The Dumbing Down of American Politics

A handful of articles that I read recently have caused me to worry about how we are conducting our politics in the first decade of the 21st century. These pieces illustrate how the right and the extreme left are degrading the way we communicate with citizens in our democracy.

The first article was written by a young, allegedly rising Jewish Republican elected official, State Representative Adam Hasner of Delray Beach, FL. The first sign that this essay was not, shall we say, "enlightening," was the publication in which it appeared, The American Thinker. The Thinker is one of those hard-edged, right-wing web sites that specializes in flinging filth. It is a publication that has turned the concepts of lying and distortion into art forms.

The Hasner essay, "Obama: Pro-Israel talk, anti-Israel walk," includes so many stunning distortions, half-truths and outright falsehoods, it is hard to know which ones to highlight. Hasner's main argument is "Israel and the Jewish People now face" a "growing threat" in Barack Obama's presidency. He then proceeds to "prove" that Obama is a threat by charging the president with a series of misdeeds. Each charge is more ridiculous than the one that precedes it.

Hasner begins by telling us that the administration shares the anti-Israel perspective of the two academics Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer. This statement is particularly comical because on the very day Hasner's article was published, Stephen Walt publicly chastised the Obama administration for kowtowing to the "Israel Lobby."

Hasner also informs us that Obama has made an "allocation of $20 million dollars of taxpayer money to resettling [sic] Palestinians with ties to Hamas in the United States." This is a falsehood. He is repeating the reckless charges of a right-wing email smear that was definitively debunked a month ago.

Click here to sign a petition encouraging the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) to stop promoting this type of vicious and false mudslinging.

Next Hasner tells us, "Hamas...is also benefiting from President Obama's appeasement" and to prove it he strongly implies that the President's Special Middle East Envoy, George Mitchell, wants to legitimize and talk to this terrorist organization. Yet in a recent conference call with Jewish organizations, Mitchell declared that unless Hamas accepts Israel's right to exist, renounces violence and accepts all previous agreements made between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (the same conditions demanded by President Bush), the United States will not speak or negotiate with Hamas.

Finally, Hasner denounces the President for his handling of the Durban II conference. He argues that the Democratic administration has boosted "[a]nti-Israelism and other forms of latent anti-Semitism." Contrast Hasner's hyper-partisan analysis with the comments of the national Jewish organization most closely involved with monitoring this situation, the American Jewish Committee (AJC). A February 27th AJC press release stated, "AJC has commended President Obama for today's decision to disengage from the Durban Review Conference. President Obama has courageously - and appropriately - concluded that the conference does not merit U.S. involvement."

Of course parts of the left were just as dysfunctional as Hasner these past few weeks. Stephen Walt, one-half of the academic team that penned "The Israel Lobby" in 2006, wrote frequently on the Israel Lobby's "witch hunt" against Chas Freeman, a former ambassador to Saudi Arabia who was being considered for the job as Chairman of the National Intelligence Council.

Walt wrote of an Israel lobby that was both a monolith and relentless in its obsession to quiet even the most mild criticism of Israel. To construct this cartoonish view of how the pro-Israel community operates Walt had to ignore facts. He implied that all of Freeman's critics were "hard-line elements." Yet the "pro-Israel" opponents of Freeman ranged from the most right-wing elements in the Jewish community to those who criticize Israeli settlement activity and support an active role for the United States in the peace process. Moreover, opponents of Freeman included Human Rights Watch -- hardly a group that could be put in the "pro-Israel" camp.

More disturbing is Walt's questioning of his opponents' patriotism. In his piece, "Have they not a shred of decency?" in Foreign Policy Walt had the hypocrisy to complain about the McCarthyite intimidation tactics of his opponents and then turn around and use Joe McCarthy's favorite tactic -- impugning someone's patriotism. Walt indicated that one of his critics could not oppose a patriot like Chas Freeman because the critic had once served in the Israeli army. The essayist Samuel Johnson had it right when he declared, "[p]atriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel."

These tactics of smear, distortion and spreading falsehoods can only be used when polemicists have a low regard for their readership. It seems they are not the least bit embarrassed by spreading blatant falsehoods and believe that the citizens of a democracy can be misled with impunity. Let us hope, for the sake of our republic, that these demagogues have misread both our gullibility and our tolerance for the politics of deception.

Crossposted on TPM.