These are strained times for the political left. Despite the historic rise of Barack Obama, the Democratic Party has for quite some time been struggling to re-imagine itself beyond Clintonism, beyond identity politics, and beyond the shallow ravings of MoveOn.org. Thus far, Obama has mainly succeeded at the last of these when he made a scolding reference to the “General Betray Us” ads, noting that, “a general providing his best counsel on how to move forward in Iraq was accused of betrayal.” But efforts to articulate a reasonable leftist polity aren’t getting any easier. No matter how much poise or good judgment Senator Obama has shown with regard to the media attacks on Sarah Palin, Juan Cole’s most recent piece for Salon magazine suggests that some of Obama’s most damaging foes may in fact lie to his left.
The title pretty much sums it up: “What’s the Difference Between Palin and Muslim Fundamentalists? Lipstick.” For the last eight years, as far as some on the left have been concerned, George W. Bush has been Hitler. Now Sarah Palin is bin Laden. Welcome to the new populist “progressivism,” brought to you by Noam Chomsky, Michael Moore, Keith Olbermann, and Juan Cole. Don’t like someone on the right? Just draw analogies between that person and some mass murdering tyrant (who yesterday you probably bent over backwards to defend as an agent of resistance to U.S hegemony).
But for all of Cole’s rhetorical extremism and brazen logical leaps, the most damning thing about his argument isn’t that he draws out similarities between the worldviews of those on the GOP ticket and those on the radical right wing of political Islam. To be fair, many of Cole’s observations bear serious consideration and should stoke some skepticism among the crowd of conservatives who are currently displaying something akin to the uncritical acceptance and swooning they so rightly chastised on the left in recent months. The most problematic thing about Cole’s argument is that he’s an apologist for Islamism.