Good news from Paul Krugman: My own side's anti-semitism doesn't scare me

“Our anti-semites are better than your anti-semites” feels like a bold new frontier in modern partisan tribalism. Trump should have tried that spin after Charlottesville.

As it is, at least he allowed that there were “very fine people” on both sides. As Jeryl Bier says, to Krugs it seems there are very fine anti-semites on only one side.

In his defense, it’s not like pro-Palestinian anti-semites have a history of violence.

As a Twitter pal says, “At least he’s honest about not giving a sh*t when his own side hates Jews.” Indeed — and House Democrats too, really. If that’s not the lesson of the last few days, what is?

Krugman’s colleague on the NYT op-ed page, Bret Stephens, has a trenchant read on the Omar debacle today, specifically the push by some House Dems to treat Omar as the victim in this. There are various ways one could spin her point about Israel supporters having “allegiance” to a foreign country, after all. You could claim, as Pelosi did this morning, that Omar is a sort of idiot child who doesn’t understand her own words. You could claim, as James Clyburn did, that Omar’s had a rougher life than descendants of Holocaust survivors and therefore outranks them in the victim hierarchy. You could claim, as many Democrats did, that all prejudices are bad and so, however you feel about Omar’s dual-loyalty point, we should all be able to agree that it doesn’t deserve special condemnation in the form of a House resolution.

But a few Dems, most notably Kamala Harris, have taken the extra step of trying to present Omar herself as the wronged party. “Hard to watch Rep. Scalise demand that Rep. [Ilhan Omar] be removed from House Foreign Affairs w/o wondering if it’s steeped in Islamophobia,” sniffed Rashida Tlaib. “Congresswoman Omar and her loved ones have had their humanity threatened, both by the general public and by government officials,” Ayanna Pressley complained. Treating the victimizer of Jews as a victim is familiar to Stephens:

As the criticism of Omar mounts, it becomes that much easier for her to seem like the victim of a smear campaign, rather than the instigator of a smear. The secret of anti-Semitism has always rested, in part, on creating the perception that the anti-Semite is, in fact, the victim of the Jews and their allies. Just which powers-that-be are orchestrating that campaign? Why are they afraid of open debate? And what about all the bigotry on their side?

The goal is not to win the argument, at least not anytime soon. Yet merely by refusing to fold, Omar stands to shift the range of acceptable discussion — the so-called Overton window — sharply in her direction. Ideas once thought of as intellectually uncouth and morally repulsive have suddenly become merely controversial. It’s how anti-Zionism has abruptly become an acceptable point of view in reputable circles. It’s why anti-Semitism is just outside the frame, bidding to get in.

“This is how progressivism becomes Corbynism,” Stephens warns. That sounds like an exaggeration because, unlike with Labour, the Corbynites aren’t yet steering the ship of the party. But they’re trying, and Pelosi’s capitulation on reprimanding Omar is a great victory in that effort. As Stephens says, and as I said myself this morning, Omar’s lefty allies drew a line in the sand here because they want to reset the boundaries of acceptable debate on Israel. They’re willing to mainstream some anti-semitism in the interest of mainstreaming much harsher criticism in American politics of the Jewish state. That may be what’s motivating Krugman too. If he has to put up with the nice soft-spoken Muslim congresswoman occasionally wondering if Mossad had a hand in 9/11 or whatever in return for more pressure on Netanyahu to withdraw from the West Bank, he’ll make that trade.

What’s the worst that could happen?

One thought I had last night about all this was whether either party might be more disciplined about casting out bigots in their ranks if they had a more durable majority among the electorate. In a roughly 50/50 country, you kiss off voters of any stripe at your peril; the cynical yet logical thing to do about an ally with toxic views is to paper it over or look the other way to keep his or her supporters within the fold. Democrats mocked Republicans when they finally stripped Steve King of his committee assignments, wondering why it took them 15 years to detect a whiff of white nationalism there. Now here they are with Omar after not one but two incidents involving anti-semitic stereotypes, spinning every which way to avoid having to confront a young Muslim woman of color who’s part of the Fresh! Face! progressive crop in the freshman class. For what it’s worth, though, I don’t think a decisive electoral advantage to either side would do much to change how they handle these things, just because there’s never a good time to shed votes. Today’s seemingly durable majority is tomorrow’s toss-up election; cast out a certain type of voter and you might find yourself missing them when you need them most. Nothing would change.