There has been little speculation of which I am aware about a relationship between the current national debate (frenzy, pissing match, what-have-you) about national health care and the President’s expressed desire to move forward on a resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Perhaps, I simply haven’t been looking hard enough, or no one else believes there is such a relationship, or if they believe there is one, they believe that it should not be spoken about out loud. But, I believe there is a deep political relationship that transcends the facts in each issue, speaking instead, to the visceral realities that shape our democratic society (and, for that matter, Israel’s, as well).
The national healthcare debate, if one can call this bloody political feeding frenzy a debate, has been largely reduced to the battle over the future of the Obama presidency and all that the Republican Party thinks it – the Obama Presidency – stands for: you know, such wildly fanatical notions as “socialism” or “government takeovers.” Just what the Republican Party stands for is entirely another question: after Reagan and brat Bush, it surely isn’t fiscal conservatism, nor is it limited government, nor is it restraint in foreign policy, nor any of the other classical conceits of twentieth century Republicanism.
What this battle is about is who rules this country, not solving its problems. It is the cultural/ethnic/ideological war being played out against the backdrop of a demographic trend often discussed but not yet fully acknowledged by the liberal intelligentsia, or else, deliberately spoken, sotto voce, in order not to fully arouse this already stirring beast. Put simply, many white Americans are awakening to the fact that what they think is their privileged status and dominance is now threatened by the expanding “ethnic” communities which are about to become a permanent majority. I agree with President Obama that this is not about race, but it is about something very close to it.
To compress the rest, it’s pretty clear that the fight over national health care is the nexus at which this larger conflict is being joined. But how does this relate to the Arab-Israeli conflict? After all, is not support for Israel one of the remaining, deeply embedded, national consensus issues? Yes, but…
The problem is that Israel and its supporters have been eating too many carbohydrates; they have become comfortable on the corn-rich diet of American support and approval which have made them politically and morally obese, unable to distinguish what is cause and effect in their protracted conflict with the Palestinians and the rest of the Arab world. Enter, then, an American president who understands that both Israelis and Arabs must go on a political and psychological diet, putting aside the comfort foods of self-righteousness and obstinacy which have characterized both sides. Now, they must get down to the very difficult task of isolating the avaricious, fanatical and extremist devils which sit upon their shoulders, stuffing unspeakable conditions down the throats of their respective bodies politic. Given the rightist politics of the Netanyahu government and the stark political realignment of the Israeli polity, it is clear that neither he nor they are ready to confront the extreme distrust that shapes their politics.
American Jewry has been eating at this table as well, although it has never fully gorged itself on the notion that Israeli settlements are nutritious and healthy. But, on the Israeli side, if there is no serious movement to restrict its appetite for land and control, there will be no credibility with the Arab world. And while neither Israelis nor American Jews are inclined to take the Arab world seriously – even more so after Clinton’s false start and Bush’s self-indulgent policies – many, if not most, American Jews understand that coddling the settlers is giving in to a self-destructive impulse that wildly distorts the Israeli national soul and image with, as yet, ill-defined but inevitable negative consequences.
American support for Israel, as I noted – and as everyone knows – rests on a broad national consensus. It is not just the President who walks on the bed of coals laid down by American Jewish fervor for Israel. Congress does, and so do many in the wide spectrum of foreign policy influentials, including most mainstream pundits. Challenging the consensus, even with the best of motives, even in a way that poses the possibility of severing the Gordian knot of the conflict, risks arousing the anxieties (and the appetite for red meat) of so many of those who sit at the consensual table.
And if you accept the underlying logic of what is happening in the national battle over health care – that it is existential politics of the crudest sort – then the same may very well apply to the potential debate over American Middle East policy, when the issue is finally plated and served.
And here’s what worries me: I have no doubt where the Republican members of Congress will stand — with Israel, with American Jewry, with the State of Israel and its leader — and against the President of the United States. Again, it will not be what or whom they are for; it will really be what and whom they are against. Still, they are in the minority, at least for another year; hence their appeasement of Netanyahu’s policies shouldn’t be the critical factor. But how, then, should we regard the Democrats, classically fractional and fractious: Will they support the President on an Arab-Israeli initiative? Not likely if he fails at health care, because Congressional elections are just around the corner, and self-preservation is, after all, the highest law of politics.
Come Yom Kippur, we are expected to apologize to those whom we think we may have harmed, spoken ill of, or held a misplaced grudge against. I hope those of my friends who are Republicans will not only find a way to say an “al heit,” but then do something about it by publicly expressing their concern about where their party is taking them. I will apologize to them for thinking so badly of them. But that is not enough, because the burden now rests on the fickle shoulders of the Democratic Party. There is no less an obligation to educate them to the benefits that can be achieved in supporting the President and the global risks that inhere in withholding support – on both health care and the Middle East
Still, as I look this over, I think: Maybe it’s really best not to say any of this out loud. What does it help to draw this connection? Will it move any Blue Dog Democrats closer to the President? Will it give the Republicans one more whip to flay at the President and arouse the electorate? I’m not sanguine about the answers to these questions, but I know that we must do more than be right in our hearts. We must write, call, and speak up. The election of Barak Obama was not the end of the wayward drift of our country and our national soul, but the beginning of the very real battle we must fight to assure its survival.
Happy New Year, everybody. Happy New Year, world.