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Commentary :: DNC
Political appeals to bigotry grow
16 Jan 2004
Conservative columnist Cal Thomas recently questioned Howard Dean's faith because his wife is Jewish. Marrying her, Thomas opined, was "strange at best, considering the two faiths take a distinctly different view of Jesus."
January 16, 2004

To inhabitants of the visible world, the Bush administration has gotten an awful lot of bad political news lately. In Iraq, American helicopters continue to be shot down. The Shiite majority shows signs of rebellion. The U.S. Army War College published a scathing report charging that an "unnecessary" attack on Iraq and an indiscriminately broad "war on terrorism" have left the Army "near the breaking point" and threaten armed conflict with nations that pose no real threat.

The American team searching for Saddam Hussein's apocryphal "weapons of mass destruction" has withdrawn empty-handed. Exhaustive reporting by The Washington Post found that WMDs existed largely as theoretical drawings on computer disks. The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace has concluded that Iraq did not "pose an immediate threat to the United States, to the region or to global security."

In Washington, Secretary of State Colin Powell admitted that despite what he told the United Nations before the war, there's no proof of ties between Saddam and Al Qaeda, "although the possibility of such connections did exist."

Elsewhere, the International Monetary Fund warned that the Bush administration's fiscal indiscipline threatens the world economy. Former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill went on "60 Minutes" to portray President Bush as an arrogant dim bulb who took little interest in economic policy. President Dilbert sounds more like it.

O'Neill also said that Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld and fellow hawks actively schemed to invade Iraq months before the 9/11 attacks provided a false pretext; also that plans for divvying up Iraqi oil reserves circulated inside the White House.

Under the circumstances, you'd expect Republicans to be doing some re-thinking. Merely charging President Dilbert's critics with being unpatriotic will no longer suffice. It's become necessary to question their fundamental decency and humanity.

In Iowa, The Club for Growth has been running a TV ad featuring a white-haired, WASP-y couple attacking Democratic hopeful Howard Dean. The man says, "Dean should take his tax-hiking, government-expanding, latte-drinking, sushi-eating, Volvo-driving, New York Times-reading ..." His wife adds "Hollywood-loving, left-wing freak show back to Vermont, where it belongs."

Needless to say, this ad won't be running in New Hampshire. Even in Iowa, it's likely to drive Dean supporters to the polls. But ever since Newt Gingrich declared Democrats the "enemies of normal Americans" some years ago, GOP appeals to bigotry have grown ever bolder.

The impeccably Republican editors of my hometown Arkansas Democrat-Gazette recently ran a syndicated piece by one Peter Savodnik alleging that Democrats suffer at the polls because party "fund-raisers in Washington often take place in night-clubs filled with black people or Jewish comedians." Also deemed problematic were an appetite for ethnic foods and identification with "hepcats," a term I hadn't heard since 1958. The last hepcat, jazz trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, died in 1993. Republicans, in contrast, go in for "SUVs, white picket fences, flags, monogamy, organized religion." As Dave Barry says, I am not making this up. Who could?

Well, Cal Thomas could. The conservative columnist recently questioned Howard Dean's religious faith on the grounds that his wife, Dr. Judith Steinberg, is Jewish. Marrying her, Thomas opined, was "strange at best, considering the two faiths take a distinctly different view of Jesus."

At the aforementioned New York Times, however, columnist David Brooks conjured a different brand of bigotry. He appeared to accuse Gen. Wesley Clark of anti-Semitism, one of history's darkest and most enduring traditions. Clark, it seems, was among a group of "full-mooners" (i.e. lunatics) whom Brooks charged with being "fixated on a think tank called the Project for the New American Century ... To hear these people describe it, PNAC is sort of a Yiddish Trilateral Commission, the nexus of the sprawling neocon tentacles."

Describing PNAC as all but powerless, Brooks charged that for believers in "shadowy neocon influence" like Gen. Clark (the only individual named) "con is short for 'conservative' and neo is short for 'Jewish.'" The insinuation couldn't have been plainer. Brooks was following the example of Joel Mowbray, another conservative columnist who'd used identical logic to allege that retired four-star Marine Gen. Anthony Zinni had "blamed (the Iraq war) on the Jews."

The simple reality, of course, is that "neoconservatives" named themselves. Far from being obscure, the Project for a New American Century includes among its illustrious alumni Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Deputy Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and more than a dozen high-ranking White House, State and Defense Department figures. Some are Jews, some not.

PNAC began petitioning President Clinton to attack Iraq as long ago as 1998. In September 2000, it issued a position paper entitled "Rebuilding America's Defenses: Strategy, Forces, and Resources for a New Century," which is nothing short of a blueprint for world domination. It's available on the PNAC Web site.

Confronted by angry readers, Brooks alibied that he was only joking. Nothing like a lighthearted anti-Semitism jest, after all, to kick off an election year.

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette columnist Gene Lyons is a national magazine award winner and co-author of "The Hunting of the President" (St. Martin's Press, 2000).
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