is any hope of the non-lunatic wing of the GOP to win its coming civil war. For it to do so, the bulk of the party will have to come to terms with the fact that the path it's currently on -- the path that led them to Trump -- is not sustainable. And to come to the realization, important Republicans -- those who stand a chance of leading the party in the future -- will have to personally experience pain. And loss.

Mark Kirk losing his seat will not cause anyone to undergo any soul-searching. Nor will losses by Ron Johnson, or Joe Heck, or Pat Toomey, or many of the other vulnerable-ish Republicans this year. The difference between Rubio and many other Republicans who might lose on Tuesday is that Rubio represents the future of the Republican Party -- at least, if it is to have any future. In office, Rubio hasn't really shown the moxie to stand up to the radicals of his party -- sure, he tried to do work on immigration, but he folded like a cheap suit in the face of right-wing pressure. If he's reelected, I expect him to continue in that largely go-along get-along fashion. But unlike most of his colleagues, Marco Rubio still matters to the GOP even if he loses reelection. And a Marco Rubio who goes from rising star to unemployed because of Donald Trump is a Marco Rubio who will be highly motivated to grab his Party by the jaw and wrench their eyes toward some uncomfortable truths.

Thursday, November 03, 2016

Is It Still a "Smear" If It's, You Know, True?

"Republicans are racist. That’s been the predictable smear the left has hurled at the GOP for decades. It was always ever groundless and cynical," opens Noah Rothman, right before effectively admitting it turned out to be exactly right.

The title of the piece is "The GOP's White Supremacy Problem", and hey, if that by-now-reflexive presage is what you need to actually reckon with the problem then go for it I guess, but I can't say that it inspires a ton of confidence.

Tuesday, November 01, 2016

Lee Smith on the SPLC is the Bizarro Version of Berkeley Protest

The other day, a colleague of mine described the typical Berkeley student activist's argument as "taking a reasonable point, and then pushing it so hard and so far that it stops being reasonable and starts being terrible."

Lee Smith of Tablet Magazine must have attended Berkeley.

Smith has primarily graced my virtual pages for his commentary on the Iran Nuclear Deal. The problem was not that he opposed it -- I had mixed feelings myself, though ultimately came out in favor -- or even linking the issue to questions of anti-Semitism. The problem was that Lee's contributions were consistently histrionic, bordering on conspiratorial, and frequently failed to display basic reading comprehension skills.

Today's target is the Southern Poverty Law Center's newly released field guide to anti-Muslim extremists. The document lists off fifteen names, much of the public disdain for this document centers around its inclusion of Maajid Nawaz, founder of the Quilliam Foundation and self-described liberal Muslim activist. I had heard of Nawaz, though I didn't know much about him, but even solely going off what the SPLC says about him in this document the case for labeling him an "anti-Muslim extremist" seems exceptionally thin. Placing him on a list that includes Pam Geller seems recklessly irresponsible at best, discrediting at worst.

So, we start with a reasonable point! What will Smith do with it?
It is sad but telling that the SPLC’s so-called field guide to Muslim-haters is not a list of violent extremists—who certainly do exist—but is instead a blacklist of prominent writers whose opinions on a range of cultural and political issues are offensive to the SPLC. The SPLC blacklist list contains practicing Muslims like Maajid Nawaz, ex-Muslims like Ayaan Hirsi Ali, foreign-policy think-tankers like Frank Gaffney and Daniel Pipes, and right-wing firebrands like David Horowitz—none of whom could be reasonably described as anti-Muslim bigots.
Who indeed could call Frank Gaffney -- who thought President Obama must "still" be a Muslim following his Cairo address -- or David "Islamo-fascism awareness week" Horowitz "anti-Muslim bigots"? It's unreasonable, I say! I will cop that both are non-violent, but hatred and malign ideologies are hardly limited to the explicitly violent variety (indeed, that observation -- noting that there are "Islamists" who are non-violent but still hold deeply reactionary views -- is one of the things that got Nawaz on the list!). Hell, even take Smith's next-most-sympathetic example, after Nawaz -- Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Ali has an extraordinarily powerful and moving life story. But she really did advocate closing down Muslim schools in the West, and that really is pretty flagrantly biased. It's perfectly valid and appropriate to call that out.

Oh, and speaking of President Obama, you know he's going to make an appearance:
Interestingly, the document fails to list the man who, according to [the SPLC's] description, is the world’s most influential anti-Muslim extremist—President Barack Obama, who told the Atlantic that young people in the Middle East are only thinking about how to kill Americans.
No, he didn't (Smith is kind enough to include the link. Go ahead and read it -- Obama said nothing of the sort.). I tweeted at Tablet that they "could save a ton of money by firing its editors, since they're clearly not doing anything anyway", and this was the section I had in mind. This is the sort of passage that a self-respecting editor has to put on the chopping block. I've written for Tablet, I know they're capable of doing it. I can't imagine they're not embarrassed by this. If you don't care about Smith looking bad, at least care about what you're doing to yourself.

Finally, Smith is shocked that the SPLC urges that people not rely upon these listees as sources on Islam.
Nor does the SPLC hide the fact that the purpose of its publication is to blacklist and silence its enemies. The field guide recommends to its consumers in the media that they, “research the background of extremist spokespeople and consider other sources, and if they do use anti-Muslim spokespeople, point out their extremism.”
I mean, really? Is that our definition of "blacklist" now (we'll just skate past Smith uncritically adopting the whole "people not listening to my terrible opinions is 'silencing'!" frame) -- trying to rely on reputable sources when talking about a given group, rather than fringe lunatics? It's a "blacklist" to "consider other sources" on Islam other than Pamela Gellar? Really? I mean, soon, we might ask that the newspaper not rely on Kevin MacDonald or Miko Peled regarding the Jews (both are, to be scrupulously fair, non-violent, and according to Smith that's the only hurdle one needs to cross)!

There is a reasonable point in here that the SPLC, in including someone like Nawaz as an "anti-Muslim extremist", badly damaged its credibility in a quite noble endeavor to get mainstream media sources to stop treating Frank Gaffney (who thought the Obama administration was gearing up to invade Israel), or Pam Geller (who rose to prominence by objecting to building mosques in lower Manhattan because they must be celebrating the 9/11 attacks) as credible. That is a very much a point worth making; my instinct is to share in it. But Smith insists on taking that good point and absolutely obliterating it in his usual explosion of breathless hysterics.

He'd fit right in among a certain crowd here at Berkeley.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Has the GOP Already Lost Its Civil War?

Last week, I talked about how good Republicans -- the sorts who are genuinely appalled by Donald Trump and have been from the beginning -- need to come to terms with the underlying causes that brought him to the fore of their party. Donald Trump was not an act of God, he was not a bolt of lightning. He is the Republican nominee because of choices the Republican Party made in dealing with its coalition -- fanning flames of bigotry, paranoia, anti-intellectualism, and outright hatred. Many have suggested that after this election (assuming Trump loses), the GOP will face a "civil war" between the pro-Trump elements of the Party and the "establishment" wing.

Jonathan Chait offers another hypothesis: The GOP already had its civil war, and the Trump wing has won. The only thing now is for sane conservatives to admit defeat and leave.

Chait has some powerful evidence, not the least of which is the fact that Republicans who dare stand up to Trump for even a moment tend to see their approval ratings crater among Republican voters. The fact of the matter is that the median Republican right now is not "appalled" by Donald Trump. They are not outraged by what he's done to the party. Donald Trump represents what they want out of Republicans. They're never happier than when a Republican Congressman whips up yet another frenzied foam of investigatory nonsense against this or that Democratic leader -- Hillary Clinton makes for a good target, but she's hardly necessary for the feeding frenzy. It's no accident that the way Republicans rally votes now is by swearing to never confirm a Supreme Court Justice nominated by a Democrat while pining longingly at the possibility of putting a "bullseye" on Hillary Clinton -- while standing in a gun store. This is the Republican Party for the foreseeable future. The civil war was this year's primary. Non-lunatics lost. Decisively.

It is far from clear that there is anything good Republicans can do to save their party at this point. That's a bitter pill to swallow, no doubt, but a necessary one. The choice is either a fundamentally sane party that is more to the left than you'd like, or an increasingly nightmarish disaster-show where sitting governors consider Trump's potential to be "authoritarian" to be a form of praise.

Your call.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Meet Avi Buskila, The New (Mizrahi) Head of Peace Now

I highly, highly recommend you read this fascinating interview with Avi Buskila, the new head of Peace Now in Israel. Buskila is a gay Mizrahi Jew (his parents immigrated from Morocco), he grew up on Israel's periphery, and he has combat experience as an IDF soldier -- including stopping a terrorist attack by a fellow IDF servicemember on innocent Palestinians. Some highlights:

On the left and Mizrahim
Buskila talks about the kind of posts he encounters in left-wing groups on social media. For example one person wrote: "We've gathered the savages and brought them to Israel, and now they are destroying us," meaning Jews of Mizrahi descent. "After all, right-wingers equal Mizrahim, equal religious," he says. 
But Buskila says has no intention of being the "left’s pet Mizrahi."
"I won’t apologize for serving in the IDF longer than Naftali Bennett or for living in the periphery longer than Miri Regev," he says defiantly. 
"The portrayal of the left as old and Ashkenazi is accurate. There are a lot of people in the (peace) camp who would rather see us fail than give up their control. They refuse to recognize that it’s time they retire and leave. But I have news for them—they are going to lose control and if they don't, we'll take it from them, both in the political parties and in organizations. The left, in many ways, failed to speak to the people. For years, it just told everyone why they are wrong."
"The left doesn’t respect the painful narrative of fear. I don’t doubt my mother's fears. She spent most of her life in shelters under the threat of rocket fire. Speaking their language means I'm not preaching, and I'm not constantly explaining to someone why he's wrong. It's not about coming from Tel Aviv to tell a Netivot resident that his fears and the discrimination he feels are nonexistent bullshit. I accept what they're telling me."
On coordinating with international actors
"Everyone can do what they think is right. I respect and support these organizations. At the end of the day, Breaking the Silence and B'Tselem are my partners, and we all have the same vision. What distinguishes between us is our style of work. I don’t feel their international work harms Peace Now. However, I do strongly oppose BDS. It hurts us and undermines a possible agreement. We need to speak up in the international arena but to choose carefully whom we speak with. I have not lost hope for the State of Israel."
On the Israeli right's standard-bearers
"There's a small settler group that delegitimizes the entire country. Naftali Bennett speaks of annexation and other such nonsense, but he is terrified. He doesn’t have the courage to go through with it. Why isn’t this right-wing government annexing the territories? Bennett is dangerous because his party produces the most extreme statements that threaten Israeli democracy.
"For example, Uri Ariel, a man who symbolizes all that is bad in my eyes—the scared Diaspora Jew who walks around with a grenade in his pocket fearing for his life. He doesn’t care about anything but Greater Israel and is willing to pay for it with rivers of blood. The man uses the Torah to produce racism, homophobia, and a lot of money. He is not alone; he sits with (Bezalel) Smotrich, who is insane, and Ayelet Shaked, who manages to say the most terrible things with such a sweet tone. She seems not to understand that a more Jewish state means that I do not have the right to live here because I am gay, that the entire country will be closed down for Shabbat, and our children will learn to read from Torah scrolls in the first grade.  
"Ask Bennett for me: how many Mizrahim are in his Bayit Yehudi party? There aren’t a lot because it’s a party that represents a settler elite, which is Ashkenazi and Anglo-Saxon. They think that he people should worship them. And within this elite there is another elite: the Hebron settlers who are Ashkenazi and receive even more money than other settlers. They don’t think of other Israeli citizens, not even my mother or their friends in Kiryat Shmona. They think only of themselves. NIS 300 million went to settlements in recent months. How much money went to the residents of Kiryat Shmona? Did Bibi visit Kiryat Shmona or even look down at it from a plane? The city is on the verge of collapse. When it was under attack during the Second Lebanon War, it was relatively protected. Today it interests no one."
But seriously -- read the whole thing.