Michael Kinsley, smart as always:
[Rush Limbaugh] said on his radio show that President Obama may be appealing to anti-Semitism with his recent populist criticism of banks and bankers. “There are a lot of people,” Limbaugh said, “when you say banker, people think Jewish.” He didn’t mention Goldman Sachs. Abe Foxman, longtime head of the B’nai Brith Anti-Defamation League, declared that Limbaugh’s remark was “offensive and inappropriate” and “borderline anti-Semitic.” Limbaugh and his defenders protest that Limbaugh clearly was referring to other people, “people who have–what’s the best way to say–a little prejudice about them,” and not endorsing such views himself. And the transcript bears him out.
By Foxman’s standard, even to mention that many bankers are Jewish is anti-Semitic (even though it’s true), and attributing this view to others (while professing to be worried about it) is no excuse This may be over-the top. We live in a culture of umbrage, in which everybody seems to be taking offense at something somebody else says. Foxman is one of the nation’s foremost umbragists.
However, Limbaugh’s supporters make too much of the fact that, read literally, his remarks took the form of defending Jews against unfair maligning. There can be something creepy about “philo-semitism,” or a professed special fondness for Jews. Even when it is sincere (as it may well be in Limbaugh’s case), it rests on an acute feeling of “otherness” about Jews that makes many Jewish Americans rightly uncomfortable.
Sometimes the stereotype about Jews and money takes a harsher form: Jews are greedy, they lie, cheat and steal for money, they have undue influence with the government, which they cultivate and exploit ruthlessly, and so on. In recent weeks, many have said this sort of thing about Goldman Sachs, but with no reference to Jews. Are they all anti-Semites? No. It ought to be possible to criticize Goldman in the harshest possible terms–if you think that’s warranted–without being tarred as an anti-Semite. (Many of Goldman’s harshest critics, unsurprisingly, are Jewish. Jews can be anti-Semites, too.)
Yesterday, I made the pointed observation that Goldman Sach’s CEO, Lloyd Blankfein, appears to meet the CIA’s requirements for becoming the target of a Predator attack: that such an individual poses “a continuing threat to US persons or interests.”
That observation deserves three points of clarification:
1. No, I am not suggesting that the CIA or anyone else “take out” Blankfein. I neither support extrajudicial killing nor even the death penalty.
2. I freely confess that I harbor a prejudice – but it’s not against Jews; it’s against greedy bastards. I don’t give a fig whether any particular greedy bastard happens to be a Jew or a Gentile.
3. My loathing for greedy bastards does not rest on a simple Marxist belief in a need for the equitable distribution of material wealth. Rather, it springs from seeing the corrosive effect on human culture that derives from attaching excessive value to material things.
Yes, we have been fleeced by men like Blankfein, but much worse we have been led to believe that they are models of success – that they and their values deserve the power to shape the society in which we live and the culture that we create. We have been led to forget that the things of real value are things we can certainly lose, but never buy or own.