With Ilhan Omar, the real focus is the Democratic leadership

With Ilhan Omar, the real focus is the Democratic leadership
C-SPAN video

In a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on Wednesday, Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) had an exchange with veteran diplomat Elliott Abrams that has to be seen to be believed. Abrams was recently appointed as special envoy for Venezuela and was at the House committee hearing to discuss that topic.

It is precise and fair to say that Omar attacked Abrams, suggesting outright that his testimony could not be trusted, alleging that he was complicit in “genocide” in the 1980s, and demanding the radical left’s patented “yes or no!” answers to absurdly loaded questions. (Shorter and longer clips below.)

Abrams pointed out that Omar gave him no chance to defend himself after leveling her charge about his credibility.  She quite obviously had no intention of agreeing to any rules of fairness in that regard.  She overrode his concern and made it clear he was supposed to sit silent and take a verbal beating.

A lot of people are missing the point on this little episode.  Some are commenting on Omar’s halting delivery and pronunciation. Others suggest she has no idea what she’s talking about, when she makes the 30-plus-year-old “genocide” charge against Abrams.

Still others observe that Abrams is Jewish, and a strong supporter of Israel.

Omar’s line of attack – it soberly cannot be called “questioning” – in fact received endorsement from KKK anti-Semite David Duke, his second such endorsement of Omar in the last few days.

I hope it’s clear that Omar’s penchant for anti-Semitic outbursts is not incidental or dismissible as a minor quirk.  I don’t dispute that she may well have adopted an especially hostile posture toward Abrams because he’s Jewish.

Nor would I attempt any apologetic for her apparent unfamiliarity with the subject matter on which she was taxing him (El Salvador in the 1980s).  I don’t think she is stupid, but I do think she is ignorant.

That, however, is not the point.  As important as the extremely disquieting anti-Semitism is, even that is not the ultimate point.

But the anti-Semitism is perennially a reliable indicator of what the point really is.  The point is that Omar’s political profile is quickly becoming that of an uncalibrated radical whose presence in the House of Representatives will be harmful in every respect.

We need not even agree on the events of the 1980s to see that.  I don’t agree with Omar at all that Elliott Abrams was complicit in a “genocide” during that period.  But suppose, for the sake of illustration, that there had been something people of goodwill might reasonably dispute as a genocide.

In such a case, it is appallingly counterproductive for a Member of Congress to berate a witness tendentiously, tell him his “no” answer will be taken as a “yes,” and triumphally inform him that she, the Member, intends to do all the talking, and the witness will be thanked sarcastically for his participation.  No legitimate end of the public is served by this behavior.  This is a vicious misuse of the American people’s time and resources.

If there’s a genocide to be thrashed out, then probing questions and good-faith allowance for answers are in order.  That is how you use the forum paid for by the American people.  To keep the process on track, and get to the truth, civility and fairness are imperative.

Omar instead used the committee hearing for politically radical posturing.  And she didn’t just use Elliott Abrams as a prop.  She used him as a punching bag, delivering a targeted, ad hominem attack, and demanding that he engage in speculation about the possibility of supporting factions (presumably in Venezuela) that were guilty of war crimes.

Be clear on that.  Omar was not making Abrams squirm by trying to elicit actual substantive answers from him in a search for the truth.  She was lobbing a malicious accusation at him and demanding that he discuss “supporting war crimes” as if it were a legitimate prior concern on which he owed her some kind of answer.

These are the tactics of Bolsheviks and Nazis, however little Omar may look like one.  Omar’s rant was not about doing the people’s business; it was the opposite, an attempt to corrupt and deflect the people’s business by injecting smears and suspicion about U.S. policy in Venezuela.  It’s no accident that it ripped up an old grievance of the radical left from the 1980s.  The radical left, whose tropes and myths Omar has obviously been steeped in, lives perpetually in a past defined by its long-nursed grievances.

Omar’s radicalism is not a mere harmless spectacle here.  Left unchecked, it will fatally poison the character of political dialogue in the Congress.  That character is already on shaky ground.  It can’t take the licks some of our older, long-established pundits may think it can.  I saw a number of them post mild, rather shell-shocked reactions today, and I have to say that, for all their undoubted wisdom and experience, they seem slow on the uptake about what they are seeing.

Omar doesn’t care.  She has already “apologized” at least twice for making anti-Semitic comments, and yet continues to do it.  It is clear that, for her, Elliott Abrams’s well-earned stature as a policy-maker and diplomat is precisely why there is a high payoff in attacking him.  Far from being daunted by who Abrams is, she is energized by it.

I will readily admit that I didn’t assume Omar’s profile would be this relentlessly radical.  Others may have seen it coming in advance.  I didn’t.  I wasn’t paying enough attention.

But it would be obtuse and foolish not to see it now.  There are two final points to make.  One is that Omar is by no means the only example of radicalization among elected Democrats.  The focus should not be exclusively on her.

Other observers have been making this case; in one of its key aspects, anti-Semitism, LU contributor Jeff Dunetz argues that the problem has been increasingly pervasive in the party for years.  It’s not about race or gender, for that matter, or religion or national origin.

The other point is the headline thesis.  The question for the Democratic Party, and for America, is what the Democratic leadership will do about this.  This is not a stable situation, as-is.  Centers do not hold of their own accord; they require enforcement.  It can’t be overemphasized that if Omar is suffered to attack witnesses in Congress for malevolent propaganda purposes, the people’s business in Congress will be corrupted, and the tone of legislative politics will not simply survive unscathed.

Speaker Pelosi needs to remove Omar from her committee assignments immediately.  What we saw in the House committee on Wednesday is not how America conducts our political business.  It must not become so.

J.E. Dyer

J.E. Dyer

J.E. Dyer is a retired Naval Intelligence officer who lives in Southern California, blogging as The Optimistic Conservative for domestic tranquility and world peace. Her articles have appeared at Hot Air, Commentary’s Contentions, Patheos, The Daily Caller, The Jewish Press, and The Weekly Standard.


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