The final episode of the first season of Aaron Sorkin’s Newsroom just aired. In the climactic final scene the protagonist called the Tea Party the American Taliban. The people of the newsroom respond proudly as though they had finally spoken truth to power, and called evil by its real name. It was the perfect climax for Sorkin’s dangerous world view, whose central tenets appear to include:
- Religions are all the same except for silly irrelevant details.
- All religions and nations have equally evil right wing religious fanatics.
As we saw when Mitt Romney was condemned for suggesting that cultural differences might be a factor in the economic differences between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, it’s considered primitive and bigoted to suggest that one nation or religion is better than another.
It is an article of faith that religions and nations differ only in the details. Other nations are at least as good as America and Israel, and other religions are at least as good as Jews and Christians.
The differences within each nation and religion must be bigger than the differences between them. Thus good people focus their lives on fighting the evil people within their own nation or religious tradition. Though apparently the idea of a Judeo-Christian tradition allows many Jews to demonstrate their moral superiority by attacking both Jews and Christians.
Tea Party = The American Taliban
The view that differences between religions is dwarfed by differences within each religion forces people like Sorkin to find Jewish and Christian equivalents to the Taliban.
So a few nights ago Sorkin’s hero listed the parallels between the Tea Party and the Taliban.
For example, they both have “a need to control women’s bodies.” Sorkin’s character didn’t expand on that, so I will.
Tea Party War on Women
Some members of the Tea Party:
- Think employers should not be compelled to purchase contraceptives and abortifacients for their employees. Basic morality and the US Constitution deny the government the legal or moral right to force me buy you condoms or birth control pills if that violates my ethical or religious values. Polls show that most women agree.
- Want to limit or ban abortion. Polls show that slightly more American women (46%) consider themselves Pro-Life than Pro-Choice (44%) and that roughly two thirds of American women think abortion should be illegal in most or all circumstances.
Taliban War on Women
Let’s compare that to the Taliban. In The Taliban’s War on Women, Physicians for Human Rights wrote that the Taliban:
“.. has targeted women for extreme repression and punished them brutally for infractions … methodically and violently forced half of its population into virtual house arrest, prohibiting them on pain of physical punishment from showing their faces, seeking medical care without a male escort, or attending school.
“… forbidding women to work outside the home, attend school, or to leave their homes unless accompanied by a husband, father, brother, or son. In public, women must be covered from head to toe in a burqa …
“… ordered all hospitals in Kabul to suspend medical services to the city’s half million women at all but one, poorly-equipped hospital for women. Female medical workers also were banned from working in Kabul’s 22 hospitals. … the sole facility available to women … had 35 beds and no clean water, electricity, surgical equipment, X-ray machines, suction, or oxygen.
“… ordered the closing of more than 100 privately funded schools where thousands of young women and girls were receiving training in skills that would have helped them support their families. … education must be limited to girls up to the age of eight, and restricted to the Qur’an. Taliban policies that restrict women’s rights and deny basic needs are often brutally and arbitrary enforced by the “religious police” (Department for the Propagation of Virtue and the Suppression of Vice) usually in the form of summary, public beatings.
“PHR’s researcher when visiting Kabul in 1998, saw a city of beggars — women who had once been teachers and nurses now moving in the streets like ghosts under their enveloping burqas, selling every possession and begging so as to feed their children. … deliberately created such poverty by arbitrarily depriving half the population under its control of jobs, schooling, mobility, and health care. Such restrictions are literally life threatening to women and to their children.
The Taliban’s War on Women, Physicians for Human Rights
Yup. Sounds like the Tea Party.
It would be difficult to overstate the moral and intellectual bankruptcy involved in comparing the Tea Party to the Taliban, or the Republican’s positions with the Taliban’s War on Women.
One could argue that an organization that was truly concerned with women’s health, happiness, and rights would focus on stopping the actual Taliban, Al Qaeda, and their allies from increasing their power and reach, not on making sure American men and women don’t have to pay for their own contraceptives.
Settlers and Terrorists
Israelis are familiar with these depraved equivalencies from all those who frequently condemned “the extremists on both sides,” the Arab terrorists and the Jewish settlers. As though blowing up a school bus filled with young girls and boys were the same as building a school, or walking into an ice cream store and murdering a grandmother and her grandkids at close range and in cold blood were the same as building a home.
My first exposure to Sorkin’s denial of differences between religions followed a classic scene in his presidential drama West Wing. The president walks into a church and starts challenging God:
“You’re a son-of-a-bitch, You know that? She bought her first new car and You hit her with a drunk driver. What, was that supposed to be funny? … What did I ever do to Yours except praise His glory and praise His name? …
“Have I displeased You, You feckless thug? … [In Latin:] Am I to believe those were the acts of a loving God? A just God? A wise God? To hell with Your punishments! I was Your servant on Earth – I spread Your word and did Your work. To hell with Your punishments. To hell with You.”
President Bartlet, West Wing
This may have been the most Jewish scene ever written (mostly) in English. Sure, it was in a church, the actor and character were both Catholic, and the final words were in Latin. But it was a uniquely Jewish religious experience.
When God changes Jacob’s name to Israel He establishes Israel’s identity as the nation that fights with man and with God. Abraham, Moses, Gideon and others continue the noble tradition of speaking truth to power, even when that power is the Almighty.
Fighting those who fight evil
Not surprisingly, many Jews maintain the fighting instinct, with all the arrogance and self-righteousness that sometimes unfortunately accompany it, but lack the courage and integrity to stand up to real evil. So they take the fight to those who do stand up to evil. On the plus side, it’s usually safer. For them.
“When you don’t confront real evil, you hate those who do. You can see this on almost any school playground. The kid who confronts the school bully is often resented more than the bully.
“Whether out of guilt over their own cowardice or fear that the one who confronted the bully would provoke the bully to lash out more, those who refuse to confront the bully often resent the one who does. During the 1980s, the left expressed far more hatred of Ronald Reagan than of Soviet Communist dictator Leonid Brezhnev. And, when Reagan labeled the Soviet Union an “evil empire,” the liberal world was enraged … at Reagan.
“Those (usually on the left) who refused to confront communism hated those (usually on the right) who did. They called the latter “war mongers,” “cold warriors,” charged them with having “missile envy” and with loving war.
“Today, the left has similar contempt for those who take a hard line on Islamic terror. The liberal and leftist media routinely place quote marks around the words War on Terror. To the left, such a war is manufactured by rightists for nefarious reasons (oil, self-enrichment, imperialism, etc.). Indeed, the Obama administration has actually forbidden use of the term “Islamic terror.” America is at war with a nameless enemy. The real enemies the Democratic administration is prepared to name are the Republican Party, tea parties, Fox News and talk radio.”
In Sorkin’s first classic, the movie A Few Good Men, the villains were a misogynist militant and a Christian fundamentalist. The hero was a liberal Christian with a liberal Jewish advisor. Sorkin kept this formula through the West Wing, though for diversity, he added a second liberal Jewish advisor and a greater variation of Christian Republican villains.
The conservative villains often throw in some subtle anti-Semitism. In the climax of A Few Good Men, the villain sneers “Who’s going to defend us? You, Lieutenant Weinberg?” He emphasizes the Weinberg.
The pilot of West Wing has this beauty:
Mary [evil conservative Christian]: It was only a matter of time with you, Josh. That New York sense of humor was just a little…”
Josh: I’m from Connecticut.
Toby: She meant Jewish. When she said New York sense of humor, she was talking about you and me.
The scene continues with the conservative Christians not knowing the Ten Commandments, and the liberal Catholic president booming in to the room citing the first commandment, and then telling a horrifying story about how Pro-Life monsters harassed his twelve year old daughter.
It was classic Sorkin. A powerful character introduction in a great scene in the middle of a disgusting propaganda hit piece against the Christian right. It perfectly captured why I can’t stop watching Sorkin’s shows, but always feel I need a shower afterwards. Perhaps we each have our own masochistic guilty pleasures.
His most personal attack was against a Republican Jew. Newsroom frequently mixes fact and fiction, but Sorkin’s earlier works rarely contained characters that were identifiable replicas of real people. He made an exception for Dr. Laura Schlessinger. Schlessinger was a conservative who had recently converted to Judaism, and become Orthodox. Sorkin based a character on her and had the president destroy it. The idea of bashing real political figures that can’t defend themselves because it’s your script has become a staple in Newsroom. Schlessinger left Judaism a few years later, citing all the abuse she got from liberal and tolerant Jews.
Regarding a different occasion a few years earlier the real life Schlessinger said:
“When I first started talking on my show about being Jewish, I was warned that anti-Semitism would come out of the Christian community. From day one that has never happened; I’ve gotten calls from ministers, pastors, priests, and nuns unbelievably supportive that I was standing up for communal values, right? And here I am, blindsided by my own people.”
Stars of David, Abigael Pogrebin
Judaism and Christianity are different
Consider Sorkin’s reply to people who thought his characters were Jewish.
“It doesn’t matter how many times I have Martin Sheen [as President Bartlet] talking to priests, quoting the new Testament scripture, talking about how he almost went to the seminary, talking to God in the National Cathedral in Latin; doesn’t matter how many times I do that.” Sorkin shouts, “ ‘He’s a liberal smarty-pants; he’s a Jew!’”
Stars of David, Abigail Pogrebin
He recognizes that religions differ in their language, their holy books, and their architecture. He presumably recognizes differences in theology and rituals.
But he rejects the possibility that religions differ in their core values and experiences. Jews, Christians, and Muslims have very different views on the central questions such as man’s relationship with God, man’s purpose in the world, the relationship between church and state, and how we treat members of different faiths.
President Bartlet walks into a House of God and calls the Almighty an SOB who should go to hell. Now that’s too strong even for me. But I recognize it as part of my tradition. Unlike Sorkin and his characters, Abraham and Moses tempered their chutzpah with humility, self-restraint, and respect. They never told God to go to hell. But they did stand up and challenge Him in a way that Christian and Muslim figures don’t.
Sorkin seems genuinely confused and angry that people don’t buy the confrontation with God as a genuine Catholic experience. He mocks those that think that religions differ in anything substantial, like how we interact with God.
Sorkin has no problem defining Jews as different on issues of temperament. He portrays Jews as paranoid, insecure and negative. It’s only on issues of substance, values, and ideas that he demands we view everybody as the same. Diversity in everything except thought and values. It’s fine for Jews to be the people of Woody Allen, but not the people of Moses.
Sorkin’s refusal to acknowledge differences between religions allows him to be an ideological warrior in a politically correct fashion. It’s the good members of each nation and religion against the bad members of each nation and religion. Good Jews, Christians, Muslims and atheists vs. bad Jews, Christian and Muslims. I assume there are no bad atheists in this worldview since the worldview implies that all evil originates from bad religion.
It’s a shame, because Sorkin has such talent. He has the ability to create great characters who each hold consistent and powerful world views. Sorkin asserts that Newsroom’s protagonist is a Republican, but he never debates the Democrats on the issues that divide them. That could make a good show. Instead the show is all about how good Republicans join the Democrats in denying American Exceptionalism and fighting the American Taliban.