Sunday, August 9th, 2009
Isn’t there something off key in the reaction of a growing number of Jewish leaders to talk show host Rush Limbaugh’s latest outrage? Limbaugh, who has built a stellar career out of carefully orchestrated rage, apparently crossed a line when he likened Democratic health care reform advocates to Nazis and said President Obama has “a health care logo that’s right out of Adolf Hitler’s playbook.”
Say what? Do people actually believe this stuff?
Leaders of the American Jewish Congress came closest to getting it right, I think, when they said in a statement that “ Rush Limbaugh’s comments comparing President Barak Obama (and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi) to Hitler and the Nazis are grossly offensive and intolerable. They reflect a nasty and hyperbolic tendency in our political culture, one which makes reasoned discourse impossible, confuses disagreement with evil, and which makes it impossible to distinguish evil from ordinary politics. It is not acceptable from either the right or the left, both of which have in recent memory used such analyses.”
But most of Limbaugh’s Jewish critics have a long history of ignoring a broader talk show culture that has turned incitement into a major industry.
Why didn’t they react when popular cable TV and AM radio talkers accused President Obama of a “hatred” of all whites? The racial venom spewing from the airwaves these days would have been unthinkable a few years back, but I don’t hear much criticism from Jewish boardrooms.
I didn’t seen any press releases in response to this weekend’s claim that “Obama’s ‘death panel” will decide who lives and who dies under Democratic reform plans (oh wait, that was Sarah Palin; maybe she has a great future as a talk show host).
You don’t need to be a supporter of Democratic reform plans to see the claim “Obamacare” is meant to promote euthanasia for the reckless incitement it is – a kind of rhetorical terrorism, meant to invoke fear and rage, not discourse.
For that matter, why the silence in the face of the wacky “birthers” who insist President Obama wasn’t born in the United States, and the prominent network talkers who give credence to a crude conspiracy theory without a shred of evidence to back it up?
Why has only the ADL gone after politicians and talk show hosts who boost ratings by openly and recklessly scapegoating immigrants?
Only Holocaust analogies, apparently, are seen as sufficient grounds for criticism from Jewish leaders, which strikes me as doubly odd because those same leaders are often silent when it’s Jews making such comparisons.
The point is that American political culture is being degraded by talk show hosts whose stock in trade is slickly packaged outrage meant to tap real frustrations and longstanding biases, vicious scapegoating and conspiracy theories that should have disturbing historical echoes for Jews.
This isn’t a right-versus-left thing; there are plenty of left-wing wingnuts who promote theories every bit as anti-democratic as those coming from the far right. But in 2009 America, it’s the far right that has the biggest megaphone in the form of nationally syndicated talk shows.
With sporadic exceptions, the Jewish leadership has been reluctant to speak out – perhaps cowed into silence or fearing charges of partisanship, maybe operating under the assumption that publicly criticizing these media demagogues only gives them added visibility.
Well, guess what: the ranters already have that visibility, using new media to spread the message of intolerance and populist rage to vastly bigger audiences. Even when the slurs and conspiracy theories have nothing to do with Jews, they promote an angry, scapegoating mindset and a disregard for facts that can only endanger all minorities.
Responding only when the Holocaust is invoked diminishes the Jewish community’s credibility as advocates for civil discourse and as opponents of scapegoating of all kinds.