The Corner

Yglesias & Lindbergh

A bunch of left-leaning readers have been beating me up for my “slur” and “slander” of Matt Yglesias and Wes Clark the other day. They sent me to posts by Ezra Klein and Yglesias himself. Yglesias writes :

Oh, excellent, now Jonah Goldberg says I’m Charles Lindberg. Fantastic. See Ezra. I’ll cop to not actually knowing anything about the real historical record of Lindberg, but I take the point of the reference to be a not-so-thinly veiled effort to once again call Wesley Clark and myself anti-semites. One noteworthy thing about the way these debates unfold is that people taking the Jonah G. side of these arguments invariably twist people’s words around. Look back through this current controversy and you’ll see that I don’t accuse “the Jews” of having a pernicious influence on anything. If you do want to talk about “the Jews” as a class, we’ve had a beneficial impact on US foreign policy lately, voting in overwhelming numbers for congressional Democrats, putting Nancy Pelosi in the Speaker’s Chair and thereby somewhat restraining Bush’s poor national security policies.

The claim is that specific American Jews and the organizations they run and finance have had a pernicious impact on American foreign policy (these guys, say). Lots of Jewish Americans — Russ Feingold, M.J. Rosenberg, Eric Alterman — are trying to have a positive impact on American foreign policy.

Me: Okay. So let’s see. I said Yglesias’ and Wes Clark’s position is reminiscent of Lindbergh’s not that Yglesias is Lindbergh. I also wrote that “The merits and motives of the arguments surely differ in important respects, but they are similar in important respects too.” In response Matt admits to “actually knowing nothing about the historical record of Lindbergh” but seems to take offense to the comparison nonetheless — even though I pretty clearly don’t buy the conventional mythology of Lindbergh as a virulent anti-Semite (nor, I would like to think, would any fair-minded reader interpret me as calling Yglesias an anti-Semite of any kind).

As for the substance of Yglesias’ and Ezra Klein’s response it comes down to: It’s only some Jews pushing us to war with Iran (or dangerously influencing foreign policy).

Ah, well, okay. Fair enough — to a very limited point. I’m not going to replay Chait’s able responses on all of this. But that’s not nearly so reassuring or helpful as they think it is — and it’s no defense of Clark’s comments at all. Moreover, it’s no rebuttal of the Lindbergh comparison either. Lindbergh’s infamous comment about the Jews pushing America to war was aimed — in my reading of the speech — at merely some Jews as well. (Though he was surely speaking in more wholesale terms than Ezra or Matt are).  

Look, here’s where I’m coming from. In several venues, I’ve made no secret of the fact that I think the conventional liberal storyline about isolationism being definitionally rightwing is a bunch of bunk . Foreign policy is only “isolationist” when liberals don’t like it. Otherwise it’s “prudent” or “enlightened” or whatever. If you go back and read what people like JT Flynn, Charles Lindbergh, John Dewey, Charles Beard, Joseph Nye, Norman Thomas, the La Follettes et al. actually believed about foreign and domestic policy — and the relationship between the two — it’s hard to see they deserve the label “rightwing” as it’s used today or even, in important respects, how it was used in the 1930s. When I hear someone like Wes Clark referring to Jews, New York money people and the like to explain why we’re moving to war, it stirs echoes of those folks (let’s leave out figures such as Gore Vidal, an avid America Firster and a man with a “nuanced” view of Jews). When I hear today’s Progressives — who share a great many of the policy views of those earlier Progressives — coming to his defense, I hear even more echoes. I don’t claim that history is repeating itself perfectly and my intent wasn’t to smear anybody — which I think a fair reading shows. It was to call attention to an interesting echo.

I stand by that entirely. And if Matt and Ezra want to point fingers only at some Jews or Jewish organizations, so be it. But, please, don’t pretend to take the intellectual and moral high ground while admitting complete ignorance of the acutely relevant historicl record.


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