It is, as sports fanatics everywhere know, Selection Sunday, when the 65-team field of the NCAA basketball tournament is revealed, and–thanks to an entire industry of “bracketology”–the one or two remaining mysteries about “bubble teams” and seedings are resolved. I will not watch the official Selection Sunday show on television, with its endlessly tedious references to “dancing” and “dance cards,” and its sadistic focus on live coverage of a team or two that will be left out. I will view the brackets online, however, and try to finally figure out which team or teams I will embrace during next week’s frenetic first and second round games. My beloved Georgia Bulldogs will not, of course, be in the mix; they are still rebuilding from the calamity of the Jim Harrick years, and after a brief spate of exciting success earlier in the year, finished 15-15, probably not qualifying for an NIT bid. But their future looks bright. (The Georgia women’s team will, as always, be in the tournament, and perhaps they won’t break my heart with an early upset loss this time around). Selection Sunday always brings back fond memories of the one time I actually attended NCAA tournament games: it was in 1990, in New Orleans’ Superdome (ah! how painful it is to type those words today!). Georgia Tech was playing in the regional semifinals and finals, and I decided to put aside my usual disdain for the Dirt Daubers and cheer for them as a matter of home-state chauvinism. I managed to get tickets through a media contact for seats better than that enjoyed by Tech’s president, and was rewarded with two incredibly exciting games: the Jackets beat Michigan State in the semis on a controversial last-split-second shot by Kenny Anderson, and then beat Minnesota in overtime for the championship. Aside from the games themselves, my most vivid memory was of the young woman from Minnesota who sat behind me in the Final, dressed up as a gopher, and constantly recited the school’s charmingly atavistic cheer, which sounded like something out of an early Mickey Rooney college movie (Sota! Sota! G-o-o-o-o Gophers! Rah!). That was sixteen years ago, and I wonder: where is that woman today? Does she still dress up as a gopher? And does she blog? The whole scene was a nice reminder of the essential silliness of the tribal loyalty so many of us assign to sports teams. Years after this event, I learned that my paternal grandfather, who died when my father was an infant, actually attended Georgia Tech for a brief while before the money ran out and he had to get a full-time job. Nobody in my extended, and generally non-college-educated family, attended the University of Georgia. My father was largely indifferent to sports, and my mother, good southern liberal that she was, reserved her loyalities for the Dodgers baseball team that played Jackie Robinson. Yet I was a confirmed Georgia Bulldog fan from early childhood. Why is that? I couldn’t possibly have known that I would wind up attending law school in Athens. Was it the mascot, UGA? The school colors? I have no clue.And so, on this Selection Sunday, I cast about for an irrational attachment to other peoples’ tribes. Should I risk further identification as a Washington Insider by supporting Georgetown or George Washington? Choose a Southern Surrogate for the absent Bulldogs? Get into an emotionally satisfying and vaguely progressive Mid-Major obsession? Speaking for God knows how many other people who face this particular dilemma, I must say, dear friends, that this is why they call it March Madness.
TDS Strategy Memos
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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.