Monday, October 20, 2008

Intemperate, rancorous reactions to Obama endorsements

Emory University Professor Deborah Lipstadt, who has endorsed Barack Obama for the presidency (read here), has a blog post detailing the venomous attacks she's received from Republicans in response (read here).

I have been inundated with emails that are replete with all sorts of idiocy. They are, by and large, too stupid to recount. There is a sense of real hysteria in them. There may be good reasons to support McCain but these people are off the wall.

I have been told that Obama is: pro-Muslim, anti-American,pro-Farrakhan [that Farrakhan is a close associate of Obama], anti-Israel, (and) a Manchurian candidate [this from a nameless person who was described as a top U.S. analyst in DC... ].

I have been told that I have spun and skewed, engaged in major distortions, shown a lack of critical scholarship,offered arguments with no intellectual credibility [all of the above came with no examples of how I did so... just the charges], am a self-hating liberal Jew, (and that I) don't know Jewish law.

Then today these folks really hit bottom: they sent an email out contending that the O people form with their two hands [it is akin to the three fingers people used to hold aloft as a sign of support for George W.] is the same as a Hitler salute..... This is hardly worth comment... are they suggesting that Obama and Hitler were in cahoots? Maybe they don't know that Hitler had been dead 15 years when Obama was born.... that neo-Nazis are behind his campaign?

Finally, many of these emails repeat [in exactly the same language... as if it came out of a mimeograph machine... if you remember what that is] that I told people to vote for Obama because he is Black. Give me a break. Anyone who can read that into my last paragraph smells to me like a latent racist or maybe like someone who can't read.
Jews have prospered in this country in countless and unimaginable ways. America has given us tremendous opportunities. While no one should vote for Barack Obama because he is black, the fact that a black man is a nominee for the highest office in the land constitutes an affirmation of the fact that at long last, some of the final barriers of discrimination are crumbling. For Jews it is yet another reminder of the blessings this country has offered them and other minorities.
I wonder if these folks will say the same thing about Gen. Powell's statement this morning on Meet the Press
And I can't deny that it will be a historic event for an African-American to become president. And should that happen, all Americans should be proud--not just African-Americans, but all Americans--that we have reached this point in our national history where such a thing could happen. It will also not only electrify our country, I think it'll electrify the world.
* * *

Professor Lipstadt need wonder no longer whether General Powell will be similarly slandered. Here's historian Judith Apter Klinghoffer writing at George Mason University's History News Network (read here):

Do you believe that Colin Powell would have endorsed a WHITE DEMOCRATIC Candidate for president? Me neither. Do you believe Colin Powell would not have run for president had he been WHITE? Me neither. Do you believe that Barack Obama would have offered Powell or any other black man who failed to endorse him a seat at the table? Me neither.

To be honest, I never liked the man. He struck me as a coward. Yes, he was a general but he let fear of assassination prevent him from running for the presidency and he betrayed those who gave him a seat at the table in ill timed books.

Well, the two man deserve each other. Honor, gratitude and loyalty are not values familiar to either of them. Throwing old friends under bus is a common sport for them. All we can hope is that the American people will see through the media hype and give them their just dessert. A defeat in the polls.

Klinghoffer's intemperate statement stands in sharp contrast to General Powell's thoughtful, well-reasoned one (view here). Klinghoffer is unable to mount a coherent argument against General Powell's endorsement of Obama, so instead slings senseless insults. On the other hand, in his statement, General Powell details the strengths of both McCain and Obama, explains why he supports Obama, and explicitly disavows the sort of racial bias Klinghoffer imputes. He also explicitly condemns the rancor of the Republican campaign. Klinghoffer, in her angry response, senselessly calls General Powell "a coward" in spite of his distinguished record of service in combat. Equally senselessly, she calls Powell "disloyal" in spite of his loyalty -- excessive loyalty, in fact -- to the Bush administration, who, it must be said, used him very badly indeed. Most senselessly of all, Kilinghoffer also tells us, as if we should care, that she "never liked" Powell. Her ad hominem argument (such as it is -- it's more invective than argument) tells me that, in addition to having a problem with anger management, she's also a very poor judge of character.

This blog has received a comment similarly accusing General Powell of being motivated by racial bias to endorse Obama. Here's part of my response:

(W)hy are you suspicious when one African-American supports another? Are you similarly suspicious of whites supporting other whites, or do you take that for granted? You need to examine your own racial bias. I believe that psychologists call what you're doing "projection".

* * *

Harvard University Law School Professor Alan Dershowitz, a notable supporter of Israel, and, like Professor Lipstadt, a backer of Hilary Clinton's run for the Democratic nomination, has also come out in support of Barack Obama (read here). He has subsequently come under attack from the left.

Blogger Richard Silverstein, whose idealistically titled blog Tikkun Olam has a reputation for being harshly combative (especially behind the scenes), is especially harsh in his critique of Dershowitz' endorsement statement (read here).

Though Dershowitz is a nominal Democrat, I still find it odd and off-putting that he’d endorse Obama. He’s clearly far out of sync with Obama’s world view. Dersh endorsed Hillary in the primaries and certainly seems much more comfortable with her hawkish, slavishly pro-Israel line.
Hardly "out of sync" with Obama, here's what the life-long Democrat Dershowitz actually said in his endorsement:

I support (Obama) on policies unrelated to Israel, such as the Supreme Court, women's rights, separation of church and state and the economy. But I also prefer Obama to McCain on the issue of Israel ... because I think it is better for Israel to have a liberal supporter in the White House than to have a conservative supporter in the oval office. Obama's views on Israel will have greater impact on young people, on Europe, on the media and on others who tend to identify with the liberal perspective. Although I believe that centrists liberals in general tend to support Israel, I acknowledge that support from the left seems to be weakening as support from the right strengthens. The election of Barack Obama -- a liberal supporter of Israel -- will enhance Israel's position among wavering liberals.
For Silverstein, a harsh critic of Israel with no interest in enhancing Israel's position among liberals, that's a bit too much. Silverstein, who refers to Dershowitz as "Dersh" (maybe he's using the Norman Finkelstein style guide), claims without any evidence or supportive argument, that the timing of the Dershowitz endorsement was cynically based on a desire to be on the winning side. In a moment of venting, he admits his bias, stating "I can’t tell whether I despise Marty Peretz or Alan Dershowitz more," and questions why Harvard would allow Dershowitz on its faculty.

Silverstein appears to be operating under the misimpression that Barack Obama and Hilary Clinton are at opposite ends of a political spectrum, the nature of which he does not spell out. If he truly believes that Clinton and Obama disagree so completely about Israel (or, for that matter, about the economy or globalization or a wide range of other issues), I'm afraid that it's Silverstein and not Dershowitz who's in for a severe disappointment should Obama win.

By the way, Silverstein has already been disappointed by Obama's support for Israel. Silverstein advocates divesting stock in corporations doing business in Israel, and earlier this year supported a deceptive anti-Israel divestment referendum aimed at the Seattle municipal employee pension fund (read here) -- a referendum which was subsequently struck down by a Washington State judge as illegal (read here). When Obama gave his well-received speech at AIPAC in June of this year, Silverstein accused him of "pandering to his audience's prejudices", without specifying what he thought these prejudices were. Silverstein then complained that Obama linked anti-Israel divestiture (which Silverstein supports) with anti-Israel boycotts (which Silverstein claims to oppose). (Read here.) It seems to me that Obama's inclination to connect divestment and boycott is entirely rational, while Silverstein's attempt to differentiate between the two is either salesmanship or wishful thinking.

Something tells me that Silverstein and others on the left are in for more severe disappointments if they're hoping for Obama to demonize Israel.


Rebecca said...

I agree - I think that people on the left will probably be disappointed by Obama should he be elected. In fact, I think I will probably be disappointed - but then I don't expect perfection from a presidential candidate, just reasonable competence and intelligence.

LanceThruster said...

I saw the documentary on Jimmy Carter the other night ("Jimmy Carter: Man from Plains") and there is no reason to give Alan Dershowitz any respect or credibility; he is a smear merchant. I find it interesting (but not surprising) that he feels that a liberal supporter of Israel's abuses will provide better cover than from a conservative.

Adam Holland said...


First of all, your statement "there is no reason to give Alan Dershowitz any respect or credibility" clearly falls within the definition of intemperate and rancorous. If you have an argument against him, state it. Name-calling is pointless; it adds to the noise level, not sound thinking.

Secondly, when you equate support for Israel with "support for ... abuses", you reveal your bias. Barack Obama has repeatedly declared his support for Israel and demonstrated it with his voting record, public declarations of support and by condemning those who, like you, are biased against Israel. You apparently didn't notice that, at the Democratic National Convention, he demonstrated it by shunning Jimmy Carter, something which he would not have done had Carter not distorted history and slandered Israel with his last book, and legitimized Hamas by meeting with and commenting favorably about them.

Finally, your argument, "lance", is more with Obama than with Dershowitz. You and others of your beliefs are bound to be disappointed by Barack Obama, a self-proclaimed Zionist and friend of Israel, in the White House. Maybe you should prepare yourself for the inevitable.

Anonymous said...

I have to disagree. Dersh (like you, I suppose) is hedging his bets. He's scared witless. And maybe he has more reason to be than you think. I imagine he'll be crying foul in about 2 years when Obama starts pressuring Livni to begin dismantling settlements in the West Bank as part of a new peace agreement, and uses US aid as leverage. I can almost hear the children stamping their feet now "But...but...but...
-Barack Obama has repeatedly declared his support for Israel and demonstrated it with his voting record"
But the one about "shunning Jimmy Carter" is my favorite:
"something which he would not have done had Carter not distorted history and slandered Israel with his last book, and legitimized Hamas by meeting with and commenting favorably about them." If it makes you feel better to tell yourself that, go right ahead, but don't think for a minute that Dersh believes it. He's been in this game too long. He knows Obama admires Carter and he (rightly) suspects that he agrees with him on most everything in his book. Most importantly, he understands the political necessity of excluding Carter from a more prominent position at the convention. But he also understands that Obama (and this is the best part) resents this political necessity. Same story with the AIPAC gang. They all know this and they are all going to play along nicely, because this time things could really get out of hand. Clinton was a piece of cake (both of them) and Bush just needed to be told how high to jump. But a black man? And a black woman from the South Side? Oh, they are all crossing their fingers and hegding their bets.

Adam Holland said...


Your belief in your own clairvoyance is astounding. You have divined that both Dershowitz and I are not truly supportive of Obama but are feigning support because we believe he will win. With respect to Dershowitz: he has expressed his support in very strong and explicit terms which you have not countered in any way because you can't. With respect to my support for Obama, I've supported him since he demonstrated his viability as a candidate in the early days of the primaries, although I would have been equally happy with several of the other Democratic candidates as well. So your clairvoyance seems to have failed in this area. (By the way, I believe that Obama has turned out to be the best choice both terms of the skills he has demonstrated as a candidate and leader, and as a symbol of a clean break from a deeply flawed past.)

Your belief in your own clairvoyance also extends to President Obama's actions with respect to Israel. You have divined that you will agree with everything he will do, but that supporters of Israel will disagree. I have a less black and white view of these things. I do not expect to be pleased at every moment with every action any president takes, whereas you are absolutely certain that Obama will do as you want. I leave it to the reader to decide who is more likely to be disappointed.

Let me make this clear: I have looked closely at Obama's record on the Middle East and I am very pleased with what I see. I do not believe the propaganda of either end of the spectrum predicting his impending pressure on Israel. In your case, it's wishful thinking. In the case of the right, it's fear mongering. I prefer to look at history and judge likely outcomes based on the record. Moreover, there are simply to many variables to know exactly how negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians may play out with respect to particular issues. For one thing, talks will first have to be restarted.

The idea that the U.S. will demand that every settlement be dismantled as a precondition to negotiation, as you predict, makes no sense from any standpoint, and you offer nothing other than your powers of prediction as evidence. I find this prediction to be amazingly daring. How do you know that this will happen and how do you know it will happen in 2 years?

Your powers of clairvoyance extend to Obama's opinion of Jimmy Carter's views about Israel, with which you are certain he agrees. Again, you offer no evidence other than what your crystal ball has revealed. Since I haven't looked into that crystal ball, I can't comment on it. But I have looked at Obama's record and it clearly contradicts your ESP. Here's the record:

In June, Obama said "I have a fundamental difference with President Carter and disagree with his decision to meet with Hamas. We must not negotiate with a terrorist group intent on Israel's destruction. We should only sit down with Hamas if they renounce terrorism, recognize Israel's right to exist and abide by past agreements ... Hamas is not a state. Hamas is a terrorist organization." He went on to say about Iran: "we come to the table with a very clear set of objectives and a very clear set of demands -- that Iran ceases from pursuing nuclear weapons, that it stops funding Hezbollah and Hamas, that it ends its noxious statements about Israel and the threats directed towards Israel. The current policy of not talking is not working and I believe its time to change that."

You may not like that, but pretending that you have some kind of inside info about what Obama "really thinks" is absurd. Just look at what he's actually said and actually done and get back to me.

And one more thing, your closing racial comments were indecipherable but had a distinctly offensive tone. With friends like you, Obama does not need enemies.


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