Thursday, April 29, 2010

Political Correctness Rebuked

As part of my long patrol of the Universe, I recently spent a few days reading various posts at the right-wing site Pajamas Media. I responded to one piece by Michael Ledeen that complained that the Obama administration was engaging in censorship, although the evidence he educed was rather vague and actually dealt with “attempting to eliminate certain words and phrases from American policy documents and statements concerning Islam,” i.e. with a government controlling its own speech rather than the speech of the people. Ledeen did link to a segment from a Christian broadcast network that claimed that high school kids were being indoctrinated to think favorably about Muslims, though the sum total of the case was the testimony of a single Jewish lady, who, it must be admitted, was obviously very earnest. I responded:

Right wing Jews and fundamentalist Christians must have a highly developed sense of humor to complain about controlling discourse in the U.S. One can only imagine what would happen if high school textbooks objectively conveyed the bad as well as the good things about Christianity and Judaism, especially if accounts of the founding and subsequent behavior of Israel were even handed.

Note that I’m not applauding the kind of political trimming and calculation that routinely goes into the construction of the curricula in the U.S., though American history texts have always been political footballs and its absurd to suddenly get excited about it. There’s a substantial Muslim population is the United States and if it doesn’t have anything like the political pop of the ADL or the Christian groups, it’s hardly surprising if it works to promote its side. The only people who really give a damn about scholarly values such as objectivity are a handful of despised intellectuals. Everybody else just wants “Hurrah for us!”

One note: Ledeen takes Milbank’s quote out of context (of course). Milbank was complaining, with some justice, that the press was not given adequate opportunity to ask questions at a recent international meeting. The piece wasn’t about political correctness and the line about the Soviet Era referred to the intense security. Ironically, one of Milbank’s specific complaints is that Obama would not answer a question about Israel’s nuclear program. I doubt if Ledeen really wants people to start thinking about Israel’s non-membership in the nonproliferation treaty, but then his defense of political free speech doesn’t extend to anybody who might criticize his side. Ask Mearsheimer and Walt or Juan Cole about the Jewish lobby’s passion for open debate and plain speaking.

Here’s the fun part. Comments at Pajamas Media are moderated, but my comments in other threads have almost always posted after a minimal delay. Twenty-four hours later, though, the above paragraphs are still “under moderation.” Now I know that Ledeen reads the comments: he actually responded to me on a remark I had made on an earlier post of his. I don’t know whether he personally moderates the comments or not, and maybe it was just some intern’s night off. Still, it is amusing (though hardly surprising) to think that this defender of free speech is apparently willing to be so transparently hypocritical.

One note on Ledeen. He’s a prominent neocon whose career goes back to the Reagan era when he was one of the guys involved in the Iran Contra. More recently, he played a somewhat unclear role in the Plame affair. His vita features quite a few colorful passages, but what’s more interesting about him to me than the various intrigues is his notable defense or semi-defense of Italian fascism, a theme that began with his doctoral dissertation and has apparently continued since. I’ve long thought of neo-conservatism, at least in its Israeli-lobby component, as fascism for Jews; but that judgment was based on the similarities between the political philosophy and even more the rhetoric of the neocons and the outlook of the various movements of integral nationalism that swirled around in the first half of the 20th Century. Until I did a little research yesterday, I wasn’t aware of Ledeen’s writings on the subject. I’m reminded of the discovery of Uranus: one could predict the existence of documents like Universal Fascism: The Theory and Practice of the Fascist International, 1928-1936 by extrapolation from the speech of living right-wingers. One knew where to point the telescope. But I’m not bringing up Ledeen’s interest in Mussolini et. al. in order to discredit him. Fascist ideas are highly appealing to many people and are not going to go away just because we don’t know or don’t want to admit their historical connections. After World War II, no one wanted to be associated with fascism because fascism = Nazism, at least in the popular mind. As my Dad used to joke, Hitler was so bad he gave fascism a bad name, but German fascism was an outlier in a great many ways. There was a reason that Mussolini had admirers on the left as well as the right, and his movement wasn’t so different from others such the ideology of the Young Turks in his era or Netanyahu’s version of Zionism in ours. So I admire Ledeen’s willingness to associate himself with the fascist thinkers. The heck with political correctness. Let’s call a spade a spade.

Addendum: A day and half later, Ledeen let my comment appear and followed it with a brief paragraph complaining that I was stereotyping him. A guy like Ledeen who goes around accusing people of anti-Semitism at the drop of a hat has a lot of nerve complaining about that.