Is it strange he should change?

Apparently pro-Israel public opinion in the U.S. has pushed Obama to abandon his hostile stand toward Israel and assume a smiling, friendly, and respectful manner to visiting Prime Minister Netanyahu that couldn’t be more different from his shockingly bullying and insulting treatment of the Israeli PM at the White House just four months ago. Liberal work horse Dana Milbank at the Washington Post is not happy. Liberals and anti-Israelites will see Obama’s apparent turnabout as a result of pressure from the “pro-Israel lobby.” What they will not grasp is that America is a pro-Israel country, and will not stand for its president openly treating our fellow Western nation Israel as an enemy who deserves to be beaten into submission while he treats Israel’s and our Muslim enemies as friends who deserve to be rewarded.

- end of initial entry -

LA writes:

The title of this entry is a paraphrase of Neil Young’s “Mr. Soul”:

In a while will the smile on my face turn to plaster?
Stick around while the clown who is sick does the trick of disaster
For the race of my head and my face is moving much faster
Is it strange I should change? I don’t know, why don’t you ask her?

Now from Milbank’s article:

The president, beaming in the Oval Office with a dour Netanyahu at his side, gushed about the “extraordinary friendship between our two countries.” He performed the Full Monty of pro-Israel pandering: “The bond between the United States and Israel is unbreakable … I commended Prime Minister Netanyahu … Our two countries are working cooperatively … unwavering in our commitment … our relationship has broadened … continuing to improve … We are committed to that special bond, and we are going to do what’s required to back that up.”

An Israeli reporter attempted to summon the effusive American back to reality: “Mr. President, in the past year, you distanced yourself from Israel and gave a cold shoulder to the prime minister. Do you think this policy was a mistake? … Do you trust Prime Minister Netanyahu?”

Obama assumed an amused grin. “Well, let me first of all say that the premise of your question was wrong, and I entirely disagree with it,” he said. He said he had always engaged in “a constant reaffirmation of the special relationship” with Israel, and “I’ve trusted Prime Minister Netanyahu since I met him before I was elected president.”

While Young’s lyrics could be interpreted different ways, to me they reflect Milbank’s view of the Obama-Netanyahu press conference, with the “clown who is sick” doing “the trick of disaster” being Obama as he is forced by the Israeli lobby into a bad and false position, and the “her” in Young’s song corresponding to Netanyahu, whom Milbank portrays as silently in charge of the situation and pulling Obama’s strings.

Mike P. writes:

Not strange at all, Larry. The Israeli press a couple three weeks ago reported from confidential sources within the Israeli government that Jewish donors to the Dems were pulling their financial support. The sources made it clear that the Dems and Obama were informed it was due to Obama’s failure to respect Netanyahu as Obama should respect him, and due to the pressure he was placing on Israel regadring all the new settlements.

I appreciate your concern and Milbank’s concern that this would be seen as Jewish power. But when the liberated Jews of Israel in their Jewish daily papers frankly celebrate Jewry’s bringing Obama to his knees weeks ago, well before his latest grovel, how can you deny it?

They are proud of Jewish power and celebrate Jewish power. Why can’t you and Milbank? Is it that ol’ Diaspora mentality? “What will the goyim think?”

Bob S. writes:

Obama: “We’ve always been at war with Eastasia. This is the operative statement. The others are inoperative.”

N. writes:

First of all, I have disliked Neil Young for his politics, for his nasal, whining vocals, for his often turgid lyrics, and for his boring, repetitive attempts at music for over 30 years. So the reference to his verse is vaguely off-putting and generally not meaningful or interesting. This is not intended as a criticism of your taste in music, but rather to point out that making readers annoyed by bringing up the author of “Ohio”, a memorable anthem of the 60’s/70’s New Left, might not be the best way to initiate a discussion of domestic politics. [LA replies: My paraphrases of popular songs (though I also paraphrase Shakespeare, Yeats, the Bible, etc.) are always misunderstood and resented by some readers, and it gets tiresome explaining them each time in response to the same old criticism. I wasn’t promoting Neil Young, or his anti-Americanism, or the counterculture. When I was trying to think of a title for the entry about Obama’s dramatic reversal on Israel, Young’s evocative and quintessentially Neil Youngesque line, “Is it strange I should change?”, which I haven’t heard since the early ’70s but which I heard many times then because a co-worker and friend of mine was a Neil Young fan and played the album constantly in the bookshop where we worked, came into my mind and seemed to fit what I was trying to say, so I used it. Then, after I had posted the entry, I looked up the lyrics, and saw further parallels between Young’s verse and Milbank’s take on Obama, so I went with that as well. Often things at VFR develop by association. I let my mind go where it will, and if what turns up seems to fit or add in an interesting way to what is being said, I use it. Finally, for every reader who complains about my occasional use of pop song lyrics, other readers will defend it.]

Second, while I do not wish to agree with anti-Jewish conspiracy theorists, it should not be a surprise that the Obama administration would make a U-turn on some aspects of its policy towards Israel. The reasons should be obvious:

* It is not debatable that the vast majority of Jewish voters in the US are Democrats.

* It is not debatable that Jewish donors are a factor in Democratic party fundraising.

* It is not debatable that the Obama administration has alienated, and continues to alienate, a significant number of independent voters. In fact, some polls show a majority of independent voters now disapprove of Obama.

Therefore, it is not debatable that the Obama administration needs as much of the Democratic party base in support as it can get, heading into the off-year elections. So by retreating in appearance, if not in substance, on this one issue, Obama regains a core constituency of voters and donors. I’m sure Rahm Emmanuel has already mended many, if not most of the truly important fences that are in need of fixing.

Third, while attacking Israel is clearly an important thing to many of Obama’s supporters, and to many within the Administration, it is not one of his _critical_ issues as properly understood. Reducing American influence and power, the Socialization of as much of the American economy as possible, the creation of further dependence of American citizens upon the government, and the steady increase of government power over the citizenry are clearly higher priorities. Plus, if Obama succeeds in imposing a European style social democracy, US military power will of necessity have to shrink, and thus the ability to assist Israel will naturally shrink as well, in the longer term.

Therefore I conclude that Obama is more than willing to alienate some of his base by backing off on attacks against Israel if it means retaining the Jewish Democrat voter and donor base, in order to further the larger goals I list in the third point above. Also, Obama should be able to retain some of the anti-Israel part of the Democratic party by pointing out how their goals can be obtained at a later date, provided US economic and military strength are sufficiently degraded, which requires the Democrats retain as many seats in the Congress as possible.

July 9

LA wrote to N.:

Did my explanation of my Young quote remove your objection?

N. replies:

Not really. I probably process information differently than you. Here is an example.

Years ago, the senior class of a high school at a local school chose as their class motto a paraphrase of text from Shakespeare’s great tragedy, Macbeth:

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in his petty pace from day to day …
And all our yesterdays are as nothing.

The debate that raged had to do with meanings of words. The high school students basically insisted that by paraphrasing rather than quoting, they made the words say what they want them to say: that the last year of high school can drag by slowly, but graduation puts all the past years behind them, etc. and so forth. Essentially they were trying to take part of a famous tragedy and turn it into an optimistic, forward looking slogan. Like Humpty-Dumpty in “Alice in Wonderland”, the students were declaring that words meant what they said they meant, no matter what the larger culture believed.

Some school faculty and parents pointed out that you can’t take one of the most famous of soliloquies and try to rewrite it, because every educated person knows what the first two lines mean, and it isn’t anything positive. They pointed out that it’s not possible to sever the overall tragic meaning of the words by redacting or editing out the parts that one doesn’t like. They were saying that words mean things, and trying to cram different meanings into very famous works of oratory is disrespectful of the work, immature and indicates a lack of education. It also indicates a kind of context-free approach to literature that is not only wrong headed, but dangerous.

In other words, it is a risky business to try to take words of a poet, author, etc. out of context and make them say something else. It can lead to jarring results, such as putting Macbeth’s mournful musings on a Hallmark card. So while I understand your point of view, that essentially lyrics are portable and can even be regarded as having minimal content, therefore amenable to reuse for other purposes, I’m not sure you understand my point of view.

That is, words have meaning as put down by their author, and part of understanding words (be they poetry, or literature, or plays, etc.) is knowing something of the author and social / cultural context. For example, if one reads works of Gogol (The Overcoat, The Nose, etc.) it is important to understand a bit about who he was, and what the social/cultural structure of Russia in the latter half of the 19th century looked like. Otherwise one misses the point of the story.

When I see a quote from the likes of Neil Young, therefore, I find myself recalling the early 1970’s, the kinds of political causes that he supported, the people I personally knew who freely quoted his cant in conversations (sometimes while drunk), and so forth. I find myself recalling the song “Southern Man”, for example, as well as other things. All of this has the effect of distracting my thinking, and putting me into an antagonistic frame of mind as well. It isn’t quite like beginning an article on, say, religion by quoting Ernesto “Che” Guevera’s words out of context, but it is similarly jarring.

I hope this is useful.

LA replies:

That’s very interesting and insightful. I get what you’re saying. I will think more about this.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at July 07, 2010 01:57 PM | Send

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