What Bibi's Speech Reveals About the Right

Conservative defenses of the Netanyahu speech reveal some very ugly sentiments.

By Nathan Pippenger

Michigan Republican Mike Rogers and the Hudson Institute’s Michael Doran have a defense, in Politico Magaazine, of today’s address to Congress by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. It’s an instructive dispatch from an unhinged region of the American conservativism where Netanyahu’s roundly condemned and nakedly partisan actions are being portrayed as positively Churchillian.

Republicans invited Netanyahu to attack the President before Congress, during a key moment in the Iranian nuclear talks, without saying anything to the White House about their plans. Rogers and Doran pooh-pooh complaints about this breach of protocol by claiming that if etiquette were Obama’s sole concern, “then he would have worked behind the scenes to reduce the tension. Instead, the White House immediately demanded, in public no less, that the Israeli prime minister make a humiliating gesture of obeisance by canceling the speech.” The nerve of that Obama, to strut around like he’s the President.

Despite Netanyahu’s mild diplomatic faux pas, then, there’s no going back: It would be “humiliating” for him to apologize and cancel the speech. Besides, the authors argue, the whole flap with Bibi is really Obama’s fault anyway: “Obama’s campaign against him is a sly way of making the case to the Israeli electorate that he is incapable of managing relations with the United States, Israel’s greatest ally.” In other words, the choice by Israel’s Prime Minister to travel to the United States, attack its President in front of Republicans in Congress, and then refuse (under intense pressure and criticism) to cancel his speech all fed into Obama’s plan. And if this campaign succeeds, then Obama will have left Israeli voters with the impression that it is Bibi who is to blame for bungling relations. Sly, indeed.

The nuttiness doesn’t end there. Consider, at no less a center of conservative thinking than National Review, this headline about the speech: “Netanyahu, Not Obama, Speaks for Us.” Identifying Netanyahu as “the leader of the free world” and declaring allegiance to him over the U.S. President is the sort of thing that NR would decry as un-American, even treasonous, if a Republican occupied the White House. Or, at the very least, an acceptable-looking Democrat. Consider this, erm, suggestive passage:

Netanyahu — who spent far more of his formative years on the American mainland than Obama did, and who took enemy fire at the age when Obama was openly pushing Marxist theory, and who learned and practiced free enterprise at the same age when Obama was practicing and teaching Alinskyism — has spoken eloquently for decades in praise of the Western heritage of freedom and human rights.

It doesn’t take a lot to read between the lines of that passage, which is precisely the point. Writing overtly racist columns is the sort of thing that might get you fired from National Review (to be sure, it’s no guarantee, but who wants to play the odds?). This thinly veiled kind of writing, however, achieves largely the same goal without inviting the pesky scrutiny that sank John Derbyshire’s career. And readers know exactly how to read what’s being said. The right has tried lots of justifications for Netanyahu’s speech—all of them wrongheaded—and while the foregoing isn’t exhaustive, it’s revealing. The range of ugly sentiments this debate has unveiled show why much more than a breach of protocol is at stake here—and why the White House’s hard line was entirely appropriate.

Nathan Pippenger is a contributing editor at Democracy. Follow him on Twitter at @NathanPip.

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