Monthly Archives: April 2008

Are Religious Americans and Gun Owners “Bitter”?


I know it’s ancient history in the time frame of American politics but I intended to write a few words regarding Obama’s recent jab at working-class Pennsylvanians. As informative as it is to deconstruct the content of Obama’s comment, just as illustrative is the response from conservatives and liberals. In particular which part of his comment they choose to latch on to. On this issue, I find myself in the former category.

Here is Obama’s comment in its entirety:

You go into some of these small towns in Pennsylvania, and like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing’s replaced them. And they fell through the Clinton administration, and the Bush administration, and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are gonna regenerate and they have not. So it’s not surprising then that they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.

As is probably clear to most people, there are two interrelated claims being made here. One is that international trade and immigration, “globalization” in the current verbiage, has cost people their jobs and economic security. As a result, they are bitter. The second is Americans believe in God and own guns because they are bitter. Obama’s millionaire donor audience in San Francisco may be unable to make the distinction but most Americans can.

As I recently opined on Sultan Knish’s blog, gun owners and believers make up a majority of voters in the United States. The United States regularly rates as among the most religious of the Western, capitalist states. There are more guns than cars in this country.

People are religious because they believe, not because they are “bitter.” People own guns because it is a Constitutional right and an expression of our liberty and freedom. Heck, some of us simply enjoy shooting guns. But Obama had to pander to San Francisco’s liberal millionaire elite and express opinions that were openly disdainful of the majority of Americans.

Some conservatives seem convinced that comments like these and Obama’s affiliation with individuals like Rev. Wright indicate he is some sort of closet radical. But I find Obama to be a condescending snob, more along the lines of a limousine liberal than a subscriber to the ideologies of the leftover left. He knows how to “speak to a crowd” because he tells the crowd what they want to hear.

People are starting to see through Obama but the conclusions they are drawing are dramatically different. Many conservatives think Obama identifies with the perverse goals and values of organizations like the Nation of Islam or the Weatherman but he constructed these connections for political reasons. The man was a community organizer with ACORN for all of what, six months? He had no connection to “the community” so he proceeded to hook up with the Nation of Islam, Reverend Wright, and all the rest of the gate-keepers and power brokers in Chicago. In short, Obama may be less the revolutionary that conservatives fear and more along the lines of the opportunist, poverty pimp, that conservatives loathe.

All this relates, in a peripheral way, to the arguments raised by Thomas Frank in What’s the Matter with Kansas? Like many elitist liberals, Frank contends working class conservative voters are duped into supporting social-conservative politicians who act against the economic self-interest of the working class by cutting taxes on the rich, for example. However, when confronted with the reality that people in liberal enclaves routinely vote on social issues (gay marriage, abortion, etc.) and act against their economic self-interest (electing liberal politicians who will raise their taxes) critics like Frank are silent. Why is that?

ADDED: Michael Weiss at the New Criterion makes some similar points, albeit in a much more erudite fashion.

Hag Pesach Sameach


[The Marx brothers as the Four Sons. By Dick Codor, USA, 1981.]

Pesach is the story of liberation from slavery and a return to the land of Israel. All very positive things and a cause of celebration. But an important element of Pesach is the reality of Amalek—the first foe to attack the people of Israel after they had come out of Egypt as a free nation. Amalek is twice designated in the Pentateuch (Ex. xvii. 14-16, Deut. xxv. 19) as the one against whom war should be waged until his memory be blotted out forever (Y’Mach Schmo Vezichro). For some rabbis Amalek is an actual human or humans, for others Amalek represents an idea (like anti-Semitism). What Jewish history shows is in every age we face a new Amalek.

And on a lighter note, here is an interesting gallery of images depicting The Four Sons from various Haggadot:

I especially enjoy the images from the Chicago Haggadah (1879), Istvan Zador’s (Budapest, 1924) and I can’t leave out Dick Codor’s variation with the four Marx brothers as the Four Sons (1981). Tzvi Livni’s socialist Zionist images (Israel, 1955) suffer from a problem common to much “political” art. The political content takes precedent over the quality of the drawing, painting, sculpture, etc. Nevertheless, I found much affinity with the message especially regarding anti-Zionism and ignorance of Israel’s history.

But contrast this to the imagery of Arthur Szyk (Poland, 1939). Here is a political artist who is truly a master of his art. More on Szyk here and here. The second URL from the New York Sun is an article about the limited reissue of The Szyk Haggadah. Szyk was a very interesting individual, an activist for African American civil rights and a supporter of the Revisionist Zionist movement. An image of the Four Sons from Szyk’s Haggadah is found at the bottom of this post.

Here is a bit on the Four Sons:

The Torah refers to four sons: One wise, one wicked, one simple and one who does not know how to ask a question.

What does the wise son say?

“What are the testimonials, statutes and laws Hashem our G-d commanded you?”

You should tell him about the laws of Pesach, that one may eat no dessert after eating the Pesach offering.

What does the wicked son say? “What does this drudgery mean to you?

“To you and not to him. Since he excludes himself from the community, he has denied a basic principle of Judaism. You should blunt his teeth by saying to him: “It is for the sake of this that Hashem did for me when I left Egypt. For me and not for him. If he was there he would not have been redeemed.”

What does the simple son say? “What’s this?” You should say to him “With a strong hand Hashem took me out of Egypt, from the house of servitude.”

And the one who does not know how to ask, you start for him, as the Torah says: “And you should tell your son on that day, saying ‘It is for the sake of this that Hashem did for me when I left Egypt.'”

The passage of the four sons raises many questions:

The wise and wicked sons seem to be opposites, but then why isn’t the wise son called ‘the good son?’

Is the simple son the opposite of the one who does not know how to ask? If so, how are they opposites?

The simple son’s question – “What’s this?” – is as simple as can be. Who, then, is the son who does not even know how to ask? A little baby?

The wicked son is told: “It is because of this that Hashem did ‘for me’ when I went out of Egypt – for me and not for him – had he been there he would not have been redeemed.” Why is the wicked son answered in third person?

The verse used to answer the wicked son is the same verse used to answer the one who does not know how to ask. Why?

The sons divide into two pairs – the wise and the simple on one side, and the wicked and the one who does not know how to ask on the other.

The simple son wants to learn. He looks up to the wise son and emulates him. When he hears the wise son asking questions, he also wants to ask. His question ‘What’s this?’ lacks the sophistication of the wise son’s question, but it reflects the same sincere desire to learn and understand.

The one who does not know how to ask admires the wicked son. He desires to show the same ironic contempt for the Torah, but unlike the wicked son he lacks the requisite cleverness. Not trusting himself to attack as effectively as his mentor, he remains silent.

The wicked son’s ‘question’ is merely rhetorical – it deserves no response at all. Yet, the one who does not know how to ask is sitting at the table listening to the wicked son’s remarks. He’s in danger of being influenced. Therefore, our response to the wicked son is to say to the one who doesn’t even know how to ask: “Don’t be influenced by his smug cynicism. Had he been in Egypt, he would not have been redeemed. He is cutting himself off from the eternity of the Jewish people.”

This difference in approach is described in the book of Proverbs (26:4,5): “Do not answer the fool according to his foolishness, lest you become equal to him. Answer the fool according to his foolishness, lest he be wise in his own eyes.” This seems like a contradiction: Should we answer the fool or not?

The answer is that there are two types of fools. One type of fool already ‘knows’ everything. For him, discussion is merely an opportunity to show off his ‘superior’ knowledge. There is no point in answering him, because he will never admit a fault. On the contrary, our attempts to educate him will meet with ridicule. As he rejects our insights one after another, the fruitlessness of our efforts makes us appear foolish.

But there is another type of fool: One aware of his limitations. His views are wrong and foolish, but he’s not completely closed to instruction. If we open the lines of communication we can have an impact on him. If we don’t reach out to him, he’ll eventually start to think: “I’ve held these views for so long, and no one has ever contradicted me – so, I must be right!”

There is a profound message here for our times. We are all confronted with people who scoff at the Torah. We often have to decide if and how to respond. The book of Proverbs teaches us that our primary responsibility is to improve the critic by our response. If that is impossible, then responding is a waste of time. But if it is possible, then we must not wait for his initiation. We must reach out to him and start the dialogue.

Notice, however, that the wicked son is at the Seder! We do not exclude him or reject him personally. Only discussion is avoided, since discussion has no point. The inclusion of the wicked son at the Seder expresses our conviction that no Jew is ever irretrievably lost. We hope our stern response will shake his proud self-confidence to the point where real discussion becomes possible.

“Who is wise? He who learns from every person (Pirkei Avos 4:1).” Indeed, the classical title for a Torah scholar is ‘Talmid Chacham‘ – a wise student.

What is the idea behind this definition? In order to learn from others, one needs two crucial insights. First, “I am lacking. There is much that I do not know.” And second, “Others possess the knowledge which I need.”

Now we can appreciate why the Haggadah juxtaposes the wise and the wicked sons. The central failure in the wicked son is his closed-mindedness. The heart of his evil is the supreme foolishness to think that his understanding is perfect. Thus he is the diametrical opposite of the wise son who is completely open to the instruction of others.

Have a great Pesach!

More Pesach Posts (added as I find them):

Bob from Brockley

Contentious Centrist

The Kvetcher

Simply Jews

Sultan Knish

Carter’s Middle East Study Mission: Peace Tour or Terror Tour?


Jimmy Carter is in the Middle East allegedly on a mission of world peace. According to the Carter Center website:

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter will lead a study mission to Israel, the West Bank, Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan April 13-21, 2008, as part of the Carter Center’s ongoing effort to support peace, democracy, and human rights in the region…“ This is a study mission, and our purpose is not to negotiate, but to support and provide momentum for current efforts to secure peace in the Middle East,” said President Carter

Study mission? The trip would more accurately be described as a terror tour. Consider who Carter is meeting with, high-level officials of Hamas. Hamas, as evidenced by their actions, has no interest in peace. Hamas, as evidenced by their charter, is dedicated to murdering Jews and the destruction of Israel.

While in Cairo, the former president met with former Hamas deputy prime minister Nasser Eddin Shaer. He also gave a speech at the American University decrying IDF actions in Gaza as a “crime” and “atrocity” and an “abomination.” Less than 24 hours later, Hamas terrorists shot and killed 3 Israeli soldiers. Carter is scheduled to meet Hamas leader Khaled Mashel in Damascus on Friday. Mashel is believed responsible for organizing the kidnapping of IDF soldier Gilad Schalit and has expressed that terrorism is the basis of Palestinian politics and the identity of the Palestinian people. Carter is also scheduled to meet with Syrian president Bashar al-Asad.

Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert and other officials have reportedly refused to meet with Carter. Good for them. They should have refused Carter entry into the country. Hamas is at war with Israel and Carter is clearly more than sympathetic to the Hamas “narrative.” Israel should refuse entry to other self-serving activists like Carter whose ideal of peace in the region means Israeli capitulation and endless concessions to terrorists. Failing to take an enemy at their word is worse than hubris, it’s suicidal.

Here in the United States, some politicians are coming up with creative ways to punish Carter for his political activities. The appropriately named CARTER Act (Coordinated American Response to Extreme Radicals Act) seeks to remove funding for the Carter Center. The Center has received $19 million in federal funding since 2001. The Democracy Project notes, this “$19 million pales beside the tens of millions that have flowed to the Carter Center from MidEast sources.” Agreed. But why our tax dollars are supporting an organization engaging in activities in opposition to American foreign policy goals is baffling. The New York Sun reports, Rep. Joseph Knollenberg (R, MI) introduced the bill and has found support to be “overwhelming in the first 24 hours since he introduced it.” However,

The chairman of the House subcommittee that oversees American policy towards the Middle East, Gary Ackerman, a Democrat of New York, yesterday said he thought the CARTER Act was “rather silly,” and “reactionary.” At the same time, Mr. Ackerman, who wrote a letter with the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Howard Berman, a Democrat of California, urging Mr. Carter not to visit Mr. Meshaal, had harsh words for Mr. Carter.

“The man is entitled his idiotic, moronic, nonsensical, anti-commonsensical, foolish opinions. And all that being said, he is still entitled to have them. I don’t think we should be cutting off funding for any ex presidents to do things. We didn’t cut off Richard Nixon,” he said. Mr. Ackerman added that if Mr. Carter came to his home for the Passover Seder, he would ask him to read the part of the simple son, the boy who does not know enough to even ask a question about the story of the Jewish exodus from ancient Egypt.

One issue for Democrats will be whether Mr. Carter will speak at the national convention in Denver scheduled for August. The editor-in-chief of the New Republic, Martin Peretz, this week urged Democrats not to let the ex-president speak. “If the Democrats want to win Florida in November they should try to keep him in Plains or send him on another voyage to Darfur where his syrupy cynicism is also well-understood,” he wrote.

Read More:

Arutz Sheva


Boker tov, Boulder! “Carter Doesn’t Quit.

But I am a Liberal! “Some ‘Wisdom’ from Jimmy Carter.”

The Contentious Centrist, “Carter and the hypocrites.”

Democracy Project, “CARTER Act in Congress to Cut Off Carter Center Funding

Robert Maginni at Human Events, “Hamas’ Useful Idiot

Eric Trajer at Contentions, “Islamic Jihad: We Refused Carter’s Request for a Meeting.” Trajer’s “Carter’s Historic Relationship with Hamas” is also worth reading.

Jacob Laksin, at FrontPage, “Carter’s Terror Tour“.

Solomonia urges readers to Support the CARTER Act.

The CARTER Act is H.R. 5816. Want to see it pass? Contact your representative and let your voice be heard and counted.

Saddam’s WMDs in Syria?


Dismissed by the chattering classes and intelligentsia as more evidence of the idiocy of American conservatives, it now seems the conservatives may have been correct. Israeli and American officials are set to release a joint report claiming Saddam Hussein managed to scuttle Iraq’s remaining WMDs out of the country and into Syria. This was reported by AFP and other media outlets in 2004 and again in 2006. These WMDs were reportedly the target of Israel’s air strike in Syria last fall (Sep 2007). The Jpost reports:

An upcoming joint US-Israel report on the September 6 IAF strike on a Syrian facility will claim that former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein transferred weapons of mass destruction to the country, Channel 2 stated Monday.

Furthermore, according to a report leaked to the TV channel, Syria has arrested 10 intelligence officials following the assassination of Hizbullah terror chief Imad Mughniyeh.

U.N. Faces “A Crisis in Credibility”


[H/t The Henry Jackson Society]

By Robin Simcox, 14th April 2008

1. The United Nations Human Rights Council is in danger of losing all credibility. The recent appointments of Jean Ziegler and Richard Falk are especially worrying.

2. Human rights abuses are happening all over the world, yet there is an unfortunate obsession with Israeli actions, which is the only country the UNHRC has directed resolutions against.

3. 2009 will see Saudi Arabia, Cuba, Jordan and Russia on the UNHRC. This fact alone shows that the UNHRC is no better than the UN High Commission of Human Rights, the organisation it succeeded.

4. With Britain taking its place on the council this year, we have a chance to redress the balance, highlight human rights abuses by some of the worst offenders, and push for reform. Only by doing this is there a chance for the UNHRC to regain any credibility.

When explaining the reluctance of the United States to support replacing the UN High Commission of Human Rights with the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC), then ambassador to the UN John Bolton said “[w]e want a butterfly. We don’t intend to put lipstick on a caterpillar and call it a success.” In hindsight, Bolton was being too optimistic. Recent events have shown that those who helped put the UNHRC in place were actually fresh out of Rimmel.

[read it all here]

Arun “Culture of Jewish Violence” Gandhi Returning to Rochester


[Arun Gandhi making the mandatory “Apartheid Wall” visit. Notice the “peace scarf” in full effect…]

Back in January, M.K. “Arun” Gandhi—the grandson of Mahatma Gandhi—was criticized for writing an anti-Semitic screed in the “On Faith” section of the Washington Post’s website. The article, “Jewish Identity Can’t Depend on Violence,” resulted in Gandhi’s resignation as president as the M.K. Gandhi Center for Nonviolence at the University of Rochester. Here are some choice quotes:

Jewish identity in the past has been locked into the holocaust experience — a German burden that the Jews have not been able to shed. It is a very good example of a community can overplay a historic experience to the point that it begins to repulse friends…

The Jewish identity in the future appears bleak. Any nation that remains anchored to the past is unable to move ahead and, especially a nation that believes its survival can only be ensured by weapons and bombs…

Apparently, in the modern world, so determined to live by the bomb, this is an alien concept. You don’t befriend anyone, you dominate them. We have created a culture of violence (Israel and the Jews are the biggest players) and that Culture of Violence is eventually going to destroy humanity.

It’s difficult for a Jewish person (unless you’re a self-loather or the Norman Finkelstein variety) to read these words and not assume they were written by someone completely ignorant of Jewish history, identity, and geopolitical realities faced by the state of Israel.

In the minds of the “peace activists” like Mr. Gandhi, Israelis are expected to turn the other cheek while rockets are launched on a daily basis. Gandhi is aware what the military response of his country of origin, India, would be if attacked by neighboring Pakistan. It would be swift and far from “proportionate,” I guarantee you that.

Plus, Gandhi is clearly out of touch with what’s happening in Israel. The popularity and trust in politicians may be at all-time low but Israel’s economy is a leader in high-technology, communications, and medicine. In terms of social and political rights, especially for women, Israel is unrivaled in the region. Perhaps most importantly, Israel is a place where Jews can live as a majority. For a people who have spent millennia as a persecuted minority this is no small matter.

Now I read that Gandhi is returning to Rochester for a discussion on “How People of Differing Faiths and Across Differing Cultures Can Discuss Issues with Potential for Misunderstanding and Hurt.” How someone can write those sort of hateful and uniformed comments and then be invited to discuss cross-cultural understanding says a lot about the university system in the United States.