Helen, We Hardly Knew Ye
OK, that’s not really true. We knew that Helen Thomas was a pretty opinionated, nasty piece of work, as her questioning of President Bush–when he occasionally deigned to recognize her–showed over his two terms. So, learning this week that Ms. Thomas was of the opinion that Israel had no right to exist, should be disbanded, and the Jews should return to Wurstland and Kielbasastan wasn’t much of a surprise. Her agent acted surprised, though, as did Hearst newspapers–both unconvincingly. Surely they knew what a c– uh, controversial set of opinions she had. They had to. But they went through the tired old kabuki of being shocked at her opinions about Israel…and of letting her go, after suitable mouth noises indicating shock and surprise.
Now, all the right-wingers are happy she’s been fired, and her career is over. Although, at 89, wasn’t her career in the inevitable winding down phase anyway? I find I can’t really join in the celebration at her firing, though.
NineSpeakers, her agent, and Hearst, her employer, are, of course, perfectly within their rights to choose not to work with her. But I don’t particularly rejoice to see them exercise that right. I guess I approach this differently. I didn’t think Don Imus should’ve been fired for the “nappy hos” comment. I didn’t think Opie & Anthony should have been suspended because they let a homeless person come in and make horrible statements about Condoleeza Rice and Queen Elizabeth II. And I don’t think that Helen Thomas should have been fired because she thinks that Israel, as a state, was illegitimately created on Arab soil.
When the La Raza/Reconquista types talk about how the southwestern United States used to be part of Mexico in the 19th century, that people of Mexican extraction have continuously lived there since, and that it needs to go back to Mexico, conservatives immediately reject that argument as having any validity at all in today’s political context. They then turn around and argue that, since Israel was the Jewish state prior to the Romans forcing Jews to disperse in 70AD, and that Jews have lived there continuously since, that gives Israel the right to exist as a modern Jewish state. So, it’s a completely illegitimate argument in Mexico’s case, but perfectly rational in the case of Israel. That means that when Helen Thomas makes the same argument about Israel that conservatives make about Mexico, it’s an intolerably outlandish opinion.
And I find it fascinating that the same people who get themselves in a tizzy about “hate speech”, political correctness, and speech codes are the same people who are cheering on Helen Thomas’ firing. Turns out that they don’t really object to speech codes or political correctness. They just want them enforced on a different set of opinions.
Helen Thomas’ opinion about Israel tells us all something. It provides us with information that we can use in judging her subsequent writings or statements. Now, of course, what we’ve done is send a message to everyone else who might have controversial or nasty opinions to keep them to themselves. So, in the future, people in Ms. Thomas’ position will now be less likely to share those opinions with us, and we will be deprived of insights into their minds that help us judge their veracity and intentions.
Once again, a clear message has been sent out about the importance of narrowing acceptable political opinion. So, apparently there are a lot of people on both the Left and Right who sanctimoniously declare that “the solution to bad speech speech is more speech,” but they don’t really mean it. It just makes them feel good about themselves to say it.
For my part, I think Helen Thomas is a kook when it comes to Israel, just like I think the reconquista folks are kooks when it comes to Mexico. I am hugely uninterested in revisiting geopolitical events that occurred before I was born, whether in 1948, or 1845. And I am completely opposed to using distant historical events as a justification of who gets to live where today. Quite apart from anything else, if pushed to its logical conclusion, it would mean that I would have to turn over my house to the Pala Indians, and spend the rest of my life wandering around the cold, windswept coast of north-central Scotland in a plaid skirt, with maybe an occasional jaunt to Aberdeen for a night of drunken fist-fighting. Mexico lost the southwest. The Arabs lost Israel. Tough.
I just find that I don’t disagree enough with Helen Thomas’ opinion–or anyone else’s–to want to deprive her of her livelihood, or to deprive me of the pleasure of pointing at her and laughing.