The further to the left or the right you move, the more your lens on life distorts.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

True Believer

I tend not to listen to the President’s speeches when he delivers them, but rather read them—word for word—as soon as is practical after the event. I do this so that President Obama’s well recognized eloquence and charm won’t mask the meaning of his words.

I read Obama’s vaunted middle-east speech this morning. All in all, it was a good speech, but like most others that the President has delivered, he makes two major errors: (1) it appears that he tries to be all things to all people, something that is typical of a political candidate but not a welcome attribute in a true leader, and (2) he often relies on moral equivalence, a verbal trick that is particularly common among those on the Left. The intent is to justify unacceptable behavior using a postmodern context. That is, right and wrong are subjective and we should not condemn barbaric behavior of others (particularly “others” that are on the list of the “oppressed”) because they have their grievances.

Jonathan Tobin comments:
President Obama spoke with his usual charm, polish and eloquence in Cairo this morning. These virtues are formidable and, no doubt will win him, if not our country, some friends. But this speech was, like so many of his utterances since taking office, tarnished by a desire to be all things to all people. To be Barack Obama is to be, as he says, a person who can see all issues from all sides and defend American interests while at the same time being everyone’s best friend. He sees himself as someone who can achieve Olympian detachment. Speaking of the Arab-Israeli conflict, he says: “If we see this conflict only from one side or the other, then we will be blind to the truth.”

But there is more than one type of blindness. The search for the truth is not merely an exercise in which all grievances are considered the same. To assert the truth of the Holocaust is appropriate — if unfortunately necessary when addressing an Arab audience — as is calling on the Palestinians to “abandon violence” and to cease “shooting rockets at sleeping children” or blowing up old women on buses.

But the problem with this conflict is not that both sides won’t listen to each other or give peace a chance. That might have been a good point to make prior to the signing of the Oslo peace accords in 1993 when Israel recognized the legitimacy of Palestinian aspirations and began the process of handing over large portions of the area reserved by the League of Nations for the creation of a Jewish National Home for the creation of a Palestinian equivalent. But Israel offered these same Palestinians a state in virtually all of the West Bank and Gaza as well as part of Jerusalem in 2000 and again in negotiations conducted by the government of Ehud Olmert just last year. So, the problem is not that the Israelis don’t want the two state solution that Obama endorsed in Cairo. Rather, it is, as Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said in Washington only a week ago, that the Palestinians aren’t interested in negotiating with Israel.

Even more obnoxious than this refusal to see that the truth about the conflict isn’t to be found through an even-handed “plague on both your houses” approach is his comparison of the Palestinians’ plight to that of African-Americans in the United States before the civil rights era. Israelis have not enslaved Palestinians. The conflict between Israel and the Palestinians rests on the latter’s unwillingness to come to terms with the former’s existence. The plight of Palestinians in Gaza is terrible but it is a direct result of their own decision to choose war over peace, not a lack of understanding on the part of the Jews. Going to the Middle East while ostentatiously avoiding Israel and picking a fight with its leadership sends a message that will resonate throughout the Arab world. His signal that America is now an impartial broker rather than Israel’s ally can only encourage a Palestinian people that continue to reject peace.

There’s an old saying the comes from the street—not the Arab street, but the American street. You’ll hear it stated (in many different forms) in hardscrabble industrial towns, in the farm country of the flyover states, and throughout the urban landscape. Parenthetically, you’ll rarely hear it stated by the so-called intelligencia or in academe.

It’s crude (and I apologize for the crudeness in advance), but it needs to be stated as it is often spoken. It goes like this:
“When you truly begin to believe your own bullshit, you’re in deep trouble. And if those who listen to you begin believing it, they’re in trouble too.”

With all due respect to our new President, after reading the portion of his speech that focuses on the Arab-Israeli conflict—noting the historical omissions and the subtle moral equivalences—I worry that Barack Obama is beginning to truly believe …

Update (6/12/09)

Charles Krauthammer concludes an particularly critical commentary on the President’s use of moral equivalence in his Middle East speech with this comment:
Obama undoubtedly thinks he is demonstrating historical magnanimity with all these moral equivalencies and self-flagellating apologetics. On the contrary. He's showing cheap condescension, an unseemly hunger for applause and a willingness to distort history for political effect.

Distorting history is not truth-telling, but the telling of soft lies. Creating false equivalencies is not moral leadership, but moral abdication. And hovering above it all, above country and history, is a sign not of transcendence but of a disturbing ambivalence toward one's own country.