New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman, fresh off pining openly for a one-party communist United States instead of having to tolerate minority-party Republicans (no really, he said that), now posits that right-wing criticism of Obama is just like domestic criticism of Israel's Yitzhak Rabin before the prime minister was assassinated.
Others have already remarked on this analogy, but I want to add my voice because the parallels to Israel then and America today turn my stomach: I have no problem with any of the substantive criticism of President Obama from the right or left. But something very dangerous is happening. Criticism from the far right has begun tipping over into delegitimation and creating the same kind of climate here that existed in Israel on the eve of the Rabin assassination.
I'm sure those with more Middle East expertise than I can suggest some flaws in this analogy; not least of which is the fact that the United States is not a small, recently minted nation surrounded on all sides by remarkably hostile countries against whom they have fought wars and continue to confront militarily. Still, nobody likes a violently poisonous climate, right? Let's see Friedman's evidence:
What kind of madness is it that someone would create a poll on Facebook asking respondents, "Should Obama be killed?" The choices were: "No, Maybe, Yes, and Yes if he cuts my health care." The Secret Service is now investigating. I hope they put the jerk in jail and throw away the key because this is exactly what was being done to Rabin.
Sick, yes. But exactly what was being done to Rabin? I'm pretty sure the life-and-death currents in Israeli politics were (and are) a little bit more serious, entrenched, and organized than some retard's Facebook prank. Surely there are more indicators of impending violence?
Mr. Obama is now having his legitimacy attacked by a concerted campaign from the right fringe. They are using everything from smears that he is a closet "socialist" to calling him a "liar" in the middle of a joint session of Congress to fabricating doubts about his birth in America and whether he is even a citizen. And these attacks are not just coming from the fringe. Now they come from Lou Dobbs on CNN and from members of the House of Representatives.
1) None of this rises to the level of even rhetorical violence, and 2) you could make a similar list to the one above using George W. Bush, the Florida recount (or the Ohio vote-counting in 2004), "Bush lied," and Cynthia McKinney. Indeed, that's part of Friedman's point: that we've gone "24 years without a legitimate president." But Friedman wasn't writing assassination-anxiety columns in 2007, 2001, or 1998 (as far as I know, anyway). He is saying, without coming close to making the case, that what we are seeing is a widespread problem of "people crossing the line between criticizing the president and tacitly encouraging the unthinkable and the unforgivable." The Paranoid Center rises again.
As always, I'm haunted by the question: What if I'm wrong? Even if the purportedly violent townhall meetings this summer actually weren't, and signs abound of the racial-anxiety hypothesizers drastically overstating their case–my favorite from today is a fundraising e-mail sent out by The Nation claiming, falsely, that the 9/12 protest on Washington, D.C. included "tens of thousands waving Confederate flags, anti-gay hate signs, and shouting 'White Power!'"–it would take only one kook to forever validate the popular thesis that the rednecks are paving the way for racist ultra-violence. For now I can only trust my own (admittedly optimistic) eyes…and I ain't seeing it.
UPDATE: Yes, you can still talk about killing George W. Bush on Facebook. But that's just satire!