Just Say No To Populism Cont’d

by Brien Jackson

Backing up the idea that left-wing populism can only reinforce right-wing populism, and put progressives who embrace it into an unteneable position, check out this amazing post from Sirota on J.D. Hayworth’s anti-semitism:

First, let me say up front, I agree with the principle voiced by the Prospect. From Henry Ford to Father Coughlin to Pat Buchanan, there are ample examples of right-wing populism either melding with or becoming straight-up anti-semitism (and, more generally xenophobia). And I think that Hayworth’s veneration of Ford’s anti-semitism is, well, pretty clearly anti-semitic unto itself.

However, Hayworth’s specific comments aside, charges of anti-semitism are serious – and you need more to prove that is what’s going on than references to “elites” or even to George Soros.* And I say this as a Jew who gets lots of hate mail. Most of that hate mail comes from the sender’s hatred of my progressive ideology, and some of it is explicitly anti-semitic. I’d be absurd, though, to say that all of my hate mail is anti-semitic just because it is addressed to me, a Jewish person.

The fact is, the Wall Street elite destroyed our economy. Believing that fact and voicing it through the rhetoric of populism doesn’t make somebody “anti-semitic” just because there happen to be Jews working on Wall Street, or even if the person voicing outrage happens to mention the names of wrongdoers who happen to be Jewish (like, say, Bernie Madoff). Likewise, a group of very powerful conservative ideologues in the Pentagon and in the neo-conservative think tank world pushed the country to war. That’s a fact – and believing it or voicing anger about it doesn’t make somebody anti-semitic, just because some of those ideologues happen to be Jewish, or even if the person voicing anger mentions the names of some people who happen to be Jewish.

Of course he’s right, but that’s what makes this such an absurd post. No one is going to dispute the idea that criticizing bankers or Iraq war proponents makes you anti-semitic because some of them happen to be Jewish, so the fact that Sirota has to devolve to this canard really let’s the cat out of the bag early. Moreover, that’s not really what Hayworth did, he actually denigrated Soros as a “currency manipulator,” and Sirota even ackowledges that he finds this to be anti-semitic.

Rather, what’s happening here is what will always happen when progressives embrace populism; you set the ball rolling, and the right-wing will jump in to ratchet up the rage and play off the resentiment. What Sirota’s obviously doing is defending himself, since he’s been so critical of Wall Street in overt populist language. And obviously Sirota is not an anti-semite, and there’s nothing anti-Semitic in anything I’ve ever seen him write. But that’s not the point; the point is that it’s Sirota’s brand of left-wing populism that lays the groundwork for racist, anti-semitic, know nothing right-wing populists to enter the “grassroots” discussion, and once that happens the left simply can’t win a race to the bottom. And they get left mounting quasi defenses of racists in order to defend their populism to boot.

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