APRIL 24, 2008
Attacks from within families are always more hurtful than those from the outside, and so I cannot pretend that Leon Wieseltier's latest personal attack in the pages of TNR isn't painful in the extreme. To be accused of "Jew-baiting" in the pages of a magazine I was once proud and honored to edit, and which I love and support, is an extremely wounding blow. It is also untrue and unfair. And the context proves it.
I was outraged when Bill Kristol called Obama a liar about his own Christian faith in The New York Times. The reason I was outraged is because accusing someone else's sincere profession of faith a fraud is about as brutal an attack on someone's integrity as can be devised. It will be part of the hard right's attack on Obama this summer and fall. Obama's Christianity--modern, moderate, inclusive, non-fundamentalist, African-American--is terribly threatening to the Republican strategy of defining Christianity as exclusively fundamentalist and heartland, and rallying voters to the polls on those grounds.
My phrase "a non-Christian manipulator of Christianity" is an attack on Kristol's cynicism, not his Jewishness. I agree wholeheartedly with Wieseltier that, "if Kristol is wrong about Obama, it is not because Kristol is a Jew." It is because he is a cynic about faith, and a ruthless partisan indifferent to the truth when it cannot be harnessed to the wielding of power. My post was a protest against the manipulation of faith for partisan purposes. It would apply to anyone outside a faith who has decided to use and manipulate another's faith for his own political purposes. "Non-Christian" would include atheist or Muslim or agnostic or, of course, Jewish. It would apply to a Catholic calling a professing Muslim a fraud or a practising Protestant a liar. Here's the full context:
A non-Christian manipulator of Christianity is calling a Christian a liar about his own faith. That's where they've gone to already. And it's only the middle of April. What are they so scared of?
If I were "Jew-baiting," wouldn't the "they" in the following sentences refer to Jews? And yet the phrase is obviously a reference to Republicans, especially the most cynical, Rovian variety, which Kristol epitomizes.
A reader emailed me to say that he thought the phrase could be interpreted as anti-Semitic, and, to be honest, it was the first time it occurred to me. All I can say is that is not in any way what I intended, the context makes this clear, and if someone were to take it that way, I am sincerely, deeply sorry for sloppy writing. I find anti-Semitism one of the vilest, ugliest, dumbest pathologies of the human mind and soul, and I don't think any fair reader of my work over the years could come to any other conclusion. It also strikes me as trivializing real anti-Semitism when such accusations are made in the pages of The New Republic, by people who are writing in bad faith.
Andrew Sullivan is a senior editor of The Atlantic.