Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Dan Baum v. Jeffrey Goldberg.

Dan Baum -- author of The New Yorker's finest piece on the Iraq War and, more recently, the excellent Nine Lives, sent around the following e-mail:

From: Dan Baum
Subject: Jews

I'm the last guy in the world to try to organize people by religion, but we Jews may be the only people to whom Senator Joseph Lieberman might listen. He is threatening to filibuster the health-care bill to remove the public option. He has been an obvious problem for years, but this time he can do genuine damage, and it's possible a deluge of calls and emails from Jews nationwide will give him pause. Please take a minute and either call his office -- (fair warning, the mailbox was full) or (860) 549-8463, or send him an email... This is the text of the message I used, but you could compose your own:

"As a fellow Jew, I am appalled by your threat to filibuster the health care bill now working its way through the Senate. I appeal to your conscience. Do not block access to affordable health care for millions of Americans. Please support the bill." This will take only a minute to do. Once you've sent a message to Sen. Lieberman, please forward this email to all the Jews you know. We could make something happen.

Indeed! We agree!

Jeffrey Goldberg, who leaked the e-mail, does not, and replied publicly with more than a little venom:

Baum may have revealed himself to be an "As-a-Jew,"  a particular Semitical sub-type.  As-a-Jews are people who invoke their heritage only when they feel a need to dump on another Jew, or a Jewish organization, or the Jewish state. The classic formulation is, "As a Jew, I want to tell you how embarrassed I am by (fill-in-the-blank)." It's a low practice, particularly from a person who begins his message by overtly distancing himself from the idea of Jewish peoplehood, and religion in general.

Mr. Baum has kindly responded to a few of our questions, after the jump...

Q: Engaging Lieberman Jew-to-Jew is a novel approach. I assume you've gone this route because nothing else -- threats of a primary, appeals to compassion, outright mockery -- has worked?

Yes, the man seem impervious to all entreaties. It's actually my aggressively Irish-Catholic neighbor who yelled at me, "You Jews need to take some responsibility for that man and beat some reason into him," or something to that effect. He listens to nobody else, but maybe a grand Jewish scolding will get his attention.

Q: What's this "as-a-jew" business about? It seems so out of the blue, I wonder if it perhaps stems from your time at The New Yorker -- did you and Jeffrey Goldberg have disagreements on the Iraq War? (Either the moral case for it or how it should be covered.)

I've never met Goldberg, and I didn't get the As-a-Jew reference, either.
His hostility is plain weird. Gays organize gays politically. Hispanics do likewise. Blacks. Women. Is he implying that Jews shouldn't organize politically (unless it's to support Israel)? Beats me. And since his blog doesn't have a place for comments, I can't publicly ask him.

Q: If Lieberman can't be appealed to as a Jew, are there any other options? Assuming he can't be reasoned with on a molecular level...

I think Sen. Lieberman can be appealed to as a Jew. He's very devout, and the Jewish community obviously means a great deal to him. It may be he hears too much from conservative Jews who are Likudniks, supported the Iraq war, and so on. It may be that he believes all Jews believe, politically, the way he does. That's why I think it's important he hears from the other Jews, those who can make a moral case to him that preventing people from obtaining affordable, humane health insurance is unconscionable.

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