Do As We Say, Not As We Did

Last week, at its annual conference, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs did something commendable in our highly charged political environment. The group, whose member agencies advocate primarily from the left of the political center, welcomed and listened politely to a presentation from a pair of more conservative pundits: Noah Silverman, congressional affairs director for the Republican Jewish Coalition, and Noah Pollak, a conservative political writer and consultant.

Silverman began with an understatement, telling the 200 people who turned out for a session on advocacy in the Trump era that “events of the past year caught everyone by surprise.” And, in the wake of everyone getting last year’s election all wrong, Silverman counseled humility.

Then things took a sharp turn to the right, with Silverman asserting that “the Democratic establishment is more interested in deploring the deplorable than” understanding why the election turned out as it did, and Pollak warning that it would be a mistake to “BDS” Trump and “treat the other side as the enemy.” BDS, the despised boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel, was repurposed by Pollak to mean a tactic to vilify one’s opponent. And on that score, according to Pollak, “it may feel emotionally satisfying to BDS someone … but you still gotta work with people.”

The pair recommended that liberals should not do to Trump what Republicans did to Obama since, as Silverman warned, “the job of advocacy is to advocate” for your cause, rather than to block, obstruct, boycott and demonize your political
adversary.

There is a strong stench of hypocrisy in those “anti-vilification” pronouncements, since that was exactly what the Republican Party did during the eight years of the Obama administration and that was Trump’s own approach before and during his campaign for president.

Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) famously said just before the 2010 elections that handed the House to the Republicans: “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.” Then, in a series of actions through the health care debate, the debate over taxes, the Republican threat to throw the government into default and shut it down and their most recent refusal to even consider Obama’s nominee for the Supreme Court, the Republicans wrote the book on what Silverman and Pollak now disdain as “BDSing.”

For the record, Silverman and Pollak are correct, but not because Trump now occupies the White House. Political obstructionism rooted in nothing more than a desire to win elections is precisely what got us to where we are today. “Do as we say, not as we did” might be the right prescription for how we should operate going forward, but it is also an indictment of the shameful tactics of the last decade that led to so many Americans putting their trust in anything other than their government.

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