Thursday, August 19, 2010

Violent Fence-Sitters and Villains
in the Field of American Racism

Salon has a nice, but not quite complete, essay by Alex Pareene on the Heroes and Villains of the ill-named (but very deliberately named, with malice aforethought) "Ground Zero Mosque" furore.

I have my own take on the villains especially. Pareene rightly names as heroes Jerrold Nadler, Michael Bloomberg, Al Franken, Russ Feingold, Sherrod Brown, Joe Sestak, Ted Olson, Grover Norquist. At least three people there with whom I almost never agree, but on this, they are great. People of Principle.

Barack Obama leads the pack of violent fence-sitters — prominent individuals with neither the decency nor courage to do what justice and morality demand. Also in this pack are Kirsten Gillibrand, David Paterson, Howard Dean, Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, and on and on. They are the silent or near-silent go-along-to-get-along types who in some ways do more damage than the unalloyed bigots like Newt Gingrich, Sarah Palin, Pamela Geller and Abe Foxman. The violent fence-sitters are the ones who enable huge numbers to also sit on the sidelines or, worse, to edge toward a bigoted stance that in some part they know is wrong.

As for Anthony Weiner and Charles Schumer, they are long-standing, pseudo-respectable crypto-racists. Their violent support for Israel has forced their intellectual machinery into a hatred of Arabs and Muslims they would otherwise reject wholeheartedly.

They are examples of the peculiar elasticity of the Web of Belief (as philosopher Willard van Orman Quine called it). That is, if a person is sufficiently devoted to one point, he or she is quite capable of adjusting whatever else needs adjusting to accommodate that point.

Newt Gingrich, Sarah Palin, Rudy Giuliani, Pamela Geller, Joseph Lieberman — They are true racists to the core. Gingrich, Palin and Giuliani believe in the innate supremacy of white Christians; Geller and Lieberman believe the same of Jews. Their mental machinery is the same in form as that of the Nazis circa 1937. (And I mean that quite seriously, with all that it implies. They are people who would commit genocide if they thought the world would tolerate it today.)

By contrast, Schumer and Wiener are Adjusted Bigots. Their bigotry is the illogical, irrational consequence of a desperate need to maintain the Sanctity of Israel over all other things. Unlike the Gingriches or Gellers, they do not begin with a racist premise; they arrive at racist conclusion.

The web of belief need not be so elastic. Jerrold Nadler is an ardent supporter of Israel. Unlike Schumer or Wiener, he is also a defender of the Rights of American Muslims. Likewise, Michael Bloomberg, whom I usually loathe. He has been outstanding on this.

All that said, Salon should add to the list of Heroes both Charlie Rangel, who may be trying to recover some moral high ground, and Al Franken, who has repeatedly surprised me as one of the most intelligent people in Congress in recent decades.

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