On Glenn Beck, George Soros, and Moderate Dialogue (and Nazis of course)

I had hoped to take a wee vacation from the subject of hate and retreat into a quiet place, and re-emerge a few days hence a better-fitted wee white corpuscle against the hate cancer cells of our body politic. But vileness evidently never takes a vacation.

Before getting into Glenn Beck’s vileness about George Soros’ alleged responsibility for sending Jews to the death camps, I have a personal digression about my way of doing dialogue.

One reason few people own up to being moderates in our society is the double-toll of the charge of inconsistency. Conservatives need only be consistently conservative, and all other conservatives applaud them. Liberals need only be consistently liberal, and all other liberals applaud them. And all are merrily angry. Neither particularly cares what the other camp thinks about them, unless they can have a meta-rage about the latest outrage of being called Nazis. I’m jealous.

Moderates swim in the shark-infested sea of nods to conservatives and nods to liberals. As a right-of-center moderate, my take on President Obama’s State of the Union address was considered too liberal by some conservative friends and too conservative by some liberal friends. That’s fine. That spurs constructive dialogue. But I also set myself up for the charge of inconsistency — as when I slammed Representative Moran (D-Va) yesterday for his vile accusations about American racism to an Arab television network. Well, I didn’t actually slam him. In fact, I said I’d let his own words speak for themselves, and invited liberal friends to do what I have frequently requested of the left: condemn leftist hate speech. Some did, most didn’t.

One liberal friend wrote to me asking, “when will you call out Glenn Beck for a long deep pattern of race-baiting, Jew-baiting and all around hatred? I realize he is not an elected official but his ratings are far higher. Influence is power.” As it develops, his plea was fair, about which more momentarily. But I need to make plain that I will not always be consistent. I do not say that merely as a kind of Emersonian conceit about rising above the hobgoblin of small minds. I mean, I will at times be indefensibly inconsistent. It happens. What I care about, what moves me in a particular moment, will be rational as often as I can manage it — but not always. I am moved most powerfully by what and whom I love, and that can indeed yield the very irrationality, and inconsistency, that is a staple of human narratives about love.

Since I truly love specific people across the political, racial, ethnic, religious, and sexual orientation spectrum — and being a right-of-center moderate — mediating my various reactions in some consistent way will be impossible. I’m not even talking about “ideological” consistency, which I abhor, no, hate. I’m talking about simple logical consistency, and I’m conceding, won’t always be so.

So, but for a liberal friend, I wouldn’t be posting this excoriation of Glenn Beck. I’d have been inconsistent. And it wouldn’t have troubled me overmuch.

Here’s what Glenn Beck said:

[Soros] used to go around with this anti-Semite and deliver papers to the Jews and confiscate their property and then ship them off. And George Soros was part of it. He would help confiscate the stuff. It was frightening. Here’s a Jewish boy helping send the Jews to the death camps. And I am certainly not saying that George Soros enjoyed that, even had a choice. I mean, he’s 14 years old. He was surviving. So I’m not making a judgment. That’s between him and God. […] George Soros is — many people would call him an anti-Semite. I will not. I don’t know enough about all of his positions on Jews.

Rather than letting Glenn Beck’s words speak for themselves, as I tried to do with Rep. Moran, hoping we’d all agree, I have some thoughts.

  • Glenn Beck needs to stop making references to the Holocaust.
  • Glenn Beck needs to stop making references to Nazis.
  • I wrote last week about the tone scale of American political discourse, urging that it never go above 4, on a scale of 1-10. Glenn Beck managed 10 against a Jewish Holocaust survivor.
  • George Soros, who bankrolls numerous left-wing groups and candidates, who views his adopted country, the United States, as “the main obstacle to a stable and just world order,” just got a big sympathy bump, courtesy of Glenn Beck. Thanks Glenn. Well done. As I wrote last week, “the farther up the scale dialogue reaches, the more likely the opponent gains sympathy because of the nature of the attacks upon him or her. Put another way, the angrier you are, the more likely you are to help the person you hate.”
  • Liberals have no need now of bothering to condemn Rep. Moran slamming Americans as racists for electing Republicans in the 2010 elections, or Rep. Cohen calling Republicans Nazis on the House floor. They have Glenn Beck! Thanks Glenn. Well done.
  • Glenn Beck has many good things to say. Among them is not any reference whatever, ever, to the conduct of Holocaust survivors who happen to be political enemies. His liberal determination to tread into this territory betrays a gross misapprehension of how one approaches the agonies of that period. He speaks of the Holocaust as a high school student might speak of the Flapper Era, with a kind of cheer about how interesting it was and how much we can learn. Stop.
  • As liberals go into their camp, righteous regarding Glenn Beck, and conservatives go into their camp, righteous regarding Rep. Moran and Rep. Cohen, let it be understood that Beck, Moran and Cohen do what they do because too many Americans feed upon it and righteously retreat into their respective camps. That retreat by both camps empowers Beck, Moran and Cohen. We’ll never stop this madness until enough people say “a plague on both your houses,” and really mean it.

For those interested in additional interesting information, here is criticism of Beck from a conservative Jewish publication, clarification of that criticism from the same publication, an ad by rabbis appearing in the Wall Street Journal condemning Beck, and, for my friends who love Lewis Black, his skewering of Beck as a man with Nazi Tourette Syndrome.

Please say now, to Beck, Moran and Cohen, you don’t always speak for us. And you won’t whenever you engage in hateful speech. We cannot shut down hateful speech, such is our robust First Amendment tradition, but we can condemn it (consistently?).

UPDATE (2-2-2011): Jewish Groups Denounce Anti-Glenn Beck Letter.

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Helen Thomas Gets Vile Again

Helen Thomas, ninety and nutty, just can’t stop.  But now she’s taking the anti-Semitic bigotry to a new level.

For readers who have erased Helen Thomas from their memories, in the interest of minimizing the brain’s devotion to neural disgust, Helen is the former White House correspondent who said Israelis should “get the hell out of Palestine” and “go home” to Germany and Poland.

It is remarkable that such a statement could come from a person who received a gift of cupcakes on her 89th birthday from the President of the United States.  Even Lanny Davis, loathe to condemn any Washington player, called Helen Thomas an anti-Semitic bigot.  We think of such statements as the meanest workings of the benighted and bigoted human mind, the adolescent acting out of vulgar hate.  We do not anticipate them coming from people with high profiles and illustrious careers.

Except, of course, given the tenacity of virulent anti-Semitism, and hate crimes in America targeting Jews over eight times more often than Muslims, they routinely do.

At least Mel Gibson and Oliver Stone apologized.

Helen Thomas not only declined to apologize.  She said damn straight.  She meant it.  And then she elaborated.

“Congress, the White House and Hollywood, Wall Street are owned by the Zionists. No question, in my opinion,” she said. “They put their money where their mouth is. We’re being pushed into a wrong direction in every way.”

It’s as if Helen Thomas seeks some kind of anti-Israel gold medal in her dotage.  Let’s see.  How about combining every stupid notion ever peddled by an angry anti-Semite into one spectacularly vile declaration?  Perhaps the Protocols of the Elders of Zion were edited out.

When confronted with how she would respond to those who say she’s anti-Semitic, Helen got cute.  “I’d say I’m a Semite. What are you talking about?”  How profoundly true, as an ethnic proposition.  Helen’s Lebanese origins make her Semitic, and underscore the vileness of her ethnic hatred.  But Helen knows what we mean by “anti-Semitic.”  It’s certainly not anti-Lebanese, as her own tremendously successful career in America illustrates.

This is an opportunity, again, for the vast majority of patriotic Muslim-Americans to condemn hate.  Simply say, Helen Thomas does not speak for us.  Simply say, she promotes a notion that is alien to both our Muslim and American heritage.

 

[Also published at The Daily Caller.]

While we’re on this popular subject of hate…

Part of the problem is the hatred of hate.  Too many people hate hate, see it too frequently, and plunge into their own protracted virulent hatred of “hate” and alleged “hatemongers.”

I have felt hatred at times in my life.  I’ve never hated my hatred – just found it impossible to sustain beyond a brief indulgence.  And I’ve never hated anyone else’s hate – just found it perplexing.  Actual hatred is an emotional black hole.  I honestly don’t know how people perpetuate it without growing tumors the size of baseballs.  In fact, I suspect that actual protracted hate might be physiologically impossible, or at least very rare.  What instead occurs might be a kind of tepid surrogate “hate” that secures an important psychic benefit: the definition of oneself in opposition to the hated abstract “other.”

It’s not really “hate” so much as a kind of comforting pseudo-hatred that has much more to do with negative-self-mythology (what I am absolutely categorically not) than with any actual external reality of the hated object.

Sadly, of course, hate – and hating hate – suffocates inquiry.  The paramount project for the hater and the hater of hate is self-definition.  I am so not this hateful other. The psychic benefit thus secured, any further exploration actually threatens the paramount project.  Exploring the real-world nuance and ambiguity of the object of hatred undermines the comfortable self-definition in opposition to the object of hatred.

For example, the person who hates the “racists” who oppose the mosque near Ground Zero is typically refusing any actual inquiry into the nuanced dialogue concerning the proposed mosque.  The paramount project is the hater’s reinforcement of his or her self-image as a zealous opponent of “racism.”  If any particular object of that hatred were not in fact racist, then the hater of hate loses a psychic benefit, surrenders a comforting source of his or her negative self-mythology.  “They must be racists” – not really because any inquiry has occurred that would warrant that conclusion objectively, but because “I need them to be racists for me to feel energized by my righteous opposition to racism.”

Consider this disturbing exchange at a protest of the mosque near Ground Zero, where an enraged man repeatedly cursed and insulted an 82-year-old Holocaust survivor – including this unconscionable “explanation” of his rant after the fact: “he obviously didn’t learn his lesson … because right now he wants to do the same g–d— f— thing to the Moslems that had to happen to him.”

Watch the video.  Quite apart from the merits of the spirited debate about the proposed mosque near Ground Zero, we can agree that hatred, including quite vile and irrational hatred, is not the exclusive province of the right or opponents of the mosque.

My recent focus on leftist hatred, on the cynical rush to characterize mosque opponents (or proponents of the Arizona immigration law) as “racists,” and on the concept of tolerance reciprocity has been precisely to challenge the leftist narrative that “hatred” is a defining feature of the right.  Too many leftists indulge racial politics at its worst by using racism to shut down any rational discussion and to consign their opponents to unredeemable illegitimacy.

There is racism in America – but not in the proportions shouted at us by anti-racist haters.  There is Islamophobia in America – but not in the proportions shouted at us by anti-racist haters.  As a people, we do not condone actual racism.  In fact, we are less tolerant of it, given our amazing diversity, than any people anywhere else.  The racism in virtually every other country dwarfs our own.  In most Muslim countries, shocking anti-Semitism is state policy and incorporated into educational texts.  America has been an enlightened beacon by comparison.  Why is this not a cause to celebrate our American culture?  Why does dialogue routinely deteriorate into simplistic condemnation of American “racism”?

On this critical issue of dialogue in America – dialogue that should persist constructively beyond the pernicious trump card of easy “racism” smears – we have urgently needed President Obama’s promised post-racial leadership.  But he has been so sadly silent.

 

UPDATE Aug. 28, 2010: In his latest column, Charles Krauthammer ably summarizes the concern that has animated several of my posts: the abortion of dialogue when conservatives and moderates are recklessly dismissed as bigots.  From the column:

Promiscuous charges of bigotry are precisely how our current rulers and their vast media auxiliary react to an obstreperous citizenry that insists on incorrect thinking.

— Resistance to the vast expansion of government power, intrusiveness and debt, as represented by the Tea Party movement? Why, racist resentment toward a black president.

— Disgust and alarm with the federal government’s unwillingness to curb illegal immigration, as crystallized in the Arizona law? Nativism.

— Opposition to the most radical redefinition of marriage in human history, as expressed in Proposition 8 in California? Homophobia.

— Opposition to a 15-story Islamic center and mosque near Ground Zero? Islamophobia.

Krauthammer’s tone is a touch more triumphant than I feel, but his trenchant style is worth the read.