November 3, 2008

“Are Obama’s Friends Fair Game?”

Bari Weiss, WSJ:

It’s not every presidential election that American voters are introduced to characters like former domestic terrorist Bill Ayers or Middle East historian Rashid Khalidi — both of whom, we have learned, Barack Obama worked and socialized with in Chicago.

To the Obama campaign, these men are unimportant, except as products of the McCain campaign’s desperate willingness to deploy tactics of guilt-by-association. But faced with Mr. Obama’s short record, pundits and voters are looking for clues about Mr. Obama’s character, and thus at friends like Messrs. Ayers and Khalidi.

I took a class with Mr. Khalidi at Columbia University. He designed the course, a survey of Modern Middle East history, on his 2004 book, “Resurrecting Empire: Western Footprints and America’s Perilous Path in the Middle East.” The book, inspired by the work of the late Edward Said, is a polemic against the use of American power in the Middle East. Said is quoted, prophesying: “We are in for many more years of turmoil and misery in the Middle East, where one of the main problems is, to put it as plainly as possible, American power.”

For the final exam, we were asked to respond to the following: “The United States has been an unmitigated force for good in the world.” No one doubted the professor’s view on the matter.

Disdain for American power and a muscular foreign policy are the standard at Columbia. But in rereading “Resurrecting Empire” this past week, I took new note of the book’s dedication: to Said, and to Mr. Ayers. Mr. Khalidi writes: “First, chronologically and in other ways, comes Bill Ayers. He persuaded me a little over a year ago that I should write this book . . . Bill was particularly generous in letting me use his family’s dining room table to do some of the writing for this project.” Mr. Khalidi also thanks Mr. Ayers’s notorious wife: “Bernardine Dohrn continually encouraged me to keep working on the book when I was traveling and at home.”

This dedication is an insight into Mr. Obama’s social milieu in Chicago. In April, Mr. Obama dismissed Mr. Ayers simply as “a guy who lives in my neighborhood” — omitting that the two men had worked together for years at a multimillion dollar foundation. Other notable parts of the record: Mr. Obama held an early meeting of his campaign for Illinois State Senate in Mr. Ayers’s living room; Mr. Obama blurbed a 1997 book of Mr. Ayers as “searing and timely”; and Mr. Obama toasted Mr. Khalidi at a 2003 farewell dinner for the professor who was moving from the University of Chicago to Columbia.

Is it fair for voters to judge Mr. Obama by some of the company he has kept? Mr. Khalidi implied last week that he thinks not. The controversy over his connection to Mr. Obama was “an idiot wind,” he said. But Mr. Khalidi is not shy about judging others by their associations. In explaining the 2003 American invasion of Iraq, Mr. Khalidi pointed to a favorite target of left-wing academics, neoconservative government policy makers and their connections to Israel. He wrote:

“The idea that the neocons and [the Israeli right-wing party] Likud are joined at the hip is reinforced by a revealing piece of intellectual affinity: University of Chicago professor Leo Strauss, the revered mentor of [Deputy Defense Secretary] Paul Wolfowitz, his deputy in the Pentagon Avram Shulsky, and many other neocon leading lights, was a great admirer of Vladimir Jabotinsky, founder of the extreme ultranationalist Revisionist branch of Zionism from which Likud has grown.”

So on the one hand, Mr. Khalidi charges that American voters today would be caught in an “idiot wind” if they worry about Mr. Obama’s connections to radical intellectuals. Yet Mr. Khalidi and many of his colleagues write volumes about how a group of intellectuals supposedly hijacked American foreign policy during this decade. It’s not only the right that argues that friendships — particularly when they are animated by political questions — should be taken into account.

Well, naturally.

As a disciple of Said, Khalidi is perfectly comfortable distinguishing between those whose authenticity gives them the mandate to shape the narrative, and those who lack of authenticity necessarily negate their insights, reducing them to a kind of intellectual imperialism.

That universities have long bought into this nonsense — and that “multiculturalism,” as the inbred child of such an incestuous notion of insular and consensus-drive group epistemology, has reached the level of institutionalization even in the private sector — is one of the sadder concessions made by Western scholars and politicisan, and the one that remains at the heart of the anti-intellectualist movement both within the humanities and social sciences, and within a good portion of the legal and political professions.

I’ve already detailed how Obama’s association with Ayers — which marks the repackaging of the radical New Left into a more voter-friendly product (helped out, of course, by the aforementioned mainstreaming of “multiculturalism” and all it has engendered: from the fundamentally anti-liberal “diversity” movement to the reconsideration of free speech through the prism of government-declared “tolerance”) — marks a triumph of the Alinsky strategy, one in which a domestic terrorist is rehabilitated as an “educational reformer,” and his charge, a one-time community organizer with ties to Maoists, communists, Black Liberation Theology, corrupt Chicago politics, and an apologist for Palestinian terrorism, is elevated, as a near cipher, to the possible position of President. Their relationship is, I’ve noted, the culmination of the progressive’s march through our institutions.

But perhaps even more troubling is Obama’s seeming intellectual connection to Said’s pernicious tribalist ideas — ideas that attempt to completely invalidate Enlightenment epistemology and seek in turn to relegate every struggle to a battle between groups and will.

Said’s thinking (which, perversely and ironically, has been picked up by Western scholars as a new kind of Orientalism, only this time on Said’s terms!) represents the biggest danger to classical liberal ideas inasmuch as it invalidates individualism, and takes pains to ghettoize epistemology, until the resultant paradigm gives us nothing but competing narratives, none more “right” than the next except by virtue of the “authenticity” of those who claim control over each.

It is poison — but it lies at the heart of the mechanisms used by modern day progressives to undermine the principles upon which this country was created.

It represents the apotheosis of cynically applied subjectivism. It is designed to undermine notions of right and wrong as existing apart from those communities who are granted the authority to decide such things, and as a result, it represents a threat to the idea of a nation state built around an idea of laws that apply equally to all.

Obama is about to take that worldview to the Oval Office.

Those who rejoice now do so only because they see this as a power advantage. In the end, though, this is the path to totalitarianism. So let us never forget those who have pushed us in this direction — including those so-called conservatives who are doing so solely so they can make Sarah Palin jokes in the “right” company.

(h/t Terry Hastings)

Posted by Jeff G. @ 10:53am
19 comments | Trackback

Comments (19)

  1. Peggy Noonan thinks it’s beautiful when totalitarianism advances so decorously. I don’t. Peggy’s a narcissist what thinks the sweep of history needs must have her imprimatur. I hope she dies in a government hospital.

  2. Nobody stares at her bosom anymore. Except for, like, David Frum.

    That has to be dispiriting.

  3. Happyfeet, let me just say that whatever the outcome tomorrow, I would truly love to buy you a beer out here in the real world, but I will require you to sit and chat during consumption of same.

    In other words, I’m not just sending you $5.

  4. Heads, I win. Tails, you lose. Nice game, if you can find suckers to play. As even the Soviets learned, when working doesn’t pay, people don’t work.

    Good luck with that healthcare, the doctor will be right in. If he feels like it.

  5. And by the way Jeff, same goes for you. Only I will just send you money, although it’s not as much as you’d like, in all probability.

  6. I hope she dies in a government hospital.

    Ah, happy. That is truly beautiful. I laughed, I cried.

    which, perversely and ironically, has been picked up by Western scholars as a new kind of Orientalism, only this time on Said’s terms

    Once you stop thinking it’s ironic, it’s obvious how it always wasn’t.

    Non-Whitey post-(whatever)ism is minstrelsy.

    Speaking of which —

    Quoting Dylan, ‘Sheed? Gotta dance when you’re cued, I know, but that’s fucking grotesque.

    And Obama said he had “Maggie’s Farm” on his iPod. Which, sure.

    Show a little self-respect, stooges.

  7. oh. hey. That would be nice I think. I keep meaning to meet actual not-socialist people but it’s always oh well maybe next week. I even say howdy to people sometimes instead of hey or hi but that just filters out certain of the socialists. I’ve heard rumors of not socialist people here but usually they turn out to be 50+ married ladies.

  8. Once you stop thinking it’s ironic, it’s obvious how it always wasn’t.

    I don’t think it is ironic. But I’m hoping those who have never thought it such might learn to see the irony for having never before recognized that it was, in fact, inevitably not.

  9. A bit off topic, but Rashid Khalidi is not an apologist for Palestinian terrorism. In fact, he makes it very clear that intentional attacks on civilian populations should always be condemned in the strongest terms. What he disagrees with is the idea that attacks on IDF soldiers occupying Palestinian territory should be considered acts of terrorism. This is perfectly reasonable and prudent. Frankly, I don’t understand why it should even be considered controversial.

    Should the Anbar Awakening fighters, many of whom were once insurgents that targeted U.S. forces, be considered terrorists or ex-terrorists? Of course not. But if we are to assume that shooting at troops of a foreign occupation is terrorism, then they certainly would be considered just that.

  10. But perhaps even more troubling is Obama’s seeming intellectual connection to Said’s pernicious tribalist ideas — ideas that attempt to completely invalidate Enlightenment epistemology and seek in turn to relegate every struggle to a battle between groups and will.

    The lefts success at that last is evidenced by their ability to broaden the battle to include even the friggen weather!

  11. AJB: Killing IDF instead of random civilians merely moves them from the “terrorist” group into the “guerilla” group. They’re still unlawful combatants, since they don’t wear identifiable uniforms.

  12. Nobody stares at her bosom anymore. Except for, like, David Frum.

    And I’ll bet she returns the favor.

    Sorry if the thought of a shirtless David Frum spoiled anyone’s lunch.

  13. Wow. You’re gonna miss Bush even more than I am.

  14. It’s those most convinced that they can see the sickness in modern society everywhere around them, who usually in fact represent that sickness.

    Pretty convinced of that, aren’t you?

  15. I can’t wait for the day when the Dems declare victory over climate change because of the squiggly bulbs, and our energy needs assured due to the proper tire inflation.

    Both were Obama inventions you know…

  16. AJB

    What he disagrees with is the idea that attacks on IDF soldiers occupying Palestinian territory should be considered acts of terrorism.

    You do know, don’t you, that Arab-Palestinians consider the whole of Israel “occupied” territory and Jews worthy only of expulsion and death?

  17. Dems will declare “victory” over climate change when more than half the US reverts to my grandparent’s age … no electricity, no autos, and a declining population due to shortened life span (rationing of medical care…nothing for those over 65)

    Obama is clear … bankrupt the coal industry, no drilling for oil, get natural gas off the table, no nuke and “necessarily sky high electric rates” in order fundamentally change American behavior.

  18. It’s those most convinced that they can see the sickness in modern society everywhere around them, who usually in fact represent that sickness.

    You wouldn’t happen to have a mirror handy, would you glasnost?

  19. The question is, Jeff, how far does the indictment game go? Toward self-indictment, I assure you.

    How in the eff do you know anything of Said or Orientalism if you yourself didn’t at one time or another hold in your grubbers Said’s works? Can I get a witness! And how long did the conversation in your machinations with Said’s narratives last? What conclusions did you draw from Said’s representations of colonialism, imperialism? Sure. How do we know your rejection is/was sincere when you didn’t have the moral courage to reject Said’s words before you read them?

    Ah, to sit back and judge others with allegations built on the the air of endless suspicions. I should get in on that racket. How much does it pay?

    It is poison — but it lies at the heart of the mechanisms used by modern day progressives to undermine the principles upon which this country was created.

    I don’t recall relentless defamation being a principle this country was founded on.

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