The Scrapbook scrupulously avoids Nazi analogies, such invidious comparisons being, almost exclusively, the province of the left. As strongly as The Scrapbook may feel about this or that, there is no politician in America remotely like Adolf Hitler, no program or proposal to compare with the Holocaust. And to suggest otherwise strikes The Scrapbook as not just absurd but outrageous—and insulting to the 6 million Jews killed in the Holocaust, the 60 million people who perished in World War II, not to mention the 416,837 Americans (including Republicans!) who died fighting the Axis.
That said, The Scrapbook was more than a little disconcerted last week when reading a column by Maureen Dowd in the New York Times. Its ostensible subject was Rep. Paul Ryan, and he got the full Dowd treatment: schoolyard invective, adolescent name-calling, unspecified accusations, condescension, dismissiveness. But its thesis was that because the Republican vice presidential nominee is a foreign affairs “neophyte”—unlike, say, the freshman senator elected president in 2008—he has been captured and held hostage by “neocons,” notably Dan Senor. (Senor, an occasional contributor to these pages, has had a long and distinguished career in foreign affairs, including a stint as spokesman for the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq.)
It is incontrovertibly true, as Dowd points out, that Senor has been advising Mitt Romney’s campaign on foreign policy (every presidential campaign has expert advisers), and it is equally true that, in the course of the campaign, he has consulted with Ryan. But it is Dowd’s language that caught The Scrapbook’s eye. The title of the column—“Neocons Slither Back”—invoked the unmistakable imagery of serpents in the garden; and her characterization of the Senor-Ryan relationship—“Ryan was moving his mouth, but the voice was the neocon puppet master Dan Senor”—is a timeless anti-Semitic trope.
This is not the first time that Maureen Dowd has drawn attention to the fact that a certain number of prominent American neoconservatives are Jewish; that neoconservatives, Jew and Gentile alike, tend to be strong supporters of Israel; or that some neoconservatives have exerted influence on recent U.S. foreign policy. Dan Senor is, to some degree, a neoconservative. Dan Senor is a Jew. Dan Senor is now advising Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan.
To most readers, these would be facts unworthy of comment: Paul Ryan has frequently expressed neoconservative sentiments on foreign policy, and it is no surprise that he would welcome the assistance of a prominent expert like Dan Senor. But what strikes The Scrapbook as the ordinary course of events in politics—just as Barack Obama has sympathetic advisers—strikes Dowd as repellent, deceptive, sinister. And to express her sense of disgust she conjures from the fever swamps certain images—slithering snakes and puppetmasters—with unhappy historic echoes.
It is difficult to imagine Dowd’s predecessors at the Times—James Reston, Flora Lewis, C.L. Sulzberger, Tom Wicker—deploying such rhetoric, or depicting political differences in such personally insulting terms. But where have we encountered such rhetoric before? In fact, Dowd’s language is nearly indistinguishable from the sort of bombast that characterized not only fin-de-siècle European anti-Semitism, but routinely filled the pages of Der Stürmer and the Völkischer Beobachter and other Third Reich broadsheets: Jews, like serpents, invading paradise, or pulling strings from behind the scenes.
It is quite possible, of course, that Dowd, in her ignorance, is unaware of the resemblance between classic anti-Semitic journalism and her vituperative prose. In which case The Scrapbook would suggest that one of her editors remind her of the standards to which the Times used to aspire.
Or maybe not. Dowd has written, on more than one occasion, about the ethnic resentment she and her Irish-American family seem to have felt growing up in 1950s Washington, D.C. Perhaps, in the forward-looking pages of the New York Times, old habits die hard.