tothepointanalyses
tothepointanalyses

 

Welcome

To The Reader,

In the Spring of 2010 I began writing short essays, one to three pages, which were sent out to a relatively short list-serve. Almost all of these essays dealt with one of three general topics: the behavior of the United States government, the tribulations of the Middle East, and the difficulty of enforcing international law. These brief essays were well received and often redistributed by those who read them. Occasionally they were picked up by news and commentary sites. Thus something of a demand actually grew for the essays and that led me to construct To The Point Analyses.  In this endeavor I was aided by Glow Touch Technologies. Glow Touch did a very good job and I recommend them to any ambitious writer seeking a web based audience.

The site is divided as follows:

1. A Home Page on which appears the most recent five or six essays.

2. An Archival section where the interested reader can find all past essays divided by topic.

3. A Featured Essays section where more recent essays can be found on individual pages.  In this section readers can also leave comments.  To all those readers who take the time to send along a comment, please be assured that I appreciate your doing so and that I read them all.

4. A Cartoon section with political cartoons I find both humorous and meaningful.

5. An Other Opinions section that holds some particularly insightful essays by other bloggers, journalists and academics.

6. A Biography section in case anyone is interested in who I am and where I came from.

7. An RSS feed.

8. A Twitter access (at bottom of the home page).

9. And, finally, a contact tab (at bottom of the home page).

Not all readers will find these essays congenial, but then the Web is a vast arena that accommodates just about all views. And here you will find mine.

 

Lawrence Davidson         
Follow me on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pointanalyses or @pointanalyses
and on Face Book at  www.facebook.com/ToThePointAnalyses

 

 

 

ESSAY ONE: 

 

Deconstructing the Zionist View of Gaza’s Horror – An Analysis (28 July 2014) by Lawrence Davidson

 

 

Part I – David Harris and the American Jewish Congress

 
For reasons unknown I have ended up on the list-serve of the American Jewish Congress. This means I receive messages sent out by its executive director, David Harris. Sometimes I even read them.

 
On 18 July 2014 I got just such a missive explaining that “too many in the international community fail to grasp the stark realities” Israel faces and its “severely limited policy options.” To set everyone straight Harris wrote an op-ed in the Boston Globe (also dated 18 July), a copy of which came along with his mailing.

 
Since the horror in Gaza continues unabated and Harris’s letter can be taken as representative of the American Zionist point of view, I decided that it was appropriate for me to deconstruct his op-ed for my own blog and list-serve. One should note that a similar contesting of Israeli rationalizations, dealing with somewhat different points, appears in a 25 July 2014 online article, entitled “Five Israeli Talking Points on Gaza – Debunked,” from the Nation magazine.

 
Before looking at the op-ed we should note that Mr. Harris lives in a very tightly defined world. It is a world defined by a set of unquestioned assumptions which are prescribed by a thoroughly assimilated ideology. That ideology is, of course Zionism, the a priori assumption of which is the right of Israel to exist as a Zionist state, that is an exclusively Jewish state. Unfortunately, there are many negative consequences coming from this assumption and one major one is this: you cannot create a state for one group alone in the midst of a large population of other, non-group people, without creating a discriminatory environment. Statehood requires the institutionalizing of that environment through laws that create superior and inferior populations based on who is or is not in the favored group that the state is designed to serve. This will almost inevitably lead to segregation, extreme economic disparities and, quite possibly, ethnic cleansing. This is exactly the result of putting the claim of Israel’s right to exist as a Zionist state into practice. The flip-side of this process is a piece of reality (not another assumption) that is nonetheless not allowed for in Mr. Harris’s world, and that is the discriminated population’s legitimate right to resist.

 
Part II – David Harris’s Op-Ed

 
Here are the main points put forth the Boston Globe Op-ed:

 
A) Harris starts by laying all blame for the ongoing death and destruction in Gaza on Hamas. He calls the present round of fighting, “the latest Hamas-triggered war.” Is this accurate? Actually the accusation is based on the unsubstantiated assertion of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s that Hamas ordered the kidnapping and murder of three teenagers from an illegal settlement in June. This event was the trigger – the foreground context – for the present confrontation. No independent credible evidence has been offered for Netanyahu’s accusation. Nonetheless, what followed was widespread arrests on the West Bank by Israel, carried out in a near-random fashion, as well as increased pressure on Gaza. Hamas responded to both these actions with renewed rocket attacks. The confrontation escalated from there.

 
The background to all of this is also worth noting. It was put best by the astute and honest Jewish critic, M. J. Rosenberg. While condemning the rocket attacks from Gaza, he notes that “It is Israel which has kept Gaza under blockade since 2006 when it decided it would not accept the result of a free and fair election that put Hamas in power. A blockade is an act of war and Israel has, by that definition, been at war with Gaza for almost a decade, a war it waged through its incessant punishment of innocent civilians. Did Netanyahu think Hamas would simply accept that forever?” None of these facts are mentioned in Mr. Harris’s op-ed.

 
B) Harris goes on to lament that “the hope for an early end [to the present fighting] was dashed when an Egyptian-brokered cease-fire proposal was accepted by Israel, but was met by Hamas by a barrage of rockets aimed at the Jewish state.” How accurate is this? It certainly is not the whole story. The military dictatorship that now passes for a government in Egypt is an ally of Israel. What was put forth as a ceasefire offer was a plan conjured up by Egypt in consultation with Israel, and possibly the U.S., and then presented to Hamas as a take-it-or-leave-it affair. Hamas was never consulted, nor were there any benefits for Hamas and the people of Gaza in the offer other than a temporary halt in the slaughter being carried out by Israel. Here is what the renowned Amira Hass, one of the few objective Israeli reporters, put it: “the offer “is not meant to bring progress and change to the people of Gaza, but to marginalize them [Hamas] as a political movement.”

 
Hamas itself had offered a ceasefire plan on July 14. It offered a ten-year truce in exchange for the lifting of the eight-year-old blockade – the one that constitutes an Israeli act of war and has turned Gaza into a huge open-air prison. Again, this ceasefire offer was not mentioned by Mr. Harris in his op-ed even though he must certainly be aware of it. Nor did the Western media that covered the one-sided Egyptian ceasefire offer pay much attention to the Hamas proposal, even though it would have given Israel a long-term respite from rocket attacks. Nor did anyone seem to remember that Hamas had made a similar offer back in 2008. Both then and now the Hamas offers were, to borrow words from Mr. Harris, “met by a barrage of rockets” fired from Israeli jets and tanks.

 
C) Harris asserts that the present “reality” leads Israeli leaders to conclude that what they face in Gaza is “an adversary determined to at all costs to wage war, won’t change its outlook, [and] seeks to maximize murder and mayhem, and that this adversary must therefore be answered with a strong, unambiguous response.” This is a rather bizarre assertion. From the Palestinian perspective (to which Mr. Harris will give no credence), this is an exact description of Israeli attitudes and policies. Could Mr. Harris be projecting the behavior of those he champions onto those he despises?

 
D) Mr. Harris goes on: “It is important to remember that it [the present “murder and mayhem”] did not have to be this way.” What does he mean? He proceeds to lay out a “what might have been” story that goes as follows: “In 2005 Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon unilaterally withdrew all settlers and soldiers from Gaza, giving this narrow strip of land its first chance in history … to exercise sovereignty. That could have become the springboard for a new start, perhaps the beginning of a Singapore on the Mediterranean. But within two years Hamas … seized power. Rather than Gaza’s construction the goal became Israel’s destruction.”

 
Does Harris really believe this? It certainly has no relation to how Palestinians experienced the event. From their perspective his story is at best a decontextualized invention. What he does not tell us is that Ariel Sharon was (according to David Ben Gurion) a consistent liar and (according to major human rights organizations) a serial war criminal. His motives for pulling out the settlers out of Gaza had nothing to do with the future prosperity of the Palestinians, whom he despised and wished ultimately to be killed or expelled, and it certainly did not offer Gaza “sovereignty.” The withdrawal of the settlers signaled two strategies on Sharon’s part: a concentration of Israeli settlement efforts on the West Bank, and creating the conditions for the blockade that now makes Gaza nothing short of a ghetto-like prison camp. It should be kept in mind – if possible even in Mr. Harris’ mind – that the strangulation of Gaza began before the election of Hamas to power in 2008.

 
E) Finally, David Harris concludes his op-ed by insisting that Israel is a democratic society that plays by civilized rules while its adversaries are uncivilized, undemocratic and play by no such rules. He tells us that “this can be difficult for some outside the region to grasp. It runs so contrary to how we live our daily lives, much less how, when necessary, we wage war as democratic nations.” Again, Harris has slipped into invention and fantasy. Israel is a full democratic society only for its Jewish citizens. For non-Jews it is not a democracy, but rather akin to an apartheid society. And, as to the waging of war,democratic nations wage war in barbaric fashion and do not hesitate to act as terrorists too. Hamas and the other Palestinian fighting groups, even at their most bloody, are pale reflections of the armies that have slaughtered millions of Vietnamese, Iraqis, and Afghanis, and those that destroyed the peaceful society that once lived in Palestine.

 
Part III – David Harris’s Shrinking World

 
David Harris lives in a peculiarly narrow world. And, it is significant that Israeli behavior is causing the number of people who share that world to decline. Unfortunately, their number still includes some very powerful people, as witnessed by the U.S. Senate’s most recent unanimous vote to support Israel’s barbarism in Gaza. Then again, most of these senators only precariously held to the Zionist cause through a process of political bribery. The truth is that outside Israel, Washington, D.C. and various other Zionist strongholds, David Harris’s worldview is crumbling. And, as the numbers of those who share his viewpoint shrinks, other counter-groups, such as the boycott Israel movement, grow in number. Sooner or later a tipping point will be reached and then things will change and probably do so rapidly. On that day what will David Harris do? Blame it all on anti-Semitism? Take residence at the top of Masada? Or grudgingly seek to make his peace with the Palestinians?

 

 

ESSAY TWO: 

 

Why the Israelis Are Repetitively Violent – An Analysis (17 july 2014) by Lawrence Davidson

 

 

Part I – Rationalizations

 

With the Israelis once more inflicting collective punishment in Gaza (a tactic which happens to constitute a war crime) it is time to consider the mind-set behind their repeated violent and sadistic behavior. One way to do so is to listen to the rationalizations they use, also repeatedly, to justify their actions.

 

Among the many rationalizations offered by Israeli leaders for their violent behavior is the assertion that the Arabs, and Palestinians in particular, “only understand force.” If you do not use force against them they interpret its absence as a sign of weakness and this only encourages them to stand against the Zionist state. This notion that the Arabs only understand force is one of the holdover stereotypes of a mostly, but obviously not completely, bygone age of imperialism

.
Actually, when it comes to the Israelis, this persistent myth is mixed up with their own post-Holocaust determination to “never again” react to a threat passively. They believe that sort of reaction is what killed millions of European Jews, and so it is no longer psychologically acceptable.

 

The only problem with these lines of thought is that they are seriously misleading – both in terms of Arab/Palestinian perceptions and European Jewish behavior.

 

Part II – The Palestinians Only Understand Force Fallacy

 

Since coming into existence in 1948, Israel has attacked Palestinian individuals and infrastructure thousands of times. Israeli conventional wisdom would claim that this has been done in self-defense and to dissuade the Palestinians from future attacks. The self-defense rationale is misleading because Israelis have, from the beginning, been acting offensively: most of what is now Israel and the Occupied Territories was taken violently and then ethnically cleansed of most of its Arab inhabitants with the ongoing goal of setting up a religiously exclusive state. Palestinian violence has always been a reaction to Israeli aggression.

 

The argument that harsh retaliation against Palestinian acts of resistance would dissuade them from further resistance (that is, the Palestinians “only understand force”) proved long ago to be false. It has never worked, and yet too many Israelis have clung tenaciously to this lie (a small minority, such as the Israeli journalist Gordon Levy, know the lie for what it is and bravely keep proclaiming the truth). Why has the lie persisted so long? Well, there is the old adage that doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is a form of insanity, but perhaps that is a bit too superficial for the case at hand.

 

One reason for Israel’s repetitive violence is that if they admit it is a tactical failure and desist, they might have to negotiate a genuine peace treaty with the Palestinians. Many will immediately say that they have, repeatedly, tried to negotiate while always coming up against Palestinian intransigence. However, if one takes a close and objective look at these efforts at negotiation, one finds that they are facades or false fronts behind which we find Israeli intransigence. As the liberal Zionist M. J. Rosenberg has pointed out, the Israelis have never negotiated in good faith. When the Palestinians react to Israel’s bad faith, the Israelis break off negotiations and blame the Palestinians. Israel then returns to its pattern of repetitive violence. In truth, negotiating in good faith means compromising Israel’s ambition to settle all of the land of Palestine, and that is something the hard-core Zionists will not do. As a consequence it is not the Israelis, but the Palestinians who have lacked a partner who will negotiate responsibly.

 

Another reason is that once Israel has raised several generations of citizens to believe that the Palestinians are implacable enemies who “only understand force,” it becomes politically difficult to change the message despite its elemental falseness. The myth of the impossibility of negotiating with the Palestinians is believed by so many Israelis that if a politician started advocating a genuine compromise, he or she would be marginalized or worse. Remember the fate of Yitzhak Rabin, who almost certainly was not operating in wholehearted good faith toward the Palestinians, but was assassinated anyway because of the fear that he was moving in that direction.

Finally, there is the connection the Israelis make between giving up their violence and appearing weak. Yet given their overwhelming superiority in weaponry and the fact that its repeated use has destroyed Palestinian society without stopping Palestinian attacks, why be concerned that switching to non-violent tactics, such as good faith negotiating, would signal weakness? My guess is that the Israelis aren’t really afraid that the Palestinians would interpret things this way. They are concerned that they themselves would feel that they would be replicating the alleged passivity of European Jews in the face of the Nazi onslaught.

 

Part III – The Fear of Showing Weakness

 

In other words, the Israeli fear of showing weakness is not an attitude that references outside groups. It references only the Israeli concern for their own self-image. It is the fear of seeing themselves as akin to European Jews passively going to the gas chambers that stands as the greatest psychological barrier to an Israeli decision to halt their repetitive violence. As noted above, this is so despite the fact that their interpretation of European Jewish behavior is historically misleading.

 

For hundreds of years Europe’s Jews faced discrimination and persecution that periodically turned violent. These episodes of violence, known as pogroms, were murderous but short-lived. The Jewish communities learned that if they kept their heads down and allowed the storm to wash over them, their casualties were less. They learned this not just by being passive, but by comparing such behavior with the consequences of active resistance.

 

When in the twentieth century Nazi anti-Semitism emerged, most of the Jewish leadership interpreted it as yet another episode of pogroms, and they reacted to it in the manner that history had taught them would result in the least harm. Of course, they were wrong. The Nazis were a qualitatively different sort of enemy. But the Jews of Europe only discovered this when it was too late. Still, there were plenty of episodes of active Jewish resistance ranging from concentration camp revolts to the battle of the Warsaw ghetto. Unfortunately the Israelis and most other Zionists forget about this history and condemn Europe’s Jews for being shamefully passive in the face of mortal danger. Thus was born the slogan “never again.” This state of mind also encouraged the Zionists to see the Palestinians, and indeed all Arabs, as latter-day Nazis to be repeatedly vanquished with repetitive violence.

 

The Israelis would expel or kill a majority of the Palestinians left in their homeland if the world let them (and maybe over time it will). They would do so not only because it would clear the way for Jewish settlement of all of Palestine, but also because it would allow them to feel psychologically redeemed – redeemed from the allegedly sinful passivity displayed by the victims of the Holocaust.

 

Part IV – Consequences

 

The consequences of the Israeli state of mind are, of course, catastrophic – first and foremost for the Palestinians, who suffer death and destruction for their justified resistance to oppression. The Zionists see them as latter-day Nazis but in truth they resemble the resisters in the Warsaw ghetto. And, if that rings true, then who do the Israelis now resemble?

 

That point leads us to ask what are the consequences of Israeli behavior for the Jews and Judaism? After all, Israel claims to represent world Jewry. The consequences have been, are, and will continue to be disastrous.

 

In relation to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict there are now three categories of Jews: a) those who have publicly taken a stand opposing Israel’s behavior, b) those who publicly support Israel’s behavior and its rationalizations, and c) those who stand aside, try to ignore what is going on, and just carry on with their lives. Whatever the people or situation, this last category is usually the largest. It is also the category that concerns me the most for, unbeknownst to many of these Jews, their wellbeing is being used falsely to justify the policies of a habitually violent state and its racist ambitions. There are intimations that this largest group of Jews is becoming conscious of Israel’s crimes and this is a welcome and necessary beginning.The next question is what actions, if any, will consciousness bring?

 

 

ESSAY THREE:
Justice Corrupted – An Analysis (10 July 2014) by Lawrence Davidson

 

 

Sami Al-Arian

 

Part I – Dogmatists in the Justice System

 

Scattered throughout the ranks of U.S. federal prosecutors and judges there have always been men and women who are unwilling to make a distinction between their own biases and the rules of evidence that are designed to keep the system focused on the goal of justice. Such closed-minded individuals, embedded in the system, can find themselves set free to act out their prejudices by special circumstances. One might think back to the “hanging judges” who appeared here and there on the American frontier in the 19th century. Being among the few enforcers of law and order in an otherwise anarchic environment, they indulged their fantasies of playing the wrathful god.

 

The “War on Terror” has likewise created a special circumstance that has liberated Justice Department dogmatists: Islamophobes, Zionists, neoconservatives and others who fancy themselves on a special mission to protect the nation from evil and conspiratorial forces. And, as with the hanging judges before them, the result has been an enhanced possibility not of justice, but rather of the miscarriage of justice.

 

Part II – The Case of Sami Al-Arian

 

In the past twenty years one of the most notable victims of doctrinaire judges and prosecutors has been Sami Al-Arian. Al-Arian is the son of Palestinian-refugee parents. He came to the United States in 1975 to attend university and earned his degree in computer systems engineering. Eventually he earned a Ph.D. and obtained a tenure-track position at the University of South Florida.

 

Not only did Al-Arian become a prominent professor, winning several teaching awards, but he also became a community activist, defending the civil liberties of minority groups, particularly Muslim Americans. During the Clinton administration he was an active campaigner against the Justice Department’s pre-9/11 use of “secret evidence” to hold people in jail indefinitely. He also actively and publicly supported the right of Palestinians to resist Israeli oppression.

 

At some point in the mid-1990s what may have been a coordinated effort to ruin Dr. Al-Arian developed among neoconservative and Zionist elements. Steven Emerson, a man who has made his living as a faux expert on terrorism and a professional Islamophobe, accused one of Al-Arian’s organizations, the World and Islam Studies Enterprise, of being a “terrorist front.” This accusation proved to be baseless, but it nonetheless led other Islamophobe radicals to focus on Al-Arian. Some of these people resided within the Justice Department and the FBI, and they went on a fishing expedition looking for alleged connections between Al-Arian and a recently designated “terrorist organization” called the Palestine Islamic Jihad (PIJ).

 

During the 2000 presidential election Al-Arian became a prominent figure in national politics as it played out in Florida. His major concern was the government’s use of secret evidence, and it was George W. Bush who promised to rein in the practice. Therefore Al-Arian backed Bush in the election. His trust in this regard proved horribly misplaced.

 

On September 26, 2001, Bill O’Reilly invited Al-Arian onto his TV show ostensibly to discuss Arab-American reactions to the 9/11 attacks. It was a trap. O’Reilly immediately asked Al-Arian if he had said “Jihad is our path. Victory to Islam. Death to Israel” at a rally thirteen years before (in 1988). Though Al-Arian tried to explain that it was a reference to his support for Palestinian resistance against apartheid policies in Israel, O’Reilly proclaimed that the CIA should watch Al-Arian from now on. Almost at once Al -Arian started to receive death threats. At this point the University of South Florida placed him on administrative leave. He would eventually be fired by the University.

 

The O’Reilly interview may have been a public relations booster for the ongoing Justice Department investigation mentioned above.That lasted until September 2003, when Al-Arian and three others were indicted on 25 counts of “racketeering” for the PIJ. The Bush administration’s Attorney General John Ashcroft went on television to extol the indictment as a great blow against terrorism (thus confusing an indictment with a conviction) that was made possible by the extensive powers of the USA PATRIOT Act. Among these powers were those George W. Bush had promised Al-Arian he would rein in.

 

After a 5-month, 13-day trial Al-Arian was acquitted on 8 counts and the jury deadlocked on the remaining 17. When a juror was interviewed after the trial and asked what was lacking in the government’s case he replied, “evidence.” Nonetheless, the outcome allowed the government to hold Al-Arian pending retrial on those deadlocked counts. The case had a distinctly contrived and corrupt feel to it – the result of Islamophobes turned loose by the events of 9/11 to substitute their own biases for the rules of legal evidence.

 

In 2006 Dr. Al-Arian was still in prison. His health was deteriorating and the strain on his family (his wife and five children) was great. Given the situation he agreed to a plea bargain agreement whereby he would plead guilty to one count of acting in a fashion that benefited the PIJ. In exchange the other counts would be dismissed by the government. He would be incarcerated for a relatively short period on the guilty count with time already served counting toward this sentence. In order to secure the plea bargain, Al-Arian also had to agreed to be deported upon release.

 

Once more the government, in this case the judge and the federal prosecutor, proved untrustworthy. Despite the jury verdict, the judge had decided that Sami Al-Arian was a “master manipulator” and “a leader of Palestine Islamic Jihad.” This was exactly what the jury decided the evidence could not substantiate. However, the judge, moved by emotional convictions, had equated statements on the part of Al-Arian showing understanding of acts of Palestinian resistance with actual material support of those actions. In doing so the judge went beyond the rules of evidence and corrupted the system he was sworn to serve. The judge gave Dr. Al-Arian not the minimum recommended in the plea bargain but the maximum of 57 months for the one count to which he pled guilty.

 

Then began a series of additional prosecutorial steps involving the issuing of repeated subpoenas demanding that Al-Arian testify at grand jury investigations. This was also in defiance of his plea bargain and so he refused. He was held in civil and later criminal contempt which added substantially to his jail time.

 

So egregious was the behavior of the prosecutors seeking his testimony that another, more objective judge eventually stepped in and halted the government’s efforts to force Sami Al-Arian’s to appear before grand juries. Dr. Al-Arian was also let out of prison and allowed to live under a liberal form of house arrest at his daughter’s home in Virginia. His case was held in a kind of legal limbo until just recently, when on 27 June 2014, prosecutors decided to drop all charges against Al-Arian. One should not think of this as a total victory, for the government still intends to deport Sami Al-Arian.

 

Sami Al-Arian and his family had to endure eleven years of persecution on the basis of assumptions that were substituted for evidence. In the process the life of an upright man, devoted to teaching, charitable works and the cause of a persecuted people, was ruined. The people who did this to him simultaneously corrupted the justice system the integrity of which they were sworn to uphold.

 

Part III – Other Victims

 

While Sami Al-Arian was perhaps the most high-profile of these cases, his was not the only one. Four members of the Holy Land Foundation charity were charged with materially aiding Hamas when, in fact, all the foundation did was supply money to charitable Palestinian organizations which had been accredited by Israel. It took two trials, one in 2007 and another 2008, for the U.S. government to eke out a conviction on weak evidence that included the testimony of anonymous Israeli witnesses.The Supreme Court refused to interfere with this prima facie unconstitutional procedure.

 

At present a Palestinian civil rights activist in Chicago, Rasmea Odeh, is being prosecuted for an alleged immigration fraud for failing to report on her immigration application that forty-five years ago, when she was a child, she was arrested by the Israeli military and briefly held without charge. The same prosecutor who went after the Holy Land Foundation is involved in the prosecution of Odeh.

 

Part IV – Conclusion

 

Times of high tension often result in the lowering of important standards in the application of law. They do so by heightening the fears of the general public, which in turn gives license to bigots embedded in the justice system such as judges and prosecutors who have Islamophobic prejudices, Zionist biases, or neoconservative delusions. All of these motives may come into play in cases such as those mentioned above.
Normally the appeals process should catch and reverse such problematic behavior. However, if the period of public fear is prolonged, the appeals process might also become corrupted by public hysteria and political pressures. It took Sami Al-Arian eleven years to overcome his prosecutorial ordeal and those of the Holy Foundation members and Rasmea Odeh are ongoing.
The last word on this dilemma should go to Sami Al-Arian’s son, Abdullah, who in a recent statement observed,“It’s a sad day when you have to leave America to be free.” Indeed, when dogmatists are in control none of us are really free.

 

 

ESSAY FOUR:

 

Repugnant Republicans – An Analysis (12 June 2014) by Lawrence Davidson

 

 

Part I – Something Disturbing

 

There is something disturbing about the Republican response to just about everything President Obama does. It has a knee-jerk yet patterned nature. It displays a meanness that is acted out with a certain gloating quality as well. Take for instance Republican Representative Joe Wilson shouting “You Lie!” during Obama’s speech to Congress on health care. Wilson’s anger was displayed with the malicious satisfaction of a nasty child. Subsequently, Republican politicians have called President Obama a “tar baby,” a socialist, lazy, Hitler, and perhaps most tellingly, un-American. None these epithets are accurate, yet apparently they are believed to be true not only by the persons who said them, but many others among the Republican base.

 

What is the reason for this?

 

The New York Times editors think Republican attitudes towards Obama are politically motivated. As they put it in an editorial on 5 June 2014, referencing Republican reaction to the negotiated release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl from captivity in Afghanistan: “The last few days have made clearer than ever that there is no action the Obama administration can take — not even the release of a possibly troubled American soldier from captivity — that cannot be used for political purposes by his opponents.” Of course the Democrats are political opportunists as well, but usually they do not operate in such a persistently mean-spirited manner.

 

According to liberal commentator M.J. Rosenberg the source of Republican animosity is racial. “The right knows that nothing they can do will remove … what they see as the … the indelible stain of an African American president having been elected. Twice.” However, seeing racism as a primary motivation is probably inadequate. The Republicans reacted in a similarly bloodthirsty way toward Bill Clinton when he was caught fooling around with Monica Lewinsky in the Oval Office. At that time Republican congressmen gleefully rushed to impeach Clinton even though a number of them had pursued extramarital affairs of their own.

 

Part II – Fear and Loathing

 

No doubt there are Republicans who are both racist and politically unprincipled in their attitudes to President Obama. However, it seems to me that there is something else going on – something repugnantly familiar – a suffocatingly narrow defining of the nation, an intolerance and disdain of everything outside of that definition, and a belligerency toward those who disagree. What some Republicans are doing is declaring President Obama not only politically wrong but downright un-American, someone who is, in essence, a traitor. Against this backdrop the Republican moderates are very few and very quiet.

 

The last time we got a glimpse of this attitude was during the 2011 televised Republican presidential primary debates. Back in December 2011 I wrote an analysis entitled “So What Shall We Ruin in November 2012?” that noted this outlook. Here, in summary, is some of that piece:

 

Most of the Republican nominees are reflections of the so-called Republican base, representatives of which constitute the audience for the presidential primary debates. There is something at once humorous and horrifying about this audience. Their cheers and jeers reflect attitudes that used to be seen only at drunken fraternity parties and out-of-control soccer games.

 

Who are these people with whom the Republican hopefuls now identify? They appear to be highly partisan Republicans who largely define themselves by what they don’t like: minorities, abortion, big government and the lack of religion in politics, among other things. When we say these are aspects of society they don’t like we really mean that they feel personally threatened by them and see them undermining their way of life. Therefore, they approach those who appear to represent these aspects of public life with fear and loathing. People who meet this description make up about 20 percent of eligible voters in the U.S.

 

What is important to understand is that these are not just people addicted to a set of traditions. They are folks who possess a nebulous anger, which is the other side of the coin of their fear. This anger can potentially lead them to act in dangerous ways. And, of course in the U.S., most of these people are armed. The Republican Party leadership, from Nixon onward, has catered to this 20 percent – not just because these leaders are political opportunists, but also because they have an unhealthy affinity for this population and its outlook. That today’s Republican leadership has this affinity constitutes one of the major differences between the Republican and Democratic parties.

 

Part lll – On the Democratic Side

 

President Obama’s response to the consistent nastiness of his opponents is usually mild and ineffectual. For instance, referring to the stubborn Republican opposition to his health care reform, he complained, “This does frustrate me, [Republican controlled] states that have chosen not to expand Medicaid for no other reason than political spite. You got 5 million people who could be having health insurance right now, at no cost to these states – zero cost to these states – [yet] other than ideological reasons, they have chosen not to provide health insurance for their citizens.” The president’s observation is quite true, but truth rarely breaks down the barriers put up by ideology.

 

Obama’s response reflects the liberal take on politics and social decorum. Reason and compromise are supposed to be the guiding lights of domestic public life. While this might have been possible in the days before Richard Nixon led the Republican Party it is not so today. As Obama realized, reason has nothing to do with Republican actions. Those actions are now directed by a nebulous ideology that partakes of anarchism, laissez faire economics, and neoconservative aggressiveness all at once. Underlying it all is a fear and anger that breeds meanness and the behavior of the bully.

 

Of course the Democrats are also capable of saying and doing stupid things. However, their foibles and hypocrisies tend to be based on misplaced principles (as against no principle at all). Take Secretary of State Kerry’s recent “Man Up” proclamation reported on 29 May 2014. Referring to Edward Snowden, the National Security Agency (NSA) contractor who revealed that the agency was pursuing wholesale spying on just about the entire U.S. population. Kerry said the following: “The bottom line is this is a man who has betrayed his country, who is sitting in Russia, an authoritarian country where he has taken refuge. He should man up and come back to the United States.”

 

This was a stupid and misleading statement. It is actually U.S. leaders, starting with George W. Bush and continuing on with President Obama, who “betrayed their country” by allowing the NSA to run wild. Snowden just caught them at it and made their betrayal public. However, as distasteful and downright silly as is Kerry’s “man up” pronouncement, it lacks the hateful quality of the typical Republican attack stance.

 

Part IV – Conclusion

 

There is a qualitative difference between today’s Democrats and Republicans. That difference does not lie in the potential to pursue policies that negatively impact the world. Both parties do that. The difference is in their attitude toward policy and action as such. When it comes to the Democrats, particularly their supporting base, many of them seem to retain the ability to think critically about their positions and sometimes even change course. But with the Republicans, one gets the sense that they are really true believers. They see their positions and actions as absolutely right and good, and if you disagree with them you are absolutely wrong and bad. In other words, while both parties are often dangerously wrong, the Republicans are wrong in a demented ideological fashion. As such they really are more repugnant than the Democrats.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Contact at ldavidson@wcupa.edu