Ron Radosh

Maureen Dowd's Rosh Hashanah Message to American Jews: Stop Being "Puppet Masters" of the Republicans

Last week, our colleague Roger Kimball asked whether the New York Times health insurance included psychiatric coverage, because, he quipped, it seemed by her outrageous columns that Maureen Dowd probably needed it. Evidently Ms. Dowd did not take Roger’s suggestion to heart, because yesterday — the eve of Rosh Hashanah — she insulted her Jewish readers by writing a column that depended on one of the oldest of anti-Semitic tropes: that smart Jews manage to bamboozle their Christian friends by pulling the wool over their eyes and getting them to unwittingly do their bidding.

Politico’s Dylan Beers sorts out the reaction to her Sunday opinion piece, writing that her critics charged that it “peddled anti-Semitic imagery.” The column in question was titled “Neocons Slither Back.” In that piece, Dowd outdoes her usual vitriolic and nasty voice with a screed that makes one pause and take a deep breath, wondering how anyone with half an ounce of intelligence could take her seriously.

She began with an attack on Paul Ryan for his daring to argue that the country needs a foreign policy with “moral clarity and firmness of purpose.” Congressmen Ryan’s statement is hardly offensive; indeed, given the utter failure of Barack Obama’s Middle East policy, it is understated. Ms. Dowd has the right to disagree and to argue with Ryan’s case. But rather than do that, she wrote the following:

Ryan was moving his mouth, but the voice was the neocon puppet master Dan Senor. The hawkish Romney adviser has been secunded to manage the running mate and to graft a Manichaean worldview onto the foreign affairs neophyte.

A moral, muscular foreign policy; a disdain for weakness and diplomacy; a duty to invade and bomb Israel’s neighbors; a divine right to pre-emption — it’s all ominously familiar.

You can draw a direct line from the hyperpower manifesto of the Project for the New American Century, which the neocons, abetted by Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, used to prod an insecure and uninformed president into invading Iraq — a wildly misguided attempt to intimidate Arabs through the shock of overwhelming force. How’s that going for us?

As in the Bush 43 years, Ms. Dowd continues, the neocons have managed to again capture a would-be future Republican president even before he’s elected. “Before he played ventriloquist to Ryan,” Dowd writes, “Senor did the same for Romney, ratcheting up the candidate’s irresponsible bellicosity on the Middle East.” So, she concludes, Romney is already “kowtowing to the right again.” And this, she adds for emphasis, is “shameful.” If Romney were commander-in-chief and agreed with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s desire to set a red line beyond which Iran should not be allowed to cross, the result would be a “global conflagration” that would be a worldwide disaster.

So what does one make of her case? First, as Ira Stoll has pointed out, Dan Senor is hardly a neoconservative. During the early days of the Iraq war, he was a spokesman for Paul Bremer, who as head of the Coalition Provisional Authority, advocated policies fiercely opposed by neoconservatives. Bremer presided over the disbanding of the Iraqi army and de-Ba’athification, while the neoconservatives favored setting up a government headed by an Iraqi leader they believed was friendly to democracy and the West, particularly Ahmed Chalabi.

As Stoll points out, “depictions of Jews as snakes or puppeteers are classical anti-Semitic images.” Moreover, he notes, when Glenn Beck charged that the leftist billionaire George Soros was “puppet master” of the entire left — he who is openly an opponent of Israel — the left all charged Beck with indulging in anti-Semitism.

Dowd also singled out Paul Wolfowitz in her column, ignoring the key makers of policy in the Bush administration — Dick Cheney, Condoleezza Rice, and Donald Rumsfeld — none of whom are Jewish.

Even Jeffrey Goldberg, no supporter of Romney, responded to Dowd’s column by writing:

This sinister stereotype became a major theme in the discussion of the Iraq war, when critics charged that Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith, among other Jewish neoconservatives, were actually in charge of Bush Administration foreign policy. This charge relegated George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleeza Rice, Colin Powell, Stephen Hadley, and the other Christians who actually set policy to the status of puppets.

And, he points out, in saying that Israel has a right to make what decisions it will take to protect its people, Romney “wasn’t actually veering wildly at all from the bipartisan consensus on this question.”

As to setting red lines for Iran, Goldberg also notes that it is “hardly outrageous” for Israel’s prime minister to try to get an assessment of what the administration thinks these are, and when it would be willing to act against Iran if need be. (Goldberg also argues in another column that an Obama administration would be more likely to sanction a military strike against Iran than a Romney one.)

Did the Times’ editors to have any embarrassment for not asking Dowd to reconsider her column before posting it? The answer quickly came from editor Andrew Rosenthal, who responded to Politico’s Byers: “No fair-minded reading of Maureen Dowd’s column supports the allegations you and others are making. She makes no reference, direct or implied, to anyone’s religion.”

Rosenthal misses the point. The very terms  “puppet masters” and “snakes” are anti-Semitic images, used to discredit and inflame people against Jews, without openly calling them wrong because they are Jewish. One can use these terms while avoiding openly condemning Jews as responsible for evil policies and events, while knowing readers who always fear Jewish influence behind the scenes get the point and have their prejudices confirmed. Writing at Commentary’s “Contentions,” Jonathan S. Tobin thinks that Dowd’s column amounts to a “tipping point that should alarm even the most stalwart liberal Jewish supporters of the president.”

I wish Tobin was right, but I’m sad to say, I think he is wrong. Dowd’s column will be attributed only to Dowd, although the Obama campaign has evidently sent it around in Twitter messages. While some recent polls suggest that Obama may get less of the Jewish vote than he previously obtained in 2008, most Jewish voters will still vote for and support him. They will do so out of agreement with his liberal and leftist policies, and not because of any stance Obama has taken vis-à-vis Israel.

And that, indeed, is something that to my mind calls for a political psychiatry. Roger L. Simon has written in these pages recently about the “slavish” commitment of American Jews to the Democratic Party, something that goes back to the days of FDR. He hopes that recent events will cause many of them to move away from the Democrats and to reconsider their position, as he did himself. I hope that happens, but I am sanguine about the possibility.  To most liberal Jews I know, being a supporter of Democrats is a given alongside their religion.  Nothing that has taken place yet, I think, will cause a change in their belief system.


Today at PJ Lifestyle: A Happy Rosh Hashanah To Our Jewish Friends