Earlier today Tony Blair called for the dissolution of Parliament and a general election on May 5. That’s right: one month from today, with the campaign actually not getting completely underway until after Pope John Paul II’s funeral on Friday and Prince Charles’ wedding on Saturday. So it’s basically going to be a three-week sprint to the wire, astonishing as that may seem to us Americans who are used to two-year marathons.Moreover, Blair’s announcement coincided with the release of a couple of national polls showing Labour’s margin over the Tories shrinking significantly. The Guardian/ICM poll has Labour at 37 percent, the Conservatives at 34 percent, and the LibDems at 21 percent, with a lot of indications of voter volatility. This is a bit misleading, since Labour enjoys a vote-distribution advantage that would convert these numbers into a parliamentary majority of somewhere between 90 and 100 seats, but it’s still likely to be a more competitive election than appeared likely just a couple of weeks ago.As many of you probably know, British party politics in the last few years have revolved around four dynamics: (1) significant public unhappiness with Blair’s foreign policies, and especially Britain’s role in Iraq, which have offset general approbation of Labour’s domestic, and especially economic policies; (2) the chronic weakness of the Tory opposition, which suffers from leadership and message problems that make the superficially similar problems of American Democrats pale in comparison; (3) the steady transformation of the LibDems, who used to be generally considered a centrist party, into a Left Opposition to Labour, especially on foreign policy and cultural issues; and (4) restiveness about Labour’s relatively long hold on power, which would become really remarkable if it wins a third straight general election.I don’t know how many NewDonkey readers are interested in British politics, but I do intend to blog about this semi-regularly between now and May 5. And while I will try to present objective analysis of what’s going on, I’ll disclose right up front that I am a Tony Blair and Labour partisan.No, I’m not happy with the moral and intellectual support that Blair has provided not just to George W. Bush’s foreign policies, but to Bush himself (every time they have a joint press conference, I half-expect Bush to respond to a question with: “What he said.”), but what do you expect from any British Prime Minister? I have zero doubts, and lots of reasons to believe, that 10 Downing Street would have been ecstatic at a Kerry victory last November, and that the U.S.-British alliance would have flourished as never before.But the bottom line is that on every key issue facing his country, our country, and the world, Tony Blair has an abundance of exactly what virtually all U.S. Democrats say a party of the center-left should have: a clear, articulate vision; a values-based progressive message that does not ignore collective security or cultural issues; and a full agenda for shaping change in the interests of most people, especially those with no privilege or power, even in places like Africa. He is also, of course, one of the few twenty-first century survivors among the wave of center-left politicians who won striking victories throughout the West in the 1990s, consigning, or so it seemed at the time, Reagan-Thatcher style conservative politics to the dustbin of history. And to the extent that left-leaning Labour activists (and their U.S. counterparts) with various issues with Blair hope Gordon Brown succeeds him as P.M. during a third term, let me add that I think Brown is a potentially great leader as well, and shares Blair’s New Labour vision more than a lot of observers realize. So I hope Labour wins, but will try to offer a few news items and insights on the campaign as it develops, and however it develops.
TDS Strategy Memos
Latest Research from:
By Ed Kilgore
After a week of efforts to equate the controversial remarks of two particular members of Congress, I pushed back a bit at New York:
It looks like House Republicans are going to deal with outrage over their perennial problem child Marjorie Taylor Greene by finding a Democrat to punish. That would be Minnesota’s Ilhan Omar, according to Politico’s Huddle:
“’I think that Ilan should receive the same type of punishment as Marjorie because if it’s good for one, it is good for another,’ Rep. Maria Salazar (R-Fla.), who voted to remove Greene from her committees, told me. ‘Anti-semitism is the same thing as anti-semitism. It’s just that Nancy is afraid …'”
There are others who want to push for Omar’s removal as well as those looking to censure her over her war crimes remarks — and a few Dems may join them.
The idea of equating Omar’s complaints about unequal treatment of countries in investigating military misconduct with Greene’s comparisons of mask and vaccine requirements to the Holocaust is deeply satisfying to a lot of people. Republicans can continue their now-ancient habit of waving away extremism in their ranks by claiming it’s more prevalent on the other side of the aisle. Nervous centrist Democrats can document their nervous centrism by firing thunderbolts left and right. And most of all, accusing both parties of harboring those prone to “false equivalence” appeals to the false equivalence many Beltway media folks want to draw between Democrats and Republicans, who are engaged in the mutually assured destruction of partisan polarization.
There’s only one problem: Treating what MTG and Omar have said as equal expressions of false equivalence actually is false, as any honest evaluation of their words quickly shows. Greene bluntly compared COVID-19 precautions to the Holocaust, analogized vaccine documentation mandates to the Nazi practice of making Jews wear yellow stars, and, for good measure, said Democrats are like Nazis because they are “socialists.” Omar said this in the midst of a virtual exchange with Secretary of State Anthony Blinken over investigations of the brief but intense war between Israel and Hamas:
“’We must have the same level of accountability and justice for all victims of crimes against humanity,’ she wrote. “We have seen unthinkable atrocities committed by the U.S., Hamas, Israel, Afghanistan, and the Taliban.’”
Her point wasn’t to say the U.S., Hamas, Israel, Afghanistan, and the Taliban were equally culpable in their commission of atrocities, but that all should be equally subject to international investigation. I suppose there are superpatriots who would dispute the idea that America has ever committed “unthinkable atrocities,” though the victims of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki nuclear attacks, and of countless genocidal assaults on Native Americans, among many examples, suggest otherwise. But in any event, when challenged by Republicans and Democrats alike to make it clear she was not imputing equivalent culpability to these various nations and coalitions of fighters, Omar complied instantly:
“U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar said Thursday that she was ‘in no way equating terrorist organizations with democratic countries with well-established judicial systems … ‘
“’To be clear: the conversation was about accountability for specific incidents regarding [International Criminal Court] cases, not a moral comparison between Hamas and the Taliban and the U.S. and Israel.’”
MTG, meanwhile, kept doubling down on her comparisons of public-health measures with the slaughter of many millions by Nazi Germany, and finally, after more than three weeks and a tour of the Holocaust Museum, she issued an apology that betrayed little understanding of the full scope of the Holocaust, and then refused to apologize for the Democrat-Nazi analogy.
Looking more broadly at the two women and their records of controversial utterances, Ilhan made an unfortunate and erroneous reference to “the Benjamins,” in a gratuitous comment about support for Israel in the United States, for which she “unequivocally” apologized:
“Anti-semitism is real and I am grateful for Jewish allies and colleagues who are educating me on the painful history of anti-semitic tropes. My intention is never to offend my constituents or Jewish Americans as a whole. We have to always be able to step back and think through criticism, just as I expect people to hear me when others attack my identity. This is why I unequivocally apologize.”
Greene lost her committee assignments earlier this year after media focus on an almost incredible blizzard of incendiary statements she made on social media before coming to Congress (barely anyone even noticed her practice of brandishing an AR-15 when discussing her enemies in campaign ads). In February, she apologized for claiming that school shootings were fake and for promoting QAnon conspiracy theories. She never apologized for happily contemplating violence against congressional Democrats (including, very specifically, Ilhan Omar) and the Speaker of the House, or for her unusually aggressive support of Trump’s electoral big lie and the effort in January to overturn the presidential election results, or for her own subscription to very weird anti-Semitic claims.
If you cannot discern a qualitative difference between Omar’s “outrages” and Greene’s, and between the speed and coherence of their clarifications and apologies, it may be time for some remedial work in logic and rhetoric. These two members of Congress aren’t alike at all, and as much as I sometimes disagree with Ilhan Omar, treating her as a left-wing MTG is lazy and just plain wrong.