The resolution in the House of Representatives in response to comments made by Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) has created a great deal of angst and turbulence among Democrats, particularly for a measure that merely expresses the sense of the House.
But although this whole affair showcases many real divisions in the party, it is reaching a conclusion that, dare we say it, may be good news for Democrats.
After a searing debate, Democrats produced a final version of the resolution. Although much coverage has been of the “Dems in disarray!” variety, this appears to have displayed a party able to resolve its internal conflicts without allowing Republicans to set the terms of debate.
Earlier this week, Omar was quoted saying, “I want to talk about the political influence in this country that says it is okay for people to push for allegiance to a foreign country,” a criticism of the pressure that she says members of Congress are under to support Israel. Critics argued that Omar was evoking the idea of “dual loyalty,” an old anti-Semitic trope, and that therefore her comments were anti-Semitic. Views differed on whether that was a fair criticism, to say the least.
After Omar’s comments, Rep. Eliot L. Engel (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.) drafted a resolution condemning the remarks and making a broader statement about anti-Semitic rhetoric.
According to a congressional aide with knowledge of the discussions, Engel and Deutch had at first wanted the resolution to call out Omar by name.
That certainly would have made Republicans happy, since they were harshly criticizing Omar and demanding that she lose her seat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. But the first version of the resolution to be circulated widely with the approval of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) omitted any mention of Omar.
It did, however, focus solely on anti-Semitism, which led to a disagreement inside the Democratic caucus as progressives members objected to what they still saw as Omar being singled out unfairly.
So a compromise was reached: The resolution would be broadened to include not just anti-Semitism but also Islamophobia. The new resolution contains most of the old language about anti-Semitism, but also a significant amount of new text about Islamophobia, including a condemnation of “the death threats received by Jewish and Muslim Members of Congress, including in recent weeks,” a reference to what Omar and others have been subjected to.
The updated resolution ends by saying that the House
encourages all public officials to confront the reality of anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, racism, and other forms of bigotry, as well as historical struggles against them, to ensure that the United States will live up to the transcendent principles of tolerance, religious freedom, and equal protection as embodied in the Declaration of Independence and the first and 14th amendments to the Constitution.
Nobody’s going to say that this process wasn’t painful, but Democrats managed to work it out. And in the end, the framing that Republicans had hoped to impose on the debate was basically cast aside.
Democrats are increasingly stiff-arming bad-faith, right-wing nonsense
The divisions over this issue were real and part of the ferment and argument among Democrats that we’re seeing on many fronts. And a common thread running through many of these intraparty disputes concerns an increasing impatience on the left with letting bad-faith, right-wing attacks and positions frame the terms of their own debates.
In this particular case, Republicans were gleeful about the supposed trap that Democrats had walked into by delaying the vote on the original resolution, saying things such as for the “new far-left Democratic majority, even a symbolic, symbolic resolution condemning anti-Semitism seems to be a bridge too far.” There was a time when Democrats might have been more spooked as a party by such attacks, and indeed, this time, the instinct of some in the party (while also genuinely believing that the original resolution was the right thing to pass) was to fear such messaging.
But the left reacted with fury, not just out of a genuine belief that Omar was being unfairly accused of anti-Semitism, but also because in their view, letting such attacks set the agenda would allow the right to privilege outrage about some forms of bigotry over others. The result is that, in incorporating this critique, the final resolution declares all forms of bigotry as equally worthy of condemnation.
President Trump had tweeted that “It is shameful that House Democrats won’t take a stronger stand against Anti-Semitism in their conference." Given his years of bigotry toward Muslims and Latino immigrants, and his refusal to unambiguously condemn white supremacist violence and murder, Trump had obviously hoped to privilege outrage over anti-Semitism, in effect asserting his right to express his own bigoted sentiments with impunity.
But the new resolution may put Republicans in a bind — not necessarily because they don’t agree with the current resolution, although some may not — but because it will raise questions about whether, by supporting the new resolution, they are condemning Trump’s bigotry as well. Putting all forms of bigotry on equal footing in effect blows past the bad-faith, Trump/right-wing framing of the debate.
We’re seeing this on other fronts as well. When Democrats nixed letting Fox News moderate one of their presidential debates, this was grounded in a recognition that Democrats must forthrightly accept that Fox has become, at its core, a bad-faith purveyor of right-wing disinformation and propaganda, and act accordingly.
You can even see glimpses of this on policy. The increased openness of Democrats to policies such as the Green New Deal and Medicare for all, and to a more unabashed pro-immigration position as a matter of basic values, is in part a response to pressure from the left that holds that Democrats have moderated their policies for too long out of fear of getting painted as too radical, and out of a futile belief that the GOP can be induced to join in a good-faith quest for compromise.
In short, more and more Democrats seem fed up with letting Republican attacks on them as radical or extreme dictate their politics and the mirage of compromise with the GOP dictate their policies. This isn’t to underplay the divisions among Democrats over these matters, but rather to say that many of the tensions appear rooted in the party’s increasing acknowledgment of this new reality and its efforts to adapt to it.