THE PLANK JANUARY 25, 2007
Matthew Yglesias challenges my manhood here. Well, okay, here goes. (If you don't like long, self-involved internet pissing matches, you should probably skip on down to the next item.)
Our dispute began when Matt wrote a column defending Wesley Clark's assertion that an American war with Iran is likely because rich Jews are pushing for it. Matt argued that Clark was only saying obvious things that everybody knows to be true. In response I pointed out that he elided the crucial thing, which is that Clark assumed that a tiny number of Jews by themselves have the power to force the United States into a war. Whatever Clark himself thinks about Jews, this statement is obviously conspiratorial crackpot thinking of the sort favored by anti-Semites.
Matt's response to this was pretty baffling. He wrote, "I will grant Chait this, insofar as Clark was trying to say that rich rightwing Jews could cause a war with Iran all on their own he's clearly overstating things." So, in other words, I'm right. But he didn't want to admit that. So his concession was confined to one sentence, and the thrust of his item was that I'm somehow hypocritical: "obviously, rich right-wing Jews like the owners of The New Republic have nothing to do with the drive toward a military confrontation with Iran, right?"
What that has to do with my point, I have no idea. Anyway, today he follows it up with another ad hominem reply. The subject of Matt's item is a blog post by TNR's owner, Marty Peretz. Marty wrote that there won't be a Martin Luther King in the Muslim world anytime soon, because he'd be imprisoned or shot. Matt turns this into a reply to me: Marty's item, he writes, is obviously racist, so if I'm concerned about bigotry why don't I denounce my owner, rather than focusing on marginal figures like presidential candidates?
I think this is all Matt's attempt to change the subject where he was clearly wrong and doesn't want to admit it, and I think the whole gambit is beneath him. But, what the heck, I'll play along, even though I think even those readers who haven't gotten tired of it by this point will find what follows to be tiresome.
On the ha-ha-gotcha level, Marty obviously made a silly mistake. (Martin Luther King was thrown into prison, and he was shot.) Obviously Marty's point was that a Muslim Martin Luther King would be imprisoned for a very long time, and not for civil disobedience, and that he'd be shot by the state, not a crazed assassin. If Matt wants to pretend he doesn't know that's the case and have a laugh, okay, fine.
But Matt doesn't want to settle for that cheap laugh. Instead he extrapolates that Marty's point is that "Those Muslims sure are vicious and evil," and further extrapolates that "one of America's leading political magazines is owned and operated by a man whose political opinions appear to be primarily driven by bigotry against Arabs and Muslims." He then dares me to call out Marty on his obvious racism.
What a clever gambit. Either I agree with Matt and make a very serious charge against the person who signs my paychecks, or I disagree and look like a suck-up, or I say nothing and look like a coward. Whichever of those options I pick, his response is ready to go.
Fortunately, it happens that I don't think Marty's item was racist. This is a longer conversation, but I don't think there's anything racist about saying that most of the Muslim world is deeply illiberal. This was true of Europe 500 years ago (and at that time, of course, the Muslim world was far more tolerant than Europe.) I don't think it would be racist to say that Europe was intolerant and illiberal then, and I don't think it's racist to say the same about the Muslim world now, as long as you don't attribute that to inherent racial characteristics, which Marty's item doesn't do. Marty isn't saying a Muslim MLK would be killed because Muslims are inherently vicious, he's saying he'd be killed because Muslim countries are ruled by autocrats. This seems indisputably true.
Does that mean I agree with everything Marty writes? No way. And I'm sure he disagrees with some of what I write, as well as a lot of what appears in TNR and its website. (I'm guessing Marty wouldn't endorse, say, this column.) At the risk of sounding like a suck-up, I think this redounds enormously to Marty's credit. For reasons I don't understand Matt seems to regard TNR's ideological diversity as hypocrisy or cowardice or something bad.
I actually think Matt's a brilliant guy, probably the best political blogger I've read, but something about this topic seems to send him off the deep end.