Commentary on Political Economy

Thursday 7 December 2023

 Sometime soon, somebody much more diabolical than Trump will lead the US because of you effing wokes. I know what will happen to you then. And you know? I just about wish for that day to come soon. You deserve it. You will pay.

The Political Price of Anti-Israel Protests

Wonder Land: Following the targeting of a Jewish-owned restaurant by 'Pro Palestine' protesters in Philadelphia, Democrats start to push back against public antisemitism. Images: AP/@THATJVG via Storyful Composite: Mark Kelly

Consider what Rep. Pramila Jayapal put in motion Sunday. Responding to reports of Hamas’s raping and mutilating Israeli women as a planned strategy, Ms. Jayapal, who heads the more than 100-member House Progressive Caucus, told CNN’s Dana Bash: “I think it’s horrific and I think rape, sexual assault is horrific. I think that it happens in war situations. Terrorist organizations like Hamas obviously are using these as tools. However, I think we have to be balanced about bringing in the outrages against Palestinians.”

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Hillary Clinton, addressing a United Nations meeting the next day, said, “It is outrageous just that some who claim to stand for justice are closing their eyes and their hearts to the victims of Hamas.” On Tuesday, 95 House Democrats voted for a resolution that “anti-Zionism is antisemitism,” while 105 of them voted against or present.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the San Francisco Democrats.

“San Francisco Democrats” is the memorable phrase Jeane Kirkpatrick delivered—six times—in a speech at the 1984 GOP convention to tag the Democratic Party as out of touch with American values. Kirkpatrick’s speech alone wasn’t the reason Ronald Reagan carried 49 states against Walter Mondale, but the phrase stuck.

Noteworthy is that Kirkpatrick’s speech came more than 15 years after the Democratic Party had fallen into division over the Vietnam War. Book-length histories provide the details, but what matters for the current split over Israel is that Democrats divided in 1968 between traditional liberals and an antiwar left that specialized in nonstop protests.

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In 1972’s presidential election, incumbent Richard Nixon wiped out progressive Sen. George McGovern, winning 49 states and 60.7% of the popular vote. Democrats today aren’t worrying about another Nixon or Reagan landslide. They’re lying awake remembering Lyndon B. Johnson’s resignation speech in March 1968, which put the party on a long downhill slide.

LBJ, who had presided over passage of the Great Society legislation, stunned the country by announcing he wouldn’t seek re-election. Back then during Vietnam, protesters yelled, “Hey, hey LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?” Today, the left chants “Genocide Joe.”

This analogy is far from perfect. In fact, LBJ’s vice president, Hubert Humphrey, barely lost to Nixon (who in the 1968 primaries had defeated then-California Gov. Ronald Reagan with Trump-like percentages).

Today, the Democrats in part are running a stop-the-clock strategy to avoid another 1968. Back then in New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary, Democratic challenger and war critic Sen. Eugene McCarthy got 42% of the vote. Two weeks later, with younger voters deserting LBJ, the president quit the race. This week, Florida’s Democratic Party effectively canceled its primary, evaporating the challenge from Rep. Dean Phillips or anyone else. The party of course already tried to demote New Hampshire’s lead primary role.

Joe Biden can run for president, but he can’t hide from the ghosts of ’68. U.S. Muslim leaders from several swing states—including Michigan, Pennsylvania and Nevada—held an “Abandon Biden” rally Saturday. “Genocide Joe” protesters show up at Mr. Biden’s public appearances. Sen. Bernie Sanders, darling of young leftist voters in the 2020 presidential primaries, is the leading anti-Israel voice in the Senate.

One may argue that the Israel-Hamas war’s main fighting will be over by summer, and the tumult among attention-deficient Gen Z voters will dissipate, avoiding a replay of the riots at the Democrats’ 1968 Chicago convention. But the wounds inflicted on the party won’t heal quickly with the broader American electorate.

Antisemitism is the new antiwar—a litmus test of progressive solidarity. Antiwar was arguable. Antisemitism, no matter how often it is euphemized as pro-Palestine, isn’t. Jewish voters have some hard thinking to do about where their partisan interests lie now.

Whaddabout the too-odious Donald Trump as their probable opponent? Short answer: It’s not possible to overstate how much liberals despised Nixon and even Reagan. Relying on personal abhorrence alone to win is a bad bet.

The real political threat this wave of left-wing protesters presents to the Biden Democrats is that they are so unhinged, always at the edge of violence. We are living in disturbed times—crime, inflation, post-pandemic challenges, global disorder. It resembles the 1970s. Now comes the spectacle of unrelenting anti-Israel protests in American cities. Elected Democrats are starting to push back. But it may be too little, too late to save Joe Biden or any conceivable replacement.

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