May 15, 2009

The Worm Will Turn Here in Barackistan, But Who Cares?

The admirable Daniel Larison explains the eclipse of the GOP as follows: Of the three GOP factions he identifies, social, economic and national security conservatives, he blames the national security conservatives. The GOP in power under Bush did little or nothing for the social conservatives, and followed corporate welfare policies, not economic conservatism or libertarianism. It did, however, follow hawkish policies--war in Iraq and Afghanistan, worldwide interventionism, heavy spending on defense, and so forth. These led to its decline in popularity, the election of Obama, and the fall of the Congressional GOP.

As an aspiration, Larison’s hope that the GOP will “break with the aggressive pursuit of hegemony that has so ill-served American interests” is admirable but probably vain.

The truth is that for all the sound, fury and hatred that abounds, we have two political parties that peddle what Huey P. Long called “high populorum” and “low popahirum.” The former was taken from the bark of a tree from the top down, the latter from the bottom up. As Huey said, “The only difference I’ve found in Congress between the Republican and Democratic leadership is that one of them is skinning us from the ankle up and the other from the ear down.”

Indeed, the political boundaries that seemed to have grown wider between Reagan and Bush 43, have now been thoroughly fudged. During last Fall’s financial hysteria, Bush and the Democrats joined to promote the ill-considered and disastrous TARP bailout. Initially, the House Republicans, closer to the grass roots, resisted. After the market tanked for a few ways and major arm-twisting, they caved. We now have government control of the world’s largest insurer and its largest banks, whose profligate leaderships remain largely intact. Socialism? Well, when enterprises lose money, hell yes!

Bush’s predecessor, the “centrist” Clinton, had Robert Rubin, formerly of Goldman Sachs, and afterwards of Citigroup, as his Treasury Secretary. Bush ended up with Henry Paulson, alumnus of Goldman, Sachs. Obama, the “leftist,” has as his advisers Boy Geithner, protégé of the same crowd, and the aging boy wonder, Larry Summers, grown fat with speaking and consulting fees gobbled at the Wall Street trough.

Nevertheless, some people still think Obama is a Bolshevik and Bush a conservative paragon. Obama may be more of a statist on a few matters, and appeases different constituencies from the GOP on the sexual issues, abortion and the gay agenda. He’s more urban and bicoastal than the old white guys in the GOP, but if there are differences they are more of diction and dress than on anything fundamental.

Where does this leave the GOP? At the moment, stymied.

However, the worm will turn, as it always does. The Great Recession may be entering a phase of greater decline, but the recovery, if it comes at all, will not come soon and will not be pretty. Bonds, upon which the whole stimulus and rescue program depends, will get harder to peddle, and inflation will come out of the jungle roaring as a lion. We are still up to our necks in Af-Pak, as the pundits now call it, with no particular end in sight, and things in Iraq are touch-and-go. Zionism continues its peculiar brand of vileness, when only several sharp jerks of the chain will prevent a disastrous Israeli assault on Iran, with unpredictable and dangerous consequences.

The Democrats in Congress, meanwhile, are a sorry bunch of hacks, and that fraction of the public that follows such matters can see that for itself.

All of this suggests that peace and joy will not reign forever in Barackistan, and the GOP will have a revival, not because of its virtues, but because it’s out of power and the public wants to throw the rascals out. The dearth of talent evident at the moment is unimportant. The GOP always finds a standard-bearer somewhere--a victorious general, an eloquent over-the-hill actor, the simpering scion of a transplanted New England dynasty.

The sad part is that so far the Stupid Party has learned nothing. To shackle itself to fiscal probity after the Reagan and Bush deficits is sheer deception. There appears to be no appetite for anti-corporate populism. The party has never had much stomach for the sexual issues, riddled as it is with closet cases and serial adulterers. Patrioteering is mother’s milk to the GOP.

Thus, although the political worm will turn so long as the poor Republic persists, we can expect nothing particularly new or improved.

I wish I liked politics less. I could learn a language, read a classic, take a hike, and cultivate my garden. Each of these pursuits seems more promising than hoping someone will remake the GOP into something that might offer a bit of hope to the Republic.

May 11, 2009

More on Zionism

Sinner that I am, and easily provoked, too, I have been back on contentions. A commenter challenged me thus:
The enemies of Israel and of the Jews lie shamelessly about them. To “grumpy old man”: It is the Muslims (and maybe some Christians) who want to destroy Israel and the Jews. The war against the Jews in Eretz Yisroel was started by Haj Husseini, Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, who organized attacks on Jews in 1921, before there was the modern state of Israel. The objections Muslims have to Israel is religious, that it is a Jewish state; the objection that some Christians, like Edward Said, have is that they are Greek Orthodox, a very anti-semitic church, or that they are buttering up to the Arabs.
I drafted a reply, and then decided not to post it there, where the response most often is to call me a Nazi or a wanker. Instead, I'll post it here:
Your facts are partly correct, but you are fundamentally in error. From the beginning, most of the Arabs in what became the Palestine Mandate opposed the entry of any large number of Jewish colons [settlers], knowing that they claimed the land and sought to build their state there. This enterprise could not be accomplished without the dispossession of most of the then inhabitants, as Jabotinsky, his vision uncorrupted by socialist dreaming, well understood. This claim was religiously specious in Christian and Mulsim terms, and indeed in terms of the Judaism of the era, and so regarded by the observant. In secular terms, Zionism was a typical colonial enterprise, and the yishuv [the Jewish community in Palestine before independence], pieds noirs ["black feet," the French, Spanish and Italian settlers in French Algeria, now gone] who did not believe in the Trinity. Like all such enterprises, Zionism involved courage and resourcefulness in the face of adversity and injustice to those who were there before.

Would most of the Arabs still like to see the Jewish state gone? Probably, having lost several wars, their homes and villages. No doubt this attitude are unforgiving, and perhaps unrealistic, but what else do you expect?

However flawed their rationale, the Israeli Jews won the important wars, and created a nation that for most is the only home they know. Moreover, as many Jews were pushed from Arab lands and Arabs from Palestine. A population exchange happened and will not be undone.

One dreams that the two nations could somehow live together quietly, whether as separate ethnic groups in one nation or as separate nations. Pessimism in this regard is warranted. It is likely that like the last religiously-inspired European interlopers, the Israelis will disappear in the next 50 to 10 years. Even now, emigration exceeds immigration, and taking quality into account, exceeds it all the more.

Meanwhile, Israel becomes ever more thuggish and degraded, the strategic reasons for the US to subsidize, arm and protect Israel become ever more attentuated, and as American Jews disaffiliate and intermarry, the political reasons for the old US policy are also weakened.

The militant supporters of Israel in this country nevertheless advocate interventions and stances that are not in our national interest. The "special relationship" draws us into an interminable conflict, and implicates us in more and more criminal acts. All of this gets transmogrified, in their propaganda, into a moral and ideological struggle.

Why should we be drawn into a conflict because some fascist Brooklynite wants to live in the "Holy Land" and proceeds to build a mini-Massapequa in some poor Arab's olive grove? It makes no practical or moral sense.

The Boots Are Always On the Staircase

There was a time that the central story of the Jews, commemorated in ritual and prayer, was God's freeing of the Hebrew slaves of Egypt, let by the prophet Moses, followed by wandering in the desert and the reception of the Law. The Passover Seder, the last ritual retained by secularizing Jews such as my own family, commemorated and discussed this.

No more. To be sure, observant and semi-observant Jews still have Passover Seders, and the Sabbath is a remembrance both of Creation and of the Exodus.

A new story, however, has replaced the Exodus in public discourse. Although the Nazi murder of the Jews was not given much prominence immediately after World War II, more recently, it has come to be central in Jewish discourse and in discourse about the Jews. Thus we have a National Holocaust Museum, but no national museum of Jewish culture or history.

When one dissents from the Likud-Zionist line, the enforcers invoke the genocide. This thread from Commentary's blog, contentions is a good example. With rhythmic regularity, the Holocaust is invoked to condemn the critic:
"From German: “put paid” == Die Endlösung == “Final Solution”."

"Judaize - how shocking. Can’t go around Judaizing places.
Julius Streicher wouldn’t approve."

Peter Novick's The Holocaust in American Life demonstrates the political agendas behind the increasing prominence of the Holocaust in American public discourse. Norman Finkelstein is considerably more radical and less measured in his account, but presents valuable information nonetheless.

Not only has the mass murder gained prominence over the Exodus, it has provided the basis for a revision of Jewish history. This history is now presented as simply an endless martyrdom. The Jew is not a scholar, a merchant, a middleman, an intellectual--simply a victim.

Increasingly, Zionists and other professional Jews describe Jewish present, not in terms of rescue from oppression, but as one in which the boots of some new SS are always on the staircase. The Reform Jewish rabbi Emil Fackenheim argued that a new commandment to the Jews was to not give posthumous victories to Hitler. Fackenheim was a Zionist who ultimately left Canada for Israel.

These are tendentious misreadings of the Jewish past and the present. Jews are not the only people to suffer from war and massacre, and they were not always poor; indeed, at many times, as a middleman caste, they did rather well for themselves. A cousin of mine went to Poland, and found the apartment where his father had lived as a boy. My liberal cousin was a bit disappointed to find the place comfortably bourgeois. As it turns out, an unsympathetic stepmother was the cause for his father's emigration, not so much oppression and not poverty.

As for the perpetual "boots on the staircase" theme, it lives on for two reasons.

First, it is politically useful. Benjamin Netanyahu calls the narrow pre-1967 waist of Israel an "Auschwitz border," not merely a strategic problem. Iran's Ahmadinejad, in spite of the fact that Iran is home to the largest remaining Jewish community in the Near East, represented in Parliament, is invariably compared to Hitler.

Second, many Jews have responded to this propaganda, and family history, by adopting the Holocaust story as the Jewish story.

Hence, when I point out that to the refrain about the Arabs wanting to throw the Jews in the sea, must be added the fact that the Jews of Jaffa, among others, really did take to the sea when they fled the Zionists, I am not merely reciting an inconvenient or unreliable claim, not merely dissenting from Zionist orthodoxy, I am said to be advocating a "Final Solution" and emulating Julius Streicher, editor of the antisemitic propaganda paper, Der Stürmer.

Factually, this is nonsense, but it's effective with many committed and older-generation Jews, far more so than arguing about what really happened or whether the US "special relationship" with Israel is in the national interest.

The shift in stories (nowadays called 'narratives' to sound more impressive) is also a response to the rapid abandonment of things Jewish by recent generations of Jews in America, with the exception of the 10% minority that remains traditional. Trading the parting of the Red Sea for the death camps, however, won't bring back the backsliders. The Lord delivering slaves from Egypt with a mighty hand can be inspirational. Thugs slaughtering one's relatives cannot be, not for any length of time.