Wednesday, October 04, 2006


(Note that this was written prior to the onset of the Foley scandal. Suffice it to say that after learning of the way in which Foley’s conduct was ignored by the GOP – until after the scandal broke – the point I’m making here has become even more apparent.)

Twenty three years ago on Yom Kippur afternoon, I sat in a large church at Harvard listening to the famous law professor Alan Dershowitz passionately discuss the issue of whether Jews should air their dirty linen in public. He wasn’t talking about whether Jews should publicize their own personal failings. He was addressing whether one member of the Tribe should criticize another in front of the gentiles.

It seemed like such a silly topic to me. Of course, I thought, Jews should criticize each other – at least if their vocations or avocations involve providing social commentary and the Jews at issue have behaved reprehensibly. What kind of parochial, chauvinistic mind would tolerate a Jew doing the same thing for which he would criticize a gentile?

The “dirty laundry” excuse for tolerating unacceptable conduct continues to seem silly to me. I can understand not publicly criticizing a member of my nuclear family or a close friend. But how can I extend that to all Jews? Or how can I extend that to all members of my political party? I guess that’s one darned good reason why I have remained a Democrat.

Those who have been reading this blog – or for that matter, those who have read my novel – realize that bashing Democrats is one of my favorite sports. I hold members of my party to high standards. When they act like hypocrites, wimps or phonies, I enjoy the catharsis of a good kvetch. And I’m hardly alone in that regard. Progressive columnists are notorious for pointing out the inadequacies of Democratic leadership. I get the impression that these writers can’t take themselves seriously unless they behave in an evenhanded way, or at least try to. Otherwise, they will lose all credibility with themselves as purportedly rational, liberal-minded thinkers.

The key word in that last sentence is liberal. A liberal is an exponent of freedom. And no freedoms are more basic than the freedom of thought and the freedom of speech. Progressives feel the need to be free to say what they truly believe, and that means to stand up for their progressive principles. If someone violates those principles – even a fellow-traveler from previous battles – that person is eligible for attack from progressives almost as much as much as from conservatives.

Yeah, you bet I know the problem. In a war, if one group of soldiers feels “free” to criticize their own army whereas their enemy remains forever unified and disciplined, the first army is doomed from the start. Who can forget Will Rogers’ immortal line: “I’m not a member of an organized political party. I’m a Democrat!”? Nobody need remind me that I have lamented the Democrats’ inability to identify a set of principles, proposals, and/or causes around which the whole party can rally. Like everyone else, I don’t enjoy watching my party lose 70% of the Presidential elections in the past four decades.

And yet … at times like this, I’m reminded of why I prefer the futility of being a Democrat to the alternative. Wasn’t it the Lord and Savior of the Grand Old Party who said: “For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” That’s really the point. When you find yourself lying to yourself about facts and refusing to take a stand against people or conduct that is truly reprehensible, all in the name of political-party discipline, you’ve taken Jesus’s words and trampled on them. It’s really that simple.

Consider the sordid and evolving saga of George Allen. The more dirt about him that is unearthed, the more deafening the silence from his fellow conservatives in the media. If they want to be credible, they’re obliged to repudiate him. It won’t happen, though. It can’t happen. That would violate Ronald Reagan’s “11th Commandment”: thou shalt not criticize one’s fellow Republican.

That “Commandment” sounds innocuous enough until you see it play out in practice. It’s one thing for GOP politicians to stay mum on a topic in which silence means acquiescence, but it’s even more pathetic to see one conservative columnist after another similarly stay silent and then also witness conservatives who are not public figures consistently hold their peace. You can call it discipline. I call it the very foundation of social immorality. Recall what happened across the pond when dictators assumed power and dissent was strangely muted. Or better yet: go to the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles, a shrine devoted to illustrating the immorality of sitting back and doing nothing in the face of evil.

When you think about it, the Eleventh Commandment is nothing short of blasphemy. There you have a so-called Christian saying that if it can help you “gain the world,” you are commanded never to speak out against those who work at your side, no matter what they stand for or perpetrate. In other words, you are commanded to tolerate anything, even evil, if it can help you consolidate power over your earthly kingdom.

Are we witnessing evil in the case of George Allen? That’s a strong word. I don’t use it freely, particularly not for people who’s sins involve mere advocacy and not violent action. But whether or not Allen rises to the level of an “evil doer” is hardly the point. The evidence is mounting that the man is an old fashioned, garden-variety racist. I’m talking about a white-versus-dark, red-necked racist. Call him evil, call him misguided, call him whatever you want – he clearly has no business representing the South in the United States Senate.

I have spoken before about the Macaca incident, in which the Senator recently used a racial epithet to mock a man of East-Indian descent. Even more recently, Allen took umbrage at questions about whether he himself – perish the thought – has an ethnically Jewish mother. Worse yet, though, are revelations about Allen’s past. Multiple acquaintances, who are respected members of their community, have outed Allen as a man who frequently referred to African Americans as “niggers.” Moreover, it has come to be accepted by the media as fact that he once hung the Confederate Stars and Bars on the wall of his living room, and displayed a hangman’s noose in his law office.

Now there are some images for you: a lawman from Dixie displaying a hangman’s noose, talking about niggers. Wouldn’t you know it? He became a Senator, and not just any Senator – this time last year, the good folks of the GOP were talking about him as a potential President.

Nobody’s talking now about ol’ Georgie as a future President. But I’m not seeing his Republican enablers talking about voting him out of the Senate either. It seems that this man has an honored place as one of the 100 top legislators in the U.S.

When you think about it, why should the GOP disown Allen? His opponent is hardly perfect. Why not simply say “a pox on both their houses,” write off Allen’s racism with a shrug, and pretend the election doesn’t matter? That’s the GOP strategy – close your eyes to the evidence against Allen, cultivate his image as a “good Christian,” and allow his massive fundraising advantage to catapult him to victory in November.

Those conservative columnists who are too moral to actively praise Allen can at least devote their attention elsewhere. “Why not write a few more columns bashing Islamic terrorism?” I can see them tell themselves. “Yeah, that’s the ticket. Or we can talk about the fecklessness of the Democrats in not knowing how to respond to the terrorist threat against the US, or the war in Iraq. Whatever we do, we mustn’t single out George Allen as a Senator who is unfit to retain power. We can’t hand the Democrats any seat. Politics is war! And if you want to win a war, you can’t expect all your soldiers to be choir boys.”

That’s the mentality. The 11th Commandment is, like all other Commandments, a categorical imperative. If it means we must turn a blind eye to racism, so be it. If it means we must ignore a history of white people treating black people as chattel, or lynching blacks from the tallest tree, then that’s OK too. A declaration of war – be it a war on killing fields or a war at the ballot box -- can be used to justify anything.

“For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” It’s too bad that statement came from Matthew, and not Reagan. If the Great Communicator had said it, we might just be living in a functioning democracy after all.

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