Reading Arianna Huffington’s latest high-horse commentary about Mel Gibson’s “odious racism” — that is, Gibson’s nutty ravings about “the Jews” when stopped by a traffic cop in Malibu — reminded me of the last time I noticed nutty ravings in the media about “the Jews.”
This was in March, and I was browsing the comments to Arianna’s explanation of the George Clooney affair. (To refresh your memory, Arianna had strung together some comments she’d gleaned from various Clooney interviews into a faux blog post for her site.) I’d noticed this sympathetic response from one of Arianna’s supporters in her comments, who felt that all the flack she’d been getting for stealing Clooney’s thoughts for her blog was unfair: “We are what the MSM is not,” the commenter said of their angelic side of the blogosphere. “We want the truth, we detest lies, we want peace, we hate the war mongers, we want reason, we get angry at rationalizations, we want a democracy for the good of all citizens, we oppose an oligarchy of self rightious political hacks out to promote fascism.”
Cue angelic voices singing “God Bless America.” I often wonder about these people who speak so confidently about all the wonderful things “we” want. But then the commenter got down to brass tacks and I didn’t have to wonder any more: “The only common thread I can see in the misery and death of the American people over the last 40 years is the control of our government by Texans and Jews.”
Oh, so that’s who “we” are. Or to put it another way: “We” are those brave, beleaguered souls who dare stand up to Bush and the neocons. Thanks for the explanation!
And what reminded me of all that was seeing Gibson described as “rightwing” a few days ago in a long, front-page Los Angeles Times feature about whether Gibson really is (or isn’t) anti-Semitic:
“I remember the days when Mel Gibson was nearly as lovable as he thought he was,” said film historian David Thomson. “When he began, he was a widely popular rascal. Women went for him in a big way — if you got involved with him, he’s not going to be exactly a gentleman, but you’d have a pretty good time.”
But when he became a director, Thomson added, Gibson seemed to take himself too seriously and emerged as very right-wing.
“He is very anti-English,” said Thomson, pointing to anti-British portrayals in The Patriot and Braveheart. “And there is a real extraordinary cruelty” in his films.”
Now as it happens, Gibson probably can be fairly described as right-wing, according to other articles I’ve read about him. But the adjective is just plopped into the Times piece as a non-sequitur that can be just left there unexplained… unless you share the belief that being anti-English and fond of cinematic cruelty is, ipso facto, any kind of explanation.
Even in the mainstream media, that’s a pretty strange assumption. But the article’s writer, Mary McNamara, evidently shares the Left’s general, comforting assumption that anti-Semitic automatically equals right-wing. So no further explanation was needed.
Actually, as anyone who’s paid attention to the political shift these last 30 years can’t help but notice, knee-jerk anti-Semitism is now far more commonly found on the Left than on the Right. To me, it’s also more disheartening, because unlike Gibson — who at least has had the grace to be repeatedly and publicly mortified about his drunken remarks once he sobered up — those on the Left never display the least embarrassment about it.
A couple of weeks ago, for instance, I was walking the dog and one of my (conservative, Catholic) neighbors came out of his house to say hello and chat about the news. He told me, still shaking his head with disbelief, that one of his liberal friends had just revealed to him the “real reason” behind Israel’s bombing Hezbollah in Lebanon: Tourism.
The Israelis, this woman had confidently explained, don’t like the competition from all those new hotels in a revived Beirut.
Gee, I guess now that we’re getting a groovy new boutique hotel here in Silver Lake, on the site of what used to be a motel catering to drug addicts, maybe I’d better start building a bomb shelter. But that’s one of the things I like about this neighborhood: Because much of it is still blue-collar/working class, and therefore unexposed to all that anti-America/pro-Arab propaganda common among the educated elite, it’s not as completely and reflexively Lefty as the insulated West Side.
My neighbor’s story reminded me that during the first Gulf War, I was sitting in a Silver Lake coffee shop, feeling depressed from eavesdropping on a conversation at the next table between three men who were evidently crew members for some film production company. A guy in a blond ponytail, who seemed to be in charge, was telling the other two the “real” reason we were in this mess: “Israel.”
I braced myself for the murmurs of agreement I’d been used to hearing on the West Side. But they just stared at him, open-mouthed: “I don’t see what that has to do with Iraq invading Kuwait,” one finally said.
The other day, I noticed commenters at some lefty blog were fuming about my column here last week, the one that had made fun of L.A.’s isolated elites and their 310-area code. I can always tell when these things hit home because the lefties start flailing about with odd accusations — in this case that I’m one of those “gated conservatives” (Silver Lake’s a gated community?); that the West Side is “actually quite conservative” anyway (I guess so, if you define “quite conservative” as “overwhelmingly registered Democrats”); and that, of course, I have no liberal friends.
The truth is that because I live in L.A., most of my friends are liberal, just like if I lived in Rome most would be Roman. Unlike those tolerant Lefties, I don’t limit my friends to people who share my political opinions.
As it happens, my daughter Maia just returned from a month in Santa Barbara at the Young America Foundation’s Reagan Leadership Academy. It was a wonderful experience for many reasons, among them that for once she wasn’t the most conservative person in the crowd.
In fact, they gave Maia a jokey little award calling her a RINO (Republican In Name Only). The truth is that although she’s more conservative than center-right me and sees nothing wrong with being “worldly.” (After all, as I pointed out, Reagan himself must have pretty worldly, since he was president.)
Many of the other kids came from Christian colleges and were homeschooled before that, but — sorry liberal true believers! — they were also all extremely bright and tolerant of dissenting points of view. Maia was one of just three Jewish kids among a class of 26 “future Ann Coulters and Jonah Goldbergs and Fred Barneses,” as she put it. But I’d much rather she have been there when the Israel/Hezbollah war broke out than liberal L.A., having to hear (yet again) about the poor Palestinians.
Maia became especially good friends at the Reagan Leadership Academy with a girl who goes to Brigham Young University and interned for Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts this summer; a Kyrgyz boy from the University of Toronto; and a 17-year-old boy who’d be a freshman at Harvard this September except he wants to take a “gap year” going back to high school for the social life.
The YAF has of course been doing various seminars along these lines for years, but this was the Reagan Leadership Academy’s inaugural program, and so the New York Times sent out a reporter and ran a feature story last week. (That’s her in the red shoulder bag, if you can log in and see the tiny figure in the group photo.) Maia said briskly over breakfast that she was happy to see reporter Jason DeParle honored her request to keep her quotes off the record.
I agreed that was probably a good idea. “Still,” I said, just thinking aloud, “it might have been nice to see you quoted in the New York Times, and they might have run a bigger picture of you then…”
“Uh-uh,” she said firmly. “No. I wanted to help him out, so I told him lots of things, but I don’t want to see myself quoted by some reporter.”
Very sensible, and obviously she’s learned something useful by eavesdropping on my various conversations about this topic — not all of them even about the New York Times’s pushy Sharon Waxman. I’m glad to see she already knows at 17 what most people don’t learn until they’re decades older, sometimes the hard way.
– Catherine Seipp is a writer in California who publishes the weblog Cathy’s World. She is an NRO contributor.