Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Joe Klein expands the "political space" to speak out

As a liberal for many years, Time magazine columnist Joe Klein has grown used to getting into hot water. Back in the 1980s, he bucked the trend of his compatriots, when he challenged the worth of Affirmative Action policies and other social programs. His dissident views created a little firestorm of criticism among the liberal media and other intelligentsia.

It was at this time that I met Joe, outside some political event, whose title and focus are long forgotten. I was distributing the hard copy version of my Issues & Views newsletter, and he was there to cover the event. I think he was then employed by Newsweek magazine. We struck up a conversation, with me pre-judging him as just another liberal media type, until he informed me of the flak he was then undergoing, due to what was deemed his "conservative" stances on the above-mentioned issues. This was not a knee-jerk liberal.

In 2006, I did a brief piece on Klein's book for the I&V website. In Politics Lost: How American democracy was trivialized by people who think you're stupid, Klein described, through his first-hand observations of several presidential campaigns, how diverse "consultants," public relations specialists, pollsters, and various kinds of "handlers," have overtaken the political process and the people who run for public office. In the book, he observed that "to be moderate is to be homeless in 21st century American politics," and that "it isn't easy to be a classic liberal or conservative these days, either."

Today, Klein again finds himself in hot water. This time, it is his views on the foreign front, rather than the domestic one, that has ruffled the feathers of his adversaries. Last month, on his Time blog, Swampland, Klein took exception to the role played, during the past several years, by Washington DC's powerful neoconservatives. He wrote about "a great many Jewish neoconservatives – people like Joe Lieberman and the crowd over at Commentary," who, "plumped for war, and now for an even more foolish assault on Iran . . ." He denounced those who are successfully "using U.S. military power, U.S. lives and money, to make the world safe for Israel," along with "the two oil executives, Bush and Cheney," who are "securing a new source of business for their Texas buddies." Klein chided those who make a fuss over the so-called surge in Iraq, which he referred to as "whipped cream on a pile of fertilizer – a regional policy unprecedented in its stupidity and squalor."

In a follow-up interview with The Atlantic magazine's Jeffrey Goldberg, Klein elaborated further on his convictions, explaining that he is not "anti-Semitic" (as you knew Abe Foxman and the horde of squealing hawks would charge), but is "anti-neoconservative." He continued, "I think these people are following very perversely extremist policies." Klein implied that the threat of Iran is hyped for cynical reasons, referring to the elderly Jews who retire to Florida, including his own parents. Picking a fight with Iran is strictly for political purposes, Klein declared, "to scare the shit out of my parents. It's a Broward County strategy, it's a Florida strategy."

When Goldberg observed that Klein was "using the word 'Jewish' in ways that we haven't seen Jewish reporters and Jewish columnists use," Klein replied, "It's about time. I think everyone else is too afraid to do it." Claiming to be a "strong supporter" of Israel, Klein insists, nevertheless, "There were people out there in the Jewish community who saw this as a way to create a benign domino theory and eliminate all Israel's enemies." This is a "dangerous anachronistic neocolonial" notion, he contends.

Klein revealed some of the vituperative responses emanating from his angry opponents. One columnist wrote on her National Review blog, "I can't imagine why Time hasn't shut this guy down and fired him." Klein says, "That's what they want. They want to stifle opinions that are different than theirs."

That might not be so easy any longer. Once unspeakable thoughts can now be spoken. Some believe this is essentially due to the bravery of scholars Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer who, in 2006, published their groundbreaking essay, "The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy" and, in 2007, published the expanded version as a book. Many others risked their livelihoods and reputations when attempting to speak out on this subject.

As Daniel Luban writes, Walt and Mearsheimer helped to create the "political space" in which the once taboo subject of the United States' involvement with Israel can be openly discussed and debated. It's in the closet no more.

We know that it is not only Jewish neocons who are responsible for the current Middle East debacle, but, as writer Daniel Levy puts it, "Too many Jewish communal leaders and institutions made the mistake of not standing up and speaking out more against the right-wing excesses of a small minority of their co-religionists." They cheapened the term "anti-Semitism," he says, as they built a "wall of untouchability" around them.

M.J. Rosenberg, a former member of the AIPAC staff, now with the Israel Policy Forum, congratulates Joe Klein on the firmness with which he has expressed himself, and is pleased that Klein has not issued the expected mea culpa, so familiar, whenever a public figure dares to wade in such politically incorrect waters. As for all who helped to bring on the Iraq invasion, Rosenberg writes, "They should shut up and volunteer at Walter Reed. For the rest of their lives."

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