Judge them by their enemies. More evidence that Barack Obama might be shaping up as a good president is that Norman Podhoretz hates him so much. In a Wall Street Journal column Monday the guru of the neoconservatives declared: "I would rather be ruled by the Tea Party than by the Democratic Party, and I would rather have Sarah Palin sitting in the Oval Office than Barack Obama."
I know that does not properly address all of the serious questions raised about the Obama presidency by progressives, myself included, and as of today we must now add offshore oil drilling to the list. But it is somewhat reassuring that the surviving father of the neocon movement should be left so totally unglued. He is joined in this embrace of the Palin rage by Bill Kristol, whose late father, Irving, was Podhoretz's comrade in the long march from the far left to the far right. That shift brought the neoconservatives to the pinnacle of power in the Bush administration before they flamed out over the distortions of fact and logic they peddled as justification for the invasion of Iraq.
Among other things-and this was particularly important for Podhoretz, who for 35 years had edited Commentary, a leading journal in the Jewish community-the elimination of Saddam Hussein was supposed to leave Israel more secure. Instead, just the opposite has occurred as a consequence of the vastly increased power of Iran in the region thanks to the elimination of its most feared local adversary. Any effort to contain the power of Iran has been compromised by the leading role of the disciples of the Iranian ayatollahs in the politics of Iraq.
Obama had opposed that war, but he has certainly done his bit to carry on the Bush policy and has furthered it in Afghanistan as well. There is no sign of Obama abandoning those failed adventures, and his fitful efforts to contain Iran while negotiating a much needed settlement of the Israel-Palestine conflict are quite consistent with those of previous administrations. Indeed, the U.S. policy agenda for the region seems to be set by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who, as her warm reception at the recent AIPAC conference indicates, has long been regarded as a fervent friend of Israel.
Indeed, from health care, the banking bailout and on to Mideast peace, it is difficult to find a single policy proposal from Obama that Bill and Hillary Clinton had not both previously embraced. So why the particularly strident animus toward Obama? The answer lies in that fear so common to the tea party core-that Obama is a false prophet leading the good God-fearing folk astray. Since Podhoretz claims to be writing out of the Jewish tradition he does not embrace the possibility of Obama being the Antichrist, but his language is as descriptively bizarre.
In a WSJ article from last September headlined "Why Are Jews Liberals?" which is also the title of his latest book, Podhoretz complained bitterly, "One of the most extraordinary features of Barack Obama's victory over John McCain was his capture of 78% of the Jewish vote." What followed was a self-hating tirade against his own: "Jews are by far the most liberal of any group in America." In support of that view he quotes the sociologist Nathan Glazer, who argued that Jews, as opposed to any other immigrant group in America, have ignored their improving economic status and instead consistently supported "increased government spending, expanded benefits to the poor and lower classes, greater regulations on business, and the power of organized labor."
What a great testament to the enduring decency of Jewish values that they have proved so capable of embracing social goals that transcend narrow class interest. What a wonderful refutation of historical anti-Semitism that Jews so consistently ignore personal economic gain to serve the larger good. Not so in the eyes of Podhoretz, who was immensely disappointed that the commitment of Jews to those enlightened views did not dissipate with the nomination of Obama but rather increased somewhat.
He bemoans the fact that the vast majority of Jews did not share his fear that Obama was too liberal or anti-Israel, but instead of chalking that up to an honest disagreement he invokes the language of the devil's deception: "I am hoping against hope that the exposure of Mr. Obama as a false messiah will at last open the eyes of my fellow Jews to the correlative falsity of the political creed he so perfectly personifies and to which they have for so long been so misguidedly loyal."
So what does that make Sarah Palin-the true messiah?