NYT columnist Thomas Friedman recalls not too long ago when Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin was accused by his political opponents of being a socialist, a Nazi, a treasonous villian, etc. That all pretty much ended when Rabin was assassinated in 1995.
Friedman today writes that what we're seeing in America now is much the same thing:
Others have already remarked on this analogy, but I want to add my voice because the parallels to Israel then and America today turn my stomach: I have no problem with any of the substantive criticism of President Obama from the right or left. But something very dangerous is happening. Criticism from the far right has begun tipping over into delegitimation and creating the same kind of climate here that existed in Israel on the eve of the Rabin assassination.
What kind of madness is it that someone would create a poll on Facebook asking respondents, “Should Obama be killed?” The choices were: “No, Maybe, Yes, and Yes if he cuts my health care.” The Secret Service is now investigating. I hope they put the jerk in jail and throw away the key because this is exactly what was being done to Rabin.
Even if you are not worried that someone might draw from these vitriolic attacks a license to try to hurt the president, you have to be worried about what is happening to American politics more broadly.
Our leaders, even the president, can no longer utter the word “we” with a straight face. There is no more “we” in American politics at a time when “we” have these huge problems — the deficit, the recession, health care, climate change and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — that “we” can only manage, let alone fix, if there is a collective “we” at work.
Sometimes I wonder whether George H.W. Bush, president “41,” will be remembered as our last “legitimate” president. The right impeached Bill Clinton and hounded him from Day 1 with the bogus Whitewater “scandal.” George W. Bush was elected under a cloud because of the Florida voting mess, and his critics on the left never let him forget it.
And Mr. Obama is now having his legitimacy attacked by a concerted campaign from the right fringe. They are using everything from smears that he is a closet “socialist” to calling him a “liar” in the middle of a joint session of Congress to fabricating doubts about his birth in America and whether he is even a citizen. And these attacks are not just coming from the fringe. Now they come from Lou Dobbs on CNN and from members of the House of Representatives.
Again, hack away at the man’s policies and even his character all you want. I know politics is a tough business. But if we destroy the legitimacy of another president to lead or to pull the country together for what most Americans want most right now — nation-building at home — we are in serious trouble. We can’t go 24 years without a legitimate president — not without being swamped by the problems that we will end up postponing because we can’t address them rationally.
The American political system was, as the saying goes, “designed by geniuses so it could be run by idiots.” But a cocktail of political and technological trends have converged in the last decade that are making it possible for the idiots of all political stripes to overwhelm and paralyze the genius of our system.
Those factors are: the wild excess of money in politics; the gerrymandering of political districts, making them permanently Republican or Democratic and erasing the political middle; a 24/7 cable news cycle that makes all politics a daily battle of tactics that overwhelm strategic thinking; and a blogosphere that at its best enriches our debates, adding new checks on the establishment, and at its worst coarsens our debates to a whole new level, giving a new power to anonymous slanderers to send lies around the world.
As if to prove Friedman's point, Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele responded to Friedman's editorial by calling Friedman "a nut job".
Also proving Friedman's point, an op-ed in Newsmax appeared yesterday endorsing a potential military coup as the only way to solve the "Obama problem". Newsmax appears to have taken down its article, but here's the full text of the article as it originally appeared.
The article not only endorsed the idea but seemed to suggest that top military brass were also planning or actively considering such an option. That, however, is dubious. In his Washington Post column, former Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson acknowledges that “military leaders seem impressed” with President Obama’s decision-making process. “Obama’s engaged, deliberate style has fans in the military,” he writes.