The last weeks of every presidential campaign I can remember bring out the crazies. Candidates are reviled as “racists,” “Nazis,” “Communists,” and the like. But this year the process has gotten nuttier and more malicious than usual. Perhaps it is a sign of desperation, given that polling does not suggest a close campaign, and a party now long entrenched appears to be poised for a swift kick in the behind—for the second time running.
Still, I was amused at how absurd some of this is. The National Review is worth examining regularly these days–it has turned into something of a circular firing squad. I used to read and love it back in the heyday of William F. Buckley, Jr.’s editorship. It was home base for a certain rigorous, philosophically based conservatism that valued the classics. I search in vain through National Review today for any trace of the erudition and intellectual integrity that Buckley brought to the publication. And I suspect that Buckley himself was unhappy with the magazine’s course in his final years. Two years ago, I spoke at a conservative, religiously affiliated college in the South and discovered that my predecessor at the lectern, just the night before, had been Buckley. When I asked how his talk had gone, my faculty handler told me it had been a surprising experience. Buckley spoke at some length about the mistakes that the Bush Administration had made, starting with the Iraq War. When one student observed that his comments were rather at odds with the views that appeared in National Review, Buckley replied, “Yes. We have grown distant.”
In the current issue of National Review, Andrew McCarthy continues his campaign to link the Democratic nominee to various and sundry Hyde Park radicals. This time it is “PLO advisor turned University of Chicago professor Rashid Khalidi,” who now heads the Middle Eastern Studies Department at Columbia University. Khalidi, we learn, makes a habit of justifying and supporting the work of terrorists and is “a former mouthpiece for master terrorist Yasser Arafat.” And then we learn that this same Khalidi knows Obama and that his children even babysat for Obama’s kids!
This doesn’t sound much like the Rashid Khalidi I know. I’ve followed his career for many years, read his articles and books, listened to his presentations, and engaged him in discussions of politics, the arts, and history. In fact, as McCarthy’s piece ran, I was midway through an advance copy of Khalidi’s new book Sowing Crisis: The Cold War and American Dominance in the Middle East. (I’ll be reviewing it next month–stay tuned.) Rashid Khalidi is an American academic of extraordinary ability and sharp insights. He is also deeply committed to stemming violence in the Middle East, promoting a culture that embraces human rights as a fundamental notion, and building democratic societies. In a sense, Khalidi’s formula for solving the Middle East crisis has not been radically different from George W. Bush’s: both believe in American values and approaches. However, whereas Bush believes these values can be introduced in the wake of bombs and at the barrel of a gun, Khalidi disagrees. He sees education and civic activism as the path to success, and he argues that pervasive military interventionism has historically undermined the Middle East and will continue to do so. Khalidi has also been one of the most articulate critics of the PLO and the Palestinian Authority—calling them repeatedly on their anti-democratic tendencies and their betrayals of their own principles. Khalidi is also a Palestinian American. There is no doubt in my mind that it is solely that last fact that informs McCarthy’s ignorant and malicious rants.
McCarthy states that Khalidi “founded” the Arab American Action Network (AAAN). In fact, he neither founded it nor has anything to do with it. But AAAN is not, as McCarthy suggests, a political organization. It is a social-services organization, largely funded by the state of Illinois and private foundations, that provides support for English-language training, citizenship classes, after-school and summer programs for schoolchildren, women’s shelters, and child care among Chicago’s sizable Arab community (and for others on the city’s impoverished South Side). Does McCarthy consider this sort of civic activism objectionable? Since it was advocated aggressively by President Bush–this is “compassionate conservativism” in action–such an objection would be interesting. Nor was Khalidi ever a spokesman for the PLO, though that was reported in an erroneous column by the New York Times’s Tom Friedman in 1982. That left me curious about the final and most dramatic accusation laid at Khalidi’s doorstep: that the Khalidis babysat for the Obamas. Was it true? I put the question to Khalidi. “No, it is not true,” came the crisp reply. Somehow that was exactly the answer I expected.
Of course, Khalidi has been involved in Palestinian causes. McCarthy ought to ask John McCain about that, because McCain and Khalidi appear to have some joint interests, and that fact speaks very well of both of them. Indeed, the McCain–Khalidi connections are more substantial than the phony Obama–Khalidi connections McCarthy gussies up for his article. The Republican party’s congressionally funded international-networking organization, the International Republican Institute–long and ably chaired by John McCain and headed by McCain’s close friend, the capable Lorne Craner–has taken an interest in West Bank matters. IRI funded an ambitious project, called the Palestine Center, that Khalidi helped to support. Khalidi served on the Center’s board of directors. The goal of that project, shared by Khalidi and McCain, was the promotion of civic consciousness and engagement and the development of democratic values in the West Bank. Of course, McCarthy is not interested in looking too closely into the facts, because they would not serve his shrill partisan objectives.
I have a suggestion for Andy McCarthy and his Hyde Park project. If he really digs down deep enough, he will come up with a Hyde Park figure who stood in constant close contact with Barack Obama and who, unlike Ayers and Khalidi, really did influence Obama’s thinking about law, government, and policy. He is to my way of thinking a genuine radical. His name is Richard Posner, and he appears to be the most frequently and positively cited judge and legal academic in… National Review.