Having done a brief meditation on mortality in my last post, I should mention the passing of a very good man recently: Eli Segal, who among other things, was the founding father of AmeriCorps. Al From wrote a tribute to Eli’s service to his country and his party that you can read here.My own most vivid memory of Eli was of a phone call I received from him at home late one night in the midst of congressional consideration of the original AmeriCorps legislation. Some veterans group had become concerned that the post-service educational benefits proposed for AmeriCorps participants were too generous in comparison to veterans’ benefits, and Eli was trying to get in touch with my former boss, long-time national service champion Senator Sam Nunn, to help put out the fire. But he greeted me with the words: “Ed Kilgore! History is calling!”At the time I thought the line was very funny, and typically Eli. But as I get older, I think he might well have been correct: tracking down Sam Nunn that night might have been one of my few personal contributions to the national welfare. Eli Segal had to put out many other fires that threatened the Clinton administration’s small but proud national service initiative, particularly after the Republican takeover of Congress in 1994. He probably felt vindicated when George W. Bush made national service a major theme of his 2003 State of the Union Address, and promised to stop GOP efforts to kill AmeriCorps and related programs. But that’s why it especially outrageous that Bush’s latest budget renewed the Republican assault on national service, proposing to shut down the National Civilian Community Corps, an ancillary program to AmeriCorps whose members have particularly distinguished themselves in post-Katrina recovery efforts. The Office of Management and Budget’s rationale for this proposal is that the per-participant cost of NCCC is marginally higher than that of AmeriCorps. Well, that’s hardly surprising, since the whole point to NCCC is that it is a residential program targeted in no small part to young people from very disadvantaged backgrounds, who need residential support. Guest-blogging at Political Animal, Washington Monthly editor Paul Glastris goes after this proposed elimination of NCCC, and offers some alternative cuts if Republicans are actually serious about cutting frivolous federal spending. And like Paul, a whole generation of national service advocates, among whom I am proud to be a charter member going back to the 1980s, is mobilizing to expose the Bush proposal for the hypocritical joke that it actually is.Somewhere, Eli Segal is smiling.
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.