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The loyalty of most American Jews to the Democratic Party and their current leader President Barack Obama is not in question. Yet while the ideology of the majority of their members and contributors is no secret, most major Jewish organizations, not to mention synagogues, attempt to stay out of partisan controversies, even while often espousing liberal causes. Most sensible people understand that these days the Jews and Israel have friends on both sides of the aisle, and it is bad politics as well as bad policy to forget that.
But in the partisan rage of the moment, some Democratic partisans want to eschew this common sense approach and to deploy the full force of organized American Jewry to demonize critics of the Obama administration. Their rationale is that some right-wing critics of Obama and especially his plans to change America's health care system compared the president to Hitler and his programs to Nazism. Peter Keating of New York Magazine recently wrote that Jewish groups ought to inject themselves into the health care debate on this shaky premise and wondered at their reluctance.
SUCH COMPARISONS are, of course, not merely over-the-top insults but vile. Say what you will about the faults of Obama-care as well as the absurd cult of personality that has grown up around the president, but neither he nor his party can or should be compared to the Nazis. Obama is besotted with some very bad ideas, but he is the elected leader of a democracy and no totalitarian. Hitler murdered 6 million Jews and launched a genocidal war that took the lives of tens of millions of others. Any comparison between the two or of liberal Democrats with Nazis says everything about the people who make such comparisons and nothing about Obama. The simple rule for rational politics is that anyone who invokes Hitler loses the debate as well as the respect of right-thinking citizens.
The promiscuous use of the word "holocaust" to describe anything bad (I knew we were in trouble several years ago when an episode of X-Files had one of the heroes saying that a mysterious happening in a lake that killed amphibians was a "frog holocaust") has gotten out of hand. Indeed, Keating notes that recently a Democratic member of Congress decried our current system of health care as a "Holocaust in America."
But what liberal polemicists like Keating as well as other members of the Obama cheerleading squad want from Jewish groups aren't merely press releases or the usual attempts at education and outreach in response to such offenses. What they desire is a full-court press of the entire organized Jewish world whose aim is to take down Obama's critics and effectively tar all such dissenters from our Nobel laureate leader's plans with the brush of extremism, if not anti-Semitism.
Obama asked sympathetic rabbis to speak up for his health care plans in their High Holy Day sermons. Some not only complied on that score but also weighed in by characterizing opponents as part of an extremist mind-set that threatens American Jews. The goal of such a stand isn't just to pass a bill they like but to intimidate all those who take the name of Obama in vain, not just people who foolishly circulate goofy e-mails about his place of birth or religion. It is opposition to Obama-care and those who worry about Obama's predilection for government power at home and appeasement of tyranny abroad that liberals wish to silence.
But if most Jewish groups, which are, contrary to the myths propagated by the anti-Israel left, mostly populated by mainstream liberals and not conservatives, are reluctant to join in this fray, they have good reason.
The most obvious reason is that although the general outrage heard from liberals about the nature of the criticism of Obama treats the use of Nazi analogies as something new, it isn't. For the entire eight years of the administration of George W. Bush, such invective was commonplace. There is virtually nothing nasty that has been put about by the nuts on the right about Obama that wasn't already spewed by the left about Bush and Richard Cheney. Liberals pretend that there is something particularly dangerous about right-wingers who get up at town hall meetings and rant about expanding government power. But what exactly is the difference between such persons and many anti-war protesters who often used intemperate and insulting rhetoric about Bush as well as being just as contemptuous about the right of others to free speech?
LIBERALS CHOSE not to notice the excesses of Code Pink provocateurs or the nonsense spouted by the Moveon.org crowd when they were portraying Bush and Cheney as totalitarians extinguishing the flame of American liberty. But when right-wingers behave badly, it isn't merely protesters losing perspective but the thin edge of a new wave of racism and anti-Semitism (the irony that the demonization of the State of Israel is primarily a left-wing phenomenon is lost on those who make such accusations). When left-wingers take to the streets, liberals say it is democracy in action; when right-wingers do the same, they invoke the shade of the Klan and Father Coughlin.
Keating is right when he says "injecting Hitler analogies into subjects like Medicare reimbursement rates renders the Holocaust mundane, as though Nazis simply supported big government, rather than genocide." But that was just as true when liberals were trying to compare Bush's successful counterterrorism tactics against al-Qaida and other Islamists to that of Hitler's Gestapo.
We are currently living through one of the most partisan moments in American history. Starting with Bill Clinton and proceeding through the presidencies of first Bush and now Obama, we have had chief executives who have induced what is rightly termed derangement among their critics.
Both sides of the political divide are guilty at times of hypocritically judging their opponents more harshly than their allies. Not very long ago some on the right were happy to brand Bush-bashers as un-American or unpatriotic, a stance that liberals found intolerable since it blurred the very real distinction between extremists and mainstream dissent. Today, the left is trying to play the same game in dealing with Obama-bashers. But this is not a pastime in which those who claim to represent American Jewry should play a part.
While Jewish groups have an obligation to hold those who employ Holocaust analogies accountable, they would do well to stay out of the sort of partisan crossfire into which Obama's foot soldiers would like to fling them.
The writer is executive editor of Commentary Magazine where he blogs at www.commentarymagazine.com.