Joe Klein Expands the 'Political Space' To Speak Out

Email Print


As a liberal for many years, Time magazine columnist Joe
Klein has grown used to getting into hot water. Back in the 1980s,
he bucked the trend of his compatriots, when he challenged the worth
of Affirmative Action policies and other social programs. His dissident
views created a little firestorm of criticism among the liberal
media and other intelligentsia.

It was at this time that I met Joe, outside some political event,
whose title and focus are long forgotten. I was distributing the
hard copy version of my Issues & Views newsletter, and
he was there to cover the event. I think he was then employed by
Newsweek magazine. We struck up a conversation, with me pre-judging
him as just another liberal media type, until he informed me of
the flak he was then undergoing, due to what was deemed his "conservative"
stances on the above-mentioned issues. This was not a knee-jerk

In 2006, I did a brief piece on Klein’s book for the I&V website.
In Politics
Lost: How American democracy was trivialized by people who think
you’re stupid
, Klein described, through his first-hand observations
of several presidential campaigns, how diverse "consultants,"
public relations specialists, pollsters, and various kinds of "handlers,"
have overtaken the political process and the people who run for
public office. In the book, he observed that "to be moderate
is to be homeless in 21st century American politics," and that
"it isn’t easy to be a classic liberal or conservative these
days, either."

Today, Klein again finds himself in hot water. This time, it is
his views on the foreign front, rather than the domestic one, that
has ruffled the feathers of his adversaries. Last month, on his
Time blog, Swampland,
Klein took exception to the role played, during the past several
years, by Washington DC’s powerful neoconservatives. He wrote about
"a great many Jewish neoconservatives – people like Joe
Lieberman and the crowd over at Commentary," who, "plumped
for war, and now for an even more foolish assault on Iran . . ."
He denounced those who are successfully "using U.S. military
power, U.S. lives and money, to make the world safe for Israel,"
along with "the two oil executives, Bush and Cheney,"
who are "securing a new source of business for their Texas
buddies." Klein chided those who make a fuss over the so-called
surge in Iraq, which he referred to as "whipped cream on a
pile of fertilizer – a regional policy unprecedented in its
stupidity and squalor."

In a follow-up interview with The Atlantic magazine’s Jeffrey
Goldberg, Klein elaborated further on his convictions, explaining
that he is not "anti-Semitic" (as you knew Abe Foxman
and the horde of squealing hawks would charge), but is "anti-neoconservative."
He continued, "I think these people are following very perversely
extremist policies." Klein implied that the threat of Iran
is hyped for cynical reasons, referring to the elderly Jews who
retire to Florida, including his own parents. Picking a fight with
Iran is strictly for political purposes, Klein declared, "to
scare the s__t out of my parents. It’s a Broward County strategy,
it’s a Florida strategy."

When Goldberg observed that Klein was "using the word ‘Jewish’
in ways that we haven’t seen Jewish reporters and Jewish columnists
use," Klein replied, "It’s about time. I think everyone
else is too afraid to do it." Claiming to be a "strong
supporter" of Israel, Klein insists, nevertheless, "There
were people out there in the Jewish community who saw this as a
way to create a benign domino theory and eliminate all Israel’s
enemies." This is a "dangerous anachronistic neocolonial"
notion, he contends.

Klein revealed some of the vituperative responses emanating from
his angry opponents. One columnist wrote on her National Review
blog, "I can’t imagine why Time hasn’t shut this guy
down and fired him." Klein says, "That’s what they want.
They want to stifle opinions that are different than theirs."

That might not be so easy any longer. Once unspeakable thoughts
can now be spoken. Some believe this is essentially due to the bravery
of scholars Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer who, in 2006, published
their groundbreaking essay, "The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign
Policy" and, in 2007, published the expanded version as a book.
Many others risked their livelihoods and reputations when attempting
to speak out on this subject.

As Daniel Luban writes, Walt and Mearsheimer helped to create the
"political space" in which the once taboo subject of the
United States’ involvement with Israel can be openly discussed and
debated. It’s in the closet no more.

We know that it is not only Jewish neocons who are responsible
for the current Middle East debacle, but, as writer Daniel Levy
puts it, "Too many Jewish communal leaders and institutions
made the mistake of not standing up and speaking out more against
the right-wing excesses of a small minority of their co-religionists."
They cheapened the term "anti-Semitism," he says, as they
built a "wall of untouchability" around them.

M.J. Rosenberg, a former member of the AIPAC staff, now with the
Israel Policy Forum,
congratulates Joe Klein on the firmness with which he has expressed
himself, and is pleased that Klein has not issued the expected mea
culpa, so familiar, whenever a public figure dares to wade in
such politically incorrect waters. As for all who helped to bring
on the Iraq invasion, Rosenberg writes, "They should shut up
and volunteer at Walter Reed. For the rest of their lives."

This originally appeared on the Issues
& Views

14, 2008

Wright [send her mail]
is editor of Issues
& Views
. She blogs

Email Print