Sunday, December 20, 2009

An Unavoidable and Unpleasant Topic by Anthony McCarthy

It’s always true that people in a minority, or women in the majority, are always made answerable for others in their group. That’s an burden that anyone in those groups carries. You will notice that just about everyone opposing real health care are nominally “christian” and white, and straight, and male ..... But they won’t be the face on it when the chips fall.

In the enraged blog chatter this past week it was an unfortunate but predictable thing, the identification of Lieberman and Emanuel as Jews came up. That’s predictable because Lieberman has turned his alleged religious values into a political pose and Emanuel’s family and personal history makes his devotion to Israel an issue with him. For a lot of people, and not necessarily all of them gentiles, that places both of these politicians into a category and no more is needed to place that package where it will be shifted around in a simulacrum of thinking. For some this produces hateful attack, for a few, it produces support, invincible even by wretched behavior.

Responding to the people who wanted to make the treason of Lieberman and Emanuel a Jewish issue, I realized that I don’t know a single Jewish person who doesn’t despise Joe Lieberman and only a few who are not known to me as ardent single-payer supporters. Several have also expressed disapproval of Rahm Emanuel, one I recall has said that you can’t trust him because he’s just as crooked as he is smart. Anyone who looks at the members of the House and, to a lesser extent, the Senate might consider those who have been among the champions of national health care far longer than most blog babblers have been alive. Any believable polling I’ve seen places people identifying themselves as Jewish as among the most reliable of the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party. Indeed, right-wing Jews are some of those who slam most American Jews most severely. Some of those who I’ve read rely on a stereotype and rhetoric not far removed from the traditional discourse of Know Nothings and Klansmen. About the only thing missing is the most febrile, paranoid, and racist language.

In my reading of the greatest Jewish scriptures, the prophets, I don’t find anything that you could intuit from the behavior of Lieberman or Emanuel. I re-read Isaiah several times over the summer and am at a loss to think what he’d make of them.

One of the more troubling things I read this week trying to comprehend the duplicity and swinish behavior of Lieberman theorized that he was doing what he did to extort support for the worst of Israeli policy from the Obama administration. That part of the present Israeli government policy that is, so awful that even the timidity of our government is overcome. It’s plausible that he might do that. I can’t imagine Lieberman doing what he has for his constituents in Connecticut who he seems to hate regardless of their ethnicity. But I think his real motives have little to do with anything other than his pathological self-regard and his wife’s source of income. I doubt Joe Lieberman believes in anything except himself and the bizarre self-image that he has constructed. If his wife figures into that other than as an accessory and source of income, I really don’t care to speculate. He is a sociopath who uses the pose of morality and religion as part of his con job. In that he is exactly the same the worst of the phony “christian” moralists of his party, the Republicans or the odious Tony Blair, the newly minted Catholic. Religion for these people has nothing to do with the teachings of an ancient prophet, they certainly don’t have anything to do with the most important part of the Jewish tradition - which Jesus was certainly a part of - JUSTICE.

I think Lieberman would sell anyone out to get his face on TV. And I really do believe that.

The explanation for what makes Rahm Emanuel tick isn’t as clear. He’s less of a known personality, less addicted to getting his face on TV. Here the always valuable Neal Gabler* does some of what I chose not to do yesrday, trying to find an psychological explanation that could apply to the Chief of Staff as well as the President. He makes a good case for the major weakness of Barack Obama being his determination to remain aloof and detached. Cool and macho, in my language. I think that could explain a good part of his attraction to Rahm Emanuel who seems to have ice in his heart. There’s a difference between being cool and collected and being cynical. I won’t go into the personal distinction but only into its political manifestation.

Back when the Carter Presidency was going down under concerted Republican attack, I used to think that having a more savvy president less guided by principle might be a good idea. The reasoning was that even if such leaders were lacking in morals at least their desire to preserve themselves and their small circle of loved ones would prevent nuclear catastrophe. Consider that it was the psychopaths in the Pre-Perestroika Reagan wing of the Republicans who were going to be the clear successors to Jimmy Carter.

I don’t think that anymore. At bottom, what is destroying democracy is the same thing that is destroying the biosphere, selfishness, self-regard, greed, .... in other words the failure is more a failure of morality than of knowledge and reason. As seen in the Republican right, even those who are undeniably intelligent and certainly can grasp that we are destroying the very basis of life, are unwilling or unable to overcome the disease of greed and the extensions of ego that obtaining power provide.

The decisive question for the coming year is whether or not Barack Obama has a moral core, one which he isn’t willing to dispose of in dickering with the Republican-Blue Dogs in order to be able to claim victories that are not victories for his dwindling supporters who are motivated by the tradition of JUSTICE and knowledge. Neal Gabbler has raised the question. We will know the answer to that by this time next year. Let’s hope it’s apparent in time to salvage the possibility of Democratic government, on which democracy and the basis of life certainly depend.

* Neal Gabler has become one of the best columnists writing today.