Soon thereafter, several other outlets all published a more full transcript of the quote that showed context. The blog from which Rubin drew the quote (also hostile to Levy) reprinted and addressed the fuller transcript, though the author disagreed that it changed the meaning of Levy’s quote. Rubin never updated her post, but she did mention in passing that Levy’s allies had responded, and dismissed it as “throw(ing) in the towel” and “conceding.” Rubin cited an even more truncated passage. (One of the ironies of the contextualized quote was that Levy was defending the existence of “progressive Zionism,” leaving me doubtful that Rubin even examined the context - surely she would have pounced.)
Over the past year, Rubin has—at least four times—quoted, linked to, and endorsed Rachel Abrams’s notion that Jews in America have a “sick addiction” (in Rubin and Abrams’s words) to the Democratic Party. When I asked Rubin about the phrase “sick addiction,” she said her arguments against Jewish support for Democrats were clear from her writings, and cited a book by Norman Podhoretz (Abrams’s stepfather) called Why Are Jews Liberal? In his book, Podhoretz repeatedly laments the “stubborn attachment” of Jews to the Democratic Party, but there is no mention of this being a sickness. There’s a difference there with regard to discourse: one approach aims to explain a lamentable phenomenon, the other seeks to deride it.
The Post’s Hiatt gave a frank answer when asked about Rubin harping on the “sick addiction” theme: “As a general matter, I agree with you about the demonization of opponents by means of using terms of mental illness,” he wrote, noting that such language had appeared on comments in the Post both about Obama and the Tea Party movement. “I haven’t attempted to censor columnists who use such terminology, but I don’t like it much.”
Hiatt’s points are well taken: Opinion writers should be free to express their opinions, and balance in opinion pages is certainly a commendable goal. But there are plenty of talented conservative bloggers who can make their points without resorting to conversation-ending rhetoric. Kathryn Jean Lopez and Ramesh Ponnuru at the National Review are two that spring to mind, as does Daniel Larison at the American Conservative. The latter is, of course, a paleoconservative, but if Hiatt was seeking to bolster neoconservatives in the Post’s opinion section (because Robert Kagan and Charles Krauthammer apparently don’t suffice), David Frum has proven an able blogger and committed himself to civil criticisms of his own party as well as his political adversaries.
Instead, the Post seems to have picked someone who, while capable of some political introspection on the right, characterizes opponents by derision; by delegitimizing them rather than engaging them on the substance of their policy preferences. Such stridency does nothing to further discourse, instead cementing the polarized cable news-like atmosphere—increasingly pervading Washington over the last two decades—in the pages of the city’s great newspaper.