Making the click-through worthwhile: The mask slips from Valerie Plame, the media continues to treat unhinged political voices quite seriously, a cynical prediction on the health care debate, and a long-lost pop culture podcast returns!
Don’t Lay the Plame on Me.
Thursday’s controversy began with former CIA employee Plame tweeting out a link to an article headlined, “America’s Jews Are Driving America’s Wars.” The article’s sub-headline asked, “Shouldn’t they recuse themselves when dealing with the Middle East?” (Got that? If you are a particular religion, you should not deal with Middle East policy at all, because your religion will automatically skew your judgment. Good thing Christianity and Islam don’t have any ties to the Middle East, right? I guess the author would prefer that U.S. foreign policy in the region was managed by Scientologists.)
The article — which I won’t link to, go find it yourself — was pretty explicit in the insistence that Jews couldn’t be trusted to work on American foreign policy:
Any American should be free to exercise first amendment [sic] rights to debate possible options regarding policy, up to and including embracing positions that damage the United States and benefit a foreign nation. But if he or she is in a position to actually create those policies, he or she should butt out and leave the policy generation to those who have no personal baggage.
For those American Jews who lack any shred of integrity, the media should be required to label them at the bottom of the television screen whenever they pop up, e.g. Bill Kristol is “Jewish and an outspoken supporter of the state of Israel.” That would be kind-of-like a warning label on a bottle of rat poison — translating roughly as “ingest even the tiniest little dosage of the nonsense spewed by Bill Kristol at your own peril.”
Public identification of Jews? Would he prefer a gold star sewn onto the clothes or maybe a tattoo?
(Separately . . . this guy is worried about Bill Kristol setting the foreign policy in Trump administration? Has he completely missed everything that’s happened in American politics since 2014 or so?)
In the face of objections, Plame doubled down, declaring the article, “very provocative, but thoughtful. Many neocon hawks ARE Jewish . . . Read the entire article and try, just for a moment, to put aside your biases and think clearly.” That’s right, we’re the ones who are biased (in favor of treating everyone equally and fairly, regardless of religious belief!) and not thinking clearly.
At some point between 11:50 a.m. and 1 p.m., someone must have reached out to Plame and explained just how virulently anti-Semitic she sounded, just how reprehensible the article’s arguments were, and just how politically radioactive she was becoming. She followed up with, “OK folks, look, I messed up. I skimmed this piece, zeroed in on the neocon criticism, and shared it without seeing and considering the rest.” (This doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, considering how an hour earlier, she was telling everyone else to “read the entire article.”)
Looking through Plame’s Twitter feed, we see this is not a one-off. She repeated an urban legend about dancing Israelis sighted after 9/11 and an article touting “Israeli fingerprints all over the place” in the investigation of the worst terror attack in American history. She shared an article entitled “Why I Still Dislike Israel” that laments the “Israel Lobby electing and controlling a malleable congress [sic] and increasingly even officials at state and local levels.” She commented Natalie Portman was a fine choice to play a young Ruth Bader Ginsburg because “they are both Jewish.” (By itself that’s harmless comment, but in the context of the other ones, Plame seems particularly focused on knowing who’s Jewish and who isn’t.)
The heavily-fictionalized movie version of Plame’s autobiography, Fair Game, featured her and her husband Joe Wilson (played by Sean Penn) on the run from . . . a shadowy conspiracy of powerful people who secretly control the government. All of a sudden, those Hollywood thriller clichés have an uncomfortable new context.
If Plame has always had a sympathy or curiosity about anti-Semitic conspiracy theories . . . well, a couple of things start to fall into place, don’t they? The animosity towards the Bush administration, the focus on “neocons” . . . the possibility that her work at the Agency was less-than-stellar? If she genuinely missed any anti-Semitic themes in the articles she shared, I guess we should be glad she wasn’t an analyst. Sheesh.
Putting America’s Craziest Voices in the Spotlight
Today on the home page, I have a piece attempting to sum up one of the most important lessons in the first eight months of the Trump presidency: Almost all of the people who are opposed to Trump want to use the same methods, tactics and tone that didn’t work as well as they hoped in 2016.
I had debated doing an entire piece on this aspect:
American society has never lacked outrageous controversy-courting personalities who probably need several hours (or years) on a therapist’s couch instead of being taken seriously. But in the Trump era so far, our public debate is more focused, not less, upon these types, and we keep rewarding these gadflies with fame and a high-profile platform. Harvard offered and then rescinded a fellowship to Chelsea Manning, convicted of six counts of espionage. Perhaps Harvard was expecting a scintillating lecture that called for abolishing the CIA and the presidency, or they Manning would once again compare U.S. immigration enforcement to the Gestapo. Vogue gave Manning a glossy profile, complete with glamorous photos by Annie Liebovitz.
Upon arrival at NBC News, Megyn Kelly profiled Alex Jones, who worries that chemicals are turning frogs gay and who has asked whether the Sandy Hook shooting was a hoax. (She described him as a “conservative radio host.”) The Huffington Post still reports the utterances of Kathy Griffin, who thought that it was a good idea to pose, ISIS-style, with a fake severed head, dripping fake blood and made to look like President Trump’s.
Members of the media are finally growing reluctant to re-tweet the increasingly outrageous claims of Louis Mensch; all it took for serious skepticism to kick in was her claim that Russian president Vladimir Putin had Andrew Breitbart killed, that both Steven Bannon and President Trump were facing the death penalty for espionage, and that Utah senator Orrin Hatch was preparing to assume the presidency.
(Cue the jokes: Nobody who roots for the Jets or who thought they could follow the plot of Twin Peaks should criticize anyone else’s sanity.)
We all know people who are odd, eccentric, or march to the beat of their own drummer, but these cases feel like they take several steps beyond that point of amiable idiosyncrasies.
And no, it’s not merely the Left that has self-appointed advocates who seem to have a shaky grasp of reality. There are many critics of the president who doubt his sanity, or would point to Congressman Dana Rohrabacher’s belief that the Charlottesville riot was a left-wing “setup for these dumb Civil War re-enactors,” or those who believed Hillary Clinton and the highest levels of the Democratic party were running a child abuse and trafficking ring out of a pizzeria.
But I feel like a growing portion of our media conversation is, “oh my goodness, you won’t believe what this person known for making controversial statements has just said!” Er, yes I will! This is what these people do!
A Cynical Prediction:
The U.S. Senate will attempt to pass the Graham-Cassidy health care reform bill, and again come close but no cigar. At least three of the following senators will vote “no”: Rand Paul, Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, or John McCain.
In this scenario, everyone gets close to what they want, except the American people who want to get rid of Obamacare. About 48 to 49 Senate Republicans will be able to say they voted multiple times to repeal and replace. House speaker Paul Ryan will point to the House’s passage of the American Health Care Act, and that he was ready to pass Graham-Cassidy if it passed the Senate.
John McCain will get cheered by the media for being a maverick — “The Republican who ran against Barack Obama in 2008 turned out to be the man who saved his signature accomplishment” — and Collins and Murkowski will insist they’re just being sensible moderates who want to protect the most vulnerable in their state.
Rand Paul will continue to insist that he supports repeal and replace, just not this repeal and replace, and lots of Kentucky residents will keep their benefits from Medicaid expansion. Republicans will insist you need to reelect them to get rid of Obamacare and fix the health care system, and they won’t be responsible for the condition of the health care system in November 2018.
Oh, and Jimmy Kimmel will get lauded by progressives as the hero who stopped those mean, nasty Republicans.
ADDENDA: After a long absence because of schedule coordination issues, the pop culture podcast returns with a new episode later today! Mickey shares her adventures in dispensaries in Colorado; I let out a final frustrated yowl about what the Twin Peaks reboot became; we salute American Horror Story for an unpredictable perspective on Trump-era anxiety; we take some comfort in the fact that NBA superstar Kevin Durant is as bothered by social media criticism as the rest of us; and Rolling Stone looks for a buyer. Now available on iTunes!