Friday, October 31, 2008

An "Idiot Wind": The New McCarthyism

In desperation, as his campaign bottoms out, John McCain has abandoned any shred he had left of dignity, honor, integrity and conscience.

Here is the latest attempt to smear Obama through the McCarthyite tactic of "guilt by association": for several days, the McCain camp and its surrogates have been in a tizzy trying to link the Democratic nominee with the foreign-sounding name to a prominent (American) Middle East scholar with a foreign sounding name, Rashid Khalidi. Of course, this is simply the latest in a not-so-subtle attempt to "other" Obama in the minds of white voters. Note the emphasis from Rethugs on Khalidi's Middle East connections, his Arab? Muslim? sounding name, his links to so-called terrorist groups (the P.L.O., in this case), suggestions that he is anti-semitic and violent for voicing criticism of recent Israeli governments, and even claims that he is a neo-Nazi!

Here is Michael Goldfarb, a right-wingnut blogger and McCain surrogate (and general jack-ass), getting embarassed on CNN after throwing around unsubstantiated charges of anti-semitism-by-association against Obama, which he cannot back up:

Yet, despite this ugliness from the McCain campaign, there are some hopeful signs: McCain is getting some serious push-back now from the media on this latest exercise in the low politics of hate and division.

For instance, in response to the above episode, Joe Klein wrote,
Here we have the McCain campaign’s execrable Michael Goldfarb slinging around accusations of anti-semitism—a favorite pastime, as we’ve seen this year, among Jewish neoconservatives.

Andrew Sullivan agreed, writing:
Michael Goldfarb, McCain spokesman, accuses Barack Obama of hanging around with anti-Semites – plural – on CNN. Asked to name one other anti-Semite other than his allegation about Rashid Khalidi, he can’t. He won’t. But he leaves it hanging, refusing to disown or retract the charge. This is pure McCarthyism. And it is the rotten core of McCain.

And Jo-Ann Mort commented:
It has come to this--the red baiting and the nastiness of the McCain/Palin campaign, in desperation to get Jewish support, is now baiting and bad-mouthing a notable Palestinian-American historian, Rashid Khalidi, for his and his wife's friendship with Obama. The Khalidi's know Obama from their time in Hyde Park, when Rashid was a professor at the University of Chicago.

Now at Columbia University, he is someone who has always reached out to all sides in the debate about the future of Israel and Palestine. He has been outspoken in his arguments against Arafat's ways of governing and terrorism and when he was at U of C, he was close to Rabbi Arthur Hertzberg, one of the most important American Jewish figures of our time. For the Republicans to go after him is pure vial--they think that the Jewish vote is so stupid and racist that they will turn away from the Democrats solely on this type of slander. For someone like Daniel Pipes, quoted in today's New York Times story, to call him 'marginal,' is a joke. It's time to move the Center back to the Center--let's hope that happens as of November 5--for the sake of America, the sake of Israel and the sake of Palestine.

This morning, The Washington Post published a scathing editorial hammering John McCain over the Khalidi issue. Titled, "An 'Idiot Wind,'" the editors called this latest of McCain's "increasingly reckless ad hominem attacks" "a vile smear" and praised Obama as "a man of considerable intellectual curiosity who can hear out a smart, if militant, advocate for the Palestinians without compromising his own position. To suggest, as Mr. McCain has, that there is something reprehensible about associating with Mr. Khalidi is itself condemnable -- especially during a campaign in which Arab ancestry has been the subject of insults." Amen.

Similarly, over at Harper's, Scott Horton writes about the Khalidi smear, particularly an article at the conservative National Review by Andrew McCarthy, as a part of "the New McCarthyism." Horton acknowledges that the last weeks of presidential campaigns often see a lot of negativity, but that this year "the process has gotten nuttier and more malicious than usual." Horton knows Khalidi. Here is the portrait he paints:

This doesn’t sound much like the Rashid Khalidi I know. I’ve followed his career for many years, read his articles and books, listened to his presentations, and engaged him in discussions of politics, the arts, and history. In fact, as McCarthy’s piece ran, I was midway through an advance copy of Khalidi’s new book Sowing Crisis: The Cold War and American Dominance in the Middle East. (I’ll be reviewing it next month–stay tuned.) Rashid Khalidi is an American academic of extraordinary ability and sharp insights. He is also deeply committed to stemming violence in the Middle East, promoting a culture that embraces human rights as a fundamental notion, and building democratic societies. In a sense, Khalidi’s formula for solving the Middle East crisis has not been radically different from George W. Bush’s: both believe in American values and approaches. However, whereas Bush believes these values can be introduced in the wake of bombs and at the barrel of a gun, Khalidi disagrees. He sees education and civic activism as the path to success, and he argues that pervasive military interventionism has historically undermined the Middle East and will continue to do so. Khalidi has also been one of the most articulate critics of the PLO and the Palestinian Authority—calling them repeatedly on their anti-democratic tendencies and their betrayals of their own principles. Khalidi is also a Palestinian American. There is no doubt in my mind that it is solely that last fact that informs McCarthy’s ignorant and malicious rants.

And here is John Judis of the New Republic on the subject:

Josh Marshall, of TPM, sums it up this way:
For McCain, personally, to compare Khalidi to a neo-nazi, it's just an offense McCain should never be forgiven for. It's right down in the gutter with Joe McCarthy and the worst of the worst. Khalidi is in this new McCain set piece for one reason -- as a generic Arab, to spur the idea that Obama is foreign, friendly with terrorists and possibly Muslim.

Let me underscore that Khalidi is American-born and Ivy educated and while his ideas are controversial to some (by the way, just about anyone who writes seriously and complexly about the Middle East is "controversial to some"), Khalidi is a complex, well-respected scholar of the Middle-East who advocates an end to violence there through a mediated solution. In fact, he has been involved, formally, in various peace negotiations.

Let me also write that underlying the obvious slime of this and other attacks is a profound, on-going assault on academic freedom, the free-flow of ideas in our democratic society and the whole idea of intellectualism. (Note how "well" this anti-intellectual philosophy has worked out over the last 8 years with the Boy Idiot King in charge of things in the U.S. Uh... not so good.) For a long time now, conservatives have played the anti-intellectual/anti-academia card in order to rally a populist, anti-elitist base to their thoroughly elitist economic policies. They demonize the very idea that it might make some sense to have folks with some know-how on an issue involved with that issue in government. They attack the notion that a studied knowledge of a subject is a good thing in government. And, this is the way of authoritarians: they rule with an iron fist, scared of any and all competing ideas, frightened at intellectual honesty and complexity, and so they move to crush it. They do not have faith in the power of their own ideas over competing ones, because the ideas they espouse are undemocratic and largely bankrupt.

It is important for all of us, every citizen, to understand that fundamental to institutions of higher education is the principle of academic freedom. The idea is that campuses are places where all kinds of ideas can get a hearing and be discussed, challenged and turned over openly and publicly, or in the mediated forum of a classroom. Campuses are places where competing ideas are pit against one another and students and the public alike are encouraged to engage them, grapple with them, and make decisions and judgments for themselves. This is the work we do, regardless of discipline, in academia. We are charged with developing young minds and helping them to critically assess all kinds of ideas and make informed judgments, based on evidence. This is the root of critical thinking and citizenship in a democracy, too! We have faith, on campus and in democracy, that the best ideas will win out in the end, if this free flow is unencumbered, if people have access to information and if they are equipped with some basic skills.

Like the 1st amendment, academic freedom means the most when it is extended to those opinions and views we might not agree with. It is here where we must be most vigilant in defending intellectual freedom.

I hope you will stand with me to defend academic freedom, the free flow of ideas and our basic liberties in the United States. If we do not, our democracy is truly imperiled...


  1. Here's an interesting clip from the third party debate last week, with Nader accusing both Obama and McCain of antisemitism against Arab people, for what its worth...

    As to academic freedom and the free flow of ideas: Both sides can be criticized here. Neither were willing to debate Nader and other candidates, and both refuse to acknowledge the opinion of the majority of Americans whether it be about opening the debates, single payer health care or the Wall Street bailout package. The exclusion and slandering of unpopular ideas is regretful, but the disregarding of popular sentiment is just as distasteful.

    I think a prerequisite to having a university system and media where the free flow of ideas is taken seriously, we'd have to have a truly public airwaves and a truly open academic system. I'm taking an International Politcal Economy course currently where Marxism is disregarded out of hand as being "disproved," and where the teacher assumes consensus on the principle of "free trade" as beneficial to all. Not only is it nearly impossible to bring up alternative critiques of political economy, I'd fail the class if I took a position disregarding the consensus we're told exists about the benefits of globalized capital. It really isn't an open debate when you get punished or excluded on the basis of your perspective, regardless of the evidence that makes that perspective legitimate.

  2. Hi Charles,

    I share your concern that there are a number of threats to academic freedom and free intellectual discourse in our society. I don't pit those threats against each other as an either/or...

    I probably wouldn't call the presidential debate issue an "academic freedom" issue. I support open debates, too, but there does need to be a way to decide who gets in and who does not. A base threshold of demonstrated public support is a minimum and I don't think Nader achieves that this time around. In 2000, I think he did...

    Anyway, there is no doubt that both major parties and the corporations who back the debate commission have interest in limiting access. I share your desire to open up all kinds of democratic processes. So, no argument there.

    One last time, I simply think it a poor strategic decision to spend time and energy on the hopeless Nader campaign in 2008.

    As to your lame professor, I feel your pain. There are lame teachers all around. if you can make an argument based on solid countervailing evidence, they should not punish you. If you think they are and you can defend it with some evidence, you do have recourse through the department chair.

    C'mon over to History and breath in the fresh air of academic freedom... (smile)

  3. I will hopefully be breathing some of that fresh air in your African American History to 1877 class this spring. Looking forward to it.

    -I meant that the exclusion of ALL third party candidates was evidence of a less-than-free flow of ideas in our discussions about politics and the direction of this country. ALL four major third party candidates are on enough states ballots to theoretically be able to win the election. That seems to me criteria enough to give them a chance to debate the Democrats and Republicans. As Nader has said numerous times, he could visit every state and not reach 10% of the people who watch the debates. The major media refuses (for the most part) to cover his and the other third party campaigns.

  4. You are taking Jeannette Jones's African American Studies class next semester. She does the first half of the intro cycle. I do from the end of the CiviL War to the present. Next semester, I am teaching a class on America in the 1960s (HIST 397) and the intro Ethnic Studies class (ETHN 100).

    No doubt our system is deeply flawed and far from open or truly democratic.