The More Things Change, The More They Get More…Ummm…Different

A couple of posts today, about fairly different topics, remind me to blather about something I’ve been thinking recently.

First, Matt Yglesias posts about a very silly argument written today attempting to defend Republicans’ record of race issues, by pointing out that the initial targets of the KKK, when it was first founded, were Southern, anti-slavery Republicans. Which is, of course, true. Lincoln was a Republican, and in the 19th century, the Republicans were the party of abolitionists, while the Democrats, especially in the South, were the party of plantation owners and white supremacy.

As Matt points out, this sort of completely and utterly flipped around between the mid-1960’s and the 1980’s, starting with Goldwater’s 1964 campaign and culminating in the defection of a whole host of Blue Dog Democrats to the Republican Party in 1994, a process which reduced the amount of cognitive dissonance in both political parties.

And now, make no mistake about it – the Republican Party is the party of racists and white supremacists. Which is not to say that all, or even many, Republicans hold those detestable traits. Of course, the vast majority of them do not. But, at the same time, a white supremacist who votes for one of the two major parties is going to vote for the Republican, every time.

And, as Matt points out, the fact that recent years have seen major Republican and movement conservative commentators lauding Strom Thurmond and Jesse Helms, longtime, nonrepentant holders of particularly vile opinions about blacks and intercultural mixing, certainly do not help remove this taint from the modern-day conservative movement.

Yes, yes, Robert Byrd was in the KKK at one time. Here’s the thing – he has since said that he was wrong about it! I don’t mind if people had bad ideas at some point in time – if they come around to the right ones, that’s a good story!

Along a similar vein, Kathy G posts an e-mail she received quoting a piece by intellectual Jell-o Pudding Pop Jamie Kirchick, explaining the evolution of The Nation magazine from a strong pro-Zionist periodical around the time of Israel’s founding, to one with many more sympathies for the Palestinians these days. The series of facts about this process are listed, as if to say: look! They once thought this, now they think that! Flip-flopper! You can’t believe anything they say about anything!

Only, again – it’s not like the ground hasn’t shifted somewhat, actually quite a bit, in this debate. I am still a Zionist. I’m Jewish. I’m pro-Israel. I believe the Jews deserve one country where they can feel entirely safe from state persecution, and I think Israel, for all her flaws, is a remarkable story of perseverance in the face of overwhelming odds.

But, for all that, Israel certainly has flaws, and plenty of them. I can recognize that some people are going to weigh those flaws differently than I do, and conclude that there is more to criticize about the modern Jewish state than there is to laud about it.

So, when the Jews were nothing but an extremely repressed minority, who had just suffered one of the worst single episodes of genocide in mankind’s history, The Nation felt that giving the survivors a state to call home was an admirable sentiment. After seeing all the negative outcomes of that decision, and all the ways in which Israel fails to live up to her promise as a democratic island in a sea of hostility and autocracy, they feel that those imperfections need to be pointed out.

I’m sorry that Mr. Kirchick can’t wrap his delicious, chocolatey brain around the entirety of that set of facts, but that’s just how things go. Sometimes, people and situations can change. Holding an institution, or even a person, responsible for things that it (or they) did decades ago, is simply a meaningless exercise in nitpicking. What do they say now, and what kind of sense does it make?

As a for-instance, I never really cared if George W. Bush did cocaine in the 80’s. I assume he did, but so what? What does that have to do with the sort of person he is now? Is he a hypocrite for doing bad things, then promoting policies that would imprison people who did those sorts of things? Of course! So what? His policies, like continuing the never-ending, and entirely unsuccessful, War on Drugs, are bad policies. Not because he’s a recovering cokehead, but because they’re bad policies, and that’s really all that matters.

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One Response to The More Things Change, The More They Get More…Ummm…Different

  1. truth=freedom says:

    Hear, hear!

    This is exactly the space I’ve tried to occupy for the last 15 years regarding Israel. I, too, never have understood how critiquing Israel for its barbarism and shameful treatment of the Palestinians is anti-Semitic or whatever. And I don’t care. Wrong behavior should be called wrong. People who want to world to be a better place have at minimum the obligation to be the change they want to see, and to speak against the things that are wrong.

    As for the practice of holding people to account for what happened (or didn’t), lo, those many years ago, I take the position that your explanation for why you think as you do today, and what process led you there, particularly if it is different from what you thought and did in the past, is far more important than what you thought and did. New information arises; we grow and learn as people (or not). That’s understandable, acceptable, even desirable. Pretending otherwise is foolish.

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