During Meghan McCain’s appearance on Seth Meyers’ “Late Night” this week, the two got into a bit of an argument over the former’s criticism of Rep. Ilhan Omar’s anti-Semitism.
“I do think it’s fairly dangerous and you brought it up after Congresswoman Omar had some death threats against her,” Meyers lectured McCain, who held her own in the back and forth. “Do you think, you know, she has obviously now stated that she needs to be more careful with her language, don’t you think other people who talk about her need to be more thoughtful as well? Or do you stand by those comments of tying her to this, her rhetoric to this synagogue shooting?”
The first part of this rhetorical question is setting up a destructive standard to undermine debate. For one thing, a public figure—an elected official, no less—has no dispensation from criticism merely because some nut sends her a death threat. Nor is there any indulgence for being a Muslim woman or black women or white middle-aged man, or anyone else. Omar is a 37-year-old educated woman who was elected to the U.S. Congress, not a middle schooler playacting in the Model U.N.
McCain condemned Omar’s words. She didn’t concoct a smear.
For another, we know Meyers’s standard is a transparent tactic to chill speech because of its selective deployment. Progressives didn’t stop arguing that Republicans were really just a bunch of fascists trying steal health care from the poor minority babies after a leftist shooter tried to assassinate the entire Republican leadership on a softball field in Alexandria, Virginia. Neither did Meyers, nor anyone else, stop perpetuating the fantastical notion that Trump conspired with Russia to steal the election just because the president receives death threats every day.
“Trump is a Traitor,” the shooter, James Hodgkinson, wrote on Facebook before the shooting. “Trump Has Destroyed Our Democracy. It’s Time to Destroy Trump & Co.” This sounds like any number of Twitter feeds from liberal columnists. No one feels the slightest bit inhibited.
Furthermore, Omar never really apologized. And even if she did, so what? Would Meyers care if Steve King was really, really sorry for his previous statements, or would he care more about the congressman’s policy positions?
Sure, Democratic House leadership pressured Omar to put together the words “unequivocally” and “apologize,” but those words were a precursor to a textbook “I’m-sorry-you-were-offended” non-apology. Listening to Omar and her defenders, you might be under the impression that her allegedly unintentional use of “tropes,” not the ugly ideas that gird her worldview, was what triggered many American Jews.
If you doubt this is true, listen to her own explanation. When Qatari mouthpiece Mehdi Hasan asked her if she had apologized for being either knowingly or unknowingly anti-Semitic, Omar responded: “Absolutely not. I apologized for the way that my words made people feel.”
Omar’s words make me feel like we have a congresswoman who peddles policy ideas that will get Jews killed. Her words make me feel like I’m listening to the kind of ideas about America that had long been relegated to college campuses.
Meyers also asked a misleading rhetorical question about whether people could be “critical” of Israel without being called anti-Semitic. Virtually every member of the Barack Obama administration was critical of Israel. Tons of people are critical of Israel all the time. Omar wasn’t merely critical of Israel—and by critical of Israel, it is true that she doesn’t believe it should exist—but she smeared American Jews as seditious activists.
So I’m sorry, but your condolences over the synagogue shooting in Poway, California, don’t really hold sway when the next week you defend terrorists who fire more than 700 rockets into Israel, killing at least four people for no other reason than that they were Jews.
Yet it’s not just the Jews. And it’s not merely that Omar dismissed the al-Qaida mass murderers as “some people” who “did something.” (Meyers claims that her comments were taken out of context, which is true. They are worse in context.) It’s not only that she referred to the dozen dead U.S. soldiers and 73 wounded in the Battle of Mogadishu as participants in the “worst terrorist attack in Somalia history” and the murderer of thousands (false). It’s not that Omar blames the United States rather than authoritarianism and socialism for the devastation in Venezuela. It’s all these things. Omar dislikes America and liberalism for the same reasons she dislikes Israel.
“I’m just someone who cares about the fact that there’s someone out there who is in a minority, who has had death threats against her, and I think that we should all use the same language,” Myers said. “You’re asking her to be careful about her language, and I would ask everyone to be careful about theirs.”
What makes people think Omar isn’t careful? Maybe she’s just being honest about what she thinks of Jews. And why should her critics have trepidation about calling her out? Democrats, including nearly every presidential candidate, have defended her. They have celebrated her. They have appeared on magazine covers with her. The idea that McCain put her in danger, as Meyers suggested, is just a way to try and shut people up.