If there is anything to celebrate about the fact that one of America’s two major political parties is saturated in bad faith, it’s that, as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi recently put it, “they do not have clean hands.” She was referring to an episode last month when Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) suggested that Republicans had targeted her and another Muslim member of Congress for punishment over their criticisms of Israel to appease pro-Israel donors.
Many of Omar’s Democratic colleagues objected to her characterization in good faith, and she apologized for it, but Republicans only pretended to be outraged. They tolerate real and dangerous antisemites in their coalition, some of their most influential members traffic in far less ambiguous antisemitic tropes, but they are never to embarrassed to build entire political campaigns on a foundation of fake outrage.
Nothing has changed now that Republicans are again pretending to be scandalized by something Omar said, except that Democrats appear to have forgotten the part about Republicans not having clean hands.
As long as they have a toehold on power anywhere in Washington, this insight needs to be at the center of their response to nearly all Republican messaging campaigns, because the alternative is to let the sleaziest and most dishonest kind of bad faith shape all of American politics, including politics within the Democratic Party.
This past weekend, Omar lamented that the pro-Israel lobby expects members of Congress to demonstrate “allegiance” to Israel, even at the expense of core American interests and values, and savages those who do not.
As I argued here, Omar is not wrong about how this lobbying works, but her language understandably alarmed many American Jews and their allies because antisemites have long used accusations of Jewish disloyalty and shadowy influence to stoke hatred of Jews and brutalize them. She’s a member of Congress—a Democratic member of Congress—and should thus be more fluent in the kind of language that racial and ethnic minorities in the U.S. interpret as hateful code.
Democrats must decide among themselves how to contend with Omar, who at the very least is an ineffective messenger for the idea that lobbyists and donors have made good-faith criticism of the Israeli government and the U.S.-Israeli relationship impossible. But they have largely outsourced this decision to the very Republicans who have entered this controversy with unclean hands.
Republican leaders have demanded that the House vote on a resolution condemning antisemitism, if not Omar herself. President Trump had the nerve to feign outrage that Democrats would not “act to condemn” antisemitism. House Republican Whip Steve Scalise has called on Democrats to remove Omar from the Foreign Affairs Committee, insinuating that she might have a dual loyalty of her own and thus can not be trusted with classified information.
Democrats have thankfully not caved to Scalise’s demand, but they have descended into bitter feuding about whether the House should pass a resolution at all, what it should say, and whether Omar, of all members of Congress who have said objectionable things, has been singled out, and whether the resolution should thus be expanded to condemn other bigotries as well.
This should not be difficult.
Steve Scalise once spoke at a white supremacist event, and reportedly built his political base by campaigning in Louisiana as “David Duke without the baggage.”
Before the most-recent election, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy tweeted that three Democratic Jewish donors were trying to “BUY this election.”
Trump famously said many of the white nationalists who marched in Charlottesville, VA, chanting “Jews will not replace us,” were “very fine people.”
If they want to try to capitalize upon an internal debate among Democrats over the power of language in bigotry, then they should pay a price for their unfathomable disingenuousness.
Democrats plan to vote on their resolution today. Before they do, it should be amended—not to generically condemn the kind of bigotries that Republicans tolerate, but the specific bigotries that these Republican leaders have expressed. It should condemn antisemitism but also say that people who describe themselves as “David Duke without the baggage” and accuse Jews of trying to “BUY this election” should not serve in House leadership, and that a president who called antisemites “very fine people” should resign from office.
Maybe Republicans would vote for such a resolution anyhow, but then they will have to answer for why they’d vote to decapitate their entire party, when they clearly have no intention of policing their own. Alternatively they might vote to protect their leaders, especially Trump, against a straightforward anti-antisemitism resolution. Either way their bad faith would be made plain, and they would have to answer for it.
This kind of strategic thinking can be applied to disingenuous Republican politics across the board. Again, it is the silver lining around the fact that Republicans have spent the last several years pretending to care about Benghazi, about the sanctity of classified information, about pre-existing conditions, and practically everything else. Their paper-trail is long. But for it to be of any value, Democrats need to be willing to fight bad faith, rather than bend to it.