One of the most predictable habits of today’s Republicans is that when they get caught doing something disreputable, they try very hard to deflect attention by claiming some Democrat has done the same thing.This seems to be what’s underway in Virginia, where there’s a lot of buzz about Ryan Lizza’s recent revelations in The New Republic concerning the boyhood Confeder-o-mania of Sen. George Allen, and its distinct echoes in his record as Governor of the Commonwealth during the 1990s.Before you could say “So’s your old man,” the conservative Richmond Times-Dispatch published a breathless article noting that one of Allen’s Democratic opponents this fall, former Navy Secretary James Webb, spoke at a Confederate Memorial event in Virginia in 1990.I don’t know if Allen’s backers had anything to do with this article, but it hardly required deep oppo research, since the speech in question is displayed on Webb’s own web page.And once you read the speech and think about it for a moment, the differences between Webb’s and Allen’s attachment to the Lost Cause couldn’t be clearer.First and most importantly, Webb is a southerner with actual Confederate Army ancestors. Not so Allen, whose attachment to the Confederacy developed when he was a Golden Boy rich kid with no southern background. (This point about Allen is one I emphasized in a TPMCafe post, as did Jason Zengerle in the New Republic blog).Second of all, there’s the timing of these events. Sure, Allen’s folks will argue that his Confederate infatuation burgeoned into true love back in high school, while Webb’s speech was a mere fifteen-years-and-change ago, when he was a former Cabinet member. But I think that gets it backwards. Webb did his speech long after the civil rights movement had triumphed over Jim Crow and the Confederacy had been consigned its place in the stormy history of the Republic; that, indeed, is a lot of what he talked about. When Allen was speeding around Southern California in his sporty Mustang with the Confederate flag plates, and wearing a Confederate flag pin in his high school yearbook, that symbol, especially outside the South, was synonymous with Jim Crow’s defiant death throes. (And, as a later TNR piece explains, Allen kept this romance up well after he moved to Virginia and entered politics).And finally, there’s the context of Webb’s speech: at a Confederate Memorial event. I personally think this is the most crucial distinction of all. The main southern argument for getting the Battle Flag off state flags and public buildings is not that Confederate symbols should be abolished, but that they should be consigned to history instead of adopted as current ideological totems. This was, indeed, the main argument in the once-progressive Zell Miller’s impassioned if unsuccessful 1993 Georgia State of the State address (disclosure: I was involved pretty heavily in drafting that speech): don’t forget the Confederacy, or the terrible sacrifices of its soldiers and their families, but don’t make the Lost Cause synonymous with the South as a whole, or allow it to be used for invidious racial or ideological purposes. As a Georgian who has long argued with my fellow crackers about the uses and abuses of Confederate symbols, I have read Webb’s speech and personally found it irreproachable.I sort of doubt George Allen was just exhibiting an exotic historical interest in the Confederacy, interchangeable with, say, an enthusiasm for the War of the Roses. No, there’s not much doubt what it meant to be a Yankee Confedero-phile in the late 1960s. The southerner in me always reacts to such phenomena by saying: “You’re touching my stuff, and breaking it.”So I hope nobody really buys the “everybody did it” idea about George Allen’s strange past.
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.