After a remarkably successful start for the new Congress, House Democrats got themselves tied up in knots this week. In responding to Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), who accused Israel supporters of loyalty to a foreign country, Democratic leaders encountered the tribalism and extremism that afflict its far left-wing. A resolution condemning anti-Semitism somehow stirred outrage on the far left; the resolution against anti-Semitism became a resolution condemning all kinds of bigotry. (Dual loyalty did get a mention.) Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) weakly offered that Omar just didn’t understand the weight of her remarks.
To its credit, a new group of pro-Israel progressive Democrats, Democratic Majority for Israel, issued a strong statement: “We know that the vast majority of Democrats in Congress, and elsewhere, support a strong US-Israel relationship and abhor anti-Semitism in any form. . . . Let’s be very clear: the issue at stake here is anti-Semitism, not support for, or opposition to, any policy of the Israeli government. Congresswoman Omar’s remarks did not mention a single policy pursued by the Government of Israel.” Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel wrote persuasively as well that the party needed to call out anti-Semitism, and this was just such a time.
Then things got really weird. The voting began, and Republicans started voting “no” — on a declaration condemning hate. No, really. Republican dissenters included a member of the House leadership (Rep. Liz Cheney) and Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.), who fancies himself a friend of Israel, as well as veteran crackpots such as Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Tex.). Once more, Republicans snatched back the mantle of racial and religious insensitivity, announcing to the world that they couldn’t possibly be against both anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. Twenty-three Republicans voted no.
Republicans have become intellectually corrupted and morally perverse under a president they have never voted to condemn. There remains a significant batch of Republicans — not one or two — who feel queasy about condemning hate groups, or in this case condemning President Trump’s Charlottesville remarks (which were also referenced).
Pelosi had just been trying to disband the circular firing squad and get back to business (e.g., voting on the Democrats’ massive ethics bill). Maybe she knew Republicans would blow themselves up once again. Maybe she got lucky. However, she wound up demonstrating a point: Democrats are far from perfect. They have an extremist fringe in their party (supported in this case by three presidential candidates), but there are plenty of adults willing to speak out, plenty who have seen the example of the GOP and know that in letting tribalism and extremism run amok they will destroy themselves. It is essential that this recognition guide them in selecting their presidential nominee.
Republicans have learned nothing, it seems. They are incapable of condemning their party’s leader — or heaven forbid, dumping him! — and remain frightened if not in agreement with the xenophobic, white-grievance crowd, which equates condemning bigotry with “political correctness.” (Whites are the victims, gosh darn it!)
Politics is about choices. Democrats did not have a shining moment, but at least they figured out that tolerating anti-Semitism and excuse-mongering for anti-Semitism is reprehensible. Republicans just reminded us of who they are.