The Democrats in the House of Representatives have only a few hours left to reorder their thinking and step back from a very destructive move they are reportedly about to take.
As this week began, the Democrats planned to act on concerns about anti-Semitic statements from Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) by introducing a resolution to condemn anti-Semitism. That response falls short of the step urged by many: for Speaker Nancy Pelosi to remove Omar from her seat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. But if Pelosi was unwilling to do that, a resolution condemning anti-Semitism might at least serve as a warning.
It wasn’t clear how quickly the resolution would be introduced. But observers assumed, for the most part, that it would be a simple and rapid action. Monday came and went without it, however, and on Tuesday afternoon, news outlets began reporting that it was being delayed by objections from the Congressional Progressive Caucus and Congressional Black Caucus.
On Tuesday evening, Heather Caygle of Politico tweeted this update, citing Pelosi (h/t: Townhall):
.@SpeakerPelosi confirms she talked to Omar over the weekend and that resolution will be expanded to tackle anti-Muslim bias:
"There will be a vote this week and we will see what it is when we are finished writing it," she told reporters.
— Heather Caygle (@heatherscope) March 6, 2019
.@SpeakerPelosi confirms she talked to Omar over the weekend and that resolution will be expanded to tackle anti-Muslim bias: “There will be a vote this week and we will see what it is when we are finished writing it,” she told reporters.
The more radical elements of the Democratic Party want to reframe the resolution to “tackle anti-Muslim bias.”
There are important things very wrong with this. That nothing in this episode has been about anti-Muslim bias is actually the least of them.
The most important, by far, is that such an expanded resolution would take the focus off of personal responsibility for the Democratic leadership to act against anti-Semitism – while simultaneously creating a way to hold everyone’s speech at risk on an open-ended basis, and yet immunize anti-Semitic speech against sanction.
Ilhan Omar has been claiming that she is only being criticized for repeatedly uttering anti-Semitic tropes about American Jews because she’s a Muslim. This is false; she’s being criticized because her anti-Semitic script might as well have been written by Josef Goebbels. She has alluded to American Jews as being more loyal to Israel than to the U.S., as subverting American policy with money (“all about the Benjamins”), and as demanding that others show allegiance to Israel over America as well – all classic, well-worn tropes of anti-Semitism. (Klanster and white supremacist David Duke has backed her comments, in fact, along with Louis Farrakhan.)
Revising the House resolution to include condemnation of “anti-Muslim bias” – which isn’t at issue here – would do the opposite of daunting Omar or making a moral impression on her. It would serve to vindicate her false claim that she’s a victim of anti-Muslim bias.
But it would go beyond that. It would establish a basis for silencing and intimidating anyone who criticizes the actions of a person who happens to be a Muslim. In other words, it would shut down further criticism of Ilhan Omar (just for starters) and give her protected status from which to say whatever she wants, about Jews or anyone else.
Louis Farrakhan and David Duke are bad enough in that regard. They spew bias endlessly, and in a symphony of tropes and dog whistles — but they’re not elected representatives suffered to run tame and express outrageous views in the U.S. Congress. The expanded resolution the Democrats seem to have in mind would enshrine in a House resolution a way to hold the speech of everyone at open-ended risk — open-ended in part because there exists no ready definition or set of examples of “anti-Muslim bias,” to parallel the definition and examples of anti-Semitism.
Moreover, expanding the resolution to address anti-Muslim bias raises the obvious question why it should not also address anti-Christian bias, or anti-Hindu or anti-Buddhist bias, all of which exist and have cost people their lives.
But America is the safest place on earth for people of all faiths and has been for centuries, without going down the road of creating new ways to hold each other at risk for accusations of “bias.” If we look to the example of Europe, we cannot deem anti-bias laws to be performing well. Their record is terrible, in fact. They serve mainly to silence people engaged in legitimate speech – but they have done nothing to combat rising anti-Semitism (or anti-Muslim bias, for that matter, if we accept the judgments of the mainstream media on how prevalent the latter is).
The U.S. Congress must not become a testing ground for these self-destructive distortions of speech, dialogue, human relations, and reason.
What is needed in Omar’s case, if she is incorrigible in her expression of disqualifying anti-Semitism, is proper leadership from Nancy Pelosi. Omar doesn’t belong on the Foreign Affairs Committee. She should be removed.
If someone in the House expresses a similarly egregious and incorrigible level of anti-Muslim bias, I would expect Pelosi to remove that person from committee assignments as well. Nothing would prevent that justifiable exercise of leadership and responsibility. It’s already available.
The right course is to deal effectively with individual cases of bias. It’s not to go in search of more bias, a generalized (and largely fantasized) “culture of bias,” regardless of how unrelated it is to the problem at hand. Politics, like all else in human life, must have fire discipline. When there’s an artillery position to be taken out, you assign assets to take out that artillery position; you don’t call “Free fire!” and have everyone start shooting at everything.
The Senate, the American people, and Republicans can survive this if the Democrats insist on self-destructing with a European-style capitulation to bias-stalking. But I really hope the Democrats will think better of it. There is a clearly right course here. Just take it.